At The Edge Dinner 2015 in Vancouver
Dinner Photo Album Below
A new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder. The new Age of Wonder might bring together wealthy entrepreneurs ... and a worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders, working together to make the planet beautiful as well as fertile, hospitable to hummingbirds as well as to humans. —Freeman Dyson
In his 2009 talk at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, Freeman Dyson pointed out that we are entering a new Age of Wonder, which is dominated by computational biology. In articulating his vision for the future he noted that Edge is the nexus of this intellectual activity. Edge, through its Master Classes, Seminars, Edge Annual Question, Dinners, gathers together the third culture intellectuals and technology pioneers of the post-industrial, digital age.
This "worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders" referred to by Dyson as the leaders of the "Age of Wonder" has been getting together for an annual dinner since 1985, when, following the launch of the IBM personal computer, it convened a dinner in Las Vegas during the Comdex convention. The dinner in the ensuing years has had many names—"The Billionaires' Dinner"(1999), "The Edge Science Dinner" (2003), "The Edge London Dinner" (2006), "The Age of Wonder Dinner"(2010), "The Edge Dinner" (2012)—and has been held in many different kinds of locales: A Chinese restaurant in North Beach, the boardroom of the investment banking firm of Allen & Co. in New York, The Ritz in Paris, the boardroom of Rockefeller University; Zilly Fish in London, Cibo's in Monterey; Spago in Beverly Hills, Blue Water Cafe in Vancouver; a Vietnamese restaurant in Rome, Ristorante Del Cambio in Turin.
Once you really solve a problem like direct brain-computer interface ... when brains and computers can interact directly, that's it, that's the end of history, that's the end of biology as we know it. Nobody has a clue what will happen once you solve this. If life can break out of the organic realm into the vastness of the inorganic realm, you cannot even begin to imagine what the consequences will be, because your imagination at present is organic. So if there is a point of Singularity, by definition, we have no way of even starting to imagine what's happening beyond that.
YUVAL NOAH HARARI, Lecturer, Department of History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari's Edge Bio Page
DANIEL KAHNEMAN is the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2013. He is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Princeton, and author of Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman's Edge Bio Page
Death Is Optional
DANIEL KAHNEMAN: Before asking you what are the questions you are asking yourself, I want to say that I've now read your book Sapiens twice and in that book you do something that I found pretty extraordinary. You cover the history of mankind. It seems to be like an invitation for people to dismiss it as superficial, so I read it, and I read it again, because in fact, I found so many ideas that were enriching. I want to talk about just one or two of them as examples.
Your chapter on science is one of my favorites and so is the title of that chapter, "The Discovery of Ignorance". It presents the idea that science began when people discovered that there was ignorance, and that they could do something about it, that this was really the beginning of science. I love that phrase.
And in fact, I loved that phrase so much that I went and looked it up. Because I thought, where did he get it? My search of the phrase showed that all the references were to you. And there are many other things like that in the book.
How did you transition from that book to what you're doing now?
YUVAL NOAH HARARI: It came naturally. My big question at present is what is the human agenda for the 21st century. And this is a direct continuation from covering the history of humankind, from the appearance of Homo Sapiens until today, so when you finish that, immediately, you think, okay, what next? I'm not trying to predict the future, which is impossible, now more than ever. Nobody has a clue how the world will look like in, say, 40, 50 years. We may know some of the basic variables but, if you really understand what's going on in the world, you know that it's impossible to have any good prediction for the coming decades. This is the first time in history that we're in this situation.
I'm trying to do something that is the opposite of predicting the future. I'm trying to identify what are the possibilities, what is the horizon of possibilities that we are facing? And what will happen from among these possibilities? We still have a lot of choice in this regard.
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...Today, you can send a design to a fab lab and you need ten different machines to turn the data into something. Twenty years from now, all of that will be in one machine that fits in your pocket. This is the sense in which it doesn't matter. You can do it today. How it works today isn't how it's going to work in the future but you don't need to wait twenty years for it. Anybody can make almost anything almost anywhere.
...Finally, when I could own all these machines I got that the Renaissance was when the liberal arts emerged—liberal for liberation, humanism, the trivium and the quadrivium—and those were a path to liberation, they were the means of expression. That's the moment when art diverged from artisans. And there were the illiberal arts that were for commercial gain. ... We've been living with this notion that making stuff is an illiberal art for commercial gain and it's not part of means of expression. But, in fact, today, 3D printing, micromachining, and microcontroller programming are as expressive as painting paintings or writing sonnets but they're not means of expression from the Renaissance. We can finally fix that boundary between art and artisans.
...I'm happy to take claim for saying computer science is one of the worst things to happen to computers or to science because, unlike physics, it has arbitrarily segregated the notion that computing happens in an alien world.
NEIL GERSHENFELD is a Physicist and the Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. He is the author of FAB. Neil Gershenfeld's Edge Bio Page
What interests me is how bits and atoms relate—the boundary between digital and physical. Scientifically, it's the most exciting thing I know. It has all sorts of implications that are widely covered almost exactly backwards. Playing it out, what I thought was hard technically is proving to be pretty easy. What I didn't think was hard was the implications for the world, so a bigger piece of what I do now is that. Let's start with digital.
Digital is everywhere; digital is everything. There's a lot of hubbub about what's the next MIT, what's the next Silicon Valley, and those were all the last war. Technology is leading to very different answers. To explain that, let's go back to the science underneath it and then look at what it leads to.
"Another year, and some of the most important thinkers and scientists of the world have accepted the intellectual challenge." —El Mundo, 2015
"Deliciously creative, the variety astonishes. Intellectual skyrockets of stunning brilliance. Nobody in the world is doing what Edge is doing...the greatest virtual research university in the world. —Denis Dutton, Founding Editor, Arts & Letters Daily
Dedicated to the memory of Frank Schirrmacher (1959-2014).
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?
But wait! Should we also ask what machines that think, or, "AIs", might be thinking about? Do they want, do they expect civil rights? Do they have feelings? What kind of government (for us) would an AI choose? What kind of society would they want to structure for themselves? Or is "their" society "our" society? Will we, and the AIs, include each other within our respective circles of empathy?
Numerous Edgies have been at the forefront of the science behind the various flavors of AI, either in their research or writings. AI was front and center in conversations between charter members Pamela McCorduck (Machines Who Think) and Isaac Asimov (Machines That Think) at our initial meetings in 1980. And the conversation has continued unabated, as is evident in the recent Edge feature "The Myth of AI", a conversation with Jaron Lanier, that evoked rich and provocative commentaries.
Is AI becoming increasingly real? Are we now in a new era of the "AIs"? To consider this issue, it's time to grow up. Enough already with the science fiction and the movies, Star Maker, Blade Runner, 2001, Her, The Matrix, "The Borg". Also, 80 years after Turing's invention of his Universal Machine, it's time to honor Turing, and other AI pioneers, by giving them a well-deserved rest. We know the history. (See George Dyson's 2004 Edge feature "Turing's Cathedral".) So, once again, this time with rigor, the Edge Question—2015:
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK?
Publisher & Editor, Edge