Edge in the News

BELIEFNET [1.1.09]

If you're familiar with The Edge's annual survey of scientists, science writers and scientific types, you know how fascinating the answers are. Follow the link above to get started reading them -- and then share in the comboxes your own answer to the question, and how you reached that conclusion

Brian Eno, THE GUARDIAN [1.1.09]

The artist and composer responds to this year's Edge.org question: What will change everything?
 

[PHOTO: BRIAN ENO/EAMONN MCCABE]

What would change everything is not even a thought. It's more of a feeling.

Human development thus far has been fueled and guided by the feeling that things could be, and are probably going to be, better. The world was rich compared to its human population; there were new lands to conquer, new thoughts to nurture, and new resources to fuel it all. The great migrations of human history grew from the feeling that there was a better place, and the institutions of civilisation grew out of the feeling that checks on pure individual selfishness would produce a better world for everyone involved in the long term.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS [1.1.09]

Annual science survey asks: "What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?" Among the answers:
 
• West Antarctica and sleeping giants
• Quantum laptops
• Mind-reading ...

NPR [1.1.09]

Every year, John Brockman — who runs the nonprofit Edge Foundation in New York — asks a gaggle of forward-thinking people a provocative question.

THE TELEGRAPH [1.1.09]

Leading thinkers - includingCraig Venter and Ian McEwan - have marked New Year 2009 by predicting what will be the next big thing to shape the future.

[PHOTO: IAN MCKEWAN/PHILIP HOLLIS]

[Caption: Ian McEwan: predicts the full flourishing of solar technology as one of the next 'big things']

A 150-strong group of scientists, authors, musicians, philosophers and other respected experts were posed the question "What will change everything?"

Their task was set by Edge, an online intellectual discussion group, which claims its membership comprises "the most interesting minds in the world".

The responses spanned new methods of energy production, the dawn of telepathy, freely available artificial intelligence and the colonisation of the Milky Way."

Richard Dawkins, THE GUARDIAN [1.1.09]

Dawkins speculates about how a human-chimp hybrid or the discovery of a living Homo erectus would change the way we see the world. — James Randerson

 
In a late response to Edge.org's annual New Year challenge to the world's leading thinkers, Prof Richard Dawkins has submitted his entry. Edge.org asked scientists, philosophers, artists and journalists "What will change everything?"
 
Dawkins – author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion – muses on the effect of breaking down the barrier between humans and animals, perhaps by the creation of a chimera in a lab or a "successful hybridisation between a human and a chimpanzee".
 
Here's what he had to say.

THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS [1.1.09]

Annual science survey asks: "What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?" Among the answers:
 
• West Antarctica and sleeping giants
• Quantum laptops
• Mind-reading ...

GLASCOW HERALD [1.1.09]

The predictions range from miracle cures and world peace to economic ruin and nuclear war. If there is a theme to the World Questions 2009, an online survey of some of the world's top thinkers, it would seem to be inconsistency.
 
Published yesterday on intellectual website edge.org, the survey asked 150 leading scientists, artists and commentators for their views on the single biggest change likely to affect the world during their lifetimes.
 
The wide range of answers they gave provides a snapshot of the hopes - and fears - that may come to define our times.

George Johnson, GRIST [1.1.09]

Scientists and other experts rattle off options for averting climate catastrophe
 
Meanwhile, the mysterious Edge Foundation released its annual question for 2009, asking smart folks of all disciplines to name what new idea or technology will "change everything." Responses range all over, but there are a few climate-related responses, including British novelist Ian McEwan's prediction that solar technology will really take off and Stanford climatologist Stephen H. Schneider's guess that rapid melting of Greenland's ice sheets will wake up the world to the need to take concerted action on curbing C02 emissions.

O'REILLY RADAR [12.31.08]

Regular Radar contributorLinda Stone sent this in to be posted today.
 
...Venter imagines creating life from synthetic materials and expects that our view of life, itself, will be transformed.
 
Nobel Laureate, Frank Wilczek, believes everything will continue to become smaller, faster, cooler, and cheaper -- with its implications of an Internet on steroids and exciting new designer materials.

THE GUARDIAN [12.31.08]

Futurology is notoriously hit-and-miss. According to 2001: A Space Odyssey, we should already be using suspended animation to send humans to Jupiter
 
"Through science we create technology and in using our new tools we recreate ourselves." So says the intro to edge.org's annual New Year challenge to the world's greatest thinkers.This year it is asking "What will change everything – What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?" And as ever, the great and the good have responded to the call. ...

Linda Stone, Xconomy [12.31.08]

What game-changing ideas can we expect to see in OUR lifetimes?
 
As each year winds to a close, John Brockman, literary agent representing some of the finest minds in science and technology and the founder of Edge Foundation, poses a provocative question to an international community of physicists, psychologists, futurists, thought leaders, and dreamers. Brockman is a master convener, both online and in real life. This year’s annual Edge question, What will change everything?, generated responses from Freeman Dyson, Danny Hillis, Martin Seligman, Craig Venter, and Juan Enriquez, to name a few. Here are a few highlights.

EDGE IN RUSSIA!
Esquire [12.31.08]

 

Inspired by them 2009 Edge Annual Question "What Will Change Everything?", EsquireRussia has dedicated their June issue to "the future", more specifically, to ideas about the future and those things that will "change everything." The issue features translations of fifteen essays from Edge.


 
 

Contributions included in the magazine are:

David Berreby - Post-Rational Economic Man
Leo Chalupa - Controlling Brain Plasticity
Austin Dacey - Carniculture
Freeman Dyson - "Radiotelepathy";
Brian Eno - The Feeling That Things Are Inevitably Going To Get Worse
Juan Enriquez - Homo Evolutis
Alison Gopnik - Never-Ending Childhood
Sam Harris - True Lie Detection
Robert Shapiro - A Separate Origin For Life
Rupert Sheldrake - The Credit Crunch For Materialism
Kevin Slavin - The Ebb Of Memory
Nassim Nicholas Taleb - The Idea Of Negative And Iatrogenic Science
Sherry Turkle - The Robotic Moment
Frank Wilczek - Homesteading In Hilbert Space
Anton Zeilinger - The Breakdown Of All ComputersThere is no online version, but copies are available at newstands everywhere...in Russia, that is, and at international newsstand as well.

Read the full article →

ARTS & LETTER DAILY [12.31.08]

Printing – electricity – radio – antibiotics: after them, nothing was the same. Intellectual impresario John Brockman asks a select group of thinkers, “What will change everything?”... 

Full of ideas wild (neurocosmetics, “resizing ourselves,” “intuit[ing] in six dimensions”) and more close-to-home (“Basketball and Science Camps,” solar technology”), this volume offers dozens of ingenious ways to think about progress
Publishers Weekly [12.31.08]

NONFICTION (STARRED REVIEW)

 This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future
Edited byJohn Brockman. Harper Perennial, $14.99 paper (416p) ISBN 9780061899676
Part of a series stemming from his online science journal Edge (www.edge.org), including What Have You Changed Your Mind About? and What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, author and editor Brockman presents 136 answers to the question, “What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” Milan architect Stefano Boeri responds with a single sentence: “Discovering that someone from the future has already come to visit us.” Most others take the question more seriously; J. Craig Venter believes his laboratory will use “digitized genetic information” to direct organisms in creating biofuels and recycling carbon dioxide. Like biofuels, several topics are recurrent: both Robert Shapiro and Douglas Rushikoff consider discovering a “Separate Origin for Life,” a terrestrial unicellular organism that doesn’t belong to our tree of life; Leo M. Chalupa and Alison Gopnik both consider the possibility resetting the adult brain’s plasticity—its capacity for learning—to childhood levels. Futurologist Juan Enriquez believes that reengineering body parts and the brain will lead to “human speciation” unseen for hundreds of thousands of years, while controversial atheist Richard Dawkins suggests that reverse-engineering evolution could create a highly illuminating “continuum between every species and every other.” Full of ideas wild (neurocosmetics, “resizing ourselves,” “intuit[ing] in six dimensions”) and more close-to-home (“Basketball and Science Camps,” solar technology”), this volume offers dozens of ingenious ways to think about progress. (Jan.)

Read the full article →

THE GUARDIAN [12.31.08]

[Caption: Ian McEwan muses that we will look back and 'wonder why we ever thought we had a problem when we are bathed in such beneficent radiant energy'. Photograph: Getty]
 
Flying cars, personal jetpacks, holidays on the moon, the paperless office – the predictions of futurologists are, it seems, doomed to fail. The only thing predictable about the future is its unpredictability.
 
But that has not stopped edge.org – the online intellectual salon – asking which ideas and inventions will provide humanity's next leap forward. In its traditional New Year challenge to the planet's best thinkers it asks, "What will change everything – What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?"

TERCERA CULTURA — CHILE [12.31.08]

Who Are We?

Third Culture was born as a podcast in August 2009. Our idea was to spread the extraordinary findings, illuminations and epiphanies that we had throughout this decade in our studies of science of the mind.

Our ideas was to spread the extraordinary findings, illuminations and epiphanies that we had throughout this decade in our studies of science of the mind."Coming from the Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities at the University of Chile, we had the experience of being a somewhat rare beasts: interested in science in a humanistic environment. We found, in the concept of Third Culture (developed in CP Snow in the late fifties and sponsored by John Brockman in the nineties), a space where we could move easily and at the same time, share our experience students and our academic colleagues. ...

...We believe we can build a community around the issues of mind, not only among specialists of the six disciplines founding (if we ignore the hexagon of the Sloan Foundation in the seventies): Artificial Intelligence, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics and Anthropology, but also between those who come from the humanities, which, as you said people like Jonah Lehrer or Ian Richardson, have been turning the problem of the mind since time immemorial.

We know that the others can be seen as a kind of "sensationalism" intellectual, or syncretism, even as accommodationist: we believe that this is one of the greatest dangers. We also know that you can see the third culture as "selling the system" in the humanities, dominated by epistemological pessimism, not relying on scientific research. Finally we know that on that same line of reasoning, the third culture can be seen as an unconditional surrender to the dominant ideas of the traditional right, the market, and so on. We put it bluntly, we are people with leftist values, but we are not the guerrilla left ... we are from the Darwinian left (... that is, at bottom, we are only interested in sex ).

The page / blog terceracultura.cl is our third step in the dissemination of the Third Culture in Chile and Chilean in this space will links to programs, more extensive post blogs, discuss recent articles, open the door to debate and establish links with elsewhere. We expect maximum contact.

[...]

[ED. NOTE: A new podcast website from Chile on The Third Culture with entries aboutDanlel GilbertSteven PinkerDaniel DennettLeda CosmidesJohn ToobyGuns Germs and Steel, Darwin in Chile, among others. — JB]

WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?
THE MAIL ON SUNDAY [12.29.08]

"The planet's overheating, the icecaps are melting, the population is exploding, there's a bird-flu epidemic waiting to get us and even if we avoid a terrorist Armageddon, there's bound to be an asteroid up there with all our names on it. We are, to quote Private Frazer, doomed.

"Nonsense, say the 150 leading scientists assembled by John Brockman in this uplifting anthology.

"Asked the title's question, the world's best brains examined our prospects - and all of them found reasons to be very cheerful indeed. Once again, the scientific community seems to challenge our instinctive, common-sense assumption. First they told us the Earth isn't flat. Then, that solid objects are made up of empty space. ...

"...This is an enthralling book that delivers two very significant truths: we've never had it so good and things can only get better. Global warming — and asteroids — permitting."

Read the full article →

THE NEW YORK TIMES [12.27.08]

Several months ago, Christopher Hitchens was sent an article about a young soldier, Mark Jennings Daily, who had been killed in Iraq. Daily was improbably all-American — born on the Fourth of July, an honors graduate from U.C.L.A., strikingly handsome. He’d been a Democrat with reservations about the war. But, “somewhere along the way, he changed his mind,” the article said. “Writings by author and commentator Christopher Hitchens on the moral case for war deeply influenced him.”

“I don’t exaggerate by much when I say I froze,” Hitchens wrote about reading that sentence.

His essay in the November issue of Vanity Fair is a meditation on his own role in Daily’s death, and a description of the family Daily left behind. Hitchens asks painful questions and steps on every opportunity to be maudlin, and yet for all its tightly controlled intellectualism, the essay packs a bigger emotional wallop than any other this year.

Daily took books by Thomas Paine, Tolstoy, John McCain and Orwell to Iraq.

“Anyone who knew me before I joined,” Daily wrote from the front, “knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience, then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me)... . Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.”

Hitchens spent a day with the Daily family and then was asked to speak at a memorial service. He read a passage from “Macbeth” and later reflected: “Here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best.”

Hitchens also wrote “God Is Not Great,” which Ross Douthat reviewed provocatively in The Claremont Review of Books. Douthat noted that Hitchens specializes in picking out crackpot quotations rather than trying to closely observe the nature of spiritual experience: “Like most apologists for atheism, he evinces little interest in the topic of religion as it is actually lived, preferring to stick to the safer ground of putting the godly in the dock and cataloging their crimes against humanity.” Douthat, the believer, comes off as more curious about the world than any skeptic.

One of the best pieces of career advice I ever got is: Interview three people every day. If you try to write about politics without interviewing policy makers, you’ll wind up spewing all sorts of nonsense. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote an entire book on the Israel Lobby without ever interviewing any of their subjects.

Jeffrey Goldberg dissected their effort in The New Republic. Goldberg usefully describes Judeocentrism, the belief that Jews play a central role in world history. Walt and Mearsheimer have a tendency, Goldberg writes, to bring the vectors of recent world history back to the Jews — the rise of radical Islam, shifts in U.S. foreign policy, Sept. 11. He then offers a piece-by-piece dissection of their historical claims.

Wonks talk about inequality, but voters talk about immigration. Christopher Jencks wrote an essay on immigration in The New York Review of Books that was superb not because he took a polemical stance, but because he clarified a complex issue in an honest way.

He shows how fluid public opinion is. Certain poll questions suggest that 69 percent of Americans want to deport illegal immigrants. Others indicate the true figure is only 14 percent. He ends up at the nub of the current deadlock. Conservatives, having learned from past failures, demand “enforcement first.” Employers, fearing bankruptcy, demand the legalization of the current immigrants first. Neither powerful group will budge.

Three other essays are worth your time. In the online magazine Edge, Jonathan Haidt wrote “Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion,” an excellent summary of how we make ethical judgments. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, J. Bradford DeLong wrote “Creative Destruction’s Reconstruction” on why Joseph Schumpeter matters to the 21st century. In her essay, “The Abduction of Opera” in The City Journal, Heather MacDonald wonders why European directors now introduce mutilation, rape, masturbation and urination into lighthearted operas like “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” She argues that a resurgent adolescent culture has allowed directors there to wallow in all manner of self-indulgence.

TORONTO STAR [12.27.08]

When politicians change their minds, they're often lambasted for flip-flopping by other politicians, the media and the public. When scientists change their minds, their fellow scientists eventually see it as progress, integral to the self-correcting discipline of their vocation.

Unfortunately the public usually notices only a marginal subset of this phenomenon: how the futurists and short-term forecasters so often get it wrong.

After all, where is the paperless office? Or the Jetsons' flying car? And remember how hurricane forecasters used computer models to predict – wrongly – that the last two seasons would be monsters?

For a spectacularly bad computer projection, look at the mid-1970s, when a study from the Club of Rome warned that the world would run out of many essential minerals before the end of the century. Skeptical researchers picked apart the naïve assumptions of "The Limits to Growth," but not before world leaders, including Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had jetted off to an Austrian castle for a summit.

Yet the truly important self-corrections of science often escape public attention because they escape the media's attention. That's mainly because journalism exists on the time scale of mayflies while scientific consensus evolves over elephantine decades.

A personal example: When I was squeaking through university science in the mid-1960s, we were taught that the adult brain does not make new neurons.

But even then, unbeknown to us, a few researchers were arguing that the adult brain did continue to manufacture neurons. But they were dismissed as crackpots, just as Alfred Wegener was in 1915 when he proposed that the continents drifted. Or as Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland were in 1974 when they warned that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer.

Molina and Rowland were vindicated in just a few years and went on to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. But it wasn't until the 1950s that continental drift was accepted as the consensus theory.

The neuron "crackpots" were finally declared correct by their fellow brain scientists in the 1990s, and today adult neurogenesis – the fancy name for making new neurons – is a burgeoning field of study for people such as Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, who originally dismissed the idea.

Sapolsky is one of 130-plus scientists and "thinkers" who have contributed highly personal revelations to What Have You Changed Your Mind About?, due next month.

Book marketing seems to demand sensational subtitles, but Today's Leading Minds Rethink Everything turns out to be an accurate guide to the content. In almost 400 pages, the contributors cover frontier aspects of all three scientific arenas: physical, biomedical and social.

It should come with a warning: "Reading this book may be dangerous to your cherished myths and perceptions." For example:

  • Helena Cronin says it's not primarily bias and barriers that give men the top positions and prizes. After analyzing the statistical evidence, the philosopher at the London School of Economics has come to accept that there will be (as she puts it) more dumbbells and more Nobels among males because there's a much greater variance in ability among men as a group than among women, even though both are similar on average.
  • There is probably no intelligent life elsewhere in the universe because we would have detected a stray electromagnetic signal by now, argues technologist Ray Kurzweil, who wanted to believe in E.T.
  • Until a few years ago, neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux thought that a memory is something stored in the brain into which we could tap again and again. Then a researcher in his lab at New York University did an experiment that convinced LeDoux – and is convincing others – that each time a memory is used, it has to be stored again in the brain as a new memory to be accessible later. This concept of memory "reconsolidation" is now being tested in treating drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders changed his mind about his body, which he now considers closer to software than hardware. It's been known for decades that 98 per cent of the atoms in the human body are replaced every year, but only recently was Nørretranders able to come up with the concept of permanent reincarnation, like music moving from vinyl LPs to audio tapes to CDs and now iPods.

Many other contributors challenge conventional wisdom to write about, among other things, a finite universe; the brain creating a soul; and the Internet as a powerful tool for centralized state control.

Nor do all these deep thinkers agree. Computer scientist Rudy Rucker has come around to thinking that a computer program will be able to emulate the human mind so that self-aware robots could even believe in God. But computer scientist Roger Schank, who once said he would see machines as smart as humans within his lifetime, now believes that won't happen within the lifetime of his grandchildren.

The book's most important contribution, however, is to drive home the lesson that in science being wrong occasionally is a good thing, not least because it renews curiosity and reminds the scientists that they don't know everything.

As Discover magazine columnist Jaron Lanier writes in the book, "Being aware of being wrong once in a while keeps you young."

And since admitting they've been wrong and changing their minds works well for rational decision-making by scientists, perhaps politicians, the media and others might give it a try.

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