Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: This Will Change Everything

This Will Change Everything: Ideas that will shape the future
edited by John Brockman

"Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have trained two monkeys to grab marshmallows using a robotic arm controlled by their own thoughts." (15). The shocking thing to me is that this statement is not a prediction like the rest of the book; it has already happened. Regardless, I think it sets the stage as good as any single sentence for what lies within the pages of this provocative book.

Ranging in length from a single sentence to a few pages, 125 contributors attempt to answer the question, "What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?" You may be reassured, like me, to know that many of the contributors challenge the premise of the question, noting that it expects far too much. That said, I think the hyperbole of the question does help the contributors focus their attention.

John Brockman, the editor and founded Edge, to gather the world's greatest thinkers to ponder the deeper meaning of human society. Topics range from:
  • healthcare and genetics
  • robots and computers
  • science and education
  • climate change
  • the search for extraterrestrial life
  • to changes in society at large.
With so many contributors, I was surprised both by how few and how many names I recognized. Some of my favorites include: Steven Pinker, Alan Alda (yes, Alan Alda), Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Howard Gardner, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

I was especially intrigued with a series of perspectives on the future of education, including contributors Chris Anderson, Roger Schank, and David Gelernter. Gelernter, computer scientist at Yale, predicts the "radical localization" of school, where students pursue a completely personalized curriculum selected with their parents' assistance.

The two shortest predictions show the range of opinions about what will change everything.

"The intentional, hostile deployment, whether by a state, a terrorist group, or other individuals, or a significant nuclear device." (209) (Gerald Holton, Professor of Physics and History of Science at Harvard University)

"Discovering that someone from the future has already come to visit us." (62) (Stefano Boeri, architect at the Politecnico of Milan and editor of Abitare)

This book is by turns--hopeful, horrifying, or just plain hokey.

I highly recommend this book!

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