Every year, the online magazine Edge–the so-called smartest website in the world, helmed by science impresario John Brockman–asks top scientists, technologists, writers, and academics to weigh in on a single question. This year, that query was “What Should We Be Worried About?”, and the idea was to identify new problems arising in science, tech, and culture that haven’t yet been widely recognized.
This year’s respondents include former presidents of the Royal Society, Nobel prize-winners, famous sci-fi authors, Nassem Nicholas Taleb, Brian Eno, and a bunch of top theoretical physicists, psychologists, and biologists. And the list is long. Like, book-length long.
There are some 150 different things that worry 151 of the planet’s biggest brains. And I read about them all, so you don’t have to: here’s the Buzzfeedized version, with the money quote, title, or summary of the fear pulled out of each essay. Obviously, go read the rest if any of the below get you fretting too.
Extracted fromsummary here are the 12 with which I agree:
6. Genuine apocalyptic events. The growing number of low-probability events that could lead to the total devastation of human society. — Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society
11. That there will be another supernova-like financial disaster. –Seth Lloyd, professor of Quantum Mechanical Engineering at MIT
20. “I worry that as the problem-solving power of our technologies increases, our ability to distinguish between important and trivial or even non-existent problems diminishes.” –Evgeny Morozov, contributing editor, Foreign Policy
38. Mutually-assured destruction. –Vernor Vinge, mathematician, computer scientist, author
52. “What worries me is that we are increasingly enmeshed in incompetent systems, that is, systems that exhibit pathological behaviour but can’t fix themselves.” –John Naughton, Edge editor
64. A scarcity of water resources. –Giulio Boccaletti, physicist
78. That synthetic biology will spiral out of control. –Seirian Summer, lecturer in behavioral biology
83. That the human species will lose the will to survive. –Dave Winer, Blogging and RSS software pioneer
97. Natural death. –Antony Garrett Lisi, theoretical physicist
108. That the role of microorganisms in cancer is being ignored by the current sequencing strategies employed by the medical community. –Azra Raza, M.D.
113. Superstition. –Matt Ridley, science writer
133. “There are known knowns and known unknowns, but what we should be worried about most is the unknown unknowns.” –Gary Marcus, cognitive scientist
I try not to worry about the unknown unknowns.