What Should We Be Worried About?


I started this book in November of last year. The fact that it took me nine months to read isn’t due to the length, but because I got so bored I put it down and went off to read other things. I may not have picked it up again but I devised a strategy to get me over the line.

In the end, I got this finished by looking at the titles and reading a few words of the remaining essays and listing the ones I felt were worthy of my time. I cut roughly 200 pages to about 54. That’s the sort of editing Brockman should have done.

Some essays were obviously a waste of time. Take the entry from Dave Winer, which is an entire 60 words in length. Why was it even included? And this is far from the only pointless entry.

What I was expecting, from the title and the description, was informed pieces by leading experts who were trying to highlight some of the concerns that give them sleepless nights. I was expecting pieces on climate change, AI, water shortages, food wars, nanotechnology, antibiotic resistance and a bunch of things I’d never even considered (declining R&D spending, for example).

That’s not what this book is though. Sure, there are some of those things, but largely it appears to have given the authors a forum to express whatever bugbear they happen to have been thinking about at the time. There’s a moving one about breast cancer, by a woman who is suffering from it, that simply bemoans a lack of progress in two decades.

There are essays on our understanding of consciousness, the teenage brain, the ‘loss of lust,’ the ‘homogenization of the human experience,’ living without the internet for a couple of weeks and stress. These are hardly potential civilisation enders, or likely to affect the entire population.

Even those that did actually fit the book’s description were pretty pointless as there’s no space to go into any depth. The format would have been better served by cutting the ideas down to a dozen and exploring them in more detail.

So, if what you’re interested in is learning more about the ‘hidden threats’ we face, this is not the book for you. If you’re interested in a soapbox where random people tell you about their current project (many of which don’t seem to warrant study) then you’re in luck.

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Reviewed: 20th July 2017