ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?"
Perimeter Institute; Author, The
Trouble With Physics
Return of the Discipline of Experiment Will Transform Our Knowledge
of Fundamental Physics
as in politics it seems that Eldredge and Gould's metaphor of punctuated
equilibrium holds. When progress happens, it happens fast and the
whole culture vibrates with the excitement of it. We have had a
bit too much equilibrium lately, of disappointed expectations following
as a natural consequence of unwisely reduced ambitions. But I am
optimistic that the next decades will see breakthroughs in key
problems on which we now seem stuck. In physics, new experiments
including the LHC, AUGER, GLAST, PLANCK, LIGO and others are likely
to transform our knowledge of fundamental physics, and end the
long period when theory sought to progress without the discipline
of experiment. Very likely we will be surprised and humbled by
what is seen, but this will be followed by rapid progress as new
ideas are quickly invented to explain the surprising data.
can I be optimistic without knowing what direction science will
take? This is exactly the point. There are two kinds of optimism,
the optimism of people who think they know the future and the optimism
of people who believe the future will be more interesting and,
if always imperfect, more wonderful than they can imagine. I am
of the second kind. The first kind sometimes comes along with a
belief that time and change are illusions, and that the world is
evolving towards an eternal timeless state of perfection. This
is the optimism of religious fundamentalists and orthodox Marxists,
and one sees it reflected also in the cosmologies in which our
evolving universe is just a transient fluctuation in an otherwise
permanent state of thermal equilibrium. The opposite kind of optimism
lies behind the evolutionary theorists who believe the world is
so intricate that the simplest mechanism that could predict the
future of life and the cosmos is the universe itself. If we are
the first kind of optimist we seek to transcend the complexities
of life to discover something eternal behind it, something like
the imagined view of God. If we are the second, we seek to live
and think within the swirl of life; we aim for comprehension and
wisdom but have no illusions of transcendence or control.
JUDITH RICH HARRIS
Independent Investigator and Theoretician; Author, No
Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality
The Survival of Friendship
optimistic about human relationships — in
particular, about friendship. Perhaps you have heard
gloomy predictions about friendship: it's dying out,
people no longer have friends they can confide in,
loneliness is on the rise.
But friendship isn't dying out: it's just changing,
adapting to the changes in the world. People are
discovering different ways of getting together. It may
be harder to find a bowling partner but it's easier to
find someone to chat with, because there are many more
ways to chat.
I was a child, people with chronic illnesses were described as "shut-ins." Now
a person can be shut in without being shut out. I have friends
whom I know only through e-mail conversations but who are as dear
to me as my college roommate and dearer by far than my
desire to form and maintain relationships is one of the built-ins
of human nature. Primates are social animals, and humans are the
most social of all. An extravagant amount of mental capacity is
devoted to relationships. We can recognize at a glance the faces
of thousands of different people and, with equal ease, remember
whether or not we like them. With a bit more effort, we can dredge
up other useful information about most of them: their names or
professions or where we met them. Throughout our lives we collect
and store information about specific individuals, so that — just
in case we ever run into them again — we will know how
to act. We even store information about people we have
never met and whose faces we have never seen.
Collecting people information is something we do without
training and with no reward other than the enjoyment
we get from doing it. We don't need a nudge from the
conscious mind, telling us that the information may
come in handy someday. But in fact it may come in handy.
People we have never met before may be important to us
in the future. They may become our trading partners or
employers. They may become our lovers or our rivals.
Or they may simply become our friends.
Boing; Research Affiliate,
Institute for the Future; Editor-at-Large, MAKE:
Recognizing That the World Is a Wunderkammer
years ago, I became fascinated with cabinets of curiosity. The
Renaissance predecessor to modern day museums, these cabinets,
sometimes entire rooms, were filled with a mish-mash of objects,
both natural and artificial, that embodied the wonder of the world.
(The German term for these collections, wunderkammer,
literally means "chamber of wonders.") Inside, you might
find a mummy's hand, a "unicorn's horn," exotic seashells
from distant lands, odd insects pinned and cataloged, and possibly
even a two-headed lizard in a jar of formaldehyde. As Tradescant
the Elder, one of the most notable cabinet keepers in history,
requested in a letter to the Secretary of the English Navy in 1625,
this was a quest for "Any thing that is strang."
by this celebration of science, art, and the strang(e), I picked
up an old Chinese tea cabinet at a flea market and began to build
my own wunderkammer. I quickly filled the shelves with
items of the type I thought were "supposed" to be in
any wunderkammer worth its weight in weirdness—antique
medical instruments, a primitive eye gouging weapon from Rarotonga,
a Balinese shadow puppet, a snake stuffed in a perpetual strike.
Things became more interesting though once the collection process
became more organic and I added items that genuinely spoke to my
personal sense of the curious : a 1/1 millionth scale model of
Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, fabricated by engineers Ken
Goldberg and Karl Bohringer using techniques borrowed from microscale
manufacturing; a vial of carbon nanotubes; a Houdini automaton's
autograph; a resin model of a telerobotic insect outfitted with
solar cells for wings.
this small cabinet in the corner of my office serves as a constant
reminder for me that the world is filled with wonder, and curiosity
is something to be cultivated at every opportunity. Indeed, we're
at our best when we're curious. And the beauty of curiosity is
that we're all naturals. Curiosity is how babies learn. In fact,
sparking someone's curiosity, at any age, seems to be perfect pedagogy.
And, as the professor says in The Day The Earth Stood Still, "It
isn't faith that makes good science...It's curiosity."
wouldn't dare suggest that there's a Renaissance revival afoot,
but I'm optimistic that the pendulum is swinging at least slightly
back toward the hey-day of natural history, citizen science, backyard
astronomy, and other spirited intellectual pursuits. Several recent
museum exhibitions have explored the cabinets of curiosity as an
organizational principle, including one dedicated to the appropriately
odd juxtaposition of art and cryptozoology. Even the wunderkammer aesthetic
has bubbled up into popular consciousness.
blogs, including the one I co-edit, have been described as virtual
cabinets of curiosity—storehouses of unusual links, odd memes,
fringe culture, and weird news. Nearly every major city has at
least one carefully-curated "Olde Curiosity Shoppe" selling
strange objets d'art and natural oddities packaged
as Victorian chic. In fact, I was recently struck by the obviously wunderkammer-inspired
display of mounted insects and red coral on sale at a mainstream
home decor store in the mall. And in the ultimate evidence of a
trend, at least two coffee table books on the subject have been
published in the last few years.
of all though, I'm heartened by the unbridled curiosity fueling
today's passionate DIY movement. A growing number of ingenious
individuals are hacking Priuses to boost the gas mileage, installing
Linux on iPods to record high-quality audio, and building backyard
weather balloons. On one hand, these makers are dissatisfied with
off-the-shelf products. At a deeper level though, they're driven
by a daring inquisitiveness about what lies "under the hood" of
today's technology and how they can better what they buy, or build
it from scratch. For these makers—in the tradition of crafters,
tinkers, scientists, engineers, artisans, and hot rodders who came
before—the process is the product. The fun is in the fix.
No user serviceable parts inside? Says who.
optimistic that in the coming few years, the DIY movement will
reach not only widespread awareness but widespread participation.
I'm optimistic that smart companies, instead of criminalizing hackers,
will encourage these user-innovators and solicit their
feedback to design better products. I'm optimistic that science
education in the United States can be saved if students are given
the opportunity to learn by doing, not just by reading about what
someone else has done.
I watch a screwdriver-wielding maker eagerly voiding another warranty,
I see a spark of the same childlike curiosity that fills a baby's
eyes as he first explores his world, optimistic that something
wonderful lies ahead.
Emeritus, Senior Research Scientist, Department of Chemistry, New
York University; Author, Planetary Dreams
In Our Midst
optimistic about the prospect of detecting alternative life. All
life that we know, as different as it may appear in size and shape,
shares a common heritage at the biochemical level. From amoebas
to zebras, familiar life is dominated by two types of large molecule—nucleic
acids and proteins. This biochemical similarity, which extends
to many other features as well, implies that we are all products
of a single life-starting event.
this event was extremely improbable, then Earth may be the only
seat of life in an immense and barren universe. This picture would
be little changed if our kind of life has drifted across empty
space to fertilize our nearest planetary neighbors. As Jacques
Monod commented: "The universe was not pregnant with life
nor the biosphere with man. Our number came up in the Monte Carlo
no firm evidence exists that supports or denies this package of
gloom, we are not obliged to purchase it. A different scientific
position holds that the generation of life is written into the
laws that govern the universe. If a limited set of environmental
requirements are satisfied—a supply of useful energy, fertile
material to absorb and use the energy, and a fluid medium to support
the transaction, then life will emerge. In the words of biologist
Stuart Kauffman: "If all this is true, life is vastly more
probable than we have supposed. Not only are we at home in the
universe, but we are far more likely to share it with unknown companions."
issue can be settled by scientific exploration. The discovery of
life forms sufficiently different from our own to indicate a separate
origin would tilt the debate decisively in favor of a fertile universe.
The search for such life has traditionally been directed to extraterrestrial
locales. Spacecraft have conducted preliminary surveys of Mars,
Europa, Titan and Enceladus, and discovered that one or more of
the necessary requirements have been met. As human have not yet
traveled further than the Moon, the search for novel life forms
on these worlds is likely to be carried out will be carried out
by robots. If any creatures are encountered, then their biochemical
characterization will also be conducted with the use of pre-programmed
instruments, but weight limitations will constrain the versatility
of the tools that can be landed on these distant worlds. The Viking
missions of 1976 illustrated the ambiguities that can arise in
such explorations. Even if encouraging data was returned to Earth,
a sample return mission would most likely be needed to settle a
question of such magnitude. Considerations of safety would make
stringent quarantine measures mandatory for any returned samples.
planning and testing would be needed in advance to design a weight-limited
apparatus capable of identifying alternative life. As astrobiology
budgets are often under pressure, some delays would also be likely
before such an apparatus was launched. Further, all of the above
listed sites except Mars would require a number of years of travel
time to bring the instrument package to its destination. Thus,
even if the fertile universe view was correct, many decades might
pass before the issue was settled.
a new strategy has emerged that is capable of providing much more
rapid returns. One world exists that is known to have all of the
capabilities needed to generate and sustain life. It is close at
hand, so that any possible samples of alternative life could quickly
be subjected to examination in depth, using the best instruments
that science can provide. Human scientists would supervise the
studies directly, and modify them as needed. That world is Earth.
suggestion that alternative, novel life forms might be found on
our own planet runs of course directly into the obstacle of an
entrenched paradigm. Biologists have characterized hosts of life
forms, particularly at the microbial level, and encountered the
familiar nucleic acid-protein based system every time. Our type
of life reigns on this planet. If alternative creatures ever existed,
then surely they were eliminated during the intense combat of evolution.
The fact that no such creatures had turned up despite the intense
efforts that biologists have expended in studying life on Earth
has served to reinforce this widely accepted conclusion.
however, two papers have challenged this assumption. One, written
in Australia, was provided by physicist Paul Davies and mathematician
Charles Lineweaver. The other was authored by Colorado-based philosopher
Carol Cleland and microbiologist Shelley Copley. Three of these
writers and a number of other scientists who have been interested
in the question of extraterrestrial life (myself included) gathered
at Arizona State University to discuss
this possibility. A central conclusion that emerged was that alternative
Earth life may simply have been overlooked because microbiological
search techniques were targeted at our own kind of life. Many diverse
cell-like objects can be observed when samples taken from soil
or water are examined under the microscope. Only about 1 % of them
choose to multiply when conventional growth media are added to
the mixture and these colonies are the easiest to characterize.
In some cases, newer techniques based upon nucleic acid sequencing
have been used to identify additional species. Some of them represent
early and unexpected branches from our presumed universal tree
of life. The existence of truly different organisms in that mix,
for example ones that lacked nucleic acids entirely and stored
their hereditary information in some other way, was hardly considered.
If such organisms existed, they would most likely be products of
that speculative second origin.
could such organisms have survived the competition of our robust
nucleic acid based life? In one scenario, they may have preferred
to dine upon alternative food stuffs not favored by familiar life,
selecting for example arsenate in place of phosphate, unfamiliar
amino acids or mirror image forms of conventional biomolecules.
The most extreme example of this type may be the speculative mineral-based
life forms suggested by Scottish chemist Graham Cairns-Smith.
strategy would also allow alternative Earth life to flourish without
direct competition. The organisms may have selected environments
that are uninhabitable by conventional life. Conventional terrestrial
organisms have shown great versatility in adapting to extremes
of acidity, temperature, dryness, saltiness, radiation and other
variables. Even so, their adaptability is not unlimited and some
niches yet remain which they cannot utilize. Yet organisms with
a very different set of internal chemicals might find them to be
ideal dwelling places. One such locality that was mentioned at
the conference was Iron Mountain, California, from whose interior
extremely acidic waters emerge.
(forgive the pun) a front page story in the New York Times of
Dec. 23, 2006, derived from a paper published in Science a
day earlier reported the isolation
of novel microorganisms from the waters of Iron Mountain. Their
novelty arose from the record-breaking smallness of the cells,
rather than from a difference in their internal biochemistry sufficient
to suggest a separate origin. Yet the group of California-based
scientists that had made the discovery also noted the presence
of "rounded objects" that "were not shown to contain
could such objects, or others that may turn up if a deliberate
search for biochemically novel organisms is made, be shown to be
offspring of a second origin? My own suggestion is that an inventory
be made, as complete as possible, of their chemical contents. Many
advanced instruments have been devised in recent years that can
perform a microchemical analysis of tiny samples. No questions
of instrument payload, robotic analysis or sample return need be
considered, in contrast to the case of specimens taken on other
worlds. If the analysis should reveal a chemical suite that differed
notably from those derived from conventional life and from the
near-random mixtures produced by abiotic processes, then we would
have a strong indication that we may have hit a scientific jackpot.
Another approach to the identification of alternative life would
involve the use of unorthodox culture media, toxic to conventional
life, that induce the alternative organisms to grow. More ingenious
strategies may emerge when the energies of additional scientists
are turned toward this question.
a thorough search of this planet may yet return empty-handed. My own
optimism is based on my particular outlook on the mechanisms involved
in the origin of life. But that is another story.
Writer; Consultant; Lecturer, Copenhagen; Author, The
optimistic about optimism. It has a bright future.
long ago, a few decades back, it became fashionable to be pessimistic.
Gloomy predictions were sexy and sure signs of a progressive mind.
Any true intellectual was sceptical about the survival of humanity.
were good reasons for that. In the early 1980s we seemed to be
a little stuck. A major nuclear exchange between superpowers was
a very real threat, the environmental crisis was not recognised
by the public (and much less by the politicians) and the world
population just seemed to grow exponentially forever.
the mood changed. A nuclear disarmament spiral started, most populations
in industrialized countries became aware of the environment and
demanded political action, the growth of the world population started
to slow down.
the internet and the web seemed to offer technologies for change
and democratization. During the 1990s optimism boomed.
But then came the dot-com crash and 9/11. The liberating force
of the internet was still there, even if hopeful and greedy investors
didn't make money on it (but as we now know, it was released by
the Open Source movement and phenomena like Web 2.0). Despite terrorism,
the safety situation has not really changed in any quantitative
climate researchers have now reached agreement that the global
warming is really here. The explanation is our own stupid and wasteful
use of fossilized depots of energy in a world full of an energy
flow from the Sun much, much larger than the what we need.
is time to be pessimistic again? No way! The environmental problems
are much too serious to be left to the pessimists.
to make a change and do it right away. But we know what to do.
We need a suite of high tech solutions that will enable us to plug
into the good old resource base of humanity: Solar energy, recycled
materials and a decentralized, peer-to-peer network to enable information
about to make a very old niche in nature habitable for a huge human
population through the use of hi tech solutions from the info,
nano and bio toolboxes. We must awaken the enlightening spirit
of reinventing everything, the future included.
to rethink the civilization we have developed since the introduction
of agriculture in the last great climate crisis, at the end of
the last Ice Age.
to create a Civilization 2.0 and we have to do it now. And the
fine thing is that we have already started creating the technology
and the dreams. Human beings have a talent for crisis management.
optimism, we would not be here. The rational evidence for giving
up is always there, but we survived thanks to the the faith and
the strength to go on and on, despite all warnings.
is a self-falsifying prophecy. Optimism always wins. Until nobody
is around to know that it did not.
Scientist, UC Berkeley, School of Information
Rise of Usability
optimistic that the values and principles of good user interface
design will increasingly be practiced by technology designers and
expected by technology users.
design of a computer user interface can influence whether the outcome
of an election is fair, a patient receives the right medicine,
or a helicopter pilot makes a safe landing. Perhaps even more importantly,
when technology is designed to mesh well with how people think
and how they want to live, then it enhances and enriches their
lives. Poorly designed interfaces that treat people inhumanely
can contribute to the feelings of apprehension that people often
associate with our technology-saturated world.
interface design is currently more of a practice than a science,
although the field of human-computer interaction makes use of results
from cognitive science and relevant branches of psychology where
applicable. The rise of the World Wide Web has accelerated advances
in and understanding of usability, for main two reasons. First,
before the web, most complex computer interfaces were visible only
to those who could afford to purchase the expensive software packages.
Most users would not see more than one design for a given application.
The web, in yet another example of its leveling effect, allows
nearly everyone to see nearly every interface. Thus designers can
learn rapidly from what others have done, and users can see if
one web site's experience is substandard compared to others. Second,
the default setting for web pages and browsers allows designers
to freely see the source code behind each web page, and thus learn
from one another how to code the best designs. The rise of the
web has increased consumer demand and awareness of good design,
and in my observation has increased the perceived value of user
interface design within computer science departments.
misguided views about usability still cause significant damage
in today's world. In the 2000 U.S. elections, poor ballot design
led thousands of voters in Palm Beach, Florida to vote for the
wrong candidate, thus turning the tide of the entire presidential
election. At the time, some observers made the ignorant claim that
voters who could not understand the Palm Beach butterfly ballot
were not bright enough to vote. I wonder if people who made such
claims have never made the frustrating "mistake" of trying
to pull open a door that requires pushing. Usability experts see
this kind of problem as an error in the design of the door, rather
than a problem with the person trying to leave the room.
that some Florida election officials did not learn the lessons
of the 2000 election. In the Sarasota County, Florida election
of 2006, evidence suggests that poor design of an electronic ballot
led to massive under voting. One in seven voters did not mark any
choice in a hotly contested congressional race that was decided
by fewer than 400 votes. Usability mistakes similar to those in
Palm Beach were repeated in Sarasota. But it is unfair to expect
election officials to be experts in usability and information design;
rather what is lacking is a general recognition that an understanding
of how people think and use technology is integral to ballot design
and fair elections. Just as computer experts design and maintain
the e-voting machines, usability experts should assess all ballot
designs before they are released to the public. And in the future
we may well see automated usability checkers, akin to grammar checkers
in word processors, for applications such as ballot design.
design is just one example for which interface design matters.
There is ample evidence that good design reduces errors and increases
enjoyment of the use of technology. Fortunately, an appreciation
of the importance of good design for human use of technology is
experiencing an increasingly widening scope.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Seed
on the Agenda
am optimistic that science
is recapturing the attention and imagination of world leaders.
for example, the agendas of the World Economic Forum, the Clinton
Global Initiative, or the African Union Summit; science has made
a well-timed transition from a topic of peripheral interest to
the leaders of the world to one inextricably tied to issues of
development, global health, innovation, competitiveness, and
energy. At a time when science is spurring markets, arts and
ideas, it is now making its way into our halls of power with
critical challenge is for our understanding of science to keep
up with our growing interest in science. Our new global science
culture demands a new level of science literacy, for general
populations and indeed for the leaders that govern them. What
constitutes a science literate citizen in the 21st century is
one of the most important questions we need to collectively address
can certainly imagine that it is no simple task to convince a
continent struggling with clear and present threats that it should
think about its future, let alone take action. But across the
developing world, science literacy is emerging as a primary focus
of its leadership. The argument goes as follows: move away from
dependence on short-term relief and toward the development of
a long-term scientific infrastructure that generates its own
solutions. This fundamentally entails an investment in people
who will shape their own sustainable science culture.
month's African Union Summit in Addis Ababa will focus almost
exclusively on this very topic. This comes on the heels of a
consensus by the continent’s education ministers that science “is
the most important tool available for addressing challenges to
development and poverty eradication, and participating in the
global economy.” China, for the first time, has made raising
science literacy an official part of its development strategy.
It is worth noting that China’s plan calls for science
literacy to extend across demographics — from urban workers
to rural communities to government officials — each for
different reasons but all for a common goal.
past year we have heard about the potential for the West to generate
intellectual ROI from its aid to the developing world — new
insight into disease for example. It is exciting to imagine how
this cross-continental laboratory may pioneer new approaches
to science literacy with global consequence.
solves problems. And this should be its consistent tagline in
the developing world. In the developed world, however, science
will spark more than solutions. It can spark a renaissance.
is simple to tie science to money and military, drugs and technologies,
present and future. It will be those leaders in the developed
world who embrace science's blue sky potential, its ability to
inspire us and change us long-term, who will most significantly
affect their nations and the world. Now is the time for courageous
Europe, the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest science experiment
of our time and herald of a new era of Big Science, will go online
next year, corralling the collective imagination of (at least)
a continent. Tony Blair has reaffirmed that Britain's "future
prosperity rests more than ever before on the hard work and genius
of our scientists." And Germany's newly elected physical
chemist-turned-Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has made science one
of the priorities for Germany's upcoming EU presidency.
1969, Robert Wilson, then the director of Fermilab, testified
before the US Congress in support of his multi-million dollar
particle accelerator. He said: "It has only to do with the
respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men,
our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters,
good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really
venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing
to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth
will take inspired, informed, and heroic leaders to drive our
global science culture forward — toward the development
of Africa, the emergence of a renaissance or an outcome we have
yet to imagine. After an all-too-long period where it felt like
science and scientists had lost their seat at the table, I am
optimistic we're about to witness a new era of science-savvy.
Computer Scientist, Brandeis University
attack the original "we can program it" direction of
the field of Artificial Intelligence, but am still optimistic that
our primitive electromechanical and computing machines will one
day become intelligent enough to treat as living creatures.
a predictive sketch for how intelligent machines might arrive.
My definition of a robot is any device—controlled by software—interacting
with the physical world. An economically viable robot is
such a system that earns a consistent return on investment (ROI).
The ATM, the ink-jet printer, and the disk drive are today's omnipresent
robots, they just don't appear as the robots of science fiction.
three streams which can come together in the future to allow the
emergence of intelligent human-like robots.
first stream is the lowly "web bot." Moving beyond "Eliza's" in
text chat rooms, these animated humans often exist on web pages,
attracting customers, helping them navigate, or selling. Another
class of virtual humans are employed as extras in video games and
movies. These software puppets will enter a positive feedback loop
as they are programmed to exploit human psychological weaknesses.
In other words, when a virtual human becomes an effective sales
machine for, say, life insurance or securities, they will have
achieved the ROI.
second stream is animatronics. The word, coined by Disney, is about
making mechatronic puppets which entertain us, i.e. Chuck E Cheese
and Big Mouth Billy Bass. But animatronics is fairly expensive,
and mainly used as Hollywood props in big-budget movies. The toy
industry is capable of delivering inexpensive animatronics, from
Chatty Cathy, Teddy Ruxpin and Furby to Robosapien and Pleo, but
each one of these robot toys is a standalone success derived from
cheap manufacturing and mass marketing, rather than the result
of an ever-more capable practice. Nevertheless, I expect that eventually
some kind of animatronic toy platform, like the animated Chimp
and Elvis heads from Wowwee, will eventually "catch," and
profits will drive efficiency until humanoid puppets are reasonably
two streams will then become symbiotic, where the best salesbot
software running on inexpensive humanoid animatronics can start
to displace human salespeople from car showrooms and furniture
stores. But, these saledroids will still be empty puppets unless
inhabited by low wage workers over broadband.
third line has to identify and attack the core problem of AI, that
sentient life forms are several orders of magnitude more complex
than the most complicated systems designed and built by humans:
Our Software. Building software using best engineering practices
always bogs down between ten and one hundred million lines of code,
before it becomes unmanageable by human corporations. Assume that
a sentient animal mind would take tens of billions of lines of
code, just like bodies are made of tens of billions of living cells
cooperating to form a whole. In order to understand how nature
could design systems of far greater complexity than human engineers,
we must focus not on simulating human cognitive faculties, nor
on trying to understand the brain, but on the process which can
design such minds and brains.
work on evolutionary and co-evolutionary machine learning, we have
identified missing principles of evolutionary theory as implemented
computationally. We've developed systems which surpass human designs
of sorting networks and cellular automata rules, shown how co-evolving
robot bodies and brains could be automatically manufactured, and
developed new incentive structures which can motivate a community
of learners to become each other's teachers.
third stream, sentience, I believe won't be programmed directly,
but will be a result of successfully replicating how evolution
has achieved an open-ended self-organizing process on a computationally
universal substrate. Once sentience is achieved, it will happily
reside, and earn a living selling used cars, in the aforementioned
Spanish Television Presenter; Author, The Happiness
Can No Longer Be Sure Of Anything
brain does not see a thing. Most of its energy is consumed predicting
in darkness. At last we understand why we only see what we want
to see, just as the moon looms larger on the earthly horizon than
above. Now we know that visible light is only a tiny fraction of
the whole spectrum. We can no longer be sure of anything. So we
need not fight against somebody's views nor die for our own convictions.
Director, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Lab, UCLA
Neuroscience Will Change Society
time ago I believed that a book could radically change society.
I guess my belief was an extreme form of optimism. One of the books
I thought could change society was Anti-Oedipus, the book
that was written some thirty years ago by the philosopher Gilles
Deleuze and the psychiatrist Felix Guattari. At some point, I can't
even figure out when, I must have lost my belief in the power of
books in changing society. But, the good news is that my belief
is coming back. It is coming back in a slightly different form.
What I am optimistic about is that neuroscience research
will make our society a better one.
the last 20 years doing neuroscience research. To make a long story
short, a concept that emerges from recent neuroscience research
is that humans are "wired for empathy". We have cells
in our brains that make us understand each other in a simple, unmediated,
automatic manner. But, if our neurobiology makes us wired for empathy,
why is our world so full of atrocities?
explanation for this apparent paradox is probably as follows. The
neurobiological mechanisms that make us wired for empathy work
at a pre-reflective, automatic, implicit level. Our societies are
built on deliberate, reflective, explicit discourse. The two different
levels of implicit and explicit mental processes rarely intersect;
indeed there is evidence that they can often dissociate. This is
probably why the massive belief systems—from religious to political ones—that operate
at the deliberate, reflective level are able to divide us in such
a powerful way even though our neurobiology should bring us together.
good news is that the awareness of neurobiological mechanisms that
make us wired for empathy is entering the public discourse through
the activities of the third culture. This awareness won't go away
and will seep through the reflective level of our mental processes.
Indeed, people seem to have an intuitive understanding of how neural
mechanisms for empathy work. It seems that people 'recognize' how
their brain works, when they are told about it. People can finally
articulate what they already 'knew' at a pre-reflective level.
My optimism is that this explicit level of understanding of our
empathic nature will at some point dissolve the massive belief
systems that dominate our societies and that threaten to destroy