Category: Science

Digital Apes: On Humanity and AI

Digital Apes: On Humanity and AI

This review was first published in The Weekend Australian. * Shortly before his death in 2015 the fantasy writer Terry Pratchett agreed to be interviewed for a documentary about his life and legacy. ‘When I was a boy all I ever wanted was my own observatory’ says Pratchett in the film’s final scene. ‘I knew even then that all the […]

Read more ›
A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered

A Review of New Dark Age and Outnumbered

This review was first published in The Weekend Australian. * In his brilliant and beautiful book, New Dark Age, the British artist James Bridle invokes Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. First set out in Asimov’s short story ‘Runaround’ (1942), these laws are usually expressed as follows: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a […]

Read more ›
Why Davos Man Loves Big History

Why Davos Man Loves Big History

On the face of it, David Christian’s Origin Story doesn’t look like the kind of book that demands a political analysis. Subtitled A Big History of Everything, I imagine it will strike most readers as a weightier, less amusing, version of Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything – a book for the interested non-specialist, if not the shameless dilettante. […]

Read more ›
Three new books on the future of work

Three new books on the future of work

David Fagan, Wake Up: The Nine Hashtags of Digital Disruption UQP; $24.95; 224pp Jim Chalmers and Mike Quigley, Changing Jobs: The Fair Go in the New Machine Age Redback; $22.99; 199pp Richard Denniss, Curing Affluenza: How to Buy Less Stuff and Save the World Black Inc.; $27.99; 275pp The times they are a-changin’ – fast. So fast, indeed, that it […]

Read more ›
STEM Sells (Buyer Beware)

STEM Sells (Buyer Beware)

STEM. It sounds sciencey, doesn’t it? A stem is a type of cell, after all, as well as one of the two structural axes of a vascular plant, or tracheophyte. There are also “stem groups” in evolutionary biology, and Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy, and Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modellers. Probably there’s a group of physicists somewhere who play Jean-Michel Jarres covers and […]

Read more ›
On Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton: What Kind of Thing Is Humankind?

On Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton: What Kind of Thing Is Humankind?

Roger Scruton and Terry Eagleton aren’t natural bedfellows. As a conservative philosopher in the Burkean mould, Scruton tends to regard the past as a country from which we have strayed too far, while the Marxist Eagleton looks forward to a world that has broken free from oppression and exploitation. But while certain fundamental differences emerge from a reading of these […]

Read more ›
Future Perfect: Beyond the Delusional Present

Future Perfect: Beyond the Delusional Present

This essay was first published in Griffith Review: Imagining the Future. You can purchase a copy here. In ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’ (1891), Oscar Wilde wrote that ‘A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.’ Certainly it […]

Read more ›
In defence of the New Atheism

In defence of the New Atheism

‘Another day, another tweet from Richard Dawkins’ wrote Eleanor Robertson last July, in response to the controversial professor’s latest foray into the twittersphere. Ah yes, I can remember thinking, and another article on Richard Dawkins and how he and his fellow New Atheists are disappointing progressive expectations! Not that he didn’t deserve it, mind, having just used a moral taxonomy […]

Read more ›

Beyond the ‘blank slate thesis’

At some point in the 1990s, a poster began to appear on the London Underground. It depicted four brains, three of which were identical and one of which was much smaller than the others. From a distance, it appeared to be a crude taxonomy of the kind that one might associate with a nineteenth-century phrenologist. But closer inspection revealed a […]

Read more ›

Fissures in reality: a review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Living with a Wild God

In a career spanning nearly half a century, the US journalist Barbara Ehrenreich has sought to expose economic inequality and to critique the utopian and delusional character of the arguments used to justify it. In Nickel and Dimed (2001) she revealed how the lives of unskilled workers give the lie to ‘trickledown’ economics, while in Bait and Switch (2005) she […]

Read more ›