Today started with a lecture on â€œWhat Computers Tell Us About the Mindâ€. One speaker from the University of Glasgow presented his research on face recognition. He made the interesting point that we experience no difficulty recognising faces we have seen before, but when it comes to unfamiliar faces we find it much harder. He demonstrated this in his lab by giving his subjects a number of different pictures of one person they didnâ€™t know. He asked them to separate the pictures into sets that they thought were of the same person. Some people made as many as 8 plies! He made the point that if we canâ€™t discriminate between pictures of the same person, photographic ID is useless in telling whether the person is who they say they are.
In the afternoon I attended the talk of the Kavali prize winner Sumio Lijima, for his work on nanotubes. These are tubes of single walled sheets of carbon. The prize is given to leading research in the fields of astrophysics, nanotechnology and neuroscience. He outlined the possible implications of his discovery on industry – among them that this material was an excellent conductor and a perfect building material as it is so light and strong. Nanotubs may even hold the cure to cancer so watch this space!
To finish the evening we attended a play funded by the Science Association called â€˜Three Women After the Soul of William Jamesâ€™ which followed a discussion between the young American academic William James on his tour of Europe with three important woman in science of the day. The play highlighted how strange peopleâ€™s interpretation of their world was. One of the characters believed that selective breeding in humans was the way forward to the best race, which made me think we have not moved on as far as we think we have!