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On January 1, 2020, the Probaway Person of the Year will be declared. Unlike other short-term popularity contests, the effort is to project my mind 500 years into the future with a mental filter gleaning what those people will remember as significant. Columbus, Einstein, and Armstrong are people who did things so unique and so fundamental they will live in human memory as long as there are people to remember.

I watch all year for events with those qualities and none have grabbed me. Granted lots of important things have happened, but compare them to the memorability of those three.

David Deamer has been attempting to create life from wild natural processes for several years, and if he succeeds it would qualify for 500-year memorability. He has succeeded in growing long organic chains, sandwiched between tiny cycling floods of organic molecules and of drying sheets of other materials. Those can ooze out the sides and form bubbles of contained long chains. These little bubbles are almost like living things, but the problem is that they aren’t living, they are not reproducing themselves. That ability to reproduce may come about only randomly, and it may require an ocean-size glob of these bubbles to randomly get one that works. It could work very poorly by our living standards because there wouldn’t be any competition, but it must move up to the level of natural selection where what works gets reproduced. Without competition this first living creature would soon cover the world.

When I look at TIME magazine’s Person of the Year since 1927 I see many of the people who politically made the twentieth century. But they missed the real history makers. They didn’t credit Neil Armstrong for taking the first step on the Moon, but instead chose the Apollo team that flew around it. They didn’t see Mao as significant, nor Xi either, so far. But, from a distant view, those two will be seen as founders of a new Chinese Dynasty, the most powerful entity in the world.

An even bigger question is marginally philosophical, “Where did we come from?” The list of ancestors grows longer, with recent additions of Homo luzonensis, Denisovans, A. anamensis and A. afarensis. Moving on to Science News‘s list and Science Daily‘s list, one article perked my interest at Science Daily, “A new gene therapy strategy, courtesy of nature.

We are now entering the Novacene of computers largely displacing human beings, so the next Persons of the Year may be wholly self-regulating non-organic beings. Even in retrospect, it may be time to answer the question…

Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?