Extraordinary machines – with neuroscientist Susan Hockfield
Convergence 2.0: Engineers are using the "natural genius" of biological systems to produce extraordinary machines—self-assembling batteries, cancer-detecting nanoparticles, super-efficient water filters made from proteins found in blood cells. Neuroscientist and MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield and host Jason Gots discuss what all this could mean for our future.
- "One of my tools as president was never to talk about change. People hate change. But at MIT no one could deny you the opportunity to do an experiment."
- "If we can create these spaces for convening around our most important problems, We can make progress much faster than we can by insisting that people do the work on their own. And that's the power of the university at its best."
"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:
Setting a simple intention and coming prepared can help you — and those around you — win big.
- Setting an intention doesn't have to be complicated, and it can make a great difference when you're hoping for a specific outcome.
- When comedian Pete Holmes is preparing to record an episode of his podcast, "You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes," he takes 15 seconds to check in with himself. This way, he's primed with his own material and can help guests feel safe and comfortable to share theirs, as well.
- Taking time to visualize your goal for whatever you've set out to do can help you, your colleagues, and your projects succeed.
The Amazon Rainforest is often called "The Planet's Lungs."
- For weeks, fires have been burning in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, likely started by farmers and ranchers.
- Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has blamed NGOs for starting the flames, offering no evidence to support the claim.
- There are small steps you can take to help curb deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, which produces about 20 percent of the world's oxygen.
How do we combat the roots of these hateful forces?
- American Psychological Association sees a dubious and weak link between mental illness and mass shootings.
- Center for the study of Hate and Extremism has found preliminary evidence that political discourse is tied to hate crimes.
- Access to guns and violent history is still the number one statistically significant figure that predicts gun violence.