Non-Fiction Review

The Coming Convergence

(2008) Stanley Schmidt PhD, Prometheus Books, US$27.95, hrdbk, 270pp, ISBN 1-59102-613-6


Stanley Schmidt is well-known to science fiction fans, primarily as editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact for twenty-five years (said publication obviously a favourite of The Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation!), and as a science and SF author. He has a doctorate in Physics and is a member of the Foresight Institute, as well as contributing to the Advanced Concepts Group and the National Space Society. There can be few people who are as well qualified as a 'future-ologist', so this book was bound to be fascinating... and it is. Someone a lot more clever than me once said, "Any idiot could have predicted the motor car, but it takes a science fiction writer to predict the traffic jam." Which is to say that some technological developments are 'obvious', but that their consequences may be less readily apparent. In this book Schmidt looks at technological synergies, both intended and accidental, and speculates as to where we might end up. Both as a forward-looking scientist and as an SF writer, Schmidt is well aware that those of us who speculate on the future often need to supply 'warning signs' as well as signposts. By way of an example of converging technologies that can have unintended consequences Schmidt opens the book by showing how (to some extent) the events of the eleventh of September 2001 in New York were dependent on advances in the erection of tall buildings on the one hand, and the development and expansion of air travel on the other. It's a rather extreme example, and is dependent on a great many other things as well, but it sets the scene well enough.

Schmidt takes the reader methodically through the convergences of the past, using examples such as the contribution of the Jacquard Loom to computing, then outlines some current convergences, such as those in bio- and nano-technology, and then looks ahead to the future to briefly sketch both the 'upside' and the 'downside' of possible developments yet to take place. Some of these scenarios will already be familiar to science fiction readers and it is refreshing that Schmidt unashamedly, if unsurprisingly given his background, respectfully uses many an SF example throughout the book. Like SF, this book tries to map the unknown territory of the future, trying to second-guess the potential and opportunities, as well as the perils and pitfalls. As such it should appeal to the science-loving SF fan and the SF-loving scientist. So, if your taste runs to such as John Gribbin, James Gleick, Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart (to name but a few), or if you're a regular viewer of Horizon and The Sky At Night, then this book should be right down your street. Recommended.

Tony Chester

See also Jonathan's take on The Coming Convergence.

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