What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night

Adolescence is a period of life when the brain is malleable, and it represents a good opportunity for learning and social development. However, according to UNICEF, 40 percent of the world’s teenagers have no access to secondary-school education. The percentage of teenage girls who lack this access is much higher, yet there is strong evidence that the education of girls in developing countries has many significant benefits for family health, population growth rates, child mortality rates, and HIV rates, as well as for women’s self-esteem and quality of life. Adolescence represents a time of brain development when teaching and training should be particularly beneficial. I worry about the lost opportunity of denying the world’s teenagers access to education.

Bad behavior is seen as something to be noticed, reported on, and analyzed, whereas people who do not lie and cheat are taken for granted.

But discoveries are what usually egg us on. Not finding anything would be very bad indeed.

CAPTURE CHARLES SEIFE Professor of journalism, NYU; former staff writer, Science; author, Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception

Children need practice dealing with other people. With people, practice never leads to perfect. But perfect isn’t the goal. Perfect is the goal only in a simulation. Children become fearful of not being in control in a domain where control is not the point. Beyond this, children use conversations with one another to learn how to have conversations with themselves. For children growing up, the capacity for self-reflection is the bedrock of development. I worry that the holding power of the screen does not encourage this. It jams that inner voice by offering continual interactivity or continual connection. Unlike time with a book, where one’s mind can wander and there is no constraint on time out for self-reflection, “apps” bring children back to the task at hand just when a child’s mind should be allowed to wander. So in addition to taking children away from conversation with other children, too much time with screens can take children away from themselves. It is one thing for adults to choose distraction over self-reflection. But children need to learn to hear their own voices.

Civilizations do fail. We have never seen one that hasn’t. The difference is that the torch of progress has, in the past, always passed to another region of the world. But we now for the first time have a single, global civilization. If it fails, we all fail together.

delight in good ideas.

Happy brains are all alike; every unhappy brain is unhappy in its own way.

Hustle to keep your kids on or off the Internet, eating organic or local or nothing at all. Take these actions, or none. Just don’t worry about them. There is nothing to worry about, and there never was.

Impatience is a contagion spread from gadget to gadget.

It’s natural to worry about physical stuff like weaponry and resources. What we should really worry about is psychological stuff like ideologies and norms. As the UNESCO slogan puts it, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”).

Narcissistic leaders. The ultimate weapon of mass destruction is a state. When a state is taken over by a leader with the classic triad of narcissistic symptoms—grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy—the result can be imperial adventures with enormous human costs.

The black expanse over our heads promise places where our industries can use resource extraction, zero-gravity manufacturing, better communications, perhaps even energy harvested in great solar farms and sent down to Earth. Companies are already planning to do so: Bigelow Aerospace (orbital hotels), Virgin Galactic (low Earth orbit tourism), Orbital Technologies (a commercial manufacturing space station), and Planetary Resources, whose goal is to develop a robotic asteroid mining industry.

There are two kinds of fools: one who says this is old and therefore good, and the other who says this is new and therefore better.

Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Worry descends upon the worrier like a fever. Without appropriate treatment, that febrile anxiety burns away at the soul. With such treatment, the fever may break. Only then can the worried become well.