Salon editor Andrew Leonard interviews UK science fiction author Iain Banks (subscription or brief ad required). Banks is the author of a number of novels set in the world of The Culture, a galaxy-spanning, AI-enabled, post-consumption society that is, in a nutshell, pretty much the world I'd love to live in. The interview, while short, is rather provocative:
I have sometimes in my darker moments, suspected that we -- humans, human society, our species -- are incapable of anything like the Culture. Because we are just too damn nasty. But on the other hand, I'm not, in principle, against genetic modification. I think we could make beneficial genetic improvements to ourselves, I mean, just supposing there was a bigotry gene, that was responsible for racism, and sexism and anti-Semitism -- all the bad "isms" -- suppose you could get all that out. You could end up with something like the Culture. [...]
My worry about the genetic modification of behavior is that if we had that now we might all end up fundamentalist Christians.
Well, you lot might! [Cackles gleefully.]
It's all about who gets the technology first and how you spread it. Is it government run, or by very large corporations, or can it be done in the old-fashioned science fiction way, by one lone genius and an attractive assistant, working in a laboratory somewhere? Obviously, not to be too glib about it, the very idea of evolving ourselves scares large parts of society. It takes a lot of thinking about.
Anybody who hasn't read Banks' books set in the Culture universe should do so as soon as possible. I recommend starting with Consider Phlebas, then moving on to his masterpiece, Use of Weapons. Player of Games is very good too.
I'm alternating the Culture novels with Doris Lessing's little-known "Canopus in Argos: Archives" SF series, which take a different approach to intervening in 'lesser' societies.