You hear about blockchain everywhere: social media, the news, the guy next door. Some say that in a few years, everyone will use it for everything, much like the internet. But right now we’re in the early days, and it’s pretty Wild West. (Think: early ’90s internet.) Laura and Leah talk to Medha Kothari, a Berkeley alum and founder of she256, a non-profit promoting diversity in blockchain, about what blockchain is and why it has the potential to be a fairer technology than the ones we’ve already built.
Passenger pigeons. Woolly mammoths. Neanderthals. They’re all extinct. But what if we could bring them back? And if we could, should we? Geneticists are exploring de-extincting extinct and near-extinct species, but ethical and logistical problems abound. Laura and Leah sit down with a genetic engineer and an ecologist to understand how de-extinction works and the unintended consequences of playing god. Life, uh, finds a way.
Space. The final frontier. Since the first human left Earth’s atmosphere in 1961, few earthlings—and even fewer private citizens—have had the opportunity to “boldly go” there. But, with new advancements from SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other spaceflight companies, wealthy tourists could soon be booking rooms in hotels in outer space. As with any new industry, the rise of space tourism raises some new, sometimes uncomfortable, questions: Are we colonizing space? Is this just another exclusive vacation experience for the ultra-rich? Why are billionaires spending so much money on space tourism when there are plenty of humans on Earth without food, housing, or health insurance? Laura and Leah speak with the fifth-ever space tourist and one of the minds behind the universe’s first space hotel.
Five years after 29-year-old, terminally ill Brittany Maynard makes national news by choosing to end her life early, medically assisted death continues to face enormous legal and social barriers. And yet public support of the practice is high. As life-expectancy and palliative care improve, we face new questions: Under what circumstances are people allowed to choose when and how they die? And how might rethinking the conversation and practices around death change our very conception of it? To find out, Laura and Leah speak with California’s leading end-of-life doctor and a healthy octogenarian who plans to quit while she’s ahead.
Half a century after the counterculture movement swept through the Bay Area and “mind altering substances” were banished from the laboratory, researchers at the new Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics are reviving a long-buried field of research. Is this the beginning of a psychedelic renaissance? Are psychedelics the new frontier in both understanding and treating psychological disorders? And what happens when you “shake the snowglobe” of the mind? Laura and Leah speak with a neuroscientist and a BCSP Senior Guide to find out.
How did video gaming, or esports, make it from your parents’ basement to the big leagues? Laura and Leah discuss with student esport “athletes,” an administrator, and a team owner. Also discussed: why Cal is investing in gaming as a career path, whether it should be considered a sport, and the industry’s fraught but promising relationship with women gamers.
After an unsettling encounter with a turkey, Laura resolves to eat less meat and takes Leah on a journey through the alternative meat industry. Will real, flesh and blood meat be obsolete in 15 years, as one industry leader suggests? Laura and Leah discuss with the director of UC Berkeley’s Alt: Meat Lab, Dr. Ricardo San Martin, and a former student who is developing a faux-chicken drumstick. (The question on everyone’s mind is: if it’s vegan, what’s the drumstick bone?) Also on the docket: how to turn plants into burgers, why many meat alternatives on the market aren’t good for you, the cultural and moral implications of meat-eating, and what the food of the future might look like.
When a Berkeley student launches an AI-generated blog that goes viral, Leah and Laura wonder if robots will soon replace us all. Will the journalists, novelists, and poets of the future be robots? What does this mean for art? Programmer/poet and Cal grad Allison Parrish reads her own robot poetry and discusses the creative process, experimental writing, and our anxieties surrounding technology. Special guest, editor in chief, Pat Joseph, joins the pod to ponder the question, what’s missing from AI-generated art?
As reopenings stall and some companies extend work-from-home indefinitely, Leah and Laura wonder what the future of cities looks like. Will all the yuppies flee to the countryside? Will mom-and-pop retail survive? Architect and professor Vishaan Chakrabarti talks about the major problems facing our cities, why we should ban cars altogether, and how the pandemic may create opportunities for big change.
Can you pick your baby’s gender? What about their IQ? And what’s to stop people from editing their babies’ genes to make them glow? Laura and Leah talk to UC Berkeley-trained researcher Mark DeWitt about a controversial case of human genetic engineering. Then Cal alum Steve Hsu talks about the ethical conundrums he encounters at his biotech company where he offers genetic predictions for fertility clinic clients. And finally, Berkeley ethicist Jodi Halpern warns about the threats to human rights that these innovations pose.
After the Berkeley city council votes to remove gender from the municipal code, Laura and Leah decide to investigate how language changes with the times. They talk to two non-binary students about the singular pronoun “they” and linguist Geoffrey Nunberg about what language will stick, what’s a fad, and why language matters. Finally, Berkeley sociologist Cristina Mora talks about the origins of Latinx and why she uses it.
Laura and Leah worry about their digital presence. How much could someone find out about their private lives based on their online behavior? With the help of Steve Trush and Sean Brooks of the UC Berkeley Citizen Clinic, they discover their cyber-insecurities and clean up their acts.
When Boalt Hall loses its name because of the building’s namesake’s racist views, Laura and Leah wonder if it rights old wrongs or just papers over the past. Should we change the Washington Redskins name? Does removing a statue or a name actually make a difference? Arianne Eason, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, who studies the effect of mascots on minority groups joins the discussion. Then Boalt alum Michael Halloran explains his reasons for opposing the name change, and two recent Boalt grads explain why they were for it.
Laura and Leah discover they use the same mysterious astrology app, The Pattern. They try to figure out how it works, who owns it, and what The Pattern is really doing with their data, which takes them all the way across the country to a mailroom in Manhattan. Along the way, they consult with Serge Egelman, the research director at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute, who reveals the answers to an even scarier question: What access do we unknowingly give away to all apps on our phones?
Trailer: Welcome to The Edge
With help from UC Berkeley experts, California magazine editors Laura Smith and Leah Worthington explore cutting-edge, often controversial ideas in science, technology, and society. Should you be able to choose your baby’s IQ? Are algorithms really smarter than people? As we face a planet devastated by climate change, what is the future of food? All that and more.