Edge in the News

Fair Companies (Spain) [1.8.19]

[ED. NOTE: George Dyson, Kafka, Heidegger, Pirsig, Arendt, Wiener, and EDGE…] 

George Dyson dedicates an interesting essay in Edge to explore digital evolution from a human system to an algorithm that no longer depends on human programmers, and the worrying implications of this phenomenon. But Dyson does not settle for the diagnosis and explores an original proposal for a solution: returning cybernetics to its analogue heart.

For Dyson, what we know today as a digital revolution has not ended, but it has mutated into something very different, abandoning the possibility of the first years and leaving behind its "childhood". For a long time, computer science has not responded to the old paradigm of machines controlled by instructions that, in turn, have been designed by humans, who supervise execution. . . .

Arts & Letters Daily [1.4.19]

"The search engine, initially an attempt to map human meaning, now defines human meaning. It controls, rather than simply catalogs or indexes, human thought..." [Continue reading George Dyson's "Childhood's End"]

Nick Bilton, Vanity Fair [1.3.19]

Could 2019 be the year that these and other emergent technologies evolve from merely creepy to potentially totalitarian? In a New Year’s Day column published on Edge, a Web site devoted to discussions about science, technology, and philosophy, George Dyson, the science historian and author, argues that we’ve reached an inflection point. “Once it was simple: programmers wrote the instructions that were supplied to the machines,” Dyson writes. “Since the machines were controlled by these instructions, those who wrote the instructions controlled the machines.” Today, code itself has come alive: algorithms sift through our search histories, credit-card purchases, and geolocation to model our personalities and anticipate our desires. For this, a small number of people such as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page, have become unimaginably rich.

In the beginning of the essay, Dyson cites the novel Childhood’s End, written by Arthur C. Clarke in 1953, which tells the story of a peaceful alien invasion of Earth by mysterious “Overlords” who “bring many of the same conveniences now delivered by the Keepers of the Internet to Earth.” As Dyson points out, this story, much like our own story, “does not end well.”

Inc. [1.2.19]


2. Possible Minds: 25 Ways of Looking at AI, by John Brockman (editor)

At the highest level, debate about artificial intelligence often devolves into scenarios utopian or dystopian. Will machines make human beings the best they can be, or render them obsolete? Should we trust something potentially smarter than us? What is humanity's role in a world ruled by algorithms? Brockman, founder of the online salon Edge.org, corrals 25 big brains—ranging from Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek to roboticist extraordinaire Rodney Brooks—to opine on this exhilarating, terrifying future.

The Browser [1.2.19]

Powerful short essay on the digital revolution. The map has become the territory. “We assume that a search engine company builds a model of human knowledge and allows us to query that model, or that some other company builds a model of road traffic and allows us to access that model. This fits our preconception that an army of programmers is still in control somewhere, but it is no longer the way the world works. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled with no central model except the traffic itself. The social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph” (1,250 words)

David Pescovitz, BoingBoing [1.2.19]

Over at EDGE.org, the must-read hub of intellectual inquiry and head-spinning science, Boing Boing pal and legendary book agent John Brockman is launching a new series of essays "from important third culture thinkers to address the empirically-driven and science related hot-button cultural issues of our time." First up is author George Dyson's "Childhood's End," a provocative riff on how the digital revolution has stripped much of our individual agency and that "to those seeking true intelligence, autonomy, and control among machines, the domain of analog computing, not digital computing, is the place to look."

iLiteratura.cz [10.26.18]

What is our concern?...This is the question that John Brockman has laid down to dozens of the most influential experts in the world on his Edge.org site (according to The Guardian, "the smartest web site in the world"). He asked them to confess what they were most concerned about, and to show them why the topics should be addressed.... 

Individual responses complement each other and consist of a multi-layered and ambiguous image of the contemporary world. Last but not least, the published texts, some of which have been printed in advance by the Respekt weekly, together, create a fascinating insight into what the leading scholars and thinkers are concerned about, what issues they are worried about or who, on the other hand, have ceased to worry.

Fabula [9.25.18]

Everything suggests that the new millennium has buried once and for all this paradigm of the two cultures that gave rise to so much debate throughout the twentieth century, and this in the name of a new humanism, even a return to question of the very principles of humanism. Many thinkers, including Francisco Fernández Buey (Para la tercera cultura, 2013) agree to observe in this reconfiguration of the epistemic order the advent of a third culture, an expression made famous by the literary agent John Brockman based on the postulates of CP Snow and which shows a reinvestment of the notion of reality, as well as the means implemented to apprehend it.

. . . The conference, The isomorphism of knowledge: projections of science in literature (twentieth-twenty-first centuries), proposes an interdisciplinary theoretical approach placing at the forefront the recent contributions of epistemocritique and the cognitive theory of figurative language and discourse in the perspective to establish, in a Hispanic and international framework, a dialogue between these two theoretical currents.

Salzburger Nachrichten [9.1.18]

Once a year, John Brockman asks a question from leading scientists in a wide range of disciplines, whose multifaceted answers are intended to tell something about the current state of knowledge. "What do you think is the most interesting (scientific) news of our time, what is the significance of this news?" was last year's survey. A book that not only spreads future optimism.

Saarbrücker Zeitung [8.22.18]

Initiator of the "Third Culture"

Mastermind who coined the term: John Brockman
Photo: Robert Schlesinger

On his homepage, US networker John Brockman lets the brightest minds of today think about the world of tomorrow.

Brockman runs side by side the site edge.org, and that is something like a wormhole into the future. Brockman acts there as curator of the future, as a correspondent of the morning. The man, who imagines himself in a think-tank with Goethe and Alan Turing, is modest enough, despite all certainty, not to report on what is coming. He prefers to ask questions, one each year, and he lets the brightest spirits in the world answer. . . .

In 1973 he founded his agency and mediated his friends as authors to publishers. The friends became stars, Brockman an impresario. Legendary are his annual meetings on his farm in Connecticut. On a weekend, the IQ elite comes to him and provides answers to these questions: What is the human? What is the brain? What is the free will? What is intelligence? Questions are the most important thing, says Brockman, they form the pillars of his thought-building, his empire. Questions are inherently transcendent, they want answers, they want future. And that is exactly what Brockmann is all about. . .

[Continue to English translation | Continue to original German]

Nasdaq [6.28.18]

The Edge of Science

In the podcast, I reference an important article [Steven Pinker] wrote titled "A Biological Understanding of Human Nature" from a collection of great essays by over 20 thinkers including Jared Diamond and Ray Kurzweil. This collection is found in a book by John Brockman called The New Humanists: Science at the Edge. Brockman, author and founder of the intellectual forum Edge.org, created many of the pieces in the book as narratives based on his conversations with these intellectuals and scientific minds....

In his contribution, Pinker addresses the biases and blind spots people have when it comes to discussing the roots of our behavior. We have much to learn from Steven Pinker and if you've never read him nor heard him speak, I highly recommend doing so....


ZEIT Wissen Magazin [6.11.18]

John Brockman, curator of the online salon edge.org for current debates on research, has asked 175 renowned experts from, among others, AI research, psychology and brain research: "What should we think of artificial intelligence?" (S. Fischer, 2017). The short essays give a good overview of the current debate and present equally pessimistic and optimistic assessments.

The Australian [5.5.18]

Occupying different buildings on many campuses, it’s been said that the humanities and the sciences are two cultures realised in different worlds. Their divorce is pinpointed to an 1817 dinner party when literati dined with natural philosophers and the consumptive 20-year-old romantic poet John Keats asserted that Isaac Newton had plucked the rainbow’s romantic sublimity and reduced it to science’s mere order of prismatic colours.

However, in the past 20 years a thawing in the two-cultures cold war began with John Brockman’s call for scientists to create a third culture, one that engages popular audiences in scientific research using the elan associated with literary writers. Then Richard Dawkins ventured that a deity-less science has its own romantic sublimity, and the romantic biographer Richard Holmes designated a period (between the voyages of Captain Cook’s Endeavour and Charles Darwin’s Beagle) as that of ‘‘romantic science’’. . . .

Star2.com [5.4.18]

It is impossible to come away from reading This Idea Is Brilliant without a greater respect for the near incomprehensible vastness of the field of scientific enquiry and a humbling realisation at the depth of ignorance the reader might have towards so many subjects. . . .

This book is a veritable treasure trove of thought, a sort of modern vade mecum, guaranteed to broaden the reader’s horizons.

The Saint [4.12.18]

The Selfish Gene; The Illusion of Self; The Glass Cage. If you have ever read a book by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Nicholas Carr —among a host of others — you have been in contact, most likely unknowingly, with John Brockman.

For Hollywood, there is the parlour game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”: just about every actor or actress is within six connections, normally fewer, of Bacon himself. Emma Watson, for instance, has a Bacon Number of two: she has acted alongside John Cleese, who has in turn acted alongside Bacon. If you were to transpose that game to the world of scientific publishing, you might choose to search out “Brockman Numbers”. The only difficulty would be that Brockman is connected to everybody. I mentioned Brockman to an acquaintance at Oxford University Press, asking their opinion of him. In response I got pursed lips and the comment, “Brockman? He’s a big fish.”

...It is hard to think of anybody else with this clout; Jeff Bezos, perhaps, or Bill Gates, but it is a small and rarefied group. There are few fish bigger.

Wyborcza (Poland) [3.23.18]

Robots are not afraid that some patient will file their claim, do not have to pay student loans from medical studies, do not accumulate savings in the event of a trial. Maybe that's what they need to entrust to our health?

Everything you would like to know about artificial intelligence, but you are afraid to ask. The book What To Think About Machines That Think, the excerpts of which we present, are 186 short essays by eminent contemporary representatives of people of science, culture and social life. They make up a wide overview of artificial intelligence.

John Brockman, a New York publisher, editor, founder of the Edge.org website and think tank, has been asking the most interesting minds in the world of science and art for more than 20 years, asking for innovative, original answers. 

La Patria.com [2.27.18]

Digital Humanities can be defined as the area of ​​knowledge that investigates processes and interactions with digital technologies, applied to projects for the accessibility and socialization of knowledge, interdisciplinary, intercultural and collaborative creation, from critical thinking and the transfer of knowledge to digital media for human welfare.

The digital humanities are a space for interdisciplinary dialogue, seeking to close the gap between art and science that has traditionally generated many frictions, as was made clear by the British physicist and novelist CP Snow in his 1959 conference entitled The Two Cultures. Like Snow, other authors such as John Brockman, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins or Lynn Margulis have ventured into what is now known as the Third Culture, which integrates the two universes of art and science.

New Scientist [2.24.18]

LITERARY agent and provocateur John Brockman has turned popular science into a sort of modern shamanism, packaged non-fiction into gobbets of smart thinking, made stars of unlikely writers and continues to direct, deepen and contribute to some of the most hotly contested conversations in civic life.

This Idea Is Brilliant is the latest of Brockman’s annual anthologies drawn from edge.org, his website and shop window. It is one of the stronger books in the series. It is also one of the more troubling, addressing, informing and entertaining a public that has recently become extraordinarily confused about truth and falsehood, fact and knowledge.

Edge.org’s purpose has always been to collide scientists, business people and public intellectuals in fruitful ways. This year, the mix in the anthology leans towards the cognitive sciences, philosophy and the “freakonomic” end of the non-fiction bookshelf. It is a good time to return to basics: to ask how we know what we know, what role rationality plays in knowing, what tech does to help and hinder that knowing, and, frankly, whether in our hunger to democratise knowledge we have built a primrose-lined digital path straight to post-truth perdition. . . .

The Guardian [2.17.18]

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, Sueddeutsche Zeitung [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.