Edge in the News

Newsweek [1.10.99]

Was the light bulb more important than the pill? An online gathering of scientists nominates the most important inventions of the past 2,000 years. Some of their choices might surprise you. Related Audio - By David Alpern 

Wired News [1.6.99]

One of the Net's most prestigious, invitation-only free-trade zones for the exchange of potent ideas is opening its doors. A little. .....Starting Thursday, two or three selected dialogs a month at Edge -- founded in 1996 by author and literary agent John Brockman -- will be open for public reading and discussion in a special area on Feed. 

ABCNEWS.COM [1.6.99]

That question was presented on Thanksgiving Day to Nobel laureates and other heavy thinkers by New York author and literary agent John Brockman. Brockman, who presides over an eclectic gathering of scientists and science buffs, started publishing the answers this week on the group's Web site. More than 100 participants have taken the bait so far, and their answers are as varied, and in some cases as strange, as the participants themselves.....This is not a group that accepts limitations gladly. Some fudged on the dates. Some eschewed the notion of an invention as some sort of gadget, opting instead for such things as the development of the scientific method, mathematics or some religions.

Die Zeit [1.6.99]

Could one inspire German scientists for such a brainstorming? Hardly. In German it is already difficult to find a good translation for this neural activity, leading to fantasy an fun. Brainstorming: "procedure to find the best solution of a problem by collecting spontaneous incidents (of the coworkers)", torments itself the Duden, the leading German dictionary. You can imagine the result.

Admitted, the "Hirngestuerm" (literally for brainstorming) does not supply necessarily serious results. But it provides a lot of fun - for English and American scientists often reason enough to take part in it. This applies also to the debates, which are taking place in the Internet-salon of literary agent John Brockman. On his web page Edge, the representatives of the so called "third culture" meet: Mostly scientists (and few philosophers), who are not only concerned with providing pure facts, but also search for deeper insight and the meaning of it all. For John Brockman, who is selling the rights for their popular scientific books, these researchers reveal already the " deeper meaning of our life", by redefining ", who and which we are ".

Wired News [1.6.99]

One of the Net's most prestigious, invitation-only free-trade zones for the exchange of potent ideas is opening its doors. A little. .....Starting Thursday, two or three selected dialogs a month at Edge -- founded in 1996 by author and literary agent John Brockman -- will be open for public reading and discussion in a special area on Feed.

Die Zeit [1.6.99]

Could one inspire German scientists for such a brainstorming? Hardly. In German it is already difficult to find a good translation for this neural activity, leading to fantasy an fun. Brainstorming: "procedure to find the best solution of a problem by collecting spontaneous incidents (of the coworkers)", torments itself the Duden, the leading German dictionary. You can imagine the result.

Admitted, the "Hirngestuerm" (literally for brainstorming) does not supply necessarily serious results. But it provides a lot of fun - for English and American scientists often reason enough to take part in it. This applies also to the debates, which are taking place in the Internet-salon of literary agent John Brockman. On his web page Edge, the representatives of the so called "third culture" meet: Mostly scientists (and few philosophers), who are not only concerned with providing pure facts, but also search for deeper insight and the meaning of it all. For John Brockman, who is selling the rights for their popular scientific books, these researchers reveal already the " deeper meaning of our life", by redefining ", who and which we are ".

ABCNEWS.COM [1.6.99]

That question was presented on Thanksgiving Day to Nobel laureates and other heavy thinkers by New York author and literary agent John Brockman. Brockman, who presides over an eclectic gathering of scientists and science buffs, started publishing the answers this week on the group's Web site. More than 100 participants have taken the bait so far, and their answers are as varied, and in some cases as strange, as the participants themselves.....This is not a group that accepts limitations gladly. Some fudged on the dates. Some eschewed the notion of an invention as some sort of gadget, opting instead for such things as the development of the scientific method, mathematics or some religions.

Salon [1.4.99]

Here's a millennial question: What was the most important invention of the past 2,000 years? John Brockman, über-agent for science and technology authors, posed the question to his online community of scientists and scholars and posted the provocative and cantankerous list of responses on his EDGEWeb site.

Some nominations were obvious: the printing press, the contraceptive pill, the atomic bomb and the computer all received multiple votes. Suggestions ranged from the concrete (the battery, the steam engine, hay) to the abstract (calculus, quantum theory, evolution, double-entry accounting); from the world-historical (religion, the city, democracy) to the quirkily mundane (the eraser, reading glasses, plumbing); and from the physiological (anesthesia, DNA sequencing, aspirin) to the philosophical (the scientific method, "the idea of an idea").

The list makes for an enjoyable read -- if you can get over the participants' utter inability to remain within the question's 2000-year bounds. Suggesting that the most important invention of this era is the spirit of rebellion against arbitrary rules.

FEED [1.4.99]

This special feature marks the first collaboration between FEED and Edge, John Brockman's invitation-only Internet forum, where hundreds of the world's leading scientists and thinkers share their thoughts on issues ranging from the meaning of numbers to genetics to affirmative action. We'll be excerpting two or three articles a month from Edge, and creating special Loop discussions where our readers can add their own observations to Edge's challenging and adventuresome debate. Our first installment is a series of answers to the question, "What was the most important invention of the past two thousand years?" The contributors include Freeman Dyson, Richard Dawkins, and Joseph Traub. Readers can visit the Edge site for even more nominations, and can post their own suggestions in the Loop.

The Wall Street Journal [1.3.99]

John Brockman is the premier literary agent of the digerati, so when he asked 1,000 scientists and other techno-thinkers to suggest the most important invention of the past 2,000 years, the responses sounded a lot like proposals for yet another millennial book. 

World News Tonight
ABC-TV News [1.3.99]

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DaveNet [1.3.99]

Getting Started Permalink to Getting Started

This is going to be an incredible year. If there's anything we needed to get done before the new millennium, this is the last minute, there's no time to wait.

But I expect we'll also do a lot of looking backward. We've started discussing who the person of the millennium is, and this morning I came across a group of thinkers who are discussing the most important invention of the last two millennia.

http://www.edge.org/documents/Invention.html

A summary of nominations. Calculus, hay, anesthesia, computers, the Internet, antibiotics, contraceptives, the spectroscope, the telescope, the theory of evolution, the steam engine, Gˆdel's Incompleteness Theorem, the Hindu-Arabic number system, the scientific method, the printing press, the atom bomb, soap, reading glasses, the human ego.

But wait, there's more! Clocks, television, discovery of the unconscious, awareness of the universe, commercialization of electricity, secularism, the eraser, telecommunications, education, automobiles, the symphony orchestra, board games, double-entry accounting, the Gatling gun, the mirror, the number zero, sewers, probability theory, democracy, the airplane.

Congratulations to John Brockman and the people at edge.org. This is an incredible source of new thoughts. I highly recommend it to DaveNet readers.

This year's to-do list Permalink to This year's to-do list

Here are some of the things I hope to work on this year.

Mainly, I want to create a cross-platform writing environment that has the best features of the desktop and the Internet. I want to be able to jot a note on my website using a palmtop computer, and I want to write stories and specs from a laptop, and I want to install server software on machines running behind the more prevalent high-bandwidth fulltime net connected computers and popular desktop OSes such as Windows and Mac.

I see a bandwidth gap that needs software to fill it. The interface between web writing tools and web storage is still very low-level and cumbersome. We're going to challenge the assumption that web writing requires technical expertise. We want to deliver tools to the technical types and designers to create inverse portals for writers, places for ideas to appear and then develop, to flow in from all areas and flow out to all interested readers.

Further, we've noticed that the web has two primary interfaces: Time and Searching. I can't find another that works as well as either of these two. So we're integrating, assuming, verticalizing. When you can make assumptions, as a software designer, you can simplify. And that's what the web needs, simplification. And that's what we can deliver.

Adult play spaces Permalink to Adult play spaces

I also hope for a more adult Internet. Sites like www.edge.org show what can be done when there's moderation and thoughtfulness and a little bit of editing. We can learn from each other. The world is not filled with bullshit. There are interesting new ideas, and new perspectives on old ideas.

But it takes calm thoughtful expression to get ideas heard. That's the number one item on my to-do list for the web for 1999, to help more of that to happen, and to support it when it does.

Dave Winer Permalink to Dave Winer

The Daily Telegraph [1.3.99]

Edge (http://www.edge.org) is his "digital salon" in which Mr Brockman stimulates on-line discussions and debate among scientists, science writers and the "digerati", writers who discourse on digital technologies.

"Some of the most memorable conversations I've had over the years are concerned with invention, including technological innovations as well as conceptual realisations," said Brockman.

The Wall Street Journal [1.3.99]

John Brockman is the premier literary agent of the digerati, so when he asked 1,000 scientists and other techno-thinkers to suggest the most important invention of the past 2,000 years, the responses sounded a lot like proposals for yet another millennial book.

Dave Winer, DaveNet [1.3.99]

Congratulations to John Brockman and the people at edge.org. This is an incredible source of new thoughts. I highly recommend it to DaveNet readers.....Sites like www.edge.org show what can be done when there's moderation and thoughtfulness and a little bit of editing. We can learn from each other. The world is not filled with bullshit. There are interesting new ideas, and new perspectives on old ideas

Roger Highfield, The Daily Telegraph [1.3.99]

Nobel laureate Prof. Philip Anderson, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, biologist Prof Richard Dawkins and Sir John Maddox are among the 100 or so contributors who have nominated inventions randing from tha atomic bomb and board games to the Internet, Hindu-Arabic number system and anaethesia.

Netscape Open Directory > Internet > Cyberspace > Culture [12.31.98]

They say "Edge Foundation, Inc., was established in 1988 as an outgrowth of a group known as The Reality Club. Its informal membership includes of some of the most interesting minds in the world.", and they're NOT kidding. Outstanding presentations of dialogues, articles, and a virtual certainty that the person behind the words can and does THINK. Highly Recommended.

Meeting of the Minds
En Route — AirCanada [9.30.98]

No, the Net is not a cesspool of mindless guttertalk. There are some intellectual gems such as EDGE, a Website that offers the vulgum pecus a peek into an invitation-only mailing list whose contributors include some of the brightest minds in science and technology: Microsoft visionary Nathan Myhrvold (yes, Bill is a participant too,) MIT psychology professor Steven Pinker and neurologist Oliver Sacks, ofAwakenings fame. Though philosophically high-powered, the discussions are surprisingly non-technical: Recent exchanges dealt with the nature of numbers, and the blend of genetics, archaeology and language. (S.E.)

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The Hot New Medium is ... Email
Wired [3.31.98]

"List publishing is not merely information delivered to your mailbox, it's the devolution of mass media into the hands of everyday people. And its growing faster than the web."

by David S. Bennehum


A-lists

Some list owners don't care about selling ads or subscriptions, and they don't value volume, either. For them, their lists are about density - a tightly packed nucleus of powerful people. These A-lists are impossible to join unless you have clout in some way. That's because A-lists derive their power from the social network with which they connect. If you're not in that network in real life, you can't get in online, either.



A-lists derive power from the social network to which they connect you. As in the real world, it's strictly invitation-only.



A-lists exist all over the world. Usually they're private - the board of directors of a corporation might be on a list, or the clients of a particularly successful consultant. Whatever the membership, A-lists reinforce the feeling of inclusion. It's one of the perks of success.

"People are asked to join the list," John Brockman says of his Èlite EDGE list, which goes out by email to around 1,000 members two or three times a month. "It started as an outgrowth of what I call 'Third Culture intellectuals.'" Brockman de_defines Third Culture intellectuals as "people who are doing empirical work and writing books about it, as opposed to people dealing with opinions. These are people who are creating and changing the world." Brockman, the literary agent known for a client list thick with scientists, pundits, and philosophers, likes to de_define his clientele as a clique that also happens to be changing the world. His EDGE list is an outgrowth of years of tireless networking that began when he ran The Expanded Cinema Festival at Filmmakers Cinematheque in New York in 1965 at the age of 24.

EDGE allows networking among this Èlite, some of whom were identi_identified as the digerati in Brockman's book by the same title. The list has a simple format: a single member is either interviewed by Brockman or asked to write an essay. For instance, Stanislas Dehaene wrote an essay on numbers and the brain, which in turn was critiqued by EDGE members George Lakoff, Marc D. Hauser, and Jaron Lanier. It's a brilliant format, partly because of who's on the list - Richard Dawkins, Freeman Dyson, David Gelernter, Nathan Myhrvold, and Naomi Wolf, to name a few. And since Brockman's business is brokering book deals, it's an outstanding means to stay on patterns of thought. If an idea hot enough to be a book emerges on EDGE, Brockman has first-mover advantage.



"The Model is creating reputation," says economist Hal Varian. "Lists are about relative status."



This isn't Brockman's primary motive, however. "The purpose is to create - to arrive at an axiology of the world's knowledge. Get the brightest people in the world in the room and have them ask the questions they are asking themselves. They get to try out ideas on a group of peers who are not in their own discipline. They get to be tested and challenged. It's very vigorous - and very entertaining." The public is permitted to view archives of EDGE on Brockman's Web site (www.edge.org/), which, in turn, allows him to ventilate some of the ideas in the public sphere. But Brockman's list would collapse were the hoi polloi allowed in. It's unlikely that people like Nathan Myhrvold have the time or interest to listen to just anyone with email. The moment EDGE moves away from being the A-list, it collapses and becomes a B-list, otherwise known as a chat room.

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A Brief History of How the Once-Maligned Nerd Became Cool
Los Angeles Times [3.29.98]

Scientists and technologists-often deplored, sometimes feared, frequently on the fringes of society-have become hip.

They grace the covers of news magazines, their frequently arcane research is the stuff of bestsellers, and one of the members of their clan has become the richest man in America.

Even the motion picture industry has caught on. Historically, movies have tended to portray scientists as a tad mad. But such films as "Contact" show that scientists can be, well, almost like normal people. Of course, that film was based on a novel written by a scientist, the late Carl Sagan.

This evolution in the perception of scientists has come about largely because science and technology play an increasingly important role in all our lives.

Instant global communications and television coverage have shrunk the world. A kid with a desktop computer can create new images and new tools-maybe even break into computer systems that keep track of everything from our bank accounts to national security projects. There seems to be an electronic gadget to meet every need.

We all have what we need now to do some science ourselves, ranging from computers to digital imaging to direct access via e-mail to scientists and their institutions.

And that has led to the emergence of something new in our society.

Borrowing a phrase coined by science historian C.P. Snow, literary agent and science author John Brockman calls it the "third culture.

"In the past, culture has been defined as art and music. When we have those, we have culture. When we don't, we don't.

But Brockman argues that technology has brought science into our lives in such a dramatic way that a third culture has emerged.

In 1981, Brockman founded the Reality Club, an assortment of movers and shakers from the world of science who traditionally meet in Chinese restaurants and artists' lofts around New York City to ponder the great imponderables of the day. In the most common expression of the third culture, a year ago Brockman started a Web site (http://www.edge.org) to give scientists a forum in which to share their thoughts and their questions with the world at large.

He says the site addresses the motto of the Reality Club: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

"Much of the discussion on the site centers on the emergence of this new, global culture. Some of the material is written specifically for the site, but some of it, including an essay by Kevin Kelly, executive editor of Wired magazine, first appeared elsewhere.

"This new third culture is an offspring of science," writes Kelly in a piece originally published in the Feb. 13 issue of Science. "It's a pop culture based in technology, for technology. Call it nerd culture.

"The computer revolution brought science into our lives as never before, and for the Nintendo generation, technology became their culture.

And somewhere along the way, Kelly argues, a "funny thing happened: Nerds became cool.

"But nerds are not interested in science per se, Kelly argues. The third culture is interested in results, particularly innovation.

"Its thrust is not pursuing truth, but pursuing novelty," Kelly writes. " 'New,' 'improved,' 'different' are key attributes for this technological culture.

"Yet oddly enough, some of the scientific arenas that are most in vogue these days have little to do with novelty or even a tangible payback to society. No one really needs to know the nature of a black hole, for instance, but astronomy is one of the hottest buttons in science.

*

Nerds may be hip, but they are the toolmakers. They are beholden to science because science fuels their revolution. But it is the tools that fascinate them the most, not the science.

Technology may be the pathway to the third culture, but some scientists are hip these days despite the fact that they may never have written software or created a new gadget. They are hip because they are addressing questions that spring from the roots of intellectual curiosity.

Stephen Hawking, whose writings about astrophysics triggered much of the current interest in science, is an intellectual innovator, not a creator of computer games and novelties.

Yet Hawking could fill an auditorium in seconds with people eager to learn what he has to say about the dynamics of the cosmos.

Ironically, his crippling disease has left him capable of speaking only through a computer-driven technological innovation. Does that make him a product or a guru of the third culture?

Scientists have frequently been on a roller coaster when it comes to public perception. Their image plummeted with fears growing out of the nuclear age and rose with humans landing on the moon. But it may remain at a high level for many years to come. It is rooted in a broad segment of society that is, in varying degrees, directly engaged in science. Despite the powerful new astronomical observatories springing up around the world, for example, most comets are still discovered by amateurs with backyard telescopes.

And the meteoric rise of Microsoft was driven by Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard and created the most powerful software company in the world.

Yet despite all that, my hunch is that more kids could name a dozen movie stars or sports heroes than a couple of scientists.

That is partly because many still feel intimidated by science, and scientific success frequently goes unnoticed."

Since 1937, the United States has anointed a national poet laureate but never a science laureate," Kelly points out.

Maybe the time is ripe to change that, now that scientists are hip. If that ever happens, we may not need to worry about those science scores anymore.

Kids will see just how cool it can be to be a nerd.

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