Every year John Brockman of Edge.org poses a question to a diverse group of thinkers and publishes their responses. This year’s question relates to the fact that some technologies or discoveries have changed our lives drastically in the past, and asks people to think about what big development they expect to see in their lifetime that will have the capacity to “change everything.” If you browse through the answers, some themes emerge: changes in our understanding of or ability to manipulate the brain, accelerated or controlled human evolution, climate or energy concerns, discovering life outside of Earth, longevity, the use of nuclear weapons.
As always, no matter how many of the answers I read, I feel like I’ve just barely dipped my toes in. However, here are a few that I found particularly interesting.
- Three people wrote about enhanced communication abilities, including direct mind-to-mind communication: Kenneth W. Ford, Freeman Dyson, and Barry Smith. There are times I wonder if anyone ever truly communicates effectively with, or understands, another person; Dyson’s speculations about direct transmission of content from one brain to another open up new aspects of that question.
- I noticed several pessimistic answers: Alan Alda, who sees human nature as likely irredeemably flawed, and Gerald Holton and Lawrence Krauss, who write about the use of a nuclear weapon. Anton Zellinger takes the nuclear scenario a step further by predicting a breakdown of all computers over a wide area of the Earth’s surface due to a nuclear explosion outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Patrick Bateson gives his essay an optimistic title (“Adopting rationality and sustainability”) but concludes that human nature may foil the endeavor.
- Jonathan Haidt predicts the discovery of many genetically based ethnic differences, and considers the possible social impacts of these discoveries.
- Joel Garreau speculates on whether we’re on the verge of a global explosion of new religions.
- W. Daniel Hillis wonders about the next developments in the emergence of a global mind.
Well, you get the idea. It’s a cornucopia to sample from all year long. Meanwhile, I have gainful employment that requires my attention. Happy new year, everyone!