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Age of Em Review

Every piece of speculation about the future I've ever encountered broadly pattern-matches into one of four genres: forecasting, prophecy, literary works of fiction, and rants. Age of Em doesn't autocomplete into any of these, and I think both my irritation and fascination with it come from the same source -- the audacity of creating an entirely new genre of futurism.

Here are rough properties of the existing four genres:

  • Forescasting - narrow subject matter, falsifiable details that are hard to vary/argue (e.g. meteorology, betting markets, etc.)
  • Prophecy - narrow subject matter, semi-falsifiable details that are easy to vary/argue (e.g. cults, cold reading, etc.)
  • Literary works of fiction - broad subject matter, details range from easy to vary/argue to very hard. No pretense of correctness.
  • Rants - your opinionated uncle who had one too many to drink on Thanksgiving. Narrow subject matter, details that are easy to argue/vary.

Now, Age of Em doesn't neatly fit into any of these, and borrows characteristics from most of these. It's an entirely new genre altogether!

It's written as a forecast, complete with detail, scientific references, and allegedly narrow subject matter ("I'll just analyze one technology"), but bites off an enormously broad subject.

The details seem hard to vary, but it freely mixes extraordinarily well established science (e.g. competitive equilibrium) with bleeding edge studies of small sample sizes with little to no replication (e.g. the perils of overlay occlusion in AR environments).

Various sections (paragraphs, sentences) should have completely different degrees of confidence, but the tone implies roughly equal confidence for all predictions. Everything is written with the trappings of science, but the contents jump freely between science and prophecy without any disclaimers of epistemic status. The author should apply an enormous attennuation factor to his predictions, but he never mentions it explicitly.

I think if I were to reorganize the book, I'd structure it along the axis of degree of confidence (from higher to lower), and apply liberal disclaimers along the way. Start with well-established science and cover broad srokes that are hard to vary. Then gradually move into more bleeding edge studies, and add progressively more detail along with escalating disclaimers. I think it would make the book easier to digest, would remove the irritation factor, and would make it easier to learn from (it's always easier to learn big ideas and then fill in the details instead of mixing the two).

Interspersing broad predictions that are backed by well-established science and are hard to vary with very specific details backed by bleeding edge studies makes the author seem arrogant, but it's a small price to pay for an otherwise materpiece of futurism.

TL;DR: five stars, will recommend to everyone. Thanks for writing it!

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