Bridging the Gaps: A Portal for Curious Minds
About this podcast
In-depth conversations with researchers, explorers and thought leaders from around the world, on cutting edge research and original ideas.
About this podcast
In-depth conversations with researchers, explorers and thought leaders from around the world, on cutting edge research and original ideas.
Bridging the Gaps: A Portal for Curious Minds
Time, Space and Nature of Reality through the Lens of Quantum Theory with Dr Carlo Rovelli
What is time? Is time real or just an illusion? Time is an enigma, a mystery that never ceases to perplex us. Philosophers, poets, painters and thinkers have long debated its significance, while scientists have discovered that its structure differs from our intuitive understanding of it. Our view of time has changed dramatically throughout the years, from Boltzmann to quantum theory, and from Einstein to loop quantum gravity. In the huge cosmos, time moves at various speeds in different places, the past and future differ considerably less than we might assume, and the whole concept of the present vanishes. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I discuss with Dr Carlo Rovelli the nature of time, the nature of space, and the fundamental nature of reality through the lens of quantum mechanics. Carlo Rovelli is professor of physics at Aix-Marseille University, where he is director of the quantum gravity group at the Center for Theoretical Physics. He is one of the founders of loop quantum gravity theory and is one of the world’s biggest experts in this field. In his books and in his presentations Rovelli says time is not what we think it is. He also says that space is not what we think it is. I open our conversation by asking him to unpack these statements for us. We then discuss the “impossibility of now”. In physics, from one moment to the next, the only concept that gives some notion of continuity is the flow of heat; it is the concept of entropy. We discuss how entropy plays an important role in this perceived continuity. Along the way we touch upon the concepts of past, present and future that we hold in our minds. Dr Rovelli’s new book, Helgoland begins with a detailed description of the development of quantum theory in 1925; we discuss the main observations and discoveries that led to the development of quantum theory. We then discuss the fundamental nature of reality by unpacking the statement in one of his books “if the backdrop of space has disappeared, time has disappeared, classic particles have disappeared, along with the class fields, so then what is the world made of?” And finally we discuss the efforts to develop models and theories to reconcile general relativity with quantum theory. We discuss how loop quantum gravity theory attempts to reconcile general relativity with quantum theory. Complement this conversion with fascinating discussion with Dr Katie Mack available at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2020/08/the-end-of-everything-astrophysically-speaking-with-dr-katie-mack/ And then list to Dr Dan Hooper at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2020/09/at-the-edge-of-time-dr-dan-hooper/
The Spike: Journey of Electric Signals in Brain from Perception to Action with Prof. Mark Humphries
Neurons are the fundamental building blocks of the brain. In the human brain, billions of these neurons communicate and liaise with one another using spikes, blips of electric voltages. Studying and understanding how these spikes emerge in the brain, how they travel through the brain and how this communication leads to meaningful actions are part of the cutting edge research in the field of neuroscience. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with professor Mark Humphries and discuss the research that he presents in his new book “The Spike: An Epic Journey Through The Brain in 2.1 Seconds”. This is a deeply informative account of the journey that these electrical signals take as they move from one neuron to another and eventually lead us to act. The tackles previously unanswered mysteries: Why are most neurons silent? What causes neurons to fire spikes spontaneously, without input from other neurons or the outside world? Why do most spikes fail to reach any destination? In this thorough discussion with professor Mark Humphries, we touch upon these fascinating questions and intriguing concepts. Mark Humphries is Chair in Computational Neuroscience at the University of Nottingham. He is the founding editor of “the Spike” an online publication available at Medium dot com. I begin our conversation by asking Mark about the structure of an individual neuron and how spikes emerge in a single neuron. We then discuss the concept of Dark Neuron and talk about the spikes that don’t lead to new spikes and just fail. A very interesting question is what do these spikes mean and how do these spikes carry messages from one point in the brain to another. In the book, Mark reports two groups of researchers holding two different viewpoints, these are “The Timers” and “The Counters”. I ask Mark “who are the timers” and “who are the counters” and what are their viewpoints on the question that how these spikes carry messages from one point in the nervous system to another. And finally we discuss how research is conducted in the fields of neuroscience and computational neuroscience. We particularly discuss progress that the researchers are making in the field of computing neuroscience. Complement this podcast with the fascinating discussion with Professor Daniel Schacter on “Seven Sins of Memory” available at: www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2015/01/on-th…iel-schacter/ And then listen to Professor David Badre “On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done” available at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2021/02/on-task-how-our-brain-gets-things-done-with-professor-david-badre/
History of Information with Professor Paul Duguid
Over centuries “information has shaped and been shaped by human society”, writes professor Paul Duguid at the start of the book “Information: A Historical Companion”. Duguid is one of the editors of this book that reconstructs the rise of human approaches to creating, managing, and sharing facts and knowledge. The book is organised as thirteen long form chapters and more than hundred short form entries in a list of thematic objects, tools and concepts that are critical for our understanding of information. Each long-form chapter discusses the role of information at an important point in time in the history, at a particular geographical setting. Written by an international team of experts, “Information: A Historical Companion” is a wide-ranging, deeply immersive and a large publication. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with Paul Duguid, a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley and one of the editors of this book. We start our discussion by exploring the concept of “information age” and addressing the question: has every age been an information age or is this title unique to this present time. We then discuss the significance of viewing history through the lens of information and viewing information through the lens of history. We also discuss our over reliance on information in the present time and the impact of increased volume and velocity of misinformation and disinformation on society. Professor Paul Duguid then discusses few entries in the list of thematic objects, concepts and tools. This has been a fascinating discussion, particularly for those who are keen to study our obsession with an informed existence. Complement this podcast with the fascinating discussion with Professor Luciano Floridi on the Philosophy of Information and then listen to Professor Jürgen Renn on the Evolution of Knowledge and Rethinking Science for The Anthropocene available on Bridging the Gaps.
"On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done" with Professor David Badre
Neural mechanisms in the human brain that are responsible for generating and keeping track of plans, and influencing a cascade of brain states that can link our goals with the correct actions are known as Cognitive Control. These mechanisms and processes enable us to transform plans and goals into actions. Cognitive Control, also known as Executive Control inhibits automatic responses and supports flexible, adaptive responses and enables sophisticated actions to achieve desired goals. From making a cup of coffee to buying a house, from planning a trip to a shopping mall to outlining a career path, humans are uniquely able to execute necessary actions. How do we do it? In his book “On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done”, cognitive neuroscientist David Badre presents the first authoritative introduction to the neuroscience of Cognitive Control. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with Professor David Badre to discuss this astonishing phenomenon, these fascinating mechanisms that have profound impact on our well-being. David Badre is professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown University, where he is also on the faculty of the Carney Institute for Brain Science. He and his lab have made pioneering contributions to the neuroscience of Cognitive Control and Executive Function. I open our discussion by asking professor Badre why the scale of Cognitive Control activities is very large in the human brain as compared to all other animals. We discuss the effectiveness of Cognitive Control which is unique to the human brain. These days it is widely accepted that the prefrontal cortex is crucial for our highest mental functions, including cognitive control. But it took us a while to understand this. Professor Bare discusses the research on “the puzzle of the frontal lobe” that informs us that the prefrontal cortex is crucial for our highest mental functions. Cognitive control is about transforming knowledge into actions; so before actions can happen, the knowledge must exist. Professor Badre explains our present understanding of how the brain acquires knowledge through learning and how acquired knowledge is retained in the memory. Professor Badre explains how the brain aims to balance stability and flexibility in general and how it aims to balance cost and reward during the information retrieval process. We also touch upon fascinating research questions that professor Badre and his colleagues are presently working on in BadreLab. Complement this podcast with the fascinating discussion with Professor Daniel Schacter on “Seven Sins of Memory” available at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2015/01/on-the-seven-sins-of-memory-with-daniel-schacter/ And then listen to Professor Jonathan Schooler on “Meta-awareness, mind-wandering and mindfulness” available at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2014/12/how-much-do-we-think-about-thinking-science-of-meta-awareness-mind-wandering-and-mindfulness/
"Philosophy & Ethics of Technology" with Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek
Philosophical reflection on technology is not new, it is about as old as philosophy itself. However, as the impact of technology on everyday human life and on society keeps increasing, and new and emerging technologies permeate nearly every aspect of our daily lives, it is crucial that human-technology relationships are studied extensively and understood thoroughly. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with philosopher Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek who suggests that human-technology relationships should be studied by focusing on how technologies mediate our actions and our perceptions of the world. Peter-Paul Verbeek is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy of Technology at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Twente. He is chair of the Philosophy of Human-Technology Relations research group and co-director of the DesignLab of the University of Twente. He is also honorary professor of Techno-Anthropology at Aalborg University, Denmark and is chairperson of the UNESCO World Commission on the Ethics of Science and Technology (COMEST). His research focuses on the philosophy of human-technology relations, and aims to contribute to philosophical theory, ethical reflection, and practices of design and innovation. I open this discussion by asking Professor Verbeek why humans are usually worried about new technologies. This is not a new phenomenon; even in ancient Greek, philosophers expressed their concerns about the emerging technologies of their time. We see similar concerns expressed at the time of the invention of the printing press. And now we see similar views being expressed by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. We discuss in detail philosophy of technology, technology ethics, ethics from with-in and the challenges posed by powerful and intelligent technologies of the future. Complement this discussion with Professor Luciano Floridi’s thoughts on Philosophy and Ethics of Information at: www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2020/07/philo…iano-floridi/ And then listen to Dr Karl Frey’s views in “The Technology Trap and the Future of Work” at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2019/10/the-technology-trap-and-the-future-of-work-with-dr-carl-frey/
"A Passion for Ignorance" and for Denials and Negations with Professor Renata Salecl
Ignorance, denials and negations have always been part of human experience. In this post-truth, post-industrial world, we often feel overwhelmed by the information and misinformation overload. Although we claim to live in an information age, consciously or unconsciously, actively or passively more and more we are choosing to ignore, deny and negate facts and valid opinions. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with philosopher and sociologist Professor Renata Salecl and we this discuss this “passion for ignorance”. In her recent book “A Passion for Ignorance: What We Choose Not to Know and Why” Renata Salecl explores how the passion for ignorance plays out in many different aspects of life today. Renata Salecl is professor at the School of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London and senior researcher at the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I open our discussion by asking Professor Salecl to unpack and explain various faces of ignorance that she outlines at the start of the book. We discuss the transformation of the knowledge economy to ignorance economy as she reports in the book. This book is organised very well; most chapters in the book start by outlining some kind of ignorance, this could be an active or passive ignorance, conscious or unconscious ignorance, and then Salecl discusses underlying reasons and possible impact of these denials and negations. In this discussion we touch upon a variety of denials and negations and forms of ignorance. We start with an important form of negation which is “choosing to ignore scientific evidence”. We also discuss the emergence of new forms of denials and ignorance in this age of Big Data. Drawing on philosophy, social and psychoanalytic theory, popular culture, and her own experience, Salecl explains that ignorance is a complex phenomenon that can, on occasion, benefit individuals and society as a whole. Complement this discussion with Professor Justin Smith’s fascinating views on Irrationality available at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2019/06/irrationality-a-history-of-the-dark-side-of-reason-with-professor-justin-smith/ And then listen to Professor Luciano Floridi’s thoughts on Philosophy and Ethics of Information at: https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2020/07/philosophy-of-information-and-ethics-of-information-with-professor-luciano-floridi/
Intriguing Science of Sense of Smell with Professor Matthew Cobb
Sense of smell is the process of creating the perception of smell. Animals use smell for a range of essential functions such as to find food or a mate, to sense danger and to send and receive signals and complex messages with other members of a species. Despite being so fundamental for all animals, including us, the sense of smell remains mysterious. We understand far less about this sense than we know about other senses. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with Professor Matthew Cobb and we explore this fascinating topic. In his recent book “Smell: Very Short Introduction”, Matthew Cobb describes the latest scientific research on sense of smell in humans, other mammals and in insects. Matthew Cobb is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester, where he studies sense of smell - or olfaction as it is technically known; he also studies insect behaviour, and the history of science. I open the discussion by posing the question that why did sense of smell emerge and evolve so early in the history of species. The sense of smell is a fundamental sense for animals, and is perhaps the oldest of all other senses, but we know far less about this sense than what we know about vision, touch, taste or hearing. We discuss our lack of understanding of the sense of smell and the reasons why olfaction is so complex to study and understand as compared to the other senses. We then discuss in detail what exactly is “smell” and talk about the composition and structure of smell carrying molecules. We touch upon smell detection and perception mechanisms and relevant functions of the brain. Animals use their sense of smell to interact with other animals and to interact with the environment they live in, to convey and to receive various messages; it seems that all life forms on earth live in an ecosystem of smells. Matthew Cobb explains this ecology of smells. We discuss the role of smell and scents in human culture. This has been an informative, enlightening and educative discussion.
"Exploring the Mysteries of Our Universe's First Seconds" with Dr Dan Hooper
Scientists now have a good understanding of how our universe evolved over the past 13.8 billion years, but we know very little about what happened in the first few seconds after the Big Bang. Dr Dan Hooper, a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Lab and a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, emphasises that understanding the earliest moments of the universe is vital to tackle, and to decipher mysteries such as dark matter and dark energy. In his book “At the Edge of Time: Exploring the Mysteries of Our Universe’s First Seconds” Hooper outlines four foundational questions as puzzles that we must solve and the key to solving these puzzles is in understanding what happened at the very beginning of our universe. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with Dr Dan Hooper. We discuss intriguing questions and fascinating research that he presents in the book “At the Edge of Time: Exploring the Mysteries of Our Universe’s First Seconds”. At the start of the book Hooper gives a thorough description of the timeline of how we got here where we are now from the Big Bang to the present day and how did our universe evolve over the past 13.8 billion years; he presents this narrative backwards, from the present time to the Big Bang. I open our conversation by asking him to describe this timeline and this journey from the present day to the Big Bang. We then discuss the four puzzles that Hooper outlines in the book and examine that understanding what happened in the first few seconds after the Big Bang holds the key to solving these puzzles. We also discuss the progress that is being made in developing a theory of everything, gravitational waves and his views on the multi universe theory. This has been a fascinating discussion with a very passionate researcher. Compliment Professor Hooper’s insights with equally fascinating discussion with Dr Katie Mack “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)” [https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2020/08/the-end-of-everything-astrophysically-speaking-with-dr-katie-mack/], and then listen to discussion with Nasa’s Spitzer project scientist Michael Werner “Spitzer Space Telescope: Discovering “More Things in the Heavens” [https://www.bridgingthegaps.ie/2019/07/spitzer-space-telescope-discovering-more-things-in-the-heavens-with-nasas-spitzer-project-scientist-michael-werner/].
"The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)" with Dr Katie Mack
Throughout history philosophers, poets and explorers have been pondering upon and debating the question that what the long term future of our universe would be. The focus has been on two intriguing perspectives: would the universe continue to exist forever or would it end at some point in time in future. Modern scientists seem to be in agreement that in the distant future the world will end; our universe will die. At that time, humanity might still exist in many unrecognizable spinoff forms, venturing out to distant space, finding new homes and building new civilizations. But the death of the universe if final. It is hard to contemplate that a time will come when, all that we care about, all that we have imagined and built, that all will end. It is equally hard to address the question that how our universe will end. In her latest book “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)”, Dr Katherine (Katie) Mack outlines five different ways the universe could end, and discusses in detail the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important concepts in physics. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with Dr Katie Mack about her research and about these possible endings of our universe. Dr Katherine (Katie) Mack is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies a range of questions in cosmology, the study of the universe from beginning to end. She currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University, where she is also a member of the Leadership in Public Science Cluster. Throughout her career she has studied dark matter, the early universe, galaxy formation, black holes, cosmic strings, and the ultimate fate of the cosmos. Alongside her academic research, she is an active science communicator and has been published in a number of popular publications such as Scientific American, The New York Times, Slate, Sky & Telescope, and Cosmos Magazine, where she is a columnist. We start our conversation by discussing with Dr Katie Mack the beginning of the universe; we then discuss nature and the large scale structure of the observable universe. We discuss cutting-edge research on two important unknowns that we are faced with: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. In the book Dr Katie Mack outlines a number of ways in which this universe could end. We discuss in detail two of these possibilities. Finally we discuss the models and theories that we presently use to study the cosmos and how might a “theory of everything” enhance our ability to understand the true nature of reality. This has been a fascinating discussion with one of the most dynamic rising stars in astrophysics.
Artificial Intelligence: Fascinating Opportunities & Emerging Challenges with Professor Bart Selman
Research and development in the field of Artificial Intelligence is progressing at an amazing pace. These developments are moving beyond simple applications such as machine vision, autonomous vehicles, natural language processing and medical diagnosis. Future AI systems will be able to use reasoning to make decisions; will employ innovative models of non-human intelligence; will augment human intelligence through human centric AI Systems. These systems will enable us to discover solutions to scientific and social problems, and will enable us to understand the physical world around us that has never been possible up-to this point in time. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with Professor Bart Selman to discuss these fascinating opportunities as well as emerging challenges in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Bart Selman is a Professor of Computer Science at Cornell University. He is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Bart Selman is the president-elect of The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. We begin our conversation by going through some of the recent developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence and how far we are from achieving the goal of developing Artificial General Intelligence. We discuss in detail artificial reasoning, non-human intelligence and human centric AI. We also discuss state of the art research on the topic of explainable AI. We then discuss challenges posed by applying research in the field of AI to develop systems such as autonomous weapons, weaponized AI and other similar and sensitive domains. This has been a fascinating discussion about cutting edge research in the field of Artificial Intelligence.
"Philosophy of Information" and "Ethics of Information" with Professor Luciano Floridi
Information is a crucial concept. Its significance is evident by the fact that the present era is labelled as the information age. An intriguing question is: What is information? Although information is always around us, in the realm of digital artefacts and connectivity as well as in biological entities and processes, it is still an elusive concept. This is perhaps the hardest and most central problem that is the focus of a new area of research known as philosophy of information. This episode of Bridging the Gaps focuses on philosophy of information, and touches upon a number of relevant concepts. I speak with professor Luciano Floridi who explains what is philosophy of information, why it matters, and systematically unpacks and thoroughly explains a number of fascinating and relevant concepts for our listeners. Professor Luciano Floridi is a Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford. He is also the Director of the Digital Ethics Lab of the Oxford Internet Institute. He is Faculty Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute and Chair of its Data Ethics Group. He is an Adjunct Professor of the Department of Economics, American University, Washington D.C. His research interests include the philosophy of Information, information and computer ethics, and the philosophy of technology. His other research interests include Epistemology, Philosophy of Logic, and the History and Philosophy of Scepticism. In a recent presentation professor Luciano Floridi describes philosophy of information as a “philosophy of our time”, and a “philosophy for our time”. I start our conversation by asking professor Floridi to unpack this definition for our listeners and explain this description of the philosophy of information. An interesting point that we discuss is how did ancient philosophers deal with the concept of information and do we find any philosophical discourse about information in ancient times? We then move onto concepts such as conceptual nature of information, data grounding problem and meaning and truth. We discuss in detail the concept of “Level of Abstraction”. Professor Floridi discusses an interesting concept in his publications, that is the concept of “Informational Structural Realism” and he makes an important observation that a significant consequence of Informational Structural Realism is that the ultimate nature of reality is informational. This is an intriguing statement. Professor Floridi explains this statement and expands on what he means by “the ultimate nature of reality is informational”. We then move on and discuss in detail, immensely important concept of ethics of information. I then invite professor Floridi to share with our listeners details of the research projects that he has been working on recently. Before closing our discussion we discuss three very interesting points: describing philosophy as a mechanism to design and engineer concepts; researching open questions; and tackling the view held by some that philosophy is dead. This has been a thoroughly informative, hugely educative and immensely interesting conversation.
"The Evolution of Knowledge: Rethinking Science for The Anthropocene" with Professor Jürgen Renn
Most history of science publications narrowly focus on specific periods in human history, or particular disciplines of scientific discovery, or small sets of scientists and philosophers. However there is a view that history of science can be better understood against the background of a history of knowledge including not only theoretical but also intuitive and practical knowledge. This can be further broadened by including cognitive, material and social dimensions of knowledge. Studying how knowledge structures are formed and evolve as knowledge spreads should further enrich our understanding of development and progress of science and technology. In his new book “ The Evolution of Knowledge: Rethinking Science for the Anthropocene” Jürgen Renn presents a new way of thinking about the history of science and technology, one that offers a grand narrative of human history in which knowledge serves as a critical factor of cultural evolution. Jürgen Renn is a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, where, together with his group, he researches structural changes in systems of knowledge. Jürgen Renn is honorary professor for History of Science at both the Humboldt-Universität and the Freie Universität Berlin. He is currently serving as Chairperson of the Humanities Sciences Section of the Max Planck Society. In this book Jürgen Renn examines the role of knowledge in global transformations going back to the dawn of civilization while providing vital perspectives on the complex challenges confronting us today in the Anthropocene—this new geological epoch shaped by humankind. He reframes the history of science and technology within a much broader history of knowledge, analyzing key episodes such as the evolution of writing, the emergence of science in the ancient world, the Scientific Revolution of early modernity, the globalization of knowledge, industrialization, and the profound transformations wrought by modern science. He investigates the evolution of knowledge using an array of disciplines and methods, from cognitive science and experimental psychology to earth science and evolutionary biology. The result is an entirely new framework for understanding structural changes in systems of knowledge—and a bold new approach to the history and philosophy of science. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with professor Jürgen Renn, one of today’s preeminent historians of science. We discuss fascinating research that he presents in The Evolution of Knowledge. We discuss the origin, evolution and spread of knowledge, and other insights that Jürgen Renn discuss in this thorough book.
"Dark Data: Why What You Don't Know Matters" with Professor David Hand
In the era of big data and super-fast information capturing and processing systems, it is easy to imagine that we have all the information that lead to actionable insights, that we need to make good decisions. However, according to David Hand, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Senior Research Investigator at Imperial College London, the data we have are never complete. Just as much of the universe is composed of dark matter, invisible to us but nonetheless present, the universe of information is full of dark data that we overlook at our peril. In his new book “Dark Data: Why What You Don’t Know Matters” Professor David Hand takes us on a fascinating and enlightening journey into the world of the data we don't see. As in his book “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” Stephen Hawking notes “No matter how powerful a computer you have, if you put lousy data in you will get lousy predictions out”, it is essential to understand anomalies and imperfections that a dataset may have. These imperfections may lead to incorrect and misleading insights. The book “Dark Data: Why What You Don’t Know Matters” explores the many ways in which we can be blind to missing data and how that can lead us to conclusions and actions that are mistaken, dangerous, or even disastrous. Full of real-life examples, from the Challenger shuttle explosion to complex financial frauds, the book outlines a practical taxonomy of the types of dark data that exist and the situations in which they can arise, and informs the readers how to recognize and control dark data. Professor David Hand guides us not only to be alert to the problems presented by the things we don’t know, but also shows how dark data can be used to our advantage, leading to greater understanding and better decisions. Data is essential for decision making; the books shows us all how to reduce the risk of making bad decisions.
Origin Of Mathematics and Mathematical Thinking with Dr Keith Devlin
Mathematics is everywhere. We use numbers, quantities, values and measurements almost all the time. Counting and quantifying is part of almost everything that we do. An interesting question is how did it all start. When did humans start thinking mathematically and what is the origin of mathematical thinking. As we start tacking these questions, we stumble upon few more queries: how did our brain evolve to do mathematics; what are fundamental capacities that enable humans to do mathematical thinking; what are major milestones in the evolution of mathematical thinking and in the history of mathematical innovations; is mathematics discovered or is it invented. I invited Dr Keith Devlin to join me in this episode of Bridging the Gaps for a discussion that focuses on these questions. Dr Keith Devlin is the director of the Stanford Mathematics outreach project at Stanford University. His current research is focused on the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He has written 33 books and over 80 research articles. He is a World Economic Forum Fellow, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Timefulness: Thinking Like a Geologist with Professor Marcia Bjornerud
Our planet’s history, from its initial formation to present day, spans over a long period of time. It is not easy to conceptually imagine such a large timescale and most of us adopt a narrow perspective of temporal proportion. This constricted view, according to professor Marcia Bjornerud underlies many of the environmental problems we are creating for ourselves. The lifespan of Earth can seem unfathomable compared to the brevity of human existence, but a narrow view of time makes it difficult for us to understand our roots in Earth’s history and the magnitude of our impact on the planet. Bjornerud, in her recent book “Timefulness: How Thinking Life a Geologist Can Help Save the World” stresses that an awareness of Earth’s temporal rhythms is critical to our planetary survival. I speak with Professor Marcia Bjornerud in this episode of Bridging the Gaps and we discuss fascinating research and intriguing ideas that she presents in this book. We explore in detail, one of the main points presented in this book, which is “how knowing the rhythms of Earth’s deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future”. Bjornerud emphasizes that overlapping rates of change in the Earth system -- some fast some slow-- require a poly-temporal worldview that she calls “timefulness”. Marcia Bjornerud is professor of geology and environmental studies at Lawrence University. She is the author of Reading the Rocks: The Autobiography of the Earth and a contributing writer for Elements, the New Yorker's science and technology blog. “Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World” presents a new way of thinking about our place in time, enabling us to make decisions on multigenerational timescales. “Timefulness reveals how knowing the rhythms of Earth’s deep past and conceiving of time as a geologist does can give us the perspective we need for a more sustainable future. Featuring illustrations by Haley Hagerman, this compelling book offers a new way of thinking about our place in time, showing how our everyday lives are shaped by processes that vastly predate us, and how our actions today will in turn have consequences that will outlast us by generations”.
"The Technology Trap" and the Future of Work with Dr Carl Frey
An intriguing set of questions that is being explored by researchers across the globe and is being discussed and brainstormed in various organisations and think tanks is: “what is the future of work”; “how forthcoming AI and Automation revolution will impact on the nature and structure of work”; and “what would be the impact of these changes on the fabric of society from social, economic and political perspectives”. In a 2013 study “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?” researchers Dr Carl Benedikt Frey and Dr Michael Osborne made an important observation: about 47% jobs in the US will be lost to automation. Dr Carl Frey is the co-director of programme on technology and employment at Oxford Martin School at Oxford University. His research focuses on “how advances in digital technology are reshaping the nature of work and jobs and what that might mean for the future”. In 2016, he was named the 2nd most influential young opinion leader by the Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärer. A recent book by Dr Carl Frey presents a thorough review of the history of technological progress and how it has radically shifted the distribution of economic and political power among society’s members. The title of the book is “The Technology Trap: Capital, Labour and Power in the Age of Automation”. The Industrial Revolution was a defining moment in history, but few grasped its enormous consequences at the time. This books demonstrates that the lessons of the past can help us to more effectively face the present and the forthcoming AI and automation revolution. Dr Carl Frey shows the Industrial Revolution created unprecedented wealth and prosperity over the long run, but the immediate consequences of mechanization were devastating for large swaths of the population. Middle-income jobs withered, wages stagnated, the labour share of income fell, profits surged, and economic inequality skyrocketed. These trends, Frey documents, broadly mirror those in our current age of automation, which began with the Computer Revolution. Just as the Industrial Revolution eventually brought about extraordinary benefits for society, artificial intelligence systems have the potential to do the same. But Frey argues that this depends on how the short term is managed. The decisions that we make now and the policies that we develop and adopt now will have profound impact on the future of work and job market. In the nineteenth century, workers violently expressed their concerns over machines taking their jobs. The Luddite uprisings joined a long wave of machinery riots that swept across Europe and China. Today’s despairing middle class has not resorted to physical force, but their frustration has led to rising populism and the increasing fragmentation of society. As middle-class jobs continue to come under pressure, there’s no assurance that positive attitudes to technology will persist. Dr Carl Frey joins me for this episode of Bridging the Gaps. In this podcast we discuss the ideas that Dr Frey presents in this book. Before discussing the future of work, we look at the history of work and how the nature of work evolved through various ages and how did it impact the equality in the society. Dr Frey notes in his book that the age of inequality began with the Neolithic revolution; we discuss this in detail. We then discussed first and second industrial revolutions and the age of digital transformation. We also discuss the rise of politics of polarisation and finally we discuss the future of work. This has been a fascinating conversation with a thought leader, on a hugely important subject.
How Cooking Made Us Human with Professor Richard Wrangham
Humans are the only animals that cook their food. One of the implications of cooking food, as noted by Oliver Goldsmith is, “of all other animals we spend the least time in eating”. In a ground-breaking theory of our origins, primatologist Richard Wrangham argues that the shift from raw to cooked food was a key factor in human development. When our ancestors adapted to using fire, humanity as we know it, began. Wrangham notes that as a result of eating cooked food, the human digestive tract shrank and the brain grew. Eating cooked plants or meat makes digestion easier and the energy we formerly spent on digestion was freed up, enabling our brains to grow. Cooking increases the proportion of nutrients that can be digested, makes food easier to digest and kills pathogens (harmful bacteria and viruses). Time once spent chewing tough food could be used instead to hunt and undertake other tasks and activities. Cooking became the basis for pair bonding and marriage, created household and shaped family structures, and even led to a gender based division of labour. Richard Wrangham is a professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and founded the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in 1987. He has conducted extensive research on primate ecology, nutrition, and social behaviour. In his book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” Wrangham argues that cooking food is obligatory for humans as a result of biological adaptations and the cooking, in particular, the consumption of cooked food might explain the increase in human brain size, smaller teeth and jaws, and smaller more effective digestive system. Wrangham’s “Catching Fire” presents an interesting narrative that how we came to be the social and intelligent beings that we are today. “Cooking was a great discovery not merely because it gave us better food, or even because it made us physically human. It did something even more important: it helped make our brains uniquely large, providing a dull human body with a brilliant human mind” – Richard Wrangham
Spitzer Space Telescope: Discovering "More Things in the Heavens" with Michael Werner
Since 2003, in a unique Earth-trailing orbit around the sun, the Spitzer Space Telescope has been observing in infrared an optically invisible universe dominated by dust and stars. Astronomers have been studying visible universe for thousands of years; however due to interstellar dust clouds and other obstructions to visible light, it was not possible to observe various regions of the universe. The Spitzer Space Telescope, the most sensitive infrared space observatory ever launched, has enabled us to study such optically obscure regions and processes in infrared. “The Spitzer Space Telescope has opened up a new window on the cosmos, yielding new perspectives and crucial insights into the genesis of planets, stars and galaxies”. Michael Werner and Peter Eisenhardt are among the scientists who worked for decades to bring this historic mission to life. Their book “More Things in the Heavens: How infrared astronomy is expanding our view of the universe” outlines an inside story of how Spitzer continues to carry out cutting-edge infrared astronomy to help answer fundamental questions that have intrigued humankind since ancient time: Where did we come from? How did the universe evolve? Are we alone? In this episode of Bridging the Gaps podcast, I speak with Michael Werner, one of the authors of this insightful book. Discussing various features of Spitzer’s mission and numerous topics covered in the book, this podcast presents a fascinating view of how infrared astronomy is aiding the search for exoplanets, enabling us to study exoplanet atmospheres, and is transforming our understanding of formation of stars and galaxies, and of the history and evolution of our universe. Michael Werner is a senior research scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. He has been the lead scientist for the Spitzer Space Telescope since 1984.
"Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason" with Justin Smith
In his new book, "Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason" philosopher Justin Smith presents a fascinating narrative that reveals the ways in which the pursuit of rationality often leads to an explosion of irrationality. Smith, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris, acknowledges that we are living in an era when nothing seems to make sense. Populism is on the rise, pseudoscience is still around and there is no shortage of of conspiracy theories. Smith discusses the core of the problem that the rational gives birth to the irrational and vice versa in an endless cycle, and any effort to permanently set things in order sooner or later ends in an explosion of unreason. He notes that despite the fact logic and reason are well understood, methods and practises that were supposed to have been setup to counter irrationality, ended up mired in the very problem that they were meant to solve, and that is irrationality. "Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason" is rich and ambitious and ranges across philosophy, politics and current events. It challenges conventional thinking about logic, natural reason, dreams, art and science, pseudoscience, the Enlightenment, the internet, jokes and lies and death and shows how history reveals that any triumph of reason is temporary and reversible, and that rational schemes often result in their polar opposite. Smith argues that it is irrational to try to eliminate irrationality and describes irrationality an ineradicable feature of life. It has been an absolute pleasure speaking with Professor Justin Smith in this episode of Bridging the Gaps. This has been a fascinating conversation.
"2062: The World That AI Made" with Professor Toby Walsh
Professor Toby Walsh is a world leader in the field of artificial intelligence, and has spent his life dreaming about machines that might think. He is a Professor of AI at the University of New South Wales and leads a research group at Data61, Australia’s Centre of Excellence for ICT Research. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps Professor Toby Walsh discusses his latest book ““2062: The World That AI Made”. By 2062 there will be huge developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence and some researchers believe that by that time we will have built machines as intelligent as us. But what will this future actually look like? When the quest to build intelligent machines has been successful, how will life on this planet unfold? In 2062, Toby Walsh considers the impact AI will have on work, war, politics, economics, everyday human life and, indeed, human death. Will robots become conscious? Will automation take away jobs? Will we become immortal machines ourselves, uploading our brains to the cloud? What lies in store for homo digitalis – the people of the not-so-distant future who will be living among fully functioning artificial intelligence? In “2062: The World That AI Made” Professor Toby Walsh describes the choices we need to make today to ensure that future remains bright.