Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mimetic Factors in Health and Well-being

On Monday I gave a talk at an amazingly interesting workshop in Warwick. Part of a project called Mimetic Factors in Health and Well-being, the workshop brought together a very diverse range of disciplines: sociology, medicine, systems science and robotics (and I may have missed a few).

Project lead, Steve Fuller, gave a great talk which reflected on both memetics (pre-Dawkins), and mimesis in advertising and PR. I found myself being introduced first to French sociologist Gabriel Tarde who, who - according to Steve Fuller - first articulated the pivotal role of imitation in society. Then to contemporary French social and cognitive scientist, and by the looks of it all round genius, Dan Sperber. I can see that I have to add Sperber to my reading list!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Can I have a robot for Christmas?

I was delighted to be asked to give the annual Christmas lecture to the Nottingham Medico Chirurgical society last night, in the medical school of the famous Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham. Founded in 1828 Nottingham Med-Chi, as they like to call themselves, is one of the oldest such societies in the UK. It was a great audience, with a healthy mix of children and very eminent medics who together kept me on my toes when it came to questions and answers.

In my talk I focus on the current strong convergence of biology and robotics, but in reflecting and speaking with the medics afterwards I was struck that the next big convergence in robotics (perhaps the next wave after biology) will be with medicine. As our understanding of the human body and its astonishingly complex processes and mechanisms deepens, then - in a sense - medicine becomes more like ultra precision engineering. And as robotics moves toward artificial life, then engineering robots becomes far removed from mechanical and electrical engineering and more like bio-medical engineering. For a good example look at the BRL's Ecobot III, with all of its plumbing and bio-chemistry. Hence the convergence I predict.

Postscript: the Notts Med-Chi society is very firmly in the 21st C: I discovered my Christmas lecture can be downloaded as a podcast on iTunes.