Book Review: Radical Evolution

One of the little luxuries afforded by last week’s getaway was the chance to read a book cover-to-cover (somehow having kids has crushed my ability to carve out uninterrupted reading time). I took two books on the trip but only finished one: Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau.

I was already familiar with the idea of the Singularity, having started (but never finished) Ray Kurweil’s browbeating on the subject, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
And while I generally agree with Kurzweil’s premise that accelerating improvements in technology (including computing hardware and software, genetics and nanotech) will bring dramatic societal change much sooner than most folks appreciate, his need to be right prevents him from considering the range of possible futures these technologies could enable.

By contrast, Garreau brings a journalist’s skepticism to the topic, using a lightweight version of scenario planning to lay out several alternate futures that could be realized by the interplay between technology evolution and human nature. His book is light on science and long on personality profiles and storytelling, which makes it a fun, fast read. If you’re already familiar with the basic ideas behind the Singularity you won’t learn anything new, but it was fun to take a step back and think about how some of the technologies I’m following today (mobile, search, semantics, cloud computing, human-computer interface, etc.) point the way toward a future in which technology and human cognition are so intertwined as to be effectively inseparable.