Earlier this week, I sat in on a seminar about the future of computing. Technically, it was about the future of computing at Argonne National Lab, but since the lab is at the forefront of scientific computing, the talk was broadly applicable to the state-of-the-art world-wide. Specifically, researchers are looking at ways of achieving “exascale” computing power. (For those of you who have forgotten your metric prefixes, ‘exa-‘ corresponds to one quintillion or one with eighteen zeroes behind it. In this case, an “exaflop” is one quintillion operations in one second. That’s exascale.)

I get to hear quite a few of these kinds of talks: highly respected people who are on the leading edge of research in various fields: computing, energy, light sources, etc. The strides that science is making are tremendous. Today’s cutting-edge supercomputers may be tomorrow’s desktops. Our energy sources may shift from almost fully hydrocarbon based to almost fully solar. (They may have to, or we’ll doom our planet’s climate.) We may soon reconstruct entire protein structures from the X-ray scattering of just one molecule. And so on…

And yet, despite these amazing advances, I don’t share the same passion as these great scientists. I don’t have the same drive. I’m not entirely sure why, although this week I had a thought…

Where are the concomitant advances in human relations?

It’s a question that I care about and a question that I can’t separate from the science. But it’s something that makes me feel torn, because I don’t get to address it in the context of my career.

Now – I don’t know exactly how we’d measure these advances scientifically. Exactly how would one put a number on the goodness with which we treat one another? I really have no idea. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say our goodness doesn’t keep up with our technology. One might even argue that discourse in the United States has taken a few steps back recently. Sometimes, it feels like our technology and consumption march non-stop, but our goodness must be re-learned every generation.

What can I learn about relating to the world? How can I pass on the things that I learn to the next generation?

Just a few thoughts bouncing around this week.