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Bridging the divide: philosophy meets science

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jul 12, 2018.

The Templeton World Charity Foundation Project, spearheaded by Professor Sarah Coakley, the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, saw three postdoctoral researchers placed into science labs around the University with the aim of addressing the ever-widening gap between those working in the fields of science and those working in fields of philosophy and theology.

For three years, Daniel De Haan, Natalja Deng and Peter Woodford worked side-by-side with colleagues from the Department of Experimental Psychology, the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and the Department of Zoology respectively – taking part in cutting-edge research, and being mentored by world-leading thinkers in their subject fields.

It is hoped that the huge success of this project – which saw unusually deep philosophical engagement with working scientists – will be a catalyst for similar experiments both in Cambridge and beyond.

Professor Coakley said: “Top level, path-breaking science can often go on in universities without any connections to the history and philosophy of science which is coming at the same material from a different direction. The philosophical questions are enormously pressing so we were delighted that some truly leading scientists at Cambridge were open to the possibility of having our three young researchers embedded with them.”

Dr Peter Woodford, who worked both in Cambridge’s Zoology labs and in the field in Africa to look at cooperation among meerkats, what makes them behaves the way they do, and how we as humans understand the value of selflessness, altruism and the care of others.

He said: “It was obviously a unique experience for any philosopher to have, seeing what animals are doing in their natural environment and asking why animals do what they do – that’s a central question of philosophy as well as science. The value of pursuing these big questions is to understand what we believe and why we believe it in a better way.”

Dr Natalja Deng, who worked on the cosmology strand of the project, alongside colleagues in DAMPT, said: “What does it mean to ask if God exists? And what does it mean to say that the universe had a beginning? If you ask yourself questions like this, you are doing philosophy.

“In order to do that, you need to talk to both theologians and physicists. They may not be used to talking to one another, but that’s all the more reason to bring them together in conversation. We were an experiment for this.”

Dr De Haan looked at the connections between cognitive neuroscience, psychology and philosophy for his strand of the project. As with his other Templeton colleagues, Daniel received formal training in his chosen subject areas to ensure they were up to date with the latest research and scientific developments in that particular field.

He said: “It was enormously helpful to spend time seeing what the day-to-day routines are, working in a lab and attending lectures. The people in my lab were open to the idea of having someone around from a different background and a different perspective.

“Academics in the humanities as well as the sciences are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties arising from the extreme degrees of specialisation – where we are losing the ability to talk to each other.”

Added Coakley: “I’m more happy than I could have hoped. This was a unique experiment in how to create a new generation of scholars to learn this agility early in their careers and we have shown that if it’s possible in one of the top universities in the world for scientific and mathematical endeavour, it should be possible in other places, too.”

A unique three-year project to bridge the divide between science and philosophy – which embedded early-career philosophers into some of Cambridge’s ground-breaking scientific research clusters – is the subject of a new film released today.

Academics in the humanities as well as the sciences are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties arising from the extreme degrees of specialisation – where we are losing the ability to talk to each other.
Daniel De Haan

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Yes

Vice-Chancellor’s awards showcase Cambridge researchers' public engagement and societal impact

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jul 09, 2018.

Hundreds of post-war peace settlements were trawled through by a team at Cambridge’s Lauterpacht Centre for International Law to build this innovative research tool. Outputs from the work have been used to assist mediators engaged with some of the world's most violent and tragic conflicts.

The announcement was made at a prize ceremony held at the Old Schools on 9 July, during which a number of other awards were also presented to Cambridge researchers for projects that have made significant contributions to society – including work on prisons, pandemics, and pollution.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, says: “This award scheme, now in its third year, received nearly a hundred nominations from all areas of research within the University, which were of an extremely high calibre across the board.”

“Impact is at the heart of the University’s mission. Engaging the public is crucial to helping our University deliver on its mission, and to be a good citizen in our city and community. Institutions such as ours have a vital role to play in restoring trust and faith in expertise and ways of knowing.”

Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards were established to recognise and reward those whose research has led to excellent impact beyond academia, whether on the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life. Each winner receives a prize of £1,000 and a trophy, with the overall winner – Prof Marc Weller from the Faculty of Law – receiving £2,000.

This year’s winners are:

Overall winner: Marc Weller (Faculty of Law)

Making and sustaining international peace

Drawing on a ten-year research programme addressing self-determination and ethnic conflicts, the Legal Tools of Peace-making project presents, for the first time, the vast practice revealed through peace agreements on an issue-by issue basis, making it instantly accessible to practitioners and academics.

The project, led by Weller, uses this repository to derive realistic settlement options for use in actual peace-negotiations, and making these available to the United Nations, the African Union, the EU and other mediating agencies. The work has had immediate impact on on-going, high-level peace negotiations in the inter-ethnic negotiations in Myanmar, the UN-led negotiations on Syria, discussions on Catalonia, the independence of Kosovo, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia and several others.   

Marko Hyvönen (Department of Biochemistry)

Production of growth factors for stem cell research

‘Growth factors’ are proteins that regulate many aspects of cellular function – including proliferation. These complex proteins are essential for stem cell research, to differentiate stem cells into the specific cell types found in our bodies.  

Hyvönen and colleagues have used their expertise as structural biologists to develop methods to efficiently produce growth factors in extremely high quality: reducing cost to the stem cell community locally, and facilitating world-class research. They have spun out a company to supply these proteins for researchers around the globe and secured an Innovate UK grant for the company.  

Ryan Williams (Centre of Islamic Studies)

Re-imagining Citizenship

Williams’ research on Islam and society works on the borderlines of religious studies and criminology, challenging practitioners and policy-makers to think holistically about social inclusion and the role of religion in contemporary society.

His research has been incorporated into: guidelines on countering prison radicalisation, adopted by the European Commission in 2017; the evidence base for the Lammy Review on equality and implementing its recommendations; a course on the Good Life Good Society, adopted in 2016 in a high security prison. Read Ryan's This Cambridge Life here. 

Florin Udrea (Department of Engineering)

Cambridge CMOS Sensors

Sensors that sniff the air can warn us of pollution in city streets, offices and homes. Breathe on these sensors and they can check our health. But they are normally big, heavy and drain batteries quickly.

Florin Udrea and his team set out to create environmental micro-sensors that are ultra-efficient and small enough for smart phones, watches and air purifiers in smart homes. Their spin-off, Cambridge CMOS Sensors, was acquired by AMS in 2016, which is now shipping products.

Julia Gog (Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics)

Harnessing mathematics to help control influenza

Predicting the evolution of the seasonal human influenza virus to better inform vaccination selection is critical to controlling the spread of influenza each year. Moreover, a rarer global outbreak pandemic would have severe consequences on loss of life and the economy, and is viewed by the UK government as a major threat to the UK due to both its high likelihood and severity of outcome.

Julia Gog worked with data gathered through the BBC’s Pandemic project to produce mathematical modelling that helps predict how UK populations move and interact, and consequently how and where a virus would spread.  

Tim Cox (Department of Medicine)

Innovative Treatments for Lysosomal diseases

Niemann-Pick C, Tay-Sachs, Sandhoff and Gaucher diseases are genetic lysosomal diseases that affect several organs, including the brain, resulting in painful symptoms, neurological complications and early death. Tim Cox is a leading UK clinical investigator for Lysosomal diseases, exploring the rebalancing of excess production of the toxic sphingolipids, which cause these diseases.

His work has developed effective treatments that have been introduced into the clinic, improving patient outcomes. This research has also identified a definitive correction of the cruel children’s condition, Tay-Sachs disease, through gene transfer. After successful preclinical work, a University spin-out, Cambridge Gene Therapy, is accelerating the clinical programme for this disease.

Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards

The Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards were set up to recognise and reward those who undertake quality engagement with research. Each winner receives a £1000 personal prize and a trophy. This year’s winners are:

Sophie Seita (Faculty of English)

Seita produced a collaborative multi-media creative project that combined experimental performances, lecture performances, poetry, publications, and installations; both emerging from and feeding back into research. Presented as star-gazing conversations with a number of Enlightenment writings in English, French, and German, from tragedies, melodramas, philosophical treatises to proto-romantic romances of the period, the work investigates which aspects of the Enlightenment still speak to us today, and was performed at the University’s Festival of Ideas.

Anna Spathis and Stephen Barclay (Department of Public Health and Primary Care)

Fatigue, an extreme tiredness that affects the mind as well as the body, is the single most common and distressing symptom experienced by teenagers and young adults with cancer. Spathis and Barclay worked with these young patients to co-design a treatment for fatigue that meets their unique needs. Read Anna and Stephen discuss how public involvement contributed to the research outcomes here. 

Charlotte Payne (Department of Zoology)

Working together with farmers and scientists at every stage, Payne developed a participatory research project on the sustainable use of edible caterpillars in southwestern Burkina Faso, and has explained the methods, aims and results to a variety of public audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Read Charlotte discussing edible insects on the BBC here.

Ragnhild Dale (Scott Polar Research Institute)

Dale was a researcher and assistant dirtector on a three-day staging of a mock trial version of the ground-breaking lawsuit where Norwegian environmental organisations Greenpeace and Nature and Youth are suing the Norwegian Government for allegedly allowing unconstitutional oil exploration in the Barents Sea. The project inviting expert witnesses from academia, industry and NGOs to testify in our production in Kirkenes, bringing the drama of the trial directly to the people who live and work in the north. 

The first major repository of legal practices for mediators and conflict parties to draw on when negotiating peace has won the top prize in this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Impact Awards at the University of Cambridge.

Impact is at the heart of the University’s mission
Stephen Toope

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Yes

Cambridge academics recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018

By ts657 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Jun 08, 2018.

The Queen

Professor Mary Beard was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) while Master of St John's College, Professor Christopher Dobson, was awarded a Knights Bachelor and Dr Richard Henderson, Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College and Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, was recognised with a Companion of Honour.

Three other Newnham College alumnae joined Professor Beard in becoming Dames in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018, announced today - actor Emma Thompson, civil servant and diversity champion Sue Owen, and local government CEO Stella Manzie.

They join a range of women honoured for women at the forefront of their professions or who have championed women’s rights to coincide with the 100th anniversary year of women’s suffrage.

Dame Mary has been recognised for her services to the study of Classical Civilisation.

She said: “I am absolutely 100% delighted – especially to realise that Classical Civilisation is still taken seriously enough to be recognised in this way.

"That said, I expect a good few jokes about pantomime dames!” 

Beard’s work on classical civilisation has been matched by her engaging TV work and an inspiration teaching that together have brought the classics to hundreds of thousands of people world-wide – and to hundreds of students at Cambridge University.

Her latest work, Women and Power, investigates the roots of the silencing of women in the Classical period, taking it forward into the present day.

But she will be remembered by generations of undergraduates, not as the famous figure on the television screens, or even the fearless debater of Twitter, but as their supervisor.

Newnham classics student Charlie Pemberton said: “It was Mary who encouraged me to apply to Cambridge and indeed Newnham in the first place: we had emailed a bit when I was in sixth form, before she met me at a Newnham Classics Open Day."

“As a supervisor, she is incredibly fair: she gives praise when it is due, but isn’t afraid to tell you when you’ve been a numpty (to put it lightly...!). Her warning never to take a source at face value - to do some digging to discover what it’s really getting at - proved invaluable in my exams.

"She didn’t just teach us the material, but how to handle or think with the material - and she makes the material so accessible and memorable. There is something so special about Newnham Classics, and I think Mary has come to symbolise that.”

Beard is herself an alumna of Newnham College, Cambridge, where she first studied Classics in 1973. She returned as a Fellow in 1984, at the time the only female lecturer in the Classics Faculty. She became Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge in 2004. 

Dame Carol Black, Principal of Newnham College, says: “This is well-deserved recognition of the outstanding contribution that Mary has made to the study of Classics and the promotion of public understanding of classical civilisation, a further accolade in Newnham’s highly-distinguished tradition in Classics.”  

The Master of St John’s was honoured with a knighthood in recognition of his ground-breaking research into Alzheimer’s disease

Professor Christopher Dobson has been was awarded a Knights Bachelor in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2018 to commemorate his illustrious scientific career.

Sir Christopher was recognised for his contributions to Science and Higher Education.

Sir Christopher is one of the world’s leading scientists working at the interface of the physical and biological sciences. Among other high-profile scientific achievements, in 2013 he co-founded the £50 million Cambridge Centre for Misfolding Diseases (CMD).

Scientists at the Centre focus on analysing the origins of neurodegenerative conditions - such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases - which occur because of ‘misfolded’ protein molecules. The experimental work by Sir Christopher and his inter-disciplinary research team has led to remarkable breakthroughs in the field.

Sir Christopher said he was astonished to have been made a knight and dedicated the honour to his students and scientific colleagues.

He said: “I am truly humbled to receive this remarkable honour. It would not have been possible without the brilliance and dedication of my students and scientific colleagues over many years, whose commitment to improving the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions is deeply impressive.”

“It also recognises the commitment of the University of Cambridge, and the UK Higher Education sector in general, to educating to the highest possible standards the most able and deserving students on whose shoulders the future of the world depends.”

Sir Christopher was educated at the University of Oxford and became an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University before he returned to Oxford as Professor of Chemistry.

In 2001 he moved from Oxford to the University of Cambridge when he was appointed as the John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology and elected a Fellow of St John’s College. He became Master of St John’s College in 2007.

Sir Christopher said: “I cannot express strongly enough how much I have valued the inspiration, encouragement, support and friendship that I have received at St John’s from students, staff, Fellows and alumni, and how important the intellectual and cultural environment that exists in this truly remarkable College has been for my scientific activities.”

Professor Tuomas Knowles, a co-founder of CMD and a Fellow of St John’s, said: “Sir Christopher's landmark discoveries over the past 30 years have truly transformed our understanding of misfolding diseases.

“His work has had enormous influence throughout the physical, biological and medical sciences, establishing new connections, and generating wide-reaching implications for molecular medicine. It is wonderful that such an eminent scientist and influential and inspiring leader has been recognised with this honour.”

Sir Christopher also paid tribute to his friends and family for their “unstinting support”.

He added: “On a personal note, I want to thank my friends, family and colleagues, and especially my wife, Mary, and children, Richard and William, for their fantastic encouragement throughout my life and career.”

Nobel prize winner and pioneer of electron microscopy Dr Richard Henderson was awarded the Companion of Honour. 

Dr Henderson, an Emeritus Fellow of Darwin College and alumnus of Corpus Christi College where he is an Honorary Fellow, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2017 for his work developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution.

He achieved a quantum leap in imaging techniques when his work allowing atomic structure determinations of many proteins that were previously impossible to obtain, provided important insights into biological functions and mechanisms that will enhance the study of diseases such as neurodegenerative and infections diseases and cancer.

Dr Henderson said: “It is a great honour to join such a distinguished group of people from all walks of life. My scientific mentors Max Perutz and César Milstein were earlier Companions of Honour, so it is a great delight to me to be able to continue in this tradition.”

Professor Mary Fowler, Master of Darwin College, said: "I am delighted that Darwin College Fellow Richard Henderson has been appointed a Companion of Honour - this and his Nobel Prize are richly deserved indeed. Richard's skill and his immense dedication benefit us all, bringing hope for much needed treatments for a wide range of diseases."

Many more alumni were honoured, with a CBE for television presenter and author Bamber Gascoigne (Magdalene) and knighthoods for historian and broadcaster Professor Simon Schama (Christ's) and Government barrister James Eadie (Magdalene). Dr Darrin Disley (Trinity Hall) was honoured with an OBE for services to business, enterprise and health while fellow Trinity Hall alumnus David Eyton was honoured with a CBE for services to engineering and energy.

Honorary Magdalene Fellow Sir Christopher Greenwood was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) while Professor Jane Marshall (Murray Edwards) was given an Order of the British Empire for services to Education in Health Sciences. Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, Professor Chris Husbands (Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University) received a knighthood for services to higher education.

Thomas Adès (King's), received a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to music. Professor Nicholas Marston, Vice-Provost and Director of Studies in Music at King's College, said: "It is excellent to see artistic creativity in the UK being recognised in this fashion.

"King’s College can boast a remarkable line of composers across many generations; among contemporary figures, Tom Adès stands together with Judith Weir and George Benjamin as one of our many distinguished alumni whose musical and creative talents not only bring lustre to the College but – more importantly –  enrich the lives of many people in this country and around the world.

"We congratulate him very warmly."

Leaders in fields from classics to Alzheimer’s research are recognised today in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

I am absolutely 100% delighted – especially to realise that Classical Civilisation is still taken seriously enough to be recognised in this way. That said, I expect a good few jokes about pantomime dames!
Professor Mary Beard

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Yes

Cambridge and LMU announce plans for strategic partnership

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 29, 2018.

At the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding

The University of Cambridge and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) put pen to paper on a memorandum of understanding that will see the two institutions forge ever-closer links in education and research across a broad range of disciplines in the Sciences, Humanities and Medicine.

Senior leaders from Cambridge and LMU – which boast nearly 150 Nobel Laureates between them – came together over two days in Cambridge for meetings led by both the President of LMU, Professor Bernd Huber, and Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope.

At the conclusion of the visit, officials from Cambridge and LMU signed the memorandum of understanding, which indicates the desire to develop a joint programme of strategic importance to both institutions. A full programme will be formulated by the end of the year, with a formal launch expected to take place in early 2019.

It is intended that the partnership will include joint research activities, the exchange of academic staff, postdoctoral and PhD candidates, as well as masters and undergraduate students, joint teaching initiatives, and training for the next generation of scholars. The partnership will be cross-disciplinary, covering broad areas in the Humanities and Cultural Studies, Law, Economics and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, as well as Medicine, and will develop over the course of an initial five-year funding period. 

Professor Chris Young, Head Elect of the School of Arts and Humanities, and Cambridge’s academic lead for the strategic partnership, said: “The LMU is Germany's leading university in Germany's leading city.

“Its outstanding scholarship and rich network of associated institutes and industrial partnerships make it the perfect bridge to Bavaria, Germany and Europe. There are already myriad collaborations between colleagues at both universities, and this exciting new partnership will intensify and augment these for years to come.”

Professor Thomas Ackermann, Dean of the Faculty of Law and LMU’s Director for the strategic partnership, said: “The University of Cambridge is one of the world’s leading institutions in education, learning, and research. The strategic partnership between our universities will pave the way towards a new level of cooperation. Together with my colleague, Chris Young, we will explore an interesting array of activities to ensure the program will be a great success for both universities.”

Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, said: “No single institution can provide, on its own, the answers to the great challenges of these turbulent times. Collaboration and openness to the world are essential to achieving our academic and civic missions. Our partnership with LMU, one of Europe’s finest universities, creates exciting opportunities to work together to address tough issues and provide our students with a richer education.”

“The strategic partnership with the University of Cambridge, one of the leading universities in Europe and the world, will bring an exciting stimulus to research and learning at LMU,” said LMU President Professor Bernd Huber. “Our new partnership ensures that collaboration and exchange which are vital for academic innovation can continue to be pursued regardless of Brexit.” 

Two of Europe’s leading research universities have announced the first step towards plans for a unique ‘strategic partnership’ – underlining the vital and ongoing relationship between British universities and their peer institutions across the EU in a post-Brexit landscape.

Collaboration and openness to the world are essential to achieving our academic and civic missions.
Stephen Toope

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Yes

The menace of monolingualism

By mjg209 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 18, 2018.

Is monolingualism harming us, both as individuals and as a society? Wendy Ayres-Bennett, Professor of French Philology and Linguistics, is leading a major interdisciplinary research project which looks at the value of languages for everything from health and well-being to social cohesion, diplomacy and conflict resolution.

The MEITS project (Multilingualism: Empowering Individuals, Transforming Societies) is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Open World Research Initiative and seeks to transform the health of the discipline of Modern Languages in the UK, attitudes towards multilingualism and language policy at home and abroad. The motivation for the project comes from an awareness that language learning in the UK is in a very difficult state. “There is a sense that modern languages are in crisis,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett, “and that traditional motivations to get people studying languages are not working. We need exciting new reasons to learn languages and to demonstrate the value of speaking more than one language.”

The project, which finishes in 2020, involves around 30 non-academic partners including schools and voluntary groups and has six interlocking research strands which investigate how the insights gained from stepping outside a single language, culture and mode of thought are vital to individuals and societies.

Professor Ayres-Bennett will speak about three areas of the research in a talk at the Hay Festival for the Cambridge Series, now in its 10th year. The first involves health and builds on research which shows that if you are bilingual dementia onset is on average delayed by up to five years compared to people who are monolingual, and that stroke victims who are bilingual recover cognitively twice as well as monolingual ones. What is more exciting, says Professor Ayres-Bennett, is that even those who learn a language later in life can enjoy certain cognitive benefits. One experiment conducted as part of the project involved a group who learnt Gaelic intensively for a week and were monitored to see if there was any impact on their cognitive abilities. The results were positive. “The kind of mental gymnastics that learning a language involves is good for us and for our ageing society. They help us to stay mentally active a bit longer,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett. “It’s a benefit that is little known, but learning a language is better than any drug currently available for delaying dementia.”

A second area she will speak about is how languages can bring people together and create greater social cohesion. Language is at the heart of some of the current political problems in Northern Ireland, with Irish tending to be viewed with suspicion by the Protestant-Unionist-Loyalist (PUL) community. The MEITS project has been working with two charities in Northern Ireland to enhance understanding between the Catholic and Protestant communities. It has been teaching former paramilitaries and future PUL leaders basic Irish. Professor Ayres-Bennett says: “The Irish language doesn’t have to be associated with sectarianism; the aim is to normalise it and show how it is part of everyone’s culture. In addition, demonstrating the origins of Irish place names can show that Irish is part of PUL heritage as well.”

The third area she will touch on involves the work the project is doing with a number of schools in London and East Anglia to change attitudes to languages. It is comparing language learning for children who are monolingual and started learning a language at school with those who have English as an additional language. The students are being tracked over a two-year period. “We want children to value the languages they speak and schools to think consciously about what it means to be multilingual and to see children with more than one language as a resource rather than an inconvenience,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett. She mentions one Polish student who placed himself near the monolingual end of a scale which asked children to consider how multilingual they were because he was just starting to learn French. “He didn’t value his ability to speak Polish. We need to get away from the hierarchy of good and bad languages,” she states. She adds that looking at multilingualism in a positive way improves social cohesion in the classroom as well as potentially improving students’ motivation for learning and their proficiency.

The MEITS project’s findings will be widely disseminated with the aim of raising awareness of all the different areas of policy which language learning affects. “Language is so central to who we are, to our identities, that it has to have a higher profile across all government departments,” says Professor Ayres-Bennett.

Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett will speak at the Hay Festival about her research into the health and social benefits of multilingualism.

The kind of mental gymnastics that learning a language involves is good for us and for our ageing society. They help us to stay mentally active a bit longer.
Professor Wendy Ayres-Bennett

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Yes

‘The greatest director in the world right now’ begins residency at Centre for Film and Screen

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 04, 2018.

Lucrecia Martel comes to the Centre as this year’s Filmmaker in Residence from 5-20 May, following in the footsteps of Gianfranco Rosi (2017) and Joanna Hogg (2016).

A retrospective of her feature films — the first to be held in the UK—has been jointly organised between the Centre for Film and Screen and the Arts Picturehouse. Martel will be present following each screening for conversation and Q&A. 

Martel, who lives and works in Argentina, is one of international cinema’s major stylists. Her provocative films treat questions of family, childhood, sexuality, belonging, nation, class, historical memory, and colonialism. In a cinema that is both sensually immersive and politically attuned, Martel looks at the world in a way that acknowledges mystery and prompts criticism.

Dr John David Rhodes, Director of the Centre for Film and Screen said: “The residencies offer our students, staff and our community both inside and outside the University the opportunity to engage with serious filmmakers of the highest order, all of them crucially important figures in the unfolding history of contemporary cinema.

“The residencies also offer the filmmakers the opportunity to develop and reconsider their practices in the context of the vibrant scholarly and intellectual ecology that is unique to Cambridge.”

Described by Vogue as ‘the greatest director in the world right now’, Martel is the director of four acclaimed films and a number of award-winning shorts. After almost a decade after her last full-length feature film, Martel returned as director of the critically-lauded Zama in 2017.

Based on the 1956 novel by Antonio Di Benedetto, the film is a period drama relating the story of a 17th century Spanish officer, separated from his wife and family, and awaiting a transfer from a remote area of Paraguay to Buenos Aires.

Shining a light on colonialism and class dynamics, the film won almost universal acclaim from film critics in South America, and was chosen as Argentina’s nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Martel will be resident at the University’s Centre for Film and Screen for more than two weeks, during which she will be offering a sequence of seminars on her filmmaking practice.

 

Symposium

18 May, 10am-4pm, McCrum Lecture Theatre, Corpus Christi College.

Speakers: Lucy Bollington (Cambridge), Catherine Grant (Birkbeck), Rosalind Galt (KCL), Debbie Martin (UCL). 

Full details - TBC

 

Screenings

The screenings will all be held at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse

Tuesday 8 May at 6pm - The Swamp (La Ciénaga)

Thursday 10 May ay 6pm - The Holy Girl (La niña santa)

Tuesday 15 May at 6:30pm - The Headless Woman (La mujer sin cabeza)

Thursday 17 May at 6pm - Zama

 

One of Argentina’s and Latin America’s pre-eminent filmmakers begins a 16-day residency at Cambridge’s Centre for Film and Screen from tomorrow (May 5).

Lucrecia is a crucially important figure in the unfolding history of contemporary cinema.
John David Rhodes

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Yes

Blood and bodies: the messy meanings of a life-giving substance

By amb206 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on May 03, 2018.

What is blood? Today we understand this precious fluid as essential to life. In medieval and early modern Europe, definitions of blood were almost too numerous to locate. Blood was simultaneously the red fluid in human veins, a humour governing temperament, a waste product, a cause of corruption, a source of life and a medical cure.

In 1628, William Harvey, physician to James I and alumnus of Gonville & Caius College, made a discovery that changed the course of medicine and science. As the result of careful observation, he deduced that blood circulated around the body. Harvey’s discovery not only changed the way blood was thought to relate to the heart but revolutionised early science by demanding that human physiology be examined through empirical observation rather than philosophical discourse.

This turning point, and its profound repercussions for ideas about blood, is one of many strands explored in Blood Matters: Studies of European Literature and Thought,. A collection of essays, edited by Bonnie Lander Johnson (English Faculty, Cambridge University) and Eleanor Decamp, it examines blood from a variety of literary, historical and philosophical perspectives.

“The strength of the collection is that, in a series of themed headings, it brings together scholarship on blood to bridge the conventional boundaries between disciplines,” says Lander Johnson. “The volume includes historical perspectives on practical uses of blood such as phlebotomy, butchery, alchemy and birth. Through literary approaches, it also examines metaphoric understandings of blood as wine, social class, sexual identity, family, and the self.”

Contributors include several Cambridge academics. Hester Lees-Jeffries (English Faculty) writes about bloodstains in Shakespeare (most notable, of course, in Macbeth) and early modern textile culture. Heather Webb (Modern and Medieval Languages) looks at medieval understandings of blood as a spirit that existed outside the body, binding people and communities together. Joe Moshenska (English Faculty) examines the classical literary trope of trees that bleed when their branches are broken.

“The idea for the book came from my previous  work on chastity. I was struck that early modern writing about the body is all about fluids, especially blood. Blood was perceived as the vehicle for humours, the essence of being and the spirit – and something that could flow between people,” says Lander Johnson.

“I became fascinated by the fact that we use this word all the time but we have no real sense of what we mean. Our predecessors used it even more frequently and yet there was no scholarship that could help me to begin to understand how many things blood meant for them. A conference at Oxford in 2014 brought together a group of people working in related fields. The book reflects the excitement of those three days.”

Definitions of blood in Western European medical writing during the period covered by the book are changeable and conflicting. “The period’s many figurative uses of ‘blood’ are even more difficult to pin down. The term appeared in almost every sphere of life and thought and ran through discourses as significant as divine right theory, doctrinal and liturgical controversy, political reform, and family and institutional organisation,” says Lander Johnson.

“Blood, of course, was at the centre of the religious schism that split 16th-century society.  The doctrinal dispute over transubstantiation caused ongoing disagreements over the degree to which the bread and wine taken during Mass were materially altered into the body and blood of Christ or merely symbolic.”

The role of blood in sex and reproduction meant that it was routinely described as a force capable of both generation and corruption. Menstrual blood is a case in point. Menstruation was seen as a vital and purifying process, part of a natural cycle essential to human life. But menstrual blood and menstruating women were also thought to be corrupting.

In Shakespeare’s plays, blood makes many appearances, both spoken and staged, from bleeding wounds to the rebellious ‘high’ blood of youth. Lander Johnson examines Romeo and Juliet’s love affair in the light of early modern beliefs about weaning and sexual appetites.

“Writing about birth and infancy reveals that early moderns were as anxious about their children’s health as we are but for them the pressing questions were: should I breastfeed my baby myself or give it to a wet nurse? How and when should I wean it to food? What sort of food?” she says.

“The wrong decision at this early stage of life could have a fatal outcome and was thought to not only form the child’s blood in either a healthy or corrupted state but also to shape the child’s moral appetites for the rest of their lives.”

Blood is synonymous with family and, in elite circles, with dynasty. Contributor Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes University) explores character and social class through references to blood in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V. In these plays about warfare and the relationships between royalty and common men, blood is often a substance that eliminates the differences between soldiers who die together in arms, their blood mingling in the dirt of the battlefield.

“Frequently these same descriptions turn into assertions of an essential difference between aristocratic and vulgar bloods,” says Lander Johnson. “Shakespeare is particularly inventive at building character through distinctions of this kind.”

In contrast, Ben Parsons (Leicester University) looks at blood and adolescence in the context of the medieval classroom where ‘too much blood’ was understood to cause wild and unruly behaviour. Medieval pedagogues were concerned about how the ‘full blood’ of students ought to be managed through the kind of material they were asked to read and when, the sort of food they ate while learning, and the style of punishment administered to those who were inattentive.

Blood Matters makes a valuable contribution to the history of the body and its place in literature and popular thought. It draws together scholarship that offers insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the beginnings of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.

Today's scientists understand blood as a liquid comprising components essential to good health. But English remains a language peppered with references to blood that hint at our conflicted relationship with a liquid vital to human life.

A collection of essays explores understandings of a vital bodily fluid in the period 1400-1700. Its contributors offer insight into both theory and practice during a period that saw the start of empiricism and an overturning of the folklore that governed early medicine.

The book brings together scholarship on blood to bridge the conventional boundaries between disciplines.
Bonnie Lander Johnson
Detail from William Harvey's De motu cordis (experiment confirming direction of blood flow)

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Yes

Living with artificial intelligence: how do we get it right?

By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 28, 2018.

This has been the decade of AI, with one astonishing feat after another. A chess-playing AI that can defeat not only all human chess players, but also all previous human-programmed chess machines, after learning the game in just four hours? That’s yesterday’s news, what’s next?

True, these prodigious accomplishments are all in so-called narrow AI, where machines perform highly specialised tasks. But many experts believe this restriction is very temporary. By mid-century, we may have artificial general intelligence (AGI) – machines that are capable of human-level performance on the full range of tasks that we ourselves can tackle.

If so, then there’s little reason to think that it will stop there. Machines will be free of many of the physical constraints on human intelligence. Our brains run at slow biochemical processing speeds on the power of a light bulb, and need to fit through a human birth canal. It is remarkable what they accomplish, given these handicaps. But they may be as far from the physical limits of thought as our eyes are from the Webb Space Telescope.

Once machines are better than us at designing even smarter machines, progress towards these limits could accelerate. What would this mean for us? Could we ensure a safe and worthwhile coexistence with such machines?

On the plus side, AI is already useful and profitable for many things, and super AI might be expected to be super useful, and super profitable. But the more powerful AI becomes, the more we ask it to do for us, the more important it will be to specify its goals with great care. Folklore is full of tales of people who ask for the wrong thing, with disastrous consequences – King Midas, for example, who didn’t really want his breakfast to turn to gold as he put it to his lips.

So we need to make sure that powerful AI machines are ‘human-friendly’ – that they have goals reliably aligned with our own values. One thing that makes this task difficult is that by the standards we want the machines to aim for, we ourselves do rather poorly. Humans are far from reliably human-friendly. We do many terrible things to each other and to many other sentient creatures with whom we share the planet. If superintelligent machines don’t do a lot better than us, we’ll be in deep trouble. We’ll have powerful new intelligence amplifying the dark sides of our own fallible natures.

For safety’s sake, then, we want the machines to be ethically as well as cognitively superhuman. We want them to aim for the moral high ground, not for the troughs in which many of us spend some of our time. Luckily they’ll have the smarts for the job. If there are routes to the uplands, they’ll be better than us at finding them, and steering us in the right direction. They might be our guides to a much better world.

However, there are two big problems with this utopian vision. One is how we get the machines started on the journey, the other is what it would mean to reach this destination. The ‘getting started’ problem is that we need to tell the machines what they’re looking for with sufficient clarity and precision that we can be confident that they will find it – whatever ‘it’ actually turns out to be. This is a daunting challenge, given that we are confused and conflicted about the ideals ourselves, and different communities might have different views.

The ‘destination’ problem is that, in putting ourselves in the hands of these moral guides and gatekeepers, we might be sacrificing our own autonomy – an important part of what makes us human.

Just to focus on one aspect of these difficulties, we are deeply tribal creatures. We find it very easy to ignore the suffering of strangers, and even to contribute to it, at least indirectly. For our own sakes, we should hope that AI will do better. It is not just that we might find ourselves at the mercy of some other tribe’s AI, but that we could not trust our own, if we had taught it that not all suffering matters. This means that as tribal and morally fallible creatures, we need to point the machines in the direction of something better. How do we do that? That’s the getting started problem.

As for the destination problem, suppose that we succeed. Machines who are better than us at sticking to the moral high ground may be expected to discourage some of the lapses we presently take for granted. We might lose our freedom to discriminate in favour of our own tribes, for example.

Loss of freedom to behave badly isn’t always a bad thing, of course: denying ourselves the freedom to keep slaves, or to put children to work in factories, or to smoke in restaurants are signs of progress. But are we ready for ethical overlords – sanctimonious silicon curtailing our options? They might be so good at doing it that we don’t notice the fences; but is this the future we want, a life in a well-curated moral zoo?

These issues might seem far-fetched, but they are already on our doorsteps. Imagine we want an AI to handle resource allocation decisions in our health system, for example. It might do so much more fairly and efficiently than humans can manage, with benefits for patients and taxpayers. But we’d need to specify its goals correctly (e.g. to avoid discriminatory practices), and we’d be depriving some humans (e.g. senior doctors) of some of the discretion they presently enjoy. So we already face the getting started and destination problems. And they are only going to get harder.

This isn’t the first time that a powerful new technology has had moral implications. Speaking about the dangers of thermonuclear weapons in 1954, Bertrand Russell argued that to avoid wiping ourselves out “we have to learn to think in a new way”. He urged his listener to set aside tribal allegiances and “consider yourself only as a member of a biological species... whose disappearance none of us can desire.”

We have survived the nuclear risk so far, but now we have a new powerful technology to deal with – itself, literally, a new way of thinking. For our own safety, we need to point these new thinkers in the right direction, and get them to act well for us. It is not yet clear whether this is possible, but if so it will require the same cooperative spirit, the same willingness to set aside tribalism, that Russell had in mind.

But that’s where the parallel stops. Avoiding nuclear war means business as usual. Getting the long-term future of life with AI right means a very different world. Both general intelligence and moral reasoning are often thought to be uniquely human capacities. But safety seems to require that we think of them as a package: if we are to give general intelligence to machines, we’ll need to give them moral authority, too. That means a radical end to human exceptionalism. All the more reason to think about the destination now, and to be careful about what we wish for.

Inset image: read more about our AI research in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

Professor Huw Price and Dr Karina Vold are at the Faculty of Philosophy and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, where they work on 'Agents and persons'. This theme explores the nature and future of AI agency and personhood, and our impact on our human sense on what it means to be a person.

Powerful AI needs to be reliably aligned with human values. Does this mean that AI will eventually have to police those values? Cambridge philosophers Huw Price and Karina Vold consider the trade-off between safety and autonomy in the era of superintelligence.

For safety’s sake, we want the machines to be ethically as well as cognitively superhuman. We want them to aim for the moral high ground, not for the troughs in which many of us spend some of our time
Huw Price and Karina Vold

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Yes

In tech we trust?

By lw355 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 23, 2018.

Dr Jat Singh is familiar with breaking new ground and working across disciplines. Even so, he and colleagues were pleasantly surprised by how much enthusiasm has greeted their new Strategic Research Initiative on Trustworthy Technologies, which brings together science, technology and humanities researchers from across the University.

In fact, Singh, a researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology, has been collaborating with lawyers for several years: “A legal perspective is paramount when you’re researching the technical dimensions to compliance, accountability and trust in emerging ICT; although the Computer Lab is not the usual home for lawyers, we have two joining soon.”

Governance and public trust present some of the greatest challenges in technology today. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force this year, has brought forward debates such as whether individuals have a ‘right to an explanation’ regarding decisions made by machines, and introduces stiff penalties for breaching data protection rules. “With penalties including fines of up to 4% of global turnover or €20 million, people are realising that they need to take data protection much more seriously,” he says.

Singh is particularly interested in how data-driven systems and algorithms – including machine learning – will soon underpin and automate everything from transport networks to council services.

As we work, shop and travel, computers and mobile phones already collect, transmit and process much data about us; as the ‘Internet of Things’ continues to instrument the physical world, machines will increasingly mediate and influence our lives.

It’s a future that raises profound issues of privacy, security, safety and ultimately trust, says Singh, whose research is funded by an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Fellowship: “We work on mechanisms for better transparency, control and agency in systems, so that, for instance, if I give data to someone or something, there are means for ensuring they’re doing the right things with it. We are also active in policy discussions to help better align the worlds of technology and law.”

What it means to trust machine learning systems also concerns Dr Adrian Weller. Before becoming a senior research fellow in the Department of Engineering and a Turing Fellow at The Alan Turing Institute, he spent many years working in trading for leading investment banks and hedge funds, and has seen first-hand how machine learning is changing the way we live and work.

“Not long ago, many markets were traded on exchanges by people in pits screaming and yelling,” Weller recalls. “Today, most market making and order matching is handled by computers. Automated algorithms can typically provide tighter, more responsive markets – and liquid markets are good for society.”

But cutting humans out of the loop can have unintended consequences, as the flash crash of 2010 shows. During 36 minutes on 6 May, nearly one trillion dollars were wiped off US stock markets as an unusually large sell order produced an emergent coordinated response from automated algorithms. “The flash crash was an important example illustrating that over time, as we have more AI agents operating in the real world, they may interact in ways that are hard to predict,” he says.

Algorithms are also beginning to be involved in critical decisions about our lives and liberty. In medicine, machine learning is helping diagnose diseases such as cancer and diabetic retinopathy; in US courts, algorithms are used to inform decisions about bail, sentencing and parole; and on social media and the web, our personal data and browsing history shape the news stories and advertisements we see.

How much we trust the ‘black box’ of machine learning systems, both as individuals and society, is clearly important. “There are settings, such as criminal justice, where we need to be able to ask why a system arrived at its conclusion – to check that appropriate process was followed, and to enable meaningful challenge,” says Weller. “Equally, to have effective real-world deployment of algorithmic systems, people will have to trust them.”

But even if we can lift the lid on these black boxes, how do we interpret what’s going on inside? “There are many kinds of transparency,” he explains. “A user contesting a decision needs a different kind of transparency to a developer who wants to debug a system. And a third form of transparency might be needed to ensure a system is accountable if something goes wrong, for example an accident involving a driverless car.”

If we can make them trustworthy and transparent, how can we ensure that algorithms do not discriminate unfairly against particular groups? While it might be useful for Google to advertise products it ‘thinks’ we are most likely to buy, it is more disquieting to discover the assumptions it makes based on our name or postcode.

When Latanya Sweeney, Professor of Government and Technology in Residence at Harvard University, tried to track down one of her academic papers by Googling her name, she was shocked to be presented with ads suggesting that she had been arrested. After much research, she discovered that “black-sounding” names were 25% more likely to result in the delivery of this kind of advertising.

Like Sweeney, Weller is both disturbed and intrigued by examples of machine-learned discrimination. “It’s a worry,” he acknowledges. “And people sometimes stop there – they assume it’s a case of garbage in, garbage out, end of story. In fact, it’s just the beginning, because we’re developing techniques that can automatically detect and remove some forms of bias.”

Transparency, reliability and trustworthiness are at the core of Weller’s work at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and The Alan Turing Institute. His project grapples with how to make machine-learning decisions interpretable, develop new ways to ensure that AI systems perform well in real-world settings, and examine whether empathy is possible – or desirable – in AI.

Machine learning systems are here to stay. Whether they are a force for good rather than a source of division and discrimination depends partly on researchers such as Singh and Weller. The stakes are high, but so are the opportunities. Universities have a vital role to play, both as critic and conscience of society. Academics can help society imagine what lies ahead and decide what we want from machine learning – and what it would be wise to guard against.

Weller believes the future of work is a huge issue: “Many jobs will be substantially altered if not replaced by machines in coming decades. We need to think about how to deal with these big changes.”And academics must keep talking as well as thinking. “We’re grappling with pressing and important issues,” he concludes. “As technical experts we need to engage with society and talk about what we’re doing so that policy makers can try to work towards policy that’s technically and legally sensible.”

Inset image: read more about our AI research in the University's research magazine; download a pdf; view on Issuu.

Fairness, trust and transparency are qualities we usually associate with organisations or individuals. Today, these attributes might also apply to algorithms. As machine learning systems become more complex and pervasive, Cambridge researchers believe it’s time for new thinking about new technology.

With penalties including fines of up to €20 million, people are realising that they need to take data protection much more seriously
Jat Singh
Want to hear more?

Join us at the Cambridge Science Festival to hear Adrian Weller discuss how we can ensure AI systems are transparent, reliable and trustworthy. 

Thursday 15 March 2018, 7:30pm - 8:30pm

Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, 8 Mill Lane, Cambridge, UK, CB2 1RW

BOOK HERE

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Yes

International experts sound the alarm on the malicious use of AI in unique report

By sjr81 from University of Cambridge - School of Arts and Humanities. Published on Feb 21, 2018.

Twenty-six experts on the security implications of emerging technologies have jointly authored a ground-breaking report – sounding the alarm about the potential malicious use of artificial intelligence (AI) by rogue states, criminals, and terrorists.

For many decades hype outstripped fact in terms of AI and machine learning. No longer.
Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh

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Yes