Joel Garreau on human enhancements
The first scenario is called Heaven, and its “poster child” is the much decorated entrepreneur and technologist Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil looks at the technology curve and sees what humans can conquer through technology: disease, suffering, ugliness, stupidity, pain, being fat, forgetfulness, and possibly even death. He sees that curve going straight up, so that it effectively becomes indistinguishable from the Christian version of heaven. Kurzweil goes so far as to say if you can live well for the next 20 years, and you have a good medical plan, you could be effectively immortal because the technology will be moving that fast. But even in the face of such wonders, in this scenario, humans are more or less spectators. Technologies seem in control.
The Hell scenario is the mirror image of the Heaven scenario in a lot of ways. The spokesperson for this scenario is Bill Joy, the former chief scientist of Sun Microsystems. Joy looks at the same information that Ray Kurzweil does and says, “It could all go the other way.” He absolutely agrees that we are on this curve of exponential technological change that is changing what it means to be human. But he worries that this power could get into the hands of nutcases, with extremely bad consequences. The optimistic view of the Hell scenario is that we extinct the human species in 20 to 25 years. The pessimistic view is that we wipe out all of life on Earth.
The third scenario is called Prevail, and it is advocated by computer scientist and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier. While both Heaven and Hell are techno-determinist, taking as a given that our technologies control our future rather than the other way around, Prevail is essentially betting on “the cussedness of human nature.” The fundamental assumption of prevail is that while our technologies may be following a smooth curve, human history hasn’t run straight—it has taken many dips and loops and reverses. In this scenario, people start processing a wide variety of ways to shape our future, rather than have it shaped by technologies, and quickly and pragmatically picking the ones that work.