Humanity’s R&D Department. Science & philosophy of childhood with developmental psychologist, Alison Gopnik, PhD

Today we’re exploring the world of childhood, a “protected space in which they [children] can produce new ways of thinking and acting that, for better or worse, are entirely unlike any that we would have anticipated beforehand.” A protected space that exceeds, in length, that of any other species. A space of time that today’s guest has spent her career studying and often refers to as humanity’s R&D department.

Alison Gopnik, PhD is likely a familiar name to many of you, especially those of you who are parents. Currently a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, Alison has published over 100 research articles and books including critically acclaimed bestsellers such as: The Scientist in the Crib, The Philosophical Baby and The Gardener and the Carpenter. Her public appearances include TED, Talks at Google, the World Economic Forum and even Stephen Colbert’s show. She is also a long-time contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday Review section.

We covered a lot of ground in this episode. How do young children and babies begin to understand the world around them? We will learn about something called, “theory theory,” a process that allows children to develop and test intuitive theories about their world. We’ll see how this process resembles Bayesian probability and how understanding childhood cognitive development may be a key to developing advanced AI. This is also something Alison is researching. No surprise.  She lives and works in the Bay area and she is even married to one of the founders of Pixar.

Anyway, this is one of our more fascinating episodes. As a father of two young daughters, and a long-time fan of Alison’s work, talking with Alison was a real privilege. With that said, let’s get started.

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Nullius in verba. Understanding uncertainty with statistician, Sir David Speigelhalter, PhD

Name: Sir David Speigelhalter, PhD

Location: University of Cambridge, England. 

Specialty: Statistician and researcher. 

Today it’s our privilege to have distinguished researcher and statistician, Sir David Speigelhalter. “Sir David” in addition to being knighted by the Queen, is also a fellow of the Royal Society. That calls for a quick digression. Founded all the way back in 1660, The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific academy. They published Newton’s “Principia Mathmatica” and Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment. They even backed James Cook’s journey to Tahiti to track the transit of Venus. Giants such as Newton, Darwin, Eisenstein and Hawking are all all past members. Their motto, “Nullius in verba” means “take nobody’s word for it.” What a great theme for today’s episode.

David is currently Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge. An ISI highly cited researcher, David has also dedicated much of his time and energy to public education through numerous news appearances, Ted Talks, books such as the one we are discussing today and documentaries such as his recent BBC series geared towards children.

David’s recently published book, “The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data,” is a wonderful refresher aimed at fixing the common mistakes and statistical knowledge blind spots many of us have…even highly educated physicians and researchers. He also covers cutting edge subjects such as artificial intelligence, biostatistics, bias and fraud detection, risk, statistical significance, and even black box algorithms. We’ll explore the realistic potential and limits of what can be learned from large multivariate data sets, a.k.a. big data.

As you’ll see, David is a gifted teacher and a real joy to talk with. With that said, let’s get started.

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