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A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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So when something like personal genomics or synthetic biology suddenly appears – it seems to suddenly appear – we might have been working on it for 30 years, but it seems to come out of no where. Then you need strategies for engaging a lot of people and thinking about where it will be going in the next few month or few years. The Internet was such a thing that came very quickly, it seemed, even though some of the infrastructures were built in the ‘60s. In the ‘70s, people would say, “Why would anybody want a computer?” And by 1993 in one year, it went from zero web sites to many millions. And the same thing . . . But they’re in unintended consequences that weren’t fully articulated to the broad public. Probably should have been for the Internet. So for example, cyber stalking, identity theft, addiction to computers, hackers, spam, and so forth. These were really not fleshed out. They just said, you know, something good will come of it, and a lot of good things did. Same thing with personal genomics. We need to figure out how you’re gonna actually make it useful, which means you need to be able . . . people need to think about how they’re going to share the information with other people. Are they gonna be scared of it and not want to know it themselves? Are they gonna wanna know it themselves, but not share it with anybody, and therefore not really know it? They have this big pile of Gs, As, Ts, and Cs, and if they don’t share it with anybody they won’t learn anything about it. And so you need . . . we need to pursue this minefield and find ways that people can feel safe about sharing, at least in a research sense. So that’s one thing . . . it’s kind of an ethical, legal, social issue that we’ve been working with on the personal genome project very proactively. And then synthetic biology. Our technology and others create a situation where people could synthesize organisms that are either new or old. Old things like small pox, which we thought was extinct and not available to anybody because the information is available they could recreate it. It’s not sufficient for all the good guys to say, “We will be good guys.” You need to actually have an active surveillance mechanism where you’re looking to see people . . . they’re doing things where either they don’t know what they’re doing, don’t fully appreciate what they’re doing, or they’re actively being terrorist-type actions. Recorded on: 7/6/07


Technology in Perspective

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