Will the first decade of the 21st Century be known as the time when our Scientific Age came to a whimpering end? The one trait shared by anti modernists of both left and right appears to be disdain for our ability to learn and do bold new things.
Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science, explores (a bit one-sidedly) how partisanship can explain much of this collapse of confidence. See also my review of The Republican War on Science.
When it comes to Earth's future, we tend to be offered two simplistic choices, either guilt-ridden pessimism or a pollyanna faith in market forces. Too much planning or too little. Jared Diamond's new book, COLLAPSE: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, makes one thing clear. No society ever succeeded using the prescriptions we hear touted from today's Left OR Right. But history does offer some alternatives. See my review of Collapse on my website.
Two books that tout assertive problem solving are:
--The Past and Future of America's Economy: Long Waves of Innovation that Power Cycles of Growth by Robert D. Atkinson and ....
--Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
The first, by Atkinson, explores measures that could allow us to play our roles better in the world economy, taking advantage of technological innovation to accelerate economic growth.
The latter pursues the bold concept of the Singularity, and Ray Kurzweil's argument that our scientific competence and technologically-empowered creativity will soon skyrocket, propelling humanity into an entirely new age. I don't entirely agree ... but boy, what a vivid ride!
Taking up where Kurzweil leaves off... Joel Garreau's Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, our
Bodies -- and what it means to be Human sheds light on the notion that most scares the nostalgists and romantics... that we may soon pick up creation's tools and start altering, even enhancing, our bodies and our minds.
This is the stuff that Francis Fukayama writes about with dread in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution.
(Both concepts fed archetypes into my alternate history graphic novel The Life Eaters.)
Still highly relevant is The Progress Paradox: How Things Get Better While People Feel Worse. Gregg Easterbrook suggests we may be better than we think... and we really need to realize it. Those who spread either complacency or gloom aren't helping. What we need is confidence and a sense that our efforts can matter. See my review of The Progress Paradox on my website.
Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, that civilizations are always endangered when elites reach heights of unaccountability. We who grew up under the threat of communism tend to forget that 99% of past cultures saw their freedoms cauterized by cabals of church and aristocracy, historically far worse enemies of markets that socialism ever has been. And yet, read Philips with a healthy "Yes, but..." He neglects to mention the marvel of 1950s and 1960s America, when wealth burgeoned while wealth disparities plummeted. If we could do it then...
Nobel Laureate Douglass North, in his recent book Understanding the Process of Economic Change, acknowledges that we just don’t know understand the process of economic change. But we have learned that important "institutions" are not just formal ones such as banking laws and tariffs, but also "social norms and cognitive styles". North argues that economic change depends largely on "adaptive efficiency," a society's effectiveness in creating institutions that are productive, stable, fair, and broadly accepted--and, importantly, flexible enough to be changed or replaced in response to political and economic feedback. Thus the sort of property rights reforms proposed by Hernando de-Soto in The Mystery of Capital may not work until systems of accountability are in place first, backed by a sober populace insistent upon enforcing them.
In The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running a New World, Ann Florini dares to raise a long-neglected question -- how will Planet Earth be governed during the next century and beyond? Some say this is just the latest in a series of imperial ages -- Pax Americana. Even if itis the 'best' pax, should we count on its beneficial hegemony lasting forever? Or might it be wise to start using that great influence while it lasts, to lead in designing Whatever Comes Next (WCN)? Florini's discussion is narrow and Sometimes flawed, but at least it starts the conversation.
For forward-looking fiction, see my list of Favorite Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.
==Best Future-oriented Blogs==
--Ray Kurzweil's Accelerating Intelligence blog tracks the latest news on future technologies...and our progress toward the Singularity.
--The IEET: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies tracks which technological developments are likely to have the greatest impact on human societies in the 21st century.
--Futurity.org provides news updates on recent developments in science and technology that affect our near future.
--WorldChanging edited by Jamais Cascio and Alex Steffen is so good, so extensive and far-reaching, that it is departing the blogosphere and becoming a highly influential Netzine. One of the most interesting places on the Web. See also their insightful book WorldChanging: A User's Guide to the 21st Century.
--The Futurist, from the World Future Society, explores how social, economic and technologic developments are shaping the world...and the future.
--George Dvorsky's Sentient Developments comments on the impacts of cutting edge science and technology.
--The Foresight Institute provides information on recent developments in nanotechnology.
--Paleofuture, by Matt Novak, takes a look at the future that never was...
--Open the Future: Jamais Cascio explores futurism, foresight, big ideas and transformative technologies.
--Institute for the Future Blog comments on future-oriented books, as well as citizen involvement, policies and politics that impact our future.
--Next Big Future explores potentially disruptive science and technology advances.
--Innovation Watch looks at trends in innovation, and how disruptive change will affect industry.
--Considerably more radical, but entertaining, is Armageddon Buffet: An online journal of end-of-the-world fiction and commentary.
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I will shortly begin a new series... a draft of my 11,000 word article for a new book on GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISK, edited by Nick Bostrom. This piece should be a bit more apolitical than some recent posts.
Rob Perkins has been kind enough to set up a mirror site for http://www.davidbrin.com/ so that people in Asia and Australia can get easier access. (Rob, does it refresh automatically? I don't want this to be a chore.) It is http://brinmirror.parasiticmeme.com If you feel like it, check it out. I am concerned that the "Guestbook" and "email brin" feature may not work, so if your last name starts with S-Z feel free to experiment with those features. If I DON'T reply, please email me separately at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know it failed.
Gary Nunn has kindly taken this to the next level, setting up http://www.davidbrin.net which should call up http://brinmirror.parasiticmeme.com automatically. Unfortunately, nothing I can do will get this to happen on my Mac (OS 9.2) Any suggestions? I especially hope that the ID description up top will say "mirror for http://www.davidbrin.com/ "