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Digital Reality

[1.23.15]

...Today, you can send a design to a fab lab and you need ten different machines to turn the data into something. Twenty years from now, all of that will be in one machine that fits in your pocket. This is the sense in which it doesn't matter. You can do it today. How it works today isn't how it's going to work in the future but you don't need to wait twenty years for it. Anybody can make almost anything almost anywhere.              

...Finally, when I could own all these machines I got that the Renaissance was when the liberal arts emerged—liberal for liberation, humanism, the trivium and the quadrivium—and those were a path to liberation, they were the means of expression. That's the moment when art diverged from artisans. And there were the illiberal arts that were for commercial gain. ... We've been living with this notion that making stuff is an illiberal art for commercial gain and it's not part of means of expression. But, in fact, today, 3D printing, micromachining, and microcontroller programming are as expressive as painting paintings or writing sonnets but they're not means of expression from the Renaissance. We can finally fix that boundary between art and artisans.

...I'm happy to take claim for saying computer science is one of the worst things to happen to computers or to science because, unlike physics, it has arbitrarily segregated the notion that computing happens in an alien world.


[57 min]

NEIL GERSHENFELD is a Physicist and the Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. He is the author of FAB. Neil Gershenfeld's Edge Bio Page

Digital Reality

What interests me is how bits and atoms relate—the boundary between digital and physical. Scientifically, it's the most exciting thing I know. It has all sorts of implications that are widely covered almost exactly backwards. Playing it out, what I thought was hard technically is proving to be pretty easy. What I didn't think was hard was the implications for the world, so a bigger piece of what I do now is that. Let's start with digital.

Digital is everywhere; digital is everything. There's a lot of hubbub about what's the next MIT, what's the next Silicon Valley, and those were all the last war. Technology is leading to very different answers. To explain that, let's go back to the science underneath it and then look at what it leads to.


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Jesse Dylan's Documentary On The Edge Question — 2014

An Edge World Premier
[12.17.14]

Last year, the director Jesse Dylan approached EDGE about putting together documentary film on the EDGE Question "WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT?" The result: Dylan's four-minute impressionistic montage is having it's world premiere on EDGE. Click on LINK below for video (on the video page, click on button on lower right to expand to full screen).

JESSE DYLAN is a filmmaker, and founder, Creative Director and CEO of Wondros. He has created media projects for a diverse group of organizations, including George Soros and the Open Society Foundations, Clinton Global Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations, MIT Media Lab, the Columbia Journalism School, and Harvard Medical School. Jesse Dylan's EDGE Bio Page


 

Formulating Science in Terms of Possible and Impossible Tasks

[12.6.14]

It turns out that in the constructor theoretic view, humans, or knowledge creating systems, are quite central to fundamental physics in an objective way and not an anthropocentric way. This is a very deep change in perspective. One of the ideas that will be dropped if constructor theory turns out to be effective is that the only fundamental entities in physics are laws of motion and initial conditions. Of course they are, but in order for physics to accommodate more of physical reality, there needs to be a switch to this new mode of explanation, which accept is a scientific explanation more than predictions. The ideal prediction will be complemented with the idea of statements about what tasks are possible and impossible and why.

CHIARA MARLETTO is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the Materials Department, University of Oxford.  

Chiara Marletto's Edge Bio Page


 

Entwined Fates

[11.24.14]

It's a very interdisciplinary subject, there's no question about that. As I've said, a community of fate is about evoking norms and beliefs about the way in which the world works. That was part of what the great capacity of the leadership was—to change people's beliefs about whether they could do something and change something. The notion of beliefs of that sort comes from economics, comes from Bayesianism, comes from philosophy, comes from psychology. When you think about the organizational foundations for a community of fate, you're already in the world of sociology, economics, certainly political science, certainly history, in thinking about those issues. It's a multidisciplinary concept by its very nature. To answer the questions that we've been talking about in relationship to it requires a multidisciplinary approach.

We keep coming back to the issue of a community of fate: can it be for good or for bad, right? We can imagine the beer hall in Munich and what happened there that created a community of fate, and we can imagine the left-wing union organizers and communist intellectuals developing a different kind of community of fate. The real distinction between them is not just the ethical principles that inform them—that's clearly an important distinction—but what kind of community of fate it is. The terminology that I use there, and I keep repeating and want to get that through, is between an inclusive and an expansive community of fate versus an exclusive and narrowing community of fate. That's the difference.

MARGARET LEVI is the Director of the Center For Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is the Jere L. Bacharach Professor Emerita of International Studies at the University of Washington.

Margaret Levi's Edge Bio Page


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Michael McCullough: "Two Cheers For Falsification"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

What I want to do today is raise one cheer for falsification, maybe two cheers for falsification. Maybe it’s not philosophical falsificationism I’m calling for, but maybe something more like methodological falsificationism. It has an important role to play in theory development that maybe we have turned our backs on in some areas of this racket we’re in, particularly the part of it that I do—Ev Psych—more than we should have.

MICHAEL MCCULLOUGH is Director, Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory, Professor of Psychology, Cooper Fellow, University of Miami; Author, Beyond Revenge. Michael McCullough's Edge Bio page


 

Lawrence Ian Reed: "The Face Of Emotion"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

What can we tell from the face? There're mixed data, but some show a pretty strong coherence between what is felt and what’s expressed on the face. Happiness, sadness, disgust, contempt, fear, anger, all have prototypic or characteristic facial expressions. In addition to that, you can tell whether two emotions are blended together. You can tell the difference between surprise and happiness, and surprise and anger, or surprise and sadness. You can also tell the strength of an emotion. There seems to be a relationship between the strength of the emotion and the strength of the contraction of the associated facial muscles. 

LAWRENCE IAN REED is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology, Skidmore College. Lawrence Ian Reed's Edge Bio page


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David Rand: "How Do You Change People's Minds About What Is Right And Wrong?"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

There are often future consequences for your current behavior. You can't just do whatever you want because if you are selfish now, it'll come back to bite you. In order for any of that to work, though, it relies on people caring about you being cooperative. There has to be a norm of cooperation. The important question then, in terms of trying to understand how we get people to cooperate and how we increase social welfare, is this: Where do these norms come from and how can they be changed? And since I spend all my time thinking about how to maximize social welfare, it also makes me stop and ask, "To what extent is the way that I am acting consistent with trying to maximize social welfare?"

DAVID RAND is Assistant Professor of Psychology, Economics, and Management at Yale University, and Director of Yale University’s Human Cooperation Laboratory. David Rand's Edge Bio page


 

Molly Crockett: "The Neuroscience of Moral Decision Making"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

Imagine we could develop a precise drug that amplifies people's aversion to harming others; on this drug you won't hurt a fly, everyone taking it becomes like Buddhist monks. Who should take this drug? Only convicted criminals—people who have committed violent crimes? Should we put it in the water supply? These are normative questions. These are questions about what should be done. I feel grossly unprepared to answer these questions with the training that I have, but these are important conversations to have between disciplines. Psychologists and neuroscientists need to be talking to philosophers about this. These are conversations that we need to have because we don't want to get to the point where we have the technology but haven't had this conversation, because then terrible things could happen.

MOLLY CROCKETT is Associate Professor, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford; Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. Molly Crockett's Edge Bio Page


 

Simone Schnall: "Moral Intuitions, Replication, and the Scientific Study of Human Nature"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

In the end, it's about admissible evidence and ultimately, we need to hold all scientific evidence to the same high standard. Right now we're using a lower standard for the replications involving negative findings when in fact this standard needs to be higher. To establish the absence of an effect is much more difficult than the presence of an effect.

SIMONE SCHNALL is a University Senior Lecturer and Director of the Cambridge Embodied Cognition and Emotion Laboratory at Cambridge University. Simone Schnall's Edge Bio Page


 

Jennifer Jacquet: "Shaming At Scale"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

Shaming, in this case, was a fairly low-cost form of punishment that had high reputational impact on the U.S. government, and led to a change in behavior. It worked at scale—one group of people using it against another group of people at the group level. This is the kind of scale that interests me. And the other thing that it points to, which is interesting, is the question of when shaming works. In part, it's when there's an absence of any other option. Shaming is a little bit like antibiotics. We can overuse it and actually dilute its effectiveness, because it's linked to attention, and attention is finite. With punishment, in general, using it sparingly is best. But in the international arena, and in cases in which there is no other option, there is no formalized institution, or no formal legislation, shaming might be the only tool that we have, and that's why it interests me. 

JENNIFER JACQUET is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU; Researching cooperation and the tragedy of the commons; Author, Is Shame Necessary? Jennifer Jacquet's Edge Bio Page

 

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