by Josh Smith
When speculating about the future, who better to turn to than someone whose entire career is based on futurist imaginings? Science fiction and cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling has been writing about the fictional near future with eerie accuracy since 1976 -- particularly in stories such as "We See Things Differently," written in 1989 and narrated by a 21st-century Arab terrorist sent to Florida to assassinate an American politician using bio-warfare powder. In Tomorrow Now, Sterling turns from the creation of fiction to serious speculation about what innovations in technology the next 50 years might bring.
Guiding the discussion is Jacques, the misanthrope from Shakespeare's As You Like It, whose best-known speech describes the Seven Ages of Man: infant, student, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon and oblivion. Sterling takes these each in turn to discuss technology, how society will interact with it, and what forms it might take next. He tackles such issues as genetic modification of ourselves and our environment; the future forms education might take; postindustrial design and our relationship to the objects and tools we use everyday; the future of war; the impact of our burgeoning information systems on media, politics and the economy of information; and finally how those in the future will face their own inescapable personal end. The way we use technologies today, Sterling contends, will shape the technological revolutions of tomorrow.
In fiction, the future is often imagined simplistically, either in the rubble of an apocalypse or as a gleaming clean utopia. In contrast, Tomorrow Now envisions an organic -- and therefore complicated -- future. According to Sterling, the future of genetic research is harnessing the power of bacteria to accomplish nearly any task, from regulating our health to growing our food. Our society will become a very organic place filled with bubbling vats of product that we can command on a cellular level. Even the antiseptic virtual world is predicted to grow naturally: informational nodes will grow, blossom and die according to a virtual natural law.
Tomorrow Now is a fascinating look at the future that we are currently building. It will appeal to fans of authors like Sterling, Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, as well as to anyone curious about the world around them and where it is all going.
Publication date: 12/02/04