"Who should make the truly global decisions, and how?"
As we all use the global medium, Internet, people
who are running it behind is making the decisions on how to run
this medium. So far so good. But not anymore.
With all the ICANN process,
commercialization of Domain Name registration, expanding the new
gTLDs, one can ask: who are entitled to make these decisions,
and how come they can decide that way?
Despite the growing digital
divide, the number of people who use the Net is still exploding,
even in the developing side of the world. What is fair, what is
democratic, what kind of principles can we all agree on this single
global complex system, from all corners of the world is my question
of the year to come.
IZUMI AIZU, a researcher and promoter of the Net in Asia
since mid 80s, is principal, Asia Network Research and Senior
Research Fellow at GLOCOM (Center for Global Communications),
at the International University of Japan.
"How does a slide rule work?"
My vanished question is:"'How does a slide rule work?"'
Slide rules were once ubiquitous in labs, classrooms, and the
pockets of engineers. They are now as common as dinosaurs; totally
replaced by electronic calulators and computers. The interesting
question to ponder is: what is it that in the future will do to
computers what computers did to slide rules?
JOHN BARROW is a physicist at Cambridge University.. He is the author of The
World Within the World, Pi in the Sky, Theories
of Everything, The Origins of the Universe (Science
Masters Series),The Left Hand of Creation, The Artful
Universe, and Impossibility: The Limits of Science and
the Science of Limits.
old question of whether our categories of reality are discovered
One question that has almost disappeared, but which I think should
not is the old question about whether our categories of reality
are discovered or constructed. In medieval times this was the
debate about realism versus nominalism. Earlier this century the
question flared up again in the debates about the relativistic
nature of knowledge and has more recently given rise to the whole
"science wars" debacle, but reading the science press today one
would think the question had been finally resolved on the
side of realism. Reading the science press now one gets a strong
impression that for most scientists our categories of reality
are Platonic, almost God-given entities just waiting for the right
mind to uncover them. This hard-nosed realist trend is evident
across the spectrum of the sciences, but is particularly strong
in physics, where the search is currently on for the supposed
"ultimate" category of reality strings being a favored
candidate. What gets lost in all this is any analysis of the role
that language plays in our pictures of reality. We literally cannot
see things that we have no words for. As Einstein once said "we
can only see what our theories allow us to see." I would argue
that the question of what role language plays in shaping our picture
of reality is one of the most critical questions in science today
and one that should be back on the agenda of every thoughtful
Just one example should suffice to illustrate what is at stake
here: MIT philosopher of science Evelyn Fox Keller has shown in
her book Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death (and elsewhere)
the primary role played by language in shaping theories of genetics.
Earlier this century physicists like Max Delbruck and Erwin Schrodinger
started to have a philosophical impact on the biological sciences,
which henceforth became increasingly "physicized." Just as atoms
were seen as the ultimate constituents of matter so genes came
to be seen as the ultimate constituents of life the entities
in which all power and control over living organisms resided.
What this metaphor of the "master molecule" obscured was th role
played by the cytoplasm in regulating the function and activation
of genes. For half a century study of the cytoplasm was virtually
ignored because genetics were so fixed on the idea of the gene
as the "master colecule." Sure much good work on genetics was
done, but important areas of biological function were also ignored.
And are still being ignored by the current "master molecule" camp
the evolutionary psychologists, who cannot seem to see
anything but through the prism of genes.
Scientists (like all other humans) can only see reality as their
language and their metaphors allow them to see it. This is not
to say that scientists "make up" their discoveries, only to point
out that language plays a critical role in shaping the way we
categorize, and hence theorize, the world around us. Revolutions
in science are not just the result of revolutions in the laboratory
or at theorists blackboards, they are also linguistic revoluttions.
Think of words like inertia, energy, momentum words which
did not have any scientific meaning before the seventeenth century.
Or words like quantum, spin, charm and strange, which have only
had scientific meaning science the quantum revolution of the early
twentieth century. Categories of reality are not merely discovered
they are also constructed by the words we use. Understanding
more deeply the interplay between the physical world and human
language is, I believe, one of the major tasks for the future
MARGARET WERTHEIM is the author of Pythagoras Trousers,
a history of the relationship between physics and religion; and
The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante
to the Internet. She is a research associate to the American
Museum of Natural History in NY and a fellow of the Los Angeles
Institute for the Humanities. She is currently working on a documentary
about "outsider physics."
"What is 'vital force'?"
Nobody asks what "vital force" is anymore. Organisms
still have just as much vital force as they had before, but as
understanding of biological mechanisms increased, the idea of
a single essence evaporated. Hopefully the same will happen with
GEOFFREY HINTON, is an AI researcher at the Gatsby Computational
Neuroscience Unit, University College London, where he
does research on ways of using neural networks for learning, memory,
perception and symbol processing and has over 100 publications
in these areas. He was one of the researchers who introduced the
back-propagation algorithm that is now widely used for practical
applications. His other contributions to neural network research
include Boltzmann machines, distributed representations, time-delay
neural nets, mixtures of experts, and Helmholtz machines. His
current main interest is in unsupervised learning procedures for
neural networks with rich sensory input.
"Are there planets around other stars?"
Speculation about the possibility of a "plurality of worlds"
goes back at least as far as Epicurus in the fourth century BC.
Admittedly, Epicurus' definition of a "world" was closer to what
we would currently regard as a solar system but he imagined
innumerable such spheres, each containing a system of planets,
packed together. "There are," he declared, "infinite worlds both
like and unlike this world [i.e., solar system] of ours."
The same question was subsequently
considered by astronomers and philosophers over the course of
many centuries; within the past half century, the idea of the
existence of other planets has become a science fiction staple,
and people have started looking for evidence of extraterrestrial
civilizations. Like Epicurus, many people have concluded that
there must be other solar systems out there, consisting of planets
orbiting other stars. But they didn't know for sure. Today, we
The first "extrasolar"
planet (ie, beyond the solar system) was found in 1995 by two
Swiss astronomers, and since then another 48 planets have been
found orbiting dozens of nearby sun-like stars. This figure is
subject to change, because planets are now being found at an average
rate of more than one per month; more planets are now known to
exist outside the solar system than within it. Furthermore, one
star is known to have at least two planets, and another has at
least three. We can, in other words, now draw maps of alien solar
systems maps that were previously restricted to the realm
of science fiction.
The discovery that there
are other planets out there has not, however, caused as much of
a fuss as might have been expected, for two reasons. First, decades
of Star Trek and its ilk meant that the existence of other worlds
was assumed; the discovery has merely confirmed what has lately
become a widely-held belief. And second, none of these new planets
has actually been seen. Instead, their existence has been inferred
through the tiny wobbles that they cause in the motion of their
parent stars. The first picture of an extrasolar planet is, however,
probably just a few years away. Like the first picture of Earth
from space, it is likely to become an iconic image that once again
redefines the way we as humans think about our place in the universe.
Incidentally, none of these new planets has a
name yet, because the International Astronomical Union, the body
which handles astronomical naming, has yet to rule on the matter.
But the two astronomers who found the first extrasolar planet
have proposed a name for it anyway, and one that seems highly
appropriate: they think it should be called Epicurus.
TOM STANDAGE is technology correspondent at The
Economist in London and author of the books The Victorian
Internet and The Neptune File, both of which draw parallels
between episodes in the history of science and modern events.
He has also written for the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian,
Prospect, and Wired. He is married and lives in Greenwich,
England, just down the hill from the Old Royal Observatory.
Lawrence M. Krauss
"Does God Exist?"
In the 1960's and 70's it seemed just a matter of time before
antiquated notions of god, heaven, and divine intervention would
disappear from the intellectual spectrum, at least in the US.
Instead, we find ourselves in an era when God appears to be on
the lips of all politicians, creationism is rampant in our schools,
and the separation of church and state seems more fragile than
ever. What is the cause of this regression, and what can we do
to combat it? Surely, one of the legacies of science is to learn
to accept the Universe for what it is, rather than imposing our
own belief systems on it. We should be prepared to offend any
sensibilities, even religious ones, when they disagree with the
evidence of experiment. Should scientists be more vocal in order
to combat the born-again evangelists who are propagating ill-founded
notions about the cosmos?
LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS is Ambrose Swasey Professor
of Physics, Professor of Astronomy, and Chair of the Physics Department
at Case Western Reserve University. He is the recipient of the
AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science, and this year's
Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society. He is the
author of numerous books, including The Physics of Star Trek.
"Have We Seen the End of Science?"
"Will the Internet Stock Bubble Burst?"
I am taking the liberty of sending two questions. (After
all, the people on the list like to push the boundaries.)
"Have We Seen the End of Science?"
John Horgan announced the end of science in his
book of the same title. Almost weekly the most spectacular advances
are being announced and intriguing questions being asked in fields
such as biology and physics. The answer was always a resounding
no; now nobody asks the question.
"Will the Internet Stock
We certainly know the answer to that one now.
On February 22, 2000 I gave a talk at the Century Association in NYC
titled "Modern Finance and Computers". One of the topics that
i covered was "will the internet stock bubble burst?" I said it
was a classic bubble and would end in the usual way. I cited the
example of an Fall, 1999 IPO for VA Linux. This was a company
that had a market capitalization of 10 billion dollars at the
end of the first day even though it had never shown a profit and
was up against competitors such as Dell and IBM.
The NASDAQ reached its high on March 10, 2000, and the internet
sector collapsed a couple of weeks later. The high for VA Linux
in 2000 was $247;yesterday it closed below $10.
JOSEPH F. TRAUB is the
Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Computer Science at Columbia
University and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He
was founding Chairman of the Computer Science Department at Columbia
University from 1979 to 1989, and founding chair of the Computer
Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of
Sciences from 1986 to 1992. From 1971 to 1979 he was Head of the
Computer Science Department at Carnegie-Mellon University. Traub
is the founding editor of the Journal of Complexity and an associate
editor of Complexity. A Festschrift in celebration of his
sixtieth birthday was recently published. He is the author of
nine books including the recently published Complexity and
"How many angels can dance on the point of a pin?"
This question is no longer asked, not because
the question has been answered (although I happen to believe the
answer is e to the i pi) but because the search for knowledge
about the spiritual world has shifted focus as a result of science
and maths cornering all the physical and numerical answers. Along
with "Did Adam have a navel?" and "Did Jesus' mother give birth
parthenogenetically?", this question is no longer asked by anyone
of reasonable intelligence. Those who would in the past have searched
for scientific support for their spiritual ideas have finally
been persuaded that this is a demeaning use for human brainpower
and that by moving questions about the reality of spiritual and
religious ideas into the same category as questions about mind
(as opposed to brain) they will retain the respect of unbelievers
and actually get nearer to an understanding of the sources of
As an addendum, although I wasn't asked I would
like also to answer the question "What questions should
disappear and why?"
The one question that should disappear as soon as possible
and to a certain extent scientists are to blame for the
fact that it is still asked is: What is the explanation
for astrology/UFOs/clairvoyance/telepathy/any other 'paranormal'
phenomenon you care to name?
This question is still asked because scientists and science
educators have failed to get over to the public the fact that
there is only one method of explaining phenomena the scientific
method. Therefore, anything that people are puzzled by that has
not been explained either doesn't exist or there isn't yet enough
evidence to prove that it does. But still I get the impression
that for believers in these phenomena there are two types of explanatory
system science and nonscience (you can pronounce the latter
'nonsense' if you like). When you try to argue with these people
by pointing out that there isn't sufficient repeatable evidence
even to begin to attempt an explanation in scientific terms, they
just say that this particular phenomenon doesn't require that
degree of stringency. When the evidence is strong enough to puzzle
scientists as well as nonscientists, they'll begin to devise explanations
There's a good example of how this works currently with the interest
taken in St John's wort as a possible treatment for depression.
Once there was enough consistent evidence to suggest that there
might be an effect, clinical trials were planned and are now under
way. Interestingly, an indication that there might be a genuine
effect comes from a substantial body of information suggesting
that there are adverse drug interactions between St John's wort
and immunosuppressive drugs taken by transplant patients. Once
an 'alternative' remedy actually causes harm as well as having
alleged benefits, it's claimed effects are more likely to be genuine.
One argument against most of the quack remedies around, such as
homoeopathy, is that they are entirely safe (although this is
seen as a recommendation, by the gullible.)
The demand that phenomena that are not explainable
in scientific terms should be accepted on the basis of some other
explanation similar to the argument you might care to use with
your bank manager that there is more than one type of arithmetic.
Using his conventional accounting methods he might think your
account is overdrawn but you would argue that, although the evidence
isn't as strong as his method might require, you believe you still
have lots of money in your account and therefore will continue
writing cheques. (As like as not, this belief in a positive balance
in your account will be based on some erroneous assumption
for example, that you still have a lot of blank cheques left in
KARL SABBAGH is a television
producer who has turned to writing. Among his television programs
are "Skyscraper" a four-hour series about the design and
construction of a New York skyscraper; "Race for the Top"
a documentary about the hunt for top quark; and "21st Century
Jet" a five part series following Boeing's new 777 airliner
from computer design to entry into passenger service.He is the
author of six books including Skyscraper, 21st Century
Jet, and A Rum Affair .
"How will Americans
handle a surplus of leisure?"
"Can the threat of
recombinant DNA possibly be contained?"
will Americans handle a surplus of leisure?"
That was a brow-furrower
in the late '50s and early '60s for social observers and forecasters.
Whole books addressed the problem, most of them opining that Americans
would have to become very interested in the arts. Turned out the
problem never got around to existing, and the same kind of people
are worrying now about how Americans will survive the stress of
"Can the threat of recombinant DNA possibly be contained?"
That was the brand new bogey of the mid-'70s. At a famous
self regulating conference at Asilomar conference center in California,
genetic researchers debated the question and imposed rules (but
not "relinquishment") on the lab work. The question was answered:
the threat was handily contained, and it was not as much of a
threat as feared anyway. Most people retrospectively applaud the
original caution. Similar fears and debate now accompany the introduction
of Genetically Modified foods and organisms. Maybe it's the same
question rephrased, and it will keep being rephrased as long as
biotech is making news. Can the threat of frankenfoods possibly
be contained? Can the threat of gene-modified children possibly
be contained? Can the threat of bioweapons possibly be contained?
Can the threat of human life extension possibly be contained?
It won't be a new question until it reaches reflexivity:
"Are GM humans really human?"
STEWART BRAND is founder
of the Whole Earth Catalog, cofounder of The Well, cofounder
of Global Business Network, cofounder and president of The Long
Now Foundation. He is the original editor of The Whole Earth
Catalog, author of The Media Lab: Inventing the Future
at MIT , How Buildings Learn, and The Clock of the
Long Now: Time and Responsibility (MasterMinds Series).
"Do I have e-mail?"
The sudden increase in digital information, or bits, in our
everyday lives has destroyed any question of permanence or scarcity
of those bits. Just consider the example of e-mail.
Years ago when you first got online, you were excited to get e-mail,
right? So every day, the big question when you logged in was,
Will I have any e-mail? The chirpy announcement that "You've got
mail!" actually meant something, since sometimes you didn't
Today there's no question.
There's no such thing as no mail. You don't have to ask; you DO
have mail. If it's not the mail you want (from friends or family),
it's work-related mail or, worse, spam. Our inboxes may soon be
so flooded with spam that we look for entirely different ways
to use e-mail.
The death of that question, "Do I have e-mail?" has brought us a new,
more interesting question as a result: "What do I do with
all this e-mail?" More generally, what do we do with all these
bits(e-mail, wireless messages, websites, Palm Pilot files,
Napster downloads)? This is the question that will define our
relationship with digital technology in coming years.
MARK HURST, founder of Internet consulting
firm Creative Good, is widely credited for popularizing the term
"customer experience" and the methodology around it. Hurst has
worked since the birth of the Web to make Internet technology
easier and more relevant to its "average" users. In 1999, InfoWorld magazine named Hurst
"Netrepreneur of the Year", saying that "Mark Hurst has done more
than any other individual to make Web-commerce sites easier to
use." Over 39,000 people subscribe to his Good Experience newsletter,
available for free at goodexperience.com or update@goodexperie
"Did Noah Really Collect all Species of Earthly Organism on his
People who interpret the
Bible literally may believe that a man named Noah collected all
species of Earthly organisms on his ark. However, scientists no
longer ask this question. Let me put the problem in a modern perspective
by considering what it means to have animals from every species
on an ark. Consider that siphonapterologists (experts in fleas)
recognize 1,830 variety of fleas. Incredible as it may seem, there
are around 300,000 species of beetles, making beetles one of the
most diverse groups of organisms on earth. When biologist J.B.S.
Haldane was asked by a religious person what message the Lord
conveyed through His creations, he responded, "an inordinate fondness
One of my favorite books on beetles is Ilkka Hanski's Dung Beetle Ecology,
which points out that a large number (about 7000 species) of the
300,000 species of beetles live off animal dung. Did Noah bring
these species on the ark? If he did, did he concern himself with
the fact that animal dung is often fiercely contested. On the
African savanna up to 4000 beetles have been observed to converge
on 500 grams of fresh elephant dung within 15 minutes after it
Did Noah or his family also take kleptoparastic beetles on the ark?
These are dung beetles known to steal dung from others. Did Noah
need to take into consideration that insect dung communities involve
hundreds of complex ecological interactions between coprophagous
flies and their parasites, insects, mites, and nematodes (an ecology
probably difficult to manage on the ark!). In South Africa, more
than 100 species of dung beetle occur together in a single cow
pat. One gigantic species, Heliocopris dilloni resides exclusively
in elephant dung. A few species of beetles are so specialized
that they live close to the source of dung, in the hairs near
an animal's anus.
You get my point! It's quite a mystery
as to what the Biblical authors meant when they called for Noah
taking pairs of every animal on the Earth. Incidentally, scientists
very roughly estimate that the weight of animals in the hypothetical
ark to be 1000 tons. You can use a value of 10 million for the
number of species and assume an average mass of 100 grams. (Insects
decrease this figure for average mass because of the huge number
of insect species.) There would be some increase in mass if plants
were used in the computation. (How would this change if extinct
species were included?)
Even if Noah took ten or twenty of each kind of mammal, very few would
be alive after a thousand years because approximately 50 individuals
of a single species are needed to sustain genetic health. Any
small population is subject to extinction from disease, environmental
changes, and genetic risks the gradual accumulation of
traits with small but harmful effects. There is also the additional
problem of making sure that there is both male and female offspring
surviving. Today, species are considered endangered well before
their numbers drop below fifty. (Interestingly, there's a conflicting
Biblical description in the story of Noah that indicated God wanted
Noah to take "seven pairs of clean animals... and a pair of the
animals that are not clean... and seven pairs of the birds of
the air also.")
The Biblical flood would
probably kill most of the plant life on Earth. Even if the waters
were to recede, the resultant salt deposits would prevent plants
from growing for many years. Of additional concern is the ecological
effect of the numerous dead carcasses caused by the initial flood.
Various authors have noted that if, in forty days and nights the highest
mountains on Earth were covered, the required incredible rate
of rain fall of fifteen feet per hour would sink the ark. All
of these cogitations lead me to believe that most scientifically
trained people no longer ask whether an actual man named Noah
collected all species of Earthly organism on his ark. By extension,
most scientifically trained people no longer ask if the Bible
is literal truth.
CLIFF PICKOVER is author of over 20 books, his latest being Wonders
of Numbers: Adventures in Math, Mind, and Meaning. His
web site, www.pickover.com, has received over 300,000 visits.
George B. Dyson
"What does the other side of the moon look like?"
This can be elaborated by the following anecdote, from an
interview (2.99) with Herbert York:
"Donald Hornig, who was
head of PSAC [President's Science Advisory Committee, during the
Johnson Administration] was not imaginative. I can give you an
example of this. I was very enthusiastic about getting a picture
of the other side of the moon. And there were various ways of
doing it, sooner or later. And I argued with Hornig about it and
he said, 'Why? It looks just like this side.' And it turned out
it didn't. But nevertheless, that was it, and that's the real
Hornig. 'Why are you so enthused about the other side of the moon?
The other side of the moon looks just like this side, why would
you be so interested to see it?'"
DYSON, a historian among futurists, has been excavating the history
and prehistory of the digital revolution going back 300 years.
His most recent book is Darwin Among the Machines.
"questions that were asked in extinct languages"
All those questions that were asked in extinct
languages for which there is no written record.
HAIG is an evolutionary geneticist/theorist at Harvard who is
interested in conflicts and conflict resolution with the genome,
with a particular interest in genomic imprinting and relations
between parents and offspring. Hiscurrent interests include the
evolution of linkage groups and the evolution of viviparity.
James J. O'Donnell
"the old Platonic questions about the nature of the good and
the form of beauty"
Metaphysical answers haven't disappeared: the new agers are full
of them, and so are the old religionists.
Cosmological questions haven't disappeared: but scientists press
them as real questions about the very physical universe.
But the old Platonic questions about the nature of the good and
the form of beauty they went away when we weren't looking.
They won't be back.
JAMES J. O'DONNELL, Professor
of Classical Studies and Vice Provost for Information Systems
and Computing at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author
of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace.
"Can machines think?"
burned through the sixties, seventies and even eighties, until
the answer was, Of course. It was replaced with a different, less
emotionally fraught question: How can we make them think smarter/better/deeper?
central issue is the social, not scientific, definition of "thinking".
A generation of Western intellectuals who took their identity
mainly from their intelligence has grown too old to ask the question
with any conviction, and anyway, machines are all around them
thinking up a storm. Machines don't yet think like Einstein, but
then neither do most people, and we don't question their humanity
on that account.
McCORDUCK is the author or coauthor of seven books, among them
Machines Who Think, and coauthor with Nancy Ramsey of The
Futures Of Women: Scenarios for the 21st Century.
Marc D. Hauser
"Do animals have thoughts?"
The reason this question is dead is because traditional Skinnerianism,
which viewed rats and pigeons as furry and feathered black boxes,
guided by simple principles of reinforcement and punishment, is
theoretically caput. It can no longer account for the extraordinary things that animals do, spontaneously.
we now know that animals form cognitive maps of their environment,
compute numerosities, represent the relationships among individuals
in their social group, and most recently, have some understanding
of what others know.
The questions for the future, then, are not "Do animals think?",
but "What precisely do they think about, and to what extent
do their thoughts differ from our own?"
MARC D. HAUSER is an evolutionary
psychologist, and a professor at Harvard University where he is
a fellow of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Program. He is a professor
in the departments of Anthropology and Psychology, as well as
the Program in Neurosciences. He is the author of The Evolution
of Communication, and Wild Minds: What AnimalsThink.