The Edge Annual Question: What will change everything?
December 31st, 2008

Every year, John Brockman asks an interesting group of people to answer one question. This year, he asked about what we thought would be game-changing knowledge.

ANNOUNCING THE EDGE ANNUAL QUESTION – 2009

New tools equal new perceptions.

Through science we create technology and in using our new tools we recreate ourselves. But until very recently in our history, no democratic populace, no legislative body, ever indicated by choice, by vote, how this process should play out.

Nobody ever voted for printing. Nobody ever voted for electricity. Nobody ever voted for radio, the telephone, the automobile, the airplane, television. Nobody ever voted for penicillin, antibiotics, the pill. Nobody ever voted for space travel, massively parallel computing, nuclear power, the personal computer, the Internet, email, cell phones, the Web, Google, cloning, sequencing the entire human genome. We are moving towards the redefinition of life, to the edge of creating life itself. While science may or may not be the only news, it is the news that stays news.

And our politicians, our governments? Always years behind, the best they can do is play catch up.

Nobel laureate James Watson, who discovered the DNA double helix, and genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter, recently were awarded Double Helix Awards from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for being the founding fathers of human genome sequencing. They are the first two human beings to have their complete genetic information decoded.

Watson noted during his acceptance speech that he doesn’t want government involved in decisions concerning how people choose to handle information about their personal genomes.

Venter is on the brink of creating the first artificial life form on Earth. He has already announced transplanting the information from one genome into another. In other words, your dog becomes your cat. He has privately alluded to important scientific progress in his lab, the result of which, if and when realized, will change everything.

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THE EDGE ANNUAL QUESTION – 2009

WHAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING?

“What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?”

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More than 150 essays in response to this year’s question have been published on the EDGE website at the following URL:

http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_index.html

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And here is an excerpt of my answer: Social Media Literacy

Social media literacy is going to change many games in unforeseeable ways. Since the advent of the telegraph, the infrastructure for global, ubiquitous, broadband communication media have been laid down, and of course the great power of the Internet is the democracy of access—in a couple of decades, the number of users has grown from a thousand to a billion. But the next important breakthroughs won’t be in hardware or software but in know-how, just the most important after-effects of the printing press were not in improved printing technologies but in widespread literacy. The Gutenberg press itself was not enough. Mechanical printing had been invented in Korea and China centuries before the European invention. For a number of reasons, a market for print and the knowledge of how to use the alphabetic code for transmitting knowledge across time and space broke out of the scribal elite that had controlled it for millennia. From around 20,000 books written by hand in Gutenberg’s lifetime, the number of books grew to tens of millions within decades of the invention of moveable type. And the rapidly expanding literate population in Europe began to create science, democracy, and the foundations of the industrial revolution. Today, we´re seeing the beginnings of scientific, medical, political, and social revolutions, from the instant epidemiology that broke out online when SARS became known to the world, to the use of social media by political campaigns. But we´re only in the earliest years of social media literacy. Whether universal access to many-to-many media will lead to explosive scientific and social change depends more on know-how now than physical infrastructure….(more at Edge.org)


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