Kirkus Reviews MAKE, THINK, IMAGINE: Engineering the Future of Civilization by John Browne

The future is almost here, and it won't be that bad, according to this mostly optimistic forecast from an engineer. Since the primitive stone hand ax from 40,000 years ago, technical innovation—i.e., engineering—has driven progress, writes Browne (The Glass Closet: Why Coming Out is Good Business, 2014, etc.), the former CEO of BP, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and chairman of the Tate Gallery. Throughout the centuries, he emphasizes, each new innovation has been controversial in some way. Socrates denounced writing as a destroyer of memory. Observers warned that the printing press would overwhelm the world with nonsense, a critique also applied to the internet. Both criticisms have merit, Browne points out, but there are advantages. "The way people choose to use an innovation will determine its impact on society," he writes. "But every engineered product will also generate its own set of consequences, both intentional and unintentional, as well as constructive and destructive….Progress is not delivered with an instruction manual spelling out the safe and responsible use of new inventions." Unlike the usual overview of innovation, the author skims the Egyptians, Romans, Renaissance, and Industrial Revolution, stopping in the mid-20th century when digital technology caught everyone's attention. Few deny that computers are transforming our lives, and critics claim this will produce mass unemployment. However, Browne points out that this has been the doomsayer's mantra since the 1960s, and so far, automation has created many jobs and eliminated far fewer. DNA manipulation, big data, and high-tech imaging will make us smarter, healthier, and longer lived, although not yet. Despite the spread of nuclear weapons, the world is becoming less violent; mutual assured destruction is being replaced by mutual assured disruption through cyberwarfare and terrorism. A thoughtful analysis of today's unprecedented pace of change and what the future may hold. (Review Issue Date: July 1, 2019)

MAKE, THINK, IMAGINE: Engineering the Future of Civilization by John Browne will be published on August 28, 2019 in the US and Canada by Pegasus Books, and was published in the UK, Australia and New Zealand by Bloomsbury on May 30th.  The agency represents the author in collaboration with Curtis Brown.