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Existential Risk

[4.16.15]

The reasons why I'm engaged in trying to lower the existential risks has to do with the fact that I'm a convinced consequentialist. We have to take responsibility for modeling the consequences of our actions, and then pick the actions that yield the best outcomes. Moreover, when you start thinking about—in the pallet of actions that you have—what are the things that you should pay special attention to, one argument that can be made is that you should pay attention to areas where you expect your marginal impact to be the highest. There are clearly very important issues about inequality in the world, or global warming, but I couldn't make a significant difference in these areas. 

JAAN TALLINN is a co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk in Cambridge, UK as well as the Future of Life Institute in Cambridge, MA. He is also a founding engineer of Kazaa and Skype. Jaan Tallinn's Edge Bio Page

 


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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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Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: "The Teenager's Sense of Social Self"

HeadCon 14
[11.18.14]

The reason why that letter is nice is because it illustrates what's important to that girl at that particular moment in her life. Less important that man landed on moon than things like what she was wearing, what clothes she was into, who she liked, who she didn't like. This is the period of life where that sense of self, and particularly sense of social self, undergoes profound transition. Just think back to when you were a teenager. It's not that before then you don't have a sense of self, of course you do.  A sense of self develops very early. What happens during the teenage years is that your sense of who you are—your moral beliefs, your political beliefs, what music you're into, fashion, what social group you're into—that's what undergoes profound change.

SARAH-JAYNE BLAKEMORE is a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore's Edge Bio


 

Hugo Mercier: "Toward The Seamless Integration Of The Sciences"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

One of the great things about cognitive science is that it allowed us to continue that seamless integration of the sciences, from physics, to chemistry, to biology, and then to the mind sciences, and it's been quite successful at doing this in a relatively short time. But on the whole, I feel there's still a failure to continue this thing towards some of the social sciences such as, anthropology, to some extent, and sociology or history that still remain very much shut off from what some would see as progress, and as further integration. 

HUGO MERCIER, a Cognitive Scientist, is an Ambizione Fellow at the Cognitive Science Center at the University of Neuchâtel. Hugo Mercier's Edge Bio Page


 

L.A. Paul: "The Transformative Experience"

HeadCon '14
[11.18.14]

We're going to pretend that modern-day vampires don't drink the blood of humans; they're vegetarian vampires, which means they only drink the blood of humanely farmed animals. You have a one-time-only chance to become a modern-day vampire. You think, "This is a pretty amazing opportunity, do I want to gain immortality, amazing speed, strength, and power? But do I want to become undead, become an immortal monster and have to drink blood? It's a tough call." Then you go around asking people for their advice and you discover that all of your friends and family members have already become vampires. They tell you, "It is amazing. It is the best thing ever. It's absolutely fabulous. It's incredible. You get these new sensory capacities. You should definitely become a vampire." Then you say, "Can you tell me a little more about it?" And they say, "You have to become a vampire to know what it's like. You can't, as a mere human, understand what it's like to become a vampire just by hearing me talk about it. Until you're a vampire, you're just not going to know what it's going to be like."

L.A. PAUL is Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Professorial Fellow in the Arché Research Centre at the University of St. Andrews. L.A. Paul's Edge Bio page


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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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