Science, truth… and some career options
Science and truth was among the ideas discussed at Saastrajnarkoppam, an interaction between eminent scientists and students, at University College on Saturday noon.
The open session was vibrant, albeit short, and provided much food for thought for those aspiring to make their careers in science and research. Organised by the Kerala State Youth Commission on the sidelines of the Kerala Loka Sabha and as part of the National Youth Day celebrations, the interaction threw up interesting questions on pushing back the frontiers of science and what lay in store ahead. The panelists were scientists from the State who have made a name for themselves on distant shores.
To a student’s query whether developments in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) posed some kind of a threat, Prahlad Vadakkeppatt, Associate Professor, National University of Singapore, said robots could be used to provide solutions to a number of problems faced by man. Digital labour was a critical area where artificial intelligence was being used. He said he did not believe that AI held any threat as we were using only 10 per cent of the brain, and it provided endless possibilities.
Any effort to recreate anything that was a result of natural extinction was unnecessary, Sathyabhama Das Biju, Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Delh, said. Nature conservation, however, could be done artificially to produce progeny and reintroduce it into the habitat, though it carried a risk.
Asked about efforts on water purification, Pradeep Thalappil of the Department of Chemistry, IIT, Madras, said technology developed by them had been used to provide drinking water to around 8 million people. It helped remove contaminants and salinity in ground water. They were also working on new technologies such as creating water from air, Prof. Thalappil said, speaking about the endless possibilities that chemistry offered.
On democratisation of education, A.M. Mathai, Emeritus Professor, Mathematics and Statistics, McGill University, called for resuming undergraduate mathematics training programme for undergraduate students in the State that had been discontinued by the government owing to lack of funding. Strong foundations were important, and the programme was filling the gap. Such opportunities should be available to those who are interested, Prof. Mathai, who is also Director of the Centre for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, he said.
With fake news and fake history gaining ground, it was important that people accept Karl Popper’s principal that if there was a theory, one assumed it was false. And only when it was proved by a whole lot of evidence that it was not false, should one accept it, George Geevarghese Joseph of the School of Education (Mathematics Education), University of Manchester, U.K., said. “All students should be taught scientific reasoning,” said Prof. Joseph, who authored ‘A Passage to Infinity: Medieval Indian Mathematics from Kerala and Its Impact.’
Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, journalist, who moderated the discussion, spoke about ‘post-truth’ where truth was determined by subjective views.
Referring to the truth maintenance system in computer science, Prof. Vadakkeppatt said as per the system whatever we knew till a point of time was truth and whatever we continued to learn would result in maintenance of that truth. So, there was no absolute truth, and one should be ready to learn more to maintain the truth.
Youth Commission chairperson Chintha Jerome presided over the interaction.