Monday, January 23, 2012

CultureLab - What will be will be, but what will we be?

Jamie Condliffe, contributor
25-things.jpgFUTURE-GAZING is a risky business. Cautious predictions may often come true, but a futurist stating the obvious lacks punch. On the flip side, bold forecasts may generate more buzz, but they are likely to go the same way as the predictions of flying cars and the household robots we are still waiting for.
Fortunately, in 25 Things You Need to Know About the Future, Christopher Barnatt treads a fine line between these two extremes with skill and balance. All the known quantities are here: from the realities of peak oil, to the burgeoning fields of synthetic biology and ubiquitous computing. But he is also unafraid of exploring ideas that may yet flop, including tantalising technologies such as space elevators and bioprinting.
Perhaps most importantly, Barnatt also carefully considers the ethical issues we will face. Most notably in the final section he focuses not on the way advancing technology will impact how we will live in the future, but rather how it will change what we ourselves will become. That's not to say that the tone is downbeat: in fact, Barnatt remains optimistic throughout.
Admittedly, with many of the ideas which Barnatt presents drawing on current, cutting-edge research, regular readers of New Scientist's news pages will find few of his predictions surprising. But the neat way in which he ties together the key themes worth worrying about over the next few decades makes this a worthwhile read for anyone curious to know what may await us.

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