196. Susan Hockfield (MIT president emerita, neuroscientist) – Extraordinary machines

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“Are we in the best of times? Or the end of times? One of the oddities of the current era is that extreme pessimism about the world coexists with extreme optimism — and both have a plausible case to make.”
I’m quoting Gideon Rachman from a recent Financial Times piece about Bill Gates and David Attenborough. Broadly speaking, Gates is a technooptimist: convinced, like his friend Steven Pinker, that the world’s getting better all the time due to technological and scientific progress, and that our problems are largely solvable. Attenborough is the world’s most recognizable narrator of nature documentaries and, well, with all that’s been happening to the flora and the fauna of the Earth, you can probably guess where he stands.
My guest today, neuroscientist and MIT president emerita Susan Hockfield, is the author of the new book THE AGE OF LIVING MACHINES. And I think it’s fair to say she leans toward the Bill Gates side of the spectrum. Given what she’s seen and done in her historic career, it’s easy to understand why. The technologies she looks at in the book sit at the intersection of biology and engineering—what Hockfield calls “Convergence 2.0”. From water filters based on cellular proteins to self-assembling batteries, they seem miraculous, even to the trained eye. And they’re densely packed with hope for human ingenuity, and for solving global problems from food shortages to climate change.
Surprise conversation starters in this episode:
Nichol Bradford on transformative technology
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