Today's Visions of the Science of Tomorrow

[ Fri. Jan. 3. 2003 ]

At the end of every year, John Brockman, a literary agent and the publisher of Edge.org, a Web site devoted to science, poses a question to leading scientists, writers and futurists. In 2002, he asked respondents to imagine that they had been nominated as White House science adviser and that President Bush had sought their answer to ''What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?'' Here are excerpts of some of the responses.

Mapping the Planet

Over the last decade, the human genome project has laid the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of human biology. The translation of the new understanding into cures for human diseases will be a slow and difficult process.

Meanwhile, a new century has begun. It is time to begin a bold new initiative in biology: a planetary genome sequencing project to identify all the segments of the genomes of all the millions of species that live together on the planet.

This would require, first, the aggressive development of new technology for deciphering genes, comparable to the development of computer technology during the last half century, so that the cost of sequencing genes can continue to fall as rapidly as the cost of computing.

The goal would be to complete the sequencing of the biosphere within less than half a century, at a cost comparable with the cost of the human genome. This project would bring an enormous increase in understanding of the ecology of the planet, which could then be translated into practical measures to sustain and improve the environment while allowing continued rapid economic development. It could also lead to the stabilization of the atmosphere and the climate. Let this century be the century of cures for planetary as well as human diseases.

-- Freeman Dyson, retired professor of physics, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, N.J.

Professor PlayStation

While American schools are notoriously underserving their students, American children are rushing home from class to learn how to succeed in the alternative universes of video games. They spend dozens of hours every week exploring virtual worlds, each with its own set of rules. Barring a complete overhaul of our schools, makers of game systems like Nintendo and PlayStation will continue to be the most successful institutions when it comes to captivating young minds.

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