Edge in the News

BOING BOING [1.20.07]


There's probably a great Linux joke in here, but I'm not funny enough to come up with it. Technologist and former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold visited the Falklands[ / Islas Malvinas], and took some amazing photographs of penguins and other creatures there. Dr. Myhrvold is CEO and managing director of Intellectual Ventures, a private entrepreneurial firm he founded with his former Microsoft colleague, Dr. Edward Jung. Snip from an essay about what he observed on the islands:

It turns out that there are some reasonably well developed scientific theories of cuteness.

Penguins look like little people – their bipedal stance, walking gait and proportions look like a tiny toy person. Self-love is something humans are good at, so it is natural to find these animals compelling. Their behaviors also happen to map well to human behavior – or at least one can naively imagine so because they are stereotypically similar to some of our own actions.

That covers penguins, but there are some more universal aspects of cuteness. I once studied to be a cartoonist (alas, I wasn’t funny enough) and in that field they have this very well figured out. The rule of thumb is that if you want a cartoon character to be cute, you draw it so that the total body height is between 2.5 and 3 times the height of the head. This gives you a Mickey Mouse, or Tweety Bird sort of character. You then make the eyes a large fraction of head height – little beady eyes are not cute. To make a heroic character – say Superman, Spiderman or Captain America you want 7.5 to 8 heads high. It always has amused me that being a pinhead looks heroic.

Link. Image: (c) 2007, Nathan Myhrvold. (Thanks, John Brockman)

Reader comment: Jeff says,

You should link to Mhyrvold's article on the future of digital photography, it's a must read. Direct link here. Excerpt:

I'm eagerly awaiting Canon's next move, probably to 25-plus megapixels. I'm what marketing people call an early adopter, but mark my words - you'll own a 16- or even a 25-megapixel point-and-shoot in a few years, and it will not stop there. By some estimates, your eyes have an effective resolution of more than 500 megapixels. If you can see it, why shouldn't a camera record it? The reason many pictures don't turn out is that in daytime the human eye can easily perceive a dynamic range of 10,000:1, while at night it is more like 1,000,000:1. Meanwhile, color slide film can record only about 32:1, and digital cameras, about 64:1.

In many situations, this forces a choice - do you expose for the light parts of the scene and let the dark parts go dead black, or save the shadows and turn the bright parts pure white? Future digital sensors will fix this, with ever broader dynamic range and greater light sensitivity (the ISO rating).

Focus is another problem. How many of your pictures wind up fuzzy? Autofocus technology can help, but cameras today still have a limitation on how much of a scene can be in focus at one time, known as depth of field. If you focus on the flower in front of you, the mountain in the background is apt to be fuzzy. Yet technically there is no reason we can't get essentially infinite depth of field, again by using more digital processing.

Javier Rodruiguez says,

My impression concerning your post would have been much better if you just said "Islas Malvinas" instead of Falklands (...) they always belonged to Argentina, not just a matter of sovereignty but simply geology (it's physically undeniable that they are inside South America's continental platform). I guess you regard colonialism as evil, as much as many of us do.

Weekend america [1.19.07]

Edgie's Chris Anderson of TED and Robert Provine of University of Maryland as the proponents of optimism on program concerning Optimism and the Doomsday Clock

The Guardian [1.19.07]

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, edited by John Brockman (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

The results of the 2005 Question at edge.org, posed by Steven Pinker, are in. Apart from an exasperating section about "memes" (are they still fashionable?) and a few Eeyorish dullards, it's a titillating compilation. Physicist Freeman Dyson predicts that home biotech kits will become common; others posit that democracy may be a blip and "on its way out", that "heroism" is just as banal as evil, and that it will be proven that free will does not exist. There are also far-out but thought-provoking notions: that, given the decadent temptations of virtual reality, the only civilisations of any species that survive to colonise the galaxy will be puritan fundamentalists; or that the internet may already be aware of itself. I particularly enjoyed cognitive scientist Donald D Hoffman's gnomic pronouncement that "a spoon is like a headache", and mathematician Rudy Rucker's robust defence of panpsychism, the idea that "every object has a mind. Stars, hills, chairs, rocks, scraps of paper, flakes of skin, molecules". Careful what you do with this newspaper after you've read it.

THE AGE — MELBOURNE [1.19.07]

THE WORD WENT OUT TO some of the world's leading scientists and thinkers: just what is your dangerous idea? Ideas defined as dangerous not because they're assumed to be false but because they might be true. Spanning multi-disciplinary topics including biology, genetics, neuroscience, psychology and physics, this volume is full of provocative, speculative and plain mischievous arguments. Ask people to play devil's advocate and the results are fascinating. Maybe we're all marionettes dancing on genetic strings; maybe we have no souls or perhaps we may all even "house homicidal circuits within our brains". One bright spark even posits that the very notion of disseminating dangerous ideas (even in a safe, playful medium such as this one) is itself dangerous because ideas can be powerful forces. ...

WEEKEND AMERICA [1.19.07]

 
It's time to set our watches again. The Doomsday Clock moved two minutes closer to midnight this week. This is of course just a symbolic clock that's wound every now and then by board members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In 1947 the BAS started using the clock to measure how close we are to global nuclear annihilation. The closer the minute hand gets to midnight, the more doomed we are. And as of Wednesday, it's 11:55. We asked Weekend America's Sean Cole to look into how doomed we are and if there's anyone who might be able to offer a second opinion.

THE GUARDIAN [1.19.07]

In a sly joke, the deity who invented music made sure that the mathematical proportions of "pure" acoustic intervals don't quite add up properly. So in order to play harmonically rich music in different keys, you have to skew the tuning in one way or another. Our current method is called "equal temperament", which is what modern pianos have, and in which the major thirds are sharp and the fifths are flat. Lots of people think that Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was propaganda for equal temperament, and that everyone settled on it soon thereafter. But, as Duffin's scholarly and enjoyably pugnacious book shows, that's not the case: Bach used a different temperament, which slightly favoured some keys over others. Equal temperament was not universally adopted until the 20th century, and Duffin thinks it should still not be the default. He offers cute capsule biographies of major thinkers in the tuning debates and arguments, based on score markings and other evidence, about what composers such as Haydn or Beethoven would have expected. He even imports early records into a software program to analyse the pitches and find out how people were tuning their violins. Most controversial is his argument that string players should play leading notes flatter than in equal temperament (in order to favour harmonic consonance over melodic shape), rather than sharper, as they have traditionally done. None the less, his fine book should make any contemporary musician think differently about tuning.

The Original Accident, by Paul Virilio (Polity, £14.99)

To invent the train, says Virilio, is to invent the train wreck. Our society is predicated on the industrial accident, which only recently leapfrogged the natural disaster in destructive power. From this spiky proposition, Virilio, the ludic French "dromologist" (student of speed), careers off on a kind of intellectual rollercoaster that takes in Aristotle, Chernobyl, the twin towers, genetic engineering, the privatisation of police forces, cosmology, Rabelais, killer asteroids, and a wonderful short story by Ursula Le Guin, written from the point of view of a tree. Virilio's breakneck pattern-recognition method is apt to spark new thoughts in some readers' heads, even if his images are sometimes hostages to pedantry: "If knowledge can be shown as a sphere whose volume is endlessly expanding," Virilio writes, "the area of contact with the unknown is growing out of all proportion." Does it matter that the surface-area-to-volume ratio actually shrinks, not expands, when a sphere grows? I leave it to you to decide.

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, edited by John Brockman (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

The results of the 2005 Question at edge.org, posed by Steven Pinker, are in. Apart from an exasperating section about "memes" (are they still fashionable?) and a few Eeyorish dullards, it's a titillating compilation. Physicist Freeman Dyson predicts that home biotech kits will become common; others posit that democracy may be a blip and "on its way out", that "heroism" is just as banal as evil, and that it will be proven that free will does not exist. There are also far-out but thought-provoking notions: that, given the decadent temptations of virtual reality, the only civilisations of any species that survive to colonise the galaxy will be puritan fundamentalists; or that the internet may already be aware of itself. I particularly enjoyed cognitive scientist Donald D Hoffman's gnomic pronouncement that "a spoon is like a headache", and mathematician Rudy Rucker's robust defence of panpsychism, the idea that "every object has a mind. Stars, hills, chairs, rocks, scraps of paper, flakes of skin, molecules". Careful what you do with this newspaper after you've read it.

Science [1.10.07]

Qubits for dollars. Quantum computing guru David Deutsch is the first recipient of the $95,000 Edge of Computation Science Prize for researchers whose computerrelated ideas touch on broader questions about life, the universe, and everything. 

The 52-year-old Deutsch, at the University of Oxford,U.K., provided the first blueprints for a universal quantum computer in 1985, bringing to life an earlier suggestion from physicist Richard Feynman.Quantum computation,which theoretically is exponentially faster than classical computing, could potentially speed up calculations that currently hamper fields such as physics, biology, and nanotechnology. 

"Deutsch clearly deserved the prize because of his seminal role in creating and furthering quantum computation", says physicist and computer scientist Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who was a judge. But it's an unusual reward that transcends disciplines; other nominees were from fields of computational biology, software development, and communications, he notes."I'll be very interested to see who wins it next," says Lloyd.

The prize is funded by philanthropist Jeffrey Epstein.

Reforma [1.9.07]

El foro virtual Edge propone buscar razones, no simplemente deseos, para el optimismo. Edge es un club que reúne, segén ellos mismos, algunas de las mentes más interesantes del mundo. Su propósito es estimular discusiones en las fronteras del conocimiento. La intención es llegar al borde del conocimiento mundial, acercándose a las mentes más complejas y refinadas, juntarlas en un foro y hacerlos que se pregunten las preguntas que ellos mismos se hacen. La fundación actúa, de este modo, como surtidora de problemas y alojamiento de réplicas. Cada ano se constituye como Centro Mundial de Preguntas.

The Times [1.9.07]

Multiverse enthusiasts have in turn accused the unification theorists of promissory triumphalism because nobody has yet demonstrated a credible unique theory, let alone predicted the values of any Goldilocks parameters. This acrimonious wrangling reveals deep divisions concerning the ultimate goal of science, the nature of physical reality and the place of conscious observers in the grand scheme of things. It raises far-reaching and unresolved problems, such as what is life and what is the universe? Over the past couple of decades, physicists, cosmologists, biologists and other scientists have discussed these foundational questions of science at a growing number of conferences and workshops, or expressed their opinions informally through websites such as www.edge.org or the Los Alamos electronic archive.

REFORMA [1.9.07]

El foro virtual Edge propone buscar razones, no simplemente deseos, para el optimismo. Edge es un club que reúne, segén ellos mismos, algunas de las mentes más interesantes del mundo. Su prop"sito es estimular discusiones en las fronteras del conocimiento. La intenci"n es llegar al borde del conocimiento mundial, acercándose a las mentes más complejas y refinadas, juntarlas en un foro y hacerlos que se pregunten las preguntas que ellos mismos se hacen. La fundaci"n actúa, de este modo, como surtidora de problemas y alojamiento de réplicas. Cada ano se constituye como Centro Mundial de Preguntas. ...

LE MONDE [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Quant à Howard Rheingold, dans une phrase qui fait penser à l’ambigüité de ses “Smart Mobs”, il fonde son optimisme sur le fait que “les outils de la production et de la distribution culturelle sont dans les poches de ceux qui ont 14 ans.” Sa confiance n’est pas aveugle mais il préfère les “digital natives” qui produisent, aux vieux qui se contentaient de recevoir l’information.

Mon optimisme à moi se situe à l’intersection des technologies de l’information et d’une nouvelle culture de la participation sociale qui est en train de s’inventer un peu partout dans le monde. A mesure qu’ils s’en servent un nombre croissant de personnes et d’organisations (souvent informelles et transitoires) de tous ordres se rendent compte du potentiel perturbateur des technologies de l’information. Ils commencent à s’en servir, à se les approprier et grignottent ainsi du terrain face aux pouvoirs traditionnels. Aucune promesse de paradis là-dedans mais, dans le meilleur des cas, l’identification – à temps – de nouveaux espaces d’affrontements que nous pouvons donc encore espérer configurer.

Et vous… Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?

The Guardian [1.7.07]

Welcome in the New Year with the Guardian's science team as they ask what we can be optimistic about in 2007. Thinkers such as the Darwinian philosopher Dan Dennett and psychologist Steven Pinker are looking forward respectively to the end of religion and war in 2007—or at least, the beginning of the end. Hear more predictions from web guru and editor of Edge magazine John Brockman.

LE MONDE [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Quant à Howard Rheingold, dans une phrase qui fait penser à l’ambigüité de ses “Smart Mobs”, il fonde son optimisme sur le fait que “les outils de la production et de la distribution culturelle sont dans les poches de ceux qui ont 14 ans.” Sa confiance n’est pas aveugle mais il préfère les “digital natives” qui produisent, aux vieux qui se contentaient de recevoir l’information.

Mon optimisme à moi se situe à l’intersection des technologies de l’information et d’une nouvelle culture de la participation sociale qui est en train de s’inventer un peu partout dans le monde. A mesure qu’ils s’en servent un nombre croissant de personnes et d’organisations (souvent informelles et transitoires) de tous ordres se rendent compte du potentiel perturbateur des technologies de l’information. Ils commencent à s’en servir, à se les approprier et grignottent ainsi du terrain face aux pouvoirs traditionnels. Aucune promesse de paradis là-dedans mais, dans le meilleur des cas, l’identification – à temps – de nouveaux espaces d’affrontements que nous pouvons donc encore espérer configurer.

Et vous… Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?

Jaron Lanier, Scientific american [1.7.07]

The affair called to mind a certain meme that I had mentally buried (in the Digg user's sense) but am now forced to revisit with a more open mind. In the November Discover, tech ponderer Jaron Lanier expressed his dismay over the increasing prevalence of "wisdom of crowds" approaches to aggregating information online. See especially Wikipedia and Digg as instances of this phenomenon, also called Web 2.0. Lanier must consider that term itself a masterpiece of framing; he sees a growing glorification of online wisdom-aggregation, and has dubbed the trend Digital Maoism. ...

Anyway, this sort of asymmetrical flamewar doesn't seem to be Lanier's main objection to Digital Maoism. A while back at the Edge.org, on which big brains convene to butt heads, Lanier's argument was abbreviated thusly:

The problem is [not Wikipedia itself but] in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.

BLOG: SCIAM OBSERVATIONS [1.7.07]

The affair called to mind a certain meme that I had mentally buried (in the Digg user's sense) but am now forced to revisit with a more open mind. In the November Discover, tech ponderer Jaron Lanier expressed his dismay over the increasing prevalence of "wisdom of crowds" approaches to aggregating information online. See especially Wikipedia and Digg as instances of this phenomenon, also called Web 2.0. Lanier must consider that term itself a masterpiece of framing; he sees a growing glorification of online wisdom-aggregation, and has dubbed the trend Digital Maoism. ...

Anyway, this sort of asymmetrical flamewar doesn't seem to be Lanier's main objection to Digital Maoism. A while back at the Edge.org, on which big brains convene to butt heads, Lanier's argument was abbreviated thusly:

The problem is [not Wikipedia itself but] in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.  ...

Le Monde [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

THE GUARDIAN [1.7.07]

Welcome in the New Year with the Guardian's science team as they ask what we can be optimistic about in 2007. Thinkers such as the Darwinian philosopher Dan Dennett and psychologist Steven Pinker are looking forward respectively to the end of religion and war in 2007 - or at least, the beginning of the end. Hear more predictions from web guru and editor of Edge magazine John Brockman.

The UK's new science minister has revived interest in potentially sending a British man or woman into space, something that has been off the political radar for a generation. Host Alok Jha asks space doctor and would-be astronaut Kevin Fong why now is the time for Britain to join the space race.

Madonna wants to "neutralise radiation" and Cherie Blair's lifestyle guru Carol Caplin advises "unclogging" the lymph system to avoid breast cancer. We talk to science author Simon Singh about the damage pseudo-scientific claims from celebrities can do.

And finally, regular podders Ian Sample and James Randerson welcome Simon Raynor from London Zoo to discuss whether animals can really be gay. And check out bonus New Year

Centre Daily [1.6.07]

...Into my season of gloom, a ray of hope arrived the other day via the Internet, benefit of the Web site called Edge.

As I understand it, Edge is an electronic gathering place for scientists, artists and other creative thinkers. Most of them are out traveling on the far reaches of the high-tech superhighway, sending us their postcards from a few years in the future. ...

Chris Anderson, who is the curator for an intellectual gathering called the TED Conference, makes a similar point. He says that the number of armed conflicts has declined worldwide by 40 percent in the past decade.

If the world seems ever more threatening, it is because we are wired to respond more strongly to threats than we are to good news. Besides, good news such as scientific discovery and economic progress is largely under-reported in the media, while disaster and doom are hugely over-reported.

I was cheered by the optimism of a science writer who thinks that we will soon have a technological breakthrough that will make solar energy dirt cheap long before the big energy crunch arrives. He's not sure which of the many bright ideas he has written about will be the one that works, but he has faith in the scientists who are pushing at the boundaries of the technology. ...

The Edge contributors fanned the flame of optimism in me in the season of darkness.

CENTREDAILY.COM [1.6.07]

...Into my season of gloom, a ray of hope arrived the other day via the Internet, benefit of the Web site called Edge. As I understand it, Edge is an electronic gathering place for scientists, artists and other creative thinkers. Most of them are out traveling on the far reaches of the high-tech superhighway, sending us their postcards from a few years in the future. ...

Chris Anderson, who is the curator for an intellectual gathering called the TED Conference, makes a similar point. He says that the number of armed conflicts has declined worldwide by 40 percent in the past decade.

If the world seems ever more threatening, it is because we are wired to respond more strongly to threats than we are to good news. Besides, good news such as scientific discovery and economic progress is largely under-reported in the media, while disaster and doom are hugely over-reported.

I was cheered by the optimism of a science writer who thinks that we will soon have a technological breakthrough that will make solar energy dirt cheap long before the big energy crunch arrives. He's not sure which of the many bright ideas he has written about will be the one that works, but he has faith in the scientists who are pushing at the boundaries of the technology. ...

The Edge contributors fanned the flame of optimism in me in the season of darkness.

Los Angels Times [1.6.07]

EVERY YEAR SINCE 1996, the online salon Edge has e-mailed a question to scientists and thinkers about the state of the world. This year's question was: "What are you optimistic about?" Below are excerpts of some of the responses. For full responses (and those of other contributors), go to http://www.edge.org .

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