The Dawning of the Age of Biology


Some people whose names you may know or computers you may have used all had dinner together last week.

Photo above: Apocalyptic shit-disturber John Cusack eats the final grape at the namedrop alpha table, drawing heated commentary from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who sources say did not get a single grape.

(L-R, for reals, EDGE 2010 dinner: Jared Cohen, US State Department; Dave Morin, Facebook; John Cusack, actor/writer/director/thinker; Dean Kamen, Inventor, Deka Research; Bill Gates, Microsoft, Gates Foundation; Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post; Michael Shermer, Skeptic Magazine. Not shown in this photo, but huddled around the same table, were Peter Diamandis, George Church, and me. )

Here's the photo gallery for this dinner, hosted by John Brockman and EDGE to herald "the Dawing of the Age of Biology." Let the jpeg record show that I managed to get up close and personal with Marissa Mayer and Nathan Wolfe, then later with Danny Hillis.

More about the big ideas discussed, after the jump.

John Brockman, in presenting the theme for this 2010 edition of the annual EDGE dinner, wrote:

In the summer of 2009, in a talk at the Bristol (UK) Festival of Ideas, physicist Freeman Dyson articulated a vision for the future. He referenced The Age Of Wonder, by Richard Holmes, in which the first Romantic Age described by Holmes was centered on chemistry and poetry, while Dyson pointed out that this new age is dominated by computational biology. Its leaders, he noted, include "biology wizards" Kary Mullis, Craig Venter, medical engineer Dean Kamen; and "computer wizards" Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Charles Simonyi. He pointed out that the nexus for this intellectual activity — the Lunar Society for the 21st century — is centered around the activities of Edge.

All the scientists mentioned above by Dyson (with the exception of Simonyi) were present at the dinner. Others guests who are playing "a significant role in this new age of wonder through their scientific research, enlightened philanthropy, and entrepreneurial initiative" included Larry Brilliant, George Church, Bill Gates, Danny Hillis, Nathan Myhrvold, Jeff Skoll, and Nathan Wolfe.

EDGE: "The Edge Dinner: A New Age of Wonder, Where the Dawning of the Age of Biology Was Officially Announced." (Thank you, John Brockman /


  1. John Cusak is one of the few who I would fantisize about having a meal with. If only to try and convice him to make Stranger in a Strange Land. I think he would be perfect to produce and play Ben Caxton. In a sort of flying car Retro sixties men wear hats and skinny ties art directed future.

  2. who is the seventh person in this photo. i just feel sorry for him. you even listed people who where not in the photo but “huddled around” it. do you hate him? poor guy.

    1. This was one of many tables. If you click through to the EDGE article, there’s more about the many biologists and scientists who attended. I wasn’t smart enough to keep up with those dudes.

  3. Anyone else got “Age of Aquarius” from Hair stuck in their head now?

    Not until I mentioned it?

    Alrighty then!

    1. Stuck, but before I read your post.

      They wouldn’t even have to change the “Let the sun shine…” part for the “Age of Biology” version.

  4. I have had a crush on John Cusack for as long as I can remember — because he’s even smarter than he is good-looking — and this picture just ups the sigh factor — smart is sexy, good-looking can be sexy, but whoaaaa….the two of them together are irresistible.

    No way you could be stupid and survive a conversation at that table.

  5. As a Latina biologist, I’d like to give a big shout out to all the people of color in that pho–waaaait a minute. The future (of biology) is so white, I gotta wear shades?

    Ay yi yi.

  6. Apocalyptic shit-disturber? I have no idea what you mean by that, but it sure sounds good. I always liked John Cusack as an actor, but I had no idea that he might be up to anything that would warrant a description like that. Time for me to do a little Googling I guess.

  7. Pity John Quackenbush wasn’t there (ex of The Institute for Genome Research, now professor of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at Harvard School of Public Health). I saw him give a talk on system biology in 2004 at Linkoping in Sweden at the Society for Bioinformatics in the Nordic Countries’ annual meeting. He was an excellent and engaging speaker (using a photo of George W and a chimpanzee to highlight shared human/simian ancestry, for example :-), and interestingly shares a physics background with Dyson. He’s one of those cross-disciplinary workers who you just know is going to come up with something revolutionary someday.

  8. if i cook the meal, could i come to the next meeting of the minds. course i would morph into the fly.

  9. if i cook the meal, could i come to the next meeting of the minds. course i would morph into the fly.


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