An eye-opening exploration of how cutting-edge 21st-century technologies, in embryonic form right now, pose the stark alternatives of a real-life Utopia or Brave New World.
Information power has been doubling every 18 months or so, at an exponential rate of change, and computer breakthroughs are also producing innovations in biology. The result is that four interrelated technologies—genetic, robotic, informational and nano processes—hold the potential to modify human nature itself. Collectively, they could produce “the biggest change in 50,000 years in what it means to be human.” Forget stem-cell research or steroid-boosted athletes: Technologies now being developed privately or by government agencies could soon bring about such possibilities as children boosting their SAT scores by 200 points, the aging being outfitted with memory enhancers, or soldiers being made able to hoist 180 pounds as if it were 4.4 pounds. Society might then be divided between the “enhanced” (those with physical and mental upgrades) versus the “naturals.” Drawing on a series of interviews with scientists and other futurists, Washington Post editor and reporter Garreau (Edge City, 1991, etc.) spells out three scenarios: “Heaven,” a biological utopia where poverty, disease and ignorance are eradicated; “Hell,” a dystopia that could include bioterror, inequality based on biological advantage, control of mankind by machines and nuclear catastrophe; and “Prevail,” the author’s preference, in which the future doesn’t arrive by a predetermined curve, but in a series of starts and stops, with humans acting to forestall disaster. Garreau has an eye for the anecdote that throws much of this Buck Rogers technology into compelling human terms (as when an administrator in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency labors on human enhancement research in the hope that it will someday help his daughter, a cerebral palsy victim).
Excellent scientific journalism on the challenges arising from a real tipping point in human relations.