2001 : WHAT NOW?

Many of us, myself included, have the feeling that we want to do something, and, in this regard, several members of the Edge community have suggested a discussion on relevant topics. For example.... 

Martin Rees mentioned that "The pessimism that underlies my proposed 'Final century' book is of course likely now to become more widely shared. But what terrifies me most is that, in years to come, biological advances will offer new 'weapons' that could cause world-wide epidemics, etc; moreover such catastrophes could be caused by a single individual. Not even an organised "cell"or network of terrorists is required — just a single fanatic, or a wierdo with the mindset of those who design computer viruses (or even someone who is merely incompetent rather than malign) — and there seems no realistic chance of effectively combating these growing risks.

Paul Davies wrote "It occurred to me that an Edge discussion of technological solutions to the problem of aircraft hijackings may be timely. I am forwarding my own modest contribution to this topic in the form of some recent correspondence with a web news column devoted to cosmic impacts and other natural disasters.....Regarding technological solutions to aircraft hijackings, there is a simple solution. Aircraft are perfectly capable of being landed safely entirely by computer, a provision that is occasionally used in poor weather conditions. It would be an easy matter to pre-programme airliners with default instructions to fly to a designated airport in event of an on-board emergency. These instructions could be made irreversible from within the aircraft, and deactivated only by a coded instruction from Air Traffic Control. If these measures were taken, and widely known, it is almost certain that they would never be invoked. Any residual risk to passengers from the measures would be far less than the risk from further hijackings."

Richard Dawkins forwarded the piece he wrote for The Guardian last week — "Religion's Misguided Missiles." In it, he suggests that research conducted by the psychologist BF Skinner during the 2nd World War on pigeon guided missiles, might shed light on last week's terrorist acts and why the hijackers could be considered human guidance system, which, unlike the pigeon version, ... "knows that a successful mission culminates in its own destruction."[Click here for the Guardian article.]

The ever-counterintuitive Kevin Kelly, during a telephone conversation, explained to me his idea that this is not a hi-tech war at all but that the entire operation was low-tech (plastic knives, box cutters, etc.). No spy satellites for these guys, and no possibility than an $80 billion expenditure on a star wars defense would have had any deterrent effect whatsoever.

I wrote the following to the list: "I believe that the Edge community can mount a serious conversation about the catastrophic events of the past week that might do some good. Within the community is invaluable expertise in many pertinent areas, not to mention the intelligence that the "Edgies" can bring to the subjects. I am interested "hard-edge" comments, derived from empirical results or experience specific to the expertise of the participant. Edge is not the proper venue for people to vent their justified rage at the acts of terrorism, displeasure with the administration, U.S. Mid-East policies, etc. But it is the right venue for an informed, intelligent commentary."

"So how about a new Edge question: WHAT NOW?"