IAS-director and Leon Levy professor Robbert Dijkgraaf interviews George Whitesides on the world of chemistry shaping our future (20-01-2017)

Chemist and nanoscientist George Whitesides on the impact science and technology will have on the future of human kind

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Did you always know that you wanted to be a scientist?  (00:00:00)
Were there scientists in your family? (00:00:43)
Are you surprised by the way your career has developed?  (00:01:23)
What about matter, molecules and particles? (00:01:55)
What does it tell us that matter is made of small building blocks? (00:02:48)
Have we entered an era where we can build things that haven't existed before?  (00:03:39)
Do you feel that it is the purpose that lead to the material or did the material lead to the unexpected useful purposes? (00:04:48)
Nature is a great lab. What are the difference/similarity between how nature and technology operate? (00:06:19)
Is it evolution that brought us to the point where we are developing technology? (00:07:45)
How do you find our way in the infinities of possibilities? (00:08:31)
How are the material world and life interacting? (00:11:07)
You might be biased to think that life as just a complicated molecular process?  (00:13:02)
Are there products produced that allow us to exploring the intermediate areas? (00:13:53)
Will technology enhance any time soon? (00:15:46)
Are you envisioning that artificial intelligence will change the way we do science?  (00:16:40)
In stead of individuals should we see human beings as a collective intelligence thanks to multiple connectivity?  (00:17:55)
Do you feel we're entering a new age in terms of technology? (00:19:14)
Machines and technology will become more important. Will the future about us? Or about the machines? (00:20:10)
Aren't we in science part of much longer chain?  (00:21:06)
Do you think that in the future more machines will be around us?  (00:21:41)
Are you worried that these new species will dominated us? (00:24:03)
What are your thoughts about the origin of life? (00:25:43)
Is the question of origin of life relevant now studying complicated processes? (00:27:54)
How will we settle the question of the origin of life? (00:29:07)
Are we alone in this universe?  (00:30:00)
If we find out the question of the origin of life, will it answer what happened on other planets? (00:31:03)
What do you worry about? (00:33:12)
What do see as the role of science and technology in problems and solving them? (00:34:23)
Are you motivated by the big challenges in life? (00:37:45)
What are particular problems that motivate you? (00:39:47)
What is the actual work your lab is doing?  (00:41:31)
Analyzing big data is a collective thing? (00:43:25)
Are you optimistic about where our species is heading? (00:45:02)
Can we survive technology? (00:46:21)
You think that moral and ethical knowledge is required to survive? (00:47:27)
Are you worried that technologies became so advanced that they're basically not understandable to many? (00:48:15)
Is sense of wonder important for you? (00:49:29)
How much do we don't know? (00:50:12)
Is wanting to know fundamental to science? (00:50:53)
Are you surprised how far we came understanding the world around us? (00:52:29)
It is like we can make anything out of the building box? (00:54:02)
What characterizes you as a scientist? (00:54:23)
What division is there between science and engineering? (00:56:11)
What is the difference between inventing and discovering something?  (00:57:43)
How important is imagination? (00:59:52)
The defeat by machines is interesting in stimulating creativity? (01:00:52)
Let's talk about artificial imagination... (01:02:03)
How do you see the evolution of life in the planetary perspective?  (01:02:52)
What we are doing here on planet earth, is it one big understatement?  (01:05:20)
Looking back at your life, are you amazed what happened in science? (01:06:33)
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00:00:00 George thanks so much for willing to do this interview and I don't want to embarrass you
00:00:05 but I know you're clearly one of the most distinguished and successful scientists
00:00:10 and did you also always know you wanted to be a scientist.
00:00:14 I was originally going to be a mathematician and it turns out I didn't have the brains to do that I was
00:00:21 cured
00:00:22 and I was really good at washing dishes so I become a chemist How early did you know wanted to be a mathematician
00:00:30 Oh that was part of the sort of adolescent feeling that the closer you got to mathematics the better off you were so
00:00:37 there were mathematicians and there were physicists
00:00:40 and then somewhere down the road there were the rest of us it was OK were there
00:00:44 scientists in your family my father was a chemical engineer so my first introduction to Science as it were was
00:00:51 pouring coal tar through a little hole to measure the viscosity of coal tar black
00:00:56 and I was a technician he was a chemical engineer who made concrete repair compounds so was he happy that in the end you
00:01:03 became a chemist
00:01:05 I came from the Midwest in the Midwest what real men do is they go into business or they go into the army
00:01:12 and as a absolute worst thing just before you go into the street you go in teaching at university
00:01:18 but it was sort of OK because I was at MIT and there were engineers at MIT it wasn't bad.
00:01:24 Are you who yourself surprised by kind of the way your career has developed to be honest I've never thought about it
00:01:30 but I'm happy with the way my career has developed because I've reached my geriatric whatever
00:01:35 and I wake up in the morning I love it it's great stuff what what what are you looking forward to every day.
00:01:42 It's a combination of things what what's interesting about science is that you have the opportunity to do things that
00:01:48 are important to people and you have the opportunity of following your curiosity and it's fun
00:01:52 and you can actually make a living doing it when working you and so as a chemist I mean I would kind of not know.
00:02:00 A better person to ask about the nature of molecules I have to think about I think it was Feynman
00:02:04 who said that supposed that all science disappeared
00:02:07 and there was like one bit of knowledge that we could transfer to future generations he would do was say something like
00:02:15 All matter is made out of very small particles
00:02:19 that that perhaps is the best clue to give Do you agree with that. the thing about chemistry is that's chemistry that's
00:02:29 chemistry everything you see is chemistry so that if you really want something that has the characteristic that
00:02:35 is universal it's molecules and how you construct reality based on atoms. now there is a little business of the mind
00:02:43 and what happens in between matter and mind is a different story but that's molecules too
00:02:48 but going to to the matter this moment or something so what do we learn of the fact that things are made out of little
00:02:54 building blocks what does that tell us. it tells us about the enormous variety that one can get from a pretty limited
00:03:01 set of things. the periodic table is a pretty substantial list
00:03:05 but most of them don't show up very much I mean the number of occasions during the day in which you see Prometheum or
00:03:11 something like that it's a very small Yes On the other hand if you just imagine the variety that comes out of carbon
00:03:17 and hydrogen nitrogen oxygen it's what we call life and that's truly phenomenal
00:03:22 and so the idea of the the almost almost infinite variability of forms of matter and function
00:03:32 and use that you can get by taking a pretty simple collection of starting materials I think is one of the most
00:03:37 remarkable things that I know. if you think about that variety you know we might naturally think about all the
00:03:45 materials we find you know rocks and lifeforms that we explore that we discover.
00:03:52 But I guess we're also now in a phase where we kind of kind of starts to build things that haven't existed before.
00:04:00 You can build many things that haven't existed before
00:04:03 and for which there has been no imaginable use. I mean a perfectly good example is a silicon and transistors
00:04:11 and the Internet but you take a perfectly ordinary
00:04:14 and fairly commonly available element which usually in nature occurs in a slightly different form
00:04:20 but is nonetheless silicon and you take it and you clean it up
00:04:24 and then you write lines in it in interesting ways
00:04:27 and all of a sudden it starts doing computation for you how on earth does that happen and of course we understand it
00:04:33 but that's a combination of just the particles we were talking about but also electrons
00:04:39 and then this other intangible stuff called information
00:04:43 and it's the mixing of the three that produces such interesting and remarkable results. do you feel that it's the.
00:04:51 Purpose that kind of led to the material or did the material led to this kind of unexpected
00:04:59 Useful purposes. there's a very interesting book that's appeared recently called The Idea Factory which is the.
00:05:10 A history there are many history of Bell Labs but this is
00:05:13 one history of Bell labs many histories of Bell Labs go along the following narrative that is they say brilliant
00:05:20 physicist unconstrained by reality produced condensed matter physics and the Internet transistors
00:05:28 and the Internet and all the rest of that laser wonderful example all the terrific yes
00:05:32 and it's a good story
00:05:34 but according to the guy who is running Bell Labs at that point it is unrelated to reality because in fact Shannon
00:05:41 and try for and Bardeen and the rest of them were all brilliant physicists that's not the issue
00:05:45 but they were basically making a more efficient and profitable telephone system
00:05:50 and so you know the thing about utility it was all focused on improving telecommunications
00:05:56 but there was a function yes people wanted to talk to their
00:06:00 brokers in New York or whatever that might be
00:06:02 and so since that function couldn't be accomplished by anything that existed they had to make up something new
00:06:09 and they tried other things and ended up inventing reinventing the world
00:06:12 but it was the desire to do something new not the desire to invent per se that I think made it happen so this is a
00:06:19 great lab that makes all these products which is called Nature right and evolution so can you say something how.
00:06:26 How does nature operates and how does technology operate where are the differences or perhaps similarities.
00:06:33 In a sense there's a similarity because if you believe Darwin and I'm a great admirer of Mr Darwin.
00:06:41 Nature operates by the idea of fitness what does fitness mean you get into wonderful arguments about what fitness
00:06:48 means but it basically ends up with the idea that whatever processes got us here got us here rather than porpoises
00:06:55 or snails or something that kind
00:06:57 and part of the reason we got here is that we are able to invent things that do not otherwise exist to accomplish
00:07:05 purposes some good some bad which other creatures haven't been able to do so well so what got us here was the ability our
00:07:13 ability the ability of our particular evolutionary experiment to do something us as human beings
00:07:21 and the interesting thing about that of course is that if you say that what accounts what counts is experimentation
00:07:26 and new ideas
00:07:27 and adaptability we're probably not the only thing that's ever going to be able to do that so there will be other kinds of
00:07:33 adaptation evolution and so if one looks into the future and ask are we necessarily the end of the line
00:07:40 and the best thing that will ever happen I don't think there's much evidence that that's true
00:07:44 but you're making the point that if you look at our technology
00:07:47 and how develop it that in some sense it's evolution that brought us to that point. it's evolution
00:07:51 but it's evolution in a funny sense because you can make an argument that one of the golden eras of science was the
00:07:58 period between.
00:08:00 The fifty's
00:08:00 and now there's an enormous amount of stuff that happened a lot of it happened because of World War two I mean the
00:08:06 the inventiveness that went into winning the war or not losing the war produced enormous benefits at the same time
00:08:14 and you know many of the things that happened earlier can be associated with good
00:08:17 and bad motives Yes So it's a question of how we use things in the argument is that science is is agnostic about this
00:08:25 and amoral I'm not sure any of that's necessarily true
00:08:28 but there are good and bad uses for most of technology so you say it was some kind of selection mechanism operative
00:08:34 operating the point too because we were really fighting for survival and what will we do with nuclear X. Where
00:08:40 X Is power
00:08:41 X is weapons
00:08:42 and X is who knows what it's going to be if you think particular let's first focus on what the more kind of material
00:08:47 science part if you look at the. Coming of new materials now. what we know and what is still out there to explore.
00:09:01 I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of forms of matter we haven't discovered yet.
00:09:08 How do you see this process going
00:09:09 and how do we find our ways in this kind of infinity of possibilities Well the question is what do we want to do
00:09:16 because it's the function that drives invention Yes
00:09:20 and one characteristic which is not always clear from the outside is that invention has a kind of ramp quality about
00:09:27 it that is coming up with an idea can be fairly easy there are lots of good ideas demonstrating an application is a little
00:09:34 bit more challenging whereas you have to knew something know something but the actual process of taking the idea
00:09:40 and taking it all the way to what we call a product
00:09:43 but even more so to a market where lots of people want it is very expensive
00:09:48 and very difficult in fact so that at the end science becomes technology if people want the function that it provides
00:09:56 Now what function do we want. right. and.
00:10:00 I think you can make an argument for example that the functions are probably the same in some sense that they always
00:10:04 were we want to be fed we want to have our children raised in reasonable ways we want to be safe we want to communicate
00:10:12 we want to be amused and each one of those will be served in different ways
00:10:17 but one of the interesting changes now is I think we've become accustomed the idea that information is probably as
00:10:24 important as things and we are growing accustomed the idea that machines may be as capable
00:10:31 or more capable than we in certain tasks and so you put together us,
00:10:37 Other parts of life machines and information
00:10:41 and you start having a world which actually doesn't look very much like the world of just one hundred years ago
00:10:46 and you feel that it is this combination of factors that will become a driving force for exploration you know Will
00:10:54 machines for instance help us explore maybe the machines can only do the exploration
00:11:00 but of course what they learn we can use
00:11:02 but we do we want to go and land ourselves on Pluto certainly not in the near term we have a problem so you mentioned
00:11:09 also kind of the whole I mean biology the life sciences are our own bodies are part of that kind of nexus of how do you
00:11:16 see from your point of view and I think as a chemist you're like perfectly positioned the material world and
00:11:23 and life and how are these two worlds interacting at this moment and what will bring the future.
00:11:31 Well that question is I think one of the more interesting questions around right now because there is a fundamentally
00:11:38 interesting issue there which is.
00:11:41 There is matter and there is life and are they different or is life just matter
00:11:46 and I have a prejudice in this which is.
00:11:50 Hypothesis let's say and that is we have matter like this which is stationary
00:11:56 and then we have matter of a different sort and.
00:12:00 The example I like is a flame which is matter but it's doing something
00:12:04 and it only really exists because it's doing something it's generating energy and you mix you mix methane and air
00:12:12 and you let it burn and you get a flame.
00:12:15 What's life and one argument is that life is a very complicated sort of flame you mix glucose for breakfast
00:12:24 or in my case caffeine with air and you burn it
00:12:28 and by a very complicated process you end up with a behavior which is not giving off heat and light
00:12:35 but it's giving off Beethoven and this conversation that we're having Yes And is that is that all there is
00:12:41 or is there something else there that we don't understand
00:12:43 and I think that's the great question Is there something we say emergent something that is not anticipated by existing
00:12:51 science that distinguishes life from everything else
00:12:54 or is it simply a marvelously balanced by some set of processes that we don't understand set of molecular processes
00:13:02 I could imagine that you know again from the chemical point of view you might be perhaps biased to think the latter
00:13:07 that you think that it's just a very complicated process I don't know that just is the right word because you know it
00:13:14 just is a way of being a little bit dismissive. what to me is so interesting is the idea that if you can have
00:13:20 static matter you can have dynamic matter you can have living matter
00:13:24 and you can have thinking matter then this whole process leads you to the idea of how on earth
00:13:29 and why on earth would you arrive at something that was dynamic in the sense of being alive anymore
00:13:35 or even more so being dynamic and thinking intelligent intelligent matter
00:13:40 but the importance of the question I think is that if you can have intelligent matter based on hearts and blood
00:13:47 and whatever then there's no reason why you couldn't have intelligent matter of a number of different sorts if you if
00:13:53 you think and perhaps more kind of a gray scale or you have various. Kind of gradations in which life.
00:14:00 Matter is alive
00:14:01 or intelligent. might these questions be answered soon in terms of real objects appearing perhaps produced in laboratories that
00:14:09 are kind of exploring that intermediate area. there are I think two questions there. one question is.
00:14:18 Is there are there examples in which that line is already blurred Yes And I think there are many of them
00:14:24 and it one that I think is worth thinking about is simply a frozen egg. A human egg.
00:14:31 There's no chemistry going on it's doing absolutely nothing there is nothing in that that would suggest it's any
00:14:36 different from a rock but you warm it up and all of a sudden it's able to do something different
00:14:43 and you see in the same in the sense the same thing at the thought perspective because a human egg
00:14:50 when fertilized isn't thinking there's nothing to think with and when the baby's born it's not thinking much
00:14:57 and there's thought going on but it's probably certainly not self-aware
00:15:00 and then you end up with all of the semantic problems that you
00:15:04 and I have in trying to understand what thinking is about it's a continuum both of these are continua. so what that says
00:15:10 to me is that you can go from something that is not alive to something that's alive and from something that is not thinking to
00:15:18 something that is thinking in a continuous way
00:15:20 and the thing about continua is that they usually go on yes so we are not the end point of that curve where not the
00:15:28 end point of the curve that's right and so you say isn't it dismissive to think that we're just a flame
00:15:33 and the answer is no absolutely not because what you want is more complicated flames right
00:15:39 and that gives me a great deal of optimism that whatever we are a thousand years from now is not going to be what we
00:15:44 are right now. so I could imagine there are
00:15:47 least two kinds we can kind of have objects which are more kind of in between life and.
00:15:54 dead matter but we can also think of that these things will start to kind of enhances.
00:16:00 Is that something that you see happening soon. well is a self driving car fundamentally different in its function from a
00:16:08 cab with a really bored taxi driver I mean the word taxi driver is it's almost certainly safe
00:16:15 but the board taxi driver is probably not thinking about a lot including driving the car yes
00:16:21 and whatever set of systems is driving the car in and in the vehicle that's unmanned is something quite different
00:16:28 but it they're both sort of operating on a low key so yeah why not why can't we have many variations on complexity
00:16:37 and why can't we more interestingly begin to combine them. are you envisioning seriously that you know artificial
00:16:44 intelligence or deep learning processes will start to kind of change not only our lives
00:16:51 but perhaps also the way we kind of do science and discover things. but isn't it already happening because after all the.
00:16:59 We have had our the pleasure of having our younger son home with us and.
00:17:05 It's very clear that he is thinking about things in a way that's fundamentally different from the way that I've ever
00:17:13 thought about things I mean the Internet has rewired his brain let's assume for the better
00:17:18 but I don't know that to be true
00:17:20 but it has to do with the fact that for him the idea of all information is available you just assume it of course all
00:17:28 information is available now what you do with it
00:17:31 and how your intuition works it works along different veins so it seems almost guaranteed that this process of us as
00:17:42 adaptable creatures adapting to an environment which now has all this other stuff going on which wasn't there before
00:17:47 you know it has to happen it's af if there's some new competitor come along or some the temperature is changed
00:17:53 or whatever has happened. and so evolution is kicking in again. evolution is kicking in. well how do you feel as.
00:18:00 Particularly I think you mention the Internet and the way we're communicating it's not only operating at the individual
00:18:05 level but also the kind of amount of connectivity the way we are connecting to other people and other
00:18:13 But it's really all that it's it's really it's amazing
00:18:16 and well Does that give a different perspective on what it means to be a human being you feel.
00:18:23 What's a human being. well instead of just looking at us as individuals that in some sense we should now look really as a
00:18:30 as more as a collective.
00:18:33 Process. what I think you can argue
00:18:35 and we will see how it works out is that the Internet has rewired the brains of our children
00:18:40 and grandchildren in such a fashion that they are part of a collective as opposed to being isolated
00:18:45 and there are good features and bad features but the integration is very much a work in progress
00:18:50 and what will come of something in which not only is all information available
00:18:55 but all opinions are available as we are beginning to see yes plus
00:18:58 or minus with who knows what wild oscillation in the system as we begin to shake down in trying to understand what it is a
00:19:06 collective intelligence is like but a collective intelligence could be a next step
00:19:11 and it would certainly be very different from what we're doing now. if you kind of try to have a kind of a broader
00:19:16 perspective
00:19:17 and you see this kind of development or technology which you just said you know is really speeding up the last say fifty
00:19:22 years.
00:19:24 Do you have the feeling that we're kind of entering a new age in terms of technology what the role of technology will
00:19:30 be. Something like perhaps comparable to when we had like the Industrial Revolution or something.
00:19:37 I think the answer to that is absolutely yes. the question that I struggle with is what's the form going to be what's the
00:19:45 characteristic What's the characteristic because if we have enough matter of this sort to do many things
00:19:52 but we're just beginning to explore the intersection of this with this with information yes you end up with a very
00:19:59 different.
00:20:00 Kind of picture and it's not clear that I
00:20:03 or even you will live long enough to have a sense for what direction this is going
00:20:08 but I think the direction is going to be different. if you're speculating now I think clearly you know machines
00:20:13 and technology are becoming more and more important.
00:20:17 In the end will it be about us the story
00:20:19 or are we just kind of an intermediate phase that kind of passes the torch to perhaps the smart machine
00:20:25 or something else. we know there is the argument
00:20:28 and I think you may have heard about this from Martin Reese that we're just a little glimpse in between a period in
00:20:35 which you don't have sentients on the one hand
00:20:38 and then you have the real thing which lasts for a very long time and is based in silicon
00:20:42 or does something else I don't think it's easy to see the answer to that
00:20:47 but it certainly is true that you can understand that there are things that the Internet.
00:20:53 Can do that we can never do because I've spent a lifetime learning stuff a very brief lifetime learning stuff I die
00:20:59 it's gone but that won't happen with with other forms of memory
00:21:04 and intelligence they will be there forever. well your scientific achievements will definitely live on
00:21:09 and be carried on so aren't we in science in some sense also part of a much longer chain.
00:21:16 We are I know that we all like to have the idea that there is some residue
00:21:22 There isn't you know what happens is you understand stuff it's incorporated into things
00:21:29 and then immediately is taken for granted so it's not that we don't contribute
00:21:34 but there isn't much residue. it's the flame. it's that's right you turn it off it's gone but while it's there it's hot
00:21:40 and it's useful. talking about machines you know you think that in the future there will be more machines around us for instance
00:21:49 robots. Well you know there's an interesting word that you just use which is machine yes is a.
00:21:58 Structure that thinks as clearly
00:22:00 As we do
00:22:01 and can do things that we can't do allthough it operates on different principles aren't we dismissing it a little bit to
00:22:06 call it a machine. my lawn mower is a machine. I'm thinking about something rather different yes anyway robots.
00:22:14 Robots were developed of course originally to replace people in tasks that were not doable or difficult
00:22:24 or unpleasant than lifting body panels into an automobile assembly line or working in a mine or things of that sort
00:22:32 and that's worked really very well
00:22:34 and there are a series of what our machines which have the unpleasant characteristic that if you happen to be standing
00:22:40 too close to one of them when it swings its arms
00:22:42 it simply cuts you in half and doesn't notice. so one of the things is beginning to happen now is the development of
00:22:48 what's known in the trade as collaborative robotics meaning robots by which I mean very broadly almost anything that's
00:22:58 a machine that interacts in a dynamic way with its environment.
00:23:03 Robots that are designed and do work cooperatively
00:23:07 and safely with people. it's a very important kind of distinction because with cooperative robotics one can imagine.
00:23:16 The step in which on the one hand we already have us thinking together with machines computers I think all the time
00:23:24 we're very happy with that and if we can now add to this something in which we interact with machines
00:23:30 and maybe even machines that look like us although I don't think that's necessary as a part of this then you fuse the
00:23:37 two together with the with the corporeal self
00:23:40 and the information thinking self in ways that you can't tell the difference then all of a sudden we've done something
00:23:47 which is really remarkable which is depending upon your point of view creating a living or thinking pure competitor
00:23:55 or cooperative species and how we make that out will.
00:24:00 Depend upon how things go I can't answer the question. are you in any way worried that.
00:24:06 These cooporative new species will kind of dominate us or take over. in the short term no
00:24:12 and we have a wonderful example
00:24:15 when people bring up the issue of aren't robots taking jobs yes of course robots are taking jobs
00:24:20 but in the nineteen thirty's.
00:24:23 There was a very important class of robots introduced not called a robot but it was a washing machine
00:24:29 and a dishwasher Yes And what these did was to take fifty percent of the population otherwise known as women who were
00:24:35 spending their time basically washing things get rid of all that and allow them to go on
00:24:40 and do all the other things that people yes women men do so liberating liberating what it did was to create
00:24:49 opportunities to do more interesting things and so if we assume that what will happen with.
00:24:56 Advanced information systems artificial intelligence robotics whatever it might be if we assume that that will take
00:25:03 over some of the less interesting jobs
00:25:06 and there are many of those then the question is will we be clever enough to have other things that need to be done in
00:25:14 which this yes can work
00:25:15 and the answer to that of course in a kind of I don't know ethical sense is yes because picture number seventy percent of
00:25:23 the world's population still lives if not in poverty in difficult circumstances
00:25:30 and one could go about basically improving the standard of living. health housing education for everybody
00:25:38 or we could do something else and we'll probably try both.
00:25:44 I just want to also kind of come back to evolution
00:25:48 and as you said you know now at this point we are at this phase where technology enters and becomes part of it
00:25:54 but if you trace back in the other direction we talked about the kind of. Mysterious properties of.
00:26:03 Matter that has come alive I know you also think about the origin of life. right.
00:26:09 Because that's somehow the essential question that might be the point where we go from one one phase to the other
00:26:15 what are your thoughts about that.
00:26:18 To me the origin of life is the most interesting question I know in science right now I mean absolutely the origin of the
00:26:25 universe in space and time these are wonderful questions
00:26:28 but we don't actually have very much contact with the origin of the universe so it is not an everyday event for me yes on the
00:26:35 other hand you and your colleagues are everyday events and where could they have come from. I have no idea
00:26:42 and the characteristic of a good scientific problem is you don't know the answer before you start yes
00:26:46 but it's all well and good to say that you have a flame
00:26:50 but how a flame becomes the remarkable set of things that represent it is represented by life is not at all obvious
00:26:58 and there are two parts to this question there's a there's a part which is Darwinian evolution so once you have a cell
00:27:05 how does the cell become over many many many generations how does it become Beethoven in a vague way we understand how
00:27:11 that could happen how how do you take random sludge being a radiated by a U.V.
00:27:17 Rich sun and boiled by volcanoes and things like that and have that turn out to be the first cell I have no clue
00:27:24 and so what's wonderful about it is that I have a feeling there that at least in the detail we don't understand what's
00:27:30 going on at all but
00:27:32 but and the but is interesting what it does say is that it's possible to take things that seem totally disorganized
00:27:39 but have energy
00:27:40 and have them by some process bootstrap themselves into something that is totally different in terms of its characteristic
00:27:46 Yes we don't understand really how that happens in very vague terms yes
00:27:51 but how does it really happen I don't know. I mean if you wonder about the origin of the universe itself it was
00:27:57 intellectually of course very stimulating question and.
00:28:00 The same is true for asking what happened four billion years ago on planet Earth
00:28:06 but I could imagine that if you that the question of the origin of life is also quite relevant.
00:28:11 Now studying complicated processes etc something it's not only it's something that you could possibly replicate
00:28:17 or could show processes that we weren't aware of. perhaps
00:28:23 but that implies that if we're going to do it now it implies that we sort of know how it happened because if you look
00:28:31 at what seems to be required to make the simplest cell it is so complicated that it doesn't seem likely to have
00:28:38 happened by accident there has to have been some direction in terms of going downhill in energy
00:28:44 or something we don't know what that might be
00:28:46 and I don't think we know what that is there's a real difference in the opinion of the community that thinks about this
00:28:52 and I happen to think we don't have a clue there are people who think we're almost there we can go from pond scum to
00:28:59 the first cell Yes And then there are people who think that once you've got to the first cell you don't have to worry
00:29:03 about the rest of it you just assume it yeah yeah well how do you think that in the end we will settle that question what what kind
00:29:10 of do you at least see a pathway of investigation getting to the answers Yes I think there are pathways of investigation so from
00:29:18 the kind of approach that we take not knowing how to do it we ask the question of how do you take reactions
00:29:26 and how would reactions begin to interact with one other cooperatively how would they self assemble
00:29:31 and if you could do that if you could find out principles which would suggest that then you might be able to think that
00:29:38 maybe in this environment that set of things might have been and have become a group not of five separate reactions
00:29:46 but five reactions that are somehow working together and talking to one another
00:29:50 but what I just said how the reactions talk to one another we know how it happens in life now
00:29:55 but we don't have any idea how it could have happened to the life then and so it's a wonderful problem.
00:30:00 George we're talking about origin of life. I just want to make a little detour what you feel about life in the
00:30:06 universe. Are we
00:30:09 Alone. we don't know. yes. I mean the issue there is that if you're in the model I'm in which says I can't see how it
00:30:18 happens if it happens by accident it's so improbable that I have no way to get my arms around it but of course.
00:30:26 You know the sort of number as you hold your arm at arm's length and look at the size of a quarter
00:30:33 and in any direction that's a billion galaxies included in that and the billion galaxies has ten billion suns
00:30:40 and most of the Suns have planets
00:30:42 and they're experimenting all the time with everything I have no idea how to think about what's going on several years
00:30:48 of years over billions
00:30:49 and billions of years so there's lots of room for things to happen if I had to bet I would say that it's one of two
00:30:56 possibilities either there's only one or it happens all the time everywhere
00:31:00 and I don't know what the answer is. You think we can find out if we find out somehow the origin of life will it also tell
00:31:07 us something about.
00:31:10 what could have happened. can happen at other
00:31:14 other planets. I think it will answer everything if we have an idea that it it actually is not so hard you
00:31:20 know maybe you have to have the right conditions then with all those experiments it's bound to happen over and over
00:31:25 and over again
00:31:26 but there are probably events that are very rare I don't think we have any idea how often the universe firms forms
00:31:33 how often does nothing
00:31:34 burp into something how often does lifeless burp into life I don't know how to estimate that kind of number
00:31:41 I like that word. The Big Burp. the burp yeah the Big Bang it's the same B but it's another idea.
00:31:50 But you know the issue of evolution is also interesting in another sense
00:31:54 when Darwin thought about evolution he was thinking about finches and.
00:32:00 And the Galapagos finches and he was thinking about predators and prey
00:32:07 and surviving in competition with other competitors at the beginning if you think about the beginning there were no
00:32:12 competitors and the first cell had no living competitors but as it was
00:32:17 and probably what it had to do more than fight off competitors
00:32:22 and breed fast it had to fight off the consequences of meteor strikes and volcanoes
00:32:27 and things of this sort so that it may well be that what at the beginning was Darwinian evolution was actually
00:32:34 robustness the ability to survive dramatic change
00:32:38 and then that evolved into the ability to run faster than either what you wanted to eat or what ate you
00:32:45 and now the question is for the future yes what is going to be the vector for for for evolution what will we be
00:32:54 running toward or running away from and I think it will be very interesting if we both run away from
00:33:02 and towards something which we have created.
00:33:05 That's an interesting idea so we are one of the very few species that likes to be both predator
00:33:10 and prey for ourselves. so you're also telling us that we are kind of we are struggling with many of the issues that we created
00:33:17 ourselves many of the issues we create ourselves. what are the things that you worry about. what do I worry about I don't
00:33:24 know I don't worry about much because there isn't that much you can do
00:33:27 but the kinds of things that I think in a personal sense one worries about is.
00:33:33 Every one has a vector mine happens to be children. I care about children
00:33:37 and so as a child you are basically raised in our society to do work and ideally work that makes a difference
00:33:47 and meaningful work whatever meaningful is. If we find that we've handed everything over to.
00:33:54 Some other form of machinery then we've got to figure out what what people do.
00:34:00 What do people do to fill the day and that I think is a little worrisome
00:34:04 because I am not sure even now in Western Europe
00:34:08 and in the United States we have the constituentive problem that there are more people than there are good jobs for
00:34:13 people and when that happens everyone becomes mischievous
00:34:18 and mischievousness amplified with nuclear weapons leads to real trouble.
00:34:23 What do you see as the role of science and particular also technology in this I mean you could argue again you know technology is
00:34:31 operating on both sides of the equation in some sense you know it's creating lots of problems
00:34:36 but often it's also seen as one of the few solutions of these problems. there's no shortage of problems I mean just think for a
00:34:43 moment we have the environment and the environment everyone is interested in energy and everyone is
00:34:49 interested in CO2 we all recognize it's a problem
00:34:51 and we really don't have a good way of solving it. probably the best way is going to be.
00:34:56 The most acceptable way will be to reduce energy usage yes the other way of course is to reduce people
00:35:03 and the most benign way of solving both of those problems is probably education
00:35:07 and education isn't very popular so I don't know whether we've got that
00:35:12 but there's that kind of issue we are creating we as human beings are creating a social construct that didn't exist
00:35:20 ever before in history called the Mega city so fifty million or more people living in a small space
00:35:26 and we have no idea how these things operate but they have to operate well for for the people
00:35:33 and I think about this as being a purely chemical materials problem you have energy coming in you have food coming in
00:35:40 you have waste going out you think about stuff spreading both information and epidemics you have to do things with the
00:35:47 individual components but that will be done by a distributed system I mean it's a wonderful problem
00:35:52 and then you have. And you see technology in some sense as having opportunities to that. I think that will
00:35:58 happen. will happen yes.
00:36:00 One has in I think a very interesting construct in Europe called Ludvigshafen
00:36:05 and Ludvigshafen is the home of BASF.
00:36:08 Which is one of the few you know real chemical companies standing
00:36:13 and it's an enormous plot of land which is basically one factory and a mega city is almost the same thing
00:36:20 they are the same basic kind of constructs. stuff comes in energy is used stuff goes out
00:36:26 but we know how to run Ludvigshafen because we created it. yes. we don't have any idea how to construct a megacity because
00:36:34 it created itself. there's a very interesting question I think if you look at the usual definitions of life you know
00:36:41 self-aware energy using dissipating food in stuff out self replicating would you say that the city was alive.
00:36:53 I would. yeah. I mean it seems to me to have many of the right characteristics. so that's. we've talked about the
00:36:59 Internet
00:37:00 but it may be that cities fall in the same category. anyway there's the population of the world that is still poor
00:37:07 and hungry. I mean an enormous number of problems there. there's the basic question of how we deal with the detritus from
00:37:14 the past there's there's just an enormous number of problems how do you ease the pain
00:37:18 and suffering of dying because we're all going to die. how do you do this. so there's no shortage of problems the
00:37:24 question is how do you provide the education the interest the resources so that people are engaged in solving these
00:37:32 problems which will be what we call jobs as opposed to watching their handheld devices which is not a job
00:37:39 or making things even worse. right. Well I don't know if it's going to make it worse
00:37:42 but it's a little bit of drawing a blank card. is this. We were talking George about the problems in the world and I
00:37:48 want to ask you is that motivating your own research if you go into the lab are you thinking about.
00:37:56 Adressing some of these big challenges. it is a major motivation.
00:38:00 And my argument for it is that my salary and the salary of my students is paid for by people who deliver the mail
00:38:08 and pump gasoline and things like that
00:38:11 and the process you can follow the money. the process is that they produce money they in corporations produce money
00:38:18 which they give to the government which we all give to the government not because we're good people
00:38:22 but because we go to jail if we don't
00:38:25 but in the back of our mind is the idea that something comes out of it the government spends it for security
00:38:30 and education
00:38:31 and good things of that kind then the government of course has no way of actually doing anything with money because it
00:38:38 just is sort of a bag man so the government takes the money and gives it to a tiny fraction of it to universities
00:38:46 and sometimes to corporations on the theory that this makes for better outcomes
00:38:53 and then the universities have no way of doing anything either so whatever they come up with knowledge or invention
00:39:02 or whatever it might be has to be handed to another entity which is generally called a company to do something with. yes
00:39:09 and all of a sudden that produces something which society recognizes the person who put up the money recognizes as
00:39:15 a benefit but if you don't go through that it becomes self-referential it becomes.
00:39:22 Academics saying that we deserve to be supported because basically we're stunningly beautiful
00:39:29 and actually we're not we are just like everybody else and so the world is full of problems
00:39:35 and both from the point of view of helping to pay the bill you get the money you should give something in return
00:39:41 and also because it is so immensely stimulating to work on a problem that you have no idea how to solve we should do it
00:39:47 what are particular problems that motivate you. the one that we work on is we're very interested in health care for the
00:39:55 developing world and in much of Africa some parts of
00:40:00 South America Western China there are lots of places where things have gone wrong actually in much of the Middle East
00:40:07 now for different reasons. their people have very little access to health care they have very little access to hospitals
00:40:13 they can't do what we do in the United States which is we feel sick we go to the emergency room
00:40:18 and all of a sudden all the panoply of stuff is available. so how do you how do you provide help
00:40:24 and my argument at least in part as a chemist that you can't fix it if you can't measure it so that if you want your
00:40:34 physician you want to help you have to know help at what and that's diagnostics
00:40:39 and so. it's knowledge of the body. knowledge of the body and knowledge of the disease or the injury
00:40:43 or whatever it might be so the question is how do you provide information in a way that's accessible to people who
00:40:51 do not have front end hospitals working with them
00:40:54 and it's a very interesting problem because it actually super imposes almost on problems in animal health and the
00:41:01 problems in environmental monitoring and the problem of the city and other things
00:41:06 and what one asks as I would say more an engineer than a scientist in this regard is taking everything that you know
00:41:16 can you come up with stuff that helps to fix this problem in a way that's affordable
00:41:22 and easy enough that anyone can use it and it's simple and you can't really screw it up yes
00:41:27 and I think the answer is yes but it is not straightforward
00:41:30 but on the other hand probably it will involve some very kind of high advanced technology and investigations right I mean
00:41:40 it's you're not doing basic stuff here. you're really exploring. I think the answer is yes
00:41:45 and no. the actual work that we do is to make diagnostic systems that are based on little pieces of paper
00:41:53 and this. the origin of this idea was that we were looking for some way of making. Systems that.
00:42:00 Pump blood around and things of this kind in which we could adapt something that existed before for that purpose
00:42:07 and what we settled on was making comic books
00:42:11 but I was making comic books if you've ever seen a rotary press you know it generates enough pieces that big
00:42:18 or enough area if you think about this way to cover the surface of the earth
00:42:22 and you want to run in thirty miles an hour in a you know a sixty foot web it's amazing so that technology was there.
00:42:28 all we had to do is in a sense think of how to use it and that part is is actually trying to make things low end
00:42:36 and as simple as possible and simple is not easy. a transistor is simple but it's not easy
00:42:43 and then the high end part of it is that the assumption is everywhere that healthcare now will not be ever again just
00:42:52 patient and doctor
00:42:55 but rather patient doctor archival patient based database epidemiology that covers you know good fraction of the world
00:43:03 history of all diseases of that sort we're not there yet. A huge dataset. Huge data sets
00:43:08 and so that's the highest end so putting these things together is what in the sense is interesting how do you take
00:43:14 something which is designed at the level of individuals to be as simple as they can be
00:43:19 but at the level of collectives is more sophisticated than we can really imagine. thinking about also the collective So
00:43:27 the kind of immensity of data for you know perhaps everybody's life history and medical history.
00:43:35 It's kind of interesting that somehow
00:43:36 analyzing this is really a collective thing. it's no longer we somehow do this as a species as a
00:43:42 planet.
00:43:43 But you know even there you see it very much just looking around any room. you can tell if you walk into a room pretty
00:43:52 much even not a doctor who's healthy and who's not and and the big things are weight.
00:44:00 Exercise you can tell that by how people move not smoking and you can tell that by watching them
00:44:07 when they smile their face either breaks up in normal crinkles or in plaques and.
00:44:13 You know they have to look basically slept
00:44:16 and they get to get enough rest it's not all that complicated now lots of other things happen
00:44:20 when stuff begins to go wrong but we have a model in the United States in Europe in Japan
00:44:26 and many places of high end end of life medicine
00:44:29 and it comes from this basic idea that life is invaluable so we will spend any amount of money to keep you alive
00:44:36 do anything that is necessary. anything that's necessary this doesn't make sense to me
00:44:41 but if you take that point of view then you tend to focus on people who are already sick rather than the obvious which
00:44:48 is keeping people healthy
00:44:50 and you know my idea is that drop off the edge of the cliff rather than slowly sink into the swamp like a baby
00:45:00 hippopotamus in La Brea
00:45:03 George are you fundamentally optimistic about where the world is heading where our life heading I'm fundamentally
00:45:09 immensely optimistic but I don't know optimistic about what
00:45:14 because I don't know how it's going to come out. do you know why what motivates your optimism.
00:45:20 I think as a species we have tended to get better
00:45:27 and life is not as miserable I spend very little time worrying about whether I'm going to be set upon by robbers
00:45:34 whether I'm going to make it past my thirtieth birthday you know these kinds of things are not probable. It was not that
00:45:42 long ago. it wasn't that long ago that it's one hundred years ago that all of this was unknown. children died of perfectly
00:45:50 we regard perfectly preventable disease. what's happened a little bit is that is the genie out of the bottle problem
00:45:59 we've.
00:46:00 Released the Internet we have nuclear weapons we have the ability to do things which we use for good
00:46:08 but which if we're dumb we will use the wrong way
00:46:11 and so the question is a little bit Are we smart enough to keep the car on the right side of the road
00:46:17 or do we insist on driving in the wrong way. I found interesting there was an article I read by John van Neumann I think
00:46:24 from the mid fifty's with the title Can we survive technology.
00:46:29 And his conclusion was that it's like basic human qualities that help us answer that question just decency careful
00:46:36 deliberation are you agreeing with that yeah
00:46:39 and the argument that comes into technology and comes into science which I actually quite profoundly disagree with is that
00:46:48 it is a subject which is distinct from ethics
00:46:52 and human values. Ethics and human values do not help you solve problems in quantum mechanics on the other hand
00:46:59 without ethics and human values you don't know what problems to solve or how to solve them
00:47:03 or what to do with the answers once you have them so one of my major problems with education now at least at the
00:47:11 gradular level is that we teach students what to do with enormous skill but we don't teach them why to do it
00:47:21 and is that the right thing to do and I think not for them
00:47:25 and not for society you think that we need these kind of moral and ethical dimensions to literally to survive.
00:47:34 I think we need them to survive in a more direct way I think as a student if I were going into a field science would be
00:47:44 one because it is so interesting and actually has the potential for impact on society
00:47:50 but I would like to have the feeling that I'm doing it because it's important not because it's career advancing
00:47:55 and that's something you can do in science it's not necessarily something.
00:48:00 You can do if you are in other professions some other professions
00:48:03 and to minimize that potential pleasure of doing something that is not only interesting and technically challenging
00:48:11 but also helps other people seems to me like a worthwhile thing to do. Are you worried that you know.
00:48:18 Our technologies and our insights become so advanced that they basically are understandable to many we talked about.
00:48:28 the quantum and quantum mechanics and you know many people have not a clue what is this is
00:48:33 and this might yet be driving our technology. Well yes but I don't do you have a clue of how the Internet works
00:48:40 and I don't know nor do I I mean I know how a transistor works sort of yes but do I really know and one of my.
00:48:49 One of my annoyances in life is that I spend a fair amount of time on airplanes
00:48:54 and on the sides of airplanes are these things called Wings and the wings hold the airplane up how they do so.
00:49:03 I have never quite believed that it works out
00:49:05 and yet it goes up. that's right it's a miracle it's right it's astonishing to me
00:49:11 Yes And you know
00:49:12 when you start talking about the more sort of homey things like watching a baby develop It's unbelievable how does this
00:49:19 happen no it's not technology but if you say that technology
00:49:23 and life are just parts of the same different chapters of the same book then there should be common principles.
00:49:30 George you talked about the wonder of seeing an airplane go up
00:49:33 or a baby develop right is that sense of wonder important for you just as a scientist. what I live for I mean curiosity
00:49:42 is a phenomenally useful characteristic for a human being to have because you're never bored because you can never
00:49:49 understand the world around you completely
00:49:50 and so there's always something interesting going on. so you're motivated by that
00:49:54 what you don't know. motivated I'm amused and interested and then some
00:50:00 Small parts of that become motivation and some even smaller parts become problems to work on so
00:50:05 but you know if you look at anything and say how does that happen you can never answer the question
00:50:10 and so it's an endlessly interesting business. You have some kind of intuitive image about how much we don't now know how
00:50:16 much is out there in terms of things to be discovered and explored
00:50:21 but there's also there's a certain humility that comes from looking at something recognizing that you
00:50:28 understand finally how it works and then coming back a week later and recognizing that you were completely wrong
00:50:34 and you have it totally off base does and that happens over and over
00:50:37 and over again is that true were there moments in your your own career that you were totally wrong Yeah
00:50:43 and well I mean potentially every moment any time every day any time I say that I understand it I know I'm wrong it's
00:50:49 just a question of how long it's going to take to find it out
00:50:51 and what the nature of the wrongnesses is. is that fundamental to science that you're always going to have are is always
00:50:56 kind of moving
00:50:57 it has to be because how. the wonderful thing about quantum mechanics in particular is that it describes a world
00:51:05 that we can't really understand. let's assume it's right yes which I don't do one hundred percent know
00:51:10 but let's assume it's right and how do I understand it
00:51:13 and it's things like interference for example I used to think this was OK you know interference was OK because it was
00:51:20 it was something that happened with electrons whatever an electron was or a photon or things like that
00:51:25 but now I find that Mr Zeilinger can take.
00:51:29 Atoms and molecules actually big molecules Yes and run them through two slits
00:51:35 and it does whatever happens. It behaved like an electron. like an electron Yes I have no idea how to incorporate
00:51:42 that idea in my universe
00:51:44 and I think I always think quantum mechanics you know whatever the amount of introspection I think you would never come
00:51:50 up with that right. it is something we were taught by nature and we were very difficult students
00:51:56 and it took a long time for us to appreciate it. and then these arguments
00:52:00 that say that perhaps spacetime is quantized.
00:52:05 I mean I have the words
00:52:07 but if you say to me time is quantized then that raises the question of what's going on in between the moment. the bits of time
00:52:15 ah yes and how do I describe that and it's clearly not an understandable
00:52:19 notion now it may be that I phrased it wrong
00:52:21 and it's something different if you think about it in a more sophisticated way than I can you can get your grip your
00:52:26 mind around it get a grip on it
00:52:28 but I can't. Are you surprised how far we came in terms of understanding the world around us I mean it's seems to be
00:52:35 absolutely spectacular
00:52:36 and there seem to be no signs like forbidden for human beings. Well yes I amazed because of course.
00:52:45 It's always relative to what
00:52:50 and if you say that there's some gigantic examination that we are involved in and there's a score of zero
00:52:57 and we're clearly not a zero and then there's a score of one hundred in terms of understanding
00:53:02 and I don't know now whether we're at five or ninety five in any of these areas
00:53:06 and one of the things about chemistry is that actually the basics of putting together molecules
00:53:12 and matter we understand to an extent we can use it as a tool box as well design. what to do is a different issue yes.
00:53:21 When you start talking. There is this question of basically you are the designer and what to make right
00:53:25 and I design where you have the materials that's right you understand the materials
00:53:29 but then if you take the next step and say that the problems now are megacities and public health and the poor
00:53:36 and the environment all of those are problems in which you're dealing with collections of things you're dealing with
00:53:43 systems
00:53:44 and the solutions for an individual part of a system are not necessarily the right solutions for the system you know so
00:53:51 we may have to redesign with a totally set of differ different set of design rules which are the systems rules as
00:53:57 opposed to the individual component rules.
00:54:00 And that opens the whole book again
00:54:01 but That's going back to our beginning of our conversation were you said we are a sort of grade of building blocks that you can make
00:54:07 anything out of it but if the building blocks have the characteristic that you make something
00:54:12 and it turns out to be exactly what you wanted to be
00:54:14 but exactly the wrong thing for what turns out to be the problem which you didn't understand at the beginning yes yes
00:54:20 you can stay amused doing that. that's right. George if you. Go to.
00:54:27 Part of the series is also that we kind of describing the various kind of I would say kind of personalities that we find in
00:54:35 science because we might study the same phenomena but there's a great diversity also in the personal approach and.
00:54:45 I'm looking here at this animal that's on the on the table tell me what it is
00:54:50 and why is it there. this is a wart hog and my wife brought this model back from someplace from Zambia
00:54:56 or wherever she was and I'm very fond of it
00:55:00 and one reason for being fond of it is that I do believe that in the idea of totems A totem is an animal that you think
00:55:08 might embody some of your best characteristics and so I have two and one of these totems is a.
00:55:17 Rhinoceros and the reason I like rhinoceroses is it's not a particularly bright animal
00:55:23 and it solves problems by going through the problems. Concrete wall you go through the concrete wall you don't go around
00:55:28 the concrete wall and I feel an emotional kinship with that
00:55:32 and then these are so beautiful these animals they are you know not maybe to you and to me but to their mothers
00:55:40 they are so beautiful
00:55:42 and so I feel I fit in that category too so I'm I'm I'm for both of these animals. if you look around and you look at your
00:55:50 colleagues do you see other animals in the natural I do I do I do I do
00:55:55 and they run all the way from the most glorious of creatures to others.
00:56:00 One it would be impolite to make that that two column yes two column Excel spreadsheet but it's there.
00:56:11 An issue which is an interesting one about which we haven't talked is the division between science and engineering
00:56:19 or more properly I think the fact that that's not all there is.
00:56:23 So the argument there's an argument now in the United States that science
00:56:28 and engineering are just slightly different colored versions of the same thing
00:56:32 and I think that's not correct because scientists really like to understand things even if it's not necessarily useful yes
00:56:39 and engineers have this wonderful enthusiasm for taking something that basically exists in some ways
00:56:46 and making it better yes I mean it is a different point of view but there's a third part of it
00:56:51 and maybe even a fourth part. the third part is invention and people who are inventors are the ones who go from not
00:57:00 and to one hundred or one to ten but from zero to one. give an example of a canonical example of an invention
00:57:07 and a canonical example of an invention is probably a transistor because there was no such thing before
00:57:13 and it came into being for a different reason but a stool
00:57:17 or a fire I mean these were. a wheel was invented by someone you know an invention is not necessarily a flash of
00:57:24 lightning it may be a process that gets you somewhere
00:57:28 but it nonetheless creates an idea a concept of how the world could be that wasn't there before yes
00:57:35 and so we need to be a little bit careful not to say that you can be a scientist or you can be an engineer
00:57:42 but that's all there is. perhaps a difference between inventing something
00:57:45 and discovering something. the two are related Well in one case you look at the world
00:57:52 and you see what's there that you don't understand and you abstract an idea from it
00:57:56 and that's the charm of much of the.
00:58:00 Interface between the physical sciences
00:58:02 and the biological sciences. life offers so many interesting opportunities to do that
00:58:08 but the you know the other is sometimes you just are curious you say Could this be done counterfactual thinking is
00:58:15 actually I think very useful in science as if you get up in the morning and you say the sun rises in the east
00:58:22 and you realise that what you're really saying is that every day I've looked at it the sun rose in the east
00:58:27 but what would happen if the sun rose in the West and you are sometimes led into pathways that are quite interesting
00:58:34 and sometimes you're led to go nuts. right you know yeah. both work. yes what about the other disciplines you know In particular
00:58:41 if you think about invention
00:58:43 of something creativity I also naturally think about the arts. you think about the arts Yes And they of course operate
00:58:51 in a somewhat different way
00:58:53 but with the same kind of process if you look at the Arts which is so far as I can see a human construct it's a
00:59:00 construct of sought and you ask how that happens and what do they come up with
00:59:05 and how does that work it's astonishing
00:59:09 and it you know part of that which is actually fairly interesting is that if you read as a child as I did science
00:59:16 fiction.
00:59:19 It's easy to look back and say well all they did was think about spaceships and the Internet
00:59:27 and life on other planets
00:59:29 but what you have to realise is they thought about all this before none of these ideas were there. I mean they
00:59:34 created. even nuclear arms. which come into being yes and it was an astonishing act of creation
00:59:40 and in the same way people create of course societies and they create personalities
00:59:45 and the people who do this know things that we haven't gotten a grip on in some way that is this is also about
00:59:53 the power of our imagination. how important is that imagination in driving this I mean and how do you.
01:00:00 Kind of explain this that we can see things imagine things that aren't there yet I don't think we know
01:00:05 and one of the interesting notion was about for example machine intelligence is that.
01:00:12 It is showing us things that we have not previously appreciated the interesting baby example was Alpha go the program
01:00:25 that had the characteristic that it actually defeated the world's champion Go that's not so interesting
01:00:31 but what was interesting to me was that there were apparently one
01:00:34 or two games in which the program made moves which the human player apparently would not have made now that's creation
01:00:44 and it is creation in a very defined universe with a tight set of rules but that's OK
01:00:49 and that we know that that will change. I found it interesting that actually this defeat of human beings by a machine
01:00:58 actually lead to a lot more interest in Go because particularly with this element that this might be an incredible.
01:01:05 enriching process
01:01:07 for understanding the game. one of the things that crops up in in science fiction is the notion of systems that can make
01:01:17 very rapid decisions
01:01:19 and if you look at an area which is tended to be one which stimulated great creativity in the sense which is war fair
01:01:27 and you find exactly that's going on because those systems make decisions in ways and at distances
01:01:34 and in wavelengths we can't begin to really get a good grip on yes so it's happening
01:01:40 and everywhere around you look you in your group has a drone drones didn't exist ten years ago yes
01:01:47 and now drones are everywhere now our little eyes you know flying around
01:01:51 and looking for us in interesting directions so the opportunities for change are absolutely everywhere if you're
01:01:58 curious about. You know can I make a bookcase fly yes I can make a bookcase fly.
01:02:03 We talked about artificial intelligence could you also talk about artificial imagination.
01:02:11 That's a question to which the answer has to be yes but whether you
01:02:15 and I can talk about it I don't know magination is the ability to imagine worlds that don't exist that's not enough
01:02:23 because it has to be an interesting world that doesn't exist
01:02:26 or a world that doesn't exist according to rules that people have not taken for granted yes
01:02:32 and it is counterfactual I think it's basically a notion of imagining what cannot be assuming it to be asking how you
01:02:40 get there and then asking what happens once you've gone there so there is perhaps a process
01:02:45 but it's not something which everyone necessarily does in a way that has an influence on those around them. George we
01:02:52 talked about the evolution of life
01:02:54 and you know from its very mysterious beginning through great complexity to the emergence of intelligent
01:03:01 life.
01:03:02 And now we're in this phase where certainly you know human beings but also you know very smart programs and machines
01:03:10 and computers are kind of linked together.
01:03:15 How do you see this I mean if you just take a almost like a planetary perspective.
01:03:22 That looks almost like the planet is coming alive
01:03:25 and becoming an intelligence by itself yes I mean if you threw out the issue of replication why not why not have a
01:03:33 planetary intelligence that consist of everything one of the more interesting technological things that's come along in
01:03:40 the last period of time has been the ability to read signals from the brain
01:03:46 and use those to cause intentional motions you know to run a robotic arm
01:03:52 or something like that it's pretty primitive at this point
01:03:55 but what it connecting our minds to sort of say the mind of the robot the mind.
01:04:00 The mind of robot yes and it's at the action it's a level not of thought but at the level of.
01:04:07 Action and mechanics but it's a step
01:04:10 and it's really interesting step to a world in which you don't have to have physical connections
01:04:15 to have things happen now you say that well there's no way of going from that to.
01:04:23 Something which is more to do with thinking on the other hand having tried Oculus Rift I can't tell the difference
01:04:32 between that world and the real world it's a virtual reality it's a virtual reality world
01:04:36 and so you put all of this together and all of a sudden you begin to imagine moving things at a distance
01:04:43 and looking through the eyes of those who are not you at these things in wavelengths that you can't imagine you will
01:04:51 build memories from that
01:04:52 and you will construct your own reality from that so I don't know that I necessarily have to think what you're thinking
01:04:59 but if I experience what you're experiencing it may have the same effect and I'm shaping your brain
01:05:04 and you're shaping my Yeah you're welcome to go at mine.
01:05:09 If you take even more a kind of a wider perspective think of it you know of the cosmos
01:05:15 and in the title of the series is the mind of the universe.
01:05:20 Is that a grandiose overstatement of what we are doing here on planet Earth.
01:05:27 Well we've got a problem when one goes long distances we think because of the issues of speed of light
01:05:35 but on Earth that's not such much of a problem really we we are a little limited
01:05:42 but not that much limited so is there any reason to think we couldn't have global connectivity we have global
01:05:47 connectivity you know it's just a question of having it adapt and evolve
01:05:53 and what it evolves into what are the what will be the evolutionary pressures on a system in which. There are no.
01:06:02 Competitors and because very. again it's only one. Like the first cell. that's right
01:06:08 but of course there was only one cell at the beginning and it evolved its own predators. yes. that makes me a little uneasy
01:06:15 this is outside of my lifetime but it's not necessarily outside of lifetimes twenty generations from now. yes
01:06:23 and in fact you can argue I suppose that hacking is a little first you know it's one finch throwing a stone at another
01:06:31 finch or something of that kind.
01:06:34 Going back again to the beginning of your life you told you were as a child interested in math and science.
01:06:43 Kind of looking back everything you've seen.
01:06:47 Are you amazed by just what what happened what you've seen in terms of science and research
01:06:52 and technology. you have to be amazed of course one is amazed
01:06:55 and one is amazed every day but there's a little bit of a problem in that kind of question because I would have been
01:07:02 amazed by almost anything as children don't know anything so everything is amazing I mean if you ask what's the best
01:07:09 scientist
01:07:10 and everyone who thinks about it would agree the best scientist in the world is a two year old yes who invents all these
01:07:14 Newtonian physics balls falling down
01:07:17 and all the rest of it while inventing language while doing all the rest is just truly phenomenal that's what they do
01:07:23 because they're really interested yes because if they don't get it right they fall down so it's
01:07:28 downhill from there it's downhill from there in a certain sense
01:07:31 but you know I think one would be equally amazed by just going out
01:07:36 and looking at the world yes that what you get in science is the ability to intervene
01:07:42 and that makes to me a world of difference I just think it's so much fun to figure out I think that my work that way
01:07:50 well if it works that way maybe if I poke here something will come out over there and I poke here
01:07:55 and it doesn't it comes out over here
01:07:57 and that you know that really gets you up in the morning thank you for sharing some of that fun with us it's been a
01:08:02 real pleasure thank you.
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