Radical Evolution: Or how I managed to reach half of my yearly literacy goal in one week.
Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau, I just have to say that if I intended to only read two books in 2006, I am glad this was one of them.
In a nutshell the book explores three very different technological senerios for the near future all based on the concept of The Curve. The Curve is summed up nicely by Moore's law, processing power doubles every 18 months. The Curve is an expansion on this to say that the sum of all technology doubles at a constant and accelerating rate. From The Curve, three senerios emerge Heaven, Hell, and Prevail.
The Heaven Senerio championed by Ray Kurzweil (a personal hero of mine in the class of Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Edison) is the idea that technology is inherently good and through it the first human to live to be 150 is already alive today. In the Heaven Senerio, immortality and true artifical intelligence is just around the corner. The Curve is quickly going up to the point of singularity a point where the persuits of men will turn solely towards learning and these amazing technologies that make us better, stronger, faster, and smarter will have reached everyone.
The Hell Senerio championed (if that is the right word) by BIll Joy is the idea that far far too often science happens more by "oops" than by "eurika!" and the big boo boo that destroys all life as we know it is just one oops away. If by some miracle we manage to create technologies that make us better, stronger, faster, and smarter first it will create three classes of man, the haves, the have nots and the choose not toos. The haves are the rich folks who can afford the tech and will be first on board when the tech arrives. The choose not toos are those who turn against the technology and want to remain pure of flesh, the have nots are the rest of us who will never be able to afford the technology to get ahead. He believes that one day the rich will tollerate those who choose to remain pure as quaint, those that want the tech but can't afford it will be seen as subhuman.
The Prevail Senerio suggested by Jaron Lanier believes that The Curve isn't a constant. It suffers from fits, starts, and reversals just like the humans that gave rise to it. It is his belief that technology will improve, people will live longer, horrible diseases will be created in labs and released, ipods will cause deffness, the industrial revolution will lead to obeasity and mankind will generally trudge forward like we have always done.
In all three there is talk of Transendence, the idea that one day will stop being homo sapian sapians and will become, thanks to technology some new thing. Since technology is based on knowledge and knowledge of how stuff works is pretty much zipped up by god than what we are doing for better or worse is becomming closer to god, or in some cases becomming little gods ourselves. Radical evolution huh? At this point the author notes that the religious types may be going about technology in the wrong way. Currently all they do is say "No!" to technology that is ethically challenging. He suggest that perhaps the religious types could be more proactive, in both guiding the ethics that leads to discovery as well as creating the rituals of the future in reguard to technology. As he says, there is a ritual for birth, a ritual for death, and various rituals for comming of age, marriage etc. Perhaps what should be happening is the creation of ritual for technology. Perhaps if someone gets a knee replacement there could be a ritual for the acceptance of the technology joining the biology. Titanium and plastic joins bone with the blessing of the almighty. I think these are splendid ideas.
I also offer one further in that same vein. I challenge that in all the years that went into the creation all of the various works of religion the ethics of technology is already written in based on the technology that existed at that time. Spiritually we don't have to break new ground so much as continue on the path that was started so long ago. Just because we have better metal than iron, and know of plants and animals smaller than the eye can see doesn't mean we are in some strange new world. We are simply on The Curve we were always on, it is just that some people feel frightened and lost because the terrain has changed.