FrontiersDec 21, 2021
#10: The Prospects of Nuclear Power with Thomas Eiden
Today I’m speaking with Thomas Eiden. Thomas is a nuclear engineer and the founder and CEO of Atomic Alchemy. His startup manufactures radioisotopes, which are used in nuclear medicine—a specialized area of radiology that is critical for diagnosing and treating diseases like cancer. However, as Thomas has previously worked at several national labs, where he designed reactor cores, components, and the experiments to test them, our conversation mainly focuses on nuclear power. We cover everything from the bottlenecks for a nuclear renaissance, lost industrial knowledge, different perspectives on risk, and the wealth of possible futures powered by atomic energy.
#9 - Studying Longevity with Morgan Levine
Today I’m speaking with Morgan Levine. Morgan is an assistant professor at Yale’s Pathology department and runs a lab that aims to discover both the mechanisms that drive aging and interventions to slow or reverse that process. The lab also develops tools to measure biological age, which we will get into in our discussion of epigenetic clocks.
Aging has long been assumed to be our insurmountable human fate. But as research of the past years has uncovered aging’s malleability in some model organisms, the hope to slow or reverse the aging process in humans has become an increasingly attractive goal. And given that age is the greatest risk factor for developing many of the most common lethal diseases today, longevity research could potentially be extremely impactful both for prolonged health- and lifespans.
Morgan and I don’t go super deep into the science as I try to get a broad overview of the field and some of its structural challenges—but you can learn more about epigenetic clocks in the show notes linked below.
#8 - Problem-Solving for Sustainability with Olya Irzak
Today I’m speaking with Olya Irzak. Olya runs Frost Methane, a company that develops technology to mitigate climate change. Together, her team invented a device to flare leaks to reduce methane emissions. As methane is responsible for 20% of global warming and is 28x more potent than CO2, Frost Methane aims to find and mitigate methane leaks in permafrost, coal mines, and other sources worldwide. Needless to say, her approach is an example of the action-prone, tech-driven innovation that environmental challenges require.
#7 - Innovation through the Lens of a Policy Entrepreneur with Tom Kalil
Today I’m speaking with Tom Kalil.
Tom is Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures, where he leads projects to harness technology for social impact, improve science policy, and identify and pursue 21st-century moonshots.
Tom has previously spent more than a decade in the White House, helping to design and launch national science and technology initiatives in areas such as nanotech, data science, commercial space, and many more.
Although I had about a hundred more questions to ask Tom, we cover lots of ground from how to build moonshot cultures to the role of the generalist and the relationship between tech and policy.
#6 - Securing Good Futures for Biotech with Tessa Alexanian
Today I’m speaking with Tessa Alexanian. Tessa is focused on steering towards nice futures for biotechnology. To that end, she works at iGEM; creating incentives and programs that encourage synthetic biology development that is responsible, responsive, safe, and secure. She used to spend her days wrangling robots to do biological engineering but now spends more time wondering how to get biologists to engineer the right things.
We cover everything from the fun to the glamourless realities of babysitting robots to the difficulties with balancing optimism and honesty in the face of great uncertainties; and also touch upon the 'Germy paradox' — why have we not seen more biological weapons used yet?
#5 - Creativity in the Age of Machine Intelligence with Mario Klingemann (Quasimondo)
Today I’m speaking with Mario Klingemann, widely known under his artist name Quasimondo. Mario is one of the pioneers in using machine learning in the arts and combines neural networks, code, and algorithms to produce works that are able to surprise and show almost autonomous creative behavior - and to me pose fascinating challenges to our understanding of meaning and the role of humans in a world in which, as Mario thinks, "machine artists will be able to create more interesting work than humans". Our conversation spans themes reaching from the philosophical lessons AI can provide for humans to our roles as consumers and creators and the economic shifts in the arts funneled by cryptocurrency.
#4 - The Future of Communities with Shriya Nevatia
Today I’m speaking to Shriya Nevatia. Shriya has spent the majority of her life in pursuit of creating meaningful communities - these days she does so at OnDeck.
In our conversation, we discuss the difficulty in measuring success when it comes to human interaction, the role of groups in unlocking potential, the future of scouting for hidden talent, and much more.
#3 - Speeding up Science with José Luis Ricón
Today I’m speaking to José Luis Ricón. José is currently investigating how to make science great again. Beyond analyzing in which ways scientific mechanisms like peer-review and funding are broken, he tries to formulate and propose better alternatives to speed up scientific progress. Currently, he is focused on biology - specifically the field of longevity.
We span everything from the uncertainties inherent in working on the frontiers, ways to excite people about biology, and the much underrated aspects of being online.
#2 - Electrification with Brian Heligman
Today I am talking to Brian Heligman. Brian has spent the past years working on developing a new way of cheaply manufacturing batteries at scale - a problem of critical importance for the process of electrifying the world - while also allowing for the creation of brand new tech. This process has led him from his Ph.D. program to spinning out a startup trying to implement his approach in the real world.
Next to the wildly exciting future of electrification and its current bottlenecks, we cover everything from incentive problems in science to what makes for serious work in both academia and industry.
#1 - Computational Neuroscience with Sonia Joseph
Today I’m speaking to Sonia Joseph. Sonia is a computational neuroscientist interested in the nature of intelligence - both in humans and machines.
She currently works at Janelia, a different kind of research institute, that has been dubbed the Bell Labs of Biology.
We cover everything from bottlenecks in the neuroscience space to new research paradigms for AI and the issues posed by tech in the current attention economy.
=> Link to the Shownotes
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