This book is a collection of 25 essays by eminent scientists in their respective fields, who, as the work's title suggests, attempt to describe the advancements in human scientific knowledge and understanding they feel will take place in the first half of the twenty-first century.
It is interesting, upon first reading this book in 2011, how the impact of the mere nine years since its publication can be perceived in some of its constituent essays; for instance, I see no evidence that we are any closer now to a world of David Gelernter's anticipated 'Beams' of constantly accessable information in 'cyberspace' through time: they are arguably with us already under the moniker of The Internet, in which case Gelernter is perhaps guilty of inventing a complex term for that which already exissts. If, alternatively, he is proposing a fundamentally different cyberspatial architecture, this begs the question of who, in the fundamentally decentralised Web, will be tasked to construct these monolithic 'Beams'?
Robert M. Sapolsky's fine contribution on depression also seemed clearly rooted in an early-noughties zeitgeist, both in its portrayal of a almost complete lack of understanding of the neurophysiology and genetics behind depression, and its denunciation of the attitude that might be termed 'pills will solve all your problems' (both issues on which there has been some albeit limited advancement since).
The essays cover a broad range, from physics and mathematics to educational science and moral development, but I would say there is a definite slant toward more biological and psychological fields and to information technology. This is not intrinsically a problem, but it may have driven the somewhat arbitrary division of the book into the two parts of 'The Future, in Theory' and '...in Practice'.
Furthermore, there are only three essays written by women scientists, and despite many assurances to the contrary, a significant number of the essays fall into the trap of predicting Wellsian 'dazzling futures'; one of my favourite contributions was Jason Lanier's essay on 'The Complexity Ceiling', which makes a number of very incisive points as to the problem of 'legacies', or locked-in ways of working, where both 'protocols[...]and the ideas embedded in them become mandatory'. Lanier is talking primarily about computer science (one of his examples is the fact that 'Files are now taught to students as a fact of life as fundamental as a photon, even though they are a human invention') but his argument that the way we handle the complexity of current technology contains an intrinsic 'brake' on future development should be applied to many of the essays in this work which veer towards overlooking the difficulty in changing fundamental practices.
Despite these caveats, this collection is often very intriguing and even exhilarating in its reinforcement of the message of how much there is to learn in science, and is well worth its price.