Perse students gain philosophical insight into future of science
25 Mar 2019
Thirty-five Year 11 and Lower Sixth Perse students attended a series of lectures hosted by the Cambridge Philosophical Society to celebrate their 200th anniversary. Ashwin Ranasinghe-de Silva (Year 11) provided his thoughts about the event.
From racing to first decipher the secrets of the ribosome, all the way to life beyond earth and profound questions faced by humanity, ‘The Future of Sciences’ talks were unique and thought-provoking experiences.
Opening the day was Nobel Prize winner Dr Richard Henderson of the Medical Research Council (MRC) presenting a concise but in-depth overview of structural biology from 1927 to the present day, and beyond, covering an array of imaging techniques. Following this, Professor Chris Bishop from Microsoft Research provided an analysis of neural networks and the modern Artificial Intelligence (AI) era. The talk examined principles and progressions of machine learning and its implications, from the post-perceptron AI winter to the technological singularity and beyond.
Professor Sheena Cruikshank of Manchester University explored the human microbiome and its fundamental mechanisms, stating how we can harness immunology to our further benefit, utilising probiotics and carrying out procedures such as checkpoint inhibitor therapy. Following this talk, Nobel Prize winner Dr Venki Ramakrishnan of the MRC provided an epic account of his quest to decipher the structure of the ribosome in a fast-paced, international race of his underdog team against others to get there. Professor Sir Richard Peto then provided a statistical symphony of a talk titled ‘Halving Premature Death’, with in-depth analysis of global trends and statistics presented in an amusing manner.
Professor Vilayanur S Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, then talked about neurological disorders such as synesthesia and phantom limbs, outlining in-depth the theory behind and pragmatic rectification for each phenomenon. Dr Seth Shostak of Search for Extra Terrestrial Existence (SETI) gave the penultimate lecture on ‘Why The 21st Century Will Redirect The Human Trajectory’ – an entertaining and fascinating talk from a man who advises Hollywood on how to do aliens right, going through what this century will entail and why that is so important, from the AI and computational revolution to making mankind a space-bearing civilisation and beyond.
The final lecture rounded the day off on another deep philosophical note, with Professor George Whitesides of Harvard delivering his talk ‘Asking a Question is Easy, Understanding the Answer is Another Matter’, going through implications of non-empirical management of extreme complexity, rational drug design, enthalpy and entropy, the AI era, origins of life and emergence, memory, hybrid human/machine systems and more.