56 episodes

Hear This Idea is a podcast showcasing new thinking in philosophy, the social sciences, and effective altruism. Each episode has an accompanying write-up at www.hearthisidea.com/episodes.

Hear This Idea Fin Moorhouse and Luca Righetti

    • Science
    • 5.0 • 14 Ratings

Hear This Idea is a podcast showcasing new thinking in philosophy, the social sciences, and effective altruism. Each episode has an accompanying write-up at www.hearthisidea.com/episodes.

    Tessa Alexanian and Janvi Ahuja on Synthetic Biology and GCBRs

    Tessa Alexanian and Janvi Ahuja on Synthetic Biology and GCBRs

    A full writeup of this episode, including references and a transcript, is available on our website: hearthisidea.com/episodes/alexanian-ahuja

    Tessa Alexanian is the Safety & Security Program Officer at the iGEM Foundation, which organises a worldwide competition in synthetic biology and helps foster a collaborative community. She is a fellow at the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative, was previously a fellow at the Foresight Institute, and co-founded the East Bay Biosecurity Group.

    Janvi Ahuja is a PhD student in computational biology at the University of Oxford, where she is affiliated with the Future of Humanity Institute and works with MIT’s Nucleic Acid Observatory on metagenomic sequencing. Janvi is also a fellow at the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative, and was previously an intern at the UN’s Biological Weapons Convention ISU

    We discuss:


    How synthetic biology began and why it is an exploding field
    The iGEM competition and how to get involved in the community
    Challenges and trade-offs in creating a culture of responsibility in synthetic biology
    Emerging risks in synthetic biology and what this means for global catastrophic risks
    Technical projects in biosecurity and career advice for how to get involved

    If you have any feedback, you can get a free book for filling out our new feedback form. You can also get in touch through our website or on Twitter. Consider leaving us a review wherever you're listening to this — it's the best free way to support the show. Thanks for listening!

    Michael Aird on how to do Impact-Driven Research

    Michael Aird on how to do Impact-Driven Research

    Michael Aird is a senior research manager at Rethink Priorities, where he co-leads the Artificial Intelligence Governance and Strategy team alongside Amanda El-Dakhakhni. Before that, he conducted nuclear risk research for Rethink Priorities and longtermist macrostrategy research for Convergence Analysis, the Center on Long-Term Risk, and the Future of Humanity Institute, which is where we know each other from. Before that, he was a teacher and a stand up comedian.
    We discuss:


    Whether you should stay in academia if you want to do impactful research
    How to start looking for roles at impact-driven research organisations
    What simple changes can improve how you write about your research
    The uses of 'reductionism' and quantitative thinking
    The concept of ‘reasoning transparency’
    Michael’s experience investigating nuclear security

    Key links:


    Michael's posts on the EA Forum
    Interested in EA/longtermist research careers? Here are my top recommended resources
    Don’t think, just apply! (usually)
    List of EA funding opportunities
    Rethink Priorities
    Reasoning Transparency
    A central directory for open research questions

    You can find more links, and read the full transcript, in this episode's write-up: hearthisidea.com/episodes/aird.

    If you have any feedback, you can get a free book for filling out our new feedback form. You can also get in touch through our website or on Twitter.

    Consider leaving us a review wherever you're listening to this — it's the best free way to support the show. Thanks for listening!

    Kevin Esvelt and Jonas Sandbrink on Risks from Biological Research

    Kevin Esvelt and Jonas Sandbrink on Risks from Biological Research

    A full writeup of this episode is available on our website: hearthisidea.com/episodes/esvelt-sandbrink.

    Kevin Esvelt is an assistant professor at the MIT Media Lab, where he is director of the Sculpting Evolution group, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. He helped found the SecureDNA Project and the Nucleic Acid Observatory, both of which we discuss in the episode. Esvelt is also known for proposing the idea of using CRISPR to implement gene drives.

    Jonas Sandbrink is a researcher and DPhil student at the Future of Humanity Institute. He is a fellow at both the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and with the Ending Bioweapons Program at the Council on Strategic Risks. Jonas’ research interests include the dual-use potential of life sciences research and biotechnology, as well as fast response countermeasures like vaccine platforms.

    We discuss:


    The concepts of differential technological development, dual-use research, transfer risks in research, 'information loops', and responsible access to biological data
    Strengthening norms against risky biological research, such as novel virus identification and gain of function research
    Connection-based warning systems and metagenomic sequencing technology
    Advanced PPE, Far-UVC sterilisation technology, and other countermeasures against pandemics potentially worse than Covid
    Analogies between progress in biotechnology and the early history of nuclear weapons
    How to use your career to work on these problems — even if you don’t have a background in biology.

    You can read more about the topics we cover in this episode's write-up: hearthisidea.com/episodes/farmer.

    If you have any feedback, you can get a free book for filling out our new feedback form. You can also get in touch through our website or on Twitter. Consider leaving us a review wherever you're listening to this — it's the best free way to support the show. Thanks for listening!

    Bonus: 50th Episode Celebration

    Bonus: 50th Episode Celebration

    In this episode, Fin and Luca celebrate 50 episodes of Hear This Idea: all the highs, lows, and near-disasters along the way.

    We chat about:


    The HTI origin story
    Favourite behind the scenes moments
    Should we argue with guests more?
    Mistakes we've made (and are still making?)
    What we've learned about asking better questions
    Starting projects from scratch
    Ideas for the next 50 episodes
    Future topics, dream guests
    Why does this podcast exist?
    Podcasting tips
    A potential new program
    Our media recommendations

    Doyne Farmer on Complexity and Predicting Technological Progress

    Doyne Farmer on Complexity and Predicting Technological Progress

    Professor Doyne Farmer is the Baillie Gifford Professor in Mathematics at Oxford, the Director of the Complexity Economics programme at INET, and an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute.

    In our conversation we discuss:


    How Doyne and his friends used physics and hidden computers to beat the roulette wheel in Las Vegas casinos
    Advancing economic models to better predict business cycles and knock-on effects from extreme events like Covid-19
    Techniques for predicting technological progress and long-run growth, with specific applications to energy technologies and climate change

    You can read more about the topics we cover in this episode's write-up: hearthisidea.com/episodes/farmer

    If you have any feedback, you can get a free book for filling out our new feedback form. You can also get in touch through our website or on Twitter. Consider leaving us a review wherever you're listening to this — it's the best free way to support the show. Thanks for listening!

    • 1 hr 26 min
    Ajay Karpur on Metagenomic Sequencing

    Ajay Karpur on Metagenomic Sequencing

    Ajay Karpur is a Senior Program Associate in Biosecurity and Pandemic Preparedness at Open Philanthropy. He's hoping to start tweeting again soon, at @ajaykarpur.

    Joining as a guest co-host on this episode was Janvi Ahuja, who is a PhD student in computational biology at Oxford University, and part of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security ‘Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity’ program. She's tweeting at @jn_ahuja.

    In our conversation, we discuss:


    What is metagenomic sequencing, and why could it matter so much for it to become affordable and ubiquitous?
    How and why can nonprofits help positive technologies become more accessible?
    How emerging biotech can help the world respond better to the next emerging (potential) pandemic
    Refuges against biological threats
    Analogies between fire protection and pathogen protection through monitoring and cleaner air
    Career advice for entering biosecurity, especially with an engineering background.

    You can read more about the topics we cover in this episode's write-up: hearthisidea.com/episodes/karpur

    If you have any feedback or suggestions for future guests, feel free to get in touch through our website. Consider leaving us a review wherever you're listening to this — it's the best free way to support the show. If you want to support the show more directly, consider leaving a tip. Thanks for listening!

    • 1 hr 21 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
14 Ratings

14 Ratings

Guy16 ,

Excellent philosophy (etc) podcasts

I’ve listened to the philosophy episodes (plus the episode with Diane Coyle) and would recommend these extremely highly. (I’m confident that the podcasts in other areas are also similarly excellent.)

The guests are extremely good at explaining their work in a way that’s accessible without dumbing-down and the hosts ask really helpful questions. The length of the episodes is about right. They would be of interest to everyone from enthusiastic amateur philosophers, undergrads, or faculty.

jellyberg ,

Beautifully done

Just listening to the episode with Simon Beard, and it's fantastic. Smart, quick, energetic, super understandable. The important stuff, and the fascinating stuff.

rozmoorhouse ,

Consistently interesting and engaging

Consistently interesting conversations from the charming Fin and Luca!

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