|Photo by Vincerama
One of the most immediately noticeable things in the collection is simply how many of the respondents focus on science and technology as points of worry. Of the 150 answers, half dealt with these topics. They either saw science as the ultimate savior of mankind that is somehow being stifled, science leading us into monstrous or disastrous consequences, or our increasing dependence on technology and the Internet as our ultimate undoing. Compare that with only three answers dealing with economic issues, two on governments or political issues, and twenty-three who worried in some way about our cultural shortcomings or homogenization. (There were even eight who said we worry too much about being worried!)
Of course, when one looks at who Edge considers the smartest people in the world, they tend to bias their results. There are no people listed whose primary focus is in ethics and there are just a few professional philosophers—thus inadvertently underscoring Anton Zelinger's worry that "we are more and more losing the formal and informal bridges between different intellectual, mental and humanistic approaches to seeing the world." Of course no theologians were invited to the party.
In the responses, you do see several nods towards religion, but they are all cast in negative terms. Science writer Matt Ridley is worried about what he terms "superstition" and writes with alarm that "the fundamentalists are breeding at a faster rate than the moderates." Tim O'Reilly worries that "the rise of anti-intellectualism" (which he clarifies for us as "conservative elements in American religion and politics") will stifle technological process.
But, religion and ethics are key to answering many of the other worries voiced in the collection. Seirian Summer is worried about synthetic biology spiraling out of control. Both Stanislas Dehaene and Melanie Swan are concerned that our technology will become so advanced authorities and companies will soon be able to read people's brains. And Colin Tudge claims that "Science has become increasingly narrow-minded—materialistic, reductionist, and inveterately anthropocentric: still rooted, philosophically, in the 18th century." As I've said before, science does not have the tools to deal with these issues, since they are fundamentally questions of morality.
There are a few other answers that are notable. Benjamin Bergen wants our kids to hear obscene words, claiming such language "carry no intrinsic threat of harm." I wonder if African-Americans feel that way about the "N" word? Thomas Metzinger is concerned about the proliferation of illegal drugs. Daniel L. Everett is worried about the demise of the scholar. And Roger Schank is worried "that people can't think, can't reason from evidence, and don't even know what would constitute evidence." On that last point I agree. I hope Edge magazine will also lose their myopia and think more about asking experts in morality when morally charged questions arise.