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The ACIT Science Podcast

The ACIT Science Podcast

By Manuel Brenner
The podcast of the Association for Critical and Interdisciplinary Thinking (ACIT). Join our mailing list to keep up to date with everything important (one mail per month, no spamming!):

This podcast is to provide a glimpse into the life of scientists: to learn about the ideas they are passionate about, to find out what gets them out of bed every day to face the challenges and frustrations of working at the frontier to the unknown, and to share in some of the most important lessons they have learned in their career.
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#17: The Mathematics of Deep Learning with Julius Berner
In this episode, host Manuel Brenner is joined by Julius Berner. Julius is a PhD Student at University of Vienna, where his research focuses on the mathematical analysis of deep learning at the intersection of approximation theory, statistical learning theory, and optimization. We begin by talking about deep learning and its relationship to machine learning and artificial intelligence. We then delve deeper into the mathematical theory behind deep learning, distinguishing between approximation, generalization and optimization, and discuss some of the most important results and insights of recent years. We talk about scientific machine learning and how mathematics, computer science and physics can come together, Julius' research in partial differential equations, and how neural networks can help solve them. We close by discussing a typical research day, the difference between working theoretically and practically, what motivates research on a daily basis, the importance of not knowing where things are going, how you come up with ideas through geometric intuition, and Julius' favorite books.
August 1, 2021
#16: The Origins of Computer Science & Verifying Code With Logic with Marcel Moosbrugger
In this episode, we are joined by Marcel Moosbrugger, computer science PhD Candidate at Vienna University of Technology. We talk about getting into coding and computer science, the advantages of being a researcher in computer science and implementing ideas quickly, the foundations of computing and mathematics, Gödel incompleteness, the halting problem and how it connects to free will and determinism, Marcel's work on the halting of probabilistic programs and its relationship to debugging, how formal methods are becoming increasingly important in making industrial applications like the Amazon Web Services smart contracts more secure, and how industry in science are working closely together on the frontier of AI. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
June 13, 2021
#15: Intelligence, Games and AlphaGo
Today's guest is Thore Graepel, research group leader at Google Deep Mind and Chair of Machine Learning at University College London. We talk about intelligence, Thore's interest in games and what makes them so important for AI research, game theory and social dilemmas, the importance of seeing intelligence from a multi-agent perspective, the spectacular story behind AlphaGo, how self learning AI has changed chess and Go, how human creativity can be inspired by artificial creativity, predicting personality from Facebook data, the risks of AI, Thore's favorite books, and much more.  The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
May 20, 2021
#14: Time Limitations & Criminal Law with Driek Deferme
Driek Deferme is a law PhD student at KU Leuven, investigating the role of time limitations in civil and criminal law. We talk about the origins of the law, the importance of time limitations, the role of evidence, the recent abolishment of time limitations around sexual abuse of minors, the moral values of our societies, criminal law and civil law, and the different responsibilities of legislators and judges. We discuss the daily life of a law PhD student, the upsides and downsides of doing a PhD and research in general, and we close by discussing our favourite books.
April 25, 2021
#13: Business, Biases, And How To Shape A Career with Benjamin Bargetzi
Today we are joined by Benjamin Bargetzi, Senior Account Manager at Google, psychologist, neuroscientist, and president and founder of ACIT. We talk about Ben's career, his decision to go into the business world despite his passion for academia, what lessons he has learned in his successful career, what the differences between business and academia are, and what the two might learn from each other. We then go into the overlap between business and psychology, what psychology can teach us about ourselves and our biases, how biases relate to the free-energy principle, and how the free-energy principle in turn might relate to dopamine. We talk about philosophy, the influence and potential pitfalls of Friedrich Nietzsche, and the usefulness of engaging both in philosophy and science. Finally, we talk about the history of ACIT, its vision, and ways to participate in ACIT. If you are interested in joining us, contact us through our website or reach out to us on LinkedIn. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
April 6, 2021
#12: The Brain From Inside Out with Györgi Buzsaki
In this episode, we are joined by Györgi Buzsaki, Biggs Professor of Neuroscience at NYU. Györgi Buzsaki is one of the most respected neuroscientists working today, and his influential work on memory, sleep, neural syntax, and many other things, has been cited over 100 000 times.  He has also authored two fascinating books called "Rhythms in the Brain" and "The Brain from Inside Out", both of which are aimed at a neuroscientific, but also more general audience. We talk about the inside-out perspective to the brain, brain rhythms, the importance of oscillations, what neurons see (and don't see), how everything in the brain scales logarithmically, neural diversity, the key features of potential artificial brains, how AI could be inspired by neuroscience, and many more things.  The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
March 16, 2021
#11: Education and the Challenges of the Pandemic with Will Millard
In this episode, we are joined by Will Millard. Will has two Masters degrees in public policy and is now working on implementing several research projects for the London-based think-tank Centre for Education and Youth CFEY (  We talk about Will's motivation, the importance of education in general, different educational philosophies and the political dimensions of how they shape public policy, systemic problems in the education system, the big challenges schools face during the pandemic, merits and downsides of remote learning, and a outlook on how schools in the future might look like. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
March 1, 2021
#10: Teaching Robots to Act in the Future with Corrado Pezzato
In this episode, we are joined by Corrado Pezzato, Ph.D. candidate in self-adaptive robot architectures at TU Delft in the Netherlands. We talk about teaching robots to plan for the future, the uncertainty of the world, behavior trees, the free energy principle, connections between neuroscience and robotics, information seeking, habits, the future of robotics, the dangers of AI, exploration and exploitation, what it means to be a scientist, and many other things. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
February 19, 2021
#9: Drug Prevention, Psychedelics and the MIND Foundation with Marvin Däumichen
In this episode, we are talking with Marvin Däumichen, director of research and knowledge transfer for the MIND foundation, and Ph.D. candidate studying sociological implications of cannabis discourse on digital media. We begin by chatting about the role online spaces play in shaping discourse around cannabis, the way state actors and educators need to take this into account, and what role drugs play in the development of values like personal responsibility. This episode then connects to our previous episode on psychedelics with Moad ab del Hay and delves deeper into the current state of psychedelic science, with a focus on the work the MIND foundation is doing in advancing the scientific context for therapeutic use and the enculturation of psychedelics. You can find out more about the MIND foundation under The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
January 4, 2021
#8.2: Challenges and Opportunities of Psychedelic Research with Moad Abd El Hay
This is part 2 of our conversation with Moad Abd El Hay. Moad is a neuroscientist Ph.D. student at the Excellence Cluster CellNetworks in Heidelberg and founder of the UniMind network, a Europe wide initiative that organizes journal clubs on the scientific study of psychedelic substances at universities. The second part of our conversation is relatively self-contained, and serves as an introduction to the topic of scientific research into psychedelic substances, from its history and its challenges to its potential, some of which is realized in what has been coined the "psychedelic renaissance". The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner
December 14, 2020
#8.1: Can you Feel the Heat? - Temperature Perception and the Problems of Modern Science with Moad Abd El Hay
This is part one of our conversation with Moad Abd El Hay, neuroscientist PhD student at the Excellence Cluster CellNetworks in Heidelberg and founder of the UniMind network, a Europe wide initiative that organizes journal clubs on the scientific study of psychedelic substances (psychedelic research will be adressed in part 2 of our conversation). We explore Moad's work on temperature perception from a biochemical perspective, talk about why it is important for neuroscientists to start by studying simple systems, how heat receptors work and why they makes chilli peppers taste hot and menthol taste cold. In the second half of the conversation we talk about some of the most pressing problems of modern science. We address the constant pressure to medicalize research, and how this interferes with foundational research. We talk about the problematic incentive structures in a broken publication system, power politics, and the lack of education in statistics, leading to p-hacking, small sample sizes and negligence of multiple comparisons. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
December 14, 2020
#7: The Rise of Computational Propaganda with Marcel Schliebs
In this episode of the ACIT Science Podcast, we are talking with Marcel Schliebs, who is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Political Data Science at the Oxford Internet Institute, working in the context of the Computational Propaganda Project. We are discussing the influence of foreign actors in the 2016 and 2020 elections in the US and the spread of misinformation around the current Covid crisis. We talk about the rise of computational propaganda, which actors are involved, who is targeted (from the Western liberal democracies to the respective regime's political opponents), and what incentives bad actors might have for spreading fake news. We talk about how technologies have transformed the ease with which misinformation is sown, how deep fake media might exacerbate the problem in the near future, and what steps the big tech companies, intelligence agencies, and governments can take and are taking against this. We talk about the challenges of a data-driven approach to inferring causalities in the complex landscape of computational propaganda, and about Marcel's future research topics. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
December 6, 2020
#6: Gangsta Rap, Fart Jokes and Existentialism - The Power of Taboo Breaking with Sven Bloching
In this episode, we are joined by Linguistics PhD candidate Sven Bloching from the University of Heidelberg. We talk about the psychological, philosophical and linguistic perspectives on taboos, how they relate to humor, why taboos and their respective breaking plays such a special role in our societies and subcultures, and how thinking about the importance of taboo breakings can help us understand dramatic misunderstandings within our societies. We discuss how changes in the role the work of art plays in our societies has re-defined some elements of taboo breakings, how we tend to confuse the signifier and the signified, how the euphemistic treadmill keeps on introducing new taboo words, and how taboo breaking in politics relates to populism. We chat about humor, the place of the jester and the carnival medieval societies and the connections to Marxism and class relationships. We end by discussing the role of humor from an existentialist perspective, linguistics and Noam Chomsky, and the overemphasis that is often put on the role language plays in constituting reality. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
November 14, 2020
#5: Artificial Intelligence, Neuroscience and Free Energy with Charel van Hoof
In this episode, we are speaking with Charel van Hoof, former Senior Vice President and CIO at Philips and now PhD candidate in Artificial Intelligence & Robotics at the Delft Technical University, about the relationships between AI research and neuroscience. We talk about what intelligence is, getting into Karl Friston's free energy principle, discussing how it relates to brain function and how it could shape AI of the future. We delve into the connections between AI and robotics, spatial approaches to intelligence, and an evolutionary perspective on how our minds could have emerged. We close by chatting about the future of AI, the moral responsibilities of AI researchers, and advice for people wanting to get started with AI research. Charel's Kaggle notebooks that offer a great hands-on introduction to the free energy principle can be found: " The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
November 7, 2020
#4: Data Science meets Philosophy: Exploring how Human Rights Should Shape Our Online Lives with Travis Greene
In this episode, we are talking to Ph.D. candidate Travis Greene from the Institute of Service Science in Taipei, Taiwan, about the philosophical, ethical, and judicial implications of modern data science, machine learning algorithms, and recommender systems. We talk about the ethical responsibilities of individual data scientists, a wider perspective on the role of behavioral big data in our societies, and the moral dilemma associated with building potentially harmful algorithms. We discuss the difference between American and European approaches to data privacy and protection, the GDPR, the recent court rulings around Privacy Shield by the European Court of Justice, how we could shape online rights around ideas of building our own narrative online, how recommender systems of the future should take ideas around human well-being and flourishing into account, and how they are related to religions in giving us closure in complex information environments. We end the conversation by talking about how scientific work prospers from personal contact, conferences, and collaborations. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
October 23, 2020
#3: From Turbulent Winds to Orbital Changes - Getting Climate Change Right with Beatrice Ellerhoff
In this episode, we are joined by Beatrice Ellerhoff, a Ph.D. student in  climate physics at the Institute for Environmental Physics in  Heidelberg. We talk about her work in analyzing long term climate variations going thousands of years back, the different time scales involved in the climate, and why it is so important to understand them in order to predict future variance of the climate. We talk about Beatrice's book "Mit Quanten rechnen" about quantum computing that she recently released in collaboration with Springer, and her work with the science communication platform "Many-Body Physics“. We chat about why changing fields can be helpful and fun, how theoretical methods from completely different fields can resurface in current research, how jazz music relates to science (and also does not), and what the most interesting scientific question being pursued at the moment is. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
October 16, 2020
#2: Genes, Legos, and Viruses with Niklas Freund
For our second episode, we are joined by Cambridge-based biochemistry Ph.D. candidate Niklas Freund. We talk about the nuts and bolts of the genetic machinery at the heart of all living systems, about different layers of conceptualizing DNA, from the chemical to the biochemical to the biological, learn about the field of synthetic biology and the attempts to construct DNA with novel chemical ingredients like Xeno nucleic acids, and hear how researchers like Niklas are trying to teach polymerase to work for them based on fascinating, Nobel-prize winning lab techniques like directed evolution. We address the current COVID crisis, what role PCR tests play in it, how genetics could shape medicine of the future, and what there is to fear and look forward to. We close by talking about what makes science so great and what makes it so difficult, the passion and emotion that young scientists should bring to the game, and what important lessons can be learned along the way.
September 27, 2020
#1: Quantum Computing with Ella Crane and Alexander Schuckert
In this episode, we are joined by Ella Crane and Alexander Schuckert, both of who are currently pursuing their PhDs in the fields of quantum computing and quantum simulation. We get into the basics of quantum computing, the differences between quantum computers, quantum simulators, and classical computers, the potentially most useful applications of quantum simulators such as high-temperature superconductors and quantum chemistry, open-source packages such as IBMs Qiskit, the interaction between industry and universities, the pursuit of what is most interesting vs. the pursuit of what is most useful, and the most fascinating open questions that science has to offer. The podcast is hosted by Manuel Brenner.
September 25, 2020