New Scientist Magazine article: 50 scientists forecast the future


The current issue of New Scientist Magazine has a very interesting and relevant article for innovators. It features 50 scientists forecasting the next 50 years in front of us.

Here are some quotes from the New Scientist magazine website.

“…The notion that information has a physical basis, like the wind, is itself less than 50 years old. Those involved in the rapid development of computation now have the power to understand the brain-machine in a way that was not possible through classical sciences. They are beginning to formalise the many elements of what we call consciousness. Brilliant Minds Forecast the Next 50 Years

Read more on the New Scientis website >>

Terry Sejnowski — How far will we get in 50 years? By then we will have machines that pass the Turing test. However, this is a weak test that does not get at the harder problem, which is to understand how the brain creates consciousness. To crack this we must first understand unconscious processing, which does most of the heavy lifting for us. I suspect that when we start to make progress with this the problem of consciousness will, like the Cheshire cat, disappear, leaving only a smile in the air

The depths of reality are only now being uncovered, but now the springs of imagination, intuition, abstraction and even pre-cognition are revealed. What was once called the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics was simply a clue to a superbly structured universe where mind is an integral component, instantiated at the big bang or maybe even before?…Farewell to Cartesian dualism. Mind and matter re-link, and so propel humanity to the strangest of destinations.” “Professor Mortimer, I present to you the 2056 Nobel prize”.
– Simon Conway Morris is professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge. Read more >>

Robert May — “… But the unintended consequences of these well-intentioned actions – climate change, biodiversity loss, inadequate water supplies, and much else – could well make tomorrow the worst of times. The significant breakthrough we really need is better understanding of human institutions, particularly of the impediments to collective, cooperative activity in which all individuals pay small costs to reap large group benefits. Darwin recognised the evolution of cooperative behaviour as one of the most important unsolved problems of his day. We have made relatively little progress since then. Perhaps the social scientists of 2056 will have succeeded in combining the rigour of the “hard” (that is, easy) sciences with the thoughtful introspection of the humanities to solve this problem. I certainly hope so.You can read a tiny bit more from Robert May >>

In the late middle ages, Aristotelian physics offered a unitary scheme for understanding the physical world. Copernicus started a major scientific revolution, and for 150 years the theory of the world was badly fragmented, until Newton was able to find a new synthesis.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein, Heisenberg, Dirac and others started a comparable revolution. Today, our theory of the physical world is again badly fragmented, and physicists are struggling to find novel and deeper conceptual grounds.

Between now and 2056, I hope and expect that the 20th-century revolution will find its synthesis, and a coherent way of thinking about the world will emerge, compatible with new discoveries such as quantum theory and relativity. Perhaps its importance will match that of the 17th-century scientific revolution.

Carlo Rovelli is at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille Read the original post on the New Scientist >>

MIchael Gazzaniga–The next 50 years will focus on the social mind, the fact that humans are social animals and that most of the time our personal mental state is to be thinking about relationships. Does our species have a moral compass? Do we mostly get along because we enjoy common reactions to similar challenges? Can we truly understand how we understand others, their intentions, desires and beliefs? Understanding these issues is what is coming down the pike.Read the original post on the New Scientist website >>

Eric Horvitz— Within 50 years, lives will be significantly enhanced by automated reasoning systems that people will perceive as “intelligent”. Although many of these systems will be deployed behind the scenes, others will be in the foreground, serving in an elegant, often collaborative manner to help people do their jobs, to learn and teach, to reflect and remember, to plan and decide, and to create. Translation and interpretation systems will catalyse unprecedented understanding and cooperation between people. At death, people will often leave behind rich computational artefacts that include memories, reflections and life histories, accessible for all time.

Robotic scientists will serve as companions in discovery by formulating theories and pursuing their confirmation. By mid-century, advances attributed to automated scientists will include several world-changing breakthroughs. Computation will play a central role in solving challenges in energy, the environment and healthcare. The computing and biological sciences will come together in particularly exciting ways, leading to numerous surprises – mainly good ones. Perhaps most important, insights into the computational foundations of the mind, where artificial intelligence meets neurobiology, will have wide-ranging influences on our ideas about self and on the machines that we build, as we move into the second half of the century.” Read more >>

Frans de Waal— Given that our brains absorb and reflect everything around us, they are barely our own. We all carry society’s brains around, and the biggest advance in science will come from disentangling the feedback loop between brain development and the ancient primate tendencies that shape our societies.

We have the distinction of going where no species has gone before. Whether we make good use of that distinction depends on human nature and the way we choose to organise our societies. What is the value of medical discoveries if most people cannot afford them? What good does it do to harness power if we only use it to make weapons? Who can say that anti-science forces will not send us backwards in time?

This is why we need a deeper understanding of human nature, and this can be achieved only if the social sciences replace their ideology-laden, fragmented approach with objective science grounded in a unitary theory of behaviour. There is only one such theory around, which is why I predict that 50 years from now every psychology and sociology department will have Darwin’s portrait on the wall.Read more >>

Jane Goodall— The consequences of our short-sightedness are only just beginning to play out, as species disappear and our world’s precious resources – forests, land, water and oil – are consumed at reckless rates. Satellite images are a way of graphically linking people to the natural world. I hope that in the next 50 years we learn to connect our brains to our hearts and apply this knowledge to help protect our planet before it is too late. Jane Goodall is founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace. Read more >>

I will stick my neck out about the next five to ten years, however. I think we’ll see a confirmation of the fundamental hypothesis of evolutionary psychology – that many aspects of human cognition and emotion are evolutionary adaptations – from various new techniques for assessing signs of selection in genomic variation within and between species. The recent discoveries of selective pressures on genes for the normal versions of genes for microcephaly, for a speech and language disorder, and for development of the auditory system will be, I suspect, the harbinger of a large number of naturally selected genes with effects on the mind.

Bill Joy— I work in the area of green technology for energy and resources. The most significant breakthrough would be to have an inexhaustible source of safe, green energy that is substantially cheaper than any existing energy source.

Ideally such a source would be safe, in that it couldn’t be made into weapons, nor would it make hazardous or toxic waste or CO2. It seems to me that this is most likely to come from a deep new understanding of a physical effect at the nanoscale (or smaller) that allows safe and simple access to fusion – or another completely unexpected energy technology

Bill Joy co-founded Sun Microsystems. He is now a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, based in Menlo Park, California.Read more >>

-Daniel Montano


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