Summary of Prevail and Transcend Scenario in Radical Evolution
In chapter six of Radical Evolution, author Joel Garreau shows through various interviews and examples that even though technology may be rising on an exponentially increasing Curve, humans may still be able to change the effects of technological advance in unpredictable ways. Deemed the Prevail scenario, it is also characterized by humans slowing down once-viewed inevitable change viewed as negative and speeding up positive change. Another great theme of the Prevail Scenario is its idea that technological advance will enable humans to acquire a better understanding of their society and nature.
In addition to discussing the Prevail scenario, Garreau also discusses the possible change humans themselves may experience in chapter seven. He shows this possibility through a series of interviews and historic examples. The first person whom Garreau interviewed was Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist who coined the term “virtual reality”. Garreau notes how Lanier “does not see The Curve yielding some inevitable, preordained result, as in the fashion of the Heaven and Hell Scenarios” (195).
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This would suggest that even though Lanier believes that technology advances on an exponential Curve, he differs from past technology futurists, such as Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy, in that Lanier believes the effects of technology are unpredictable and wild. Lanier believes that humans have the power to gain more understanding about human nature through advancing technology. Garreau describes Lanier’s predictions of the future: “…it would not be represented by smooth curves, either up or down, as in the first two scenarios.
It would doubtless have fits and starts, hiccups and coughs, reverses and loops – not unlike the history we humans have always known” (196). Despite the chaotic nature of Lanier’s Prevail Scenario, the future of humans and technology would ultimately involve the humans being in control. In addition to interviewing Lanier, Garreau also mentions James P. Carse, professor of the history of literature at NYU. Garreau mentions Carse because the former once discussed his definitions of finite games and infinite games. According to Carse, finite games have very controlled settings.
For example, there are beginnings and endings and the overall atmosphere is predictable. By contrast, infinite games have many surprises and these surprises cause the game to last forever. Tying this case back to the Prevail Scenario, Garreau notes how Lanier believes that “ ‘Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ is an infinite game…Infinite games are the real transcendence games. They allow you to transcend your boundaries. They allow you to transcend who you are” (197). Garreau also discusses how Lanier views technological change as a way for humans to come together – to forget their differences and become one interconnected society.
So, the essence of Prevail is “the search for a complex, evolving, inventive transcendence” (Garreau, 200). Technology assists in this by helping humans come together. Lanier believes that human connectedness is a “much more profound kind of ramp [than Heaven and Hell Scenarios]”, which suggests that the Prevail Scenario will ultimately bring about the most interesting and meaningful future. In his discussion of the Prevail Scenario, Garreau also clarifies the event by drawing on examples from past movies and literature. Garreau gives examples from the biblical Exodus, the novel Huckleberry Finn, and in the movie Casablanca.
In all of these works, Garreau shows how various characters, against all odds, struggle against various external forces that in the end help shape a character or a group of characters’ minds for the better. This moral improvement is one of the major subjects of Lanier’s Prevail concept. Near the end of the chapter, Garreau concludes that the Prevail Scenario cannot be predicted. It is notable for its uncertainties, resilience, and diversity of ideas. However, the unifying theme in Prevail rests on the fact that humans will ultimately rise to greater understanding and morality while undergoing a journey of compassion and sacrifice.
Garreau emphasizes this scenario by quoting Faulkner’s famous saying that “man will prevail ‘because he has a soul, a spirit capable of passion and sacrifice and endurance’” (qtd. in 209). Gareau expands on the concept of the development of human nature in the chapter seven. Through a series of interviews and examples, Garreau attempts to explain and clarify what it means for humans to transcend and how technological advance will have an impact on that transcendence.
Garreau starts out the chapter with an explanation that throughout human history, humans have been changing and evolving, with examples such as fire and writing. Then, Garreau describes the way human nature is being changed: “Even the least educated among us is not raised by wolves, feral and wild. He grows up shaped by contemporary humans who own television, who have been shaped by modern society” (237). This quote further suggests that human nature may be impacted the advancing GRIN technologies. To examine this possibility, Garreau interviewed Nick Bostrom, co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association.
Bostrom shows his agreement with human transcendence by asserting that “Technological progress makes it harder for people to ignore the fact that we might actually change the human nature” (qtd. in Garreau, 242). Garreau also brings up the topic of civil disruption from such enhancement. As discussed in the Hell chapter, the topic of technological advancement carving up human society into the Enhanced, the Naturals, and the Rest and having civil strife ensue is always a big topic. To gain insight on this topic, Garreau interviewed Gregory E. Pence, a professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama.
Pence explains to Garreau that in order for technological enhancement to be successful, its use must be voluntary, for fear that government control of these technologies could create a form of eugenics. To add to this thought, Lee M. Silver, professor of molecular biology at Princeton, noted that life was unfair. He explained that some people, such as athletes, are just born with better genes which give them their enhanced abilities. Though Bostrom also agrees that such inequalities occur, he also notes that there may not be civil strife because of it.
To show his ideas of the workings of civil tranquility, Bostrom observes that “The reason we don’t have tall people conspiring against little people, or vice versa, is that there is no obvious cutoff point, and it’s just one continuum living in the same world” (qtd. in Garreau, 245). So, Bostrom’s discussion suggests that even though technological advancement may create some inequality in society, there would be many stages of enhancement, making the gap between the Enhanced and the Rest closed. To further elucidate on Bostrom’s views, Christine L.
Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, says that “The analogy is to entities more powerful than humans, like government and corporations. We come up with checks and balances. We always protect weaker members of society against those who want to push them along” (qtd. in Garreau, 246). Peterson, like Bostrom’s views on transcendence, views that in technological advancement, “The goal is peaceful coexistence among traditional humans, augmented humans and machine-based intelligences” (qtd. in Garreau, 246).
Bostrom and Peterson’s discussions on the subject of Transcendence so far suggests that this advancement is not an emphasis on equality, but rather an emphasis on better morality and greater understanding of human nature in the future. To show the possibility of transcendence, Garreau interviews William Calvin, a University of Washington theoretical neurobiologist. She explains to Garreau that during human prehistory, humans had far lower physical and mental stature and were bound to the jungles. This was because proto-humans could not run very quickly or think very cleverly.
Calvin then explains that one day, a very hungry proto-human hits a small animal with a rock. This scene set off a chain of events, which resulted in the proto-human being more nourished and a more connected brain, which resulted in him having babies with bigger brains. This led to more advancements, such as the development of language and fire. Garreau suggests that such an example of human evolution may also occur in the future because of advancing GRIN techniques. Garreau concludes the chapter by remarking that humans may evolve to bear better understanding and tolerance through technological advance.
Garreau shows this phenomenon by reflecting on his own experiences with religious and cultural events. He reflects on how these events have an uncanny ability to bring people together in a close way. Then, Garreau remarks: “If we are embarking on a path in which we stand to transform ourselves more than at any brief period in our species’ time on Earth, we are creating new critical moments. Perhaps we might start formally marking the occasions”.