My guest in this edition of the After On podcast is British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. And just to state the obvious? Astronomer Royal is such a cool title. And it's just one of a long list of positions and honors that Sir Martin has earned over his five decade career in astrophysics.
That said, most of today's conversation is not about the stars. It's mostly about how we could possibly survive this century in the face of multiple "existential risks." Along with Bill Joy (who wrote a highly influential Wired cover story on the topic), Sir Martin helped kickstart this urgent conversation back in 2003, with the release of his amazing book Our Final Century? (which had the more breathless title Our Final Hour in the US).
You can hear our full conversation by clicking below:
Despite the interview's main thrust, I couldn't help to ask Sir Martin about two really cool deep space topics. Toward the start of the interview, we discuss the most violent events that have occurred in the universe since the big bang itself – roughly one of which detonates with ZERO warning somewhere in the observable universe, daily. It's crazy, and fascinating stuff.
Then toward the end of the interview, we discuss a truly eerie phenomenon called fast radio bursts (FRBs). These are intensely strong radio wave sources with utterly mysterious origins. And while this will sound breathless, it's not out of the question that advanced extraterrestrials could be causing them. Now – astronomers have discovered across many mysterious celestial phenomena in the past, which now have well-understood natural explanations. The classic case is a phenomenon called pulsars (worth Googling if you're interested)
But scientists have been puzzled by these FRBs for about about a decade, now. Whereas pulsars took about a year to figure out. And was using 1960s technology! So FRBs are … awfully strange. Now to be clear, Martin himself by no means advocates that aliens are causing them. But as the years continue to tick by without an explanation, the eeriness will grow.
If you enjoy this conversation, you might have fun checking out other episodes of my show. My full archive can be found on my site, or via your favorite podcast app by searching under the words "After On. There, you'll find deep-dive interviews with other world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists – tackling subjects including synthetic biology, cryptocurrency, astrophysics, drones, genomics, neuroscience, consciousness, privacy & government hacking, and a whole lot more.