Edge in the News

List of greatest inventions reflects a wondrous world
Costco Connection [6.30.99]

Recently, the author and literary agent John Brockman posed the question, "What is the most important invention in the past 2000 years?" He received thoughtful and often surprising answers from more than 100 leading thinkers, a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world.

Some people nominated inventions that were influential in bringing the world to where it is today, such as the printing press, calculus, the invention of the scientific method and effective contraception. Other interesting suggestions included anesthesia, plumbing and sewers, reading glasses, batteries, the concept of education, self-governance, and the notion that mathematics could be used to represent things.

Christopher Langton, a computer scientist, proposed the telescope, which "opened the doors to the flood of data that would resolve what were previously largely philosophical disputes."

James J. O'Donnell, professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, proposed modem health care — from antibiotics to medical techniques to the soap that doctors use to wash their hands.

Review your own life and imagine what it would have been like without late-20th-century heath care," he wrote. "Would you still be alive today? An astonishingly large number of people get serious looks on their faces and admit they wouldn't."

Douglas Rushkoff, a writer and teacher, proposed "the eraser. As well as the delete key, white-out, the Constitutional amendment, and all the other tools that let us go back and fix our mistakes."

Tor Norretranders, a Danish science writer, nominated the mirror, which became commonplace during the Renaissance. "Only with the installation of mirrors in everyday life did viewing oneself from the outside become a daily habit," he wrote. "This coincided with the advent of manners for eating, clothing and behavior. This made possible the modern version of self-consciousness: viewing oneself through the eyes of others, rather than just from the inside or though the eyes of God."

Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, proposed classical music. "Most inventions -- from nuclear energy to antibiotics -- can be used for good or ill," he wrote. "Classical music has probably given more pleasure to more individuals, with less negative fallout, than any other human artifact."

Other people nominated inventions for the promise they hold for the future. The computer, the Internet and biotechnology were leading candidates.

"The Internet will dissolve away nations as we know them today," wrote Clifford Pickover, an IBM researcher. "Humanity becomes a single hive mind, with a group intelligence, as geography becomes putty in the hands of the Internet sculptor."

Lawrence Krauss, who chairs the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, wrote: "While the printing press certainly revolutionized the world in its time, computers will govern everything we do in the next 20 centuries . . . The only other invention that may come close is perhaps DNA sequencing, since it will undoubtedly lead to a new understanding and control of genetics and biology in a way which will alter what we mean by life."

"Ultimately," added Robert Shapiro, professor of chemistry at New York University, "we may elect to rewrite our genetic code text, changing ourselves and the way in which we experience the universe."

Other nominations reflect seemingly simple things of life. Freeman Dyson, a professor of physics at Princeton, said hay was the most important invention. "In the classical world of Greece and Rome and in all earlier times, there was no hay," he explained. "Civilization could exist only in warm climates where horses could stay alive through the winter by grazing. Without grass in winter you could not have horses, and without horses you could not have urban civilization. Some time during the so-called dark ages, some unknown genius invented hay, forests were turned into meadows, hay was reaped and stored, and civilization moved north over the Alps. So hay gave birth to Vienna and Paris and London and Berlin, and later to Moscow and New York."

And Jeremy Cherfas, a biologist and BBC Radio Four broadcaster, nominated the basket: "Without something to gather into, you cannot have a gathering society of any complexity, no home and hearth, no division of labour, no humanity."

The entire list of nominated inventions is on the Internet atwww.edge.org/documents/Invention.html. Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is.

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CRAC: Creative Room for Art and Computing [5.31.99]

Edge is the electronic iteration of the Reality Club which started in 1980, which in a sense formalized what I did at these dinners. It celebrates thinking smart versus the anesthesiology of wisdom.

New Media [4.30.99]

"Most of the people who are doing things on the Internet are interested in something called "everybody." They want to create some kind of monopolistic situation where you turn on your computer and type in your name, and it becomes their property. That's the antithesis of what the Internet provides in the way of possibilities."

Scientific American [2.28.99]

[FROM THE EDITORS]: "The editor and literary agent John Brockman recently challenged the salon of scientists that he hosts on his EDGE Web site by asking, "What is the most important invention in the past two thousand years?" Luckily, my job buys me admission to that on-line gathering and the chance to kibitz with the professionals." .....
— John Rennie, EDITOR IN CHIEF

Upside.com [2.23.99]

Monterey, Calif.'s delectable Cibo Ristorante Italiano was packed like sardines for John Brockman's annual Billionaires' Dinner at the Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Conference last week. Of course, there aren't enough billionaires on the entire planet to fill up the spacious dinning room at Cibo, but Upside Today counted six of them, and for every billionaire there was a gaggle of famous artists, writers, technologists, entrepreneurs and the like.

What Is The Greatest Invention? The Argument Goes On....
Asahi Shimbun [2.2.99]

Edge hits the front page of Japan's leading newspaper

"What is the greatest invention (innovation) man has ever made? Democracy? Mozart? A U.S. writer posed a question — "What is the most important invention/innovation made in the last 2,000 years?", and more than a hundred renowned US and European natural scientists, including Novel prize winners, started an argument on the Internet. Their responses included "reading glasses for the elderly", or "the eraser". And the arguments continue."

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Silicon Alley Reporter [1.31.99]

#32 Edge Foundation: Literary agent and author John Brockman is the ubernetworker: His meetings and e-mail list feature some of the biggest names in the industry. Bottom Line: Brockman is at the Center of Multiple Revolution. Predictions: More Super Salons, Online and Off, as well as Blocbuster Book Deals

New York Times Column [1.26.99]

Recently, the author and literary agent John Brockman posed the question, "What is the most important invention in the past 2000 years?" He received thoughtful and often surprising answers from more than 100 leading thinkers, a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world.....The entire list of nominated inventions is posted on the Internet at www.edge.org. Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is.

Newsweek [1.10.99]

Was the light bulb more important than the pill? An online gathering of scientists nominates the most important inventions of the past 2,000 years. Some of their choices might surprise you. Related Audio - By David Alpern 

Die Zeit [1.6.99]

Could one inspire German scientists for such a brainstorming? Hardly. In German it is already difficult to find a good translation for this neural activity, leading to fantasy an fun. Brainstorming: "procedure to find the best solution of a problem by collecting spontaneous incidents (of the coworkers)", torments itself the Duden, the leading German dictionary. You can imagine the result.

Admitted, the "Hirngestuerm" (literally for brainstorming) does not supply necessarily serious results. But it provides a lot of fun - for English and American scientists often reason enough to take part in it. This applies also to the debates, which are taking place in the Internet-salon of literary agent John Brockman. On his web page Edge, the representatives of the so called "third culture" meet: Mostly scientists (and few philosophers), who are not only concerned with providing pure facts, but also search for deeper insight and the meaning of it all. For John Brockman, who is selling the rights for their popular scientific books, these researchers reveal already the " deeper meaning of our life", by redefining ", who and which we are ".

Wired News [1.6.99]

One of the Net's most prestigious, invitation-only free-trade zones for the exchange of potent ideas is opening its doors. A little. .....Starting Thursday, two or three selected dialogs a month at Edge -- founded in 1996 by author and literary agent John Brockman -- will be open for public reading and discussion in a special area on Feed.

Die Zeit [1.6.99]

Could one inspire German scientists for such a brainstorming? Hardly. In German it is already difficult to find a good translation for this neural activity, leading to fantasy an fun. Brainstorming: "procedure to find the best solution of a problem by collecting spontaneous incidents (of the coworkers)", torments itself the Duden, the leading German dictionary. You can imagine the result.

Admitted, the "Hirngestuerm" (literally for brainstorming) does not supply necessarily serious results. But it provides a lot of fun - for English and American scientists often reason enough to take part in it. This applies also to the debates, which are taking place in the Internet-salon of literary agent John Brockman. On his web page Edge, the representatives of the so called "third culture" meet: Mostly scientists (and few philosophers), who are not only concerned with providing pure facts, but also search for deeper insight and the meaning of it all. For John Brockman, who is selling the rights for their popular scientific books, these researchers reveal already the " deeper meaning of our life", by redefining ", who and which we are ".

ABCNEWS.COM [1.6.99]

That question was presented on Thanksgiving Day to Nobel laureates and other heavy thinkers by New York author and literary agent John Brockman. Brockman, who presides over an eclectic gathering of scientists and science buffs, started publishing the answers this week on the group's Web site. More than 100 participants have taken the bait so far, and their answers are as varied, and in some cases as strange, as the participants themselves.....This is not a group that accepts limitations gladly. Some fudged on the dates. Some eschewed the notion of an invention as some sort of gadget, opting instead for such things as the development of the scientific method, mathematics or some religions.

Wired News [1.6.99]

One of the Net's most prestigious, invitation-only free-trade zones for the exchange of potent ideas is opening its doors. A little. .....Starting Thursday, two or three selected dialogs a month at Edge -- founded in 1996 by author and literary agent John Brockman -- will be open for public reading and discussion in a special area on Feed. 

ABCNEWS.COM [1.6.99]

That question was presented on Thanksgiving Day to Nobel laureates and other heavy thinkers by New York author and literary agent John Brockman. Brockman, who presides over an eclectic gathering of scientists and science buffs, started publishing the answers this week on the group's Web site. More than 100 participants have taken the bait so far, and their answers are as varied, and in some cases as strange, as the participants themselves.....This is not a group that accepts limitations gladly. Some fudged on the dates. Some eschewed the notion of an invention as some sort of gadget, opting instead for such things as the development of the scientific method, mathematics or some religions.

Salon [1.4.99]

Here's a millennial question: What was the most important invention of the past 2,000 years? John Brockman, über-agent for science and technology authors, posed the question to his online community of scientists and scholars and posted the provocative and cantankerous list of responses on his EDGEWeb site.

Some nominations were obvious: the printing press, the contraceptive pill, the atomic bomb and the computer all received multiple votes. Suggestions ranged from the concrete (the battery, the steam engine, hay) to the abstract (calculus, quantum theory, evolution, double-entry accounting); from the world-historical (religion, the city, democracy) to the quirkily mundane (the eraser, reading glasses, plumbing); and from the physiological (anesthesia, DNA sequencing, aspirin) to the philosophical (the scientific method, "the idea of an idea").

The list makes for an enjoyable read -- if you can get over the participants' utter inability to remain within the question's 2000-year bounds. Suggesting that the most important invention of this era is the spirit of rebellion against arbitrary rules.

FEED [1.4.99]

This special feature marks the first collaboration between FEED and Edge, John Brockman's invitation-only Internet forum, where hundreds of the world's leading scientists and thinkers share their thoughts on issues ranging from the meaning of numbers to genetics to affirmative action. We'll be excerpting two or three articles a month from Edge, and creating special Loop discussions where our readers can add their own observations to Edge's challenging and adventuresome debate. Our first installment is a series of answers to the question, "What was the most important invention of the past two thousand years?" The contributors include Freeman Dyson, Richard Dawkins, and Joseph Traub. Readers can visit the Edge site for even more nominations, and can post their own suggestions in the Loop.

The Wall Street Journal [1.3.99]

John Brockman is the premier literary agent of the digerati, so when he asked 1,000 scientists and other techno-thinkers to suggest the most important invention of the past 2,000 years, the responses sounded a lot like proposals for yet another millennial book.

Dave Winer, DaveNet [1.3.99]

Congratulations to John Brockman and the people at edge.org. This is an incredible source of new thoughts. I highly recommend it to DaveNet readers.....Sites like www.edge.org show what can be done when there's moderation and thoughtfulness and a little bit of editing. We can learn from each other. The world is not filled with bullshit. There are interesting new ideas, and new perspectives on old ideas

World News Tonight
ABC-TV News [1.3.99]

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