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Author embraces human 'upgrade' with unbridled optimism

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/3/2015 (775 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Where most of us see amusing gadgets, Toronto journalist Peter Nowak sees profound human progress.

His stimulating second book (after 2010's Sex, Bombs, and Burgers) contends that our species is going through a second major technology-driven "upgrade."

In the first upgrade, millennia ago, we transitioned from cave dwellers utterly dominated by nature to tool-wielding Humans 2.0, using crude technology to more easily coexist with nature. Now we're well into the process of using computers, robots and other high technology to "become the main determinants of all of the world's systems, including biology and environment." It's the dawning of an age in which our species pretty much does whatever the heck it wants.

"We're not evolving, we're upgrading, just like software," he declares in the opening chapter. "In the third age of humans, as people master nature rather than coexisting with it or being subjugated by it, we are becoming Humans 3.0."

Some see that as more bad than good, what with global warming and other great environmental problems we hubris-filled hairless apes have caused. Not Nowak -- he's optimistic and thinks it is, on balance, a rather good thing.

Technology is driving economic development everywhere, and thus strengthening international ties and filling people with the hope that comes with prosperity. Increasing numbers of us are using technology to follow our "true entrepreneurial nature," and personal expression and creativity have blossomed.

Internet-related connectivity has enabled the forging of friendships and communities that span the globe as individuals use the web to find others who share their interests and predilections. Human health and lifespans have improved thanks to advances in medical science.

Environmentalists see serious negative consequences arising out of our detachment from nature, but Nowak says we need not be so worried. He acknowledges that human-caused climate change could "wreak havoc on all aspects of life," but reckons our brilliant problem-solving abilities will save us in the end.

Just how we'll tackle that problem, he doesn't say. But, you know, we will. If we can make all these whiz-bang high-tech gadgets and apps to minimize dirty work and instantly update people in far-off places about our lives, then by golly we can avert mass extinction, right? Right?

Likewise, he acknowledges that the recent economic recovery has been short on jobs because businesses are using technology to cut their payrolls. But Nowak reassures the reader that things will balance out in the end, and that we'll be okay. Exactly how, he can't say -- but then he's not an economist.

Nowak sees "a new Golden Age of individualism," and won't let environmental and social-justice concerns harsh his mellow. He maintains a relentlessly sunny outlook on our prospects, which is perhaps unsurprising if you know he's a blogger for Canadian Business. He seems a true believer in the magic of a can-do attitude combined with some entrepreneurial spirit and tech smarts.

You don't have to buy into his aw-shucks wonder and optimism, though, to appreciate Nowak's crisp writing and abundance of interesting facts and insights. Did you know, for instance, that the 250,000 self-published books churned out in the U.S. in 2011 was nearly four times as many as in 2006? Or that futurist Ray Kurzweil projects computer intelligence to surpass human intelligence by 2045?

Humans 3.0 is a good, smart read. You can buy your analogue copy today, via the Internet or at an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar store.

 

Winnipeg writer Mike Stimpson wants our future computer/robot overlords to know he bears no ill will towards them.

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History

Updated on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 8:24 AM CDT: Formatting.

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