How Will Future Historians See Us?

Lawrence Summers: The set of concepts that we were prepared to accept as objects of our sympathy was far more limited than it was today.  Here’s a great question that I hope you will all think about.  It was asked of my daughter as we sat at a dinner in Washington.  A guy asked my daughter, he said, “Ruth, 150 years ago, sitting in this room, we took slavery as absolutely natural and for granted.  And yet sitting here now, it seems inconceivable and barbaric that we would accept the institution of slavery.  A hundred years ago, we took capital punishment; we took flogging for kids who were out of line as absolutely natural.  And that seems inconceivable today.  It is unlikely,” he said, and I think he was right, “that we have reached some apex of civilization now.  What is it that we do that seems natural to us that will seem barbaric 100 years from now?” 

I don’t know what the answer to that is.  Perhaps it is aspects of the way we treat the poor or the very young or the very old.  Perhaps it has to do with the ways in which we treat animals.  Perhaps it has to do with the ways in which superstition continues to shape our approaches to important human problems.  I don’t know the answer, but it would be very surprising if there are not important aspects of how we live today that will shock the consciences of those who look back on us just as our consciences are shocked by those who came before.  And what will change those consciences?  It will be individuals, it will be protests, it will be ideas, it will be philosophies, it will be better thinking than the thinking that came before.  

 

Important aspects of how we live today will shock the consciences of those who look back on us, says Summers, just as we are shocked by the consciences of those in the past. What will change the way we see the world? Individuals, protests, new philosophies, and better thinking.

Ask Sophia the Robot: Is AI an existential threat to humans?

Should humans fear artificial intelligence or welcome it into our lives?

Videos
  • Sophia the Robot of Hanson Robotics can mimic human facial expressions and humor, but is that just a cover? Should humans see AI as a threat? She, of course, says no.
  • New technologies are often scary, but ultimately they are just tools. Sophia says that it is the intent of the user that makes them dangerous.
  • The future of artificial intelligence and whether or not it will backfire on humanity is an ongoing debate that one smiling robot won't settle.

Keep reading Show less

How intermittent fasting changes your brain

A new study from Singapore found that intermittent fasting increases neurogenesis.

Mind & Brain
  • Rats that fasted for 16 hours a day showed the greatest increase in hippocampal neurogenesis.
  • If true in humans, intermittent fasting could be a method for fighting off dementia as you age.
  • Intermittent fasting has previously been shown to have positive effects on your liver, immune system, heart, and brain, as well as your body's ability to fight cancer.
Keep reading Show less

Report: Just 6% of world's coronavirus infections detected

Researchers argue that most coronavirus infections around the world go undetected.

Credit: KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images.
Coronavirus
  • A new paper contends that only 6% of actual coronavirus infections have been detected.
  • Delayed and inadequate testing as well as differences in reporting are to blame.
  • The researchers argue that better testing needs to be set up before social distancing is eased.
Keep reading Show less