Episodes
Published 02/28/24
Dark matter is thought to make up around a quarter of the universe, but so far it has eluded detection by all scientific instruments. Scientists know it must exist because of the ways galaxies move and it also explains the large-scale structure of the modern universe. But no-one knows what dark matter actually is. Scientists have been hunting for dark matter particles for decades, but have so far had no luck. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,...
Published 02/21/24
OpenAI and Microsoft are leaders in generative artificial intelligence (AI). OpenAI has built GPT-4, one of the world’s most sophisticated large language models (LLMs) and Microsoft is injecting those algorithms into its products, from Word to Windows.  At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Zanny Minton Beddoes, The Economist’s editor-in-chief, interviewed Sam Altman and Satya Nadella, who run OpenAI and Microsoft respectively. They explained their vision for humanity’s future with...
Published 01/24/24
Books are the original medium for communicating science to the masses. In a holiday special, producer Kunal Patel asks Babbage’s family of correspondents about the books that have inspired them in their careers as science journalists. Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Rachel Dobbs, The Economist’s climate correspondent; Kenneth Cukier, our deputy executive editor; The Economist’s Emilie Steinmark; Geoff Carr, our senior editor for science and...
Published 12/20/23
A year ago, the public launch of ChatGPT took the world by storm and it was followed by many more generative artificial intelligence tools, all with remarkable, human-like abilities. Fears over the existential risks posed by AI have dominated the global conversation around the technology ever since. Fei-Fei Li, a pioneer that helped lay the groundwork that underpins modern generative AI models, takes a more nuanced approach. She’s pushing for a human-centred way of dealing with AI—treating...
Published 11/22/23
In the coming decades, electric vehicles will dominate the roads and renewables will provide energy to homes. But for the green transition to be successful, unprecedented amounts of energy storage is needed. Batteries will be used everywhere—from powering electric vehicles, to providing electricity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. The current generation of batteries are lacking in capacity and are too reliant on rare metals, though. Many analysts worry about material...
Published 10/25/23
Chronic pain is thought to affect around a third of people. For one in ten of these, the pain is severe enough to be disabling—making it the leading cause of disability worldwide. Some forms of chronic pain are particularly mysterious—with clinicians unable to treat the pain, nor understand its causal mechanisms—presenting a huge challenge for societies. How can this burden be eased, for both healthcare systems and the individuals living with pain?  Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and...
Published 10/18/23
From roads to telecommunications, networks of infrastructure define people’s lives, but are often hidden from view. Our guest wants people to step back, look at and appreciate the infrastructure around them. As the climate changes and landscapes shift, societies need to prepare for an increasingly unpredictable world by building better infrastructure for a more effective, efficient and equitable future. Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor, interviews Deb Chachra, a...
Published 10/11/23
This year’s Nobel prizes in science recognised the former underdogs behind mRNA vaccines, how to watch electrons and a new class of material that could revolutionise both solar panels and cancer treatments. How have these achievements had an impact beyond the lab? Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, this year’s co-laureates in medicine or physiology; Jon Marangos, a professor of laser physics at Imperial College...
Published 10/04/23
How ageing happens and whether it can be slowed has recently become the subject of intense research and investment. Scientists are exploring differing approaches to reducing age-related deterioration, tech billionaires are experimenting with as-yet-unproven interventions. It is entirely possible that by 2100, people will typically live to be 100, thanks to a better understanding of the process of ageing. But is there a limit to how far human lives can be extended?  Host: Alok Jha, The...
Published 09/27/23
Discussions about artificial intelligence tend to focus on its risks, but there is also excitement on the horizon. AI tools, like the models beneath ChatGPT, are being increasingly used by scientists for everything from finding new drugs and materials to predicting the shapes of proteins. Self-driving lab robots could take things even further towards making new discoveries. As it gets ever more useful, could AI change the scientific process altogether? Jane Dyson, structural biologist at the...
Published 09/20/23
Artificial intelligence and biotechnology are at the vanguard of a new era of humanity, according to Mustafa Suleyman. The entrepreneur has been at the forefront of AI development for over a decade and predicts that in the near future, everyone will have their own personal AI assistants that will plan and arrange tasks on their behalf. He also sees an acceleration in the pace of scientific discovery, with AI helping researchers tackle some of the world's grandest challenges—from climate...
Published 09/13/23
Some sports use different rules and equipment in the women’s game; some do not. We consider the distinction through the lenses of professional football and rugby. Scientific questions of relative performance lead to those of player safety, and ultimately to philosophy: what do varying opinions about changing women’s game reveal about the purpose of sport in society? Arve Vorland Pedersen, a sports scientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, calculates how football’s...
Published 09/06/23
Extreme weather is constantly in the news, but a new factor is just getting warmed up: El Niño. This Pacific Ocean phenomenon can have devastating effects in some parts of the world while benefiting others; it is linked to droughts as well as floods; and this year’s looks like it may be severe. Maarten van Aalst, a professor of climate and disaster resilience at the University of Twente, explains how the current El Niño will affect the climate in unpredictable ways. Chris Funk, the director...
Published 08/30/23
While some people enjoy learning maths, the subject haunts many children throughout school and beyond. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Eugenia Cheng, a mathematician and author of “Is Maths Real?”, explains why, to her, maths is a joyful enterprise. In this interview with Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor, Eugenia explores how asking seemingly simple questions can uncover deep mysteries beneath the sums. She also argues that education systems should rethink the way...
Published 08/23/23
In the coming days, both Russia and India hope to land robotic probes near the South Pole of the Moon. Conquering the South Pole remains one of the grandest challenges in lunar science, but it’s a potentially rewarding endeavour. If evidence of water is found it will make human settlements much more likely.  But the significance of the missions racing for the Moon, Luna-25 and Chandrayaan-3, go beyond science. Russia’s space agency has become isolated after the country’s invasion of Ukraine,...
Published 08/16/23
Attending a science festival or an exhibition can be an exciting day out, while also being hugely informative. Natasha Loder, The Economist’s health editor visits the Royal Society’s summer exhibition to play with both the simple and cutting-edge technologies that have potential for healthcare.  Natasha asks Clem Burke, drummer of the rock band Blondie, and Marcus Smith of the University of Chichester how drumming can help children with autism. Natasha also meets Lorenzo Picinali, of Imperial...
Published 08/09/23
Natural history auctions are on the rise and are generating millions of dollars for private fossil hunters, but the commercialisation of ancient bones is worrying some palaeontologists. They argue that specimens sold privately are lost to science. Yet others say that by disincentivising the black market and encouraging more enthusiasts to search for rare finds, fossil auctions could improve the scientific understanding of ancient reptiles.  The Economist’s Dylan Barry explores the Natural...
Published 08/02/23
In recent weeks, extreme heat, floods and storms have smashed records and caused devastation around the world. Freak weather events such as these will become more frequent due to climate change—but they are exceptionally hard to predict. How are meteorologists gearing up to face the enormous challenge of predicting the weather in a warming world?  Andrew Charlton-Perez, at the University of Reading in Britain, explains how weather forecasts are made—and why meteorology is such a complicated...
Published 07/26/23
How much science do you remember from school? Do you know how a simple electric motor works, or what the Doppler effect is?  Basic physics is taught early in schools, but is easily forgotten.  To learn some basic science, we travel this week to the Royal Institution (RI) in London, one of the world’s oldest and established venues for scientific education and research. It hosts the annual Christmas lectures, which have cemented its reputation for demonstrations of how science works. Good...
Published 07/19/23
As the effects of climate change are increasingly being felt around the world, the need to transition away from fossil fuels is becoming more urgent. An electrified world requires more batteries, which in turn means the demand for metals, such as nickel, is rising. Mining those metals can often have devastating consequences for ecosystems, destroying and polluting vast landscapes. But there is another way to get these metals—from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. an area over 4km below the...
Published 07/12/23
Almost 50 years ago, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn designed TCP/IP, a set of rules enabling computers to connect and communicate with each other. It led to the creation of a vast global network: the internet. TCP/IP is how almost the entirety of the internet still sends and receives information. Vint Cerf is now 80 and serves as the chief internet evangelist and a vice president at Google. He is also the chairman of the Marconi Society, a group that promotes digital equity. Alok Jha, The Economist’s...
Published 07/05/23
Same-sex attraction is found in many animals—but, like all animal behaviours, it can be complicated and difficult to study. The underlying biological mechanisms, however, are of great interest for understanding human health, genetics and evolution. Researchers know there is no such thing as a “gay gene”; in fact genetics can explain less than a third of the variation in people’s self-reported same-sex behaviour. Non-genetic factors, therefore, play an enormous role. Scientists can’t agree on...
Published 06/28/23
The Biden administration is expected to declassify some information gathered on the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, hoping to end a three-year battle over whether covid-19 came from a seafood market or a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Some scientists say they have strong evidence for a market origin—although many are far from convinced. Will this mystery ever be solved?  Natasha Loder, The Economist’s health editor, asks James Wood, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, how to trace...
Published 06/21/23
Fish are a vital source of protein and other nutrients for humans, as well as an important part of the ocean's ecology. But overfishing has become a crisis. It is estimated that 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are being fished either at or over their capacity, while some species have been driven to extinction. Can an innovative farming method, which grows fish on dry land, solve the problem? Abby Bertics, The Economist’s science correspondent, investigates. Tackling overfishing is a...
Published 06/14/23