100 episodes

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time.

Science Salon Michael Shermer

    • Natural Sciences
    • 4.7, 281 Ratings

In the tradition of the Enlightenment salons that helped drive the Age of Reason, Science Salon is a series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, scholars, and thinkers, about the most important issues of our time.

    118. Stuart Russell — Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

    118. Stuart Russell — Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control

    In the popular imagination, superhuman artificial intelligence is an approaching tidal wave that threatens not just jobs and human relationships, but civilization itself. Conflict between humans and machines is seen as inevitable and its outcome all too predictable. In this groundbreaking book, distinguished AI researcher Stuart Russell argues that this scenario can be avoided, but only if we rethink AI from the ground up. Russell begins by exploring the idea of intelligence in humans and in machines. He describes the near-term benefits we can expect, from intelligent personal assistants to vastly accelerated scientific research, and outlines the AI breakthroughs that still have to happen before we reach superhuman AI. He also spells out the ways humans are already finding to misuse AI, from lethal autonomous weapons to viral sabotage. If the predicted breakthroughs occur and superhuman AI emerges, we will have created entities far more powerful than ourselves. How can we ensure they never, ever, have power over us? Russell suggests that we can rebuild AI on a new foundation, according to which machines are designed to be inherently uncertain about the human preferences they are required to satisfy. Such machines would be humble, altruistic, and committed to pursue our objectives, not theirs. This new foundation would allow us to create machines that are provably deferential and provably beneficial. Shermer and Russell also discuss:
    natural intelligence vs. artificial intelligence “g” in human intelligence vs. G in AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) the values alignment problem Hume’s “Is-Ought” naturalistic fallacy as it applies to AI values vs. human values regulating AI Russell’s response to the arguments of AI apocalypse skeptics Kevin Kelly and Steven Pinker the Chinese social control AI system and what it could lead to autonomous vehicles, weapons, and other systems and how they can be hacked AI and the hacking of elections, and what keeps Stuart up at night. Stuart Russell is a professor of Computer Science and holder of the Smith-Zadeh Chair in Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served as the Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on AI and Robotics and as an advisor to the United Nations on arms control. He is a Fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the author (with Peter Norvig) of the definitive and universally acclaimed textbook on AI, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach.
    Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

    • 1 hr 21 min
    117. Matt Ridley — How Innovation Works: and Why It Flourishes in Freedom

    117. Matt Ridley — How Innovation Works: and Why It Flourishes in Freedom

    Innovation is the main event of the modern age, the reason we experience both dramatic improvements in our living standards and unsettling changes in our society. Forget short-term symptoms like Donald Trump and Brexit, it is innovation itself that explains them and that will itself shape the 21st century for good and ill. Yet innovation remains a mysterious process, poorly understood by policy makers and businessmen, hard to summon into existence to order, yet inevitable and inexorable when it does happen.
    In his new book, How Innovation Works, Matt Ridley argues that we need to change the way we think about innovation, to see it as an incremental, bottom-up, fortuitous process that happens to society as a direct result of the human habit of exchange, rather than an orderly, top-down process developing according to a plan. Innovation is crucially different from invention, because it is the turning of inventions into things of practical and affordable use to people. It speeds up in some sectors and slows down in others. It is always a collective, collaborative phenomenon, not a matter of lonely genius. It is gradual, serendipitous, recombinant, inexorable, contagious, experimental and unpredictable. It happens mainly in just a few parts of the world at any one time. It still cannot be modelled properly by economists, but it can easily be discouraged by politicians. Far from there being too much innovation, we may be on the brink of an innovation famine.
    Ridley derives these and other lessons, not with abstract argument, but from telling the lively stories of scores of innovations, how they started and why they succeeded or in some cases failed. He goes back millions of years and leaps forward into the near future. Some of the innovation stories he tells are about steam engines, jet engines, search engines, airships, coffee, potatoes, vaping, vaccines, cuisine, antibiotics, mosquito nets, turbines, propellers, fertiliser, zero, computers, dogs, farming, fire, genetic engineering, gene editing, container shipping, railways, cars, safety rules, wheeled suitcases, mobile phones, corrugated iron, powered flight, chlorinated water, toilets, vacuum cleaners, shale gas, the telegraph, radio, social media, block chain, the sharing economy, artificial intelligence, fake bomb detectors, phantom games consoles, fraudulent blood tests, faddish diets, hyperloop tubes, herbicides, copyright, and even a biological innovation: life itself. Shermer and Ridley discuss all this and:
    why the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the First Law of Life why the patent/intellectual property rights concept is antithetical to innovation why innovation is so much more important than invention why the Chinese system of innovation works even though it’s government is anti-freedom why musical innovation did not decline with the advent of Napster the difference between scientific discoveries and artistic/musical creations vaccine innovation in the era of COVID-19 why innovations are postdictable but not predictable, and how the future may change after this pandemic. Matt Ridley is the award-winning, bestselling author of several books, including The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters; and The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. His books have sold more than one million copies in thirty languages worldwide. He writes regularly for The Times (London) and The Wall Street Journal, and is a member of the House of Lords. He lives in England.
    Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

    • 1 hr 34 min
    116. Howard Steven Friedman — Ultimate Price: The Value We Place on Life

    116. Howard Steven Friedman — Ultimate Price: The Value We Place on Life

    How much is a human life worth? Individuals, families, companies, and governments routinely place a price on human life. The calculations that underlie these price tags are often buried in technical language, yet they influence our economy, laws, behaviors, policies, health, and safety. These price tags are often unfair, infused as they are with gender, racial, national, and cultural biases that often result in valuing the lives of the young more than the old, the rich more than the poor, whites more than blacks, Americans more than foreigners, and relatives more than strangers. This is critical since undervalued lives are left less-protected and more exposed to risk.
    Howard Steven Friedman explains in simple terms how economists and data scientists at corporations, regulatory agencies, and insurance companies develop and use these price tags and points a spotlight at their logical flaws and limitations. He then forcefully argues against the rampant unfairness in the system. Readers will be enlightened, shocked, and, ultimately, empowered to confront the price tags we assign to human lives and understand why such calculations matter. Friedman and Shermer also discuss:
    the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic tradeoffs in the context of putting a price on human life how long should the economy be kept shut down in social isolation private vs. public calculations of the value of a human life the tradeoffs between conflicting moral values related to the value of human life (abortion, capital punishment, etc.) 9/11 and the calculations used to determine the value of each life lost calculating the devil we know (coal-related deaths) vs. the devil we don’t know (possible future nuclear-power related deaths) how the price of $10 million was determined for the current value of a human life organ sales as a form of human life valuation Should you have life insurance? When should you start collecting social security? why all lives should be treated equally in terms of statistical valuation, but why they are not. Howard Steven Friedman, a leading statistician and health economist, is an expert in data science and applications of cost-benefit analysis. He teaches at Columbia University.
    Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

    • 1 hr 10 min
    115. Matthew Cobb — The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience

    115. Matthew Cobb — The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience

    For thousands of years, thinkers and scientists have tried to understand what the brain does. Yet, despite the astonishing discoveries of science, we still have only the vaguest idea of how the brain works. In The Idea of the Brain, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb traces how our conception of the brain has evolved over the centuries. Although it might seem to be a story of ever-increasing knowledge of biology, Cobb shows how our ideas about the brain have been shaped by each era’s most significant technologies. Today we might think the brain is like a supercomputer. In the past, it has been compared to a telegraph, a telephone exchange, or some kind of hydraulic system. What will we think the brain is like tomorrow, when new technology arises? The result is an essential read for anyone interested in the complex processes that drive science and the forces that have shaped our marvelous brains. Cobb and Shermer also discuss:
    panpsychism the hard problem of consciousness free will and determinism mind uploading near death experiences (NDEs) and other paranormal experiences quantum consciousness the history of neuroscience and how we got to where we are today brain mapping and localization why the new phrenology (brain localization and modules) is still wrong why neurons are not digital like computer chips, and why the brain is not like a computer, and why we’re still nowhere near understanding how the brain works. Matthew Cobb is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester, where he studies olfaction, insect behavior, and the history of science. He earned his PhD in psychology and genetics from the University of Sheffield. He is the author of five books: Life’s Greatest Secret, Generation, The Resistance, Eleven Days in August, and Smell: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in England.
    Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

    • 1 hr 40 min
    114. Katherine Stewart — The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

    114. Katherine Stewart — The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism

    For too long the Religious Right has masqueraded as a social movement preoccupied with a number of cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. But in her deeply reported investigation, Katherine Stewart reveals a disturbing truth: America’s Religious Right has evolved into a Christian nationalist movement. It seeks to gain political power and to impose its vision on all of society. It isn’t fighting a culture war, it is waging a political war on the norms and institutions of American democracy. Stewart shows that the real power of the movement lies in a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations, embedded in a rapidly expanding community of international alliances with likeminded, anti-democratic religious nationalists around the world, including Russia. She follows the money behind the movement and traces much of it to a group of super-wealthy, ultraconservative donors and family foundations. The Christian nationalist movement is far more organized and better funded than most people realize. It seeks to control all aspects of government and society. Its successes have been stunning, and its influence now extends to every aspect of American life, from the White House to state capitols, from our schools to our hospitals. Shermer and Stewart also discuss:
    how the Moral Majority of the Reagan era 1980s morphed into the Christian Nationalists of today wWhy 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, one of the least religious presidents in U.S. history follow the money: where these many christian nationalist organizations get their funding Betsy DeVos, big money, and school vouchers: what’s really going on with so-called “school choice” how conservatives use pastors to “get out the vote” When did Jesus become a conservative? Christian nationalists and the poor Christian nationalists and homosexuality how Christian nationalists made abortion a modern political cause how conservatives like Barry Goldwater used to support a woman’s right to an abortion why conservatives are actually in favor of big government…when it suits their ideological and religious agendas (military, police, prisons, courts, immigration, corporate welfare, etc.) Who’s next? Mike Pence, Ted Cruz? The future of democracy in an age of Christian nationalism. Katherine Stewart’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, American Prospect, The Atlantic and other publications. She is the author of The Good News Club, an investigation of the religious right and public education.

    • 59 min
    113. Dave Rubin — Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason

    113. Dave Rubin — Don’t Burn This Book: Thinking for Yourself in an Age of Unreason

    The left is no longer liberal. Once on the side of free speech and tolerance, progressives now ban speakers from college campuses, “cancel” people who aren’t up to date on the latest genders, and force religious people to violate their conscience. They have abandoned the battle of ideas and have begun fighting a battle of feelings. This uncomfortable truth has turned moderates and true liberals into the politically homeless class. Dave Rubin launched his political talk show The Rubin Report in 2015 as a meeting ground for free thinkers who realize that partisan politics is a dead end. He hosts people he both agrees and disagrees with — including those who have been dismissed, deplatformed, and despised — taking on the most controversial issues of our day. As a result, he’s become a voice of reason in a time of madness. Now, Rubin gives you the tools you need to think for yourself in an age when tribal outrage is the only available alternative. Shermer and Rubin discuss:
    why he left the Left how progressive leftism is illiberal how identity politics makes people more racist, misogynist, homophobic, bigoted, and less tolerant liberalism and classical liberalism how to stand up to the mob when it comes after you for not perfectly toeing the PC line individual rights and limited government immigration, abortion, gun rights, foreign policy, income inequality, and other hot-button issues, and why Jordan Peterson is not the anti-Christ despite what progressives say. Dave Rubin is the creator and host of The Rubin Report, the most-watched talk show about free speech and big ideas on YouTube. A former progressive turned classical liberal, he speaks to millions all over the world, including touring with Dr. Jordan Peterson, and performs stand-up comedy in cities around the United States. Originally from Long Island, New York, he currently lives in Los Angeles with his husband, David, and their dog, Emma. This is his first book.
    Listen to Science Salon via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, Stitcher, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

    • 1 hr 25 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
281 Ratings

281 Ratings

voodoospydr ,

Time to unsubscribe.

I’ve been listening for a while. This podcast has become simple biased diatribe, uninformed opinion, and poor interviews. Sad to say goodbye. But this podcast has become a waste of time.

Moodini1 ,

Really Disappointing

I used to see Shermer as one of my ‘go to’ guys for objective, skeptical content but he is hopelessly biased and partisan now.

Opinion is fine, but it should never be cloaked as fact, something that Shermer does more and more these days.

Zawfer ,

An Opportunity to Hear Good Ideas

Shermer is a very smart guy. He has access to, and is able to carry on intelligent conversations with, a wide range of scientists and assorted philosophers, teachers and intellectuals. I appreciate his lifelong commitment to objective reality and the debunking of metaphysical “woo,” a pernicious and growing trend that makes us vulnerable to self-harm and steals our money. I’ve heard some terrific interviews here and been introduced to some extraordinary and fascinating thinkers. Sometimes technical issues get in the way of good sound quality, which shouldn’t be, given that this is the SCIENCE Salon. Otherwise, carry on. Great stuff.

Top Podcasts In Natural Sciences

Listeners Also Subscribed To