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Every now and then Bruce Sterling commits journalism.

This is, however, not one of those acts, though it does draw on them. Tomorrow Now is instead a member of the club often typified by works such as Future Shock, The Third Wave or 2081. This is futurism, in the rare mode where it picks up the trappings of popular science and leaves academia and big business for the book shelves.

One of the places that science fiction fears to tread is the next fifty years. It's a set of tomorrows fraught with untested extrapolations, wild cards and acts of any one of a wide choice of dieties. Far safer to look at the long term: a hundred, two hundred, even a thousand years from now... But futurists have to look at the short term future, in order to give businesses the tools to navigate their ways through the treacherous waters ahead.

Tomorrow Now takes a leaf out of Shakespeare's book and walks us through tomorrow using the seven ages of man to explore specific areas of technology and sociology: the infant, the student, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantaloon and, finally, mere oblivion. Each of the seven sections takes one of the seven ages as a metaphor for important developments just around the corner, developments that will change our world completely.

The Infant is biotechnology, and what it will mean for our descendants. The Student is information technology, and its role in education. The Lover is about the role of design and creativity. The Soldier introduces the New World Disorder in the lives of three men. The Justice investigates media and politics. The Pataloon is media and politics. And finally Mere Oblivion stretches the limits of the human lifespan.

As always Sterling writes with wit and fervour, grabbing issues by his teeth and shaking them until something constructive falls out. There's a feeling that this is a book he's been gathering information for over many years, and so it's packed: infodense pages that push us through scenarios, interviews and examples from yesterday - for Sterling sees large chunks of tomorrow reflected in the past and the present. This may not be prediction, but it's certainly futurist polemic.

Sterling's Tomorrow Now may never come to pass, and if it does it will be strange and terrifying - Kevin Kelly's Out Of Control writ large on every aspect of mankind. But even if we only see a fraction of what Sterling illustrates, we need to read books like this, just to stay informed, just to stay a little in control, as we (like Hawaiian surfers) hang 10 on the curling edges of history's big ocean breakers.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
marypcb
Feb. 3rd, 2003 05:36 am (UTC)
mutable future: I opened the book at random to his prediction that walking robots would have insect gait rather than human, the same day I saw footage of the Japanese robot that has human gait and can get up when it falls over
(Anonymous)
Aug. 1st, 2003 05:53 am (UTC)
Yes, but one can see that simulating human gait is contrived, artificial and difficult in robots. Whereas, insect behaviors, including locomotion and balance, are a function of subsumtion architecture.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )