Our guest in this episode is the scientist and science fiction author Davin Brin, whose writings have won the Hugo, Locus, Campbell, and Nebula Awards. His style is sometimes called 'hard science fiction'. This means his narratives feature scientific or technological change that is plausible rather than purely magical. The scenarios he creates are thought-provoking as well as entertaining. His writing inspires readers but also challenges them, with important questions not just about the future, but also about the present.
Perhaps his most famous non-fiction work is his book "The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?", first published in 1998. With each passing year it seems that the questions and solutions raised in that book are becoming ever more pressing. One aspect of this has been called Brin's Corollary to Moore's Law: Every year, the cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile.
David also frequently writes online about topics such as space exploration, attempts to contact aliens, homeland security, the influence of science fiction on society and culture, the future of democracy, and much more besides.
Topics discussed in this conversation include:
*) Reactions to reports of flying saucers
*) Why photographs of UFOs remain blurry
*) Similarities between reports of UFOs and, in prior times, reports of elves
*) Replicating UFO phenomena with cat lasers
*) Changes in attitudes by senior members of the US military
*) Appraisals of the Mars Rovers
*) Pros and cons of additional human visits to the moon
*) Why alien probes might be monitoring this solar system from the asteroid belt
*) Investigations of "moonlets" in Earth orbit
*) Looking for pi in the sky
*) Reasons why life might be widespread in the galaxy - but why life intelligent enough to launch spacecraft may be rare
*) Varieties of animal intelligence: How special are humans?
*) Humans vs. Neanderthals: rounds one and two
*) The challenges of writing about a world that includes superintelligence
*) Kurzweil-style hybridisation and Mormon theology
*) Who should we admire most: lone heroes or citizens?
*) Benefits of reciprocal accountability and mutual monitoring (sousveillance)
*) Human nature: Delusions, charlatans, and incantations
*) The great catechism of science
*) Two levels at which the ideas of a transparent society can operate
*) "Asimov's Laws of Robotics won't work"
*) How AIs might be kept in check by other AIs
*) The importance of presenting gedanken experiments
Fiction mentioned (written by David Brin unless noted otherwise):
The Three-Body Problem (Liu Cixin)
The Sentinel (Arthur C. Clarke)
The Uplift War
The Culture Series (Iain M. Banks)
The Expanse (James S.A. Corey)
The Postman (the book and the film)
Stones of Significance
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
Music: Spike Protein, by Koi Discovery, available under CC0 1.0 Public Domain Declaration
Selected follow-up reading: