Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the Future of Civilization - John Browne
Technological advances will be miraculous but unsettling but not too unsettling according to this measured, rather superficial survey of things to come. Browne (Seven Elements That Changed the World), an engineer, former CEO of oil company BP, and Crick Institute chairman, pays homage to past engineering triumphs, from Stone Age hand axes to the Bic ball-point pen, on the way to exploring modern-day innovations including driverless cars, renewable energy, social media, 3-D printing, prosthetic limbs controlled by brain-implanted chips, and surgical robots. Browne registers potential downsides of breakthroughs along with benefits: the internet connects but also balkanizes humanity into ideological bubbles; digital images enable malign surveillance; GPS satellites are making navigational skills atrophy; antibiotics breed antibiotic-resistant germs. Browne is mainly optimistic and welcoming of new technology, but throws sops to alarmism: he judges fracking safe, "when performed carefully," but allows that "rational explanations and statistics are not enough to resolve such an emotional and polarizing issue," and asserts that anti-vaxxers' "concerns must be answered sympathetically." There's not much new in this broad, shallow overview, which will leave both technophiles and -phobes wishing that Browne had gone more deeply into the controversies over these powerful innovations.