Edge in the News

The Atlantic [1.9.06]

In one way I know of, the Internet has improved my personality. In the olden days, I would get annoyed (and show it) when I heard a song I knew but couldn’t remember who was singing, or when I channel surfed across an old movie and wondered who a familiar-looking character actor was (who is the creepy guy who tussles with Patrick Swayze on the subway in Ghost?). The question would lodge in my brain and make me cranky until the answer popped up hours or days later, or until I forgot about it. Now, if I’m at a computer, I can scratch the mental itch in seconds (answer: the late Vincent Schiavelli), and even while walking around I can query a search engine from my PDA.

Also see:"From the Tech Toolbox"(January/February 2005) The new Ask.com deserves a look. By James Fallows

In another way I’m all too aware of, the Internet has worsened my disposition, or at least my ability to behave like a grown-up. In principle, time away from a broadband connection should be precious time, because there are fewer distractions. In reality, it makes me nervous, because there’s not a new link to click on or a blog update to check (for other people, being out of e-mail range for even a minute is anxiety provoking). Nearly ten years ago, Linda Stone, then an executive with Microsoft, introduced the term continuous partial attention to describe this modern predicament—and that was before BlackBerries and WiFi. Now, the sign of a serious meeting is whether participants are forced to turn off their PDAs and laptop WiFi receivers.

No doubt technology is also changing our behavior in ways we ourselves may not be aware of but that are obvious to outsiders. For instance, I can guess from two blocks away that a driver is talking on a cell phone, and I’m rarely wrong. And everyone who checks e-mail on a handheld device thinks it can be done discreetly, but no one who is present when this happens is fooled. Certainly not my wife, who will scream the next time I glance at my BlackBerry while “listening” to her.

What I’m leading up to is a consideration less of these immediate personality changes than of the long-term interaction between human and machine intelligence—from the side of the equation that usually gets less attention. Since the first mammoth devices were assembled, during World War II, people have struggled to make computers “smarter,” and have speculated about how smart they might ultimately become. Fifty years ago, the British mathematician Alan Turing said that computers would be considered fully intelligent when they met this test: a person would submit statements in natural language—“Who’s going to win the next election?” “My husband seems distant these days—and wouldn’t be able to tell whether the responses came from another person or a machine. No computer has ever come close to passing this test. Recently, though, the inventor Raymond Kurzweil made a public bet with Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus, that a computer would pass the Turing test by 2029. Kurzweil’s essential argument (derived from his book The Singularity Is Near) was that as computers kept doubling in speed and power, and as programmers continually narrowed the gap between machine “intelligence” and human thought, soon almost anything would be possible. Kapor’s reply was that human beings differed so totally from machines—they were housed in bodies that felt pleasure and pain, they accumulated experience, they felt emotion, much of their knowledge was tacit rather than expressed—that computers would not pass the Turing test by 2029, if ever. (Their back-and-forth exchanges, with views from others, are available at www.kurzweilai.net.)

A recent variant of this argument concerns whether the Internet is already fostering an unanticipated and important form of artificial intelligence. The 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki of The New Yorker, is the clearest explanation of this development, variously known as “collective intelligence” or “the hive mind.” The logic here is almost identical to that of Adam Smith–style capitalism. Smith argued that millions of buyers and sellers, each pursuing his own interest, would together produce more goods, more efficiently, than any other arrangement could. The Internet has made possible a similar efficient marketplace for ideas, reputations, and information online. Millions of bloggers create links to other sites and thereby cast marketplace votes for the relevance and plausibility of those sites. Thousands of editors refine each other’s entries in Wikipedia (as described last month in these pages by Marshall Poe). Together, these and other suppliers of collective intelligence can create more knowledge, with less bias and over a wider span of disciplines, than any group of experts could.

Editorials/OpEd [1.8.06]

Forget for a moment the substance of the arguments in defense of Darwin, Intelligent Design and the Bible. These arguments will take care of themselves in real time, by the clock and according to the calendar. No one proves or disproves any of the theories about the origin of our planet.

But how we choose to conduct these debates, the knowledge we bring to the argument, is crucially important. Intellectual revolutions have a way of changing how we think. The way we frame the argument, the idols, gods or the God we celebrate, ultimately informs politics and dictates policy.

You could visit a provocative cyber salon known as The Edge (www.edge.org) to test yourself against the edgiest thinking on these subjects. John Brockman, who likes being described as a "cultural impresario," poses a question every year that would tempt an answer from Dr. Faustus. This year he asks contributors for "dangerous ideas." "The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious," he writes. "What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?"

http://www.edge.org/documents/press/lavanguardia_1.9.06.pdf [1.8.06]

What is a dangerous idea? One not assumed to be false, but possibly true?What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" These are the questions of the last two years that Edge Foundation asked of 120 free thinkers. The audacious and stimulating answers have been reproduced by in hundreds of newspapers such as The New York Times or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Among the hundreds of ideas are the demonstration of life in other planets, or that life has been a unique chance of existing; concerns over the fact that there are genetic differences relating to intelligence between ethnic groups and between the sexes; the inference that global warming is not so worrisome, the notion that there are alternatives to the free market.

Lavanguardia [1.8.06]

AUDACIOUS KNOWLEDGE 
What is a dangerous idea? One not assumed to be false, but possibly true?What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" These are the questions of the last two years that Edge Foundation asked of 120 free thinkers. The audacious and stimulating answers have been reproduced by in hundreds of newspapers such as The New York Times or Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Among the hundreds of ideas are the demonstration of life in other planets, or that life has been a unique chance of existing; concerns over the fact that there are genetic differences relating to intelligence between ethnic groups and between the sexes; the inference that global warming is not so worrisome, the notion that there are alternatives to the free market.

http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_index.html [1.7.06]

Der New Yorker Literatur-Agent John Brockman schafft es immer wieder zum Jahreswechsel, auf seiner Website einen "Think Tank" aus namhaften Wissenschaftlern und KŸnstlern zu versammeln. Viele Dutzend Persšnlichkeiten der unterschiedlichsten Fachrichtungen antworten ihm jeweils auf eine bestimmte Frage. Diesmal bat Brockman seine Adressaten um "gefŠhrliche Ideen", die schon bald vielleicht Šhnliche Verwerfungen bewirken kšnnten wie die Darwinsche Evolutionstheorie oder die Kopernikanische Revolution. Wir stellen kurze Auszuge, die Kernthesen, aus einigen Antworten vor.

The New York Times [1.7.06]

Edge.org canvassed scientists for their "most dangerous idea." David Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas, chose "The Evolution of Evil."

The dangerous idea is that all of us contain within our large brains adaptations whose functions are to commit despicable atrocities against our fellow humans — atrocities most would label evil.

The unfortunate fact is that killing has proved to be an effective solution to an array of adaptive problems in the ruthless evolutionary games of survival and reproductive competition: Preventing injury, rape, or death; protecting one's children; eliminating a crucial antagonist; acquiring a rival's resources; securing sexual access to a competitor's mate; preventing an interloper from appropriating one's own mate; and protecting vital resources needed for reproduction. ...

The danger comes from people who refuse to recognize that there are dark sides of human nature that cannot be wished away by attributing them to the modern ills of culture, poverty, pathology, or exposure to media violence.

READING FILE [1.7.06]

canvassed scientists for their "most dangerous idea." David Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas, chose "The Evolution of Evil."

The dangerous idea is that all of us contain within our large brains adaptations whose functions are to commit despicable atrocities against our fellow humans — atrocities most would label evil.

The unfortunate fact is that killing has proved to be an effective solution to an array of adaptive problems in the ruthless evolutionary games of survival and reproductive competition: Preventing injury, rape, or death; protecting one's children; eliminating a crucial antagonist; acquiring a rival's resources; securing sexual access to a competitor's mate; preventing an interloper from appropriating one's own mate; and protecting vital resources needed for reproduction. ...

The danger comes from people who refuse to recognize that there are dark sides of human nature that cannot be wished away by attributing them to the modern ills of culture, poverty, pathology, or exposure to media violence.

Dangerous Ideas About Modern Life
Sunday Express [1.7.06]

Free will does not exist. We are not always created equal. Science will never be able to address our deepest concerns. These are just three of some of the most controversial theories advanced by some of the world's leading thinkers in answer to the question: "What is your dangerous idea?"

The survey, conducted by the New York-based Website The Edge, produced 116 responses that were all the more striking for being put forward by experts in relevant fields.

Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel argues, for instance, that by observing someone's brain activity we know what they're going to do even before they do, which begs the question "Is one to be held responsible for decisions that are made without conscious awareness?" Free will, he says, is therefore an illusion.

Geneticist J. Craig Venter argues that "there are strong genetic components associated with most aspects of human existence", from intelligence to willpower, and that a growing awareness of these essential inequalities will lead to more social conflict.

So next time you fall off your cabbage soup diet or alcohol-free January plan, don't beat yourself up, just tell yourself you lack the willpower gene. ...

Read the full article →

Arts & Entertainment [1.7.06]

Each Christmas, the Manhattan literary agent John Brockman gives his pals a "riddle me this."

A year ago he brain-teased: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" And this time: "What is your dangerous idea?" Brockman's challenge is noteworthy because his buddies include many of the world's greatest scientists: Freeman Dyson, David Gelertner, J. Craig Venter, Jared Diamond, Brian Greene. Yet their ideas, delineated in brief and engaging essays, are not just for tech-heads. The 119 responses Brockman received to the most recent question -- posted at www.edge.org -- are dangerous precisely because they so often stray from the land of test tubes and chalkboards into the realms of morality, religion and philosophy.

Berliner Morgen Post [1.7.06]

Der New Yorker Literatur-Agent John Brockman schafft es immer wieder zum Jahreswechsel, auf seiner Website einen "Think Tank" aus namhaften Wissenschaftlern und KŸnstlern zu versammeln. Viele Dutzend Persšnlichkeiten der unterschiedlichsten Fachrichtungen antworten ihm jeweils auf eine bestimmte Frage. Diesmal bat Brockman seine Adressaten um "gefŠhrliche Ideen", die schon bald vielleicht Šhnliche Verwerfungen bewirken kšnnten wie die Darwinsche Evolutionstheorie oder die Kopernikanische Revolution. Wir stellen kurze Auszuge, die Kernthesen, aus einigen Antworten vor.

The News & Observer [1.7.06]

Each Christmas, the Manhattan literary agent John Brockman gives his pals a "riddle me this."

A year ago he brain-teased: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" And this time: "What is your dangerous idea?"

Brockman's challenge is noteworthy because his buddies include many of the world's greatest scientists: Freeman Dyson, David Gelertner, J. Craig Venter, Jared Diamond, Brian Greene. Yet their ideas, delineated in brief and engaging essays, are not just for tech-heads. The 119 responses Brockman received to the most recent question -- posted at www.edge.org -- are dangerous precisely because they so often stray from the land of test tubes and chalkboards into the realms of morality, religion and philosophy. ...

http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_index.html [1.7.06]

Free will does not exist. We are not always created equal. Science will never be able to address our deepest concerns. These are just three of some of the most controversial theories advanced by some of the world's leading thinkers in answer to the question: "What is your dangerous idea?"

The survey, conducted by the New York-based Website The Edge, produced 116 responses that were all the more striking for being put forward by experts in relevant fields.

Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel argues, for instance, that by observing someone's brain activity we know what they're going to do even before they do, which begs the question "Is one to be held responsible for decisions that are made without conscious awareness?" Free will, he says, is therefore an illusion.

Geneticist J. Craig Venter argues that "there are strong genetic components associated with most aspects of human existence", from intelligence to willpower, and that a growing awareness of these essential inequalities will lead to more social conflict.

So next time you fall off your cabbage soup diet or alcohol-free January plan, don't beat yourself up, just tell yourself you lack the willpower gene.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18925334.100 [1.6.06]

"The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal."

Genome sequencing pioneer Craig Venter suggests greater understanding of how genes influence characteristics such as personality, intelligence and athletic capability could lead to conflict in society (Edge.org magazine, 1 January)

NewScientist.com [1.6.06]

"The detox fad is an example of the capacity of people to believe in and pay for magic despite the lack of any sound evidence."

Martin Wiseman of the University of Southampton, UK, on a report debunking the myth that treatments and products such as "oxygenated water" can purify your body (The Daily Telegraph, London, 3 January)

"Given the hopelessness of being able to refloat the whales, our prime concern was to avoid them suffering a long and painful death."

Greg Napp of the New Zealand Department of Conservation defends the decision to shoot 41 whales stranded on Farewell Spit, the north-western tip of South Island (New Zealand Herald, Auckland, 1 January)

"The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal."

Genome sequencing pioneer Craig Venter suggests greater understanding of how genes influence characteristics such as personality, intelligence and athletic capability could lead to ...

Miriam Cosic [1.5.06]

He asked his roster of thinkers - V.S. Ramachandran, Paul Davies, Daniel Dennett, Jared Diamond, Daniel Goleman, Matt Ridley, Simon Baron-Cohen, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman, among the most famous - to nominate an idea, not necessarily their own, they consider dangerous not because it is false, but because it might be true.

Two ideas with enormous ramifications for the arts resonated though the tens of thousands of words of text.

The Australian [1.5.06]

He asked his roster of thinkers - V.S. Ramachandran, Paul Davies, Daniel Dennett, Jared Diamond, Daniel Goleman, Matt Ridley, Simon Baron-Cohen, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Martin Seligman, among the most famous - to nominate an idea, not necessarily their own, they consider dangerous not because it is false, but because it might be true.

Two ideas with enormous ramifications for the arts resonated though the tens of thousands of words of text. ...

http://www.lastampa.it/cmstp/rubriche/rubricahome.asp?ID_blog=53 [1.4.06]

Per quanto spaventevole e surreale possa apparire l'idea di ventiquattrore senza connessione alcuna, se non con i propri pensieri o con la mancanza dei suddetti, considerare la solitudine addirittura una minaccia per l'umanità così come la conosciamo sembrerebbe una provocazione. E infatti lo è. Sul filo del paradosso, così ha risposto il neurobiologo californiano Leo Chalupa alla domanda posta dalla rivista Edge: qual è, secondo lei, l'idea più pericolosa oggi in circolazione? Pericolosa non perché è falsa, ma perché potrebbe rivelarsi vera? Chalupa argomenta appunto che l'iper-informazione che ci bombarda è una forma di totalitarismo, serve a intasare l'attività neuronale, cioè a impedirci di pensare. E che un'intera giornata di solitudine sarebbe perciò eversiva: molti, pensando e ripensando, metterebbero in discussione la società in cui viviamo.

AVUI [1.4.06]

Laweb Edge.org penjarà l’1 de gener la pregunta de l’any. La del 2005 va ser resposta per 120ments de l’anomenada ‘tercera cultura’, que van reflexionar sobre l’enunciat “Què creus que és veritat tot i no
poder-ho demostrar?”. Amb l’any nou, coneixeremla nova pregunta i, sobretot, les noves respostes. 

Barcelona [1.4.06]

Laweb Edge.org penjarà l’1 de gener la pregunta de l’any. La del 2005 va ser resposta per 120ments de l’anomenada ‘tercera cultura’, que van reflexionar sobre l’enunciat “Què creus que és veritat tot i no
poder-ho demostrar?”. Amb l’any nou, coneixeremla nova pregunta i, sobretot, les noves respostes.

Sueddeutsche.de [1.4.06]

Who controls humans? God? The genes? Or nevertheless the computer? The on-line forum Edge asked its yearly question — and the answers raised more questions. 

Once a year self-styled head of the Third Culture movement and New York literary agent John Brockman asks his fellow thinkers and clients a question, who publishes their answers every New Year's Day in his online forum edge.org. Thus Mr. Brockman fulfills the promise that is the basic principle of Third Culture.

The sciences are asking mankind's relevant questions he says, while the humanities busy themselves with ideological skirmishes and semantic hairsplitting. It is about having last words, which have never been as embattled as in the current context of post-ideological debates and de-secularization. That's why this year's question 'What is your dangerous idea' seemed unusually loaded. Since it's inception in 1998 the forum had mainly dealt with the basic questions of science culture per se. But maybe that's why this year the debate has brought out the main concerns of Third Culture more direct than in the years before

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