The Edge Annual Question — 2010


Read any newspaper or magazine and you will notice the many flavors of the one big question that everyone is asking today. Or you can just stay on the page and read recent editions of Edge ...

Playwright Richard Foreman asks about the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the "instantly available". Is it a new self? Are we becoming Pancake People — spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.

Technology analyst Nicholas Carr wrote the most notable of many magazine and newspaper pieces asking "Is Google Making Us Stupid". Has the use of the Web made it impossible for us to read long pieces of writing?

Social software guru Clay Shirky notes that people are reading more than ever but the return of reading has not brought about the return of the cultural icons we'd been emptily praising all these years. "What's so great about War and Peace?, he wonders. Having lost its actual centrality some time ago, the literary world is now losing its normative hold on culture as well. Is the enormity of the historical shift away from literary culture now finally becoming clear?

Science historian George Dyson asks "what if the cost of machines that think is people who don't?" He wonders "will books end up back where they started, locked away in monasteries and read by a select few?".

Web 2.0 pioneer Tim O'Reilly, ponders if ideas themselves are the ultimate social software. Do they evolve via the conversations we have with each other, the artifacts we create, and the stories we tell to explain them?

Frank Schirrmacher, Feuilleton Editor and Co-Publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has noticed that we are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. Are we turning into a new species — informavores? — he asks.

W. Daniel Hillis goes a step further by asking if the Internet will, in the long run, arrive at a much richer infrastructure, in which ideas can potentially evolve outside of human minds? In other words, can we change the way the Internet thinks?

What do you think?

This year's Question is "How is the Internet changing the way YOU think?" Not "How is the Internet changing the way WE think?" We spent a lot of time going back on forth on "YOU" vs. "WE" and came to the conclusion to go with "YOU", the reason being that Edge is a conversation. "WE" responses tend to come across like expert papers, public pronouncements, or talks delivered from stage.

We wanted people to think about the "Internet", which includes, but is a much bigger subject than the Web, an application on the Internet, or search, browsing, etc., which are apps on the Web. Back in 1996, computer scientist and visionary Danny Hillis pointed out that when it comes to the Internet, "Many people sense this, but don't want to think about it because the change is too profound. Today, on the Internet the main event is the Web. A lot of people think that the Web is the Internet, and they're missing something. The Internet is a brand-new fertile ground where things can grow, and the Web is the first thing that grew there. But the stuff growing there is in a very primitive form. The Web is the old media incorporated into the new medium. It both adds something to the Internet and takes something away."

This year, I enlisted the aid of Hans Ulrich Obrist, Curator of the Serpentine Gallery in London, as well as the artist April Gornik, one of the early members of "The Reality Club" (the precursor to the online Edge) to help broaden the Edge conversation — or rather to bring it back to where it was in the late 80s/early 90s, when April gave a talk at a "Reality Club" meeting, and discussed the influence of chaos theory on her work, and when Benoit Mandelbrot showed up to discuss fractal theory and every artist in NYC wanted to be there. What then happened was very interesting. The Reality Club went online as Edge in 1996 and the scientists were all on email, the artists not. Thus, did Edge surprisingly become a science site when my own background (beginning in 1965 when Jonas Mekas hired me to manage the Film-Makers' Cinematheque) was in the visual and performance arts.

172 essayists (an array of world-class scientists, artists, and creative thinkers) have created a 132,000 document. (Click here to go directly to the responses). The are:

Maria Abramovic, Anthony Aguirre, Alan Alda, Alun Anderson, Chris Anderson, Noga Arikha, Scott Atran, Mahzarin R. Banaji, Albert-László Barabási, Simon Baron-Cohen, Samuel Barondes, Thomas A. Bass, Yochai Benkler, Jesse Bering, Jamshed Bharucha, Nick Bilton, Sue Blackmore, Paul Bloom, Giulio Boccaletti, Stefano Boeri, Lera Boroditsky, Nick Bostrom, Stewart Brand, John Brockman, Rodney Brooks, David M. Buss, Jason Calacanis, William Calvin, Philip Campbell, Nicholas Carr, Sean Carroll, Leo Chalupa, Nicholas Christakis, George Church, Andy Clark, June Cohen, Tony Conrad, Douglas Coupland, James Croak, M. Csikszentmihalyi, Fiery Cushman, David Dalrymple, Richard Dawkins, Aubrey De Grey, Stanislas Dehaene, Daniel Dennett, Emanuel Derman, Keith Devlin, Peter Diamandis, Chris DiBona, Eric Drexler, Jesse Dylan, Esther Dyson, George Dyson, David Eagleman, Olafar Eliasson, Brian Eno, Juan Enriquez, Daniel Everett, Paul Ewald, Hu Fang, Christine Finn, Eric Fischl, Helen Fisher, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Richard Foreman, Fabrizo Gallanti, Howard Gardner, David Gelernter, Neil Gershenfeld, Ralph Gibson, Gerd Gigerenzer, Ian & Joel Gold, Nigel Goldenfeld, Alison Gopnik, April Gornik, Joshua Greene, Haim Harari, Judith Rich Harris, Sam Harris, Daniel Haun, Marc Hauser, Marti Hearst, Virginia Heffernan, W. Daniel Hillis, Donald Hoffman, Bruce Hood, Nick Isaac, Xeni Jardin, Paul Kedrosky, Kevin Kelly, Jon Kleinberg, Brian Knutson, Terence Koh, Stephen Kosslyn, Kai Krause, Andrian Kreye, Jaron Lanier, Joseph LeDoux, Andrew Lih, Seth Lloyd, Gary Marcus, Lynn Margulis, John Markoff, Marissa Mayer, Tom McCarthy, Jonas Mekas, Thomas Metzinger, Geoffrey Miller, Dave Morin, Evgevny Morozov, David Myers, Tor Nørretranders, Hans Ulrich Obrist, James O'Donnell, Tim O'Reilly, Gloria Origgi, Neri Oxman, Mark Pagel, Gregory Paul, Irene Pepperberg, Clifford Pickover, Stuart Pimm, Steven Pinker, Ernst Pöppel, Emily Pronin, Robert Provine, Steve Quartz, Lisa Randall, Raqs Media Collective, Martin Rees, Ed Regis, Howard Rheingold, Matt Ridley, Matthew Ritchie, Rudy Rucker, Douglas Rushkoff, Karl Sabbagh, Paul Saffo, Scott D. Sampson, Larry Sanger, Robert Sapolsky, Roger Schank, Peter Schwartz, Charles Seife, Terrence Sejnowski, Robert Shapiro, Michael Shermer, Clay Shirky, Barry Smith, Laurence Smith, Lee Smolin, Galia Solomonoff, Linda Stone, Seirian Sumner, Tom Standage, Victoria Stodden, Nassim Taleb, Timothy Taylor, Max Tegmark, Frank Tipler, Fred Tomaselli, John Tooby, Arnold Trehub, Sherry Turkle, Eric Weinstein, Ai Weiwei, Frank Wilczek, Ian Wilmut, Eva Wisten, Richard Saul Wurman, Anton Zeilinger.

John Brockman
Editor & Publisher



Edge posed this question; discover how a wide range of thinkers responded.

By John Brockman

As each new year approaches, John Brockman, founder of Edge, an online publication, consults with three of the original members of Edge—Stewart Brand, founder and editor of Whole Earth Catalog; Kevin Kelly, who helped to launch Wired in 1993 and wrote "What Technology Wants," a book to be published in October (Viking Penguin); and George Dyson, a science historian who is the author of several books including "Darwin Among the Machines." Together they create the Edge Annual Question—which Brockman then sends out to the Edge list to invite responses. He receives these commentaries by e-mail, which are then edited. Edge is a read-only site. There is no direct posting nor is Edge open for comments.

Brockman has been asking an Edge Annual Question for the past 13 years. In this essay, he explains what makes a question a good one to ask and shares some responses to this year's question: "How is the Internet changing the way you think?" 

It's not easy coming up with a question. As the artist James Lee Byars used to say: "I can answer the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?" Edge is a conversation. We are looking for questions that inspire answers we can't possibly predict. Surprise me with an answer I never could have guessed. My goal is to provoke people into thinking thoughts that they normally might not have. 

The art of a good question is to find a balance between abstraction and the personal, to ask a question that has many answers, or at least one for which you don't know the answer. It's a question distant enough to encourage abstractions and not so specific that it's about breakfast. A good question encourages answers that are grounded in experience but bigger than that experience alone. 



The network has changed our
way of thinking? Meet artists, intellectuals and
Scientists around the world. From Kevin Kelly to Brian Eno, from
Richard Dawkins, to Clay Shirky, to Nicholas Carr


The Times
January 28, 2010

In 1953, when the internet was not even a technological twinkle in the eye, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously divided thinkers into two categories: the hedgehog and the fox: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Hedgehog writers, argued Berlin, see the world through the prism of a single overriding idea, whereas foxes dart hither and thither, gathering inspiration from the widest variety of experiences and sources. Marx, Nietzsche and Plato were hedgehogs; Aristotle, Shakespeare and Berlin himself were foxes.

Today, feasting on the anarchic, ubiquitous, limitless and uncontrolled information cornucopia that is the web, we are all foxes. We browse and scavenge thoughts and influences, picking up what we want, discarding the rest, collecting, linking, hunting and gathering our information, social life and entertainment. The new Apple iPad is merely the latest step in the fusion of the human mind and the internet. This way of thinking is a direct threat to ideology. Indeed, perhaps the ultimate expression of hedgehog-thinking is totalitarian and fundamentalist, which explains why the regimes in China and Iran are so terrified of the internet. The hedgehogs rightly fear the foxes.

Edge (www.edge.org), a website dedicated to ideas and technology, recently asked scores of philosophers, scientists and scholars a simple but fundamental question: "How is the internet changing the way you think?” The responses were astonishingly varied, yet most agreed that the web had profoundly affected the way we gather our thoughts, if not the way we deploy that information.


January 19, 2010
The Age of External Knowledge

Today’s idea: Filtering, not remembering, is the most important mental skill in the digital age, an essay says.
But this discipline will prove no mean feat, since mental focus must take place amid the unlimited
distractions of the Internet.

Internet | Edge, the high-minded ideas and tech site, has posed its annual question for 2010 — "How is the Internet changing the way you think?" — and gotten some interesting responses from a slew of smart people. They range from the technology analyst Nicholas Carr, who wonders if the Web made it impossible for us to read long pieces of writing; to Clay Shirky, social software guru, who sees the Web poised uncertainly between immature "Invisible High School" and more laudable "Invisible College." David Dalrymple, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks human memory will no longer be the key repository of knowledge, and focus will supersede erudition. Quote:

Before the Internet, most professional occupations required a large body of knowledge, accumulated over years or even decades of experience. But now, anyone with good critical thinking skills and the ability to focus on the important information can retrieve it on demand from the Internet, rather than her own memory. On the other hand, those with wandering minds, who might once have been able to focus by isolating themselves with their work, now often cannot work without the Internet, which simultaneously furnishes a panoply of unrelated information — whether about their friends’ doings, celebrity news, limericks, or millions of other sources of distraction. The bottom line is that how well an employee can focus might now be more important than how knowledgeable he is. Knowledge was once an internal property of a person, and focus on the task at hand could be imposed externally, but with the Internet, knowledge can be supplied externally, but focus must be forced internally.


January 14, 2010

Deep Thinkers Debate: 'How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?
By Heather Horn

Edge is an organization of deep, visionary thinkers on science and culture. Each year the group poses a question, this year collecting 168 essay responses to the question, "How is the Internet changing the way you think?"

In answer, academics, scientists and philosophers responded with musings on the Internet enabling telecommunication, or functioning as a sort of prosthesis, or robbing us of our old, linear" mode of thinking. Actor Alan Alda described the Web as "speed plus mobs." Responses alternate between the quirky and the profound ("In this future, knowledge will be fully outside the individual, focus will be fully inside, and everybody's selves will truly be spread everywhere.")

Since it takes a while to read the entire collection--and the Atlantic Wire should know, as we tried--here are some of the more piquant answers. Visit the Edge website for the full experience. For a smart, funny answer in video form, see here.

  • We Haven't Changed, declares Harvard physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis. Our brains "likely evolved ... in response to the demands of social (rather than environmental) complexity," and would likely only continue to evolve as our social framework changes. Our social framework has not changed: from our family units to our military units, he points out, our social structures remain fairly similar to what they were over 1000 years ago. "The Internet itself is not changing the fundamental reality of my thinking any more than it is changing our fundamental proclivity to violence or our innate capacity for love."
  • Bordering on Mental Illness Barry C. Smith of the University of London writes of the new importance of "well-packaged information." He says he is personally "exhilarated by the dizzying effort to make connections and integrate information. Learning is faster. Though the tendency to forge connecting themes can feel dangerously close to the search for patterns that overtakes the mentally ill."



a cura di Clara Caverzasio Tanzi e Gaetano Prisciantelli




[continue to English translation...]

il Venerdi di Repubblica (Friday Magazine)
January 8, 2010


Forward thinking and other ideas for the future described by today's greatest scientists

"Between Possible and Imaginary" is the theme of the Science Festival which opens in Rome next week. The American popularizer John Brockman collected the forecasts of the greatest living minds about ideas that will change everything during their lifetime. From DNA to education, the book illustrates surprising and provocative discoveries from the world that await us.



January 19, 2010

Interview at Rome Science Festival [@6:56 minutes]
Beatrice Zamponi, Art News — Rai.it

O8 Januar 2010

The Question of 2010
(German Original: Wie hat das Internet Ihr Denken verändert?)
By Frank Schirrmacher


[click on pdf images to enlarge]

On that Friday in January 2010 published by the American literary agent John Brockman, the question of 2010: How the Internet and networked computers to change the way we think? At the core of the debate lies the question asked by science historian George Dyson: "Is the price of machines that think, people who will not do?"

Brockman, who counts some of the most important scientists of our time as his authors, this vision orbits on Edge.org with one hundred twenty-one answers. We print the most interesting in the features section. Unlike Germany, where the debate about the information age is still focused on palaver about media, Edge debates the target in depth.

Who is planning what, where, by what means?

If one takes the digital revolution seriously , one must ask to what degree the communication of the industrialized twenty-first century will change our thinking. The computer pioneer Daniel Hillis describes how even such a simple procedure such as the programming of the time on networked computers is now barely understood by many programmers. And he concludes, with regard to climate change and financial crisis: "Our machines are embodiments of our reason, and we entrust them with a large number of our decisions. In this process we have created a world that is beyond our understanding. Experts no longer talk about data, but about what computers predict with the data."

Neurobiological effects of constant multitasking lead, as Nicholas Carr writes about outsourcing, for ever-increasing dependence on computers. What if not only decisions about loans and budgets were subject to the use of computers, but also those regarding resumes? After the recent incidents in America, profiling is an even more important means of web-based "pre-crime" analysis: Who is planning what, where, by what means? But profiling what works with terrorists can also be applied to in enterprises and workplaces as Cataphora.com has shown.

Been overtaken by reality

Some of those authors presented by Brockman do not find that the Net has changed their thinking. Others see it differently. Nobody, not even the skeptics, long to return to a time before the Internet. But many make it clear that what we experience as a user is in fact only a "surfing", a movement on the surface. The German Internet debate is stuck in the nineties. Brockman's question this year sets the chord for questions that take us beyond this set of attitudes.

Frank Schirrmacher
Editor, The Feuilleton & Co-Publisher, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung





By Ana Gerschenfeld

Do you think the Internet has altered you mind at the neuronal, cognitive, processing, emotional levels? Yes, no, maybe, reply philosophers, scientists, writers, journalists to the Edge annual question 2010, in dozens of texts that are published online today

Click here for PDF of Portuguese Original

In the summer of 2008, American writer Nicholas Carr published in the Atlantic Monthly an article under the title Is Google making us stupid?: What the Internet is doing to our brains, in which highly criticized the Internet’s effects on our intellectual capabilities. The article had a high impact, both in the media and the blogosphere.

Edge.org – the intellectual online salon – has now expanded and deepened the debate through its traditional annual challenge to dozens of the world’s leading thinkers of science, technology, thought, arts, journalism. The 2010 question is: “How is the Internet changing the way you think?"

They reply that the Internet has made them (us) smarter, shallower, faster, less attentive, more accelerated, less creative, more tactile, less visual, more altruistic, less arrogant. That it has dramatically expanded our memory but at the same time made us the hostages of the present tense. The global web is compared to an ecosystem, a collective brain, a universal memory, a global conscience, a total map of geography and history.

One thing is certain: be they fans or critics, they all use it and they all admit that the Internet leaves no one untouched. No one can remain impervious to things such a Wikipedia or Google, no one can resist the attraction of instant, global, communication and knowledge.

More than 120 scientists, physicians, engineers, authors, artists, journalists met the challenge. Here, we present the gist some of their answers, including Nicholas Carr’s, who is also part of this online think tank founded by New-York literary agent John Brockman. If you have more time and think your attention span is up to it, we recommend you enjoy the whole scope of their length and diversity by visiting edge.org.


JANUARY 10, 2010

Thinking in the Internet Age
AS THE NETWORK FORMS US (Wie das Netz uns formt)
By Jonannes Boie

The online magazine Edge asked scientists, writers and artists, such as the Internet has changed their thinking. The answers are remarkable. ...

Two billion people worldwide use the Internet. The debates about the new technology, however, are not the same everywhere. In Germany, for example, the discourse is limited on the subject of the net, as it is especially focused on media and copyright debates.

The publication of the book "Payback", co-editor Frank Schirrmacher, co-editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung presents the German debate, giving the topic the the depth it deserves.

Prior to the publication Schirrmacher 's book, the American literary agent John Brockman, interviewed him for Edge.org, the online science and culture magazine.

Schirrmacher, in his book, also asked the question — Has the Internet changed thinking? Brockman has now taken up this issue, and formulated it as his fundamental question, which he asks at the end of each year of the scientists and authors who discuss and publish on Edge.

The answers have now been published on Edge.org. The authors are 131 influential scientists, authors and artists.



Macht das Internet nun schlau oder dumm?
Von Alan Posener


January 11, 2010






Friday, January 8, 2010

Big science thinker John Brockman asked scientists around the world one question: what breakthrough will change everything? We’ve got their answers.

-Tom Ashbrook

John Brockman joins us from New York. He’s the founder of the Edge Foundation, which runs the science and technology website Edge.org. Every year, Edge asks scientists and thinkers a “big question,” and publishes the answers in a book, which Brockman edits. The latest, just out, is “This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future.” It’s based on the 2009 question: “What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” The 2010 question, “How is the internet changing the way you think?,” has just been posted.

From Cambridge, Mass., we’re joined by Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist and professor of physics at MIT. His response to the 2009 Edge question discusses coming technological advances resulting from deeper understanding of quantum physics. He’s the author of several books on physics for the lay reader, most recently “The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces.”

And from Berkeley, Calif., we’re joined by Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at UC-Berkeley and an expert on cognitive and language development. Her response to the 2009 Edge question discusses the extension of human childhood. Her latest book is “The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life.”



January 8, 2010

Sharon Begley
Does the Web change how we think?

Shortened attention span. Less interest in reflection and introspection. Inability to engage in in-depth thought. Fragmented, distracted thinking.

The ways the Internet supposedly affects thought are as apocalyptic as they are speculative, since all the above are supported by anecdote, not empirical data. So it is refreshing to hear how 109 philosophers, neurobiologists, and other scholars answered, "How is the Internet changing the way you think?" That is the "annual question" at the online salon edge.org, where every year science impresario, author, and literary agent John Brockman poses a puzzler for his flock of scientists and other thinkers. ...


Arts & Letters Daily

Articles of Note: John Brockman’s Edge question for 2010 asks over a hundred intellectuals, “Is the Internet changing the way you think?”... more»



I flunked a physics test so badly as a college freshman that the only reason I scored any points was I spelled my name right.

Such ignorance, along with studied avoidance of physics and math since college, didn’t lessen my enjoyment of This Will Change Everything, a provocative, demanding clutch of essays covering everything from gene splicing to global warming to intelligence, both artificial and human, to immortality.

Edited by John Brockman, a literary agent who founded the Edge Foundation, this is the kind of book into which one can dip at will. Approaching it in a linear fashion might be frustrating because it is so wide-ranging. ...

...Overall, this will appeal primarily to scientists and academicians. But the way Brockman interlaces essays about research on the frontiers of science with ones on artistic vision, education, psychology and economics is sure to buzz any brain.

Stewart Brand, the father of the Whole Earth Catalog, a kind of hippie precursor of hypertext and intermedia (the last term is a Brockman coinage), calls Brockman "one of the great intellectual enzymes of our time” at www.edge.org, Brockman’s Web site. Brockman clearly is an agent provocateur of ideas. Getting the best of them to politicians who can use them to execute positive change is the next step.


Edited by John Brockman

"An intellectual treasure trove"
San Francisco Chronicle