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Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World [Hardcover]

by David D. Friedman
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 21, 2008 0521877326 978-0521877329 1
Future Imperfect describes and discusses a variety of technological revolutions that might happen over the next few decades, their implications, and how to deal with them. Topics range from encryption and surveillance through biotechnology and nanotechnology to life extension, mind drugs, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. One theme of the book is that the future is radically uncertain. Technological changes already begun could lead to more or less privacy than we have ever known, freedom or slavery, effective immortality or the elimination of our species, and radical changes in life, marriage, law, medicine, work, and play. We do not know which future will arrive, but it is unlikely to be much like the past. It is worth starting to think about it now.

Editorial Reviews


"What a delightful and absorbing book! Friedman looks to the future with a science fiction writer's sense of the possible combined with a social scientist's understanding of what it all might mean."
- N. Gregory Mankiw, Harvard University

"Professor Friedman has written a valuable book that explores some of the most interesting issues connecting technology and society in the years and decades to come. His explanations of the technologies are accessible to ordinary readers, and he tees up the societal issues in a lively way. While not everyone will agree on the magnitude of the threats, his treatment of the subjects will make everyone think, from the most expert Internet lawyer to the most enthusiastic geek-indeed anyone who cares about his or her future in a democratic society."
- Henry H. Perritt, Jr., Chicago-Kent College of Law

"David Friedman turns his formidable analytical abilities on a number of futures. They won't all happen -- but at least one of them almost certainly will. Friedman applies law to economics and economics to the law, to the benefit of our understanding of both. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the future -- or any one of several futures. It doesn't hurt that it's a good read, either."
- Jerry Pournelle, Best selling science and science fiction writer, high tech columnist

"In his brand new work, Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World, the famed economist David Friedman presents a variety of technological revolutions in the next 20 years and their implications. If dead could be brought alive, genes of the unborn could be picked and matched to a perfect combination, and robotic flies are the future of surveillance cameras, then what does this all mean for the traditional values and ideals our society is based on? Our passive consumption of evolving technology could lead to more or less privacy than we have ever known, freedom or slavery, effective immortality and radical changes in life, marriage, law, medicine, work, and play."

"Provocative would be another term for "Future Imperfect," in which Friedman lays out a tantalizing range of either/or futures - greater personal privacy and choice protected by encryption and private contracts, or a Big Brotheresque world in which surveillance technologies and databases catalog our behaviors."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"Friedman's (law, Santa Clara Univ.) writing is extremely lucid and inventive, just the combination necessary to present the crucial challenges that the U.S. legal system will be faced with by technological revolutions of the future. He offers an overview of privacy architecture and possible futures for cybercommerce, progressing to biological technologies, including cryogenics and nanotechnologies, to bring readers to examine all that for which our legal system is unprepared.... Nontech specialists, those with an interest in science fiction, and lay readers can all walk away from this book wiser for the future. Suitable for public libraries as well as law libraries."
-Jim Hahn, University of Illinois Library, Urbana

"...Friedman, a law professor, gleefully sorts out a host of messes having to do with a wide range of world-changing technologies. ...Friedman doesn't duck the big issues: the death of copyright protection; nanotechnology; cloning, genetic engineering, and other advanced reproductive therapies; cognitive enhancement through pharmacology; the growing difficulty (due in part to tools that allow users to veil their identities) of enforcing contracts in cyberspace. Friedman is honest enough not to claim to be a seer-the future is both imperfect and uncertain. But he frames the possibilities evenhandedly, with energetic comprehensiveness."
-Lew McCreary, Harvard Business Review

"In his book Future Imperfect: Technology And Freedom In An Uncertain World, David M. Friedman discusses the dilemmas posed by a number of promising technologies. He even digs into three that could one day decimate humanity: nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and biotechnology....Friedman doesn't believe stopping technological progress is an option. The benefits of owning a smarter computer than the next guy, for example, are just too great. "This train doesn't have brakes, and from my perspective at least, the main thing to do is not to say, 'Should we encourage it, or should we stop it?' " Friedman says. Instead Friedman suggests two questions: 'Where can we guess this technology will lead, and if we get there, what should we do?'"
-Brian Caulfield, Forbes.com

"[...] [Friedman] looks at a variety of technological revolutions that might happen over the next few decades, their implications, and how to deal with them. [...] In short, the book covers nearly everything Human Nature covers but with a libertarian bent. [..]"
--Summary of David Friedman's Talk at the Cato Institute by William Saletan, Slate

"Friedman (law, Santa Clara U.), whose specialty is the economics of law, fires off questions and provides answers in this disturbing survey of things to come. He finds that advances in technology in the next few decades will cause us to make choices about marriage, law, medicine, work and play based on no experience or preparation whatsoever. [...] Friedman obviously wants to scare us enough so we can set frameworks and policies, personal and collective, and he succeeds."
--Book News

"...In Future Imperfect, Professor Friedman urges his readers to think critically about the possible futures we as a people might face as technology advances. As he speculates about the next generation of technology, he provides a candid and informed analysis of the possible changes that technology may bring. He offers plausible scenarios for the future that have support in present-day events....Professor Friedman has demonstrated a talent for distilling the pertinent details without patronizing the reader....,he has included endnotes with links and references to more detailed discussions on the subjects. The chapters are divided into smaller cohesive sections, making the book easy to put down and come back to later. With so many topics covered, it is likely that any reader will find a subject that appeals to him and Professor Friedman's aptitude for explaining the technology will ensure that no reader is left behind. Future Imperfect would interest anyone who wishes to learn more about technology and the implications it may have on our future."
--Kristen C. Buteau, Journal of High Technology Law, Suffolk University Law School

"Friedman argues that while you may get utterly wretched results from a deregulated market and no regulatory authority, you have a better chance of getting a good result than if you centralize the decisionmaking in a government agency."
--Harold Feld, Wetmachine

"...Friedman rightly emphasizes that future developments are contingent and their ramifications uncertain...Recommended..."
--D. Bantz, University of Alaska, CHOICE

"--In Future Imperfect David Friedman presents a wide variety of possible futures...Friedman favors individual liberty, believing that in the face of uncertainty this is the best way forward toward a better future."
--Gregory Benford, Professor of Physics at the University of California at Irvine, Founder of the Genescient Corporation, Reason Magazine

"...22 very interesting chapters on various futures...Friedman explains, clarifies, enlightens, and entertains...This is a delightful book, written by a creative mind..."
--Ross Levatter, Liberty

Book Description

Future Imperfect describes and discusses a variety of technological revolutions that might happen over the next few decades, their implications, and how to deal with them. Topics range from encryption and surveillance through biotechnology and nanotechnology to life extension, mind drugs, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (July 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521877326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521877329
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,579,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Friedman At His Best May 31, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Future Imperfect is an economist's take on the radically unpredictable technological change to come over the next thirty years. It is thorough, fair, and well-reasoned.

The first half focuses on changes in information technology, particularly in regard to privacy and encryption. I found this material somewhat dry, although it is especially well-researched due to the author's familiarity with the material. I found the extreme good and bad outcomes less desirable and terrifying than those in the second section; perhaps that is why it was less interesting.

The second half of the book is more speculative, and some apparently say less thorough, but I think that is really because there is more uncertainty involved in space, nanotech, and biotech research. We really do not know whether the grey goo scenario is possible, or whether the fact that "natural nanotech machines" haven't already created such a disaster means that it is impossible. We do not know if our conciousnesses can be uploaded into a machine, or what the implications would be. We do not know if space elevators will be of sufficient use to justify their costs in thirty years. Personally I think this makes this part of the book much more interesting. I had a similar feeling when reading Matt Ridley's The Red Queen; the end of the book was very speculative, and some friends disparaged it for departing from well-established science. While I find the "what is" stuff interesting, the "what if" is even moreso.

It's well-written, painless (probably for non-lawyers and non-economists, even), and discusses important issues. I think it is well worth picking up for anyone interested in the technologies that will become important within our lifetimes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Survey of the Near Future April 8, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a very good survey of current and emerging technologies for the next few decades and their probable social impacts (and possible but not likely impacts). I didn't learn much new, because I try to keep up with current and emerging technology, at least with its capabilities; being able to do most of them is beyond my abilites. As the earlier reviewer mentioned, Friedman's coverage of space flight is weak, but that is because the author (and I) strongly suspects not much is likely to change substantially there for the next few decades. The review of biotechnologies is weaker than computational technologies because the author is less personally knowledgable in that area, it is still a very good summary of what has appeared in the popular science press.

The greatest strength of the book is the extremely thorough discussion of internet security issues and technologies and their likely impacts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome view of the future June 5, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rather than debating what will happen in the future, Friedman brings our attention to the changes that will occur within our culture and legal system as a result of these technologies. He starts with numerous hypotheticals, poses potential answers to those hypotheticals, and then goes above and beyond with further problems and solutions, until it seems that only through market powers can we find ourselves able to deal with the onslaught of changes we're about to encounter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Interesting June 26, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I picked this book up because I liked 'Machinery of Freedom' and thought Friedman's Law/Economics background would prove an interesting mix. I was not disappointed.

The book is accessible and easy to read although the topic might not hold the average reader's interest. If you have a law student or economics student in college/grad school, this would make an awesome present for that person!
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Topic From this Discussion
Try harder, Mr. Friedman.
There's still plenty of oil in the world, and plenty of gasoline. If some people feel they can't afford to pay for it, that doesn't invalidate either of the two points made in the first two paragraphs of the book. Indeed, Friedman anticipates "steadily rising prices" in the long term,... Read more
Sep 30, 2008 by J. P. R. Palfrey |  See all 2 posts
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