What Will Change Everything?

Regular Radar contributor Linda Stone sent this in to be posted today.

What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see? The Internet, television, antibiotics, automobiles, electricity, nuclear power, space travel, and cloning – these inventions were born out of dreams, persistence, and imagination.
What game-changing ideas can we expect to see in OUR lifetimes?

edge 2009 question

As each year winds to a close, John Brockman, a literary agent representing some of the finest minds in science and technology and the founder of Edge (a 501c3), poses a provocative question to an international community of physicists, psychologists, futurists, thought leaders and dreamers. Brockman is a master convener, both online and in real life. This year’s annual Edge question, What will change everything?, generated responses from Freeman Dyson, Danny Hillis, Martin Seligman, Craig Venter, and Juan Enriquez, to name a few. Here are a few highlights.

Venter imagines creating life from synthetic materials and expects that our view of life, itself, will be transformed.

Nobel Laureate, Frank Wilczek, believes everything will continue to become smaller, faster, cooler, and cheaper — with its implications of an Internet on steroids and exciting new designer materials.

Several neuroscientists wrote about everything from direct communication of feelings and thoughts from brain to brain to electrical brain stimulation for the treatment of mood disorders to cheap cryonic suspension of brains, to ways to control brain plasticity.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Verena Huber-Dyson, see science evolving beyond analytical focus and including a sense of synthesis. Huber-Dyson envisions the end of fragmentation of knowledge.

George Dyson, science historian, author, kayak-designer and builder, looks toward the stars – or here on earth, suggesting, “the detection of extraterrestrial life, extraterrestrial intelligence or extraterrestrial technology will change everything.”

Discover Magazine editor in chief, Corey S. Powell, offers a list of possibilities from synthetic telepathy to genetically engineered kids.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”

Tap your greatness as we welcome 2009!

Enjoy reading responses to the Edge annual question and please comment on the question yourself: What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

  • such a dumb question!?
    They need to learn some mathematic, there is no set of everything http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_paradox
    then nothing can change something that does not exists

    BTW, I think, consuming less, forget about consumerism and get rid of capitalism will change so many things ( but not everything )

  • Todd

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

    1 – Home nuclear fusion devices, the same size as water heater, so efficient that that put power back up into the grid, effectively earning a small profit for the homeowner.

    2 – Gnome research cures 99% of the major debilitating diseases…for a price only 1% can afford.

    3 – Public works Quantum computing, ubiquitous as electricity, providing basically unlimited computational cycles for a few pennies per person. Dedicated hardware, proprietary operating systems become a distant, laughable, memory.

  • No one thing is ever the game changer – it always seems to be the emergent systems that grow from a number of smaller things. For the moment, I’m watching graphene applications, quantum-dot developments, efficiency bumps for photovoltaics, and advances in efficient lighting and display technology. What will come of it? Anyone who says they can see more than 5 years ahead is probably trying to sell you something – there’s no way to know until all the developments arrive and the demands of the moment are met by combining them in new and unpredictable ways.

  • Mark Smallwood

    Virtual currency and an online banking system that is more than just a window into bricks-and-mortar banks. Auction systems, micropayments, online banking (as it currently exists), PayPal, etc., all point to parts of the solution, but as yet, no cigar.

  • Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that while the C20th century would be truly frightening to a C10th person, the C30th might seem magical but not frightening to us. Bruce Sterling once wrote about life in 2050 where rapid technological change creates a sort of civilizational enui to change.
    SciFi writers are worrying about how to write near future novels where change doesn’t catch up to the story fairly quickly.

    It is hard to see how even great changes will change everything. Reading the responses on Edge, some suggestions seem merely prosaic. Some more profound, but none would change civilization so deeply that we might be totally surprised by the lives of those living after it.

  • Petteri Laine

    I was terryfied by the readers tone. Sounded like a machine.

  • I think Verena Dyson has a good idea: a new inter-disciplinarian, more holistic view of science and a rejection of the “just because we can, we should” imperative.

    Over the past few years a lot of the investment capital that tends to focus on science has been directed towards privatized space flight, commercialized genomics, the Endy vision of synthetic biology, and a bunch of similar “gee whiz” topics. One thing that emerged over that period of time is resistance – e.g., the law enforcement push-back on the genomics businesses. Another thing that emerged recently is a global crisis of capital – a time to re-examine priorities.

    The more precautionary, more enlightened view she advocates was never entirely lost in all of this. Rather, the capitalists were defining them selves in terms of it – as contrarians. They would argue, for example, that yes – careless, sloppy application of genetic analysis was chock full of potential for abuse and therefore (there argument goes) we should rush headlong into it. “We” (the presumptively reasonable people, for clearly our intentions are good) should get their first, we should spark dialog, etc. Such arguments found sympathy from the military-industrial complex as for example when the rush for commodity synthetic biology got quiet winks and nods for vague notions that it would increase domestic preparedness and increase opportunities for surveillance of practitioners.

    The point is, all of those “reasons to proceed” in those problematic areas were direct responses to a more holistic, more precautionary point of view. Even while people rejected that view they still felt compelled to respond to it. Now, with the economy a mess, and with early indications of how those efforts do not play out as envisioned, the more holistic, precautionary view might start to return to fashion.


  • I see the future of communication getting easier and easier with technology. It’s already jumped by leaps and bounds, in just a few years. With the explosion of social media, technology that enables you to integrate and organize more and more information into a website and more and more ability to work via mobile devices, I can’t even point to one specific thing. There’s just too much to even comphrehend!

  • I like the idea of Gnome research… those shiftless subhumanoids ought to be pulling their own weight.

    Discovery of alien life, even of intelligent alien life, would be huge, but not so huge… interstellar distances ensure that our interaction would be like corresponding with your great grandparents by multi-generationally-delayed postcards, at best.

    I expect the most fascinating developments in the next several decades will come in health/medical, e.g., tissue regeneration, cybernetic implants, and other genetic messing around. On the downside, genetic fiddling could facilitate creation of global plagues, targeting humans and agriculture.

  • Brian Hamlin

    The race to make “smaller, faster and cooler” stuff fuels the explosion of junk and waste.. Market winners make enough money to try again, with the next generation of production and distribution, and treble their outputs, over and over. Meanwhile global population climbs, making even bigger markets and even bigger market winners. No one force can stop this cycle and the vast majority of life forms are suffocated in waste and pollution. At the same time media experiences get more vivid and compelling. Eco activists are branded as “loonies” because the majority of people wont take more than a minute to look at the state of things in the natural world. A trend of bio-engineered “replacement” species takes hold, with associated funding, when the public does notice certain well-loved species gone.

  • A clear and concrete sign of Extraterrestrial Intelligence would be the single most important event in human history. Unluckyly it is not under our control.

    For, what has the potential to change everything in our lifespan is a dramatic increment of human life duration, to 150 or 200 years. The roots of our society model will be upset.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Al Gore predicted that global warming is going to get worse in 2009 and beyond.

  • Specific predictions, month by month, guaranteed somewhat accurate:

  • If I were a more prolific writer, I’d start in on a sci-fi noir novel about an assassin hired to discreetly execute annuity policy holders who’d been given generous terms, just before medical breakthroughs produced effective immortality…

  • Roma Bit

    My estimation is that the planet and it’s combined resources can only sustain a population of about 1 billion or so humans. As uncomfortable as it may be to admit, that means the other 5 billion people on earth are going to die. Period. One way or another.
    Technology has artificially expanded our population and lifespans, but eventually this will collapse.
    I have a friend who is convinced that this means we will develop “space real estate” and start moving people off the planet as soon as possible. I believe it is more likely that a geopolitical crisis will bring humanity to its knees far before we can escape and terraform some other planet for permanent habitation. A quick glance around the globe reveals resource scarcity wars playing out on every continent already, with the least-resourced countries and regions experiencing the most upheaval politically and socially. As resources diminish, the chaos and oppression of resource-constrained cultures will expand, and then it’s anybody’s guess what comes next.

  • Jim Bertsch

    There are a few things that I see. The nature of money and wealth. It has always been earn a dollar, save a dollar, spend a dollar. Recently we have learned how to borrow from the future to pay for what we want today.

    We still have the mentality that we have to pay it all back. But the future is open ended. Without getting into a deep philosophical argument you could say that it is infinite. If we can borrow from an infinite resource we can create infinite wealth. All we need is a financial structure that can retain its shape while growing bigger.

    The other mind blowing technology is virtual biological systems including human beings. Scientists are working to create computer based working models of proteins. Eventually they will be able to create complete proteins that exactly simulate their biological counterparts. Protein colonies, cells and eventually complete biological systems are natural extensions to this technology.

    Is a completely digital human being a human being? Does our society extend to these systems the same rights and privileges granted to us?
    What about education?

    virtual human beings always live in a virtual environment. In theory the virtual environment can be constructed in an instant. Virtual humans would no longer be constrained to the Earth and could travel at the speed of light.

  • Gary Duelll

    I think Eleanor Roosevelt had it backwards. Great minds (and hearts) will be focused on people, on life, not things.
    Greatest game-changer of all that will impact all our lives?: Remembering, understanding, directly perceiving and behaving as if we are all the same.