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March 24, 2007

Scientists' optimism contagious

An end to war. A human colony on Mars. Novel cancer therapies.

These are but a few of the responses to the 2007 Edge Annual Question, 'What are you optimistic about?'

Every year, Edge, a website devoted to science, poses a question to its contributors. (Previous questions include 'What is Your Dangerous Idea? and 'What is the Most Important Invention in the Past Two Thousand Years?')

This year, 161 leading scientists and thinkers share what they are optimistic about _ and why. Some of their causes for optimism are simple (new children will be born); others, complex (hope that the longawaited physics experiments set to begin this year at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland will lead to exciting discoveries about matter, gravity and the world.)

Some write of their hopes for humanity: optimism that people will 'increasingly value truth (over truthiness), 'that they'll continue to display a 'core decency' and that they'll take advantage of the fact that, for the first time, the majority of humankind 'is connected and has a voice.' Others write of their hopes for science: artificial intelligence, treatments for diseases, ways to see beyond our cosmic horizon and learn more about the universe.

Almost all of the responses are compelling. (To see them yourself, go to Reading them made me think about how I would answer the question, as a layperson setting aside small, personal hopes for a moment to consider the big picture.

I'm optimistic about the future of medicine. Both the science and the technology to support it are moving forward with great speed. The Human Genome Project opened huge doors, stem-cell research holds tremendous promise, and there's no question that both will lead to new cures, better treatments, and ultimately, the chance for longer, moreproductive lives.

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