Review: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future

The Skeptics' Guide to the Future Book Cover

As someone who isn’t typically drawn to futuristic concepts and not much of a movie enjoyer, my understanding of which technologies are feasible and which are purely fictional has always been a bit hazy. Until not long ago, I experienced a game-changer that revolutionized my perspective toward futurism.

Recently, I watched a sci-fi movie called The Martian. Until then, I had thought the technologies showcased in most sci-fi movies were almost purely imaginative. The following week, I visited Heureka, the Finnish science center in Helsinki. There was a section where visitors had to choose between myths and facts regarding futuristic technologies. To my surprise, it challenged my beliefs, revealing that many technologies I considered fictional were actually already perfectly studied and grounded in reality. It triggered my curiosity, leading me to discover this book, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future: What Yesterday’s Science and Science Fiction Tell Us About the World of Tomorrow written by Steven Novella, Jay Novella, and Bob Novella in a local bookstore. I did not hesitate to grab a copy, anticipate to correct my misconceptions and earn a clearer understanding of our technological advancements.

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future begins by debunking common misconceptions about the future, highlighting the importance of understanding our past and present to accurately speculate about what’s ahead. He outlines ten fallacies that often cloud our judgment about the future, setting the stage for a more grounded and insightful discussion throughout the book and a great eye-opener for someone like me who has no idea about this topic.

The book cleverly directs through historical scientific progress, setting the context before going into what might lie ahead. This approach not only makes the content relatable but also refreshing, particularly for someone like me, who hasn’t closely followed the trends in futurism. The Novellas discusses a range of futuristic concepts, from synthetic life, genetic modifications, to space elevators.

The interesting part: brain and machine

Even though I am not into the general idea of futuristic ideas and do not have strong understanding about it, I am having interest about brain and behavior. So, in between discussion of a lot of novel technologies, I was especially drawn to the section that suits my interest and understanding about the brain and machines.

The idea of combining brains with machines isn’t just something from the future; it’s already happening. For example, people use pacemakers, devices that help control the brain, and artificial limbs. Yes, the future is here in many ways, but there are also big risks that we can’t ignore.

In the book Why We Die, Venki Ramakrishnan talks about a study by Albert Cardona, which shows that our brain’s structure is closely linked to our body. The brain doesn’t just work on electrical signals, it also reacts to chemicals from within itself and from the body. This shows that the brain’s ability to function depends not just on the connections between its cells, but also on the health of those cells.

This book agrees with Ramakrishnan’s views that our brains work in networks of feedback loops, not just in one direction from the brain to the muscles. These networks adjust what we want to do based on what we actually see and feel. Researchers are developing technology to enhance this with something called haptic feedback, which helps us feel what we interact with through machines. However, if someone were to hack into these brain-machine systems, it could lead to terrible consequences. This is a scary possibility for the future.

From this book, I learn that the future isn’t just a distant dream but something we are already living. The technologies that once seemed like fantasies are becoming realities, and in some cases, they also integrate seamlessly with older methods, like in the field of medicine where new and old techniques complement each other, specifically how gene therapies in combined with existing methods are powerful tool for overcoming and curing diseases.

If you feel out of touch with the rapid advancements in technology, then this book suits you. It bridges the gap between science fiction and science fact. Whether you’re a skeptic or someone deeply fascinated by the possibilities of the future, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future’s insights will challenge and expand your understanding of what is possible. It’s a book that will not only educate but also inspire you to think more broadly about how you should view the role of technology in shaping our future.

My Favorite Bits

Predictions of the future are really just reflections of the present. And that means we’re really bad at predicting what the future will bring.

Steven Novella, Jay Novella, Bob Novella, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future.

Learn from futurism’s checkered past, correct what errors we can find, and perhaps do a little better.

Steven Novella, Jay Novella, Bob Novella, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Future.

Author: Steven Novella, Jay Novella, Bob Novella

Publication date: 27 September 2022

Number of pages: 432 pages


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