Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Book Review: Prey

Michael Crichton begins his novel Prey with two quotes:

Within fifty to a hundred years, a new class of organisms is likely to emerge. These organisms will be artificial in the sense that they were originally be designed by humans. However, they will reproduce, and will "evolve" into something other than their original form; they will be "alive" under any reasonable definition of the word. These organisms were involved in fundamentally different manner.... The pace ... will be extremely rapid.... The impact on humanity and the biosphere could be enormous, larger than the industrial revolution, nuclear weapons, or environmental pollution. We must take steps now to shape the emergence of artificial organisms.... -- Doyne Farmer and Aletta Bellin, 1992.

There are many people, including myself, who are quite queasy about the consequences of this technology for the future. -- K Eric Drexler, 1992.

Nanotechnology is a real field and is making real advances in these areas. But what would happen if something went wrong? What would happen if these minute machines develop the ability to be self-sustaining, self-reproducing, and capable of learning from experience? Might they become a danger to humans? The possible answer to these questions forms the basis of Prey. Michael Crichton demonstrates his seriousness about these technologies with a forward explaining some of the issues. Prey is a science-fiction thriller that will have you turning the pages. A handful of scientists have developed a swarm of micro-robots that have gone out of control and turned into predators that need to survive by absorbing energy from living things. The actual scenario that Crichton stretches our credibility. That aside, the superficial story gives us pause and provokes us to ask whether or not we have thought adequately about some of the inventions in our near future. If you like a page turner then this is for you -- just remember to ask the question! Related Links

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