Innovating into a Whole New Species
People living a hundred thousand years from now will still be human and will still look like us, but they will have evolved from us in some significant ways, according to Daniel Berleant, an information-science professor at the University of Arkansas and an advisory board member of the foresight nonprofit Lifeboat Foundation. He explores the far-future implications of genetic change, along with social and technological change, and proffers advice to the world community on how to best begin managing the change processes in the here and now.
His accounts of far-future life will strike readers as entertaining, yet Berleant derives each from present-day breakthroughs that offer promising precedents. Artificial intelligence research could lead to computers that read our minds, for instance. Schools everywhere could be replaced by electronic “ear-top guardian angels” that teach their wearers any and every classroom lesson that a human teacher might.
Berleant also foresees work becoming increasingly optional, as nanotechnology and automated manufacturing processes render all of life’s necessities practically free; most work will take place outside the confines of physical offices. Meanwhile, genetic engineering will yield such marvels as oceangoing seaweed clusters that pull huge volumes of greenhouse gases out of the air, and land-based plants that are engineered to extract gold, silver, and other precious metals from the soil and sprout teacups, silverware, and car-engine parts instead of fruit.
Daily life on a Mars colony, Berleant imagines, may be nowhere nearly as glamorous as science-fiction might have you think, but an initial colony could grow into a thriving, planetwide population very quickly. He envisions far-future colonization of Mercury, Venus, the asteroids, and even Pluto. He depicts each technological possibility and takes stock of both the positives and the potential downsides, and then offers recommendations and cautionary notes for it accordingly.
The Human Race to the Future is an intensely imaginative look at the far limits—or lack thereof—of human innovation. It will be enjoyable and thought-provoking reading for practically any audience.—Rick Docksai
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