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A Cosmologist Advocates Thoughtful Deployment of Science and Technology to Address the Challenges Facing Humanity

Andrew Robinson: In 2004, the year before he became president of Britain’s Royal Society, Martin Rees memorably remarked that “we are no wiser than Aristotle was more than 2,000 years ago.” The reason that humankind has made such extraordinary scientific progress since Aristotle’s time, Rees argued, is primarily because of technological advances, such as telescopes and space probes in the case of astronomy — his own field of expertise. Rees’ latest book, On the Future: Prospects for Humanity, written “as a scientist, as a citizen, and as a worried member of the human species,” is really a meditation on this earlier thought, short in extent but wide in range: from redesigning genes, through the likelihood of human-induced climate change, to the possibility of encounters with alien intelligence in the universe. Its overall theme is that Earth’s growing population will flourish only if science and technology are deployed with “wisdom.”

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