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I started taking Scientific American when I wrote more science fiction and less fantasy, but I keep up the subscription because a) my husband also likes it, and b) it's a neat magazine.

Don't get me wrong! Most of it is completely over my head. I generally get the first paragraph or two where the author of an article explains what it's about in a general way, or in some cases, why he/she wrote about the issue in question. And I usually understand the ending paragraphs where the author talks about the implications of the discovery/experiment/new technology. But I usually skip the 42 paragraphs in the middle because they seem to be in Greek. Or maybe it's Latin.

My favorite feature is Steve Mirsky's Antigravity column. This month's offering, “ Presidential Harrisment,” is hilarious, especially if you are not one of the 14 percent of Americans who think President Obama is the Antichrist. If you are, you might be a tad offended. The title is a pun, by the way, not a typo; that's Harris as in Harris Polls.

This month's issue also has an interesting article (and understandable!) article about 12 events that could have profound impact on our world. Some are proposed as highly probable or even inevitable, while others are to be feared and/or deplored. Here's the list:

1. Cloning a human being
2. Proof of extra dimensions
3. Contact with (or locating) extraterrestrial intelligence
4. An exchange of nuclear strikes
5. Laboratory creation of life
6. Room-temperature superconductors
7. Machine self-awareness
8. Polar meltdowns
9. The Big One (a Pacific Rim super-quake)
10. Fusion energy
11. Asteroid collision with the earth
12. A deadly pandemic

I found it interesting that two items on the list relate to the world's need for energy and one to our use of energy ruining our environment. Three out of 12 is 25 percent. That says something about where are problems are. Also, only two events, the asteroid and the earthquake, are purely natural events that would happen if we were here or not— although I suppose you could say the extra dimensions would be there is if the lions, chimps, and other animals never knew about them.

Looking over the list, I feel like I should be more worried, but sometimes the bigger something is, the less you worry about it. And some of the things actually offer hope for a better— or at least a more interesting— future. The asteroid thing is pretty scary, but luckily we have a head start on the dinosaurs. They never even saw it coming.

But I don't think I will buy waterfront property any time soon.





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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
mikandra
May. 26th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
uhm - no. 5: the laboratory creation of life - uhm - Craig Venter reported having done that last week. Does that mean the world is going to change?

I think all those factors that are not one-hit disasters (like the earthquakes and astroids) will not change anything overnight, but then again, nor will anything else, so one thing you can say about the future is that it will be different. But we already knew that.

I can think of a few other things that will have a profound influence in the future, at the top of which I would put 'oil becoming too expensive for general use'.
karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 01:10 am (UTC)
Well, of course, I didn't want to go into too much detail, but they describe the "creation of life" as involving the field of synthetic biology, "bringing the principles of large-scale engineering to biology." the example given is to create bamboo that grew into a chair-- no chair factory needed. We're still a long way from that kind of thing.
amberley
May. 26th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)
Futures seen and unseen
It's a list of threats we can think of, but consider how many of those threats would have been on a similar list of 12 threats made 100 years ago. Maybe 3 (#3,5,12)? So 100 years from now perhaps there'll be 3 of these, and 9 new things we're not even contemplating yet.

"If people a hundred years from now are soberly engaged with phenomena we have no nouns and verbs for, I think that's a victory condition." -- Bruce Sterling

"Passionately embracing the unimaginable -- that always moved the world more effectively than horribly embracing the unthinkable."
-- Bruce Sterling, The Caryatids, p209


karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
Re: Futures seen and unseen
I am perfectly willing to see science fiction writers as futurists, and I agree it's hard to really guess what could happen. Personally, if there are still people who can walk and talk 100 years form now, I would count that by itself as a victory.
peadarog
May. 26th, 2010 07:53 am (UTC)
Agreed about the energy and that it's a great mag!
karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 12:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks! You know, when I think about it, Mirsky's column is funny but in some ways scarier than anything else in the magazine.
peadarog
May. 26th, 2010 12:27 pm (UTC)
Too much scary stuff about these days. As long as they don't start discussing the end of chocolate, I'll be happy.
karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 12:30 pm (UTC)
*gasp* Don't even think it!
bondo_ba
May. 26th, 2010 12:26 pm (UTC)
Heh. Coastal and mountain cities look like something best avoided. Maybe we should all be purchasing land in the middle of some plain or another.
karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 12:27 pm (UTC)
Of course, with my luck, if I moved to Kansas (dead center in the US), the asteroid would hit there!
bondo_ba
May. 26th, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC)
Well, at least you'd be dry, I guess.
karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC)
You are a "glass half full" kind of guy, aren't you? -)
(Deleted comment)
karen_w_newton
May. 26th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
True! And with a tornado you get less warning than with an asteroid; on the other hand, hiding in the basement won't help any if a huge rock hits your neighborhood at sufficient velocity to form a sizeable crater.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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