Last Saturday’s Northeast Ohio Center for Inquiry conference was excellent. It is impressive how the volunteers who organize these events manage to put it together. The key people were Mark Tiborsky and Brian Harrington who are in charge of programming for the Cleveland and Akron areas and Monette Richards who is the president of the Cleveland chapter, and they and the other volunteers deserve congratulations.
Four scientists from different institutions gave talks on the theme of Science Peers into the Future.
Roman Yampolskiy of the University of Louisville spoke about the future of Artificial Super-Intelligence or Super-AGI that seeks to create artificial general intelligence that can exceed anything that humans can do, and thus promises great benefits but also poses great risks.
David Karowe of Western Michigan University spoke on five things that everyone should know about climate change and it was a compelling presentation of the case that global warming is real and people are causing it. I will discuss his excellent talk more in a future post.
Nicole Steinmetz from CWRU spoke about her work with nanotechnology. Her main area is to use viruses (which are on the nanometer size scale) that are cultured in plants and thus harmless to humans as vehicles to deliver drugs to targeted areas of the body. This is done by putting the drugs inside the virus cavities and coating the outer surfaces with ligands that direct them to the targeted organs.
The last speaker was astrophysicist Priya Natarajan from Yale who spoke about dark matter. Her flight from New Haven got so delayed that she could not come but gave her talk via the internet. There were some periodic glitches but she managed to deliver it and there were plenty of occasions for questions during the times when her slides disappeared.
It was noteworthy that although this event was organized by a skeptics group and the audience was largely if not exclusively nonbelievers, issues of religion were not raised at all. This is yet another sign of the maturing of the skeptical movement, where we do not feel the need to constantly rehash arguments about religion. We just assume that the case against the existence of gods is pretty much settled and move on to other important things.
As is my custom, I made a mental note of the diversity of the audience. I was pleased to note that there seemed to be roughly equal numbers of men and women, even for the invited speakers, and that the audience was skewing younger that I recall from previous years. The main problem is the lack of people of color. As far as I could tell, an African-American man and I were the only ones there from that demographic.