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AN Optimist's Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer "What's Next?" Reprint Edition

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1583334560
ISBN-10: 9781583334560
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Editorial Reviews


"Stevenson describes our future's possibilities with a journalist's eye for detail, a teacher's knack for translating complexities, and a comic's wry commentary." — Christian Science Monitor

"A series of sharp and fascinating interviews with technological innovators and scientific visionaries." — Wall Street Journal

"Stevenson surveys a huge number of research fields - synthetic biology, nanotech, robotics and alternative energy to name just a few - in labs on nearly every continent, and weaves the most promising aspects of each into one grand vision. ... The book is a refreshing reminder that the future will always belong to the optimists." — The New Scientist

"Stevenson does a great job of delivering all the facts with a sense of wonder and curiosity... I highly recommend this book." — Wired's Geek Dad

"From longevity science to robotics to cancer research, Stevenson explores the most cutting-edge ideas in science and technology from around the world, the important ethical and philosophical questions they raise, and, perhaps most importantly, the incredible potential for innovation through the cross-pollination of these different ideas and disciplines." — The Atlantic

About the Author

Mark Stevenson is codirector of Flow Associates, Britain's most respected cultural learning consultancy, and ReAgency, a leading organization that promotes science communication. He lives in London.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Avery; Reprint edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781583334560
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583334560
  • ASIN: 1583334564
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steve T on February 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book!! It is very readable and offers a very informative look at some of the most important future technologies. It's based on the author's travels and interviews with the top people in the various fields. I find it interesting and surprising that a professional comedian would write such an insightful book on these subjects.

The book looks at genetics/biotech engineering, robotics and artificial intelligence, transhumanism (merging people and machines), nanotechnology, the commercial space program and technology to battle climate change. The last part of the book focuses on how all this might affect people, society and culture. As the title suggests the book has a generally optimistic take on these technologies, but it does offer some balance, and the author keeps up his sense of humor (British humor) even when writing about existential treats from things like engineered viruses or nanotechnology grey goo.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get an idea of what might be coming in the next few decades. If you really want to delve into the technology and especially transhumanism there is also Ray Kurzweil's (who was interviewed in this book) classic, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (but that is a much more challenging and technical read that this book).
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Christopher J Hughey on February 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Think back over the past few years and think about the books you've read on the current state of the world and/or its fast-approaching fate. Then, when you get back from the pharmacy and take your copious amounts of anti-depressants needed to cope with those books, pick up a copy of An Optimist's Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer "What's Next?" and throw out the pills. Amid all the doom and gloom, here's a blossom of hope. Mind you, Mr. Stevenson is no naïf in rose-colored glasses: he approaches his subjects - among them some of the world's most brilliant people - with an intelligent skepticism, challenges their assumptions and never lets them off the hook when they try to wiggle around the tough questions.

To get a sense of Stevenson's style and approach in this book, think about the motivations behind What Are You Optimistic About?: Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better, combine it with the probing intelligence and never-say-die quest for creative answers behind Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.), then dash in the wit and wisdom of a A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Each section of Stevenson's book covers a specific topic, with subjects ranging from transhumanism to robotics to the environment to genetic engineering (to name but a few).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve Reina VINE VOICE on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What will the future bring?

Science writer Mark Stevenson answers this question in four sections dealing with research related to:

1) Extending the human life span;

2) Creating more human machines;

3) Protecting Mother Earth; and

4) The author's specualtions on where all these developments will leave us.

In some cases, the "optimist" in this book's title is merely given lip service. In other cases, "optimist" means giving credence to some research possibilities that may take a long time to yield any fruit (if, honestly ever).

By way of another general point, this book has no photo section which is kind of too bad for many of the interesting gadgets and people he discusses.

But, to the topics:


This section consists of three chapters discussing the human genome project and research on artificially extending human life.

Perhaps most promising in this area was research by the Harvard School of Medicine which developed a protocol not only for halting aging actually reversing its signs in lab rats.

Here's how they did it. At the tail end of every string of DNA in your body are what is called telomeres. They function sort of like the plastic thing at the end of shoelaces by keeping the code clear of being frayed and damaged. But shoe laces, DNA code does tend to degrade over time. What the Harvard researchers did was to create a substance called telomerase which artificially replaces lost telomeres to extend DNA life span. It allows the DNA to replace itself more times and amazingly actually reverse the aging process.

But the Harvard researchers are not alone. In this book we also meet life extension researcher Aubrey de Grey.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Fiona on June 9, 2015
Format: Paperback
I haven't even finished this yet but I'm loving it so much I'm reviewing it now. I adore science (yes I did say 'adore' ... if there were a god of science I would worship it!) especially reading about what's just around the corner.
So far two concepts have blown my mind:
1) The development of bacteria that ingest CO2 & produce fuel .. how cool is that? Two problems solved in one. I'm not saying we should stop trying to be good environmentally-conscious people, but it's really not all doom and gloom (hence the word Optimist in the title I guess).
And, even better than no. 1
2) Currently 90% of drugs developed never make it to market because of their bad side effects on a v. small percentage of the population. But in the not-too-distance future your doctor will have a complete copy of your personal genome. They will be able to cross check your genetic code against a huge database which will tell them whether you are in that small percentage. The implications of this are VAST. Think about it. It means that instead of 90% of drugs being rejected, it will be more like e.g. 30% (total guess on my part) because we'll know who can and can't take them. This in turn means that the cost of drugs is bound to plummet because the drugs companies will no longer have to charge huge amounts for the few drugs that do reach market in order to cover the R&D costs of all those that failed. I'm extrapolating beyond Stevenson now, but surely then, in the not too distant future, all 7 billion of us will have access to basic medicines rather than just those lucky few of us who happen to have been born in an affluent country.
Wow, I love this stuff. While many people sit and whinge there really are hard-working scientists out there who are quietly getting on with solving the world's problems. Can't wait to read the next chapter.
PS If you enjoy this too, try Michio Kaku for the same kind of stuff.
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