Adam Frank

In 2018, Marvel Studios released Black Panther. The film grossed 1.3 billion dollars and was nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture (a first time for a superhero film).

Everyone knows we live in a partisan age. It's hard to find any issue these days that people aren't ready to square off on, with sharp, snarky barbs.

While no one will be surprised to find these kinds of arguments playing out about immigration or the importance of NATO, finding it among staid physicists — and about the nature of physical reality — might not be so expected. But all too often over the last 100 years, this has been the case, as scientists have disagreed sharply over the meaning of their greatest and most potent theory known as quantum mechanics.

We've been talking to robots for a while now.

In the decade or so since Siri and her compatriots first appeared, we've all gotten pretty used to having conversations with computers in various forms. While your Alexa doesn't look much like a Cylon (the scary metal kind or hotty flesh kind) now, it seems like it's just a matter of time of time before we'll be talking with all kinds of robots — including those that look just like us.

The countdown has begun. It's T-minus a month or so until the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 — and humanity's first and famous steps on another world.

Does reality need realism?

If that seems like a weird question to you, consider the fact that it's the one most pressing for physicists and for their most successful theory about the physical world. That theory is called quantum mechanics — and every digital electronic device you've ever used owes its existence to the understanding of atomic-scale physics that comes with it.

But for all its success, quantum mechanics has one tiny problem: No one understands it.

It was a telling moment: David Wallace-Wells, author of the new book The Uninhabitable Earth, was making an appearance on MSNBC's talk show Morning Joe. He took viewers through scientific projections for drowned cities, death by heat stroke and a massive, endless refugee crisis — due to climate change. As the interview closed, one of the show's hosts, Willie Geist, looked to Wallace-Wells and said, "Let's end on some hope."

It was just 10 years ago that I attended a lecture about Big Data and had my mind blown.

Using an understanding of social networks, along with the emerging tools of artificial intelligence and machine learning, I thought we were at the dawn of new age — allowing us to finally manage the complexity of human society for the well-being of all.

It hasn't turned out that way.

On a Fall day more than 8 years ago, physicist Marcelo Gleiser and I sat in a coffee shop in Dartmouth and dreamed a little dream.

What if there were a place in the popular media where scientists could talk about science and culture in the broadest terms?

We're entering uncharted territory.

For more than 2,000 years, we humans have been arguing about life and, in particular, intelligent life in the universe. But arguing was pretty much where it always ended.

For all that time, we never had any evidence or any data that could raise the discussion above two people with different opinions yelling at each other.

But this era may well be nearing its end.

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education.

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