Edge in the News: 2013

ticinolive.ch [1.22.13]

The musician Brian Eno looks with fear to the fact that intelligent people increasingly distance themselves from politics: "The most intelligent people I know do not want anything to do with politics. ... Avoid politics like the plague [...] We expect you handle it when other people and these people make mistakes we complain. We believe that our responsibility to stop at the ballot box and there are people who come to us even the ballot box." ... Kate Jeffrey, a professor of behavioral neuroscience is concerned that more and more people die in the years ahead: "The extension of the duration of human life is often claimed in the media and is never questioned." ... The tax and astronomer Gregory Benford afraid that human beings become like "mice blocked on the spherical surface of our world, where we will be even more trapped."

robots.net [1.22.13]

... Kevin Kelly thinks we should worry about the "underpopulation bomb" - the first time in human history to experience a diminishing number of young people combined with an increasing number of robots. ... Paul Saffo worries about a coming fight between two extreme classes he calls "engineers" and "druids", basically optimists and pessimists respectively who either want to use technology or ban technology. "Druids fear that robot cars are unsafe; Engineers wonder why humans are allowed to drive at all." Andy Clark says we don't need to worry about Super-AIs ruling the world, unless they get culture first. That's just a sampling of the many references to robots, robotics, and machine intelligence. As it has been in past years, the full set of responses is well worth a read for anyone with an interest in the future of the world.

Brain Pickings [1.22.13]

Characteristically thought-provoking and reliably cross-disciplinary, This Explains Everything is a must-read in its entirety.

"The greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way."

Every year since 1998, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman has been posing a single grand question to some of our time's greatest thinkers across a wide spectrum of disciplines, then collecting the answers in an annual anthology. Last year's answers to the question "What scientific concept will improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" were released in This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the year's best psychology and philosophy books.
 
In 2012, the question Brockman posed, proposed by none other than Steven Pinker, was "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation." The answerers, representing an eclectic mix of 192 (alas, overwhelmingly male) minds spanning psychology, quantum physics, social science, political theory, philosophy, and more, are collected in the edited compendium This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (UK; public library) and are also available online.
 
In the introduction preceding the micro-essays, Brockman frames the question and its ultimate objective, adding to history's most timeless definitions of science:
 
The ideas presented on Edge are speculative; they represent the frontiers in such areas as evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, cosmology, and physics. Emerging out of these contributions is a new natural philosophy, new ways of understanding physical systems, new ways of thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions. … Perhaps the greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way. These explanations are called 'beautiful' or 'elegant.' … The contributions presented here embrace scientific thinking in he broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything — including such fields of inquiry as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, language, and human behavior. The common thread is that a simple and nonobvious idea is proposed as the explanation of a diverse and complicated set of phenomena.
 

South China Morning Post [1.21.13]

China at home

-- Outrageously bad “Chinese Eugenics” article published on Edge.org ...it wouldn’t surprise me at all if there is / was eugenics research going on in China, even on a large scale (as there was in many countries in the 20th century, including the USA), but it’s nothing like how Miller tries to claim.

aldaily.com/ [1.21.13]

John Brockman’s Edge question for 2013 asks more than 150 intellectuals, “What should we be worried about?”... more»

Süddeutsche Zeitung [1.19.13]

The Edge Question again is not any question, but the question asked annually since 1998 by the bustling New York literary agent John Brockman to a circle of the most prestigious researchers and intellectuals in the world (who are mostly from English-speaking countries). A year ago, the Question was: "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" ...

...There perhaps seems to be a little too much science fiction in the game and too little politics. It is then, in one of the surprises that make Edge, that the pop star Brian Eno presents a response that is one of the shortest and most elegant, but perhaps the most disturbing: "Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. ...We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we're as laissez-faire as we can get away with. ... What worries me is that while we're laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing."

elmundo.es [1.19.13]

This week's question came Annual  Edge . The suggested science historian George Dyson: "What should concern us?". The answers make up an interesting catalog of contemporary concerns ...

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel [1.19.13]

"Those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world fret too much about minor hazards of everyday life: improbable air crashes, carcinogens in food, and so forth. But we are less secure than we think. We should worry far more about scenarios that have thankfully not yet happened – but which, if they occurred, could cause such world-wide devastation that even once would be too often.

"Much has been written about possible ecological shocks triggered by the collective impact of a growing and more demanding world population on the biosphere, and about the social and political tensions stemming from scarcity of resources or climate change. But even more worrying are the downsides of powerful new technologies: cyber-, bio-, and nano-. We're entering an era when a few individuals could, via error or terror, trigger a societal breakdown with such extreme suddenness that palliative government actions would be overwhelmed....

From "2013: What should we be worried about?" at edge.org

elmundo.es [1.19.13]

Largely, we live in narratives that weave ourselves. So why not stay with the most pleasing of all? After we were released from the closed mentality of the past, why not feel free? Explanations can create captivating images of ourselves, of our great country, our great society. We may be fascinated by our own dreams. 

But something tells me that we should be concerned. We live in a real world, where not all stories are equally good, and equally effective. ... (Carlo Rovelli, Edge )

Library Journal [1.18.13]

"...fun and inspirational collection of brief essays...that present wonderful explanations of the world around us. The result is 150 brief essays that present wonderful explanations of the world around us. The authors include Richard Dawkins, Eric Kandel, Alan Alda, and Brian Eno; all have something worthwhile to contribute. VERDICT This engaging collection can be read from cover to cover or browsed as interest dictates, but all inquisitive readers will enjoy it. Highly recommended."

elcolombiano.com [1.18.13]

This time the Question is: What should concern us? began 2013. It's hot. The economic situation is not easy for most. Is this what disturbs us or ... what may happen to future generations with the world we are creating? Are there concerns concerns? For the unemployed, their situation. For the debtor's account arrives, hungry for what and when is your next course, for some the last iPhone or fashionable shoe. Ultimately, what should concern us? Do you immediately or ... the farthest? Did staff or the collective? What worries the rich, how poor, one country or another? 

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Portfolio.hu [1.17.13]

In his regular weekly column, Hungary's Minister of Economics Gyorgy Matolcsy has put the spotlight on one of the annual questions posed to the best minds of the planet by literary uber-agent and big idea wrangler John Brockman of Edge.org. "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?" was the original question. Matolcsy has made a list of measures by which Hungary could win, including the co-operation between the government and the central bank's foreign currency debtors and rescuing all from their trap. Also He said, "nobody would lose if the state re-gains the domestic monopolies whose privatisation was a mistake."

Money Control [1.17.13]

A spat has broken out between Hungary's Economy Ministry and Roubini Global Economics about who is to blame for the downward spiral of the national currency, the forint, after Roubini's firm Roubini Global Economics (RGE) recommended shorting the currency. ... Hungary's Ministry for National Economy said in a statement that the forint began to depreciate after economist Nouriel Roubini - dubbed Dr Doom for his pessimistic forecasts - said in a newsletter that failure to secure a deal with the International Monetary Fund was bad news for the currency. ... But Roubini economists cited comments made by Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy in a newspaper column [ED. NOTE: A review of This Will Make You Smarter, the 2011 Edge Question book], in which he seemed to favor the country adopting more unorthodox economic policies as the reason for the currency's weakness. 

Motherboard [1.17.13]

... This year, that query was "What Should We Be Worried About?", and the idea was to identify new problems arising in science, tech, and culture that haven't yet been widely recognized. 

This year's respondents include former presidents of the Royal Society, Nobel prize-winners, famous sci-fi authors, Nassem Nicholas Taleb, Brian Eno, and a bunch of top theoretical physicists, psychologists, and biologists. And the list is long. Like, book-length long. There are some 150 different things that worry 151 of the planet's biggest brains. And I read about them all, so you don't have to: here's the Buzzfeedized version, with the money quote, title, or summary of the fear pulled out of each essay. Obviously, go read the rest if any of the below get you fretting too.

What keeps the smartest folks in the world awake at night? Here goes:

1. The proliferation of Chinese eugenics. – Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist.

2. Black swan events, and the fact that we continue to rely on models that have been proven fraudulent. – Nassem Nicholas Taleb

3. That we will be unable to defeat viruses by learning to push them beyond the error catastrophe threshold. – William McEwan, molecular biology researcher

4. That pseudoscience will gain ground. – Helena Cronin, author, philospher

5. That the age of accelerating technology will overwhelm us with opportunities to be worried. – Dan Sperber, social and cognitive scientist ...

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing [1.15.13]

Each year, literary über-agent and big idea wrangler John Brockman of Edge.orgposes a new question to an assortment of scientists, writers, and creative minds, and publishes a selection of the responding essays. This year's question, which came fromGeorge Dyson, is "What *Should* We Be Worried About?"

We worry because we are built to anticipate the future. Nothing can stop us from worrying, but science can teach us how to worry better, and when to stop worrying.

Many people more interesting than me responded—here are the 2013 contributors, and the list includes some amazing minds: Brian Eno, Daniel Dennett, Esther Dyson, George Dyson, David Gelernter, Danny Hillis, Arianna Huffington, Kevin Kelly, Tim O'Reilly, Martin Rees, Bruce Schneier, Bruce Sterling, Sherry Turkle, and Craig Venter, to name just some. And here's an index of all the essays this year.

Following is the full text of my contribution, "Science Has Not Brought Us Closer To Understanding Cancer."

Gary Marcus, The New Yorker [1.15.13]

...This year, Brockman’s panelists (myself included) agreed to take on the subject of what we should fear. There’s the fiscal cliff, the continued European economic crisis, the perpetual tensions in the Middle East. But what about the things that may happen in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years? The premise, as the science historian George Dyson put it, is that “people tend to worry too much about things that it doesn’t do any good to worry about, and not to worry enough about things we should be worrying about.” A hundred fifty contributors wrote essays for the project. The result is a recently published collection, “What *Should* We Be Worried About?” available without charge at John Brockman’s edge.org. ...\

syracuse.com [1.15.13]

The discussion is seeded with contributions from dozens of philosophers, futurists, academics, writers, artists and scientists. They don't warn of topical issues of the day — such as gun control or government debt or whatever is in the headlines right now.

They are thinking a little ahead. ... Such as this from biologist and author Colin Tudge: Science, in short, is in danger of losing its integrity and its intellectual independence—of becoming the handmaiden of big business and the most powerful governments. ... And this from journalist and author David Berreby: What worries me is the ongoing "greying" of the world population, which is uneven globally but widespread. It is not "on the radar" (except for occasional gee-whiz news stories and narrow discussions about particular problems for this or that trade).    

Peter Woit, Not Even Wrong [1.14.13]

The Edge web-site annual question feature is out today, with this year’s question What *Should* We Be Worried About?. I wrote something about the “Nightmare Scenario” that HEP is facing if the LHC finds a Standard Model Higgs and nothing else. ... Others addressed the same issue, with Lisa Randall writing: "In my specific field of particle physics, everyone is worried. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been to two conferences within the last week where the future was a major topic of discussion and I’m at another one where it’s on the agenda." ... Amanda Gefter sees no reason to worry. Particle theorists will just move to making progress without experiment, through studying paradoxes of the current theory, with her final example for optimism the recent debate over the “firewall paradox”. ... Carlo Rovelli’s contribution explains one problem with this: humans are very good at convincing themselves they have found some wonderful explanation of something (e.g. some resolution of a paradox, like the supposed SUSY solution to the hierarchy problem), when reality actually involves something quite a bit more subtle and unexpected . . . [58 comments]

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Tania Lombrozo, 13.7 COSMOS & CULTURE [1.14.13]

Just when we were patting ourselves on the back for eluding the end of the world and avoiding the fiscal cliff, the folks at The Edge have let loose a flood of new things to worry about. ... Every year Edge.org poses an Annual Question to dozens of scholars, scientists, writers, artists and thinkers. The respondents this year include the reasonably famous, such as Arianna Huffington, Steven Pinker, Brian Eno, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and 13.7's own Stuart Kauffman, as well as the not so famous (like me). ... The 2013 question is: "What should we be worried about?" Respondents were urged to raise worries that aren't already on the public radar, or to dispel those that are....

bigthink.com [1.14.13]

Among the other responses, I noticed a number with the post-rational theme that we ought to worry about the ways we worry—because of the way our minds are organized, these writers think, we can't fret about the right things, even as we wear ourselves into a frazzle about the wrong ones.

For instance, Dan Sperber worries that we generally worry in ways that are futile but wasteful of our limited time and energy.

Another "meta" theme this year is the unexamined consequences of the human race's process of taming itself. For instance, Scott Atran worries that the rich variety of human experience is turning into one homogenized global beige, the way that the planet's rich diversity of edible plants has been crowded out by a few monocultures. And Nicholas Humphrey worries about the ease with which people now access any knowledge they seek.

I was also struck by Alison Gopnik's worry about our misplaced notions of childrearing, which causes people to worry about inconsequential things (which way the stroller faces, which form of "sleep training" to use) while missing the consequential ones (like the fact that so many American children grow up in poverty, thus missing out on the "long, protected, stable childhood" that best serves a developing human being). That one ties together the threads of misplaced anxiety, reliance on technology, and the effects of today's experiences on tomorrow's people. It also is one of those mind-altering posts which causes you wonder "how could I have not seen that?"

All in all, it's a stimulating collection. Well worth a look.

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