Journalist, editor, and author of both fiction and nonfiction, Annalee Newitz, is the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT and has written for Popular Science, Wired, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and is Tech Culture Editor at the site Ars Technica. In the first half, she discussed the most exciting developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and how they will change how we live. She has just written her first fiction novel about life 125 years into the future and interviewed scientists and other tech innovators about what forms artificial intelligence might take, as well as questions like "how do we ethically treat artificial beings?" The story is about a society where robots are owned for 10 years, and then given a key to control their own destinies, keep others from telling them what to do, or from viewing their private thoughts and memories.
Contrary to what others such as Elon Musk have predicted, Newitz does not believe that we will ever have an AI that will surpass us or become a real threat to humanity, although she does think that many jobs will be made obsolete, up to and including medical doctors and surgeons. George asked if robots will ever have what we think of as a "soul." Newitz said that she believes that "any kind of life that we think of as a companion may just have a robot soul" although It would be a different kind of soul than our present definition. She also predicts that robots will be able to lie to us, since we already have online bots that repeat bad information or erroneously extrapolate in order to spread a story. Conversely, although she predicts that you cannot teach compassion to a robot, you could program ethics into it, since it would essentially be a set of instructions.
In the second half, astronomer Seth Shostak spoke about his continued work in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI); the importance of new planet discoveries; the nature of alien life and all things astronomy and life in space. Shostak and his colleagues have been looking for evidence of ET life with radio telescopes for decades, but has yet to detect anything he considers evidence of another civilization. He is interested to see if any space probes can detect the signature of life on other planets (or moons) of the solar system (even if its on the level of bacteria) since if even simple life has managed to gain a foothold in our neighborhood, it increases the chance that it has thrived elsewhere. He does not "find the evidence very compelling" for alien visitation of Earth, but admitted that "if we’re it, [the only intelligent life in the universe] I’m humbled and disappointed."
Shostak mentioned that the class of red dwarf stars are "in vogue" as likely targets for alien civilizations because they are long-lived, giving any civilizations which orbit them more time to develop. He also commented on the controversial story of a group of Spanish scientists who sent a signal into space recently, and the criticism that it’s like "shouting in the jungle," since there is no way to tell what sort of beings will hear you. Shostak believes that any sufficiently advanced civilization that could find the signal would have already heard the millions of others we have been sending out since about the mid-20th century. He also declared that the discovery of any definitive signal from space would probably indicate a civilization that could send out radio signals must be successful over a long period, since it would increase our chances of finding it.