Politics 7 January 2011 The optimism of Mark Stevenson The former pop star and cryptographer who knows how to save the world. Sign up for our weekly email * Print HTML With swaths of Australia's eastern seaboard underwater, this week's New Statesman has a timely piece on the simple idea that could stop the country's destructive cycle of drought and flood. (You'll never guess what it is.) It's written by Mark Stevenson, whose book An Optimist's Tour of the Future was published yesterday. It has received stellar reviews all over the place and is one of the most interesting science books I've read for a long time. It turns out that Mark's got the best back story since Brian Cox – he, too, was in a pop band (they were big in Chile) and he was also a cryptography expert. Now, he's a stand-up comedian, writer and educator, trying to find out whether we're all doomed. He has decided to take an optimistic – but rational – look at what the future might hold for us as a species. In his own words: I've travelled over 60,000 miles across four continents, talked to more than 30 geniuses, met four robots and had two terrible conversations with computers. I've contemplated immortality, the end of capitalism and a new age of human evolution. In the process, I've attended an underwater cabinet meeting, helped invent one cocktail, been insulted in the outback, made a brace of new friends and had near-death experiences. I'm not the same person I was when I started. The contentious subjects covered by the book include the human genome, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and renewable energy. Stevenson tackles them in an approachable way by focusing on the individual stories of the (often quite eccentric) people involved. One of them is Aubrey de Grey, the gerontologist whose work on rodents makes him think that people can live to a 1,000 years old (as long as we don't get fat). You can see de Grey in action at a Ted talk here. Not only does he have the best beard in science, he might be the fastest talker you'll ever hear. Mark also met a Columbia University professor called Klaus Lackner, who's developed a cheap and efficient way to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere – and now needs $20m to build a commercial prototype. Then there's the controversial futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes that humans will soon merge with technology and become a new species. (I knew my Xbox had been looking at me oddly.) You can read more about the book (and Mark's pop career) here. › Why I'm happy to be a non-driver Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics. Subscribe from just £1 per issue More Related articles Forget the flat caps - this is what Labour voters really look like Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?