May 25th, 2010

Earth from space

Predicting the future, the experts' edition

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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