The Last Question podcast
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Interviews from the cutting edge of innovation
The Last Question is a science and technology podcast from DataFest. Join our hosts Gordon Johnstone and Lily Higham as they talk to people at the cutting edge of technology and innovation – from quantum computing to nanotechnology, sci-fi authors to ethicists, from AI to the search for extra-terrestrial life.
Space Sustainability with Moriba Jah
What can we learn from indigenous people about our stewardship of space? Are we on the cusp of discovering extra-terrestrial life? And will Homo Machina replace Homo Sapiens? Find out in this fascinating conversation with Moriba Jah.
Moriba Jah is an astrodynamicist, space environmentalist, and all-round space renaissance man. Moriba is an associate professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin, a Fellow at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a world-renowned expert in astrodynamics.
Also in this episode, we read a listener mail from Sara Spaargaren – Program Manager, AI, Media and Democracy Lab at the University of Amsterdam – about whether or not we live in a post-truth society.
Disinformation in Warfare with Olga Tokariuk
How is Russia deploying disinformation following its full scale invasion of Ukraine? What’s the difference between disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda? Can memes win wars? Check out this fascinating interview with Olga Tokariuk – journalist and disinformation researcher – to find out.
Olga Tokariuk is an independent journalist, non-resident fellow at CEPA (Center for European Policy Analysis) and former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford, where she is currently based. Her main professional interests are international affairs and research on disinformation.
Olga has vast experience in Ukrainian and international media. Her reports and op-eds have been featured in TIME, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, NPR, BBC, Monocle, EFE (Spain), Il Foglio, ANSA (Italy). She is a former head of foreign news desk at the independent Ukrainian Hromadske TV.
Also in this episode, we read a listener mail from Dr. Sreevas Sahasranamam about how artificial intelligence may influence the future of the Hindu faith.
AI, Transhumanism and Religion with Paolo Benanti
How is religion keeping pace with the developments in AI? If we achieve transhumanism, what becomes of god? Are we heading for a ‘semantic apocalypse’? We spoke to Paolo Benanti – adviser to Pope Francis on all things AI – about these questions and more in a truly fascinating conversation.
Father Paolo Benanti is an academic of the Franciscan of the Third Order Regular, a theologian, teaches at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and is advisor to Pope Francis on issues of artificial intelligence and technology ethics.
Lunar Psychophysics with Katherine Rahill, NASA
With NASA’s Artemis missions (hopefully) returning humanity to the moon in the near future and space exploration entering a new golden age, the realities of human beings existing in space are more pronounced than ever. So what is lunar psychophysics and how will it affect astronauts’ ability to function in non-Earth environments? And why do things look different on the moon than they do on Earth? We chatted to NASA scientist Katherine Rahill about all of this and more.
Dr. Katherine (Katt) Rahill is the Senior Scientist for the Office of the Chief Scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) at Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX. She provides direct support and expert recommendations to the Chief Scientist relating to all scientific elements of the HRP program. She leads assessments to inform NASA’s decisions concerning approaches and strategies to mitigate the risk of deleterious physiological effects associated with long duration spaceflight.
Silkpunk with Ken Liu
What happens at the intersection of technology and magic? How has storytelling shaped humanity? And why do airships have such an enduring influence on our imaginations? We talk to author Ken Liu about all of this through the lens of silkpunk – a technology aesthetic of his own invention based on a science fictional elaboration of traditions of engineering in East Asia’s classical antiquity.
A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is the author of the Dandelion Dynasty, a silkpunk epic fantasy series (starting with The Grace of Kings), as well as The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories.
Unconventional Computing with Adrian Tchaikovsky
Will unconventional computing lead to a general artificial intelligence? Will it aid humanity’s quest to upload a human mind to a computer, essentially granting immortality? And what role do spiders, octopuses, and crabs play in this? Join us as we talk to award winning author Adrian Tchaikovsky (Children of Time, Shadows of the Apt, Cage of Souls) about how unconventional computing might (or might not) revolutionize the world. We also talk about his upcoming book, Children of Memory, and the concept of uplifting animals to human intelligence.
Quantum Biology with Jim Al-Khalili
Birds using quantum entanglement, plants utilising quantum coherence, cells harnessing quantum tunneling – biologists are having to face, for the first time, the effects of the subatomic world on their field.
Your hosts Lily and Gordon chat to Professor Jim Al-Khalili – quantum physics professor, broadcaster, and winner of the Stephen Hawking Medal – about the emerging field of quantum biology and what it might mean for our understanding of evolution, the future of renewable energy, and whether it can be harnessed.
Quick Question: Megastructures and Alien Life with Giovanna Giardino
In this “quick question” episode we ask ESA astronomer and instrument scientist Giovanna Giardino about the possibility of the James Webb Space Telescope picking up signs of extraterrestrial life.
The James Webb Space Telescope with Giovanna Giardino, ESA
The James Webb Space Telescope has captured the public’s imagination in a way we haven’t seen in decades – the world has fallen in love with space again. We’re delighted to have spoken to Giovanna Giardino – an astronomer and instrument scientist at the European Space Agency – about the telescope’s incredible capabilities, what she’s excited about so far, and what we might learn – from spectroscopy to cosmic rays to the dawn of time itself.
Giovanna’s currents scientific interests are connected with the astrophysical research that will be enabled by the NIRSpec instrument on board the JWST, with a particular focus to the studies of the formation and evolution of galaxies and the preparation of spectroscopic observations of the atmospheres of extra-solar planets. The JWST is a collaboration between NASA, the ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency.
Quantum Computing with Elham Kashefi
Are we on the cusp of a revolution in quantum computing? What does it mean for security and cryptography? And will it get us closer to a general artificial intelligence? Lily and Gordon chat to Professor Elham Kashefi – quantum computing professor at the University of Edinburgh – to find out all of this and more.
Elham is the Personal Chair in Quantum Computing at the School of Informatics University of Edinburgh and also the co-founder of VeriQloud.
Quick Question: A Panopticon of Our Own Making with Stephanie Hare
In this “quick question” episode we ask technology ethicist Stephanie Hare about the panopticon of modern life.
Technology Ethics with Stephanie Hare
In this episode Gordon and Lily chat to Stephanie Hare – technology ethicist and journalist – about what future holds for technology from an ethical perspective. Are governments able to keep up with technology? Should an artificial intelligence be able to hold a patent? Who is responsible for a AI that breaks the law? All of this and more in the latest episode of The Last Question.
Quick Question: The Entropic Golem with Laura Tripaldi
In this “quick question” episode we ask nanotechnologist Laura Tripaldi what we can learn about entropy from the golem of Jewish folklore.
Nanotechnology and Material Science with Laura Tripaldi
Join Gordon and Lily for their inaugural podcast as they talk to Dr Laura Tripaldi about the future of nanotechnology, material science, the search for extra-terrestrial life, spiders, and her fascinating book ‘Parallel Minds: discovering the intelligence of materials’. What does the future of nanotechnology hold? How can spider silk change the world? Are our current definitions of life inadequate? These are just some of the questions Dr Tripaldi explores in this fascinating interview.