Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[REVIEW] Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution

Washington Post journalist Joel Garreau's recent book Radical Evolution (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) is yet another of his sweeping journalistic surveys of the future at work. Garreau gained his name as a futurist with his 1981 Nine Nations of North America, a title which argued that North America was divisible into nine regions based on geographic, economic, and cultural factors. In Radical Evolution, Garreau moves on to examine the potential impact of a transhumanist future using what he calls the GRIN technologies--genetics, robotics, information, and nanotechnology--on humanity. Garreau structures his arguments via his interviews, with optimists like Marvin Minsky and Ray Kurzweil, pessimists like Bill Joy and Francis Fukuyama, researchers associated with government institutions like DARPA and with private corporations, and with other thinkers: writers, artists, and more. The long-term plausibility of what Garreau identifies as the Hell and Heaven scenarios concerns Garreau, as does the short-term ramifications of such things as genetic engineering producing catastrophic illnesses by accident, the risk of emergent transhumanist technology making the gap between rich and poor a yawning canyon, and the questions of how control can be exerted. The most hopeful passage of Radical Evolution, interestingly enough, comes from Garreau's interview with Jaron Lanier, who argues that the only factor that prevented bright cephalopods from competing with hominids was their lack of a childhood, of culture and of sustained processes of enculturation. Is it really too much to hope for to say that the human capacity for empathy is the only thing that can and will guide us through the 21st century? I feel I'm in a somewhat stronger position to say this after reading Garreau's book, but others may come away with different impressions.
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