Exponential Progress, book review: A patchy overview of today's emerging technologies


The spacesuited figure on the cover makes it look like science fiction, the opening liability disclaimer would fit right into to an end-user licence agreement, the index is sandwiched between a 40-page bibliography and a handy list of abbreviations, from CAPTCHA to YOLO, that you probably know but might like an reminder of, and the whole book is covered by a Creative Commons licence. So how does this unusual approach to publishing stand up? The introduction to Exponential Progress purports to be written at the back end of the 21st century, reframing the usual'outhouse to zero-gravity toilet in 70 years' reference to the speed of progress as a 300-year jump from no electricity to'outer-terrestrial colonies' (along with hints about a civilisation of AIs). By promising to explain to fictional readers some eight decades in the future how we got there, author Farabi Shayor gets licence to cover the state of the art across a range of current and bleeding-edge technologies -- virtual reality, electric and self-driving cars, AI (both software and'brain-like' chips), the singularity, brain-computer interfaces, CRISPR and synthetic biology -- for a general audience. Although the book promises to explore the dangers of emerging technology and whether the pace of innovation is beyond human control, the writing is often unstintingly optimistic.

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