Author of "The Year of Living Biblically," "The Know-It-All" and "The Guinea Pigs Diary," as well as among many other books that explore his life-as-experiment, A.J. Jacobs, who appeared at the 2009 IdeaFestival, responds to the question: "Is there useless knowledge?"
Given the participation of theoretical physicist and author of "From Eternity to Here" at this year's IdeaFestival, Sean Carroll, I've become interested in visual descriptions of time. This one lends perspective to our presence.
Following an asteroid landing in 2005 and a lengthy delay in guiding the craft home, the seven year mission of Hayabusa culminated in this fiery reentry shot from an airborne observatory and posted to YouTube. Shortly before being vaporized by the intense from the shallow reentry the spacecraft deposited cargo - clearly seen on the video - that scientists hope will shed more light on origins of our solar system.
There's another aspect to Hayabusa that is perhaps even grander. The image of this cleverly fabricated robot burning up across the night sky evokes some powerful emotions. Here is one of our pioneer voyagers of the deeper universe that lies all about us. A persistent machine, nurtured and nursed through a variety of problems by its smart operators. Seven years on it returns, carrying - we hope - a precious sample that will expand our view of nature. Seven years is a long time these days, Hayabusa has come back to a different world. This is a glimpse of our future in the solar system. The meteor-like streaks of returning probes, and eventually astronauts, lighting our skies. New mariners, returning to harbor, bringing exotica that change everything, just as they find a world changed by time.
'With 30 linear steps, you get to 30,' [Ray Kurzweil] often says in speeches. 'With 30 steps exponentially, you get to one billion. The price-performance of computers has improved one billion times since I was a student. In 25 years, a computer as powerful as today’s smartphones will be the size of a blood cell.'
Ray Kurzweil, who spoke at the IdeaFestival in 2006, believes that "thirty exponential steps" will lead to a better future. Among the many questions raised by "Merely Human, That's So Yesterday:" for whom?