/A Trip to the Future: A Q+A Science Special (via Qpute.com)
Q+A Panel: Brian Schmidt, Lidia Morawska, Michael Biercuk, Vanessa Pirotta, Toby Walsh, and Kirsten Banks

A Trip to the Future: A Q+A Science Special (via Qpute.com)


STAN GRANT

Tonight, a panel of some of our finest scientific minds. We’ll hear their take on nuclear subs and the risks of protesting during a pandemic. And we’ll take a trip to the future, exploring AI and outer space. Welcome to Q+A.

 

Hello. I’m Stan Grant. It’s great to be with you. Joining me on the panel this evening: artificial intelligence expert Toby Walsh; Nobel laureate and ANU Vice-Chancellor, Brian Schmidt; wildlife scientist and science communicator Vanessa Pirotta; quantum physicist and innovator Michael Biercuk; and international air quality expert Lidia Morawska, who helped highlight the airborne spread of COVID. And a little later, we’ll be joined by astrophysicist Kirsten Banks. She’ll be part of our discussion. We’re delighted to bring together such incredible minds for you tonight.

 

Remember, you can stream us live on iview and all the socials. #QandA, as usual, is the hashtag. Please join the debate and publish your comments on screen from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

 

Let’s get to our first question tonight. It comes from Jessica Quist.

 

JESSICA QUIST, BENTLEIGH, VIC, BUNURONG COUNTRY

The recent protests by construction workers have frustrated many Victorians. It seems to have been an excuse for violence and disorder and a display of toxic masculinity in its purest form. These protests are also potentially super-spreader events. Is it fair that our health care workers will be expected to treat patients who’ve actively defied public health orders? And is it fair that hospital beds may be potentially taken away from those requiring acute care? How do we manage this violence and how do we manage the risk to the community?

 

STAN GRANT

Brian Schmidt, I want to go to you first of all on this. I know you’ve written a lot about what you see as an increasing political populism, some of the fear and anxiety of this age and what drives this. When you look at these protests, what does it tell you?

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT, NOBEL LAUREATE

Well, it tells us that we do have a small part of the population of Australia that are fed up and are really…aren’t buying in, I think, to the Australian project. And so, that is a problem. So education, I think, is really, really important, being able to have a conversation with people. But Australia, you know, as a population, has made a decision of how to deal with COVID – not everyone is happy about it. But clearly, violence, that we have seen, is not the right way. And we have made a decision as a population, and our politicians have, on behalf of us, to say this is not OK. And so I do think we need to clamp down on it. We need to find a way to get…of course, to being able to open up as fast as we can but, ultimately, we want to do it in a way that’s safe and doesn’t end up killing or making, I would say, really bad health outcomes for thousands upon thousands of Australians.

 

STAN GRANT

Yeah, and Brian, you rightly point out that they’re a small number, but, of course, the violence that we’ve seen, the impact that that has, is greater perhaps than the numbers themselves. And, Vanessa, Brian said something interesting there. He talked about education, communication. There are people here, apparently, amongst the protesters who are anti-vaxxers, who, in spite of the evidence, in spite of the arguments, simply don’t believe it. How do you communicate a message to people right now who don’t want to believe what they’re told?

 

VANESSA PIROTTA, WILDLIFE SCIENTIST

Well, this is an incredibly tricky time for many people. And whether you believe to be vaccinated or not, that’s your choice. The information is out there. However, the way in which we provide this information can be a little bit tricky. And it’s kind of time in Australia that we hit that refresh button on how we communicate science and how we see science. And this might be one potential example, definitely one example of that.

 

But maybe we need to think about assessing how we provide this information to different demographics and provide that through people who they can relate to. So maybe there’s a minority of people that they might look up to and they’ll see someone, and if they have those people providing those key messages, that might be one way. But there are so many. And we are living in a one-in-100-year event.

 

STAN GRANT

Mm.

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

This is very tricky. But communication is key. And the good thing is Australia is providing information on why we should get vaccinated. And there is a lot of information, thankfully, coming from overseas. And we’ve got the luxury of seeing countries overseas testing people as well as vaccinating people. And there’s huge sample sizes that us in Australia can look towards to see if these types of new science is working.

 

STAN GRANT

Lidia, when you look at a protest like that… And we often hear concern about what could be super-spreader events – we’ve seen other protests and they haven’t turned out to be that. But what did you take away from these protests and what potential risks there may be given that Victoria is still going through this outbreak of the Delta strain?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA, INTERNATIONAL AIR QUALITY EXPERT

Well, it’s a very difficult question, and it depends whether there are infected people in the crowd or not. If there are, and if there are others who are not wearing masks and they are in the proximity to those infected people, they have very high risk of being infected. So, yes, potentially, events like this can be super-spreaders.

 

On the other hand, we are talking about events in open air. In open air, dilution of the virus is much faster. So, therefore, in general, outdoors, the risk is much lower than indoors. And an infected person during a protest would potentially infect somebody next to that person, but not the whole crowd. It’s not like an indoor space, where one infected person can infect the whole crowd. So that’s the reason why we don’t see this many outbreaks during the protest.

 

STAN GRANT

Yeah, and just on that as well – ABC has been able to report that there was a man at the protests who has tested positive. He’s in hospital at the moment as well. Just to go to that issue that you raised there about someone potentially being infected. Well, there was one person there that we’ve been able to report who is infected.

 

Michael, Brian talked there about the Australian project, and that people are not on board with the Australian project. But it does raise the question… And I think, you know, you’re originally from the United States as well. It raises questions about politics during this time and questions of personal liberty and freedom. I know, in the United States, whether you wore a mask or not became a political statement. But when we talk about an Australian project, when we talk about a joint effort in dealing with a pandemic, there are other factors as well beyond the health factor that drive the sort of protests we’ve seen, aren’t there?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK, QUANTUM PHYSICIST AND INNOVATOR

I mean, I broadly think so, but I do think it’s worth saying that this is a really small part of the population. Broadly, people are on board, and the best way to know is to look at the vaccination rates. In New South Wales we’re now at 84% first dose, which indicates that 84% of adults are on board with this project. We really end up talking about a small but very loud minority.

 

And, you know, to some of the earlier discussion…yes, there is a need for scientific discussion, for education, for communication, but at the end of the day, we end up with a virulent minority of people who are, either by choice or by, you know, their wiring, immune to fact. And so, we need to take a different approach. And for them, I mean, my overall view of this is we are the victims of the greatest intelligence operation in history, that misinformation is being weaponised against us. It’s not all that secret, in fact. And this is fomenting violence in a really tiny part of our population. Our job is to help those who are interested in hearing the truth and mock endlessly the people who are unwilling to embrace the truth.

 

STAN GRANT

Toby, pandemics in the past have seen just the sort of events we’re seeing now, aren’t they – they’ve thrown up just these types of protests.

 

TOBY WALSH, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE EXPERT

Yeah, history is in some ways repeating itself. If you go back 100 years to the Spanish flu, there were riots and protests then, people were upset about mandatory vaccines and the lockdowns that happened then. So I do think, actually, there’s a strange cycle of history that these happen once every 100 years or so. It’s just long enough for us to have forgotten the lessons we learned last time, the pains that we had to go through, the sacrifices we had to make. That was something that our great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, had to live through, and now we’ve forgotten those lessons and we have to learn those, painfully enough, for ourselves.

 

STAN GRANT

Toby, given what we’re on the cusp of as well, with changes, rapid changes, when it comes to things like artificial intelligence, might this be the last of this type of pandemic that we live through?

 

TOBY WALSH

I’m hopeful that this actually might be the last pandemic, because we now… It used to take a decade to develop a vaccine. This vaccine took a year. That’s unprecedented. But now we can develop vaccines… I mean, some of these vaccines, like the mRNA vaccines, you can develop in a couple of months. And so, if we can learn how to distribute the vaccines – and that’s not just to us, but that’s to the whole world – and we haven’t worked that problem out… Because this pandemic is not over by a long way, because we haven’t really begun to vaccinate the Third World, and we can’t breathe safely until everyone, everyone on the planet, has had the vaccine…has had a chance, at least, to have a vaccination.

 

STAN GRANT

Yeah. We’re talking about boosters in some countries, and other countries have not even had first shots yet. Our next question comes from Vera Myronenko.

 

VERA MYRONENKO, PARRAMATTA, NSW, DARUG COUNTRY

The Soviet leader Brezhnev told the people that the Chernobyl power station was safe enough to build in his own kitchen, according to my relatives living nearby in Ukraine. What risks does this government impose on the people of Australia from the nuclear-powered submarines?

 

STAN GRANT

Lidia?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

Oh… (LAUGHS)

 

STAN GRANT

It’s a big question, isn’t it, what risks, but where do you begin with something like this?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

Yeah, well, where to begin? Well, in principle, as a nuclear scientist, understanding nuclear power, I’m in principle not against the application of nuclear power for energy generation. However, the question here, it’s not really about science, it’s about the instrument we are using – the instrument are the submarines. When students come to me and ask me, “Shall I use this instrument?” I’m asking, “What’s the purpose? What’s your aim?” And here the question is, what’s the aim of using this specific instrument? And this aim hasn’t been clearly communicated. We’ve heard that this is because this is a superior technology. Superior technology for what? These submarines are quieter, can go underwater for much longer, but on the other hand, they cannot come closer to the land in some places, because they are very big, they can’t enter many ports. So therefore, what is the Australian national goal of using these submarines? And this hasn’t been communicated.

 

STAN GRANT

One of the things we have heard, Lidia, is the increasing geopolitical threat and potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific, and preparing us for that. Now, I want to go to Brian Schmidt on that question in just a moment, but you raised something else interesting in your answer there, and that is the question of application beyond submarines. We are the sixth nation now to get…to be planning to get this sort of technology, but the only one that would not have a nuclear weapons program or a nuclear energy program. Should that be part of this discussion as well? We’re going to be talking about climate science later in the program, but the question of nuclear energy – should that also be part of our conversation right now? Lidia?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

Oh, sorry, I thought you were asking Brian. Well, as I said, I’m not opposed to nuclear energy. However, being very much aware of all the challenges related to nuclear energy, to all the costs, all the other problems, so this is not the first technology to consider. There are other technologies to consider, but nevertheless, this could be considered within the package of energy solutions for a country. In Australia, however, there are other sources which I would consider first. There is plenty of sunshine, there’s plenty of wind. So these are technologies to consider first. But, as I said, nuclear energy could be one element of the package.

 

STAN GRANT

Michael, you’re nodding along. What part of the answer were you nodding along to – yes to nuclear energy or yes to solar?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Well, I mean, I’m a little bit ambivalent, right? I think nuclear should be part of the discussion, but I want to take a step back to the undertone of the question, right? Why was Chernobyl such a disaster? Why has it scarred people in their memories for so long? It was because the government lied so much. I mean, the famous quote now from the miniseries is “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth, and sooner or later that debt is paid.” You know, this is the only panel that’s been on this show in quite a long time where every single member of the panel, for a living, tells the truth.

 

TOBY WALSH

(CHUCKLES)

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Right?

 

STAN GRANT

You…you are a quantum physicist.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

I know, I know, I know.

 

STAN GRANT

The truth in the quantum physics world may be relative, or there may be multiple truths. (LAUGHS)

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

I have the easiest way out, that’s right. But the fundamental aspect here is that if we’re going to embrace technologies like nuclear energy, even if we’re going to build semiconductor manufacturing onshore, which has huge amounts of toxic chemicals involved in order to do that, fundamentally, we need to have trust in the policymakers to inform us accurately about what the risks are and not to conceal those risks. So, unless we fix that problem, the trust deficit in government, I think that nuclear is actually going to be politically very hard.

 

STAN GRANT

And Brian, one of the questions Lidia raised there is, what is the purpose? Well, we know part of this is the changing geopolitical risks in our area as well. How do you assess those risks right now? And for that, it’s the unnamed threat – neither Joe Biden or Scott Morrison or Boris Johnson would actually say it, but China?

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Yeah, well, Stan, I think you’re probably as much an expert as I am on China. But clearly, the people who work at ANU see this time of geopolitical tensions not going away anytime soon. They see it as being probably a generational thing. And so the strategists are trying to figure out how to keep Australia safe.

 

Certainly, I would say the majority of people that I’ve had a chance to talk to at my own institution, who work a lot on this, do think the nuclear submarines are tactically a good investment for Australia, but they come with lots of complications – they’re very expensive and, of course, nuclear energy has not been something that Australia has been prepared to accept. I personally think it’s… You know, it has strengths and weaknesses and it should be considered as part of the energy mix going forward, if it makes sense. I’m not sure right now – I agree with Lidia – I’m not sure that it does.

 

But with respect to nuclear subs, they have a lot of advantages. There are a few disadvantages. And I think we have to let the experts in there kind of plot a way forward based on what they see as the geopolitical risks. That’s not just five years, that’s 30 or 40 years. And we talk a lot about China now, but it’s not just China. It’s the whole region. There’s three billion people in this part of the world, and it’s going to get complicated over the next 50 years.

 

STAN GRANT

Let’s stay with this. Our next question, on a similar subject to this, comes from Justin Brown.

 

JUSTIN BROWN, LINDFIELD, NSW, DARUG COUNTRY

This question is for Professor Biercuk. Quantum technologies were one of the areas of collaboration outlined in the AUKUS pact. What do we as a country stand to gain from this?

 

STAN GRANT

Hold that thought, Michael.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Oh…!

 

STAN GRANT

(CHUCKLES) But a bit of tension is always…is always a good thing. Toby, you think that this may be a 20th-century technology that’s going to be obsolete by the time that we actually are finally building them.

 

TOBY WALSH

Yes, I mean, a big manned submarine, very expensive piece of kit. I mean, we don’t know what the price is going to be – is it going to be 90 billion or is going to be more? We don’t know, but it’s going to be very expensive and we’re only going to have a few number of them. If you look at the way the military is going today, it’s increasingly to small, unpersonned, autonomous devices that are cheap, that will be much quieter. We’ll be able to go to shallower waters. So I do wonder if that’s just these devices are a relic of 20th-century diplomacy and they aren’t actually ever going to be useful in a military sense, at least, for fighting 21st-century wars.

 

STAN GRANT

Michael, the submarines get all the attention, but there’s a lot else we’re talking about here – cyber capacity as well, changes to navigation capacity for submarines. There’s a lot more to it than just the submarines, isn’t there?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Yeah, I mean, to use a crude analogy, the submarines were the tip of the spear in a strategic relationship that now aligns three members of the five eyes, the intelligence sharing nations. And indeed, to the question, one of the areas that was mentioned is this area of quantum technology that uses quantum physics in order to achieve new things, right. And one of the things that we can achieve is the construction of new kinds of sensors that allow us to navigate without GPS. This is something that we do in my company.

 

STAN GRANT

Because this is what submarines are not using – they’re not using GPS?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

So, they can’t, of course, because they’re deep underwater, but this is a problem that’s, you know, recognised by every Western government right now. The idea of GPS denial is a major strategic risk. So, what we do in my company, Q-CTRL, is we build new kinds of navigation systems that leverage quantum physics to give you stability over a very long time. So, what does that mean? It means you can run underwater with no GPS for very, very long periods and still navigate accuracy…accurately. So if you’re going through underwater canyons or whatnot, this is extremely important, right?

 

But this carries over to autonomous vehicle networks on the surface, it carries over to space-based technologies – at Q-CTRL we have one of these Moon to Mars projects. So there are all these opportunities that flow from that initial application and I think the AUKUS agreement, with submarines as the starting point, was a wonderful nucleation of a technology-sharing agreement that has been brewing for many decades already between Australia and the US in quantum physics.

 

STAN GRANT

Yeah, we’re going to get to that question too a bit later on about quantum physics and what other areas it can be applied to. Our next question, though, comes from Jane Louise Lynch.

 

JANE LOUISE LYNCH, BOX HILL, VIC, WURUNDJERI COUNTRY

As a casual relief teacher in Melbourne, I’ve worked across many schools and have seen that ventilation can be inadequate in many classrooms. Some schools do not even have windows that can be opened. Also, physical distancing is not possible with current class sizes. Why have ventilation and class sizes not been given adequate consideration as a game changer when it comes to airborne transmission in schools?

 

STAN GRANT

And, Lidia, just further to that, the whole recognition of the impact of airborne transmission was something we were late to overall, wasn’t it?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

Well, very much so. And this is not just airborne transmission. We are talking about a lack of understanding of indoor air quality, full stop. This is something which we’ve never really thought, never really worried about, not just during the pandemic, before the pandemic – coming, let’s say, to the office coughing and sneezing, and knowing that others will be infected. Nobody worried about this. So there’s no awareness, recognition of indoor air quality, full stop. And then part of this is not…no consideration to airborne transmission of COVID and a lack of taking on board of the need for ventilation. So this is not something which just started now, it’s a problem now – this is a very, very deep problem of our society.

 

STAN GRANT

So, the WHO, the World Health Organization, has released new figures as well, and new guidelines on air quality, and a correlation, isn’t there, between potentially the impact of COVID and places with poorer air quality?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

In places with poor air quality, people are sicker, people are more vulnerable to other diseases. So that’s very much the reason why they would be also vulnerable more to COVID. That’s right. Yesterday, a new air quality guidelines were released in Bonn. And I was… I’m proud to have been a co-chair of the Guideline Development Group.

 

STAN GRANT

And I’ll just stay with you, Lidia, on this, and one of the…one of the things that Jane Louise was raising there is, why have we not given adequate consideration to this? Where are we right now, given how slow we were to react? And as we start to open up, where are we on discussion around ventilation, particularly when it comes to schools?

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

This conversation is only just beginning. So, yesterday, announcements in Victoria of the investment in schools, in ventilation and the whole package of measures taken, it’s an extremely positive step. This is the first step, really, like this in the country. But in other states, this discussion hasn’t started yet and this discussion hasn’t really extended to other areas of the society. It’s only schools, there are offices, there are restaurants. They are basically everywhere where we spend together. So we are just at the very, very beginning of this discussion.

 

STAN GRANT

Lidia, thank you. We’re going to have to say goodbye to you here at this part of the program. Lidia Morawska will leave us right now. Thank you so much for giving us your time tonight.

 

LIDIA MORAWSKA

Thank you for having me on the program.

 

STAN GRANT

And let’s go to our next question. It comes from Natasha Joyce.

 

NATASHA JOYCE, BENDIGO, VIC, DJA DJA WURRUNG COUNTRY

After proposing yet more cuts to courses and staffing, La Trobe University has this week announced that, for anyone to be on campus from December, they need to be fully vaccinated. Could ensuring that universities provide COVID-safe environments be a potential selling point for an industry that has been abandoned by federal government? Thank you. My name’s Natasha Joyce, I’m from Bendigo, in Victoria. Have a lovely day.

 

STAN GRANT

Thank you, Natasha. What a lovely message. And, Brian, I’ll go to you on that. Where are you at at the moment on getting students back and having the right protocols and protections?

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Yeah, well, of course, we’re on lockdown here in Canberra, and I don’t see that changing for the rest of the semester – we have five weeks left. So we’re surely trying to get our head around 2022. Of course, it’s quite an interesting environment, where I don’t think anyone really knows for sure. But we’re going through, systematically looking at, for example, air quality in our classrooms and our buildings, trying to assess this, because there really hasn’t been a lot of regulation there. And there’s a trade-off – normally, if you vent air into buildings, they become less energy efficient, for example. So there’s filters and things that are new technology we’re going to have to look at. With respect to vaccination, we need to make sure that the environment we provide on our campus is safe. It’s not really… You know, it’s not… It has to be safe to a standard, I think.

 

STAN GRANT

What does that mean, though, Brian? If I could just come in there, does that mean that you’re going to…I mean, are your staff going to be…is it going to be mandatory for them to be vaccinated? Are you going to have to have critical levels of vaccination before you can open up to having certain numbers of students back? Where you at in really benchmarking this?

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Yeah, I mean, it looks to me that we will be over 95% vaccinated both within our staff and within our students. And we’re going to be embedded in Canberra, which is well on its way of also achieving over 95%. So, at that point, the modelling I have seen – but we need to keep on working on this as we understand what’s going on – indicates that requiring vaccination is not as important as probably other interventions we can do. But we’re not going to be able to just have a wide-open campus, it looks like, for the foreseeable future. We’re going to have to have interventions with respect to air quality, masks, probably limits within rooms. And we’re in the process of trying to understand exactly through the modelling, through our understanding of how this disease is progressing otherwise, how we’re going to run the campus next year, but I’m afraid it’s…

 

STAN GRANT

And that sounds…that sounds very open-ended, Brian.

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

It is.

 

STAN GRANT

So it’s just going to be more online teaching into next year that changes the experience for the student? Are you looking at being the middle of next year, towards the end of next year? It just seems to be a very open-ended process.

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Well, my hope is, Stan, that we will have our campus open to staff and to students next year at the beginning of term. But we have to be honest that we don’t completely understand how this disease is evolving, and there are going to be some restrictions. So my belief is we will be able to have, you know, classes largely on campus. There might be restrictions to class size. There may be a requirement for vaccination in certain situations where the health says we need to have it. But we cannot put people at risk. And it’s an evolving situation. We can see, we’re learning as we go. And so, absolutely, my intent is to have the campus open, but I don’t think it will be absolutely like it was in 2019, I’m afraid.

 

STAN GRANT

I want to bring Kirsten Banks, who’s just joined us now. And, Kirsten, that changes the nature of the experience, as I said, for both the students, for people working in the university as well. What should we be looking at as we open up – the levels of exposure, the levels of risk, questions of ventilation? Where do you sit on this?

 

KIRSTEN BANKS, ASTROPHYSICIST

Look, I think the thing we need to keep in the forefront of our minds is to keep people safe, and keeping safe is keeping on top of things like exposure sites, making sure that people are vaccinated so that transmission is down to a minimum.

 

And look, I’ve been doing my PhD from home for half of the time I’ve been doing my PhD. I am really keen to get back into the university. Luckily, I’m in a field where I’m very privileged to be able to do that from home. As long as I have my laptop and a stable internet connection, I can do my research from home. But for many other researchers, that’s been a very difficult time throughout these times where you cannot go to the university, as they’re shut down. They’re completely locked from people going and doing what they need to do to advance our knowledge in science.

 

STAN GRANT

Vanessa is agreeing with that, furiously.

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

Yeah. I mean, I work on whales as one of my primary species, and so it’s limited how you can get out to the ocean. We have to think about how we do things. People work in the laboratory. They have to change their whole way in which they make, you know, assessments on certain bacterial cultures, that kind of thing. It changes a lot of things. And I feel really privileged to…and very fortunate. And I feel sorry for this next generation coming through in the PhD world right now. It’s tricky because you don’t have that face-to-face, but also you can’t go to international conferences.

 

And the good thing is we’ve been able to adapt. And I think we need to look at the positives, and adapting in this climate. We see parents teaching their children at home. And I’m sure a lot of teachers…parents, rather, are appreciative of the teachers right now. We’re living in different times, but we’re adapting to it. And this is a good thing. We need to look at the positives. Yes, there are challenges. And I really do feel for those students going through these challenges. But out of this, we’re able to talk to each other remotely right now, people are watching us on devices in different parts of the world, but safe. And this is the main thing forward. So, there’s some positives that come out of a bad situation.

 

STAN GRANT

Indeed.

 

TOBY WALSH

We haven’t addressed the other part of the question, which is how the universities have been abandoned.

 

STAN GRANT

Mm. Mm.

 

TOBY WALSH

There was a recent study that said, to May last…this year, 40,000 jobs – one fifth of the workforce – have gone, because universities were denied JobKeeper, JobSeeker. That is something that we really have to worry about. Universities are going to be driving the innovation that gets us out of this pandemic, they’ve been developing the vaccines. What does that say about this country, that we have abandoned it?

 

STAN GRANT

There was $1 billion in research program support. Was that not enough?

 

TOBY WALSH

It’s not enough, because, you know, all the overseas students were unable to come, 40,000 jobs disappeared. To put that in context, the coal industry, which we do seem to support, or the politicians seem to support, employs 39,000 people. So that’s more than the coal industry – has disappeared. That’s…that’s a generational loss.

 

STAN GRANT

It does raise the question too, Michael – and this has been raised before – whether there was much reliance on money from overseas, which would ultimately go through to funding this was…as part of the model. Was there too much reliance on overseas students and overseas funding?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Yeah. I have to say, I’m a…I’m an academic, too, right, at the University of Sydney, and I absolutely despise this question, right? Universities… Not…not you, Stan, of course.

 

STAN GRANT

I’m happy to be despised! (LAUGHS)

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Universities, like any other organisation, respond to incentives, right? And they follow the pathways that are open to them. The government regulates universities in Australia. It’s not like the US system, where there are these private institutions that can, within some bounds, do…have quite a lot of latitude. It’s not the same here. You can’t just raise fees on your own. You can’t just change student numbers on your own. Because of that, universities were forced into a circumstance where all the research funding was getting tighter and tighter. All these things called Research Infrastructure Block Grants that come on top of grants, they were all getting cut and cut and cut. And so what is the one lever that universities were left with? It was undergraduate enrolments. And so they followed the incentives. They acted like good businesses, just like the government always asks for. And, you know, yes, something catastrophic has happened to the market.

 

But I mean, I wanted actually to come back to Brian’s point earlier and maybe I’ll give you a little bit of a pointed response. Yes, we talked about safety. And yes, we as academics want a safe work environment. We also want the institutions for which we work to speak up as leaders. So, even though vaccination as a mandate may not change things based on a 95% level and the amount of other non-pharmaceutical interventions that are available, why not come out and say, as a scientifically driven, fact-based organisation, we believe that vaccines are essential, except for those who have immunocompromised circumstances and the like, right? Let’s be leaders instead of always running and being afraid of the politicians.

 

STAN GRANT

Brian. Just a quick response to that?

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Absolutely. Every time I talk to my staff, I say, “Get vaccinated.” And the question is, do I tell them because it’s the right thing to do…

 

STAN GRANT

Or mandate it?

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

…or do I mandate it? And that’s a really interesting, hard question. I’m going to try to get to the 99% level without mandating, and if I need to mandate, I will for health and safety reasons.

 

STAN GRANT

Would you say mandate, Michael?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

I say mandate, because it sends a message, not because I think people won’t listen.

 

STAN GRANT

Our next question comes from Matilda Byrne.

 

MATILDA BYRNE, TOORAK, VIC, WURUNDJERI COUNTRY

AI has the potential to bring great benefits to society, but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently called for a moratorium of AI systems that threatened human rights. It seems to be that one of the biggest risks is the affront to human dignity if machines are given life-and-death decisions, for example, as with autonomy in weapons. What are your views on delegating life-death decisions to machines, and what can be done to address the development of lethal autonomous weapons?

 

STAN GRANT

And indeed, we’ve already seen this, haven’t we? We’ve seen increasing use of drones in warfare and we talk now about the emergence of the robot army that’s going to change the very nature of warfare.

 

TOBY WALSH

We do. And it’s a concern that I have. It’s a concern that thousands of my colleagues, the majority of the people that I work with, share, that we’re entering a new revolution in warfare. I mean, the first revolution in warfare was the invention of gunpowder. The second revolution was the invention of nuclear weapons. This is the third revolution, that will allow us to scale warfare, do terrible, inhumane things.

 

STAN GRANT

And so what you’re talking about as well is that if we’re talking about robot soldiers, these are indefatigable. They’re not going to be fed. They can fight 24/7 and they’re not going to make…if they’re not programmed this way, not going to make human decisions…

 

TOBY WALSH

They’re not…

 

STAN GRANT

…ethical or compassionate decisions.

 

TOBY WALSH

They don’t have our humanity. They don’t have our conscience. They can’t be punished. They can’t be held accountable. It’s not Terminator. It’s not some, you know, intelligent humanoid robot with the red glint in his eye that Hollywood would have you believe. It’s much simpler technologies. It’s things like, as you say, drones that are already being used in attack in Libya.

 

STAN GRANT

And it’s actually called – they use this phrase, don’t they – a more humane warfare.

 

TOBY WALSH

They do. And it’s not clear to me that it will be more humane. It will be perhaps a faster way to kill people, and they will do whatever you program them to do. And previously, if you wanted to do harm, you had to persuade an army of people to do that. But now you would just need one programmer.

 

STAN GRANT

How do you feel, Michael, about the ethical decisions that we make? And it’s not just… You know, we’re talking about warfare here, but there are a whole lot of ethical questions around robots and who…whether robots do harm to human beings. Isn’t that the first law?

 

TOBY WALSH

Asimov’s first law.

 

STAN GRANT

That’s right. Must not do harm. But in fact, we can’t guarantee that.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

No, we can’t guarantee that any technology that we build won’t be used against us by artificial intelligence or by our adversaries in another country or our neighbours down the street. It is a very challenging issue, and I think it will remain the subject of debate in perpetuity, right? How… Not only how do we empower robots to make life-and-death decisions, whether it’s an autonomous drone that’s going to have a strike on some target, or it’s the Tesla on autopilot that decides if it’s going to kill you or it’s going to kill the group of passengers…of bystanders on the street – you know, these issues are going to be persistent – but then it’s going to be the question of how do we treat robots? That’s another ethical question.

 

And the point that I want to make is that this is not, in my view, unique. I think it is endemic to any advance in technology. We always have to ask ethical questions, and we should always be asking questions, and not looking at this as the one thing that breaks civilisation.

 

TOBY WALSH

We come back to the China question, because China has made it very clear that they’re seeking economic and military dominance by becoming a leader in AI. They don’t… They’re not announcing that they’re going to build nuclear attack submarines. They’re announcing that they’re building underwater autonomous submarines.

 

STAN GRANT

Mm. And away from warfare, you’ve said, by 2050, if we’re looking at a robot world, that you’ll have a robot football team that will win the World Cup. I mean, it’s not just warfare, but the way this changes everything in our lives.

 

TOBY WALSH

Yeah, it’s hard to think of a part of our life that won’t be touched by technology that can do smart things like this.

 

STAN GRANT

Kirsten, before we move on to our next question, this question of ethics and robots, we’re talking about warfare, we’re talking about the more extreme dramatic examples of that, but there are simpler things. I remember one person once saying, why were all robots white? Why does Siri have a female voice? What values are we building into artificial intelligence? Do you think much about that, or does that concern you?

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

Well, when it comes to technology, I’m either really excited about it or really scared by it. The conversation that you were having before about having robots being able to fight 24/7, that is extremely concerning to me. But on the other hand, having a smartwatch on my hand here, being able to track my health data, that is really fascinating to me. And so I think there are some really innovative ways that we can use AI for good in ways that are fun as well, and engaging with not just scientists, but also the general public.

 

STAN GRANT

I’m told by 2050 as well that robots will read the news, but it’s already happening.

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

Stan, I should just add to that as well, another really good example that we’re doing here in Australia is we’re teaching computers to look for animals in animal trafficking. Unfortunately, wildlife trafficking is a global problem. And that’s some of the work I’m currently working on, using innovative technologies to teach computers that that’s an animal, that’s a lizard. We need to work complementary with people. There’s the Border Force as well as sniffer dogs, that this is something we need to do to protect our natural biodiversity. And that’s a great example.

 

STAN GRANT

Our next question comes from Peter Strohkorb.

 

PETER STROHKORB, ST IVES, NSW, DARUG COUNTRY

Hello. Here’s a question for Brian Schmidt. Do you think the expansion of the universe is accelerating because the rest of the universe is trying to get desperately away from planet Earth and from mankind and all its irrational behaviours?

 

STAN GRANT

They may be running from the robots as well, Brian.

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Yes. Well, sometimes I do ask that question myself. So, no, the expansion of the universe, the actual expansion, not the acceleration, the expansion happened because at the time of the Big Bang, the universe started expanding. We don’t really know why the Big Bang occurred, but 13.7 billion years ago, give or take 100 million years, something happened, the universe was formed, started expanding. Now, what’s really interesting is the discovery that I was part of in 1998, is that the universe is actually speeding up, because to speed up, something’s got to be pushing on the universe.

 

And that push which we ascribe to what we call dark energy, or what Einstein in 1917 called the cosmological constant, energy that’s spread everywhere very finely in the universe, kind of explains what we see, but we don’t know why it is there. And so my hope, but not yet realised and probably not realised in my life, unless we get lucky, is understanding why the cosmological constant, why energy is thinly spread throughout space. And maybe that’s a way of linking gravity and the quantum world that we’ve been talking about here tonight. And it might be the…sort of the answer to the biggest questions of physics that we have, is the theory of everything could emerge from that, but we’re not there yet.

 

STAN GRANT

We were talking about this before we came on, and Toby and I sort of asked the big question that’s always asked, this time, Kirsten, and I’ll put it to you. How can the universe expand when it’s already infinite?

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

This is quite the loaded question, and something that I struggle to understand myself. So thank you for putting me on my toes and challenging me today.

 

STAN GRANT

Well, you’re still doing your PhD, so we’ll forgive you. (LAUGHS)

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

Exactly, I’m still just a little baby researcher, please be nice. But it’s definitely a mind-boggling thing to think that the universe is infinite but also thinking it’s expanding. The way that we understand the world around us is that if something expands, it must be expanding into something. But that’s not really the case with the universe as far as we know. We know that there is this Hubble bubble – which is…honestly, should be a bubble-gum flavour – this Hubble bubble of the observable universe that we can physically see. Beyond that, there is more space. That space is expanding away from us at greater than the speed of light. So we can no longer see those parts of space. And, really, it’s just a lot, to put it frankly, it’s a lot of space.

 

STAN GRANT

And just quickly, to hurt our brains even more, Michael, there may not be one universe either. Multiple, and simultaneously.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

You know, people love to talk about quantum physics, this discipline where I work – it’s this small scale of things instead of the really big universe scale of things – as really difficult to understand, as mind-boggling.

 

STAN GRANT

Weird, I think is the word.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

That blew my… This idea that the universe is expanding into nothing? I’m a professional physicist and I still cannot get my head around that.

 

TOBY WALSH

There’s that famous Albert Einstein quote, that two things are infinite – the universe and human stupidity.

 

STAN GRANT

(LAUGHS)

 

TOBY WALSH

I’m not sure about the universe.

 

STAN GRANT

Our next question comes from Tim Davis.

 

TIM DAVIS, STUTTGART, GERMANY

The digital computer as we know it has had enormous success due to its design that enables virtually any computing algorithm to be implemented. This is not true for quantum computers. Since their inception 40 years ago, there have only been a few algorithms developed, such as for factoring large numbers to crack online security or doing large combinatoric manipulations, or acting like an old-fashioned analogue computer to simulate quantum systems. None of these processes are useful for most people. You would never want to do this with your smartphone, so why the huge research effort and expense? My question to the panel – are scientists just playing on the success of digital computers to trick governments into funding their toy quantum computer projects, or do they really think quantum computers have a use for the general public more than just destroying internet banking security?

 

STAN GRANT

Michael, I think Tim might’ve said you’re having a lend of us.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

When the ENIAC, the world’s first digital electronic computer, the one that actually looks a lot like the computers that we carry around in our mobile phones…when that was built and commissioned in 1947, there was only one application for it. They spent millions of dollars in the ‘40s. The application was calculating artillery shell trajectories. And today we have Facebook and we have Uber and we have, like, all the things that have transformed our world, including, of course, supercomputing and the cloud.

 

Look, there’s a discovery process that goes on. Now, the questioner was correctly pointing out that the number of applications that we understand right now as being potentially beneficial for quantum computers, this new kind of information processing system, is small. His list was incorrectly truncated. There are other optimisation problems, they’re called, that we know map to real challenges that we care about in finance, in material science…

 

STAN GRANT

Chemistry.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

In chemistry. But also things like transport route optimisation, logistics optimisation. These are things that we think can come much sooner than these very, very hard problems that the questioner alluded to about cryptography. But it’s a journey of discovery. And if we just stop because it was one or two applications and not as many as 70 years of classical computing, then, you know, we would build nothing.

 

STAN GRANT

And people at home are probably going, “Quantum computers, what is the difference? Why a quantum computer?” If we’re talking about the computers we know, they operate on binary signals, right? If you’re talking about quantum computers, you’re talking about multiple signals. So the possibilities are greater and the speed potentially is greater for solving problems.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

I mean, the best way to think about it, in my view, is it’s just a computer that obeys different rules. And because it obeys different rules, the kinds of problems it can solve are different. And, you know, this paradigm is actually not so crazy. You know, we do talk a lot about general-purpose digital computers. That’s the kind of computer we use in our laptop or in our mobile phones. But there are a whole range of special-purpose digital computers that we use right now. They’re called field-programmable gate arrays. You have five of them in your car.

 

We use something called a GPU, a graphical processing unit, which is a reasonably narrow in its capability processing system that’s used for AI right now. Originally, it was used just for graphics rendering, it found a new application. So I think, yes, there is a culture, a cultural imprint, I guess, that comes from the prevalence and the ubiquity of classical digital computers. So much so that we’ve forgotten how many other specialised bits of technology exist. And I think that quantum computers, this new kind of computer that solves certain problems better, they’re going to enter our mix and they’re just going to be another kind of computational tool that we have.

 

STAN GRANT

Vanessa, what opportunities do you see here? And for cooperation as well across various different disciplines of science?

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

Well, I love that science is so collaborative and it’s colourful, in my opinion. And to get a room full of different scientists from different disciplines is so exciting! And that’s what I love about science. You know, it really is… And I’m obviously biased, but to be able to bring a group of experts working on a project… Like with our whale drone research, we collect whale snot using drones. And some people may have heard of whale snot before, but if you don’t even care about whales or the ocean, I hope that that sound of whale snot got your attention right now.

 

STAN GRANT

Because it does tell us a lot, doesn’t it, about the health of our oceans, the health of our planet?

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

That’s right. And in the past, to collect health information from whales, we relied on killing whales and getting close to them, and they’re pretty big. But my point is, really using a whole skill set of different people from different disciplines, I’m still not a drone expert, but thankfully I’ve been able to collaborate with drone experts to create this design for accessing and collecting biological juicy information from a whale as it breathes. I mean, it is lung bacteria. We’re all used to being sampled right now, but to do it with a drone and without the whale potentially knowing it’s happening, that’s science right there, and that’s collaboration.

 

STAN GRANT

Let’s go to our next question. It comes from Ashley Neil.

 

ASHLEY NEIL, HAMPTON PARK, VIC, BUNURONG COUNTRY

This question is for Kirsten Banks. As an astrophysicist with Aboriginal heritage, what can the world’s oldest culture bring to STEM? And more specifically, what can it bring to astrophysics?

 

STAN GRANT

Kirsten.

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

Was a fantastic question. And I want to steer here to a challenge that we’re facing a lot here in Australia, and that’s with climate change, which is related to astrophysics in some way, too, and more so within sustainability in this country. And there is so much we can learn from Indigenous culture and cultural practices that have been prevalent in this country for tens of thousands of years. Two examples I would like to give to you today is one on cultural burning. We had the awful bushfires a couple of years ago and seeing that hazardous… Hazard reduction burning has been proven to destroy, or at least harm habitats and wildlife, but by using cultural knowledge and cultural burning, known as cool burning, it preserves those habitats a lot better, providing the same or very similar sort of protection as hazard reduction, but still preserving those habitats and the wildlife as well. So we get kind of two-for-one there, we’re getting the safety but also preserving our wildlife.

 

Another one I’d like to give to you, this is a really cool example that I learned about recently, is spinifex grass. If you’ve been out in the outback, you’ve very likely seen spinifex. It’s everywhere, it covers a third of Australia. And with Indigenous practices, they cultivate this grass to produce this natural glue and biodegradable glue. And within this grass, they’ve also found nanofibres, which are thousands of times smaller than a human hair but five times stronger than steel. And using this technology, using these nanofibres from this plant that has been cultivated through Indigenous knowledge, has been able to improve and strengthen concrete, meaning that we don’t have to produce as much concrete ‘cause you need less of it, because now it’s stronger with those nanofibres, then having less carbon emissions from producing that concrete in the first place.

 

Also with PPE currently, we have gloves, even, going off to the left side here, condoms as well. Putting the spinifex in these nanofibres into these rubber materials strengthens them without breaking down their, uh… They don’t break as often and also it doesn’t mess with the feel of it as well.

 

STAN GRANT
(LAUGHS)

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

So that’s one way that Indigenous cultures can help us through to create these more biodegradable and sustainable materials.

 

STAN GRANT

Spinifex condoms – we’ve got it all covered here. I wouldn’t ask you your opinion on that, Brian, but I would ask you about where we are with incorporating just that knowledge that Kirsten was talking about into our science, into the teaching of science. Whether we are really serious about this, or whether it’s still lip service or something that we think we’re duty bound to talk about and then move on to the “real science”, in inverted commas.

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Yeah, well, I think we’re on a journey. And when I think about when I… About 10 years ago, I was at the National Museum of Australia and they were starting to talk about story-lines and how, you know, the Indigenous Australians navigated around, and the story-line of the Seven Sisters. And I was like, “Seven Sisters, like the Pleiades?” And the story was told to me, and I’m like, “But that’s the same story that is in Europe and in North America and in Thailand.” And then you start realising that astronomy…which goes back to the foundations of science, but literally something that every society has used as part of their culture. And you suddenly realise that we are bound by astronomy. And the Seven Sisters, Pleiades, visible to every culture on the planet just because they’re near the celestial equator is something that binds us. It binds us from 60,000 years ago plus, when we were clearly all one people.

 

And astronomy is not just, you know, technology and understanding cosmology, it is part of the advance of civilisation. It’s something the entire world has to do together. It’s a global project, and I think being able to understand and share in the oldest living cultures here in Australia has been one of the great gifts for me of being able to move from the United States here, because I’ve suddenly got this appreciation of a shared history which goes back 60,000 years, I’ve never had before. So I think it’s really very moving for me, personally. And we’re learning together to appreciate humanity, which is a shared history.

 

STAN GRANT

It’s fascinating as well, Michael, when you look at cosmology there and you look at Indigenous notions of time, the circularity of time and past and present and future coexisting. And that’s precisely, isn’t it, the sort of…when you look at the quantum world and shrink things to that level where you’re seeing just this type of thing playing out?

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Yeah, I think what it signals is a reminder that science is a human endeavour, right? That, yes, we may… As professionals, we seek the truth. We seek to understand the way the universe is. But we are not infallible, right? As history has shown over and over again. We are part of a community, and the work that we do benefits the broader community. That is why we do it. Science is in the public interest and, yes, it delivers economic prosperity. 26% of all economic activity in Australia comes from scientific discoveries in the last 20 years, according to the chief scientist. So, yes, there are all these other benefits, but I think the discussion just a moment ago highlights how much this can be something that brings us together, because it’s all about touching and shaping our lives and our understanding of the world.

 

STAN GRANT

It’s a story here. And we’re glad to have you on the program being able to share it with us, Kirsten. Our next question comes from Bill Clappers.

 

BILL CLAPPERS, YANAKIE, VIC

Hello. The James Webb Space Telescope is said to be the largest telescope ever placed in space, 100 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope, able to see way back in time billions of years, orbiting the Earth four times further out than the moon. Set to launch later this year after many delays, is it going to go ahead? How long after the launch will it take for the data to come through? And what are the big questions it seeks to resolve? Thank you.

 

STAN GRANT

And, yes, it is going to go ahead. It was meant to go ahead, I think, in 2010, but it’s going to go ahead this year, on December 18. Costing 10 times what it would have cost had it gone ahead all those years ago. Kirsten, you were clapping as soon as that question was asked. What excites you about this?

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

Everything excites me about this. We have been waiting for so long for the James Webb Space Telescope to launch. Like you said, from 2010, it’s been delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed! It was supposed to launch late in October this year, but then delayed again to December this year. And, fingers crossed, please let that thing finally go into space because it’s going to really broaden our horizons and help us understand more about our universe. Using its six-metre-wide mirror, it’s much bigger than Hubble, and we’ll be able to see much further than Hubble as well. One of the things that I’m really excited to hopefully see come out of the James Webb Space Telescope is seeing light from the very first stars of our universe.

 

STAN GRANT

Wow.

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

The first stars to ever be born. That’s an exciting thing to look forward to!

 

STAN GRANT

That answers your question, I think, Michael, before, about how do we even begin to understand this. This is really opening things up.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

Look, I love this stuff. I’m not an astronomer, I’m not an astrophysicist. I barely understand the general physics that is being discussed here. But there is just something so profound in looking at, say, a photograph of the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field, right? This image where you look at the image and it looks like a collection of stars, and apparently the story is the astronomer just wanted to look in some random place, right? And, yeah, it looks like a shot of the night sky until you look really closely, you zoom in and zoom in, and each one of those stars is actually an entire galaxy.

 

STAN GRANT

Yeah.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

 

STAN GRANT

And it raises the question, we’re talking about artificial intelligence, but of course, even the Pentagon now says that something may be out there that they can’t explain, Toby. What is it going to tell us about the potential of life, as well, elsewhere?

 

TOBY WALSH

Well, I mean, the big question, you know, one of the biggest questions that science has yet not answered is, are we alone? And, you know, it’s a very big universe. It would be terribly sad if there were no other voices to hear.

 

STAN GRANT

How do you feel about that, Vanessa?

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

Well, I just want to put out there’s obviously a very strong presence for the space that we are part of. But we know more about space than we do know about the deepest part of our oceans. Now, the oceans are important to all of us right here. They’re important to all of you at home, whether you’re watching this on iview, or wherever you’re watching this. The ocean generates more than 50% of the air we breathe. It transports the goods that we have here, from the clothes that I’m wearing to the device that you’re watching me on right now. We need to learn more about… And I love science, learning about everything, but we also need to have a focus on life on land and in the water and on Earth, and…

 

STAN GRANT

The mysteries of the stars and the deep. Our final question tonight comes from Leah Jebeile.

 

LEAH JEBEILE, PEAKHURST HEIGHTS, NSW, THARAWAL COUNTRY

How do I become a wildlife scientist? And what is your favourite animal?

 

STAN GRANT

What’s your favourite animal?

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

Ah, I would have to say it’s the whale. And because this is… I was hoping the kids would stay up late for this show right now.

 

STAN GRANT

I’m sure they have.

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

Thankfully, I’ve got Winston here, and I just thought, why not bring a prop? It’s a science show. This is how I communicate science. The whale is my favourite animal. They’re big. In fact, being next to a whale in the water, you literally have to turn from one side to another. They’re so big, they’re as big as a bus. And if you’re in a car, and you look at your family-sized car, that’s how big their babies are. But to become a wildlife scientist and to do what I do, you need to be passionate, and I’m sure you do have passion. I’m sure that people watching this show are passionate about what they do. Doing something that you love is really important.

 

And in Australia, to help foster that next generation for the jobs that don’t even exist yet is something that’s important. And to follow your passion and do something in terms of helping animals and saving whales by learning about them and learning about our environment is something that we can all contribute. And you don’t have to be a marine scientist or a wildlife scientist to do that. We can all make changes at home every day. Don’t pour chemicals down the drain and, you know, make sure you throw your rubbish in a bin. But be proactive. The skills that you acquire at skill…at school, rather, or those jobs that you might have at a supermarket, these are all skills that you can take on board for the later future career of you becoming a wildlife scientist. And ask questions, talk to scientists. We’re not scary, we’re approachable. And social media…

 

STAN GRANT

I can vouch for that. You’ve been very approachable.

 

MICHAEL BIERCUK

We have great shoes too. Come on.

 

VANESSA PIROTTA

We have great shoes, we don’t dress dorky.

 

STAN GRANT

And great shoes. Brian, I don’t know if you’ve got a favourite animal, but you may have a future student there.

 

BRIAN SCHMIDT

Absolutely. I mean, you know, I was trying to think, what animal have I seen that I most want to be? I grew up in Alaska, so I’ve seen a lot of whales, but I like sea otters probably better than any other animal. So another sea mammal. And I’m not just playing to the crowd here.

 

STAN GRANT

Kirsten, a favourite animal and some advice from someone doing their PhD to someone who wants to be a scientist.

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

Well, firstly, my favourite animal would have to be the cockatoo. They are so cheeky, but very, very smart as well. But the thing that I would love to put forward to you is, and to all the kids watching today, is to follow your passions. And if you don’t know what you want to do yet, try things. That was the advice that I was given on my first day of high school, is to try and take opportunities when they come. And that’s what’s gotten me here today.

 

STAN GRANT

Good advice.

 

KIRSTEN BANKS

So keep following your dreams.

 

STAN GRANT

A final word from you, Toby, in about 30 seconds or so.

 

TOBY WALSH

Well, my favourite animal still is humans. Despite all our failings…

 

STAN GRANT

And despite working on robots!

 

TOBY WALSH

…I’m still optimistic that we have hope.

 

STAN GRANT

Indeed. Indeed we do. And we have hope because of the fantastic people we’ve been able to share this hour with and the incredible knowledge that they’ve been able to share with us as well.

 

That’s all we have time for on our program this evening. Thanks again to our incredible panel: Toby Walsh, Brian Schmidt, Vanessa Pirotta, Michael Biercuk and Kirsten Banks. And thank you as well for all of your questions.

 

Next week, David Speers is in the chair. He’ll be live in Melbourne looking at the issue we did touch on a bit tonight, but one that’s going to continue for all of us – the vexed issue of mandatory vaccination. And you can join me on Monday evening picking up our China conversation from earlier as well, on our China Tonight program. Until then, have a fantastic night. Thanks for joining us.


This is a syndicated post. Read the original post at Source link .