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As The Future Catches You September 24, 2009

Posted by allenb120 in As The Future Catches You.
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I found the book fascinating as it highlighted some of the new means of human evolution, e.g., genetics, and discussed some of the near term impacts of the speed of that evolution.  However, I felt the book was more of a wake-up call to stay on top of science and technology or fall behind and lacked substantial discussion of possible solutions for countries or a broader theoretical context for understanding the changes.

The fields discussed in the book open new ways for us to adapt to our changing environment.  I doubt humans will have the same illnesses or capabilities in 100 years because of these new fields.  However, in some sense, genetics is no different than, say, orthopedics.  Both disciplines can help people adapt better to their environment.  The latter does this through artificial limbs that help people walk and the former potentially through growing new limbs or changing DNA to cure crippling deformities.  And, it’s just one further step to creating limbs that are stronger or faster than ordinary limbs.  In some sense, this step is simply internalizing the function of machines we have developed to help us adapt to our environment.  For example, instead of software for computers, we may have software for the brain (which could replace textbooks (and be a lot easier to download—what would this mean for the educational system?)).  While these fields provide many great possibilities, society will need to ensure they are used properly to avoid ill effects, a task potentially made more difficult by the volume of changes taking place.  For example, baseball will not only have to worry about batters on steroids but also genetically modified players.

I wished the book focused more on discussing potential solutions.  For example, it could have addressed technological leap-frogging in more detail as a way countries that do not currently focus so much on science and math education could improve their competitive positions.  I also wished it had provided some ideas on how to fix the lack of science and math in the pre-college US educational system.  It could have also gone further in trying to understand the impact of technological change on the function of government when citizens can move countries and are more connected around the world.  Perhaps these issues were beyond the scope of the book, but after reading it, I wanted to learn more about them.

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