Bleakly expanding on arguments made in The End of Nature (1989), McKibben paints a grim canvas of what will happen if nothing is done to arrest the “technotopian” dreams of . . .
. . . the gene engineers who will germline-insert all the smart genes that will turn rich kids into a superspecies and leave the poor behind on the evolutionary tree; the nanotechs and roboticists who will combine their inventions to produce atom-sized servants able to synthesize anything; the immortalists who will develop strategies never to die and thus populate the planet (and space) forever. The author has talked to them, heard them lecture, read their books. And he is worried. His powerful jeremiad calls for a self-controlled decision not to pursue certain goals because they will destroy the meaning of life, take away choice, take away consciousness. McKibben even conjectures a sci-fi dark side of nano-robot technologies in which these particular genies from the techies’ bottles gobble everything on earth and reduce it to gray goo: the world ends not with a bang but with a slime. He doesn’t claim that this posthuman world will happen overnight, but in time—and at the kind of rates observed in computer speeds and memory sizes—all that the futurist engineers propose may come to pass. So let’s rein in technology, McKibben says: we did it with nuclear arms, we are learning less profligate ways to live on the planet, we move toward ending racism and have abolished slavery. Since it is already apparent that monkeying with genes is fraught with complexities, that Artificial Intelligence nowhere near matches a human brain, and that natural laws (perhaps including the vaunted second law of thermodynamics) impose their own limits on what can be wrought, the kinds of progress McKibben deplores may be less likely to come to pass than he fears.
Nonetheless, a provocative, conservative invocation of the need for awe, love, spiritual life, and humanity.