To me an intellectual in this context is an expert generalist — a polymath or jack-of-all-trades who sees and understands the Big Picture both past, present and future. While I value and respect the work of specialists, they can be frustratingly out of touch with other disciplines and some of the more broader applications of science, technology and philosophy. Given the obvious truism that nobody can know everything, there is still great value in having individuals understand a diverse set of key principles.
Also, I admit that my list is biased in favour of my own personal specialties and interests, but I have made a conscious effort to be as cross-disciplinary as possible. There are terms from computer science, cosmology, neuroscience, environmentalism, sociology, biotechnology, philosophy, astrobiology, political science, and many other fields.
The list is based on topics that are very vast in range – so will appeal to many! Here are a few terms –
- Accelerating Change: That the pace of technological development is accelerating is now undeniable. The steady onslaught of Moore’s Law and its eerie regularity is the most profound example. As thinkers like Ray Kurzweil and others have shown, the onslaught of accelerating change throws commonly held time-frames out the window. And that this rate of change is exponential implies radical social disruption around the mid-point of the 21st Century.
- Anthropic Principle: Once considered a philosophical lark, the anthropic principle has become an integral methodological tool with which to best analyze the extreme unarbitrariness of the Universe’s parameters. The AP, which suggests that our Universe’s qualities are unavoidable in consideration of the presence of observers, has helped cosmologists, astrobiologists and quantum physicists as they work with such related concepts as the fine-tuning hypothesis, string theory, and various multiverse theories.
- Engineered Negligible Senescence: Aging is increasingly coming to be regarded as a disease, and as such it is privy to treatment and therapies leading to outright eradication. Indefinite lifespans may be as little as 50 years away.
- Existential Risks: The development of nuclear weapons marked a disturbing turning point for the human species: we are increasingly coming into the possession of apocalyptic technologies. Soon to join the list are such problems as a malevolent superintelligence, deliberate or accidental misuse of nanotech, runaway global warming, a killer artificial virus, an antimatter holocaust, or a particle accelerator disaster. Read more here and here. Adding insult to injury is the Doomsday Argument.