Each New Year I have chosen a Probaway Person of the Year. The guiding principle is to choose someone who will probably be remembered in 500 years, for something they did in the previous year. Originally the Probaway Person of the Year post was intended as a riposte to TIME magazine’s Person of the Year articles. Their method appeared to me to be shortsighted because they were mostly interested in the popular people of the previous year. Most of the choices were heads of state. It seemed TIME was selecting the office for that particular year, rather than something the person did that would be remembered in the distant future. When one looks at their previous 83 choices it becomes apparent that their person of the year vanishes from history within a few years after leaving public office. In 500 years whoever held office a particular year will be forgotten. There is something special about truly memorable actions, when seen from the future, and that is what this post attempts to reveal.
TIME has a fascination with creating Top 10 lists and this year they expanded their coverage with The Top Ten of Everything. I challenge you to find one item in their 16 lists of Top Tens, which makes 160 items, that is likely to be remembered in 500 years. One repeated story on their lists is Linsanity, which is an interesting pop culture piece, and a friend of mine who predicted Lin’s rise to success two years ago got a feature article in the Wall Street Journal. That is wonderful, but it isn’t the stuff of long-term history. I found nothing on their lists that appeared to fit that criterion. TIME neglected to mention the Mars rover Curiosity, which successfully landed and is exploring Mars. It might be reporting any day now that it has found evidence of life. That discovery would mean that Earth is not truly a supremely magical place, but that life is common throughout the Universe. That would be a memorable Earth-shaking announcement, and if it comes will be remembered as long as there are people to remember anything.
When we look back from 500 years in the future it is probable that plagues will have killed huge numbers of people. It has happened many times in the past, and in this kind of subject the past is a good predictor of the future. Unfortunately, in addition to natural plagues man made ones are probably already in our labs, and to worsen the fragile situation humanity is presently in, scientists have published this year precise DNA sequences of various diseases. Combine that data with unlimited numbers of individual people in home labs brewing up DNA for fun and profit, it is the new startup industry, and with little doubt some of these labs will be successful in creating a deadly diseases. With access to the internet everyone has access, or soon will have access, to most if not everything needed to brew up pathogens in their own home.
This year the popular game Plagure Inc. was published that made it easy to explore the various problems of making a real artificial plague happen. It would appear that 500 years in the future, after there have been many plagues, some of them possibly generated in home labs, that the surviving people will look back at this game as the memorable event of the year 2012. The people who created the various parts of the Plague will be forgotten, but the millions of common people who supported their work will be remembered for helping them to create these horrible disasters. The game Plague Inc is fun to play, but in the distant future people will be asking, “Why was it so much fun helping to kill billions of living people who haven’t even been born?”
The complete up-to-present list of – Probaway Person of the Year:
- 2015 – Peter Higgs and Alan Guth created theories that lead to proofs of mass and gravity sources.
- 2014 – Jennifer Doudna created a method for insertion of designed DNA precisely into existing DNA.
- 2013 – Plague Inc. is a computer game that explores the problems of creating a disease that will kill every last human being on Earth.
- 2012 – Zebrafish research-technique advances made it possible to observe drug interactions within living animals.
- 2011 – Craig Venter laid the groundwork for creating entirely new forms of life (greater than species) out of computer-generated DNA sequences.
- 2010 – Nadya Suleman (Octomom) and the society that created this travesty of good sense will be remembered into the distant future by many hungry people.
- 2009 – Jimmy Wales for Wikipedia, which will be still be used after our current computer operating systems are surpassed and forgotten.
- 2008 – Cesar Millan (the dog whisperer) because he shows people how to relate to dogs and people much better than anyone else. His videos and techniques will be remembered and used as long as there are people and dogs.
These may seem like strange choices but they are potentially long-term-memorable events which happened the previous year.