What have you changed your mind about?

January 14, 2008

The Edge Annual Question — 2008
When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that’s faith.
When facts change your mind, that’s science.
Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?”
165 contributors; 112,600 words

Some fascinating answers to the Edge world question – here are some of my favourites:
Curator, Serpentine Gallery, London
The Question of Objects

The 20th century has been obsessed with this idea of the objects and hopes of architectural and artistic permanence which nobody questioned more thoroughly than the late Cedric Price. The 21st century will increasingly question this fetishization of the object.
What are the architectural and artistic contributions which are going to endure they are not only the ones which have a built physical form. Its not only a question of objects but a questions of ideas and scores.

Computer Scientist, Brandeis University
Electronic Mail

I’ve changed my mind about electronic mail. When I first used email in graduate school in 1980, it was a dream. It was the most marvelous and practical invention of computer science. A text message quickly typed and reliably delivered (or be told of an error) allowed a new kind of asynchronous communication. It was cheaper (free), faster, and much more efficient than mail, phone, or fax, with a roundtrip in minutes. Only your colleagues had your address, but you could find people at other places using “finger”. Colleagues started sharing text-formatted data tables, where 50K bytes was a big email message!
The worst part is the legal precedent that your employer “owns” the mail sent out over the network provided. It is as if they own the soundwaves which emit from your throat over the phone. An idiot judgment leads to two Kafkaesque absurdities:
First, if you send email with an ethnic slur, receive email with a picture of a naked child or a copyrghted MP3, you can be fired. Use email to organize a Union? Fugget about it! Second, all email sent and received must now be archived as critical business documents to comply with Sarbanes Oxley. And Homeland Security wants rights to monitor ISP data streams and stores, and hope no warrants are needed for data older than 90 days.
Free Speech in the Information Age isn’t your right to post anonymously on a soapbox blog or newspaper story. It means that, if we agree, I should be able to send any data in any file format, with any encryption, from a computer I am using to one your are on, provided we pay for the broadband freight. There is no reason that any government, carrier, or corporation should have any right to store, read, or interpret our digital communications. Show just cause and get a warrant, even if you think an employee is spying or a student is pirating music.
Email is now a nightmare that we have to wake up from. I don’t have a solution yet, but I believe the key to re-imagine email is to realize that our computers and phones are “always on” the net. So we can begin with synchronous messaging (both sender and receiver are online) — a cross between file sharing, SMS texting, and instant messaging — and then add grid storage mechanisms for asynchronous delivery, multiple recipients, and reliability.
Until then, call me.

It seems to me that both of these respondents are struggling with what objects look and feel like in the 21st century, not to mention what they mean, how they are created and who has ownership over all of the above. Fascinating stuff!