Interview with Greg Bear
1. For at least the past 30 years, 2001 has been the mythical year of the future. What will be the next mythical year, 2001 now being directly upon us, and why do you choose the
year you do?
My most mythic years are those in which truly interesting things happen… Why should you believe you’re going to be on the most scenic part of the highway when the odometer rolls over to a few aligned zeros? So–what will be the magic years? When we finally decide to get off our duffs and seriously expand into the solar system… When we toss aside old notions of biology and really begin to understand what happens in DNA… When western culture really comes around to an understanding of the self! Magic years indeed.
2. For various reasons people today often seem to assume that human civilization has just a bit longer to run, typically not more than a 100 years or so. On the other hand there is evidence that many ancient people had faith in a much longer-term future for humanity (if not themselves personally). What accounts for this contrast, or if the observation is inaccurate, why do you say this? Do you imagine humanity in some recognizable form living on planet earth and elsewhere in 100 years? 1000 years? 1 million years?
Very likely. We’ve survived this far, against remarkable odds. The sun seems relatively quiet and stable. Like all growing infants, we’re having pangs now and then–and part of the process of youth is self-doubt.
3. There has been much discussion about how humans are becoming more integrated with the machines and the science that we are creating. What do you think life as a human will be like in 50 years and how will we have integrated the machines we create and use?
We’ll have personal assistants connected to us externally if not internally, able to held us out with the little facts of everyday life that elude us–or elude me, as I enter middle age! Internal auditors will check over our cellular health and help the body deal with those little rogue cancers and diseases that cause so much misery today. Some will have increased longevity, and that will mean government investigations and a lot of political and economical reshuffling. Others will be going after radical body reformation, designing new ways of being human. It’s not going to get any easier, but the opportunities are going to be incredible.
4. If you could personally time travel to another place and time in the future, where and when would you go and why? Where and when in the past?
I’d move forward a few years at a time, grab a newspaper or listen to a news report, find sometime that strikes my fancy, and settle in for a while for deeper probing. Anything else would presuppose I know what’s going to happen in the future that most interests me personally–which I doubt very much.
5. Your recent book, Darwin?s Radio, supposes that a long dormant strand of virus DNA embedded in human DNA becomes active, and leads to an evolutionary leap. What discoveries about human DNA will be the most surprising developments of the next couple of decades, based on what you have learned?
We’ll have to learn how genes cooperate with each other to produce physical forms and behaviors. That’s going to be a very tough problem–we simply do not have the necessary math skills. The problem of genetic cooperation is similar in many respects to the problem of neural networks in general — self-organizing systems, “users” that operate in an environment and acquire knowledge to increase efficiency.
6. Who is your favorite character in any book by any author, and why?
Too many to list!
7. What do you see as the most interesting likely affect of the Internet on global culture?
Opening up closed political systems in the way that Arthur C. Clarke predicted communications satellites would. The Internet is just one more step in that procedure, since tyrants need to keep their people ignorant in order to survive.
8. You are a very scientifically current writer. What do you personally do to keep up to date?
I read everything I can get my hands on — in science, aerospace, cutting-edge SF.
9. What are some impacts that your participation in the sequel series to the Foundation Trilogy have had on your writing and thinking?
It was great fun to hang out with Isaac Asimov (as well as Benford and Brin). I learned a few lessons about the reasons for Isaac’s success… but won’t reveal them here!
10. What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a young person just starting out?
Find something you love doing and stick with it. Find people who support you in what you love doing and stick with them. Do not engage in too much self doubt–and never get too arrogant. You don’t need as much as you want of anything, but you need enough to make you feel you’ve succeeded.