New Books by Edgies
April 18th, 2017, 01:11 PM


Urban Evolution
March 23rd, 2017, 01:11 PM
How Species Adapt, or Don't, to City Living

We realize evolution can occur very rapidly. Yet, despite this realization, very few people have taken the next logical step to consider what's happening around us, where we live. Think about the animals that live just around you. Look out your window in your backyard. . . . All the animals living around us are facing new environments, coping with new food, new structures, new places to hide, and in many cases new temperatures. These are radically different environments. If, as we now believe, natural selection causes populations to adapt to new conditions, why shouldn't it be happening to those species living around us in the very new conditions?
JONATHAN B. LOSOS is the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and Curator in Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He is the author of Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of EvolutionJonathan B. Losos's Edge Bio Page
Master of Ceremonies in the Cyber Salon
March 13th, 2017, 01:11 PM

Master of Ceremonies in the Cyber Salon 
By Andrea Köhler 11.3.2017

For more than half a century John Brockman has been inspiring artists and scientists to ask innovative questions. His website Edge.org has established itself as a forum for forward-looking ideas. 

What is a "cultural impresario"? The expression is frequently used to describe John Brockman, as is the curious term "intellectual enzyme." The latter was created by a friend of Brockman—probably to signify that he is not quite what he seems to be: a shrewd book agent, feared by publishers for his capacity to negotiate amazingly profitable contracts for his clients. After all, he got acquainted with the trade in the banking sector.
What makes Brockman a "major player" in cultural matters is not, of course, his involvement in the book business—although his bright, minimalist-style offices with a view of the Empire State Building prove without a doubt that his agency gives him financial leeway. He uses it to pursue his passion, the "third culture"; but more on that later.
In Warhol's "Factory"
To understand the term “intellectual enzyme” correctly, one has to go back a couple of decades, to the time when 23-year-old John Brockman pursued his financial business during the day and at night dived into the fermenting New York art scene of the Sixties. Together with Sam Shepard and Charlie Mingus Jr. the banker stacked chairs at the legendary Theatre Genesis at St. Marks in the Bowery. Then he met with Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg or Dalí at the "Cedar Tavern," and ended up in Andy Warhol's Factory. "It was a period of incredible creativity," says Brockman. "I practically flew through the streets."

"The world of money, says Brockman,
never really interested him.
'My interests were always strictly cultural.'"

One day when Brockman was in Central Park playing his banjo, the avant-garde director Jonas Mekas followed him around filming him—then he offered the banjo player an attractive job. Brockman was to organize a festival. The “New Cinema I” Festival (aka “Expanded Cinema”) in which artists, composers, dancers and avant-garde filmmakers transcended the borders of traditional genres became a mega-hit. "A kind of event of a lifetime,"—the first of several more Brockman was to call into being.
"The art scene," he says, "was on the cybernetics trip at the time; they were all studying the mathematical theory of communication." He even underwent a special initiation into the subject when the composer John Cage handed a book to him during one of his legendary "Mushroom Dinners.” Brockman eagerly devoured Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics, Control and Communication in Living Beings and Machines. Cage never talked to him again. A mutual friend explained: "Cage is a Zen master. You no longer need him." The book, Brockman says, still has a special place in his living room library.
It was the age of psychedelic counterculture, of Albert Hofmann and Timothy Leary. Brockman himself avoided drugs. Even Cage's mushroom dishes were of a purely culinary and highly intellectual nature; among the ideas explored at length was Marshall McLuhan’s notion of "the collective conscious." The world of money, says Brockman, never really interested him. "My interests were always strictly cultural."
KNOW THIS - On Sale Now!
February 7th, 2017, 01:11 PM
Today's Most Interesting and Important Scientific Ideas, Discoveries, and Developments

Image Map  
CONTENTS: Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond on the best way to understand complex problems * author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Carlo Rovelli on the mystery of black holes * Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker on the quantification of human progress * TED Talks curator Chris J. Anderson on the growth of the global brain * Harvard cosmologist Lisa Randall on the true measure of breakthrough discoveries * Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek on why the twenty-first century will be shaped by our mastery of the laws of matter * philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein on the underestimation of female genius * music legend Peter Gabriel on tearing down the barriers between imagination and reality * Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson on the surprising ability of small (and cheap) upstarts to compete with billion-dollar projects. Plus Nobel laureate John C. Mather, Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill JoyWired founding editor Kevin Kelly, psychologist Alison GopnikGenome author Matt Ridley, Harvard geneticist George ChurchWhy Does the World Exist? author Jim Holt, anthropologist Helen Fisher, and more. 
The Function of Reason
February 2nd, 2017, 01:11 PM

Contrary to the standard view of reason as a capacity that enhances the individual in his or her cognitive capacities—the standard image is of Rodin’s "Thinker," thinking on his own and discovering new ideas—what we say now is that the basic functions of reason are social. They have to do with the fact that we interact with each other’s bodies and with each other’s minds. And to interact with other’s minds is to be able to represent a representation that others have, and to have them represent our representations, and also to act on the representation of others and, in some cases, let others act on our own representations.

The kind of achievements that are often cited as the proof that reason is so superior, like scientific achievements, are not achievements of individual minds, not achievements of individual reason, they are collective achievements—typically a product of social interaction over generations. They are social, cultural products, where many minds had to interact in complex ways and progressively explore a lot of directions on which they hit, not because some were more reasonable than others, but because some were luckier than others in what they hit. And then they used their reason to defend what they hit by luck. Reason is a remarkable cognitive capacity, as are so many cognitive capacities in human and animals, but it’s not a superpower.

DAN SPERBER is a Paris-based social and cognitive scientist. He holds an emeritus research professorship at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris, and he is currently at Central European University, Budapest. He is the creator (with Deirdre Wilson) of "Relevance Theory," and coauthor (with Hugo Mercier) of The Enigma of ReasonDan Sperber's Edge Bio Page

The Mind Bleeds Into the World
January 12th, 2017, 01:11 PM

Coming very soon is going to be augmented reality technology, where you see not only the physical world, but also virtual objects and entities that you perceive in the middle of them. We’ll put on augmented reality glasses and we’ll have augmented entities out there. My face recognition is not so great, but my augmented glasses will tell me, "Ah, that’s John Brockman." A bit of AI inside my augmented reality glasses will recognize people for me.

At that level, artificial intelligence will start to become an extension of my mind. I suspect before long we’re all going to become very reliant on this. I’m already very reliant on my smartphone and my computers. These things are going to become more and more ubiquitous parts of our lives. The mind starts bleeding into the world. So many parts of the world are becoming parts of our mind, and eventually we start moving towards this increasingly digital reality. And this raises the question I started with: How real is all of this?

DAVID CHALMERS is University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science and Co-Director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness at New York University. He is also Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Australian National University. David Chalmers's Edge Bio Page

REALITY CLUB CONVERSATIONDonald D. Hoffman, Sean Carroll, Steve Omohundro, Thomas Metzinger

Defining Intelligence
January 5th, 2017, 01:11 PM

I worked on coming up with a method of defining intelligence that would necessarily have a solution, as opposed to being necessarily unsolvable. That was this idea of bounded optimality, which, roughly speaking, says that you have a machine and the machine is finite—it has finite speed and finite memory. That means that there is only a finite set of programs that can run on that machine, and out of that finite set one or some small equivalent class of programs does better than all the others; that’s the program that we should aim for.                                 

That’s what we call the bounded optimal program for that machine and also for some class of environments that you’re intending to work in. We can make progress there because we can start with very restricted types of machines and restricted kinds of environments and solve the problem. We can say, "Here is, for that machine and this environment, the best possible program that takes into account the fact that the machine doesn’t run infinitely fast. It can only do a certain amount of computation before the world changes." 

STUART RUSSELL is a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley and coauthor (with Peter Norvig) of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. Stuart Russell's Edge Bio Page

How Should a Society Be?
November 9th, 2016, 01:11 PM

This is another example where AI—in this case, machine-learning methods—intersects with these ethical and civic questions in an ultimately promising and potentially productive way. As a society we have these values in maxim form, like equal opportunity, justice, fairness, and in many ways they’re deliberately vague. This deliberate flexibility and ambiguity are what allows things to be a living document that stays relevant. But here we are in this world where we have to say of some machine-learning model, is this racially fair? We have to define these terms, computationally or numerically.                                 

It’s problematic in the short term because we have no idea what we’re doing; we don’t have a way to approach that problem yet. In the slightly longer term—five or ten years—there’s a profound opportunity to come together as a polis and get precise about what we mean by justice or fairness with respect to certain protected classes. Does that mean it’s got an equal false positive rate? Does that mean it has an equal false negative rate? What is the tradeoff that we’re willing to make? What are the constraints that we want to put on this model-building process? That’s a profound question, and we haven’t needed to address it until now. There’s going to be a civic conversation in the next few years about how to make these concepts explicit.

BRIAN CHRISTIAN is the author of The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive, and coauthor (with Tom Griffiths) of Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions. Brian Christian's Edge Bio Page

Closing the Loop
September 16th, 2016, 01:11 PM

Closing the loop is a phrase used in robotics. Open-loop systems are when you take an action and you can't measure the results—there's no feedback. Closed-loop systems are when you take an action, you measure the results, and you change your action accordingly. Systems with closed loops have feedback loops; they self-adjust and quickly stabilize in optimal conditions. Systems with open loops overshoot; they miss it entirely.

CHRIS ANDERSON is the CEO of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY Drones. He is the former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. Chris Anderson's Edge Bio Page