Edge in the News

Kaosenlared [7.18.19]

. . .That Explains Everything: Beautiful, Profound and Elegant Ideas About How the World Works, edited by John Brockman . . . a well-known cultural dynamizer whose trajectory has taken place in the world of New York avant-garde art, science, publishing, software and the Internet . . . the founder and editor of Edge.org, a website dedicated to scientific discussions in which the world's most brilliant thinkers participate, of what he has called the "Third Culture". 

It is no exaggeration to say that each page gives us a surprise, about animals, planets, diseases, the limits of rationality, about the idea of beauty, the different ways of facing reality (empiricism and rationalism), optical illusions, snowflakes, lemons, cats, turtles, birds, frogs . . . and in this book there is everything as in apothecary.

The Objective [7.13.19]

Picking up C. P. Snow's glove in his famous lecture on the two cultures, the scientific and the humanistic, John Brockman founded three decades ago EDGE, a modern Bloomsbury Circle in which high personalities swarm and that every year asks a question. The one we are dealing with here asks about "the most beautiful, profound or elegant explanation" and is answered by, among others, psychiatrist Judith Rich Harris, neuroscientist David Eagleman, physicist Carlo Rovelli, anthropologist Helen Fisher, philosopher Daniel Dennett, archaeologist Christine Finn and even musician Brian Eno, in an anthology entitled That Explains It All (Deusto). There are, of course, very diverse answers: natural selection, magnetism, entropy, germs, the principle of uncertainty... The result is an attempt at natural philosophy in which the apparent border between sciences and humanities seems to be blurred. Is it that this never existed?

El Tiempo [7.11.19]

John Brockman, writer and editor, created a website called Edge (edge, or boundary) in which a conversation takes place between the academic world and an intellectually curious audience. That page was classified in the same category as magazines such as The New Yorker and The Economist. Brockman considered himself heir to the artist J. L. Byars, who last century organized a club of very diverse thinkers and said that to reach the edge of knowledge one had to ask others the questions they ask themselves.

Discussions in Edge could be collected today in a manuscript of more than ten million words. One of his initiatives was the annual publication of a book with various answers to a great question he asked. This year, to celebrate twenty years of the initiative (and to close it), Brockman decided not to ask a question, but to ask each participant for his, that last unknown that won't let him sleep. The book has more than 300 pages; each has only a brief question printed and the name of the one who asks it. Natural and social scientists, writers, artists and entrepreneurs participated. 

The Washington Post [6.26.19]

Here are our picks for worthwhile books to read during each year of life, from 1 to 100, along with some of the age-appropriate wisdom they impart.

With time and wisdom to spare, there may be no better moment to ponder life’s big mysteries.

Financial Times [6.22.19]

"An erratic, but intriguing, selection of essays from many of the world’s leading (western) thinkers about artificial intelligence and the nature of humanity." 

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution [6.19.19]

 . . . 4. John Brockman, editor, The Last Unknowns: Deep, Elegant, Profound UNANSWERED QUESTIONS About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life.  My nominated question was: “How far are we from wishing to return to the technologies of the year 1900?”  NB: you get only the questions, not the answers. . . .

El País (Spain) [6.19.19]

What is elegance for scientists? This is the kind of question that John Brockman, one of the most unique editors of our time, and also a sort of cultural animator of the scientific elite, asks his pupils once a year for the online magazine Edge.org. He is inspired by cutting-edge intellectual societies such as the Algonquin Roundtable and the Bloomsbury Group. A few years ago, he asked all those brains, "What's your favorite beautiful, deep, or elegant explanation?" There was an avalanche of responses, and Deusto has just published them in Spanish. . . .

My favourite physicist, Frank Wilczek, believes that simplicity leads to depth, elegance and beauty, adding: "There are few processes as elegant as building a baby following the DNA program."

Scientific Inquirer [6.17.19]

George Bernard Shaw once said, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” At the essence of Shaw’s quote lies the notion that questions matter. However, not all questions are created equal and in order to extract the most usefulness from it, the right question needs to be formulated. It’s a case of lock and key. The right question opens doors and allows people to explore what was once stowed away. The Last Unknowns (William Morrow) is a veritable treasure trove of these type of questions. . . .

The Last Unknowns is a loosely organized compendium of queries. One page, one question. Without any guidance, the topics meander but like a flâneur on the streets of Paris, aimlessly wandering but with the solitary purpose of discovery. They run the thematic gamut. . . .

So does The Last Unknowns provide any answers? Not in a single instance. That isn’t what the book was designed to accomplish. Does it get the mental wheels turning in directions they may never have done before? Absolutely. . . .

Grocott's Mail (South Africa) [6.14.19]

In his latest book, This Idea is Brilliant, John Brockman collects from a stunning array of scientists and thinkers, the concepts they value most in their various disciplines: scientific humility; the anthropocene; exponential growth; synaptic transfer; information pathology; and so on.

The philosopher Melanie Swan chooses “Included Middle” as her favourite concept ... The Included Middle – the notion that two contesting positions can exist side by side in a complex new reality – is a robust and promising model for addressing any situation.

Could the Included Middle provide a conceptual model for social analysis and nation building in South Africa? In a complex society, might it be possible to be both peacefully and robustly united and divided at the same time? . . .

News of Israel [6.11.19]

John Brockman's most recent book, The Last Unknowns poses this interesting question, what would be the question you would like to be reminded of: your last question?

This is how the world's brightest minds must respond . . . to this question from Brockman who is editor of edge.org, probably "the most intelligent place in the world" and through which, by a delicate process, the most creative minds were selected today, including the renowned curator of the City of Ideas, the Mexican Dr. Andrés Roemer, along with personalities such as Steven Pinker or the Israeli Dan Arely.

"Can you prove it?" is the question asked by Dr. Andres Roemer, a question that we also ask in many cases, with his speakers at the Festival of Creative Minds. . . .

Foreign Affairs [6.11.19]


. . . A fascinating map of AI’s likely future and an overview of the difficult choices that will shape it . . . A sense of respect for the human mind and humility about its limitations runs through the essays in Possible Minds.

800-CEO-READ [6.4.19]

John Brockman's Edge Question Series books have been fascinating to follow for over a decade now. With titles like This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World WorksWhat We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of CertaintyThe Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos, and What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night, the series clearly doesn't shy away from big questions—and there are so many more like that asked in the series, which has sold over a million copies.  

The Last Unknowns: Deep, Elegant, Profound Unanswered Questions about the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life, the conclusion to the series, hits bookstore shelves today. Being the last of the series, it is fitting that it leaves us with some of today's great thinkers' last questions. ...

Below, we have the introduction to the book, written by another of today's great minds—the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow—Daniel Kahneman. In it, he talks about what makes the series, and the site that it spawned from, so special.

Book Authority [6.3.19]

1. The Last Unknowns
Deep, Elegant, Profound Unanswered Questions About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life

Recommended by Tim O'Reilly: "This is a fascinating book, full of thought-provoking questions (one to a page) that will help you think more deeply about the challenges facing humanity and the opportunities in science and technology. It is a great one-a-day vitamin to spark your thinking"  – from Twitter

Book Bub [5.28.19]

This summer’s nonfiction releases range from the intriguing to the empowering, and every one is utterly engrossing. Here are our recommendations of the top nonfiction books arriving this summer — reads that will transport you to the mysterious depths of the ocean, place you in the middle of history, and take you on powerful inner journeys. Publishers’ descriptions included below.

1. The Last Unknowns, edited by John Brockman

This is a little book of profound questions — unknowns that address the secrets of our world, our civilization, the meaning of life. Here are the deepest riddles that have fascinated, obsessed, and haunted the greatest thinkers of our time, including Nobel laureates, cosmologists, philosophers, economists, prize-winning novelists, religious scholars, and more than 250 leading scientists, artists, and theorists. In The Last Unknowns, John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, asks “a mind-blowing gathering of innovative thinkers” (Booklist): “What is ‘The Last Question,’ your last question, the question for which you will be remembered?”

Forbes (India) [5.11.19]

3) Is superintelligence impossible? 

John Brockman, the author of By The Late John Brockman and The Third Culture, chats with David Chalmers and Daniel C. Dennett about the growing world of AI. . . . Mr. Chalmers starts by saying that he believes superintelligence is possible. Then he goes on to explain why and how it can happen and what are the challenges that would arise.

Mr. Dennett concurs with what Mr. Chalmers said. He goes on to talk about the “possible”. There are lots of things that are possible, and philosophers love to talk about what’s possible, but many things that are obviously possible are never going to be actual. It’s possible to build a bridge across the Atlantic. We’re not going to do it, not now, not in a hundred years, not in a thousand years. It would cost too much money and would be a foolish endeavor. He also says that we ourselves are AIs. “We’re robots made of robots made of robots. We’re actual. In principle, you could make us out of other materials. Some of your best friends in the future could be robots” he says. . . .

Mind Matters [5.2.19]

In Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI (2019), prominent science literary agent John Brockman has put together a more eclectic mix of experts than Martin Ford did in Architects of Intelligence (2018). Brockman’s choices include multiverse proponent Max Tegmark, evolutionary psychology icon Steven Pinker, and materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett. That the two books came out only months apart, with only three overlapping experts, testifies to public interest in the topic. . . .

At Inc., Possible Minds is rated as business book #2 for 2019 (already!) and expertly buzzed: “Should we trust something potentially smarter than us? What is humanity’s role in a world ruled by algorithms?” . . .

Sam Harris, Making Sense Podcast [4.15.19]

New Podcast

Possible Minds: Conversations with George Dyson, Alison Gopnik, and Stuart Russell

In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris introduces John Brockman’s new anthology, “Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI,” in conversation with three of its authors: George Dyson, Alison Gopnik, and Stuart Russell. 

[ED. NOTE: At nearly 4 hours long - from Leibniz to Deep Learning - a most ambitious and interesting Sam Harris podcast.]

Alison Gopnik, Wall Street Journal [3.20.19]

Everybody’s talking about artificial intelligence. Some people even argue that AI will lead, quite literally, to either immortality or the end of the world. Neither of those possibilities seems terribly likely, at least in the near future. But there is still a remarkable amount of debate about just what AI can do and what it means for all of us human intelligences.

A new book called “Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI,” edited by John Brockman, includes a range of big-picture essays about what AI can do and what it might mean for the future. The authors include people who are working in the trenches of computer science, like Anca Dragan, who designs new kinds of AI-directed robots, and Rodney Brooks, who invented the Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner. But it also includes philosophers like Daniel Dennett, psychologists like Steven Pinker and even art experts like the famous curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Vox [3.2.19]

Artificial intelligence is playing strategy games, writing news articles, folding proteins, and teaching grandmasters new moves in Go. Some experts warn that as we make our systems more powerful, we’ll risk unprecedented dangers. Others argue that that day is centuries away, and predictions about it today are ridiculous. The American public, when surveyed, is nervous about automation, data privacy, and “critical AI system failures” that could end up killing people.

How do you grapple with a topic like that?

Two new books both take a similar approach. Possible Minds, edited by John Brockman and published last week by Penguin Press, asks 25 important thinkers — including Max Tegmark, Jaan Tallinn, Steven Pinker, and Stuart Russell — to each contribute a short essay on “ways of looking” at AI. 

I was intrigued, fascinated, and alarmed in turn by the takes on AI from these researchers, many of whom have laid the very foundations of the field’s triumphs today...

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [2.23.19]

...[T]here’s a lot to worry about — and get excited about and just mull — in “Possible Minds,” a collection of essays by thinkers on the cutting edge of technology and culture, edited by John Brockman, who has chronicled that world at Edge.org since 1996.

Mr. Brockman asks the 25 essayists to riff off a 1950 book, “The Human Use of Human Beings,” by pioneering tech thinker Norbert Wiener. That tome took a dim view of AI’s implications, warning that “The hour is very late, and the choice of good and evil knocks at our door.” Today’s essayists take a range of positions on whether that choice is still at hand, or has already been made, and if so, which option we’ve picked.