“Know This: Today’s Most Interesting and Important Scientific Ideas, Discoveries, and Developments” is wander and wonder book. A potpourri of ideas. A wide range of short stories about lots of topics, from science, climate change, quantum physics, energy, space, news, antibiotics, genetics, astronomy, evolution, democracy, big data, neuroscience, AI, psychology, risk, fear, diet, education, gender balance, language, social media, mental illness, theology, how the Irish became white, false science, filter bubbles and lots of others.
Predicted trends and developments
It covers trends and developments such as the decarbonisation of energy, the dematerialisation of consumption, the minimisation of farmland, decarbonisation of concrete, magnet-espoused technology, batteries, low energy nuclear, echnobiophilic cities, distributed wind, full spectrum lighting technology, endless free energy, supersymmetry, antigravity, teleportation, systems medicine, pluripotent stem cells, geo-engineering, redesigning life-forms, de-extinction, posthumans, gut-robots, micro-learning, meta-science, brain interfaces, complete head transplants, nano knives, quantitative biology, optogenetics, mind backups, cloning, 3D printing, macro-criminal networks, kinematic fingerprint, virtual reality, neural net, cyborgs, neuro-prediction, cyber-intelligence, fusion power, neural hacking, drones, data visualisation, connectome, blockchain, crypto citizen and crypto enlightenment. For that reason alone, the book is worthwhile. There were a few things I had never heard of or thought about.
From the book
In this blog, I am going to meander through the things that captured my attention, and I will do it as bullet points. The book itself is a lot richer.
- Questions about the public image of science (and its implications).
- How our human cognition is full of (software) bugs
- The importance of fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms (the quality of the soil and our biome are related). Read “Superlife“.
- Time, physicists are beginning to suspect, maybe a barometer of computational complexity. The universe itself might be a giant digital computer. A profound connection between information, computational complexity, and spacetime geometry has been uncovered.
- Systems Medicine is emerging, a new holistic view of the organism and the integrated molecules, cells, tissues, and organs comprising that organism living in its world.
- Random mutation is gradually being displaced by intelligent design. In theory, scientists could begin breeding plants and animals with a very different genetic makeup from that of any other creature on the planet. And these new life forms may be immune to all known viruses and bacteria.
- The biggest story of the next few centuries will be how we begin to redesign life forms, spread new ones, and develop approaches and knowledge to push further the boundaries of what life is.
- The race between the growing power of technology and the wisdom with which we manage
- The Fermi’s Paradox: Where is everybody? There is no bigger question out there.
- Our remote, posthuman descendants will not be “organic” or biological, and they will not remain on the planet where their biological precursors lived. It’s because posthuman evolution will be spearheaded by superintelligent (and super capable) machines.
- There are chemical and metabolic limits to the size and processing power of “wet,” organic brains. But no such limitations constrain electronic computers (still less, perhaps, quantum computers).
- The history of human technological civilisation is measured in centuries—and it may be only one or two more centuries before humans are overtaken or transcended by inorganic intelligence, which will then persist and continue to evolve for billions of years.
- The breathtaking future of a connected world. Our planet is growing itself a brain. Read “What technology wants”
- As it turns out that the gut is fundamentally intertwined with our brain, it influences our psychological sanity.
- Many diseases—psoriasis, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, some cancers, and even cardiovascular disease—are associated with shifts in our microbiota. Let’s stop thinking about our bodies as temples of sinew and cerebrum and instead as evolving and sloshing ecosystems full of bacteria that are regulating our health in more ways than we could ever imagine. Bugs R Us. It may be arrogant to think of the microbes as some sort of “little helpers;” perhaps it’s more accurate to think of ourselves as architectural innovations.
- Someone could take a reading and record a kind of fingerprint of your personal microbiome after you leave the scene.
- We are entering the Age of Awareness, marked by machine intelligence everywhere. The result is a kind of flywheel world in which data that were once stored and fetched now operate in streams, perpetually informing, changing, and being changed.
- We are entering the Age of Visible (and Audible) Thought. Thought will become closer and closer to action, with shorter feedback loops accelerating change, timescales collapse and the cosy security blanket of a familiar slowness evaporates. With 3D printing and robotics, that entire process can become nearly instantaneous. Barriers between imagination and reality are about to burst open.
- Tomorrow’s news will highlight human resistance to fundamental alterations in our makeup and possibly feature open warfare between old and newly emerging creatures.
- How do the laws of physics, far from thermal equilibrium, lead to the spontaneous formation of matter that can self-organise and evolve into ever more complex structures?
- We will be able to implant synthetic learning.
- The ability to measure and re-create brain activity at the level of specific neurons is about to transform us in ways no other invention has. Recording and manipulating brain activity will change who we are. Soon, for some of us, this process will continue beyond the confines of our body when optogenetic-like technologies allow our minds to encompass the world of computers.
- The new news is that Greenpeace, KMP, and MASIPAG are accused of “crimes against humanity” for blocking (including vandalising safety-testing experiments), from 2002 to 2016, golden rice, which could save a million souls per year from vitamin-A deficiency.
- Surgery could extend our brain capacity from 1.2 kg to 50 kg (routine head loads of the Sherpas of Nepal). The rate of growth of neural systems could be as fast as the doubling time of human cells (about one day), with differentiation from generic stem cells to complex neural nets recently engineered to occur in four days.
- Using some of the amazing new molecular genetic techniques developed in the past three decades, we can identify which subset of neurons participated in the encoding of an event and then experimentally reactivate only those specific neurons so that the animal is forced (we believe) to recall the event. During this reactivation, scientists have been able to tinker with these memories.
- But just as machines today are better comet finders than humans, we are poised on the threshold of a time when machines do not merely amplify but displace the human researcher. When that happens, the biggest news of all will be when a machine wins a Nobel Prize alongside its human collaborators.
- Someday, organs may be grown for each individual from their own stem cells, obviating the risk of rejection and avoiding poisonous anti-rejection medicines.
- The unseen scientific story is to break the historical relationship between work and wealth by removing the boundary between the digital and physical worlds.
- The coverage now of 3D printing and the maker movement is only the visible tip of a much bigger iceberg, digitising not just design descriptions for computer-controlled manufacturing machines (which is decades old) but also the designs themselves by specifying the assembly of digital materials.
- Mass manufacturing with global supply chains can be replaced with sustainable local on-demand fabrication of all the ingredients of a technological civilisation.
- A life lived partly in virtual reality will be no less real than one seen through a pair of contact lenses.
- Someone with a computer inserted in their brain rather than merely in their pocket will be seen as no less human than someone with a pacemaker. Science and technology will continue to focus on computers getting smaller, smarter, faster, and increasingly integrated into the fabric of our everyday lives—in fact, integrated into our bodies as prosthetic organs and eyes.
- Imagine neural implants that can directly stimulate the pain and pleasure centres of the brain. Such a device could make you feel sick before your first bite into that bacon cheeseburger rather than after you’ve finished it. Perhaps instead of hypothetical scenarios, life lessons could be drawn from real plights suffered by real people and animals.
- Advances such as deep learning, self-assembling nanotechnology, 3D-printed synthetic biological life, the genome and the connectome, immersive virtual reality, and self-driving cars might well revolutionise our lives. However impressive, though, these are context-specific technologies. Blockchain is general and so pervasive that it may reorchestrate all of the patterns of life. Blockchain invites the possibility of action and, more deeply, the responsibility of action. A Cambrian explosion of experimentation in new models of economics and governance could ensue.
Books should make you think. This book certainly does. An intellectual forest you can wander through. I have read many books about the future of technology, such as:
For a weird reason, it reminds me of Bill Bryson’s “The end of absence“. It is the wandering/meandering that this book makes possible,