Edge originated in 1980 as The Reality Club. Beginning in September 1990, Edge #1, the first of five printed editions, was privately published to a limited audience. This continued through Edge #5, which was published in April 1992. At that point we switched to an email format and, eventually, in 1997, to the web-based Edge of today.
I ran into Danny Hillis recently, who asked, "Do you remember the postcards I sent out to the Reality Club list in 1991 asking 'Where (or What) Is Today's Frontier?' You published the answers in Edge #3. Wouldn't it be interesting to ask the same question 27 years later?"
On further discussion, we both quickly realized that the postcard format would be a problem because (a) many people have forgotten how to write, and (b) does anybody today know how or where to buy a stamp?
So, here again, in its entirety, is a downloadable PDF of the 16-page Edge #3, with all kinds of interesting material...
• Stephen Jay Gould on eohippus, Kentucky Derby winners, human history, 18th-century castrati, Ted Williams, and Mozart;
• Howard Gardner on the problems he encounters while studying creativity;
• Howard "always ten years ahead of his time" Rheingold on THE WELL, the Internet, virtual reality, and filters;
• Danny Hillis's question "Where (or What) Is Today's Frontier?" with dozens of responses from the Edgies;
• "Deep Desert" on Southwestern ecology and bovine imperialism;
• Alan Guth, the father of inflationary theory, on "What's new in the universe"
And, of course, the Edgies' responses to Danny Hillis's question, including his own prescient and optimistic response:
"I finally realized that the frontier had been sitting in my office all along—on the other side of the computer screen. That's basically where the cowboys are today. First, fortunes are being made and lost; second, it's where new law is being made, and third, new territories are up for grabs for anyone with the courage and imagination to take them. I didn't think this way when the project started."
So, here we are 27 years later: Where (or what) is today's frontier?
"WHERE (OR WHAT) IS TODAY'S FRONTIER?" A creature of habit, I am back at Tapas in Cambridge having dinner with Mary Catherine Bateson, Sidney Coleman, Stephen Jay Gould, and Danny Hillis, an eclectically genial mix of anthropology, cosmology, zoology, and computer science, with a dash of radical epistemology (me). It's a casual meal, but Danny, looking earnest, has an agenda. "I'm looking for today's frontier," he says to me, leaning over the small platters of delicious tapas.
Danny Hillis, 34 years old, is a computer scientist and artificial intelligence researcher. He never carries a briefcase, or even papers. He sits at the table wearing his signature plain white t-shirt, not exactly the traditional outfit for a multi-millionaire mogul. Danny founded Thinking Machines Corporation (sales last year of $60 million), which sells the "Connection Machine," the first commercially produced computer using massive parallelism architecture (thousands of small processors working together in parallel—as opposed to the Cray supercomputer, which has one processor that processes everything very quickly). He's recently received a DARPA grant to begin work on a computer capable of reaching a trillion floating point operations per second—the "teraflop machine." It will be one thousand times faster than today's fastest supercomputer. The teraflop machine will be developed by the latter half of this decade. This race will, I believe, define the economic and scientific environment of the 90s and beyond.
Unlike many computer scientists, Danny's intellectual horizons exceed the binary discourse of bits and bytes. The part of dinner I enjoy the most is a back and forth between Danny and Steve Gould about computer science and evolutionary theory, i.e. applying massive parallelism to problems in punctuated equilibrium.
"You have the best mailing list," Danny says to me a few weeks later on the phone. He's ready to move ahead with the "frontier project," and asks for labels for the Reality Club mailing list. A week later I receive a postcard in the mail with the following query: "Where (or what) is today's frontier?"