Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Empathy and Computers

I know that my blog post title seems odd but it relates to two DIFFERENT lectures that I saw within the past week at Stanford on very different, but fascinating, topics. Last Tuesday, I went and hear Frans de Wall speak about Empathy in Animals. I loved his book- The Age of Empathy- and the talk was even better because he showed actual video clips of the reactions to the animals. It was incredible to see a monkey get upset because another monkey got a grape when he only got a cucumber. It was also touching to see a herd of elephants rally together to help free a baby who was trapped in the mud. As he said in his question and answer that the findings from these studies only apply to primates and other mammals but I think that you can reasonably extrapolate that we have more in common with other living organisms. The lecture is sponsored by the parents of a former Stanford undergrad who loved human biology and taught science to inner city youth but tragically passed on prematurely. I thought that this was a great tribute to her, as there was a large group of high school students that also attended the lecture. This trip reminded me just how much I LOVE

Last night, since William was out of town, I went to another lecture at Stanford by Kevin Poulsen about his book Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion Dollar Cyber Crime Underground. It turns out that Kevin Poulsen is a "rehabilitated" hacker who in the 1980s managed to hack into the telephone systems so that he would be the first caller for radio giveaways. He went to prison for several years and for the past decade has been a journalist. To me, it was fascinating to hear about how this one guy managed to hack into the "Ebay" of credit card fraud and how he was ultimately caught by the FBI. I haven't read the book yet but it sounds fascinating and at the same time, slightly frightening about how technology dramatically improves our lives yet still leaves potentially vulnerable victims of crime. I am trying to fit in all of the lectures and night time activities that I can in the next few weeks because I am sure that I probably won't have much time to do that after my class starts on March 29th.

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