Top critical review
120 of 139 people found this helpful
welcomed breeze of fresh air, but use with caution!
on April 24, 2012
First off, I loved this book. It made me consider for a change that mankind could not just be the causing problem, but also the solution to big issues like climate change, overpopulation and dwindling resources that plague us today. It was amazingly refreshing to read about all those new technologies that are in progress of being developed, from water purification to renewable energies, medical bots, diagnostic apps on your smartphone, vertical gardens for local food production and supply, just to name a few. This read sure brings the optimist out in you, and makes you feel good about being part of the human race again.
I would love to give it 5 stars, but I settle for only 3 (3 1/2 if I had the option), because there is great danger here that you are left with a false sense of security about the future. Even though there is much cause for optimism, there are a few things that I wish the authors would have brought to the readers awareness with more emphasis (they actually do point them out, but not clearly enough in my opinion). They missed the opportunity to clearly communicate that everyone of us has responsibilities we have to meet if we want to see this future happen.
1) Time for business as usual is running out.
After finishing the last pages of the book and still riding high on this most welcome endorphin flush it promotes, one could feel confident to simply put all the chips on one bet and bank on the vision that help in form of brilliant new technologies is on the way, the future is secure, and no further personal action is needed to make this future happen, other than not hindering private entrepreneurship and free markets in their activities in form of government intervention, bureaucracy, or rules and regulations. I don't think that is what the authors are trying to say, but it might be perceived this way.
Until those tech solutions become available AND INTEGRATED, the best course of action for every consumer still is to be frugal with energy and resources, and show more respect and empathy to all the other species we share this planet with. That means we still should try conserve water and energy, buy a fuel efficient car, drive less, consume less plastic to keep it from clogging up the oceans and landfills, etc, you get the idea. No, this won't solve the problems, but it sends important signals to people around us, and more importantly the markets, and if done on a large scale it might buy valuable time!
2) All these innovations and new technologies don't just have to be developed and made available on a massive scale, they also have to be accepted by mainstream.
Just because new technologies are available and affordable, we can't simply assume that they will be widely accepted. New ideas and inventions also mean a lot of change in a very short time, and many people don't deal all that well with change, now matter how benign it might be. As an example I would like to take the nurse robots that could take care of our elderlies to bring down end of life and health care costs. Many people might resist this approach as 'inhuman'. And as amazing as this 'no plumbing, turn poop into power' toilet sounds, it might not get embraced by the home depot shopper right away simply because he knows from experience that the water toilet works, but who knows if the new one doesn't turn out downright disgusting?
Old habits die hard. As an example take an alternative technology that is already available today, the electric car, which I think deserves a lot more credit than it currently gets. Yes, it is not without flaws, from battery production and recycling all the way to range anxiety. Yes, it uses your local power plant and thus still contributes to the carbon footprint. But the bottom line is that an electric car is still many times more energy efficient than a conventional car, just because it so much more effective turning that energy into speed, not 90% heat that disappears into the atmosphere. Most people don't realize that their internal combustion car is mainly a HUGE RADIATOR that they haul around. Nor do they realize how convenient it is not to have to get gas at a filthy gas station any more. Instead the car can be topped off in the driveway every night when power is cheap, and the power grid is underloaded anyway. There is hardly any costly maintenance, because there are a lot less moving parts to take care off. All that torque the electric motor provides makes it zippy, and the silent, magic carpet experience makes it really fun to drive. I think the electric car deserves a lot more consideration at least as a secondary vehicle, yet Nissan and GM are sitting on their Leafs and Volts, because people by nature are resisting too much change in a too short amount of time.
So as consumers again I think we have the responsibility to give new technologies a chance and support their creators by purchasing them even if they feel a little strange to us. Iphones and ipads, and the world wide web had it easy because their wasn't really a similar established product in use that they had to compete with. Many new products and technologies will have to compete with well established products and will have a lot harder time making it mainstream.
3) Private enterprise can bring the solution, but also can be an obstacle to the changes we so badly need.
Not only will the consumer resist change, even more resistance to change is to be expected from the firms, cooperations, and manufacturers that are currently making money with conventional technology. Yes Exxon and other oil companies have a budget for renewable energiy research, but it is pretty much insignificant compared to what they spend on conventional drill site development. Why? Because drilling is the time proven way to make money for their share holders. That's where I think government should step in by creating incentives and support for start up companies and garage DIYers to make sure all those new ideas and creations we so badly need get a fair chance at survival. Free Markets are less effective in this regard because, again, change isn't easy, old habits die hard, and the old boy cooperations and power movers will resist change as long as there is money to be made the conventional way.
New technologies that come online will have flaws, and some of them might have the potential to produce a whole new host of collateral damage that will have to be taken care of later on. So another role for government should be to make sure we don't accidentally open another Pandora's box, by providing appropiate safety standards and test routines before a new product gets unleashed.
For us as consumers this means that we should take the time to do some research, keep in touch with what comes down the pipeline, consider the pros and cons of the products we buy on a broader scale than just cost and convenience, send the right buying signals to the markets, and make well informed decisions about who we vote into office. Just leaning back and looking forward to a golden tech future won't get us there.