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Influential author joins ASU to direct new law project

December 23, 2009

Joel Garreau, an astute observer and interpreter of human nature and its interface with emerging technologies, has been appointed the Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values at Arizona State University, according to Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.

Garreau will direct a new enterprise at the College of Law, The Prevail Project: Wise Governance for Challenging Futures, and will be an Affiliated Faculty member in the ASU Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes (CSPO). His appointment is effective in January 2010.

"Joel Garreau is a true visionary," Berman said. "He will be a major addition to our Center for Law, Science, and Innovation, linking the extraordinary work in science law and policy being done here to the broader national and international policy audience. His new think tank promises to be at the cutting edge of thought about how our humanity can be maintained amidst rapidly growing scientific innovation."

Garreau is a former longtime editor and reporter at The Washington Post, principal of The Garreau Group, an extensive network of sources tasked with understanding world culture and values, and author of several books, including the provocative Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing our Minds, Our Bodies -- And What it Means to be Human.

"I'm interested in understanding who we are, how we got that way and where we're headed, and I'm intrigued by ASU because it has a lot of people who are actively making the future, creating novel life forms and thinking about what this means to society," Garreau said. "ASU has the makers and it has the arm wavers, like me, and it has managed to break down the silos between the two, and that's very unusual. It doesn't happen at Harvard, and it doesn't happen at Berkeley."

As director of The Prevail Project, Garreau will build upon a concept he introduced in Radical Evolution, which takes an unprecedented look at the hinge in history at which the human race has arrived. In the past, technology was used to alter man's environment, but for the first time, he explains, species-changing technologies are modifying people, their minds, metabolisms and children.

"The critical issue, of course, is not technology, but where all this takes society," says Garreau, who provides three scenarios - Heaven, Hell and Prevail.

"In the Prevail scenario, what really matters - as always - is not how many transistors we get to talk to each other, but how many ornery, imaginative, unpredictable human beings we can bring together to arrive at surprising ways to co-evolve with our challenges," he explains. "Only in this bottom-up way will humans really control their destinies, rather than have them controlled by our creations."

The Prevail Project is a collaborative effort to collect the early warning signs that such a future is perhaps on the horizon, Garreau says.

Peter French, Director of the ASU Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, said Garreau is a outstanding writer with a stellar grasp of technology and an impressive network of contacts in the world of culture and values.

"The recent development of his book on radical science plays into the major research topics we are bursting in - military operations, national security and especially in the area of human enhancement," French said. "Joel has the opportunity to make that research available to a much broader community and to interface with the general public in a way that perhaps others might have some difficulty with."

Garreau said he is looking forward to working with ASU faculty on the Lincoln Center-managed Consortium on Emerging Technologies, Military Operations and National Security. It is exploring new weapons and means of fighting wars, including enhanced human and robotic soldiers, which could bring profound changes to all aspects of society and introduce ethical dilemmas that haven't been thought about yet. Garreau and others will use the research to understand the broader implications of emerging technologies for military operations and national security.

"We're asking questions about emerging technologies and their ethical and strategic problems - imagine if we had asked these questions in 1944 before we dropped the first nuclear bomb?" he says. "It's great to see someone thinking this through."

David Guston, CSPO's Co-Director, and Director of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU, said Garreau will complement ongoing research there into the technical and social changes emerging technologies may bring. Garreau's ideas and connections also will likely steer the Consortium in new directions, Guston said.

"Joel provides another face to the activities that we have been developing in anticipatory governance of nanotechnology, an ensemble of techniques around foresight, engagement and integration," Guston said. "He has been collaborating with us in that regard for the past couple of years, and he is an important player in the field."

Garreau's intellectual network in the Washington, D.C., where CSPO's other office is headquartered, also will be a great asset for the Consortium, said Co-Director Daniel Sarewitz.

"CSPO is very much about understanding and governing technical and scientific change for the benefit of society," Sarewitz said. "Joel will be helping us to develop a capacity to more usefully think about the social implications of emerging technologies - he has amazing talents in these areas."

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law