Welcome reading for the futurists and technogeeks in the audience.

THE FUTURE IS FASTER THAN YOU THINK

HOW CONVERGING TECHNOLOGIES ARE TRANSFORMING BUSINESS, INDUSTRIES, AND OUR LIVES

An enthusiastic look at the technologies of the future—which is just about now.

Where are the flying cars we were promised as kids? The answer is, right around the corner. “The cars are here,” write Diamandis and Kotler (Bold: How To Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, 2015, etc.). They may be here, but the problem is how to scale them so they can be introduced into the market economically—and how to scale them, physically, to carry human loads. Uber is slated to unveil a flying car in 2020 and has set a target of 2023 for operational ride-sharing in Los Angeles and Dallas. The game-changer, though, is to make the cost of taking such a ride cheaper than owning a car, one example of many instances of “disruptive innovation” and convergence that isn’t just cool, but that also shifts the order of how we do things. Flying cars will disrupt the automobile industry in more than one way, since they’ll not just fly, but also use “distributed electric propulsion,” controlling multiple electric motors by means of a computer. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop train, similarly, is meant to revolutionize long-distance travel by means of a train that will move faster than commercial aircraft. If such innovations seem unlikely, the authors survey the development of artificial intelligence. Only a generation ago, AI couldn’t do much more than “read zip codes off letters,” but now it can now read nearly a quarter-million books in a second to provide an answer to just about any question a human might have—apart from the meaning of life and other such philosophical matters. Diamandis and Kotler are cheerleaders for disruption, the scale and speed of which are increasing. But they’re also realists, noting where there’s more sizzle than steak even when they promise really cool things, like overcoming such problems as “mitochondrial dysfunction” to extend human life.

Welcome reading for the futurists and technogeeks in the audience.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0966-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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