Brain Pickings

13 Years of Futurism by Cultural Luminaries

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Every year since 1998, EDGE, the quintessential arbiter of all things cool and compelling in the world of science and technology, has been asking some of the brightest thinkers and doers across the cultural spectrum to answer one big question about the future of science, technology and society at large. The answers are then published in an annual edition, which serves as a fascinating and illuminating timecapsule of the intelligencia’s collective conscience that year.

This week marks the release of Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future — the fantastic compendium of responses to last year’s question, featuring greats like Chris Anderson, Esther Dyson, Howard Gardner, Kevin Kelly, Brian Eno and 167 more.

Here are the past 12 editions, a home library must-have for anyone interested in how technology is changing the way we think, do and live:

This year’s question is perhaps most important of all — because it has to do with improving the very wiring of our existence, human cognition: What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?, with the thoughtful disclaimer that “scientific” is used in the broadest sense possible, referring to the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything from spirituality to history to human genome. So important was the question, in fact, that Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioral economics, declared it his favorite question yet. “You will get responses and actually move the culture forward.”

Answers come from a remarkably eclectic roster of thinkers, including our friend and Wired UK Editor In Chief David Rowan (“personal data mining”), BoingBoing co-founder Xeni Jardin (“ambient memory and the myth of neutral observation”), The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal (“the new normal”), Wired founder Kevin Kelly (“the virtues of negative results”) and Clay Shirky (“The Pareto Principle”), among 159 others.

Both I as a citizen and society as a whole would gain if individuals’ personal datastreams could be mined to extract patterns upon which we could act. Such mining would turn my raw data into predictive information that can anticipate my mood and improve my efficiency, make me healthier and more emotionally intuitive, reveal my scholastic weaknesses and my creative strengths. I want to find the hidden meanings, the unexpected correlations that reveal trends and risk factors of which I had been unaware. In an era of oversharing, we need to think more about data-driven self-discovery.” ~ David Rowan

This year’s edition was dedicated to the late, great Denis Dutton (1944-2010), whose provocative theory of beauty we featured mere weeks before he passed away last month.

A handful of the annual questions are available in book form, we couldn’t recommend them more.

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