Martyn Amos draws our attention to the collection of dangerous ideas on The Edge – the website of every popular science writer’s favourite literary agent, John Brockman. He asked a collection of writer-scientists to nominate their dangerous idea for 2006, and the result has something for everyone. Like Martyn, I very much like Lynn Margulis’s comments about the bacterial origins of our sensory perceptions. I’d want to go further, with the statement that human brains have more in common with colonies of social bacteria than with microprocessors.
Devotees of the nanobot have Ray Kurzweil arguing that radical life extension and expansion, enabled by radical nanotechnology, is as inevitable as it is desirable. The apparent problems of overpopulation will be overcome because “molecular nanoassembly devices will be able to manufacture a wide range of products, just about everything we need, with inexpensive tabletop devices. “ Readers of Soft Machines will already know why I think Drexlerian nanotechnology isn’t going to lead us to this particular cornucopia. To my mind, though, the biggest danger of radical life extension isn’t overpopulation; it’s stagnation and boredom. Every generation has needed its angry young men and women, its punk rockers, to spark its creativity, and even as I grow older the thought of the world being run by a gerontocracy doesn’t cheer me up.
So I’m with Joel Garreau, in hoping that despite environmental challenges and the frightening speed of technological change, we’ll see “the ragged human convoy of divergent perceptions, piqued honor, posturing, insecurity and humor once again wending its way to glory”. In the nice phrase Garreau used in his book Radical Evolution – let’s prevail.