Edge Books

John Brockman

What to Think About Machines That Think

Edge Annual Question Series


STEVEN PINKER consideres the internal metal life of robots * FRANK TIPLER explains how artificial intelligence (AI) will save humanity and colonize space * MARTIN REES explores why humans are merely an evolutionary stage on the path to a machine-dominated world * NICHOLAS CARR examines the challenges of maintaining control over machines * DANIEL C. DENNETT identifies the true danger of the coming technological "singularity" * Nobel Prize winner FRANK WILCZEK asserts that all intelligence is machine intelligence * musician BRIAN ENO suggests that human society remains our most powerful supercomputer * GEORGE DYSON argues that genuine creative thinking will always be analog, not digital * ALISON GOPNIK asks whether machines will ever be as smart as a three-year-old * RICHARD THALERthinks human stupidity will always impede artifical intelligence * Wired founder KEVIN KELLYcalls AIs an "alien intelligence" * plus contributions from Nobel Prize winner JOHN C. MATHER, MATT RIDLEY, FREEMAN DYSON, DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, HELEN FISHER, SAM HARRIS, GEORGE CHURCH, HANS ULRICH OBRIST, ESTHER DYSON, NICK BOSTROM, and others.



Edge Master Class—Summer 2015
Philip Tetlock

Edge Master Class 2015 with Philip Tetlock
— A Short Course in Superforecasting

Class 1 | Class 2 | Class 3 | Class 4 | Class 5 |

PHILIP E. TETLOCK is the Annenberg University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with appointments in Wharton, psychology and political science. He is co-leader of the Good Judgment Project, a multi-year forecasting study, the author of Expert Political Judgment and (with Aaron Belkin) Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics, and co-author (with Dan Gardner) of Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction.


Feuilleton | Future
Andrian Kreye

Can you create economical empires and make the world a better place at the same time? If you gauge the Zeitgeist of the digital age, there are not necessarily clear answers to straight questions

Seen from Silicon Valley reality is a far away and exotic place. That’s why Bill Gates had the emergency room of an Ebola clinic built into one of the halls of the Vancouver convention center. He did it for the audience of the TED Conference, a festival of ideas, which still stays also true to it’s roots as a summit of digital culture.

George C. Williams

(1926 - 2010)
Robert Trivers, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Niles Eldredge, Randolph Nesse,

He was a beautiful man. —Robert Trivers

Niles Eldredge: I remember the English evolutionary geneticist John Maynard Smith remarking to me that he was astonished to find out that George Williams wasn't in our National Academy. Williams finally got elected in 1993. When I visited him in Stony Brook in the mid 1980s, he told me he was having a hard time getting grant support for his research, and I couldn't believe that. The two thoughts converged, because George really is the most important thinker in evolutionary biology in the United States since the 1959 Darwin centennial. It's astonishing that he hasn't gotten more credit and acclaim. He's a shy guy, but a very nice guy, and a very deep and a very careful thinker. I admire him tremendously, even though we've been arguing back and forth for years now.

GEORGE C. WILLIAMS was an evolutionary biologist; professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; author of Adaptation and Natural Selection: A Critique of Some Current Evolutionary Thought (1966), Sex and Evolution (1975), Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges (1992), (with Randolph Nesse, M.D.) Why We Get Sick (1995), and The Ponyfish's Glow: and Other Clues to Plan and Purpose in Nature (1997).

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Images are bouncing around my head since I learned that George Williams had passed away...

• Meeting him for the first time when with Randy Nesse, who did all the talking (i.e. never stopped talking) obout their planned book on Darwinian Medicine. Finally, I interrupted Nesse and asked the taciturn Dr. Williams, "Professor, what can I tell publishers about you?" "Well", he replied, "I once wrote a little book for a university press, but it was thirty years ago. It probably won't be of interest to them."

• The memorable mid-nineties lunch in my office. Williams and Richard Dawkins on one side of the table, Niles Eldredge sitting across. The long silences.

• Margulis v. Williams. George Williams, looking like Abraham Lincoln, and ever the gentleman, backed up against a wall being harangued by Lynn Margulis at midnight after my dinner in the 90s in Boston at AAAS.

• On the phone on separate calls: Stephen Jay Gould on line 1, George on line 2, jumping back and forth as they "talked" to each other through me.

A number of Edgies knew George Williams and many more have been influenced by his work. I am asking for your stories and recollections. It's time for an Edge conversation.

— JB]

In the meantime, in George's memory, I am pleased to reprise the Introduction ("The Evolutionary Idea"), Chapter One ("George C. Williams: A Package of Information"), and comments Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Lynn Margulis, Steven Pinker, Niles Eldredge, Daniel C. Dennett, excerpted from The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 1996).


(...Continue below to George C. Williams in The Third Culture)

THE REALITY CLUB: Robert Trivers, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Niles Eldredge, Randoph Nesse, M.D., Carl Zimmer

After Brockman

A Symposium
John Brockman

Abyss Publications - 1974






The San Francisco Review of Books—Cover Story


by Jay Bail


There are certain writers whose thought is so important that it doesn't matter whether you agree with them or not. A verbal tension so powerful, an ascetic appetite so huge and consuming forces us both to accept the vision as a revelation and to resist it as a duty. ...

For John Brockman is the kind of writer you both agree with and don't agree with at all. Either way you must pay a pro-found attention to what he says in this remarkable book. In short, sharp strokes of words, he breaks through the very for-est of meaning by denying meaning, eschewing traditional forms of activities, thoughts and emotions. It is not what he says that is so valuable; it is his whole manner of negating what can be said. His words backtrack on themselves, stalk their own meanings, and thrash about in the underbrush of our sensibilities. There is a total devastation of language, isolating and withering the very hands our dreams are made of.  

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by Heinz von Foerster


Afterwords undo themselves, including their precursors. Post-Wittgensteinean epistomologists first wrestled with, and are now slowly beginning to understand, the last proposition (No. 7) of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus: "Of which we cannot speak we have to remain silent". Brockman understands. Afterwords silence themselves. His last proposition (No. 292) is: "Nobody knows, and you can't find out". ...

Afterwords takes the mystery of language and puts it right back into its own mystery; that is, Afterwords ex-plains the mystery of language by taking language out ("ex-") of the plane of its mystery, so as to become visible to all before it slips back in to its plane. This in itself is a remarkable achievement that has been denied to almost all linguists, for they stick to the description of the plane without seeing that it is the plane that holds their descriptions.

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by John C. Lilly, M.D.


My debt to John Brockman is great: he taught me the essential non-existence of the screen of words. By defining, with words, the non-existence of definitions, the experience without words becomes the highest value in the hierarchy. The injunctive use of words (as in a cookbook) pointing to experience yet to be had is the only worthwhile residuum of "filmiest of screens separating ordinary reality from the non-ordinary realities inside one's inner spaces.

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by Richard Kostelanetz


What distinguishes this trilogy is not their informing hypotheses, which are familiar to various degrees, but the author's unfettered exploration of their implications.

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by Hugh Fox


    Brockman's Afterwords is the first comprehensive post-modern Primer, the only book to date which extends a guiding hand back through Modernism to the Pre-Modern where most "intellectuals" still live. Afterwords represents a practical mode of updating into the NOW. It is a book for meditation, carrying back into the cloisters and chewing on them until the cloisters themselves disappear.

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by Bern Porter


     Are not we physicists still bombarding the spaces between the subdivisions of identifiable matter with gigantic electron accelerators? Hoping to get through?...

     Brockman, alone on the other side, in that quiet there, quiet because he is the only one there, can hope the rest of us may yet make it.

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by Alan Sondheim


   John Brockman's work is the newspaper of consciousness. It is frankly, enormously important on a number of different levels. I shall try to make some of these clear in this article.

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by Michael Perkins


[Brockman] is fact's razor, cutting away everything — everything — knowledge, meaning, emotion, that we have let grow around us to keep out the cold of nothingness. If he follows his own lines, there is nothing left for him to say, but like Beckett, I suppose he will go on writing. Ideally, as in Zen, his ideas would be demonstrated, but unspoken. It won't be difficult for future critics to find his weak spots- the attention-getting anger, the simplistic generalizations which sometimes dominate a page—but I doubt that anyone who reads him with understanding will be able to escape his thinking.

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Molly Crockett: "The Neuroscience of Moral Decision Making"


  • Conversations

Imagine we could develop a precise drug that amplifies people's aversion to harming others; on this drug you won't hurt a fly, everyone taking it becomes like Buddhist monks. Who should take this drug? Only convicted criminals—people who have committed violent crimes? Should we put it in the water supply? These are normative questions. These are questions about what should be done. I feel grossly unprepared to answer these questions with the training that I have, but these are important conversations to have between disciplines.

L.A. Paul: "The Transformative Experience"


  • Conversations

We're going to pretend that modern-day vampires don't drink the blood of humans; they're vegetarian vampires, which means they only drink the blood of humanely farmed animals. You have a one-time-only chance to become a modern-day vampire. You think, "This is a pretty amazing opportunity, do I want to gain immortality, amazing speed, strength, and power? But do I want to become undead, become an immortal monster and have to drink blood?


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