6 thoughts on “A broad-ranging talk with James Burke”

  1. James Burke is a living legend. Or, as he put it, “No-one under the age of fifty has heard of me and everyone over the age of fifty thinks I’m dead.”

    He is a science historian, an author, and a television presenter. But calling James Burke a television presenter is like calling Mozart a busker. His 1978 series Connections and his 1985 series The Day The Universe Changed remain unparalleled pieces of television brilliance covering the history of science and technology.

    Before making those astounding shows, he worked on Tomorrow’s World and went on to become the BBC’s chief reporter on the Apollo Moon missions.

    His books include The Pinball Effect, The Knowledge Web, Twin Tracks and Circles.


  2. He says his forecast that will come to pass soonest is the nanofabricator, a tiny machine that can build anything you wish for, molecule by molecule, free of charge. “The very first simple version of it will come in about five years, but it will move fast because nanofabricators will make themselves.”

    The breakthrough whose arrival will take the longest is the supercomputer.

    “But when it does, look out! It is the one that’s going to go so fast we’re going to be hanging on to keep up.” He anticipates that within 10 years, AI will bring about change 50 times faster than it is today. “And we’ve got to get a grip on it early on, and, if necessary, deliberately limit what it can do.”

    This all fills me with more dread than hope. But Burke – more than twice my age – has nothing but buoyant optimism. “Well, you have a choice – dread, you jump off the bridge. I don’t intend to jump off the bridge.

    “The thing about technology and science is there is an answer if you can find it. And if you don’t find it, it’s your fault for not looking hard enough.

    “I am profoundly respectful of the gigantic thing between our ears. And we use a very, very small amount of it to do what we do at the moment. I’m positive about science and technology because I’m positive about our ability to deal with it. As I say, if you don’t, jump off the bridge.”

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