Bridging the Gaps: A Portal for Curious Minds

By Dr Waseem Akhtar

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In-depth conversations with researchers, explorers and thought leaders from around the world, on cutting edge research and original ideas.

Episode Date
"The Self-Assembling Brain" and Quest for Improved AI with Professor Peter Robin Hiesinger
How does a network of individual neural cells become a brain? How does a neural network learn, hold information and exhibit intelligence? While neurobiologists study how nature achieves this feat, computer scientists interested in artificial intelligence attempt to achieve it through technology. Are there ideas that researchers in the field of artificial intelligence borrow from their counterparts in the field of neuroscience? Can a better understanding of the development and working of the biological brain lead to the development of improved AI? In his book “The Self-Assembling Brain: How Neural Networks Grow Smarter” professor Peter Robin Hiesinger explores stories of both fields exploring the historical and modern approaches. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with professor Peter Robin Hiesinger about the relationship between what we know about the development and working of biological brains and the approaches used to design artificial intelligence systems. We start our conversation by reviewing the fascinating research that led to the development of neural theory. Professor Hiesigner suggests in the book that to understand what makes a neural network intelligent we must find the answer to the question: is this connectivity or is this learning that makes a neural network intelligent; we look into this argument. We then discuss “the information problem” that how we get information in the brain that makes it intelligent. We also look at the nature vs nurture debate and discuss examples of butterflies that take multigenerational trip, and scout bees that inform the bees in the hive the location and distance of the food. We also discuss the development of the biological brain by GNOME over time. We then shift the focus of discussion to artificial intelligence and explore ideas that the researchers in the field artificial intelligence can borrow from the research in the field of neuroscience. We discuss processes and approaches in the field of computing science such as Cellular Automata, Algorithmic Information Theory and Game of Life and explore their similarities with how GENOME creates the brain over time. This has been an immensely informative discussion. Complement this discussion by listening to “The Spike: Journey of Electric Signals in Brain from Perception to Action with Professor Mark Humphries” available at: And then listen to “On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done” with Professor David Badre” available at:
Nov 07, 2021
Quantum Computers: Building and Harnessing the Power of Quantum Machines with Prof. Andrea Morello
Quantum computers store data and perform computations by utilizing properties of quantum physics. Quantum computations are performed by these machines by utilizing quantum state features such as superposition and entanglement. Traditional computers store data in binary “bits,” which can be either 0s or 1s. A quantum bit, or qubit, is the fundamental memory unit in a quantum computer. Quantum states such as the spin of an electron or the direction of a photon, are used to create qubits. This could be very useful for specific problems where quantum computers could considerably outperform even the most powerful supercomputers. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with professor Andrea Morello and we discuss fascinating science & engineering of conceptualizing and building quantum computers. Professor Andrea Morello helps us to unpack and tackle questions such as what a quantum computer is and how we build a quantum computer. Andrea Morello is the professor of Quantum Engineering in the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications at the University of New South Wales Sydney, Australia. I begin our conversation by asking professor Morello what a quantum computer is, and how it differs from classical and conventional computers. The no-cloning theorem's implications in the field of quantum computers are next discussed. The no-cloning theorem states that it is impossible to create an independent and identical copy of an unknown quantum state. Professor Morello's team uses single-spin in silicon to construct quantum computers, and we go over their approach in depth. The true value of quantum computers can only be realised if we develop creative algorithms that make effective use of quantum computers' exponentially huge information space and processing capability. We discuss this in detail. We also touch upon the concept of quantum chaos and discuss research in this area. This has been a fascinating discussion. Complement this discussion by listening to “2062: The World That AI Made” with Professor Toby Walsh available at: And then listen to “Artificial Intelligence: Fascinating Opportunities and Emerging Challenges” with Professor Bart Selman available at:
Aug 31, 2021
"Nano Comes to Life": DNA NanoTech, Medicine and the Future of Biology with Professor Sonia Contera
Nanotechnology allows scientists to better understand, interact with, and manipulate biology by creating and manufacturing artificial structures and even machines at the nanoscale out of DNA, proteins, and other biological molecules. From nanoscale machines that can target individual cancer cells and deliver drugs more effectively to nanoantibiotics that can fight resistant bacteria, to the engineering of tissues and organs for research, drug discovery, and transplantation, nanotechnology is revolutionizing medicine in ways that will have profound effects on our health and longevity. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with Professor Sonia Contera and we discuss fascinating research that she presents in her book “Nano Comes to Life: How Nanotechnology Is Transforming Medicine and the Future of Biology”. The book introduces readers to nanotechnologies, which are fast advancing and allowing us to influence the basic building components of life. Sonia Contera provides an insider's view of this new frontier, explaining how nanotechnology permits a new sort of transdisciplinary science that has the potential to give us power over our own biology, health, and lifestyles. Sonia Contera is professor of biological physics in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford. Her work lies at the interface of physics, biology, and nanotechnology, with a particular focus on the role of mechanics in biology. We start this discussion by looking at the scale at which nanotechnologies function. The evolution of instruments and technology that allow us to perceive and interact with matter on such a microscopic scale is then discussed. The convergence of numerous sciences that are at the heart of such breakthroughs are then discussed, allowing us to build nano-scale structures from the ground up. We then discuss the fascinating research that enables researchers to design proteins on a computer simulator, figure out what kind of GENOME will make such protein from that simulated protein, create that GENOME, and then put it in a real cell to create that protein in reality. We also touch upon the cutting edge research in DNA Nanotechnology and other enabling technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, and the future of biology and medicine. This has been a fascinating discussion. Complement this discussion by listening to “Artificial Intelligence: Fascinating Opportunities and Emerging Challenges with Professor Bart Selman” available at: And then listen to “Is Philosophy Dead? On the Bittersweet Relationship Between Science and Philosophy” with Professor Tim Maudlin available at:
Aug 22, 2021
"Free Will" Through the Lenses of Philosophy and Neuroscience with Dr Alfred Mele
The debate over whether or not free will exists is not new. The main points of contention in this discussion are whether or not we have control over our actions, and if so, what kind of control we have and to what extent. On the one hand, we have a strong sense of liberty, which causes us to trust in our own free will. An intuitive and instinctive sense of free will, on the other hand, could be misinterpreted. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with Dr Aflred Mele and we discuss the concept of “Free Will” from the perspective of philosophy and from the perspective of neuroscience. Dr Alfred Mele is a Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. His research interests include issues about human behavior located at the intersection of philosophy and science such as free will, personal autonomy, self-deception, self-control, intention, intentional action, motivation, and moral responsibility. He is also the past Director of the Philosophy and Science of Self-Control Project and the Big Questions in Free Will Project. I open this discussion by asking Dr Mele to unpack the concept of “Free Will”. I then ask Dr Mele to outline important philosophical views about the concept of “Free Will” that emerged over time. We discuss in detail the relevant concepts of determinism, compatibilism, incompatibilism, and libertarianism. We then discuss the concept of Free Will through the lens of neuroscience. We discuss a number of experiments conducted by neuroscientists. The finding of these experiments seems to suggest that that free will is an illusion. But the question is, is it right to extrapolate the findings of these experiments that focus on simple choices and are conducted in controlled environments to conclusively suggest that free will does not exist. Dr Mele discusses this point in detail. Complement this conversion with fascinating discussion with Professor Renata Salecl on the “Passion for Ignorance and Denials” available at: And then listen to Professor David Chalmers at:
Jul 25, 2021
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. For more in-depth Bridging the Gaps discussions with researchers and thought leaders, check out: Complement this conversion with fascinating discussion with Dr Katie Mack available at: And then list to Dr Dan Hooper at:
Jun 13, 2021
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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at: Complement this podcast with the fascinating discussion with Professor Daniel Schacter on “Seven Sins of Memory” available at:…iel-schacter/ And then listen to Professor David Badre “On Task: How Our Brain Gets Things Done” available at:
Jun 07, 2021
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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Apr 19, 2021
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at: Complement this podcast with the fascinating discussion with Professor Daniel Schacter on “Seven Sins of Memory” available at: And then listen to Professor Jonathan Schooler on “Meta-awareness, mind-wandering and mindfulness” available at:
Feb 09, 2021
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at: Complement this discussion with Professor Luciano Floridi’s thoughts on Philosophy and Ethics of Information at:…iano-floridi/ And then listen to Dr Karl Frey’s views in “The Technology Trap and the Future of Work” at:
Jan 31, 2021
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at: Complement this discussion with Professor Justin Smith’s fascinating views on Irrationality available at: And then listen to Professor Luciano Floridi’s thoughts on Philosophy and Ethics of Information at:
Oct 26, 2020
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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Oct 12, 2020
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at: Compliment Professor Hooper’s insights with equally fascinating discussion with Dr Katie Mack “The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)” [], and then listen to discussion with Nasa’s Spitzer project scientist Michael Werner “Spitzer Space Telescope: Discovering “More Things in the Heavens” [].
Sep 20, 2020
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Aug 27, 2020
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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Aug 14, 2020
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Jul 05, 2020
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Jun 02, 2020
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Mar 11, 2020
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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Mar 02, 2020
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”. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Dec 04, 2019
"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. For more in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Oct 22, 2019
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 For more high quality in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Jul 20, 2019
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. For more high quality in-depth discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Jul 02, 2019
"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. For more high quality in-depth Bridging the Gaps discussions with researchers and thought leaders, reach us at:
Jun 16, 2019
"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.
Apr 10, 2019
Robots, Artificial Life and Technology Imagined by the Ancients with Adrienne Mayor
Adrienne Mayor is an author and historian of ancient science and human curiosity. She is a research scholar at Stanford University who investigates natural knowledge contained in pre-scientific myths and traditions. In this podcast Adrienne Mayor discusses the fascinating research that she presents in her book "Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines and Ancient Dreams of Technology". This is a captivating account of the earliest expressions of the enduring urge to create machines that imitate life. Adrienne Mayor presents ancient Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese myths and traditions that envisioned artificial life, robots and self moving contraptions. It is interesting to observe that some of today's most advanced innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence were envisaged and imagined in ancient myths and traditions. After discussing a number of myths and traditions, Adrienne Mayor presents stories of a number of real machines and innovations that were developed long before the age of modern science and technology. This book is an account of ingenuity and creativity, and that how science has always been driven by imagination.
Dec 17, 2018
Origin of Human Emotions and Underlying Neurophysiological Functions with Professor Joseph LeDoux
Origin of Human Emotions and Underlying Neurophysiological Functions with Professor Joseph LeDoux by Dr Waseem Akhtar
Dec 10, 2018
A History of the Concept of Genius from Antiquity to the Modern Time with Professor Darrin McMohan
A History of the Concept of Genius from Antiquity to the Modern Time with Professor Darrin McMohan by Dr Waseem Akhtar
Dec 10, 2018
Memory Slips, Ageing and Strategies For Keeping Brain Healthy with Dr Gary Small
Memory Slips, Ageing and Strategies For Keeping Brain Healthy with Dr Gary Small by Dr Waseem Akhtar
Nov 17, 2018
Phoenix Mars Mission with NASA's Peter Smith
Phoenix Mars Mission with NASA's Peter Smith by Dr Waseem Akhtar
Nov 17, 2018
False Memories, Misinformation Effect and Eyewitness Testimony: Professor Elizabeth Loftus
False Memories, Misinformation Effect and Eyewitness Testimony: Professor Elizabeth Loftus by Dr Waseem Akhtar
Apr 02, 2018
Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age with Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age with Professor Viktor Mayer-Schönberger by Dr Waseem Akhtar
Feb 17, 2018
Why You Are Not Your Brain? A Conversation on Consciousness with Alva Noe
Human Consciousness is a fascinating research topic. Discussed previously in a number of Bridging the Gaps conversations, cutting edge research on consciousness – an ungrasped concept and an unsolved problem in science today – will keep appearing here at this Portal for Curious Minds. It is widely accepted that consciousness arises as an emergent property of the human mind. An important question is where does consciousness arise; does this arise from a single seat in the brain or is this a distributed phenomenon involving various interconnected parts and networks of the brain. Whatever is the answer to this question, most researchers relate this phenomenon with the working of human brain. Alva Noe – part philosopher, part cognitive scientist, part neuroscientist – restates and re-examines the problem of consciousness and proposes that we should abandon “200-year-old paradigm that places consciousness within the confines of the brain”. Alva Noe is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center of New Media. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1995. The focus of this conversation with Alva Noe is his book “Out of Our Heads: Why You are Not Your Brain and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness”. One of the main concepts that Alva Noe presents in this book is that consciousness does not happen in the brain and it is not located in our brains; he suggests that rather than being something that happens inside us, consciousness is something we do. In this conversation we discuss in detail this “fresh attempt at understanding our minds and how we interact with the world around us”.
Apr 24, 2017
Everything a Curious Mind Should Know About Planetary Ring Systems: Dr Mark Showalter @ BTG
When Galileo pointed his telescope towards Saturn (circa 1610), he was not able to fully understand what was around the planet; in 1659 Christian Hygen published a drawing of the rings of Saturn and suggested there was thin, flat ring around the planet. He observed that the ring was inclined to the ecliptic and didn’t touch the planet. In 1675, Giovanni Domenic Cassini described that Saturn’s ring was composed of multiple smaller rings with gaps between them. In 1787, Pierre-Simon Laplace suggested that the rings were composed of a large number of solid ringlets. Research on the rings around Saturn continued and in 1859 James Clerk Maxwell demonstrated that the rings could not be solid or they would become unstable and break apart. When looked at from a distance, rings around Saturn appear thin with smooth surfaces; however close up images captured by various robotic space missions and additional data collected by sensors onboard several spacecraft visiting and flying-by Saturn show that there are number of dynamic processes happening in these ring systems, and there are horizontal as well as vertical surface features. When sunlight hits the surface of these rings at an angle, dark shadows of mountains and dark valleys become visible and various patterns become noticeable; this informs us that these surfaces are not smooth as previously thought. Also, it has been observed that the tilt of the ring system is not fixed. Research shows that if something has changed the tilt of a ring system, an analysis of the ripple patterns exhibited by the particles forming these rings can inform us the cause of this change. Thus by observing and studying the structure of rings and the dynamic processes going on in these rings, one can learn a lot about the history of the host planet and the system within which the planet exists. An interesting aspect of studying planetary ring systems is the question that can an understanding of dynamic processes that occur in planetary ring systems inform us about the similar processes that occur during the formation of solar systems and spiral galaxies. Dr Mark Showalter works on some of NASA’s highest profile missions to outer planets. He has been a member of Cassini Mission Science Team for nearly a decade, and has been involved in the observations of Jupiter’s rings using New Horizons spacecraft. A frequent user of Hubble Space Telescope, Dr Showalter has to his credit the discovery of Jupiter’s outer most ring, Saturn’s moon PAN, and two moons and two faint rings around the planet Uranus. In a presentation Dr Mark Showalter describes himself as a ring geek. In this podcast Dr Showlater discusses planetry ring systems in detail; this podcast is about everything that a curious mind should know about planetary ring systems.
Nov 27, 2016
A Conversation with Dr Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut and Sixth Person to Walk on the Moon
Dr Edgar Mitchell discusses his journey to the moon on board Apollo 14 in this very interesting conversation at Bridging the Gaps. He describes when and how he joined NASA, talks about the "Original 19" and discusses interesting details of his mission to the moon, and ten hours that he spent on the lunar surface. He also touches upon the incident with Apollo 13. In this podcast we also discuss Dr Mitchell's two books: The Way of the Explorer and Psychic Exploration. Dr Mitchell talks about a number of concepts that he presents in his books; some of these views are considered controversial by many. These contested views of this great explorer are relayed to the listeners in this podcast without any editing.
Nov 06, 2016
Giant Magellan Telescope: Past, Present and Future of Space Exploration with Ground Based Telescopes
An in-depth conversation with Professor Wendy Freedman on the topic of space exploration with ground based telescopes. We discuss the history of space exploration using ground based telescopes, and try to imagine the future that what is next. Professor Wendy Freedman gives a detailed description of the features of the Giant Magellan Telescope, a ground based extremely large telescope under construction. We discuss the challenges involved in constructing the GMT and talk about the research opportunities that this extremely large telescope, once completed, will present. Professor Wendy Freedman is one of the world’s most influential astronomers. Freedman is a professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. She was also the chair of the board of directors of the Giant Magellan Telescope project from its inception in 2003 to July 2015. More than a decade ago, Wendy Freedman led a team of 30 astronomers who carried out the Hubble Key Project to measure the expansion rate of the universe. Her research now focuses on measuring both the past and present expansion rates of the universe, and on characterizing the nature of dark energy – the mysterious force that causes the universe to accelerate its expansion. A Correction Note (Audio at 14:10 minutes): While discussing 60-inch telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, we got the dates mixed up. The telescope was commissioned in 1908; the 'First Light' was on December 8, 1908. Astronomer Harlow Shapely used this telescope to make a number of observations about our galaxy the Milky Way. However it was not until 1917-18 that he concluded, based on his observations, that the Sun was not at the centre of our galaxy.
Oct 13, 2016
Education: What works and what does not, with Professor John Hattie
Evaluating the quality of teaching and learning in our schools, and assessing the effectiveness of our school systems and primary education frameworks is an important research area that focuses on questions such as “what works and what does not work in our schools”. An important aspect of this research is to evaluate the impact of factors such as class size, homework, use of digital technologies, duration of academic year, teaching very bright and weak learners in same cohorts on the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. Such research also focuses on measuring the effect-size of these and other factors on the performance of our education systems. Professor John Hattie has spent fifteen years synthesizing over 60,000 studies, involving about a quarter of a billion students. This meta-analysis – analysis of analyses – focuses on the questions that what works and what does not work in our schools and what matters in teaching. This is perhaps the biggest ever evidence-based research project in education. In this podcast I discuss with Professor Hattie the origin of this project, the studies that he has used in this project, and the approach that he has adopted to combine and consolidate data from these studies to perform this meta-analysis. We discuss in detail the findings of this meta-analysis. We also discuss the impact of “out of school factors” such as home environment on the performance of young learners. We discuss the concept of “Visible Learning” that Professor Hattie presents in his books and presentations, and try to explore how the education at primary level must evolve and should be aligned with the needs and expectations of twenty-first century learners. In his books Professor Hattie discusses eight mind frames or ways of thinking that must underpin every process and action in schools and school systems; I ask Professor Hattie to describe these eight mind frames in detail. An important finding that Professor Hattie highlights in his presentations is that the “biggest effect on student learning occurs when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers”; we discuss this statement in detail. Professor Hattie highlights that increase use of internet and communication technologies in schools presents an opportunity for the parents to get more involved in school affairs. Professor John Hattie is a researcher in the field of education, and is the Director of the Melbourne Education and Research Institute at the University of Melbourne. His research interests include performance indicators, models of measurements and evaluation of teaching and learning. He has written more than four hundred articles on these and related topics. His two very interesting books on these topics are: “Visible Learning” and “Visible Learning for Teachers”.
Dec 31, 2015
Search for Exoplanets: A Discussion with Professor Sara Seager @ BTG
One of the most existing developments of the last two decades in the field of astronomy is the discovery of exoplanets: planets that orbit around the stars other then our sun. The idea of finding planets outside our solar system is not new; philosophers and scientists have imagined exoplanets for centuries. Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher, mathematician, poet, and astrologer theorised exoplanets in sixteenth century. However for centuries there was no mechanism available to detect exoplanets. The first two confirmed exoplanets were discovered in 1992. Since then the detection of new exoplanets continues. By September 2015 the number of confirmed exoplanets has reached 1892. In this podcast I discuss, in detail, with Professor Sara Seager, the fascinating research in the field of exoplanets. Professor Sara Seager is an astrophysicists and planetary scientist at MIT. Her science research focuses on theory, computation, and data analysis of exoplanets. Her research has introduced many new ideas to the field of exoplanet characterization, including work that led to the first detection of an exoplanet atmosphere. She is the author of two textbooks on these topics. She was part of a team that co-discovered the first detection of light emitted from an exoplanet, and the first spectrum of an exoplanet. In twenty thirteen she was awarded a MacArther Fellowship.
Oct 16, 2015
New Horizons Spacecraft's Pluto Flyby with Dr Mark Showalter
As NASA's New Horizons spacecraft approaches Pluto, Dr Mark Showalter describes in detail the nature of the mission and what to expect in terms of scientific findings. Dr Showalter discusses in detail the features of the spacecraft and the challenges involved as it approaches Pluto.
May 17, 2015
Multiple Intelligences and Future Minds with Dr Howard Gardner
Multiple intelligences, future minds, and characteristics and expectations of 21st century learners with Dr Howard Gardner.
Mar 07, 2015
From Consciousness to Synthetic Consciousness: Prof. David Chalmers
What is consciousness? In this podcast David Chalmers starts addressing this question by saying that “being conscious is when there is something it is like to be that being”. This argument was initially presented by an American philosopher Thomas Nagel in an influential paper “what is it like to be a bat”. This paper was first published in the Philosophical Review in 1974. David Chalmers is an Australian philosopher and a cognitive scientist specializing in the area of philosophy of mind. He is professor of philosophy and a director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. He is also professor of philosophy at New York University. In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In this podcast Chalmers discusses the nature of human consciousness, its place in nature, artificial intelligence, and the concept of singularity. In his paper “Consciousness and its Place in Nature” Chalmers describes some aspects of consciousness as easy problems and then discusses the hard problem of consciousness. In this podcast Chalmers explains in detail this approach of describing the challenge of understanding consciousness. Chalmers discusses the easy problems of consciousness and the hard problem of consciousness. An intriguing question is would we ever be able to solve the hard problem of consciousness? Some consider it an unsolvable problem and they give two main reasons for this: (1) inability of our brain to process the complicated information that would lead to an understanding of consciousness, and (2) as we all are conscious and do not have the ability to observe consciousness from outside, we cannot solve this problem. Chalmers shares his views on these points. Chalmers also discusses the relevance, and irrelevance, of artificial intelligence to the phenomenon of consciousness. If we assume that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon – a property of system is said to be emergent if it is in some sense more than the “sum” of the properties of the system’s parts – then as the processing power of computers is increasing, can it be said that one day consciousness may emerge in machines. One fundamental question is “what happens when machines become more intelligent than humans”. Chalmers says, “One view is that this event will be followed by an explosion to ever-greater levels of intelligences as each generation of machines creates more intelligent machines in turn. This intelligence explosion is now often known as the “singularity””. In this podcast we discuss these questions in detail. But is consciousness necessary; can a universe exist without consciousness? If we manage to make a machine, that can store and process information the way we store and process information, and if this machine can replicate our emotional behaviour as well, but it is not conscious, then a collection of such machines can live and function in a universe that does not have consciousness. Is it necessary to have consciousness in such a simulated world? A number of fascinating questions that arise at this point are: Will such machines live in a world that does not need consciousness? A world that can exist and function without consciousness. Will the machines of future be just super intelligent or will such machines have machines-consciousness? Is it possible that the consciousness that we experience is not real and it is just an illusion and is it possible that we are living in a simulation? Is it possible that in a universe where “they” have achieved singularity, perhaps “we” are artificially intelligent machines, living in a simulation, in a matrix?
Mar 01, 2015
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Dr Jill Tarter
A conversation with Dr Jill Tarter on the past, present and future for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Dec 27, 2014
Growth Mindset: Professor Carol Dweck at BTG
A Conversation with Professor Carol Dweck
Nov 30, 2014
Memory: Professor Daniel Schacter at BTG
What exactly is a memory? How much do we know about the processes that a human brain executes to store and retrieve a memory? An individual memory may contain different elements such as explicit information, one or many contexts, relevant emotions; does the brain pre-process all individual elements of a memory and then stores this processed memory as one single entity? Or, are different elements of an individual memory stored at different locations in the form of a connected structure or network, and are post-processed at the time of retrieval? In this case what are the chances that during this post processing of different elements of a memory, the retrieved memory gets contaminated resulting in a false memory that reshapes the past? How do non-conscious memories affect and shape our behavior? Daniel Schacter is a cognitive psychologist and is professor of psychology at Harvard University. His research explores the relation between conscious and unconscious forms of memory, the nature of memory distortions, how we use memory to imagine possible future events, and the effects of aging on memory. In this podcast at Bridging the Gaps professor Daniel Schacter shares and discusses cutting edge research on these topics. Research shows, explains Schacter, that the process of remembering and retrieving memories is a constructive activity. He points out that human memory system is not perfect. The system has its shortcomings and we are all affected by memory’s shortcomings in our everyday lives. In his book “Seven Sins of Memory” Schacter systematically classifies various memory distortions into seven basic categories. According to Schacter these seven memory distortion categories are: transience, absentmindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. In this discussion Schacter explains these memory distortions in detail, one by one. He emphasizes that “these memory distortions should not be viewed as flaws in system design, instead these distortions can be conceptualized as by-products of otherwise desirable features of human memory”. Schacter explains this statement. He then discusses the experiments and research studies to measure, estimate and understand these shortcomings of memory. I ask him that can we use the estimates of these seven shortcomings of memory for an individual to gauge the individual’s ability or lack of it to reconstruct memories? If we succeed in developing reliable techniques to make such measurements, these techniques can be used to improve the way we manage, document and process eyewitness testimonies in legal proceedings. Schacter shares his views on this. An interesting point that Schacter highlights in his presentations, and discusses in this podcast is that there is evidence of memory serving the needs of present, and the past being reshaped by current knowledge, beliefs and emotions. He shares his research findings on this. Remembering the past and imaging the future depend on a common network in the brain, known as the Default Brain Network. Shacter describes the Default Brain Network and discusses the research that focuses on the question that how this one network manages these two different processes. Just before finishing our discussion, I ask Daniel Schacter his views on human consciousness and on the question of how brain creates mind. Finally, I finish this podcast by asking Daniel Schacter what are major developments and breakthroughs that he envisages in the field of his research in the near future.
Nov 30, 2014
Philosophy of Science: Professor Tim Maudlin at BTG
Is philosophy dead? Well over the past few years a number of scientists and researchers have said that we don’t need philosophy, philosophy should not be taught, it is waste of time and some have suggested that philosophy is dead. This is obviously a question that should be discussed at Bridging the Gaps. Tim Maudlin, professor of philosophy at New York University, says that the scientists, particularly physicists, who suggest that philosophy is dead, simply don’t know what is done now-a-days in philosophy of physics. An important point that Maudlin makes is that if there are philosophers who intend to write about physics and have no expertise in physics, perhaps this is not a good idea. In his view one of the main reasons that negative remarks are being made about philosophy is that philosophers are writing about topics without having expertise in these areas. Maudlin says that if you want to know about the nature of matter, and nature of space and time, and if you want to understand large-scale structure of cosmos, you need input from science. Maudlin says that tendency in the last forty years has been that philosophers become more and more competent in the particular sciences that they intend to comment on. He notes, “particularly in physics we get people whose training is in physic”. A number of researchers with undergraduate degrees in physics, and some even with doctorates in physics, feel that foundational issues in physics are not appreciated and supported in physics departments. They drift over into philosophy department so that they could easily pursue very foundational and conceptual questions. After discussing the bittersweet relationship between philosophy and science, we touch upon a number of other topics that Tim Maudlin’s research focuses on, these are: Nature of Time: is time real, or is it just an illusion? Is time directional? Nature of Spacetime Quantum Physics and Entangled Particles Observer Effect and Wave Collapse Function Structure of the Universe at the Plank Scale The title of one of your books is the Metaphysics within Physics, is there metaphysics within physics? Can philosophy assist and guide us to understand these difficult to understand concepts?
Nov 30, 2014
Meta-awareness and Mind Wandering: Professor Jonathan Schooler at BTG
How much do we think about thinking? How aware usually are we of our awareness, and about what is happening around us? Jonathan Schooler, professor of psychology at the University of California (Santa Barbara), whose research focuses on consciousness, memory, meta-awareness, mind-wandering, and mindfulness, describes meta awareness as our ability to take explicit note of the current contents of consciousness. He notes that when we are not focusing on what is happening around us, we generate imaginative thoughts that are unrelated to external circumstances. It is common to experience such imaginative thoughts and experience moments when our minds have wandered away from the situation at hand. Schooler suggests that mind wandering is indicative of different kinds of attentional fluctuations. In this podcast Schooler describes mind-wandering as a phenomenon when a person’s attention is less directed towards external environment and it shifts more towards an internal train of thought. But is mind-wandering an attribute of attention or is this an attribute of consciousness? Jonathan Schooler shares his views on this. In this podcast, we also touch upon: Mind-wandering: day dreaming vs planning for future and goal setting Measuring frequency of mind-wandering: is there a scale to estimate the level of mind wandering an individual is involved in? What level and frequency of mind-wandering should be considered as a problem and not a tool to plan and imagine our future? Is there any evidence that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is associated with increased frequency of mind wandering? Can we say that mindfulness is a state when no mind wandering is going on? In their publications, Jonathan and his colleagues suggest that mindfulness training might hold potential for reducing mind wandering. So a question is that what kind of mindfulness training can assist us in reducing mind-wandering?
Oct 24, 2014