The Dysons

America’s first family of polymathic excellence, the Dysons, blow my mind with their thoughts on Edge‘s big-think annual question: What have you changed your mind about? Why

First, my hero Freeman Dyson offers a predictably surprising (does that make sense?) and predictably brilliant answer: Dyson is now certain that the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not end World War II, and that this is a dangerous myth.

In addition to the myth of two nuclear bombs bringing the war to an end, there are other myths that need to be demolished. There is the myth that, if Hitler had acquired nuclear weapons before we did, he could have used them to conquer the world. There is the myth that the invention of the hydrogen bomb changed the nature of nuclear warfare. There is the myth that international agreements to abolish weapons without perfect verification are worthless. All these myths are false. After they are demolished, dramatic moves toward a world without nuclear weapons may become possible.

Some of you will find this to be typical pacifist pabulum. I’d urge you to take anything Freeman Dyson says very seriously.

George Dyson, Freeman’s son, offers some interesting thoughts on Russia’s colonial presence in Alaska, which he now sees as a basically successful intercultural encounter.

Finally, Esther Dyson, Freeman’s daughter, has a wonderfully insightful take on privacy.

n short, for many users the Web is becoming a mirror, with users in control, rather than a heavily surveilled stage. The question isn’t how to protect users’ privacy, but rather how to give them better tools to control their own data – not by selling privacy or by getting them to “sell” their data, but by feeding their natural fascination with themselves and allowing them to manage their own presence. What once seemed like an onerous, weird task becomes akin to self-grooming online.

This relates to the broader question of open data, which I hope to learn more about.