Excerpt from Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Radical Evolution

The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies -- and What It Means to Be Human

by Joel Garreau

Radical Evolution
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2006, 400 pages

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What they care about is what it means to be human, what it means to have relationships, what it means to live life, to have loves, or to tell lies. If you want to engage such people, you have to tell a story about culture and values–who we are, how we got that way, where we're headed and what makes us tick. That's what has always interested me; it's what my reporting has always been about. The gee-whiz technology is just a window through which to gaze upon human nature.

Four interrelated, intertwining technologies are cranking up to modify human nature. Call them the GRIN technologies–the genetic, robotic, information and nano processes. These four advances are intermingling and feeding on one another, and they are collectively creating a curve of change unlike anything we humans have ever seen.

Already, enhanced people walk among us. You can see it most clearly wherever you find the keenest competition. Sport is a good example. "The current doping agony," says John Hoberman, a University of Texas authority on performance drugs, "is a kind of very confused referendum on the future of human enhancement." Extreme pharmacological sport did not begin or end with East Germany. Some athletes today look grotesque. Curt Schilling, the All-Star pitcher, in 2002 talked to Sports Illustrated about the major leagues. "Guys out there look like Mr. Potato Head, with a head and arms and six or seven body parts that just don't look right." Competitive bodybuilding is already divided into tested shows (i.e., drug free) versus untested shows (anything goes).That's merely the beginning. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania who created genetically modified "mighty mice" have been deluged by calls from athletes and coaches who want to try this technology themselves. These mice are shockingly large and muscular. They are built like steers, with massive haunches and necks wider than their heads. Could such gene doping work in humans–assuming it isn't already? "Oh yeah, it's easy," H. Lee Sweeney, chairman of Penn's Department of Physiology, told The New York Times. "Anyone who can clone a gene and work with cells could do it. It's not a mystery....You could change the endurance of the muscle or modulate the speed–all the performance characteristics. All the biology is there. If someone said, 'Here's $10 million–I want you to do everything you can think of in terms of sports,' you could get pretty imaginative."

Then there's the military. Remember the comic-book superheroes of the 1930s and 1940s, from Superman to Wonder Woman? Most of their superpowers right now either exist or are in engineering. If you can watch a car chase in Afghanistan with a Predator, you've effectively got telescopic vision. If you can figure out what's inside a cave by peering into the earth with a seismic ground pinger, you've got X-ray vision. Want super strength? At the University of California at Berkeley, the U.S. Army has got a functioning prototype exoskeleton suit that allows a soldier to carry 180 pounds as if it were only 4.4 pounds. At Natick Labs in Massachusetts, the U.S. Army imagines that such an exoskeleton suit may ultimately allow soldiers to leap tall buildings with a single bound.

"My thesis is that in just 20 years the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder," writes Rodney Brooks, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Just five years from now that boundary will be breached in ways that are as unimaginable to most people today as daily use of the World Wide Web was 10 years ago."

Excerpted from Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau Copyright © 2005 by Joel Garreau. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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