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
    May 2006, 400 pages

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Increasingly, the question is whether this still exists.

I call the scenario above "The Law of Unintended Consequences." It is not a prediction–I have no crystal ball, alas. But this scenario is a faithful rendition of what our world could well be like if some of the engineering currently being funded turns out to work. "Forget fiction, read the newspaper," notes Bill Joy, the former chief scientist at Sun Microsystems. Scenario planning is intended to prod people to think more broadly and view events with a new perspective. How did I arrive at this scenario? Let me give you some background.

In the late 1990s, when this book started, the rules of cause and effect seemed to have become unhinged. The problem was that the world was going through astounding change. First came the Internet, and then the World Wide Web. Cell phones the size of candy bars, palm computers the size of a deck of cards, and music players not much bigger than credit cards proliferated and merged in a primordial evolutionary silicon stew. A walk through a dark house in the middle of the night became an easy navigation. All the tiny lights marked the way in festive red or green, winking and shining from microwaves and clocks and phones and televisions and music players and video players and fax machines and laptops and printers and smoke detectors and docking stations and recharging stations and game players. Each signaled the presence of yet another microprocessor– part of that march in which the average American inexorably is becoming surrounded by more computers than she has lightbulbs, as is already the case in as utilitarian a vehicle as a Honda Accord.

The raging argument back then was whether this Cambrian explosion of intelligence marked the biggest thing since the printing press or the biggest thing since fire. And yet socially, the decade was a snooze. From my perch as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post, it seemed like the headlines, such as they were, involved little except peace, prosperity and Monica.

How could this be? I asked myself. Where is the social impact of all this change? Where is the Reformation? Who are the new Marxists? After all, human organization is always influenced by the technology of the time. "We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us," as Churchill put it.

During the Agrarian Age, for example, the family was the fundamental economic and social unit. Commercial enterprises were basically family-run, even the big ones in Renaissance Venice. Governments descended through family in the case of kingdoms. The French army or the Spanish navy was quite literally a band of blood brothers. Nations were defined by people of genetic kinship.

All this changed, however, with the rise of the telegraph and the railroad in the mid-1800s. Suddenly vast swaths of time and distance had to be managed. Entire continents and oceans had to be spanned. To handle the challenge, new kinds of organizations were forced to emerge. The Ford Motor Company, for example, ripped the planet's very dirt for its iron ore at one end of its operations. At the other end it sold finished Model T's. Such a globally complex enterprise was impossible to run as a mere family enterprise. How could you produce enough trusted cousins? Thus the Industrial Revolution created fertile ground for steeply hierarchical corporations to blossom. It changed us. By the 1950s an employee of one of those corporations thought of himself as "The Organization Man" and "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit"–cogs in the machine. The Industrial Age's contradictions also created a reaction to it–Marxism. Indeed, the entire 20th century can be described as an era of ideological, economic and military warfare over how to handle the great social upheavals created by this shift in technology and social affairs.

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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