Edge in the News

The Economic Times [1.4.07]

The assigned purpose of the influential Web magazine, Edge, is lofty enough. It’s to seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

Recently, Edge asked a group of world class scientists and thinkers its 10th Anniversary Question: “What are you optimistic about and why? Among the respondents were leading American philosopher Daniel C Dennett and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins— both pretty rabid proponents of atheism.

Dennett was of the opinion that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it instils in people today and their fascination for it will disappear. He said the spread of information through the Internet, television and cell phones will generally and irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fervour.

Dawkins maintained that once scientists discover the so-called “theory of everything” it would be the end of the road as far as faith was concerned. “This final scientific enlightenment,” he said, “will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions.”

What are we to make of these grand pronouncements?

The Wall Street Journal [1.4.07]

...Thanks in part to the actions of a few jihadists in September 2001, it is believers who stand accused, not freethinkers. Among the prominent atheists who now sermonize to the believers in their midst are Dr. Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett ("Breaking the Spell") and Sam Harris ("The End of Faith" and, more recently, "Letter to a Christian Nation"). There are others, too, like Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Brooke Allen (whose "Moral Minority" was a celebration of the skeptical Founders) and a host of commentators appalled by the Intelligent Design movement. The transcript of a recent symposium on the perils of religious thought can be found at a science Web site called edge.org.

There are many themes to the atheist lament. A common worry is the political and social effect of religious belief. To a lot of atheists, the fate of civilization and of mankind depends on their ability to cool -- or better, simply to ban -- the fevered fancies of the God-intoxicated among us.

Naturally, the atheists focus their peevishness not on Muslim extremists (who advertise their hatred and violent intentions) but on the old-time Christian religion. ("Wisdom dwells with prudence," the Good Book teaches.) They can always haul out the abortion-clinic bomber if they need a boogeyman; and they can always argue as if all faiths are interchangeable: Persuade American Christians to give up their infantile attachment to God and maybe Muslims will too. In any case, they conclude: God is not necessary, God is impossible and God is not permissible if our society -- or even our species -- is to survive. ...

Out of Sight, But Not Forgotten
SEATTLEST [1.3.07]

The folks over at Edge.org, a small corner of the interwebs filled with some of the most surprisingly literary smarty-pants science types, asked their Question of 2007: What are you optimistic about?

Not that we were asked, but Seattlest is optimistic that someone will figure out that whole time-travel business, so we can go back and see James Brown in 1964. We did not see him the two times he performed in Seattle since we moved here (2000 at the EMP opening and again in 2003) and each time we neglected to buy tickets, we thought that despite the fact that it would never compare to JB in '64, we'd regret our inaction someday. And so we do.

Video of either Seattle show is nowhere to be found online, so instead we present to you what we will see in person someday, even if it means we have to scrounge up a battered old DeLorean: ...

Read the full article →

Seattlest [1.3.07]

The folks over at Edge.org, a small corner of the interwebs filled with some of the most surprisingly literary smarty-pants science types, asked their Question of 2007: What are you optimistic about?

Not that we were asked, but Seattlest is optimistic that someone will figure out that whole time-travel business, so we can go back and see James Brown in 1964. We did not see him the two times he performed in Seattle since we moved here (2000 at the EMP opening and again in 2003) and each time we neglected to buy tickets, we thought that despite the fact that it would never compare to JB in '64, we'd regret our inaction someday. And so we do.

Video of either Seattle show is nowhere to be found online, so instead we present to you what we will see in person someday, even if it means we have to scrounge up a battered old DeLorean: ...

The Wall Street Journal [1.2.07]

• WWW.EDGE.ORG Jan. 1

Each year the Edge, a Web site that aims to bridge the gap between scientists and other thinkers, asks a question of major figures associated with the science world. This year's query: "What are you optimistic about? Why?"

Some respondents, such as biologist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter, said he was hopeful science's empirical, evidence-based methods would be extended "to all aspects of modern society."

But some scientists clearly were hoping to limit expectations. Robert Trivers, a Rutgers University biologist, says the good news is "there is presently no chance that we could extinguish all of life -- the bacterial 'slimosphere' alone extends some 10 miles into the earth -- and as yet we can only make life truly miserable for the vast majority of people, not extinguish human life entirely."

WELT AM SONNTAG [1.2.07]

Energiekrise, Armut und Terror - Warum ich für die kommenden Jahre trotzdem optimistisch bin; Von düsteren Prognosen hält Ray Kurzweil wenig. Der renommierte Forscher erwartet, dass die Informationstechnik viele der heutigen Probleme lösen wird

Ray Kurzweil

[I'm Confident About Energy, the Environment, Longevity, and Wealth; I'm Optimistic (But Not Necessarily Confident) Of the Avoidance Of Existential Downsides; And I'm Hopeful (But Not Necessarily Optimistic) About a Repeat Of 9-11 (Or Worse)]

Optimism exists on a continuum in-between confidence and hope. Let me take these in order.I am confident that the acceleration and expanding purview of information technology will solve the problems with which we are now preoccupied within twenty years.

Ray Kurzweil is inventor and technologist. The shortened contribution appeared on New Years in the Internet magazine Edge (www.edge.org) (http://www.edge.org), on scientists and their Optimism for the coming year.

Read the full article →

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL [1.2.07]

• WWW.EDGE.ORG Jan. 1

Each year the Edge, a Web site that aims to bridge the gap between scientists and other thinkers, asks a question of major figures associated with the science world. This year's query: "What are you optimistic about? Why?"

Some respondents, such as biologist and entrepreneur J. Craig Venter, said he was hopeful science's empirical, evidence-based methods would be extended "to all aspects of modern society."

But some scientists clearly were hoping to limit expectations. Robert Trivers, a Rutgers University biologist, says the good news is "there is presently no chance that we could extinguish all of life -- the bacterial 'slimosphere' alone extends some 10 miles into the earth -- and as yet we can only make life truly miserable for the vast majority of people, not extinguish human life entirely."

THE NEWS SENTINEL [1.2.07]

...Here is the response of Meagan McArdle, not exactly a religious fundamentalist but probably smarter than the 150 scientists and intellectuals put together:Let me see if I can phrase this in a way that Mr Dennett might understand: if smoking made us live forever, it would be very, very popular. Even if it didn't make you live for ever, but could convince enough people that it might, it would be very, very popular. And anyone who thinks that they have the same caliber of evidence for atheism that we do for the carcinogenicity of tobacco needs to have his ego examined for possibly fatal inflammation.

As I make my way through life and try to sort things out, I need the help of both dreamers and thinkers. I just wish they would keep their missions straight, although the intellectuals lately encroach more into the wishful-thinkers' territory than the artists do into the scientists'. At least I never heard Lennon sing, "Imagine quantum physics, it would make Einstein cry . . ." ...

The news Sentinel [1.2.07]

...Here is the response of Meagan McArdle, not exactly a religious fundamentalist but probably smarter than the 150 scientists and intellectuals put together:Let me see if I can phrase this in a way that Mr Dennett might understand: if smoking made us live forever, it would be very, very popular. Even if it didn't make you live for ever, but could convince enough people that it might, it would be very, very popular. And anyone who thinks that they have the same caliber of evidence for atheism that we do for the carcinogenicity of tobacco needs to have his ego examined for possibly fatal inflammation.

As I make my way through life and try to sort things out, I need the help of both dreamers and thinkers. I just wish they would keep their missions straight, although the intellectuals lately encroach more into the wishful-thinkers' territory than the artists do into the scientists'. At least I never heard Lennon sing, "Imagine quantum physics, it would make Einstein cry . . ."

Gefährlicher Kult um digitale Schwarmintelligenz; Aus internationalen Zeitschriften: Über kollektivistische Niederländer und europäische Selbstbefragung in New York
DIE WELT.DE [1.2.07]

Gefährlicher Kult um digitale Schwarmintelligenz; Aus internationalen Zeitschriften: Über kollektivistische Niederländer und europäische Selbstbefragung in New York

Edge.org, 25. Dezember Einen der interessantesten theoretischen Artikel über die Internetöffentlichkeit und das Web 2.0 hat im letzten Jahr Jaron Lanier in Edge geschrieben: "Digital Maoism", wo der Autor den Kult der "Schwarmintelligenz" angreift, der sich seiner Meinung nach in Phänomenen wie Wikipedia manifestiert. In einem neuen Artikel für Time, der in Edge dokumentiert ist, greift Lanier seine These noch einmal auf: "Wikipedia hat eine Menge jener Energie aufgesaugt, die vorher in individuelle, eigenständige Websites gesteckt wurde, und gießt sie in eine ein- und gleichförmige Beschreibung der Realität. Ein anderes Phänomen steckt in vielen Blogprogrammen, die die User geradezu dazu einladen, sich unter Pseudonym zu äußern. Das hat zu einer Flut anonymer Unflätigkeiten in den Kommentaren geführt."

Read the full article →

Diewelt [1.2.07]

Edge.org, 25. Dezember Einen der interessantesten theoretischen Artikel über die Internetöffentlichkeit und das Web 2.0 hat im letzten Jahr Jaron Lanier in Edge geschrieben: "Digital Maoism", wo der Autor den Kult der "Schwarmintelligenz" angreift, der sich seiner Meinung nach in Phänomenen wie Wikipedia manifestiert. In einem neuen Artikel für Time, der in Edge dokumentiert ist, greift Lanier seine These noch einmal auf: "Wikipedia hat eine Menge jener Energie aufgesaugt, die vorher in individuelle, eigenständige Websites gesteckt wurde, und gießt sie in eine ein- und gleichförmige Beschreibung der Realität. Ein anderes Phänomen steckt in vielen Blogprogrammen, die die User geradezu dazu einladen, sich unter Pseudonym zu äußern. Das hat zu einer Flut anonymer Unflätigkeiten in den Kommentaren geführt."

Energiekrise, Armut und Terror - Warum ich für die kommenden Jahre trotzdem optimistisch bin; Von düsteren Prognosen hält Ray Kurzweil wenig. Der renommierte Forscher erwartet, dass die Informationstechnik viele der heutigen Probleme lösen wird
WELT AM SONNTAG [1.2.07]

[I'm Confident About Energy, the Environment, Longevity, and Wealth; I'm Optimistic (But Not Necessarily Confident) Of the Avoidance Of Existential Downsides; And I'm Hopeful (But Not Necessarily Optimistic) About a Repeat Of 9-11 (Or Worse)] Optimism exists on a continuum in-between confidence and hope. Let me take these in order.I am confident that the acceleration and expanding purview of information technology will solve the problems with which we are now preoccupied within twenty years. Ray Kurzweil is inventor and technologist. The shortened contribution appeared on New Years in the Internet magazine Edge (www.edge.org) (http://www.edge.org), on scientists and their Optimism for the coming year.

Read the full article →

Ray Kurzweil, weltamsonntag.de [1.2.07]

[I'm Confident About Energy, the Environment, Longevity, and Wealth; I'm Optimistic (But Not Necessarily Confident) Of the Avoidance Of Existential Downsides; And I'm Hopeful (But Not Necessarily Optimistic) About a Repeat Of 9-11 (Or Worse)]

Optimism exists on a continuum in-between confidence and hope. Let me take these in order.

I am confident that the acceleration and expanding purview of information technology will solve the problems with which we are now preoccupied within twenty years.

Ray Kurzweil is inventor and technologist. The shortened contribution appeared on New Years in the Internet magazine Edge (www.edge.org) (http://www.edge.org), on scientists and their Optimism for the coming year.

OPEN SOURCE [1.2.07]

With the new year comes new resolutions, and new questions, including the new Edge.org question. The science super-hero club house that brought you dangerous ideas in 2006 wants to bring you optimism in 2007.

Extra-Credit Reading

 

Juan Enriquez, A Knowledge Driven Economy Allows Individuals to Lead Millions Out of Poverty In a Single Generation, The Edge Annual Question 2007, Edge

Steven Pinker, The Decline of Violence, The Edge Annual Question 2007, Edge

Clay Shirky, Evidence, The Edge Annual Question 2007, Edge

Chris DiBona, Widely Available, Constantly Renewing, High Resolution Images of the Earth Will End Conflict and Ecological Devastation As We Know It, The Edge Annual Question 2007, Edge

Paul Steinhardt, Bullish on Cosmology, The Edge Annual Question 2007, Edge

James O’Donnell, Scientific Discoveries Are Surprisingly Durable, The Edge Annual Question 2007, Edge

itbusiness.ca [1.1.07]

It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a resolution for the new year or a new day. The point is to change who you are. It’s not always a case of completely transforming yourself: you just want to be recognized as something other than one of David Berreby’s zombies.

An online forum conducted by Edge.org recently asked a slew of scientists and intellectuals what they are optimistic about. Berreby, the author Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind, said he was hopeful that the idea of a “zombie identity is coming to an end, or at least being put into greater context. I’ll let Berreby explain the notion of a zombie identity himself.

“(It’s) the intuition that people do things because of their membership in a collective identity or affiliation,” he writes. “It's a fundamental confusion that starts with a perhaps statistically valid idea (if you define your terms well, you can speak of ‘American behaviour’ or ‘Muslim behaviour’ or ‘Italian behaviour’)—and then makes the absurd assumption that all Americans or Muslims or Italians are bound to behave as you expect, by virtue of their membership in the category (a category that, often, you created).”

Berreby is primarily concerned with zombie identities in their socio-political context, and with good reason. It’s not hard to see how a fixation on zombie identities could lead to racial profiling, religious bigotry or worse. In the business world, zombie identities are often used as a lazy form of market research, as companies try to aim their products at demographic stereotypes. Advertising based on these identities, in turn, reinforces the way we perceive co-workers in the enterprise, especially in IT.

A zombie identity is more than just a stereotype. It is, if I am interpreting Berreby correctly, the emphasis of a given set of characteristics to the exclusion of others, whereas a stereotype is shorthand for describing a group of individuals. It’s not that stereotypes don’t exist, but we have to examine more than one. “It’s clear that all of us have many overlapping identities (American, middle-aged person, Episcopalian, Republican, soccer mom can be attached to one person in a single morning),” Berreby goes on. “It’s what we're doing, and who we're doing it with, that seems to determine which of these identities comes to the fore at a given time.”

We all know the zombie identities ascribed to IT department personnel. We also know that those same digitally literate, problem-solving technocrats differ wildly in terms of their family background, religious affiliations and range of education. Over the last five years, IT employees have been drilled on soft skills, but the zombie identities have been hard to shake. Maybe another way to transcend them is to pinpoint the zombie identities of their enterprise counterparts in HR, finance, marketing or administration, which are similarly well-known.

Identity management is a term we use to explain how individual users interact in a variety of online transactions and processes. Perhaps it’s time to expand that definition to take in the complex task of reverse-engineering the traits of co-workers that often get buried under a set of preconceptions. This form of identity management could lead to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships among enterprise teams, who would work more cohesively on shared goals.

Zombies tend to walk mindlessly onward no matter what gets in their way. From a distance, that might look like progress. Get a little bit closer and you see why someone among them should show a little leadership.

Cordis News [1.1.07]

... Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the Mediterranean University in Marseilles, France, believes that 'the divide between rational scientific thinking and the rest of our culture is decreasing'. 'In the small world of the academia, the senseless divide between science and the humanities is slowly evaporating. Intellectuals on both sides realize that the complexity of contemporary knowledge cannot be seen unless we look at it all,' he writes.

According to Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc, 'Widely available, constantly renewing, high resolution images of the Earth will end conflict and ecological devastation as we know it.'

Ernst Pöppel, a neuroscientist at Munich University, is optimistic about fighting 'monocausalitis', the tendency to search for one single explanation for a phenomenon or event. 'Biological phenomena can better be understood, if multicausality is accepted as a guiding principle,' he writes.

An eagerly-awaited collider carries Maria Spiropulu's hopes for 2007. Dr Spiropulu is a physicist at CERN. 'Being built under the Jura on the border of Switzerland and France the Large Hadron Collider is a serious reason of optimism for experimental science. It is the first time that the human exploration and technology will offer reproducible 'hand-made' 14 TeV collisions of protons with protons. The physics of such interactions, the analysis of the data from the debris of these collisions [the highest energy such] are to be seen in the coming year,' she writes.

CORDIS NEWS [1.1.07]

Even in the face of such threats as climate change and avian flu, scientists remain optimistic about the future, as illustrated by responses to the question 'What are you optimistic about?

Every year the discussion website Edge.org asks some of the world's best scientists to answer a single question. This year's question has revealed a high degree of optimism in areas ranging from power by sunlight and transparency to hearing aid functionality, the coalescence of scientific disciplines and the alleviation of poverty. Some 160 scientists have contributed to the discussion.

Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the Mediterranean University in Marseilles, France, believes that 'the divide between rational scientific thinking and the rest of our culture is decreasing'. 'In the small world of the academia, the senseless divide between science and the humanities is slowly evaporating. Intellectuals on both sides realize that the complexity of contemporary knowledge cannot be seen unless we look at it all,' he writes.

According to Chris Dibona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc, 'Widely available, constantly renewing, high resolution images of the Earth will end conflict and ecological devastation as we know it.'

Ernst Pöppel, a neuroscientist at Munich University, is optimistic about fighting 'monocausalitis', the tendency to search for one single explanation for a phenomenon or event. 'Biological phenomena can better be understood, if multicausality is accepted as a guiding principle,' he writes.

An eagerly-awaited collider carries Maria Spiropulu's hopes for 2007. Dr Spiropulu is a physicist at CERN. 'Being built under the Jura on the border of Switzerland and France the Large Hadron Collider is a serious reason of optimism for experimental science. It is the first time that the human exploration and technology will offer reproducible 'hand-made' 14 TeV collisions of protons with protons. The physics of such interactions, the analysis of the data from the debris of these collisions [the highest energy such] are to be seen in the coming year,' she writes.

Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the UK's Medical Research Council and Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford finds cause for optimism in two of the 'big' science issues of 2006: climate change and stem cells.

'For climate change, the obstacles are short-sighted commercial interests and short-term political interests,' writes Professor Blakemore. He believes that the 'tipping point' will come in 2007, when the realities of climate change become even more evident, and can no longer be ignored. 'Political sceptics will become passionate converts, eager to claim the historical credit for recognising the inevitable. The burners will become preservers,' he believes.

For stem cells, the barriers to progress are moral rather than economic. 'Although the balance of arguments seems quite different from that for climate change, interestingly, the crux of the problem is again the power of intuition over the cold rationality of science,' writes Professor Blakemore.

His reason for optimism is the following: 'Yesterday's moral outrage has a way of becoming today's necessary evil and tomorrow's common good. Just as with climate change, what will cause a swing of attitude is the turning point of a mathematical function; in this case the ratio of perceived benefit to theoretical cost.'

It Business [1.1.07]

...It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a resolution for the new year or a new day. The point is to change who you are. It’s not always a case of completely transforming yourself: you just want to be recognized as something other than one of David Berreby’s zombies.

An online forum conducted by Edge.org recently asked a slew of scientists and intellectuals what they are optimistic about. Berreby, the author Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind, said he was hopeful that the idea of a “zombie identity is coming to an end, or at least being put into greater context. I’ll let Berreby explain the notion of a zombie identity himself.

“(It’s) the intuition that people do things because of their membership in a collective identity or affiliation,” he writes. “It's a fundamental confusion that starts with a perhaps statistically valid idea (if you define your terms well, you can speak of ‘American behaviour’ or ‘Muslim behaviour’ or ‘Italian behaviour’)—and then makes the absurd assumption that all Americans or Muslims or Italians are bound to behave as you expect, by virtue of their membership in the category (a category that, often, you created).”

Dennis Overbye, The Newyork Times [1.1.07]

Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at Tufts University who has written extensively about free will, said that “when we consider whether free will is an illusion or reality, we are looking into an abyss. What seems to confront us is a plunge into nihilism and despair.”...

A vote in favor of free will comes from some physicists, who say it is a prerequisite for inventing theories and planning experiments.

That is especially true when it comes to quantum mechanics, the strange paradoxical theory that ascribes a microscopic randomness to the foundation of reality. Anton Zeilinger, a quantum physicist at the University of Vienna, said recently that quantum randomness was “not a proof, just a hint, telling us we have free will.” ...

If by free will we mean the ability to choose, even a simple laptop computer has some kind of free will, said Seth Lloyd, an expert on quantum computing and professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Every time you click on an icon, he explained, the computer’s operating system decides how to allocate memory space, based on some deterministic instructions. But, Dr. Lloyd said, “If I ask how long will it take to boot up five minutes from now, the operating system will say ‘I don’t know, wait and see, and I’ll make decisions and let you know.’ ”

Why can’t computers say what they’re going to do? In 1930, the Austrian philosopher Kurt Gödel proved that in any formal system of logic, which includes mathematics and a kind of idealized computer called a Turing machine, there are statements that cannot be proven either true or false. Among them are self-referential statements like the famous paradox stated by the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, who said that all Cretans are liars: if he is telling the truth, then, as a Cretan, he is lying.

One implication is that no system can contain a complete representation of itself, or as Janna Levin, a cosmologist at Barnard College of Columbia University and author of the 2006 novel about Gödel, “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines,” said: “Gödel says you can’t program intelligence as complex as yourself. But you can let it evolve. A complex machine would still suffer from the illusion of free will.”

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