The BIG question is...

What will change the world?


This question was posed at EDGE and 140 -odd of the smartest people in the world responded. The answers are enlightening and it is good fun to look for themes and patterns, but I won’t spoil your own thoughts by creating my framework – too inhibiting, don’t you think?


I can say that it ranges from the very philosophical (the unmasking of true human nature), to technological, from poetic (i) to scientific (solving a theorem) from the esoteric (interstellar virus) to the whimsical (happiness).


There are scary ones (the assassination of all leaders) and obvious ones (the mobile phone).


There is some evidence of the ‘if you your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail' – thinking; but that critique aside, it is a really worthwhile debate.


There is also only one person who is a self-described blogger, although there are others who blog (Kevin Kelly et al). Howard Rheingold’s response is ‘social media literacy’ will change the world – and I have taken the liberty of reproducing his entire response within the list, because that is a pretty big call and one many blog readers will want to think about.


I wonder what the rest of the world thinks.




  • Which are your favourites?

  • Or do you have your own response to the question: What will change the world?


These responses from the smartest people in the world:




  1. KEVIN KELLY says: A new kind of mind (artificial intelligence)

  2. HOWARD GARDNER says: cracking open the lockbox of talent

  3. TIMOTHY TAYLOR says: Culture

  4. JOHN GOTTMAN says: laboratory earth colonies

  5. ED REGIS says: molecular manufacturing

  6. DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF says: The discovery of intelligent life from somewhere else

  7. JUAN ENRIQUEZ says: Homo Evolutis

  8. ROGER C. SCHANK says: Wisdom reborn

  9. STUART KAUFFMAN says: The open universe

  10. KARL SABBAGH says: A farewell to harm

  11. MARC D. HAUSER says: The actual, the possible, and the unimaginable (Science Fiction)

  12. RODNEY BROOKS says: Life (or not) on Mars

  13. MARCELO GLEISER says: Mastering death

  14. NICK BOSTROM says: Superintelligence

  15. WILLIAM CALVIN says: Climate will change everything

  16. CHRIS ANDERSON says: A web-empowered revolution in teaching

  17. GREGORY PAUL says: The first major upgrade of the human brain and the mind it generates since the pleistocene

  18. GEORGE DYSON says: Interstellar viruses

  19. MICHAEL SHERMER says: Energy and Economics: the road to civilization 1.0

  20. DANIEL L. EVERETT says: Undoing Babylon

  21. THOMAS METZINGER says: Soul-travel for selfless beings

  22. RICHARD FOREMAN says: Nothing will change everything

  23. CLIFFORD A. PICKOVER says: Proof of the Riemann hypothesis (A complex mathematical function)

  24. NICHOLAS HUMPHREY says: Why human nature will rebel (radical, genetically programmed, alteration of human nature)

  25. FREEMAN DYSON says: "Radiotelepathy", the direct communication of feelings and thought from brain to brain

  26. IAN MCEWAN says: The full flourishing of solar technology

  27. IRENE PEPPERBERG says: Thinking small: understanding the brain

  28. HAIM HARARI says: At last: technology will change education

  29. PAUL J. STEINHARDT says: Black holes: the ultimate game-changer?

  30. MARK PAGEL says: We are learning to make phenotypes (the outward form of our bodies)

  31. BRIAN GOODWIN says: The organism itself as the emergent meaning

  32. CARLO ROVELLI says: And if the big change didn't arrive?

  33. JONATHAN HAIDT says: Faster evolution means more ethnic differences

  34. ANDY CLARK says: Celebratory self re-engineering

  35. LEO CHALUPA says: Controlling brain plasticity

  36. LAURENCE C. SMITH says: West Antarctica and seven other sleeping giants (Climate as a switch rather than a dial…)

  37. ALISON GOPNIK says: Never-ending childhood

  38. John D. Barrow says: A very very good battery

  39. LAWRENCE KRAUSS says: The use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population

  40. STEPHEN H. SCHNEIDER says: Conserving the climate: will Greenland's melting ice the deal?

  41. AUBREY DE GREY says: THE UNMASKING OF TRUE HUMAN NATURE

  42. DONALD D. HOFFMAN says: THE LAPTOP QUANTUM COMPUTER

  43. GREGORY BENFORD says: LIVE TO 150

  44. STEVE NADIS says: DISCOVERING ANOTHER UNIVERSE IN OUR UNIVERSE

  45. BARRY SMITH says: Little Changes Make the Biggest Difference

  46. Susan Blackmore says: ARTIFICIAL, SELF-REPLICATING MEME MACHINES

  47. Kenneth W. Ford says: Reading Minds

  48. Ernst pöppel says: Future as present. A final experiment

  49. Charles seife says: Malthusian Information Famine

  50. Gino segrè says: The Existence of Additional Space-Time Dimensions

  51. Steven Pinker says: If you Insist: Personal Genomics?

  52. LEWIS WOLPERT says: Computing the embryo

  53. STEPHON H. ALEXANDER says: On basketball and science camps (identifying (or scouting) the potential Michael Jordans of science)

  54. ROBERT R. PROVINE says: What changes anything? (Doesn’t propose an ‘answer’)

  55. ALAN ALDA says: Rounding an endless vicious circle

  56. GERALD HOLTON says: Deployment of a significant rogue nuclear device

  57. DAVID DALRYMPLE says: Escaping the gravity well

  58. KEITH DEVLIN says: The mobile phone

  59. FRANK J. TIPLERsays: But we shall all be changed (singularity)

  60. TERRENCE SEJNOWSKI says: Computers are the new microscopes

  61. HELEN FISHER says: Hidden Persuaders '09(the biological codes that direct our deepest wants and feelings – in our brains)

  62. LERA BORODITSKY says: Knowledge about how we know will change everything

  63. TOR NØRRETRANDERS says: Inside out: the epistemology of everything

  64. EMANUEL DERMAN says: No more time decay

  65. GREGORY COCHRAN says: Better measurements

  66. BRIAN KNUTSON says: Neurophenomics + Targeted Stimulation = Psychological Optimization?

  67. LERA BORODITSKY says: Knowledge about how we know will change everything

  68. HOWARD RHEINGOLD says: Social media literacy

  69. ERIC DREXLER says: Knowledge spreading

  70. NICHOLAS A. CHRISTAKIS says: The anthroposphere

  71. NEIL GERSHENFELD says: The re-implementation of life in engineered materials

  72. ANTON ZEILINGER says: The breakdown of all computers

  73. YOCHAI BENKLER says: Recombinations of the near possible

  74. PAUL DAVIES says: Shadow Biosphere

  75. Stewart Brand says: Climate

  76. David G. Myers says: Inexpensive, customizable, interactive e-texts for worldwide use

  77. MARTIN SELIGMAN says: Much smarter people

  78. Max Tegmark says: Accidental nuclear war

  79. STEPHEN M. KOSSLYN says: Leveraging differences

  80. Lee Smolin says: The liberation of time

  81. Marti Hearst says: The decline of text

  82. April Gornik says: Animal feelings

  83. Joel Garreau says: The eruption of new religions shaped by upheaval

  84. RUPERT SHELDRAKE says: The credit crunch for materialism

  85. ROGER HIGHFIELD says: Star power

  86. ALUN ANDERSON says: Green oil

  87. PATRICK BATESON says: Adopting rationality and sustainability

  88. DAVID GELERNTER says: Tracks & Clusters (The replacement of 90% of America's teachers at every level with parent-chosen, cloud-resident "learning tracks")

  89. MONICA NARULA says: The lengthening life-spans of individuals shadowed by the shortening life-spans of species

  90. ERIC FISCHL says: Empathy

  91. TERENCE KOH says: Untitled (I think he means ‘i’ as in you and me)

  92. MARCEL KINSBOURNE, M.D.says: Neurocosmetics

  93. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says: THE END OF ANALYTIC SCIENCE

  94. Dimitar Sasselov says: SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY WITH INTER-PLANETARY REACH

  95. ROBERT SHAPIRO says: A SEPARATE ORIGIN FOR LIFE

  96. NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB says: The Idea of Negative and Iatrogenic Science

  97. PETER SCHWARTZ says: Neuronally expressed messages

  98. HANS ULRICH OBRIST says: New structures of knowledge production

  99. BRIAN ENO says: The feeling that things are inevitably going to get worse

  100. SETH LLOYD says: undo the present; recall the past

  101. MAHZARIN R. BANAJI says: Understanding the mind

  102. JOHN TOOBY & LEDA COSMIDES says: The great pivot: artificial intelligences, native intelligences, and the bridge between

  103. DANIEL C. DENNETT says: THIS VERY EXPLORATION IS CHANGING EVERYTHING (as in this question that elicited these responses)

  104. Sherry Turkle says: The Robotic Moment

  105. DOMINIQUE GONZALEZ-FOERSTER says: Resizing

  106. AUSTIN DACEY says: Carniculture (cultured meat, not pieces of animal)

  107. STEFANO BOERI says: Discovering that someone from the future has already come to visit us

  108. Kai Krause says: Everything...already changed!

  109. RANDOLPH NESSE says: Recognizing that the body is not a machine

  110. W. DANIEL HILLIS says: A forebrain for the world mind

  111. MARCO IACOBONI says: Immortal cognition, boundless happiness

  112. LISA RANDALL says: Coordinated and expanded computational power will change science

  113. PAUL SAFFO says: Discovery (or creation) of non-human intelligence cures humankind’s existential loneliness

  114. Eric Kandel says: Biological markers for mental illness

  115. J. CRAIG VENTER says: DNA, writing the software of life

  116. FRANK WILCZEK says: Homesteading in Hilbert space

  117. SAM HARRIS says: True lie detection

  118. DAVID M. BUSS says: Exploitability

  119. IAN WILMUT says: The next step in human healthcare? (the first effective treatment for inherited human diseases)

  120. OLIVER MORTON says: Attempts at geoengineering

  121. MARIA SPIROPULU says: Two grand revolutionary scientific achievements (1. The concilience of the sciences of life and technology of artificial intelligence. 2. The knowledge of how space and time emerge)

  122. DAN SPERBER says: The growing perception of a clash between safety and liberty

  123. TINO SEHGAL says: A different kind of male subjectivity

  124. COREY S. POWELL says: Expectations

  125. GARY MARCUS says: Decoding the brain

  126. PHILIPPE PARRENO says: No more reality!

  127. BART KOSKO says: Cheap cryonic suspension of brains

  128. DAVID BERREBY says: Post-rational economic man

  129. A. Garrett Lisi says: Changes in the Changers

  130. DAVID EAGLEMAN says: Silicon immortality : downloading consciousness into computers

  131. ALEXANDER VILENKIN says: AVOIDING DOOMSDAY

  132. VERENA HUBER-DYSON says: Horizons beyond the reach of boolean logic, digital manipulations and numerical evaluations (radical paradigm shift in the scientific method)

  133. ROBERT SAPOLSKY says: People who can intuit in six-dimensions

  134. BRUCE PARKER says: The successor to natural selection in humans

  135. JAMES GEARY says: Brain-Machine Interface (BMI)

  136. DAVID BODANIS says: Massive technological failure

  137. ANDRIAN KREYE says: A new approach to energy production

  138. JAMSHED BHARUCHA says: The synchronization of brains

  139. BETSY DEVINE says: Happiness

  140. CHRISTINE FINN says: Our brave new map of the world

  141. GLORIA ORIGGI says: The age of reputation

  142. SCOTT SAMPSON says: Evolution changes everything

  143. PAUL EWALD says: Scanning for the nonhuman in humans

  144. HENRY HARPENDING says: A lively gamete market

  145. P.Z. MYERS says: A change in who we are

  146. DEAN ORNISH, M.D. says: Our genes are not our fate

  147. JOSEPH F. TRAUB says: A new threat (The threat of all leaders gathering at Obama's inauguration)

  148. KEVIN SLAVIN says: The ebb of memory

  149. RICHARD DAWKINS says: Breaking the species barrier



And this is Howard Rheingold’s piece on Social Media Literacy:


Social media literacy is going to change many games in unforeseeable ways. Since the advent of the telegraph, the infrastructure for global, ubiquitous, broadband communication media have been laid down, and of course the great power of the Internet is the democracy of access—in a couple of decades, the number of users has grown from a thousand to a billion. But the next important breakthroughs won't be in hardware or software but in know-how, just the most important after-effects of the printing press were not in improved printing technologies but in widespread literacy. The Gutenberg press itself was not enough. Mechanical printing had been invented in Korea and China centuries before the European invention. For a number of reasons, a market for print and the knowledge of how to use the alphabetic code for transmitting knowledge across time and space broke out of the scribal elite that had controlled it for millennia. From around 20,000 books written by hand in Gutenberg's lifetime, the number of books grew to tens of millions within decades of the invention of moveable type. And the rapidly expanding literate population in Europe began to create science, democracy, and the foundations of the industrial revolution. Today, we´re seeing the beginnings of scientific, medical, political, and social revolutions, from the instant epidemiology that broke out online when SARS became known to the world, to the use of social media by political campaigns. But we´re only in the earliest years of social media literacy. Whether universal access to many-to-many media will lead to explosive scientific and social change depends more on know-how now than physical infrastructure. Would the early religious petitioners during the English Civil War, and the printers who eagerly fed their need to spread their ideas have been able to predict that within a few generations, monarchs would be replaced by constitutions? Would Bacon and Newton have dreamed that entire populations, and not just a few privileged geniuses, would aggregate knowledge and turn it into technology? Would those of us who used slow modems to transmit black and white text on the early Internet 15 years ago been able to foresee youtube?




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