on 18 March 2003
I found this book to be an interesting read, but you need to be careful about your expectations. It's not a purely "technology" based prediction on what the future will hold - in fact it has very little reference to technological shifts and developments. It is more focused on societal, psychological and humanitarian developments.
In fact it reminded me of the "A Vision For Tomorrow" series, in that it looked more closely at the underlying shifts we will see in society as opposed to the technological advances that will enable these shifts.
For example, several sections are devoted entirely to psychiatry and psychoanalysis. Whilst interesting, I was interested more in the "gadget" and "science" aspects of futurology, and was left feeling a little bit as though the theories didn't really explain the route by which we would get there.
Nontheless, this book does offer interesting insights into our future society, and is particularly intriguing in the way that it threads current scientific thinking into possible outcomes, marrying various fields in to a connected vision.
A good read, mainly focused on society as opposed to technology.
When I started this book, my first reaction was - who are all these authors? I only recognised 20% of the names. Hardly had I thought this then the Introduction told me exactly who they were - very timely.
However, as I progressed through the book, there was quite a variance in the quality of the writing. Some authors, such as those on Cosmology, communicated well, but then others were far too high-level for a general audience. It was the latter chapters that brought me considerable delight & education when discussing the Mind, Psychology etc (not my favourite subjects I may add).
If all the contributors had tuned their work to the same general audience, then this would have deserved 5 stars; if it wasn't for the redeeming work by the psychologists & neuroscientists I'd have probably rated the book as 3 stars.
And the cover illustration left me completely confused as to what it was trying to communicate?
on 23 May 2011
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.
The quality of the articles is very variable. There is a strong bias towards psychology and science of the mind and away from the physical sciences. The book is divided into two sections - the first how theory will change and the second about the practical implications.
As John Holland says in the book making predictions over such a long period is very dangerous especially with the current rapid rate of change and so some of the predictions are already looking "dated" and we are only 5 years on. Some articles are brilliant and worth the price of the book - Roger Schank, Jaron Lanier and Stuart Kauffman for example. Some others are poor such as those by Peter Atkins and especially Richard Dawkins who comes across particularly badly.
on 2 December 2007
This book is definitely interesting and well written, and puts forth generally plausible ideas from many bright, well respected people. A few of the ideas seem a bit hard to swallow, such as Paul Ewald claiming that many of the major human diseases, such as bipolar disorder and Alzheimer's, will be shown to be caused by viruses. But for the most part the book is plausible, interesting, and even somewhat entertaining. Author of Adjust Your Brain: A Practical Theory for Maximizing Mental Health.