Edge in the News: 2018 Annual Question


John Brockman has run out of questions. Brockman, a literary agent, runs the science and philosophy site Edge.org. Every year for 20 years, he has asked leading thinkers to answer a particular question, such as: “What questions have disappeared?” or: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” This year, though, Brockman announced that he has no more questions left. So he asked his final question: “What is the last question?”

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers,” Voltaire insisted. Questions help us define what we don’t know and force us or others to justify what we think we do know.

Asking questions is relatively easy. Asking good questions is surprisingly difficult. A bad question searches for an answer that confirms what we already know. A good question helps to reset our intellectual horizons. It has an answer that we can reach, yet unsettles what we already know. ...

Andrian Kreye, [2.14.18]

The questions of how science and technology are transforming life and society are among the greatest intellectual challenges that surprisingly few of today's intellectuals take on. One of the first to do so was FAZ editor Frank Schirrmacher, who died in 2014. So it was not only an gesture of respect, but also an attempt at a programmatic continuation, when the publisher of the weekly Freitag, Jakob Augstein, dedicated a symposium on digital debate to Frank Schirrmacher. . . .

If you want to get an idea of ​​where the future debates are headed, we recommend the internet forum edge.org, directed by the science impresario John Brockman, who had always been an important source for Schirrmacher. For the last twenty years, Brockman has posed an annual question to his network of visionaries, artists, and Nobel laureates. This year, he ended the project by asking everyone to ask one last question.

When the biologist David Haig asks: "What will be the use of 99% humanity for the 1%?", he still poses a question aimed at current digital changes of in society. But if the anthropologist Dorsa Amir asks “Are the simplest bits of information in the brain stored at the level of the neuron?” or the roboticist Rodney Brooks asks, “Can consciousness exist in an entity without a self-contained physical body?”, we realize that science is thinking a lot more about the subject of artificial intelligence. That's why the result is one of the most exciting reading streams ever. Which brings us full circle back to Schirrmacher.


René Scheu, [2.7.18]
If you were left with the chance of asking only one fundamental question about the future of humanity, which one would it be? That's exactly what legendary American literary agent John Brockman wanted to know of freethinkers, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs moving at and across the very borders of modern thought. We present their best answers – in question form.
Without a doubt, edge.org is one of the brightest, most stimulating websites today – visitors experience the thinking, actions and lives of modern intellectual adventurers in actu. The pleasure factor is great, as is the gain in knowledge. Every month there is news – but that's not all. Every year John Brockman sends a question out to the "Edgies" and makes the answers accessible on his website; afterward he publishes them in an anthology for bibliophiles. Life – what is it? How is the internet changing the way you think? What is your dangerous idea? Now, after 20 years, the American cultural impresario, who still looks young at the age of 76, has decided that enough is enough. And he asks his community one last question: what's your last question?

It is a question to inspire the individual – to quote Kant one last time – with "admiration and awe." The last question is always a question about last things. These last – and first – things are the true protagonists of the following pages. They will pursue you into your dreams and nightmares. Hopefully.


Since 1998...the editor John Brockman has asked these questions on his Edge page ( www.edge.org ) to a hundred long intellectuals...

Brockman...says he has run out of questions and this year he has launched the last one. The question is, obviously: What is the last question? A chrysanthemum is the flower that Katinka Matson has chosen for her ritual illustration. There are many answers to look for. This is from Ryan Mckay , a psychologist at the University of London: "Will we be one of the last generations to die?" Of Robert Sapolsky, neuroscientist at Stanford: "Given the nature of life, the purposeless indifference of the universe and our absolute lack of free will, how is it possible that most people are not clinically depressed?" But the best last question, of a Leibnizian nature, is that of the MIT physicist Frank Wilczek. Given its monumental size it is understandable that answering it can never be among the obligations that a newspaper has contracted with the news.