Friday, January 2, 2009


Things are changing. That's no surprise; our universe is not a static place. Just in the course of my life, we've seen the creation of the commercial Internet, Space Shuttles, Mars rovers, the sequencing of the human genome, personal genomes on-demand, a vaccine that can prevent some forms of cancer, and much, much more. The future holds even greater promise.

Not only that, but people are living longer (that's one more thing science has done). I will likely live longer than my parents (though not by much). My son, though, his generation will likely live to be 120-150 years old, and they'll live most of their lives healthy, if groups like the Methuselah Foundation have anything to say about it.

So what changes might I see in my lifetime? What changes will you see in yours? What changes will my son see in his?

That's the question that the Edge's World Question Center wants to know: What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?

They asked that question of a sizeable number of eminent thinkers in a variety of fields and, naturally, they got a variety of answers. Interestingly, in addition to such luminaries as Gregory Benford, Robert Shapiro, Laurence Krauss, and Aubrey de Grey, they also have input from the likes of Alan Alda and Brian Eno.

Some of the posts are really insightful; some less so. But it got me wondering. What if more than one of their suggestions are correct? It's one thing to talk about advanced artificial general intelligences, or molecular-scale manufacturing, or synthetic biology. But what if we're talking about all of those things, at roughly the same time? It seems unlikely (barring the AI causing a Singularity and creating the other advances). But what kind of world might we live in if advanced AIs could create anything they wanted, including living organisms, at the molecular level?

There's a lot of promise, but also a lot of risk and questions. Read the answers on the Edge's site, but while you're doing so, keep in mind the risks of some of these predictions coming true. And, if it scares you a little bit, take a trip over to the Lifeboat Foundation website.

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