Edge in the News: 2015

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings [10.13.15]

When Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage invented the world’s first computer, their “Analytical Engine” became the evolutionary progenitor of a new class of human extensions — machines that think. A generation later, Alan Turing picked up where they left off and, in laying the foundations of artificial intelligence with his Turing Test, famously posed the techno-philosophical questionof whether a computer could ever enjoy strawberries and cream or compel you to fall in love with it.

From its very outset, this new branch of human-machine evolution made it clear that any answer to these questions would invariably alter how we answer the most fundamental questions of what it means to be human.

That’s what Edge founder John Brockman explores in the 2015 edition of his annual question, inviting 192 of today’s most prominent thinkers to tussle with these core questions of artificial intelligence and its undergirding human dilemmas. ...

What to Think About Machines That Think is an immeasurably stimulating read in its entirety, exploring the intersection of science, philosophy, technology, ethics, and psychology to unravel some of the most important questions worth asking. ...

New York Times [10.6.15]

In Richard Dawkins’s first memoir, An Appetite for Wonder (2013), he described losing his virginity, at the somewhat advanced age of 22, to a cellist in London.

His writing about this episode was typical of him. First he called upon science. “It isn’t difficult for a biologist to explain why nervous systems evolved in such a way as to make sexual congress one of the consistently greatest experiences life has to offer,” he said. “But explaining it doesn’t make it any less wonderful.”

Then he summoned literature and morality, and wrote: “I’ll say no more on the subject, and will betray no confidences. It isn’t that kind of autobiography.”

Mr. Dawkins’s sequel to his memoir has arrived, and it isn’t that kind of autobiography either. Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science presents a public life more than a private one.

This is autobiography as intellectual victory lap. What it lacks in intimacy it mostly makes up for with wit and bounce and a sense that this deeply learned man is running for mayor of our brains. ...

...Two threads stand out from the many. The first is his longing to bridge the divide between science and literary culture. The second is the author’s emergence, with his best-selling book The God Delusion (2006), as the most famous atheist on Earth.

Mr. Dawkins laments that scientists in fiction, “from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Strangelove,” are generally portrayed as “heartless eccentrics, gradgrinds, psychopaths or worse.”

His favorite evenings are those he calls “third culture,” that is, scientists sharing a bottle or two with word people. Living novelists who write well about science, he suggests, include Mr. McEwan, A. S. Byatt, Philip Pullman, Barbara Kingsolver, Martin Amis and William Boyd. …


L'ECO DI BERGAMO [10.2.15]

BergamoScienza is an event much loved and shared, with lectures, workshops and a large involvement of the community, schools and young people. ...

...It is therefore essential that the candidates for the leadership of the twenty-first century possess a vision of things to retrieve the value of critical thinking, the entrepreneurial approach, the gift of creativity and at the same time understanding the tools that scientific progress has made available.

In this regard, John Brockman, a unified vision of knowledge, introduced the idea of Third Culture as the set of scientists and thinkers who through their work and their writings know say new and interesting things about the world and ourselves. And they do it by telling and disseminating their ideas directly to a wide audience, spreading it beyond the narrow confines of the academy or endorsements extreme.