Edge 172— November 1, 2005
(2,800 words)

Is science driven by inspired guesswork?

History abounds with examples of how instinct, not data, led to discoveries. Even Einstein's theory of relativity had to wait decades for verification, says Ian McEwan

...This collection, mostly written by working scientists, does not represent the antithesis of science. These are not simply the unbuttoned musings of professionals on their day off. The contributions, ranging across many disparate fields, express the spirit of a scientific consciousness at its best - informed guesswork that is open-minded, free-ranging, intellectually playful.

Many replies offer versions of the future in various fields of study. Those readers educated in the humanities, accustomed to the pessimism that is generally supposed to be the mark of a true intellectual, will be struck by the optimistic tone. Some, like the psychologist Martin Seligman, believe we are not rotten to the core. Others even seem to think that the human lot could improve.

Generally evident is an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world which does not have an obvious equivalent in, say, cultural studies. In the arts, perhaps lyric poetry would be a kind of happy parallel.... [click here to continue]

Copyright © Ian McEwan, 2005. Excerpted in The Telegraph from Ian McEwan's introduction to What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, edited by John Brockman (UK: Free Press); (US: HarperCollins, forthcoming).

Genoa, october 27 - november 8, 2005

George B. Dyson & J. Craig Venter

Festival della Scienza 2005 (October 27 - November 8), under the direction of Vittorio Bo, will present leading third culture intellectuals (including numerous Edgies), who are pushing the frontiers of science. Participants include geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza, science historian George Dyson, archaeologist Brian Fagan, paleontologist Richard Fortey, physicist Neil Gershenfeld, string theorist Brian Greene, physicist Robert Laughlin, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, zoologist Desomond Morris, mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, cosmologist Martin Rees, Merrott ruhlen, biologist Steven Rose, theoretical physicist Gino Segre, physicist John Stachel, paleontologist Tattersall, genomics researcher Craig Venter, among others, and includes influential journalists such as Alun Anderson (New Scientist) and Armando Massarenti (Il Sole 24 Ore). [Click here for a PDF file of the programme].

All roads lead to Genoa for one of the world's leading third culture events.


For individual scientific work, extending the computational idea, performed, published, or newly applied within the past ten years.

The Edge of Computation Science Prize, established by Edge Foundation, Inc., is a $100,000 prize initiated and funded by science philanthropist Jeffrey Epstein.

Metaphors of information processing and computation are at the center of today's intellectual action. A new and unified language of science is beginning to emerge. Concepts of information and computation have infiltrated a wide range of sciences, from mathematics, physics and cosmology, to cognitive psychology, to evolutionary biology, to genetic engineering. Such innovations as the binary code and the algorithm have been applied in ways that reach far beyond the programming of computers, and are being used to understand such mysteries as the origins of the universe, the operation of the human body, and the working of the mind. These are the areas of exploration that have been central to Edge.

The Prize recognizes individual achievement in scientific work that embodies extensions of the computational idea — the design space created by Turing. It is a 21st Century prize in recognition of cutting edge work — theoretical, experimental, or both — performed, published, or newly applied within the past ten years.

While many people may contribute to any advance, no advance takes place without an individual who has the will to impose a new reality on the world. The Prize recognizes such individuals, who may be nominated as a leader, or representative, of a team. (A nomination of two-person collaboration was allowed in the slim chance the judges determine that the collaboration is so extraordinary that an exception is warranted.)

The Prize is not a lifetime achievement award. It is (a) an Edge Prize that focuses on "the edge of the world's knowledge" in 2005, and (b) a science prize, not an engineering prize, which encompasses computer science but is far more broadly construed.

Edge asked ask a wide array of people who bring a diversity of interests and expertise to participate in the nominating process by nominating an individual for the Prize within the above parameters. The judges, who shall remain anonymous, are members of the Edge community in computational science.

The list of nominees are being announced Tuesday, November 1st at Festival della Scienza 2005 in Genoa and simultaneously on Edge. The judging will take place on Tuesday-Wednesday, November 8th & 9th, and the winner will be announced on this page on Thursday. November 11th.



Alun Anderson, Chris Anderson, Thomas A. Bass, Patrick Bateson, Stewart Brand, Rodney Brooks
, Andy Clark, Paul Davies, Daniel C, Dennett, David Deutsch, Freeman Dyson, George Dyson, Edward Feigenbaum, Beatrice Golomb, Marc D. Hauser, W. Daniel Hillis, Steve Jurvetson, Eric Kandel, George Lakoff, Jaron Lanier, Armand Leroi, Seth Lloyd, Marvin Minsky, Nathan Myhrvold, Douglas Rushkoff, Jordan Pollack, Steven Quartz, Carolyn Porco, Dan Rockmore, Terrence Sejnowski, Michael Shermer, Clay Shirky, Charles Simonyi, Lee Smolin, Maria Spiropulu, Tom Standage, Nassim Taleb, Joseph Traub, J. Craig Venter, Dan Wegner, Anton Zeilinger


LAURENCE ABBOTT, for using mathematical modeling to study the neural networks that are responsible for our actions and behaviors.

DAVID BAILEY (Peter Borwein, and Simon Plouffe), for their 1997 work on the BBP algorithm, an exact computation of any digit of PI without computing previous digits.

CHARLES H. BENNETT, for his many ongoing contributions to the physics of information, including reversible computation, quantum cryptography, quantum teleportation, and quantum communication theory.

PETER J BENTLEY for "Digital Gardening" — taking the first steps in creating the new science of digital horticulture...by allowing programs to evolve and grow instead of being designed.

CYNTHIA BREAZEAL, for designing sociable robots that humans will accept as one of their own.

SERGEY BRIN, For achieving practical scaling in social software.

GREGORY CHAITIN, for extraordinary insights into the nature of mathematical truth, building on the seminal work of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing.

NOAM CHOMSKY, for the minimalist program, explaining language as an optimal solution to the interface between sound and meaning.

MARTIN DAVIS, gatekeeper of computability.

DAVID DEUTSCH, for expanding our understanding of the notion of computation in the context of the deepest questions in the foundations of mathematics and physics.

DAVID DEUTSCH, for the enormous potential of quantum computing in studying the architecture of the brain.

J. DOYNE FARMER & NORMAN H. PACKARD, for their work at the forefront of the sciences of prediction.

IAN FOSTER, for developing advanced distributed computing ("Grid") technologies, computational science efforts applying these tools to problems in areas ranging from the analysis of data from physics experiments to remote access to earthquake engineering facilities, and the Globus open source Grid software project.

DAVID GEDYE, the computer scientist who co-conceived of [email protected], the distributed computing effort for finding extraterrestrial intelligence.

DAVID GELERNTER, for fundamental contributions to both the technical and cultural sides of computation. He continues to expand our knowledge of parallel computation and the nature of the human experience of information technology.

DAVID HAUSSLER, for pioneering work in the fields of computational learning theory and bioinformatics, and for establishing strong and productive interdisciplinary interactions between computer scientists and molecular biologists.

JEFF HAWKINS, for advancing AI research and Brain research by proposing the first plausible common cortical algorithm: the hierarchical temporal predictive memory.

JOHN HOLLAND, for genetic algorithms, which not only demonstrate the creative power of the basic Darwinian algorithmic process, but provide a fundamental engine to drive the vehicles now beginning to explore the space of software applications whose designs can evolve without further intervention by software engineers.

BREWSTER KAHLE, for his pioneering efforts in online publishing, search engines and the archiving of the World Wide Web.

STUART KAUFFMAN, for work on the dynamical-computational foundations of cell biology.

HIROAKE KITANO, for seminal work in genetic algorithms, artificial life and multi-agent systems before pioneering and leading the field of computational systems biology and establishing two ERATO laboratories.

JARON LANIER, for being a fountain of creativity, a voice defining a new digital humanism, and an exceedingly useful contrarian.

SETH LLOYD, for turning quantum computers from dream into device.

BENOIT MANDELBROT, for developing the multi-fractal theory for times series.

NORMAN MARGOLUS, for the invention of reversible cellular automata and for the Margolus-Levitin theorem, the fundamental physical limit for the speed of computation.

READ MONTAGUE, for creating a new computational architecture of mind, value computing, that underlies a revolution in our understanding of humans.

, for his work in leading the team for algorithm development that enabled large eukaryotic genomies to be sequences by the using the whole genome shotgun technique.

SRINIVAS NARAYANAN, for the development of executing schemas, a major advance in neural computation that has permitted the contemporary neural theory of language to come into being.

DONALD NORMAN, for exploring and extending the complex space limned by computation on one side and design and enjoyment on the other.

CHARLES OFRIA, for the experimental study of digital organisms to improve our understanding of how natural evolution works.

LARRY PAGE, for having the right idea at the right time and best extending computation into the real world. Inside the last decade, no one else even comes close for impact

ERIC PAULOS, for pushing the boundaries of technology as human extension in tele-robotics, atmosphere, communications, and feedback mechanisms.

JORDAN POLLACK, for pioneering physical instantiations of deeply adaptive systems.

THOMAS S. RAY, for pioneering the computer simulation of evolution of populations of living creatures in an evolving ecosystem.

EHUD SHAPIRO, for building a molecular Turing machine that works.

PETER SHOR, for his discovery of revolutionary algorithms for quantum computation, which will hasten the day when this fundamentally new mode of computation becomes practicable.

LARRY SMARR, for prototyping the information infrastructure of the 21st Century.

J. CRAIG VENTER, for reengineering the information systems of biology and pioneering the field of synthetic genomics.

J. CRAIG VENTER, whose work is (a) outstandingly important, (b) intellectually exciting, and (c) based on advances in information processing in addition to advances in chemical hardware.

J. CRAIG VENTER, for the shotgun sequencing technique, which revolutionized genetic analysis and thus biology and medicine.

, for providing the first working model of a real genetic network, thereby demonstrating that the embryo is computable.

JACK WISDOM, for illuminating, through his seminal work in both analytical and computational celestial dynamics, the role that dynamical chaos plays in the long-term evolution of the solar system, with far-reaching consequences for a diverse range of topics including the evolution of climate, the possibility of life on Mars, and the origin of life on Earth.

STEPHEN WOLFRAM for three seminal contributions: (a) pioneering the study of complexity and complex systems; (b)developing the programming software (Mathematica) that changed the manner in which much of computational science is conducted; (c) developing the case for Computation Science in A New Kind of Scienc

STEPHEN WOLFRAM, for asking what the very simplest programs actually do — and establishing their systematic study as a field of basic science.