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Episode 62: It’s Alive! The Birth of a New Science as Machines Wake Up

March 19 @ 4:00 pm 5:30 pm PDT

What is a machine? We draw our images and metaphors from the industrial revolution and the era of the clockwork universe: Machines are predicable, created by humans (rather than Mother Nature) and inanimate. Today we consider the prospect that we’re on the threshold of a new science, “Machine Behavior” where life is organic and mechanistic at multiple levels and machines might inherit the traits of organisms and new hybrids may be born, built, or both. Stunning advances in biology, neural networks, cognitive, and computational science give us the tools to make machines that increasingly exhibit the traits of, and are as difficult to understand, as life itself. Today on Quarantime we meet the world experts in this emerging endless frontier.  

Machine Behavior and the Science of Science: 

Researchers Michael Levin and Josh Bongard have pioneered the reconceptualization of machines. We often use science’s latest advances as metaphors to understand our world. The universe was clockwork in the 18th century. Our brains were switchboards in the early telephone era. Today we often describe life as a machine. But we might have that backwards. Perhaps machines are best understood as living things! This week Levin and Bongard published their research as one of the founding briefs for the field of machine behavior. They’ll share their thinking with us on Quarantime.Today.

Ethics and Society as Xenobots Arise.

Machines becoming living things? Cognition arising outside of the brain? Living things designed by machines? This field raises a lot of questions! Ethical, ontological, societal, and philosophical questions. Words we often don’t haul out on a weekly series, but which are our best guide now. We’ll dive into lessons learned from the current state of AI and data science as research scientist Jana Thompson & ethicist Jeantine Lunshof joins us. Jana is at the NYU Center for Data Science and writes for IBM’s Data Science and AI Medium blog. She has worked in AI, linguistic archiving and ethnography, she also explores creative coding and user experience. Jeantine is a collaborative ethicist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. How might we design in this new emergent medium and how might the medium design itself?


March 19, 2021
4:00 pm – 5:30 pm PDT