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The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-first Century Paperback – May 14, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Scientists love to speculate about the direction research and technology will take us, and editor John Brockman has given a stellar panel free rein to imagine the future in The Next Fifty Years. From brain-swapping and the hunt for extraterrestrials to the genetic elimination of unhappiness and a new scientific morality, the ideas in this book are wild and thought-provoking. The list of scientists and thinkers who participate is impressive: Lee Smolin and Martin Rees on cosmology; Ian Stewart on mathematics; and Richard Dawkins and Paul Davies on the life sciences, just to name a few. Many of the authors remind readers that science has changed a lot since the blind optimism of the early 20th century, and they are unanimously aware of the potential consequences of the developments they describe. Fifty years is a long time in the information age, and these essays do a credible and entertaining job of guessing where we're going. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Agent Brockman has collected 25 of his writers to discuss the future of science in their respective fields of study. Several of these writers surpass ordinary trend spotting to entertain some rather pulse-quickening ideas completely beyond the kin of the so-called dominant paradigm. And some are of a magnitude to radically advance the nature of humans' interaction with each other, the planet and beyond. The neurologist Robert Sapolsky, for example, posits that sadness will take its place alongside AIDS and Alzheimer's as the most notorious medical disasters of the next half-century. Brockman, who is also an author-editor (The Third Culture; The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years, etc.), divides his collection into two parts: the future in theory and the future in practice. Theoretical topics include cosmology, what it means to be alive, the nature of consciousness and the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence. Mars exploration, DNA sequencing, neuroscience, child rearing and the like are addressed in the practical half. These essays can be quite technical, intended as they are to make the latest scientific information available for cross-disciplinary research. The intellectual adventures collected here point to a future that is dazzlingly bright, at least to the eyes of these unorthodox thinkers. The general public, for whom these essays are also written, should be similarly bedazzled.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (May 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375713425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375713422
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Venugapal Vasudevan on October 27, 2002
Format: Audible Audio Edition
A wonderful example across the sciences as to why people working in a field have excellent visibility over the next 5 years, and very poor visibility (or at least very unoriginal) when asked to speculate over longer time periods. For those of you familiar with the research of these people, their vision of the future looks extraordinary like the work they do, only extrapolated in ways that are obvious to those in the field. What I expected was the "creative destruction" by people of their own agendas. All the computer scientists (Brooks, Holland, Gelernter and Schank) disappointed in this regard. Richard Dawkins was the only intriguing one.
Just to calibrate the thought again. If you want to learn the views of some pretty good scientists on the larger backdrop of their research, this is a good book to read. However, other than the fact that they are working on what they are working on, there is no convincing argument as to why the world will turn out the way they envision. Not to mention, good scientists tend to be spectacularly wrong on long term visions (remember Lord Kelvin's claim about the end of chemistry a century ago).
I still look forward enthusiastically to a book with this same title, but a different cast of contributors.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Robert Adler on December 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
As Yogi Berra said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." However, if anyone can make meaningful predictions, it's the twenty-five leading scientists and authors whose essays grace The Next Fifty Years.
It's an exciting book. Almost every piece is enlightening, stimulating, and remarkably well written. I read a lot of books and articles about science, but still came across dozens of new ideas, convincing arguments and sparkling insights. Here are a few items that got me thinking:
Physicist Lee Smolin points out that subtle changes in light waves as they cross space may provide the first test of quantum theories of gravity--we won't need to build accelerators the size of the solar system to gain this information.
Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller speculates that gene activation chips will soon allow researchers to map the changes in our brains caused by "every state of mind lasting more than a few hours." The result will be a far richer understanding of human consciousness.
Mathematician Steven Strogatz expects that new methods for creating complex, evolving systems on computers will mean that we humans will "end up as bystanders, unable to follow along with the machines we've built, flabbergasted by their startling conclusions."
Richard Dawkins predicts that by 2050 it will cost just a few hundred dollars to sequence one's own personal genome, computers will be able to simulate an organism's entire development from its genetic code, and scientists may even be able to reconstruct extinct animals a la Jurassic Park.
Computer scientist Rodney Brooks thinks wars may be fought over genetic engineering and artificial enhancements that have the potential to turn humans into "manipulable artifacts.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on August 6, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Twenty-five scientists expound on what the world will be like in 2050. The quality in my opinion is a little spotty and too many of them preface their story with a disclaimer about the fallacy of making predictions - but well over half of them are absolutely invigorating. Each new chapter is like taste-testing a new flavor of ice cream blindfolded. They all tend to focus on big developments in their own field, as they should. My favorite approach for this assignment was by Judith Rich Harris who gave a lecture in 2050 at the age of 125. She first thanked previous scientists for the contributions they had made to human longevity. Overall, this is a superb read.

Lee Smolin - We will have a more detailed history of the universe which will constrain current theories about INFLATION...we may or may not have observed dark matter and dark energy. String Theory (its only mention in this book) will be ruled in or out by observations within a few years.

Ian Stewart - The concept of "proof" in mathematics will come under scrutiny and will survive. The use of computers in mathematical proofs will be ingrained. We will have a rigorous mathematical theory of emergent phenomenon and the high level dynamics of complex relationships.

Martin Rees - We will know how life began on earth.

Allison Gopnik - The emergence of the disciplines of philosophy of science, AI, statistics and developmental psychology will lead to a full-fledged theory of how we learn.

Paul Bloom - The fact that evolutionary considerations exist as a source of evidence in the study of psychology will no longer be questioned.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on July 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
Prophecy has been having a bad press lately. Despite the seeming millions of folks who either chat with a divinity, channel the dead, "solve" crimes, see ghosts or converse with aliens, not one predicted 911, the London bombings or the Indonesian tsunami. It's not just the fringe that strikes out. "Experts" routinely choose wrong whether in politics, sports, finance, entertainment or cultural trends. It's disillusioning, but the record of science is not much better in terms of "things to come". This is not to say that energy is not expended on that task. It is safe to say that the intervention of the computer, TV, car, discovery of DNA, cloning, medical advances, etc renders past predictions useless. That is one reason I liked this book so well. It is divided into 2 parts - the first philosophical, the second practical.

The first part asks basic questions to which we still have no answer - How did life start? What is life? Do aliens exist? What is the nature of gravity and the universe? How will manipulation of genes, nanotechnology and quantum mechanics affect us? These and other questions such as morality, death, artificial intelligence and life extension are also discussed in a series of brilliant essays by a wide range of (for want of a better word) "experts". The last half of the book looks at the practical side - education, politics, entertainment, happiness, love, medicine. the biggest change that a book written fifty years ago and this book is the emphasis upon biology - the manipulation of our bodies, our genes, the emerging synthesis of humans and machine.

Perhaps one of the most startling essays was THE MERGER OF FLESH AND MACHINES by Rodney Brooks who heads the MIT artificial intelligence library.
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