Universal Darwinism: A Health Check at Forty

In his ‘Universal Darwinism’ paper of 1983, Richard Dawkins argued that only ‘Darwinian selection’ is ‘in principle capable of doing the job of explaining the existence of adaptive complexity’. The question of whether natural selection should have an explanatory monopoly on adaptation remains a live issue nearly 40 years later. It is, for example, one of several topics under dispute in the context of ongoing calls for an ‘Extended Evolutionary Synthesis’. In this talk I explain the strong appeal of Universal Darwinism, before assessing it using a series of examples from evolutionary biology, cultural evolution, and machine learning. I argue that adaptation always required some interplay between variation and selection, at some point in the history of the adapted system. But it is worth adding discipline to this informally stated position. There are important explanatory differences in how reproductive processes bring about adaptation in organic media, and how other processes bring about adaptation in reconfigurable systems such as neural networks and cultural groups. In short, the position of Universal Darwinism only survives scrutiny if its key claims are understood in hedged, vague or loose ways.

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Life in moving fluids - G I TAYLOR LECTURE

Professor Eric Lauga

  • 18:30 - 19:30 Babbage Lecture Theatre

Research in fluid mechanics has long been motivated by the desire to understand the world around us. Biology, in particular, is dominated by transport problems involving fluids, from the diffusion of nutrients and locomotion to flows around plants and the circulatory system of animals. The biological realm has therefore long been a source of inspiration for fluid mechanicians. 

In the 1950s, driven by the desire to understand the locomotion of spermatozoa, G I Taylor - the founder of modern fluid mechanics whose name is associated with this lecture - was the first to carry out a mathematical analysis of locomotion in a fluid. In the spirit of Taylor, I will highlight in this lecture examples where an analysis of fluid motion has lead to novel understanding of biological processes in the realm of cellular motility. 

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02

Should we automate?

Professor Duncan McFarlane

  • 18:30 - 19:30 Babbage Lecture Theatre

Originally a term used almost exclusively in the industrial domain, automation is now being applied in most aspects of life. Yet the rationale for automating and its implications is often not clearly understood. This talk will explore the origins of automation and examine what is encompassed by the term today. It will explore the rationale, benefits and downsides of automating - including implications for the future workforce - and will attempt to provide some signposting around whether we should automate, and if so when and where. A range of industrial automation developments from more than thirty years experience will be used to support this presentation.

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