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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