Things Smart People Worry About

The has an annual feature where they ask about 100 or more scientists, artists, authors and other certifiably Smart People (plus Terry Gilliam) a big question about the world. Each person responds with about 1000 words or so, so the responses to this year’s question, “What Should We Be Worried About?” runs to more than 110,000 words. (Previous years have asked things like ‘What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?‘ and ‘What is the most important invention of the past 2000 years?‘.)

They’ve been doing this since 1998, which makes this collective body of text very tempting for analysis. Below, I took just the responses to this year’s question and picked out every 2-word phrase. I then tossed out phrases with so-called ‘stop words’ in them (like ‘like, of, and, but, is’ and so on) to get a list of the top things this year’s respondents to the’s question think are worth mentioning, in order of how often they were mentioned. (Of course, if one person said the same phrase 10 times, then that phrase will rate high on this list. Perhaps it would have been better to calculate the fraction of respondents using each phrase, but that would have taken more effort than I care to put in right now.)

So, here is the list of the 155 top two-word phrases that Smart People are worrying about right now:

quantum mechanics
climate change
economic growth
neural data
global cooperation
black hole
good life
social media
natural selection
human nature
long term
human beings
mental disorders
mate value
standard model
complex systems
synthetic biology
sex differences
hubristic pride
video games
united states
population growth
two cultures
20th century
young people
new technologies
fourth culture
solar system
higgs boson
specific heat
data privacy
data streams
general public
real world
world war
science fiction
search engines
conscious experience
21st century
side effects
genomic instability
years old
living standards
life science
breast cancer
lamplight probabilities
liberal democracy
medical care
bad news
fire departments
scientific method
new ideas
privacy rights
fertility rates
human behavior
social sciences
local cooperation
educated people
less educated
next generation
higher education
human genome
screw driver
human population
human rights
financial crisis
subjective experience
quantum information
human brain
natural world
unmarried men
older people
nuclear war
health care
brain regions
young men
billion years
risk factors
global population
cell phones
brain development
social networks
scientific research
science-media complex
global warming
lung cancer
modern technology
dark age
time scales
steven pinker
heart disease
silicon valley
limited resources
public policy
industrial revolution
decision makers
social reality
taboo words
urn model
public sphere
birth rates
world population
regulatory capture
psychoactive substances
public health
soviet union
human life
larger families
arable land
high school
todays world
biometric data
modern states
new information
digital technologies
mutated cell
bad guys
evolutionary psychology
material progress
status quo
boundary conditions
environmental factors
information technology
phase space
artificial intelligence
theoretical physics
jehovahs witnesses
technological innovation
general relativity
population size
business school
frontal cortex
annual cost
bell curve
thousand years
homo sapiens
conscious worries
social scientists
scientific discovery
cultural practices
developed world
mass destruction
big data
western world
error catastrophe
unknown unknowns
collective delusions
modern society
making decisions
public debate
conscious experiences
global culture
losing touch
brain activity
water resources

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