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Things to Hang on Your Mental Mug Tree

[7.10.17]

I don't think there's any huge amount of intelligence required to look at the world through different lenses. The difficulty lies in that you have to abandon four or five assumptions about the world simultaneously. That's what probably makes it difficult.

RORY SUTHERLAND is Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman, OgilvyOne London; Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather UK; Columnist, The SpectatorRory Sutherland's Edge Bio page


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Compassionate Systems

[6.22.17]
One way a systems perspective could help with the environmental crisis is through understanding that we have a very narrow range of affordances, the choices presented to us. For example, I have this jacket, you have this table or the chair I’m sitting on, and they are manufactured with industrial platforms that have more or less been the same for a century. Yet in the last ten or fifteen years we’ve seen the emergence of industrial ecology, a science that offers a metric for understanding the impacts of the life cycle of any of these objects from beginning to end in terms of how they impact the global systems that support life on our planet – the carbon cycle being the best-known. Now that we have that data and a metric for it, we can better manage the processes that are entailed in the use and manufacture of every object we own. We have a metric for reinventing everything in the material world to be supportive of those life-support systems.
 
DANIEL GOLEMAN is the New York Times bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence. A psychologist and science journalist, he reported on brain and behavioral research for The New York Times for many years. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including three accounts of meetings he has moderated between the Dalai Lama and scientists, psychotherapists, and social activists. Daniel Goleman's Edge Bio Page

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Shut Up and Measure

[10.20.17]

What is fascinating to me is that we are now hoping, with modern measurements, to probe the early Universe. In doing so, we’re encountering deep questions about the scientific method and questions about what is fundamental to physics. When we look out on the Universe, we’re looking through this dirty window, literally a dusty window. We look out through dust in our galaxy. And what is that dust? I like to call it nano planets, tiny grains of iron and carbon and silicon—all these things that are the matter of our solar system. They’re the very matter that Galileo was looking through when he first glimpsed the Pleiades and the stars beyond the solar system for the first time.

When we look out our telescopes, we never see just what we're looking for. We have to contend with everything in the foreground. And thank goodness for that dust in the foreground, for without it, we would not be here.

BRIAN KEATING is a professor of physics at the Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences at the University of California, San Diego. Brian Keating's Edge Bio page


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Reality is an Activity of the Most August Imagination

[10.2.17]

Wallace Stevens had an immense insight into the way that we write the world. We don't just read it, we don't just see it, we don't just take it in. In "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," he talks about the dialogue between what he calls the Naked Alpha and the hierophant Omega, the beginning, the raw stuff of reality, and what we make of it. He also said reality is an activity of the most august imagination.

Our job is to imagine a better future, because if we can imagine it, we can create it. But it starts with that imagination. The future that we can imagine shouldn't be a dystopian vision of robots that are wiping us out, of climate change that is going to destroy our society. It should be vision of how we will rise to the challenges that we face in the next century, and that we will build enduring civilization, and we will build a world that is better for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That we will become one of those long-lasting species rather than a flash in the pan that wipes itself out because of its lack of foresight.

We are at a critical moment in human history. In the small, we are at a critical moment in our economy, where we have to make it work better for everyone, not just for a select few. But in the large, we have to make it better in the way that we deal with long-term challenges and long-term problems.

TIM O'REILLY is the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc., and the author of WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us. Tim O'Reilly's Edge Bio page


 

Aerodynamics For Cognition

[8.21.17]

It's very clear that in order to make progress in understanding some of the most challenging and important things about intelligence, studying the best example we have of an intelligent system is a way to do that. Often, people who argue against that make the analogy that if we were trying to understand how to build jet airplanes, then starting with birds is not necessarily a good way to do that.                                 

That analogy is pretty telling. The thing that's critical to both making jet airplanes work and making birds fly is the structure of the underlying problem that they're solving. That problem is keeping an object airborne, and the structure of that problem is constrained by aerodynamics. By studying how birds fly and the structure of their wings, you can learn something important about aerodynamics. And what you learn about aerodynamics is equally relevant to then being able to make jet engines.                                 

The kind of work that I do is focused on trying to identify the equivalent of aerodynamics for cognition. What are the real abstract mathematical principles that constrain intelligence? What can we learn about those principles by studying human beings? 

TOM GRIFFITHS is a professor of psychology and cognitive science and director of the Computational Cognitive Science Lab and the Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. He is co-author (with Brian Christian) of Algorithms to Live By. Tom Griffiths's Edge Bio page


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Learning By Thinking

[7.28.17]

Sometimes you think you understand something, and when you try to explain it to somebody else, you realize that maybe you gained some new insight that you didn't have before. Maybe you realize you didn't understand it as well as you thought you did. What I think is interesting about this process is that it’s a process of learning by thinking. When you're explaining to yourself or to somebody else without them providing feedback, insofar as you gain new insight or understanding, it isn't driven by that new information that they've provided. In some way, you've rearranged what was already in your head in order to get new insight.

The process of trying to explain to yourself is a lot like a thought experiment in science. For the most part, the way that science progresses is by going out, conducting experiments, getting new empirical data, and so on. But occasionally in the history of science, there've been these important episodes—Galileo, Einstein, and so on—where somebody will get some genuinely new insight from engaging in a thought experiment. 

TANIA LOMBROZO is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an affiliate of the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences. She is a contributor to Psychology Today and the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. Tania Lombrozo's Edge Bio page

 


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Curtains For Us All?

[5.31.17]

Here on Earth, I suspect that we are going to want to regulate the application of genetic modification and cyborg techniques on grounds of ethics and prudence. This links with another topic I want to come to later, which is the risks of new technology. If we imagine these people living as pioneers on Mars, they are out of range of any terrestrial regulation. Moreover, they've got a far higher incentive to modify themselves or their descendants to adapt to this very alien and hostile environment.                                 

They will use all the techniques of genetic modification, cyborg techniques, maybe even linking or downloading themselves into machines, which, fifty years from now, will be far more powerful than they are today. The post-human era is probably not going to start here on Earth; it will be spearheaded by these communities on Mars. That's the vision I would have of Mars. It's people out there who will perhaps lead to these developments, which will then eventually lead to posthumans, maybe electronic rather than organic, spreading far beyond our solar system. If that's happened elsewhere, that's the sort of thing we might detect. 

LORD MARTIN REES is a Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. He is the UK's Astronomer Royal and a Past President of the Royal Society. Martin Rees's Edge Bio Page

 


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The Threat

[5.8.17]

Although a security failure may be due to someone using the wrong type of access control mechanism or weak cypher, the underlying reason for that is very often one of incentives. Fundamentally, the problem is that when Alice guards a system and Bob pays the cost of failure, things break. Put in those terms, it’s simple and straightforward, but it’s often much more complicated when we start looking at how things actually fail in real life.

ROSS ANDERSON is a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, and one of the founders of the field of information security economics. He chairs the Foundation for Information Policy Research, and is a fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Ross Anderson's Edge Bio Page


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Soul of a Molecular Machine

[5.1.17]

We're at the threshold of a new age of structural biology, where these things that everybody thought were too difficult and would take decades and decades, are all cracking. Now, we're coming to pieces of the cell. The real advance is that you're going to be able to look at all these machines and large molecular complexes inside the cell. It will tell you detailed molecular organization of the cell. That's going to be a big leap, to go from molecules to cells and how cells work.

In almost every disease, there's a fundamental process that's causing the disease, either a breakdown of a process, or a hijacking of a process, or a deregulation of a process. Understanding these processes in the cell in molecular terms will give us all kinds of ways to treat disease. They'll give us new targets for drugs. They'll give us genetic understanding. The impact on medicine is going to be quite profound over the long-term.

VENKATRAMAN "VENKI" RAMAKRISHNAN is an Indian-born American and British structural biologist. He shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ada Yonath and Tom Steitz and is the current President of the Royal Society. His many scientific contributions include his work on the atomic structure of the ribosome. Venki Ramakrishnan's Edge Bio Page


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Urban Evolution

How Species Adapt, or Don't, to City Living
[3.31.17]

We realize evolution can occur very rapidly. Yet, despite this realization, very few people have taken the next logical step to consider what's happening around us, where we live. Think about the animals that live just around you. Look out your window in your backyard. . . . All the animals living around us are facing new environments, coping with new food, new structures, new places to hide, and in many cases new temperatures. These are radically different environments. If, as we now believe, natural selection causes populations to adapt to new conditions, why shouldn't it be happening to those species living around us in the very new conditions?

JONATHAN B. LOSOS is the Monique and Philip Lehner Professor for the Study of Latin America and Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, and Curator in Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. He is the author of Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of EvolutionJonathan B. Losos's Edge Bio Page

 


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