My article “Prediction as Faith, Prediction as a Tool: Peering into Tomorrow's World” appeared in Futures Research Quarterly, vol.22 no.2 (2006) - the flagship publication of the World Future Society. It has caused a bit of stir...
But nothing like the what impresario/agent John Brockman manages to foment every year or so, when he gathers fifty or so intellectual luminaries for one of those unique, eclectic, annual group-think sessions on his mental Brahmin site “Edge.” This year’s “big question” topic is all about something we’ve been discussing here. The perils of lethargy-inducing cynicism in an era that demands vigorous attention to problem-solving.
The Edge Annual Question: What are you optimistic about? Why?
Only, before you go wading, be warned that it’s a wide, capacious pool... and sometimes even deep. Of course, most of the ideas expressed are kind of ho-hum and even shallow, in a been-there sense. Still, with sparkling minds like Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, William Calvin and many others aboard, you are bound to come across some real nuggets of surprise, insight and wisdom.
Here’s one sample. Chris Anderson, one of the curators of the TED Conference, offered this refreshing reminder that humans are far better tuned to perceive bad news than good:
“The publication last year of a carefully researched Human Security Report received little attention. Despite the fact that it had concluded that the numbers of armed conflicts in the world had fallen 40% in little over a decade. And that the number of fatalities per conflict had also fallen. Think about that. The entire news agenda for a decade, received as endless tales of wars, massacres and bombings, actually missed the key point. Things are getting better.
“If you believe Robert Wright and his NonZero hypothesis, this is part of a very long-term and admittedly volatile trend in which cooperation eventually trumps conflict. Percentage of males estimated to have died in violence in hunter gatherer societies? Approximately 30%. Percentage of males who died in violence in the 20th century complete with two world wars and a couple of nukes? Approximately 1%. Trends for violent deaths so far in the 21st century? Falling. Sharply.
“In fact, most meta-level reporting of trends show a world that is getting better. We live longer, in cleaner environments, are healthier, and have access to goods and experiences that kings of old could never have dreamed of. If that doesn't make us happier, we really have no one to blame except ourselves. Oh, and the media lackeys who continue to feed us the litany of woes that we subconsciously crave.”
I’ll offer a few more riffs on optimism at the EDGE site, during some ensuing postings. But of course, that’s a poor substitute for having a look for yourself... and pondering whether Brockman’s site is achieving its true potential.
----OTHER ITEMS IN THE NEWS----
And this predictive hit: NASA scientists are developing a speech recognition system that can understand and relay words that haven't been said out loud.
The human body produces a natural painkiller several times more potent than morphine. When given to rats, the chemical, called opiorphin, was able to curb pain at much lower concentration than the powerful painkiller morphine.
If you enhance your workout with the new Nike+ iPod Sport Kit, you may be making yourself a surveillance target. A report from four University of Washington researchers reveals that security flaws in the new RFID-powered device from Nike and Apple make it easy for tech-savvy stalkers, thieves and corporations to track your movements. With just a few hundred dollars and a little know-how, someone could even plot your running routes on a Google map without your knowledge.
While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.
An ambitious teenager in Rochester Hills, Mich., is ranked as the 18th amateur to create nuclear fusion - combining atoms to create energy. 17-year-old Thiago Olson set up a machine in his parents' garage and has been working exhaustively for more than two years. His machine creates nuclear fusion on a small scale.
After decades of intensive effort by both experimental and theoretical physicists worldwide, a tiny particle with no charge, a very low mass and a lifetime much shorter than a nanosecond, dubbed the "axion," has now been detected by the University at Buffalo physicist who first suggested its existence in a little-read paper as early as 1974. This is amazing. The axion has been mythical for so long, this is truly tremendous news.
The axion has behttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifen seen as critical to the Standard Model of Physics and is believed to be a component of much of the dark matter in the universe. "These results show that we have detected axions, part of a family of particles that likely also includes the very heavy Higgs-Boson particle, which at present is being sought after at different laboratories,"
Boeing-Spectrolab has managed to create a solar cell with 40.7
percent sunlight-to-energy conversion efficiency.
Josh Duberman supplied this one.
"Businessman Joao Pedro Wettlauser was in Cologne, Germany, on Sunday when he received an alert on his phone informing him that someone had entered his vacation house in Guaruja, 54 miles south of Sao Paulo, police said.He quickly turned on his laptop and, thanks to security cameras connected to the Internet, was able to see a tattooed man stuffing goods into trash bags…"
Which is, of course, our future, when the cost of global bandwidth drops low enough, and the value of what's to be protected is high enough, to make it cost effective to engage eyes anywhere. In this case it was pretty simple, with a traditional alarm piping its alert over the phone network; he could have just had the alarm call in the police, though having one's own eyes on the situation avoids paying for false alarms, etc. But imagine when cheap bandwidth means that anyone with some spare time can be drafted into a "hey, watch my stuff, 'k?" network. Some Kalihari bushman's day job will be checking in on Beemers in parking garages in Manhattan.
Alas, the only thing missing was “as forecast long ago by...”
That’s it for now. These things have been accumulating so I have a large store of them... plus a sure-to-be controversial posting, soon, about the biggest danger to the incoming U.S. Congressional majority... anon...