Joel Garreau
I listened to a talk that Garreau gave on Pop Tech 2004 on IT Conversations (one day, I want to go to Pop Tech, too). I gave the book a try, just for fun.
This book deals with the future. The title sure is provoking, and some of the arguments in it indeed are, but I was surprised how neutral Garreau deals with different theories made in that book.
Garreau is a journalist. He wrote a column for a big newspaper on interesting findings concerning progress. The thesis underlying all of this progress talk is that technological change seems to be progrerssing exponentially (think of Moore's law concerning computer memory. It also holds for a lot of other inventions like railway miles in the 19th century). In our days, we are looking at the "GRIN"-technologies (Genetics, Robotics, Informatics, Nanotechnologies).
Therefore technological progress is always running faster than planning can go. That's why it seems overwhelming. If our grandparents couldn't imagine what we are experiencing now, what lies up ahead that we can't imagine right now? some people coined the term "singularity" to say that this time, at some point, maybe we'll lose control over the process (astronomically, singularity is the point where a black hole's gravity is inevitable). So, artifial intelligence that enhances its intelligence by itself and can no more be understood by humans would be such a thing.
Garreau got to talk to a lot of influential people along the way and this book is just mirroring his impressions of thisd meetings and explains how these people came to this point in their life where they think what they think now. Garreau tries to group all these visionaires into one of three szenarios: heaven, hell, prevail.
There is Ray Kurzweil, who invented Muisic Synthesizers decades ago and is a leading thinker in AI research. His visions of the next hundred years are stunning and are used by Garreau for the "heaven" scenario. People will be healthier, technologically enhanced (also in the mind) and create artificial intelligences that will be a part of themselves.
And there is  Bill Joy, who was CEO at Sun years ago ("The network is the computer" was their slogan). His vision is the "hell" scenario. Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Genetics will run out of hand.
For the third scenario, "prevail" Jaron Lanvier was interviewed by Garreau. He coined the term "virtual reality" and is my (and I think, also Garreau's) favourite thinker of the three. His views are always concerned with both sides of the picture and he sees the future as a struggle, but always with the human nature as the defining factor, not just the technology.
So, to conclude, there is really much more to this book, Garreau has also been at the DARPA laboratories (talk about human enhancements!), he considers what we can learn about human nature and future angst from the epic greeks etc etc. The good thing is that you can make your own mind about all the opinions therein - you don't get pushed somewhere.
A weak point surely is that most of the scenarios, at least the heaven scenario, take a relatively stable world into account. What if we have no oil and no replacement for that? What happens to progress then?
I'll definitely keep it in my shelf, be it a stupid title or not...
# lastedited 29 Jun 2006
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