How long until 'Peak Science'?

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:44 pm UTC

thc wrote:Imagine sailing off into the vast blue horizon, totally unknowing of what lies beyond. Imagine hearing someone's voice coming out of this black box for the first time, even knowing that that person was thousands of miles away. Imagine being the first person to take to the skies in the same way that birds do. Imagine seeing the sky itself turn green as the first atom bombs were testing.
Which just goes to show that a person can start several consecutive sentences with "imagine" and still have a pretty piss-poor imagination of his own...
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Puppyclaws » Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:53 pm UTC

thc wrote:While of course there is tons of progress every day (being in the natural sciences, I do know this) I don't see any sort of revolutions that happened in yesteryears. Imagine sailing off into the vast blue horizon, totally unknowing of what lies beyond. Imagine hearing someone's voice coming out of this black box for the first time, even knowing that that person was thousands of miles away. Imagine being the first person to take to the skies in the same way that birds do. Imagine seeing the sky itself turn green as the first atom bombs were tested. I don't see any such revolutions happening now. In the 20 or so years that I've been sentient, the only thing I can fathom that has drastically changed in my everyday life, is that movies and video games have gotten a lot prettier. (Of course RPGs still use the same dialogue tree AI they used 20 years ago). Progress has become very incremental.


Ignoring all sorts of other examples that come to mind for me: Are you aware that you are on THE INTERNET.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Apr 11, 2012 1:08 am UTC

Just because the science is less visceral, does not make it less important or impactful.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby qetzal » Wed Apr 11, 2012 2:25 am UTC

thc wrote:While of course there is tons of progress every day (being in the natural sciences, I do know this) I don't see any sort of revolutions that happened in yesteryears. Imagine sailing off into the vast blue horizon, totally unknowing of what lies beyond. Imagine hearing someone's voice coming out of this black box for the first time, even knowing that that person was thousands of miles away. Imagine being the first person to take to the skies in the same way that birds do. Imagine seeing the sky itself turn green as the first atom bombs were tested. I don't see any such revolutions happening now. In the 20 or so years that I've been sentient, the only thing I can fathom that has drastically changed in my everyday life, is that movies and video games have gotten a lot prettier. (Of course RPGs still use the same dialogue tree AI they used 20 years ago). Progress has become very incremental.


The Earth was first circumnavigated in 1522. Bell first demonstrated his telephone in 1876. The Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903. The first atom bomb was tested in 1945. So you've picked four events that took place over the course of > 400 years, and you're lamenting that you haven't seen anything comparable in your ~ 20 years of life?

Besides, how much do you think those past events changed the everyday life of the average person at the time? How many people's lives were significant affected by Magellen's voyage by 1542, or by telephones in 1896, or by airplanes in 1923?

You dismiss whole genome sequencing because it hasn't led to miracle disease cures yet, but like those previous great accomplishments, it takes time for the full effect to be realized. If you're not involved in it, you probably have no concept of how revolutionary large scale sequencing is becoming. We're finding unbelievable numbers of new viral and microbial species we had no clue existed, simply by sequencing whatever random DNA we can recover from places like seawater. We're sequencing different cells derived from a single original tumor from a cancer patient, finding hundreds of different mutations and learning how tumor cells literally evolve over time in a person's body. There's no telling how revolutionary this will be, but you can be certain it will have a huge impact as it matures.

And furthermore, besides the internet (which has already been mentioned), how about cell phones. They've had a HUGE affect on almost everyone's life over the past 20 years, at least in the developed world.

If you really think about it, you'll realize there have been significantly more major advances in your lifetime than there were during the lives of anyone living in 1522, 1876, 1903, or 1945.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Ulc » Wed Apr 11, 2012 6:18 am UTC

thc wrote:They come from multiplying numbers together. I realize that the precision is not that high, but 39,924,282,594,290,976 looks a lot more mindbogglingly large than 39,900,000,000,000,000 (to me at least) so I didn't bother rounding despite the pendants. ;)


So you're deliberately posting misleading statements for the purpose of making it seem impressive? And actually, from the error margin (0.007 light years) you could probably have four significant digits.


While of course there is tons of progress every day (being in the natural sciences, I do know this) I don't see any sort of revolutions that happened in yesteryears. Imagine sailing off into the vast blue horizon, totally unknowing of what lies beyond. Imagine hearing someone's voice coming out of this black box for the first time, even knowing that that person was thousands of miles away. Imagine being the first person to take to the skies in the same way that birds do. Imagine seeing the sky itself turn green as the first atom bombs were tested. I don't see any such revolutions happening now. In the 20 or so years that I've been sentient, the only thing I can fathom that has drastically changed in my everyday life, is that movies and video games have gotten a lot prettier. (Of course RPGs still use the same dialogue tree AI they used 20 years ago). Progress has become very incremental.


We have sequenced the genome. And are reaching the point where in but a few years, we'll regularly sequence the full genome of patients in hospitals, because it's getting that cheap! And yes, the sequence data are not useful without analysis, but the tools to understand the sequence enough for analysis getting better and better.
Everyday you see computers stronger than anything that could be built 20 years ago, carried in the pockets of the common man, capable of accessing a network that spans the entire world - made so easy that it's used for posting pictures of cats with funny captions.
Cyborgs! We have honest to god cyborgs now, people with artificial limbs, one of them recently ran a marathon on a artificial leg! An acquaintance of mine has a device attached to her spine, that allows her to dampen her pain, from manipulating the nerves.
We're finally getting some headway on the mystery of how the process of protein folding works - scientists have been speculating about how that works for a very long time, and daily I get emails where papers attached where it's getting clearer, we've even designed our first ab-inito protein!
We've built the largest facility ever, ever built in the world for the single purpose of science - and through that, we've had confirmed a lot of what we thought about how the universe works.

Major scientific breakthroughs are happening more or less as we speak, and has never been happening at a rate like this before.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby epigrad » Thu Apr 12, 2012 4:56 am UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
ahammel wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Yeah, that's it. I only really heard about because this student (going on to do his PhD) was trying to explain to us (a group of potential physics undergrads) what his PhD was going to be in. The way he described it sounded very much as if it was bringing maths to biology but he may have been jokingly playing to our prejudices.


Many, many physics types believe this to be true. Generally, this involves the following:

1. They genuinely believe they're "bringing maths to biology" or are playing to a crowd that believes that's the case.
2. They arrive and oft ignore a great deal of biology that already involves rigorous math or statistics.
3. They often do bad biology. Often mathematically elegant bad biology, but bad biology none the less.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby thc » Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:32 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:The Earth was first circumnavigated in 1522. Bell first demonstrated his telephone in 1876. The Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903. The first atom bomb was tested in 1945. So you've picked four events that took place over the course of > 400 years, and you're lamenting that you haven't seen anything comparable in your ~ 20 years of life?

I'm saying that I can't see anything as revolutionary happening at least in the near future. I'm not saying I'm right, it's just my gut feeling.

Besides, how much do you think those past events changed the everyday life of the average person at the time? How many people's lives were significant affected by Magellen's voyage by 1542, or by telephones in 1896, or by airplanes in 1923?

Everyday life was massively affected by each of those events. What technology or discovery today will lead to a similar change in society?

You dismiss whole genome sequencing because it hasn't led to miracle disease cures yet, but like those previous great accomplishments, it takes time for the full effect to be realized. If you're not involved in it, you probably have no concept of how revolutionary large scale sequencing is becoming. We're finding unbelievable numbers of new viral and microbial species we had no clue existed, simply by sequencing whatever random DNA we can recover from places like seawater.

Actually, I've done quite a bit of environmental sequencing. And it's the fact that I have that I can tell you that it doesn't mean anything. Yes, there are tons of bacteria out there that exist in nature that we can't culture in the lab. Yes, we can find them with environmental sequencing and we can determine how they are related evolutionarily to other species. But so what? We still have no idea about their metabolic functions. We still have no idea what ecological niche those bacteria fill.There's nothing we've learned about those bacteria other than the fact that they exist. But in a general sense, we kind of already knew that.

We're sequencing different cells derived from a single original tumor from a cancer patient, finding hundreds of different mutations and learning how tumor cells literally evolve over time in a person's body. There's no telling how revolutionary this will be, but you can be certain it will have a huge impact as it matures.

Interesting.

And furthermore, besides the internet (which has already been mentioned), how about cell phones. They've had a HUGE affect on almost everyone's life over the past 20 years, at least in the developed world.

If you really think about it, you'll realize there have been significantly more major advances in your lifetime than there were during the lives of anyone living in 1522, 1876, 1903, or 1945.

It doesn't feel that way to me. I don't have a cell phone, and I don't feel at any sort of disadvantage. The way college students use them at least is to distract themselves in lectures and text each other funny quips when they should be listening to me about how to do a gram stain. I don't see that as any sort of revolution - certainly not in the same way as the telephone when it was first invented. The cell phone today is to be fair a huge improvement. But it is just that, an improvement, an increment, not anything new or revolutionary.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby letterX » Fri Apr 13, 2012 12:49 am UTC

thc wrote:Everyday life was massively affected by each of those events. What technology or discovery today will lead to a similar change in society?

THE INTERNET.

Also, earlier you said this:
thc wrote:
deep9 wrote:It costs less ad less for electronic circuits to do more and more, so it gets cheaper and cheaper to do science. And it is not just getting cheaper, the amount to do is enlarging.

And yet we are still so far off from being able to solve hard problems, like chess, by brute force. What important problems have been able to be solved by the increase in computation power in recent years? Sudoku?

... I'm... not sure you understand what "important problems" means for computing...

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby qetzal » Fri Apr 13, 2012 2:13 am UTC

thc wrote:
qetzal wrote:Besides, how much do you think those past events changed the everyday life of the average person at the time? How many people's lives were significant affected by Magellen's voyage by 1542, or by telephones in 1896, or by airplanes in 1923?

Everyday life was massively affected by each of those events. What technology or discovery today will lead to a similar change in society?


Of course it was, but not right away. Everday life was not massively affected within 20 years of those events. In your previous post, it seemed you were lamenting a lack of massive effect in your lifetime. My point was that that's unrealistic.

As for what recent interventions will similarly change society over the next multiple decades, several have already been listed. The internet. Social media. Cell phones. Human-electronic interfaces and artificial limbs and organs. Next generation sequencing.


Actually, I've done quite a bit of environmental sequencing. And it's the fact that I have that I can tell you that it doesn't mean anything. Yes, there are tons of bacteria out there that exist in nature that we can't culture in the lab. Yes, we can find them with environmental sequencing and we can determine how they are related evolutionarily to other species. But so what? We still have no idea about their metabolic functions. We still have no idea what ecological niche those bacteria fill.There's nothing we've learned about those bacteria other than the fact that they exist. But in a general sense, we kind of already knew that.


It does mean something. We just don't know what yet.

It doesn't feel that way to me. I don't have a cell phone, and I don't feel at any sort of disadvantage. The way college students use them at least is to distract themselves in lectures and text each other funny quips when they should be listening to me about how to do a gram stain. I don't see that as any sort of revolution - certainly not in the same way as the telephone when it was first invented. The cell phone today is to be fair a huge improvement. But it is just that, an improvement, an increment, not anything new or revolutionary.


Colombus sailing to America and Magellan's circumnavigation were just incremental improvements, too. The first phones had no practical utility. They needed decades of improvement before they could impact society. The same is true for airplanes. I mean, they knew how to make gliders and engines. They just needed to solve the engineering challenge of putting them together. Kind of like the "minor" improvement of figuring out how to make wireless telephones practical, based on existing technologies like wired phones and radio communications.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Apr 13, 2012 2:47 am UTC

thc wrote:I'm saying that I can't see anything as revolutionary happening at least in the near future.
Which only goes to show that you're a shitty futurist. Don't feel too bad, though; most people are.

Besides, how much do you think those past events changed the everyday life of the average person at the time? How many people's lives were significant affected by Magellen's voyage by 1542, or by telephones in 1896, or by airplanes in 1923?
Everyday life was massively affected by each of those events. What technology or discovery today will lead to a similar change in society?
The Internet already has, cell phones already have, smartphones already have, GPS devices already have, digital cameras already have. Digital music and videos already have. Pretty much all of the ways you communicate now would seem shockingly futuristic to most people when you were born, apart from good old fashioned face time.

We still have no idea about their metabolic functions. We still have no idea what ecological niche those bacteria fill.There's nothing we've learned about those bacteria other than the fact that they exist.
Well so there's some things right there left to discover.

I don't see that as any sort of revolution - certainly not in the same way as the telephone when it was first invented.
When the telephone was first invented no one had one. It was still a strange new device 40 years later and plenty of people still alive today remember getting their home's first phone.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Yakk » Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:00 am UTC

Right now, I can have access to the worlds largest and most complete body of knowledge. It was compiled by volunteers, paid for by donations, and charges nothing for access. The only ads it runs is drives to help pay for its own operation.

It first came into existence 12 years and 3 months ago.

I can wave my phone at a product in a store, and get world-wide price comparisons. I can ask my phone which movie is worth seeing, and it knows. I can socialize with people around the entire planet.

More people have been lifted out of absolute poverty in the last 20 years than existed on the planet 200 years ago. People in the poorest parts of the planet have computers in their pockets stronger than the sum total electric computing power of the entire world 75 years ago.

Shadow wars are being fought with robots.

We have a system that allows a small, cheap device to locate itself within meters anywhere on the surface of the planet.

There is a fusion reactor that runs a small energy surplus.

The worlds fastest commercial sports car doesn't run on petrochemicals.

We are developing bullets that can turn corners, ballistic naval guns that can hit Switzerland from the coast, and materials strong enough to build a beanstalk.

We know the age of the universe to within a percentage point. We may just have found the field that gives particles rest mass (note: most rest mass is binding energy). We now know that black holes are not black.

There are people designing braid quantum computers that, if they work out, will make Moore's law obsolete.

We have robots that walk, talk, smile, replace limbs on amputees, or augment human motion.

There is a double foot amputee that almost qualified for the Olympics.

We now recognize cancer as a myriad of different diseases, even if they have the same surface symptoms. We genetically test the cancer, determine its properties, and do different treatment regimens tailored for the particular cause of the cancer. It took 40 years for pediatric cancer to turn from a death sentence to a usually treatable disease.

There are people walking around without heart beats.

You can get a college level education in most subjects via free videos and course material from anywhere with an internet connection.

Game theory won the cold war. Dictators are falling left, right and center over the entire planet. War and death from war have plummeted to levels never before seen in recorded or archeological history. The number of personal cameras per capita is quickly approaching 1, turning the entire planet into journalists. (Political science is a science, right?)

There are multiple competing theories about how General Relativity is wrong, and they are spewing out testable predictions about the interaction between relativity and quantum mechanics.

We are sending a robot to mars with an indefinite operating lifetime. Probably years, maybe decades.

We can construct physical objects on industrial scales smaller than we could see a few decades ago.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby StevenR » Fri Apr 13, 2012 2:58 pm UTC

I don't know that there is such a thing as peak science. Oil is a finite resource, but there will always be something new to discover about the universe.

That said, I do think the low hanging fruit of science has been picked clean. We're past that point where some man could consider the universe, do a few experiments, and come up with a new idea of how to view the nature of things, and all from his living room. Now we have to have multi-billion facilities, decade long multi-million dollar experiments, and multiple degrees needed just to even consider being involved with one of those programs.

To me, this leads to one of the ugly truths about science, which is, it needs a lot of money to happen. There is a danger in someone's patron not being happy with the research and pulling the plug. Or what if some corporate scientist figures something out, but the corporation won't let him publish until they've figured out a way to make money off of his discovery? When does it stop being science for the sake of science and start being just another commidity? We already see this in engineering, where an engineer can't publish findings because his work might be used by a rival company, and to a lesser extent with genetic engineering and patented genes, but what happens when some company decides nobody can use their discovery without paying a licencing fee? Will GE be able to sue if a GE scientist discovers FTL particles and someone uses that knowledge down the road? If Merck discovers exactly how life began on Earth, will that information be proprietary and unable to be used in textbooks and classes unless the professor uses the official Merck Guide to Biogenesis?

Then there's the question of what to do with the sheer amount of information needed for science. Mano Singham wrote an opinion piece in Physics Today in June 2000 where he states he is essentially brainwashing his students. The students in his freshman physics courses get so much thrown at then that they can't do any of the experiements needed to prove the scientific theory and are basically going by the professor's word. Taking someone's word for it is hardly an ideal way to conduct science, but think about everything that's covered in those freshmen and sophomore classes and he's right. So much material, so little time. That's a big piece of why scientists are no longer just scientists but are geologists, physicists, astronomers, hydrologists, and a hundred other disciplines. There's so much information out there, and that information is so technical, that people have to specialize to the point that it's difficult to keep up, even within one's own field. If there's this kind of information overload for scientists and engineers, imagine what it's like for the general population. The irony is, science has become it's own mirror image of a priesthood. It's gone from being able to explain just how the universe functions to guys standing up in front of other people and saying "you don't have the time or knowledge to really understand this material, you just have to trust me. This is how it works."

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby qetzal » Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:35 pm UTC

@StevenR

GE can't patent FTL particles, and Merck can't patent the knowledge of how life began. They could patent ways to generate FTL particles or new ur-life. And even if they effectively owned those things at first, patents expire, so they'd only own them for a couple of decades.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Rococo » Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:42 pm UTC

thc wrote:
qetzal wrote:The Earth was first circumnavigated in 1522. Bell first demonstrated his telephone in 1876. The Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903. The first atom bomb was tested in 1945. So you've picked four events that took place over the course of > 400 years, and you're lamenting that you haven't seen anything comparable in your ~ 20 years of life?

I'm saying that I can't see anything as revolutionary happening at least in the near future. I'm not saying I'm right, it's just my gut feeling.

Besides, how much do you think those past events changed the everyday life of the average person at the time? How many people's lives were significant affected by Magellen's voyage by 1542, or by telephones in 1896, or by airplanes in 1923?

Everyday life was massively affected by each of those events. What technology or discovery today will lead to a similar change in society?

You dismiss whole genome sequencing because it hasn't led to miracle disease cures yet, but like those previous great accomplishments, it takes time for the full effect to be realized. If you're not involved in it, you probably have no concept of how revolutionary large scale sequencing is becoming. We're finding unbelievable numbers of new viral and microbial species we had no clue existed, simply by sequencing whatever random DNA we can recover from places like seawater.

Actually, I've done quite a bit of environmental sequencing. And it's the fact that I have that I can tell you that it doesn't mean anything. Yes, there are tons of bacteria out there that exist in nature that we can't culture in the lab. Yes, we can find them with environmental sequencing and we can determine how they are related evolutionarily to other species. But so what? We still have no idea about their metabolic functions. We still have no idea what ecological niche those bacteria fill.There's nothing we've learned about those bacteria other than the fact that they exist. But in a general sense, we kind of already knew that.

We're sequencing different cells derived from a single original tumor from a cancer patient, finding hundreds of different mutations and learning how tumor cells literally evolve over time in a person's body. There's no telling how revolutionary this will be, but you can be certain it will have a huge impact as it matures.

Interesting.

And furthermore, besides the internet (which has already been mentioned), how about cell phones. They've had a HUGE affect on almost everyone's life over the past 20 years, at least in the developed world.

If you really think about it, you'll realize there have been significantly more major advances in your lifetime than there were during the lives of anyone living in 1522, 1876, 1903, or 1945.

It doesn't feel that way to me. I don't have a cell phone, and I don't feel at any sort of disadvantage. The way college students use them at least is to distract themselves in lectures and text each other funny quips when they should be listening to me about how to do a gram stain. I don't see that as any sort of revolution - certainly not in the same way as the telephone when it was first invented. The cell phone today is to be fair a huge improvement. But it is just that, an improvement, an increment, not anything new or revolutionary.



THC, I think what you are getting at is that there aren't discoveries or breakthroughs any more that seem impossible to people before they happen. Is it fair to say that this is what separates 'incrementalism' from something really amazing in your mind?

Anyway, part of the problem with this is simply that people now expect that almost anything is, or should be, possible. In this sense, science is a victim of its own success. Still, here are a few things I would offer up:

-Over a brief few decades, we've suddenly become able to store thousands of movies, or hundreds of thousands of songs or books in the palm of our hands. Impact is subjective, but I find this as amazing as any of the things you listed, and it has changed how we learn, preserve our memories, and entertain ourselves- pretty basic parts of life.

-Some really interesting work being done right now is changing what it means to be dead. In particular, we are rapidly approaching a point where we can make someone dead according to traditional criteria, and then bring them back to life. Practical uses aside, this seems likely to radically change our we view one of the most basic aspects of life, and in that sense I would say it is even more revolutionary than any of the things you listed.

-Along similar lines, we are now starting to be able to literally read people's minds- for example, to have them think of a word (chosen from a short list at the present), and determine which one they chose based on MRI. Again, and in all seriousness, I'm having a hard time thinking of any advance in human history that could have as many societal, technological, and philosophical ramifications as this, or that seems any more 'magical.'

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby StevenR » Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:48 pm UTC

qetzal wrote:@StevenR

GE can't patent FTL particles, and Merck can't patent the knowledge of how life began. They could patent ways to generate FTL particles or new ur-life. And even if they effectively owned those things at first, patents expire, so they'd only own them for a couple of decades.


But they can patent the research. And if we really want to push the issue, they may be able to patent the mathematical forumlas as some kind of intellectual property. Those megacorporations already buy politicians and have the laws changed to benefit them. Look at how Disney had copyright laws changed so they wouldn't lose the exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse.

Science is all about expanding human knowledge. I think worrying about how corporate backing of science might end up being counter to that isn't something that should be dismissed out of hand, especially when they already have a track record of doing things like patenting genes and refusing to allow engineers to publish papers for fear of competition.

Imagine how much richer Princeton would be today as Einstein's heir if he alone could have used E=MC^2 because he figured it out first.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby epigrad » Fri Apr 13, 2012 6:38 pm UTC

thc wrote:Actually, I've done quite a bit of environmental sequencing. And it's the fact that I have that I can tell you that it doesn't mean anything. Yes, there are tons of bacteria out there that exist in nature that we can't culture in the lab. Yes, we can find them with environmental sequencing and we can determine how they are related evolutionarily to other species. But so what? We still have no idea about their metabolic functions. We still have no idea what ecological niche those bacteria fill.There's nothing we've learned about those bacteria other than the fact that they exist. But in a general sense, we kind of already knew that.


The fact that they exist is a thing in and of itself.

There's an entirely bright sparkly new aspect to my field (Epidemiology) in comparing the microbiome of human beings - something that can't be done without high-throughput, cheap environmental sequencing. The notion that you might be able to use a nearly comprehensive survey of what grows in and on you as an exposure profile for disease is entirely new, and entirely unexplored.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Carnildo » Sat Apr 14, 2012 8:15 am UTC

Rococo wrote:
thc wrote:
qetzal wrote:The Earth was first circumnavigated in 1522. Bell first demonstrated his telephone in 1876. The Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903. The first atom bomb was tested in 1945. So you've picked four events that took place over the course of > 400 years, and you're lamenting that you haven't seen anything comparable in your ~ 20 years of life?

I'm saying that I can't see anything as revolutionary happening at least in the near future. I'm not saying I'm right, it's just my gut feeling.

THC, I think what you are getting at is that there aren't discoveries or breakthroughs any more that seem impossible to people before they happen. Is it fair to say that this is what separates 'incrementalism' from something really amazing in your mind?

None of those examples meet that criteria, though. Circumnavigating the Earth was simply a matter of getting the resources together to do it -- everyone who'd been paying attention to exploration at the time knew not only that the Earth was round, but roughly how large it was. About a half-dozen people have a good claim to be the "inventor" of the telephone, and if the Wright Brothers hadn't successfully flown in 1903, it's fairly likely that one of the dozens of other pioneers of flight would have done so within a year. Even the atom bomb didn't come out of nowhere: the Germans, Japanese, and British all had projects to develop one, and the Soviet Union had figured out that the US was working on it.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby qetzal » Sat Apr 14, 2012 12:13 pm UTC

@StevenR

No, you can't simply patent "research," and you can't patent mathematical formulas like E = mc2 either.

I'm not trying to dismiss your concerns out of hand. Just trying to put them in a realistic context. There are laws governing what can be patented. Yes, there's a history of people trying to bend those laws and patent ghings that shouldn't be patentable. But there's also a history of other people fighting to prevent and overturn such things.

Under current law, GE could not patent FTL particles themselves. And even if that changed, they'd still only have the patent for 20 years.

I'm aware of the stuff with Disney, and I agree it's ridiculous, but that's copyright. Not the same thing.

Bottom line: I agree that corporate control over new technologies is a concern, but the situation is not as dire and draconian as your hypotheticals suggest.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby sebwiers » Tue Apr 24, 2012 12:40 am UTC

sociotard wrote:Likewise, look at our modern journals. "In 2005, John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina in Greece examined the 45 most prominent studies published since 1990 in the top medical journals and found that about one-third of them were ultimately refuted. If one were to look at all medical studies, it would be more like two-thirds, he says. And for some kinds of leading-edge studies, like those linking a disease to a specific gene, wrongness infects 90 percent or more."
- http://discovermagazine.com/2010/jul-au ... ght-effect.



I don't see how this is any indication of decreasing quality in scientific work.
First, its not being compared to anything from the past.
Second, if you DID do so, I think the comparison would favor the present. What percent of 12th century academic writings (which, for the time, must include theological writings) about medicine were eventually refuted? I'd venture about 100%.
Third, The fact that a lot of recent ideas have been proven false demonstrates that we are able to quickly weed out false theories. Again, how long did it take to overturn those theories from the 12th century? Does that mean they were better theories than the ones we have which get disproven more quickly? No, it means the people who failed to prove they were wrong lacked the tools and knowledge needed to do so.

Ignorance supports previous ignorance. Knowledge refutes past knowledge.

So we're still producing good science, but it's heavy crude mixed with a bunch of junk we have to filter out.


Always has been. In fact, its been more like bullshit mixed with rubble, and now we've upgraded from agricultural refuse to fossil fuels.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby idobox » Wed Apr 25, 2012 9:35 am UTC

I think what's changing, is that we'll discover less and less "laws", as in the laws or physics, because there's probably a finite number of them, and the experiments to find them will be more and more difficult to put up.
On the other hand, we're moving to "complexity science", trying to understand how complex systems work.

For example, people are studying the behaviour of sand or grain piles. The physics is pretty simple when they're dry, and a bit more difficult, but still well known, when they're wet; but it's still very difficult to predict the density a pile will have, or what angle it can reach before having an "avalanche". And this can kind of research can have important implications for the industry, because many things are powders or sand-like.

We're very very far from reaching "peak science" in biology, and new discoveries will have tremendous impact. Neurosciences are also a field where a huge amount of work remains to be done, and that can have world-changing effects, because it can one day allow us to modify the way our mind works, or lead to the creation of sentient AI.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby HungryHobo » Tue May 01, 2012 1:34 pm UTC

thc wrote:
Besides, how much do you think those past events changed the everyday life of the average person at the time? How many people's lives were significant affected by Magellen's voyage by 1542, or by telephones in 1896, or by airplanes in 1923?

Everyday life was massively affected by each of those events. What technology or discovery today will lead to a similar change in society?


Most people just went on with their lives utterly unchanged by Magellen's voyage, the average peasant gained nothing from it.
Telephones were nothing more than an incremental improvement on the telegraph which at first was so expensive that it had little effect on the lives of ordinary people.
Airplanes weren't even useful in war at first and didn't have much effect on the lives of the non-rich and famous until generations of incremental improvement had taken place.



It doesn't feel that way to me. I don't have a cell phone, and I don't feel at any sort of disadvantage.


If you close your eyes and refuse to let the benefits of new technology improve your life then you're not going to feel much improvements from new technology.
Shocking isn't it.


But it is just that, an improvement, an increment, not anything new or revolutionary.


almost nothing is terribly useful when it's first invented. it's only decades later that it ever has much use to the average person.

thc wrote:And yet we are still so far off from being able to solve hard problems, like chess, by brute force. What important problems have been able to be solved by the increase in computation power in recent years? Sudoku?

I refuse to believe that you're working in anything biology related while being this clueless about bioinformatics.
Are you an actual researcher or do you just fill agar plates and do what you're told?

because the increase in availible computing power is incredibly useful in biology right now. it's letting us model protiens and biomolecules and dig useful information out of stunningly gigantic datasets.

there's lots of biologists now who don't touch any wetware and do great work.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby epigrad » Wed May 02, 2012 7:53 am UTC

HungryHobo wrote:I refuse to believe that you're working in anything biology related while being this clueless about bioinformatics.
Are you an actual researcher or do you just fill agar plates and do what you're told?

because the increase in availible computing power is incredibly useful in biology right now. it's letting us model protiens and biomolecules and dig useful information out of stunningly gigantic datasets.

there's lots of biologists now who don't touch any wetware and do great work.


This. The amount in biology, genetics, biostatistics, bioinformatics and epidemiology that's being solved by being able to hurl computational power at a problem is really rather impressive.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby capefeather » Sat May 05, 2012 2:52 am UTC

Unfortunately, this is the kind of misconception that keeps cropping up. People look at computers and biology and fail to see how they're relevant to each other. My own family had this situation back when I was about to start university...

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Yakk » Sat May 05, 2012 3:49 am UTC

capefeather wrote:Unfortunately, this is the kind of misconception that keeps cropping up. People look at computers and biology and fail to see how they're relevant to each other. My own family had this situation back when I was about to start university...
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby thc » Wed May 09, 2012 9:10 am UTC

HungryHobo wrote:I refuse to believe that you're working in anything biology related while being this clueless about bioinformatics.
Are you an actual researcher or do you just fill agar plates and do what you're told?

Believe what you like about me. I've taken multiple bioinformatics and systematic classes at the graduate level and passed at the top of each class. Actually, I am in the process of submitting a systematics paper at this very point in time. You? How about you bother to have proper punctuation and spelling before calling me stupid?

The point of me posting was to simply express a feeling I've been having for a long time, and to note that the OP was not the only one. In fact, do a google search and you'll find that this sort of sentiment is pretty common. Even from a sociological perspective, this alone is interesting and worth investigating. I never stated that the feeling was correct, rational or even that I intellectually believe in it. Just, it's something that I feel on a frequent basis. Reading Science (the journal) during my lunch break, I find myself thinking, wow, that's really technical, but I really don't care that you found a hand some monkey that shared some lineage with humans a million years ago... because... posters from my childhood promised that we'd have colonies on the moon and mars by now, but in truth, we're farther from that than we were 40 years ago. Science today feels slow. Why... is it romanticism of a fictionalized and rose-colored past? Is it personal jadedness from growing older? Is it due to human inability to understand life on anything but the linear? Is there ANY truth to the belief that the low hanging fruit have already been picked? This is an interesting discussion, regardless of if you strongly feel different.

Instead, I see totally unconvincing retorts like yours whose only purpose is to insult and antagonize, rather than elucidate and understand. I see more than enough people here, some of whom probably have far less scientific and research experience than me, jump on the band wagon of angry dogmatic reactionaries to berate a point of view that isn't in line with what they think is chic. I find it highly ironic, those who attempt to defend science in such a way.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby HungryHobo » Wed May 09, 2012 9:34 am UTC

that last bit was in defense of computers, not science.

If you have a clue about computers why would you be concerned about solving things by brute force rather than by using your head and using better algorithms. Sudokus can be solved on a pocket calculator, trying to brute force chess is silly since there's more possible permutations of a game of chess than atoms in the universe.

If you define all the advances that have happened as not counting then of course it'll look like nothing is happening.

Yes we don't have moon colonies but that's economics more than science.We could put more people on the moon but we don't gain much from it.
We have flying cars but they get awful gas millage. We have the science, not the engineering.

The problem isn't with the lack of advancement, it's simply that some dreams were impractical economically.

Your problem isn't science, it's economics.

You can be sure there's lots of low hanging fruit once it's put in the right context or terms.
a problem which is hard for trained professionals can be litteral childs play as long as it's presented right and the correct details are abstracted away. just look at foldit.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby thc » Wed May 09, 2012 9:42 am UTC

epigrad wrote:This. The amount in biology, genetics, biostatistics, bioinformatics and epidemiology that's being solved by being able to hurl computational power at a problem is really rather impressive.

Let's take a look at a specific examples - phylogenetics. It's true that computational power has made phylogenies much more statistically powerful. Even with just a short sequence, you have an order or two of magnitude more characters than scientists had a few decades ago. But guess what? Systematists have been making highly accurate phylogenies with as few as 10 characters. Sure, we can now determine where whales branched off or whatever, but in general, we've had a really accurate picture of how species were related even before all this computational power.

Your problem isn't science, it's economics.


But that's the point? The OP stated that economics may get in the way of significant scientific advancement, as science gets more expensive "to do". Take medicine and health? It's interesting to note that life expectancy in the U.S. (and I assume other first world countries) has been leveling off since the 50's, and yet, health care costs have not. It seems that there are diminishing returns, indicating peaking at least of some sort. Could this be an indicator of science "peaking" too?

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Angua » Wed May 09, 2012 9:54 am UTC

We've also shown that apicoblasts are related to chloroplasts which is opening up the idea for using variations on herbicides to treat malaria and toxoplasma. We've identified the gene that gives resistance to T. brucei brucei in humans, and the one in baboons which also give resistance to T. b. gambiense and T. b. rhodesiense.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby HungryHobo » Wed May 09, 2012 10:07 am UTC

thc wrote:has been leveling off since the 50's


this really hasn't been helped by the stunning rise in obesity.

it's science, not magic after all.

Compare with a country with a low obesity rate where life expectancy has been climbing steadily.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Zamfir » Wed May 09, 2012 10:14 am UTC

There was a period, say with a peak in the middle of the 20th century, when science was getting very organized and produced results that very quickly had large effects on the daily lives of people, often (but not always) improvements.

Since then, sicence has gotten more organized yet, employs more people, has better international cooperation, and is producing even more amazing things. But arguably, it doesn't have quite that same large and direct effect on normal people's lives anymore.

That doesn't mean that nothing is happening, just that here was a truly enormous social impact from things like industrialized fertilizers, vaccination programs, radio, anticonception, but also nuclear weapons for example. If you lived in an industrialized country in the 1960s, formal science had changed the world around you, in a way it perhaps hasn't since.

As you say, it's not magic. Some stuff is just hard.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby elasto » Wed May 09, 2012 12:16 pm UTC

I don't know. I think the internet has revolutionised life in countless ways - it's just it's done it in such a multifaceted way it's hard to unpick it - and that revolution has plenty of steam left in it (eg working from home becoming the norm).

As to the revolutions yet to come, well, just today I read that Nevada has issued the first driving licence to a car. If that's not futuristic I don't know what is!

Driverless cars will soon be a reality on the roads of Nevada after the state approved America's first self-driven vehicle licence.

The first to hit the highway will be a Toyota Prius modified by search firm Google, which is leading the way in driverless car technology. Its first drive included a spin down Las Vegas's famous strip.

Other car companies are also seeking self-driven car licences in Nevada.

The car uses video cameras mounted on the roof, radar sensors and a laser range finder to "see" other traffic.

Engineers at Google have previously tested the car on the streets of California, including crossing San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. For those tests, the car remained manned at all times by a trained driver ready to take control if the software failed.

According to software engineer Sebastian Thrun, the car has covered 140,000 miles with no accidents, other than a bump at traffic lights from a car behind.

Bruce Breslow, director of Nevada's Department of Motor Vehicles, says he believes driverless vehicles are the "cars of the future".

Nevada changed its laws to allow self-driven cars in March. The long-term plan is to license members of the public to drive such cars.

Google's car has been issued with a red licence plate to make it recognisable. The plate features an infinity sign next to the number 001.

Other states, including California, are planning similar changes.

"The vast majority of vehicle accidents are due to human error," said California state Senator Alex Padilla, when he introduced the legislation. "Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle is capable of analysing the driving environment more quickly and operating the vehicle more safely."


link

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby Zamfir » Wed May 09, 2012 1:04 pm UTC

Sure, the internet is a big thing, and so are computers. At the same time, it's easy to underestimate changes in the past.

My grandmother can still remember when she didn't have tapwater as a kid, and I think electricity came to her house only slightly earlier. My parents remember when the first person in their streets got a TV, and the whole street would get together to watch popular shows. My grandfather bought a car to bring vegetables to the auction, and would ask my grandmother to walk ahead in case the police were checking for driver's licenses. My grandmother's father and uncles had a plastering company, and they would regularly take the whole family, children included, walk with hand-carts to a faraway job, and stay there a few weeks. My daily commute is larger than those distances.

Even with all the changes from electronics, computers, networks, I guess there's less difference between my life and that of my parents, than between them and my grandparents, or grandparents and great-grandparents. Not sure about earlier generations, those generations might have been the big change.

And on other side of the equation, the amount of effort that has gone and still goes into computers is extremely large. The amount of manhours that went into science and R&D related to semiconductors and computers might well be larger than all such efforts combined before 1950 or so. The same goes for modern medicine and the fundamental research behind it: it's creating amazing new knowledge, but it also takes amazing amounts of work.

By 20th century standards, I'd say that the internet and computing a as whole are driving a large social change, but not unprecedented by a long shot, while they do require an unprecedented amount of research effort to keep going.

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby mfb » Wed May 09, 2012 2:04 pm UTC

thc wrote:But that's the point? The OP stated that economics may get in the way of significant scientific advancement, as science gets more expensive "to do". Take medicine and health? It's interesting to note that life expectancy in the U.S. (and I assume other first world countries) has been leveling off since the 50's, and yet, health care costs have not. It seems that there are diminishing returns, indicating peaking at least of some sort. Could this be an indicator of science "peaking" too?

Life expectancy is rising with ~2-3 months per year in the world, with few exceptions. There might some diminishing returns in it, but that is related to the natural limit of the human body: Currently, science can reduce the probability that humans die before they are old, but at the moment (!) science cannot really prevent biological aging, which gives ~100 as an upper limit (+-some years as natural variation) and quickly rising mortality in this region.
Here is some data

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby elasto » Wed May 09, 2012 2:59 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Sure, the internet is a big thing, and so are computers. At the same time, it's easy to underestimate changes in the past.

My grandmother can still remember when she didn't have tapwater as a kid, and I think electricity came to her house only slightly earlier. My parents remember when the first person in their streets got a TV, and the whole street would get together to watch popular shows. My grandfather bought a car to bring vegetables to the auction, and would ask my grandmother to walk ahead in case the police were checking for driver's licenses. My grandmother's father and uncles had a plastering company, and they would regularly take the whole family, children included, walk with hand-carts to a faraway job, and stay there a few weeks. My daily commute is larger than those distances.

Even with all the changes from electronics, computers, networks, I guess there's less difference between my life and that of my parents, than between them and my grandparents, or grandparents and great-grandparents. Not sure about earlier generations, those generations might have been the big change.
Maybe. At least part of that, though, is due to how the West went through a few decades when a much larger proportion in the growth in the West's overall wealth went to the ordinary working man than to the super-rich. Not only did the average stiff's buying-power grow quickly compared to the flatlining we've seen over the last couple of decades, but governments were more socialist in nature overall - having high rates of taxation, launching National Health Services, investing in infrastructure like roads, telecoms and the rest of it in ways they shied away from before and since.

This growth in quality of life has largely taken care of the bottom rungs in the pyramid of needs of the average citizen, so, naturally, what's left to improve is necessarily fundamentally less important. But, factoring that in, things have moved forwards in leaps and bounds none-the-less, I think.

15 years ago it'd have been pretty impossible for me as an ordinary person to go online to a UK business, buy something from them with a credit card, and it be at my door in China a week later. Ebay and Amazon have been social revolutions in their own right too.

15 years ago I was still buying A-Z guides (street maps); Nowadays a smartphone practically makes a satnav system redundant. I can hold up a phone to a Chinese sign and have it translate it into English in real time. The technology involved in Jeopardy's Watson is going to fundamentally alter job opportunities over the next 20 years, bringing automation to whole new swathes of industry.

15 years ago I was packing hundreds of books into black bags whenever I moved house. When I came to China I could leave them all behind since I can fit a thousand books onto an ereader. I can also fit a thousand movies onto my computer and watch them on my iPad whenever I wish. Bittorrent may be the bane of entertainment companies everywhere but it's a social revolution every bit as significant as any before it. Even those who didn't partake have benefited from companies being dragged kicking and screaming into offering a good deal of their content online. For good or for ill, porn has entered 'post-scarcity', with as much porn as you could ever want available for free online. Realistically, the same is true for all information-based entertainment (music, movies, tv shows, computer apps etc): For good or for ill, piracy has never been easier or more widespread.

Not only is working from home going to become much more common soon, so is learning from home. Doing university courses online is going to open up education to the masses in a way that could eclipse all educational advances before it - especially for the developing world. People from Asia and Africa will be able to study at the elite UK and US universities without leaving their homes let alone their countries.

Yes, there have been relatively low-tech advances in the past that have been revolutionary, such as the contraceptive pill, but there's nothing stopping an advance like that hitting us at any time right out of the blue. Maybe tomorrow someone will come up with a similarly low-tech pill that stops you feeling hungry on-demand or stops you developing insulin-resistance - slashing the predicted healthcare bill of Western countries and improving quality of life immeasurably. Or perhaps someone will invent a pill that eliminates withdrawal pains from addictive drugs, or prevent them from being addictive to begin with - fundamentally altering how drugs (and the war on them) has wrecked our societies. Heck, for those it helps, Viagra has been a quiet social revolution; Not as fundamental and empowering as the contraceptive pill but just as psychologically significant in its own way. So I wouldn't say we've reached 'peak science' in the sense that cheap, low-tech, world-changing technologies couldn't be just around the corner. They very easily could be - and if we don't think them up, the hard AI that will come about this century certainly will!

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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby idobox » Wed May 09, 2012 4:00 pm UTC

A few future possible technologies that will be (or are already) drastically changing the world:
-Gene therapy. We will not be constrained by what we're born with. Obvious dystopian risks. This one is happening right now.
-Growing organs/xenografts/artificial limbs. Medicine is moving from amplifying of suppressing natural behaviors to directly rebuilding/replacing defective parts. One day, replacement parts will be better than the original biological stuff. This one is also happening right now.
-Fusion, fast breeder nuclear reactors and solar power are good candidates for a truly sustainable energy. In the last 2 centuries, access to energy has been a major strategic issue, and has caused a number of wars.
-Automation. Along with cheap energy, it is bringing a world where human work won't be needed to produce goods. In only one generation in the west, factory workers and farmers have largely been replaced by white collars and unemployed people.
-AI. Smarter machines can interact more and more with humans (and will probably replace human workers the way they did in factories). Nevada just gave google's robot car a driving license.
(By the way, the last two create a crisis that can only be solved by changing the economical system: when human work looses all worth compared to machines, what can a citizen give in exchange for goods and services?)

-neuroscience. The human mind is still a big mystery, but when we crack it, it will be a huge thing. Understanding how we work will have dramatic philosophical and religious impact, and will change civilization. Being able to replicate, modify, improve or expand it will bring the singularity, the single most important event in the history of humankind as far as we can guess.
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Re: How long until 'Peak Science'?

Postby HungryHobo » Wed May 09, 2012 4:12 pm UTC

ah yes, on the note of organs, printed bladders are a little cool, and they're working on livers and kidneys.

http://www.economist.com/node/15543683
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