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A podcast is like a radio show, except pre-recorded and distributed through the internet rather than over the airwaves. Every month on my podcast, I sit down with a contemporary philosopher of note and talk to them about the issues that grab their interest.
This month, Dominick Reo and I talk to James Koppel (MIT, James Koppel Coaching) about how we can use research from computer science and philosophy on causation and counterfactuals to help identify dfficult-to-spot bugs in programs. The research that Koppel and his colleagues are doing on this topic is still in its initial stages, but the promise is that once it's been worked through, the language they are inventing will make it easier to write software that can identify the cause of a disaster—i.e., at what exact moment did this complex machinery in a factory break down, and what was the event that set it all off? The goal is to start by building a system that can interact with AI in such a way that it can explain e.g. at what moment someone lost a game of Jenga. If it can do that, there's the possibility of using it to help explain why a car crashed, or indeed why some complicated program crashed. It's a fascinating conversation, and I hope you enjoy listening to it!
You can download the episode here, and you can also play it directly in the player below.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few quick links to some episodes dealing with major areas of philosophy:
No idea what any of the above means? Feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have.
Elucidations was founded in 2008 by myself and Mark Hopwood.
The idea for Elucidations came about during our first year as PhD students at the University of Chicago. One of this university's striking characteristics is how many lectures, conferences, courses, and reading groups there are to attend. A wealth of groundbreaking philosophical ideas were being shared among members of the academic community, but were too often put back into the filing cabinet afterwards, never again to see the light of day. We felt the urge to capture some of these discussions and release them into the world at large.
No one who hasn't taken several years worth of mathematics courses can attend a lecture in that field and even understand its principal claims, let alone why they might be interesting. But philosophy isn't like that at all; anyone can leaf through the major journals in the field and immediately feel like they have a stake in the questions under discussion—questions like what a number is, or whether there's such a thing as moral luck, or whether people from different cultures think in a fundamentally different way. The best work being done in philosophy right now is of interest to professionals and laymen alike.
Our podcast aims to reach both of these audiences at once, with content that's freely available for anyone to download or stream. We present the latest work from the top minds in the field, with an emphasis on clear exposition in plain English, ideally with little to none of the intimidating jargon that alienates so many newcomers. Philosophy is unique in its ability to facilitate this kind of rapprochement because its most innovative ideas can be expressed in simple, commonsense terms without any danger of being watered down.
It is our hope that through such efforts as this, the discipline can begin to recultivate the relationship with the broader culture which, although once quite strong, has fallen by the wayside in recent years. At many points in history—for example, in nineteenth century Germany—the philosophical state of the art was matter of deep cultural pride. But these days, a college graduate stopped at random and asked what philosophers do all day won't have the slightest idea what to say. As professional academics, we have done an excellent job of making our work known to each other. Now is the time to share our discoveries with everyone else.
Since the podcast was first launched in 2009, we have done our best to cover the field of philosophy in its entirety. We of course have yet to cover many important areas, but the hope is that as our catalogue expands, we come progressively closer to the ideal of complete coverage. Many of the world's most prominent philosophers have made an appearance on our program. And our following spans all (inhabited) continents, including listeners from Chile, Morocco, France, Germany, Sweden, China, Australia, and India.
Give it a listen and tell me what you think!
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