Will humans go extinct? Or will we instead evolve into divergent species? Can we stop killing each other? Perhaps old-fashioned wisdom will return and save the day.
These are just some of the compelling thoughts generated when the forward-thinking Edge Foundation recently asked scientists, authors, futurists, journalists and other offbeat thinkers the question: "What will change everything?" To refine the question, Edge further asked: "What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?"
Among the dozens of responses, from such diverse sources as Alan Alda (actor and now TV science personality) to Ian Wilmut (cloned Dolly the sheep), LiveScience picked out five, each notable for its ingenuity and ability to provoke thought.
Evolution of New Human Species
Juan Enriquez, CEO of Biotechonomy and founding director of Harvard Business School's Life Sciences Project and author of "The Untied States of America"
Be it by genetic or mechanical engineering, we humans are bound to change (if we don't simply go extinct), Enriquez figures. "99 percent of species, including all other hominids, have gone extinct. What is interesting today ... is that we are taking direct and deliberate control over the evolution of many, many species, including ourselves. ... As the branches of the tree of life, and of hominids, continue to grow and spread, many of our grandchildren will likely engineer themselves into what we would consider a new species, one with extraordinary capabilities, a homo evolutis."
Freeman Dyson, physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies
The futurist expects a burgeoning field of neurology to result in radiotelepathy, "the direct communication of feelings and thoughts from brain to brain. The ancient myth of telepathy, induced by occult and spooky action-at-a-distance, would be replaced by a prosaic kind of telepathy induced by physical tools." Dyson, at 85, expects his grandchildren, not himself, to witness this breakthrough.
The End of Harm
Karl Sabbagh, writer and television producer and author of "The Riemann Hypothesis"
Sabbagh speculates that there may be a discoverable pattern of brain nerve impulses that govern the aggressive behavior of rapists, murderers and anyone else who performs despicable acts of harm for pleasure of self-fullfilment. "If such a specific pattern of brain activity were detectable, could methods then be devised that prevented or disrupted it whenever it was about to arise?" Disabling such behaviors chemically or electronically would then create a world where crime would still be possible, "but robberies would be achieved with trickery rather than at the point of a pistol; gang members might attack each other with insults and taunts rather than razors or coshes; governments might play chess to decide on tricky border issues."
Rebirth of Wisdom
Roger C. Schank, psychologist and computer scientist at Engines for Education Inc. and author of "Making Minds Less Well Educated Than Our Own"
In the old days, wise elders shared wisdom through stories. The practice is largely lost because "the experts are not likely to be in the next cave over" and nowadays there is a lot more to have expertise about, Schank points out. But a new era is dawning, with the help of computers, that will lead to a day when "information will find you, and just in the nick of time. ... The computer has to know what you are trying to accomplish, not what words you just typed, and it needs to have an enormous archive of stories to tell you."
The End of Analytic Science
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist at Claremont Graduate University and author of "Flow"
Scientific research without consideration of consequences should end, Csikszentmihalyi thinks: "Western science has achieved wonders with its analytic focus, but it is now time to take synthesis seriously. We shall realize that science cannot be value-free after all. The Doomsday Clock ticking on the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists ever closer to midnight is just one reminder that knowledge ignorant of consequences is foolishness.
The entire list of responses is http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_index.html