BIG THINKERS ON WHAT THE ASH CLOUD MEANS

[ Mon. Apr. 26. 2010 ]

Caught up in Moscow because of the volcanic ash cloud last week, my biggest regret was missing the annual Edge dinner in London on 19 April. Well, just look at the sort of people that Edge Foundation president, literary agent and superconnector John Brockman manages to bring together.

Guests at last year's London dinner ranged from Alfonso Cuarón and Terry Gilliam to Brian Eno and Richard Dawkins. So you can see why it was painful for me to be 3,000km away while all the big ideas were being nurtured over the entrees at Zilli Fish.

But Brockman -- whose latest book This Will Change Everything (Harper Perennial) lies well thumbed on my desk -- is not a man to waste an intellectual opportunity. In town from New York for the "eerily deserted" London International Book Fair, Brockman became caught up in talk of stranded travelers and 20-hour road trips. "Something is going on here that requires serious thinking," he reflected. "We've had earthquakes before, and we've had plane stoppages, but nothing like the continuing effects of the ash cloud. Why?"

So he invited the Edge community of smart and original thinkers -- from behavioural economists to psychologists, physicists to software engineers -- to think about the ash cloud and the reaction to it, and tell him (in 250 words) something "that I don't already know and that I'm not going to read in the newspapers".

The thinkers came through. Edge received contributions from the likes of Haim Harari, Roger Schank, Charles Simonyi, Peter Schwartz, Stephen Schneider, Karl Sabbagh, Emanuel Derman, Mark Pagel, Joel Gold, George Dyson, Matthew Ritchie, Paul Romer, Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Greg Paul, Lawrence Krauss and Alexandra Zukerman. You can now read their conclusions -- an exercise that's worth your while. ...