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10 Things Really Smart People Are Scared Of

Here are the top 10 things that these really smart people worry about -- prospects that should worry us too.
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Drawn from the cutting-edge frontiers of science, John Brockman's newest book, What Should We Be Worried About, brings 150 of the world's greatest minds together to share the one thing about the present or the future that worries each of them the most. Here are the top 10 things that these really smart people worry about -- prospects that should worry us too.

1) Is artificial intelligence about to create a race of super-beings that could destroy us?

"In summary, will [this happen] within our lifetime? And is this something we should work for or against? On the one hand, it might solve most of our problems, even mortality. It could also open up space, the final frontier. Unshackled by the limitations of our human bodies, such advanced life could rise up and eventually make much of our observable universe come alive. On the other hand, it could destroy life as we know it and everything we care about." -Max Tegmark (Physicist, MIT; researcher, precision cosmology; scientific director, Foundational Questions Institute)

2) If aliens are out there, there's nothing we can do to stop them

"It's too late to worry about alerting the aliens to our presence. That information is already en route at the speed of light, and alien societies only slightly more accomplished than our own will easily notice it." -Seth Shostak (Senior astronomer, SETI Institute; author, Confessions of an Alien Hunter)

3) We'll all become socially inept thanks to the constant stream of information whizzing past our eyes

"How often have you not checked your messages because it wasn't quite socially acceptable to pull out a phone? With eyeglass-mounted augmented reality, all the inhibitions will be gone... I worry about a world in which everyone is only pretending to pay attention." -William Poundstone (Journalist; author, Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?)

4) We'll all become mind readers.

"Neuroscience is making giant strides, and you don't have to be schizophrenic to wonder whether it will ever crack the lockbox of your mind. Will there be a time, perhaps in the near future, when your innermost feelings and intimate memories will be laid bare for others to scroll through?" -Stanislas Dehaene (Neuroscientist, experimental cognitive psychologist, Collège de France, Paris; author, Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention)

5) Humans will start living too long.

"If a person is kept disease-free and the aging clock is halted, why could a person not reach the age of two hundred? Three hundred? Five hundred? ... We die so that our youth--those better versions of ourselves--can flourish. We should worry about the loss of death." -Kate Jeffery (Professor of behavioral neuroscience & head, Research Department of Cognitive, Perceptual, & Brain Sciences, University College London)

6) A global water crisis is almost inevitable.

"In the next twenty years, we will need to supply roughly 40 percent more water than we do today to support greater economic activity, from food to energy production... Unfortunately, we do not have a great track record in increasing resource productivity." -Giulio Boccaletti (Physicist, atmospheric & oceanic scientist; managing director, The Nature Conservancy)

7) World War III

"The relative peace we have enjoyed since 1945 is a gift of values and institutions that militate against these risks... None of these protections is natural or permanent, and the possibility of their collapsing is what makes me worry." -Steven Pinker (Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University; author, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined)

8) Drugs are getting out of control.

"The number of untested but freely available psychoactive substances is dramatically rising... Everyone knows about acute adverse reactions, psychotic effects, addiction--we do have some cultural experience. But what about long-term effects, such as early-onset cognitive decline, say--a somewhat steeper slope than in normal aging?" -Thomas Metzinger (Philosopher, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz; author, The Ego Tunnel)

9) We should be worried about... worrying so much.

"Worrying is a worry... Your anxiety will in the end go away, because the problem will most likely go away; or perhaps your fear will come true and you'll be in a different place; or you'll be dead. You will have maximized your unhappiness and stress levels and, with luck, those of others, with nothing to show for it otherwise." -James J. O'Donnell (Classical scholar, University Professor, Georgetown University; author, The Ruin of the Roman Empire)


"Build a bomb shelter. Send money to people who lack it. Triple-encrypt and judiciously back up every J. Crew promotional email you receive, lest Internet terrorism befalls us. 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's nothing to worry about, and there never was." -Virginia Heffernan (National correspondent, Yahoo! News)