iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for 24/01/2011

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player


45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 24 January 2011

Andrew Marr talks to John Gray about our delusional quest for immortality, from Victorian séances to embalming Lenin's corpse to uploading our minds in cyberspace. Equally ambitious has been the quest to create the ultimate living, thinking robot, and the anthropologist Kathleen Richardson assesses how far machines could take over the earth. The science fiction writer Paul McAuley imagines a utopian world in the hostile environs of Jupiter and Saturn, based on a system of favours and patronage. And Dai Smith offers up an alternative history of his native South Wales, which brings together the events, people and writings that have shaped its unique culture.

Producer: Katy Hickman.


    An obsession with the nature of death lies at the heart of the human experience. For most of our history religion has provided a clear explanation for life and the afterlife. But from the late 19th century new scientific ideas encouraged people to believe that their fate was in their own hands. In The Immortalization Commission, John Gray studies our delusional quest for immortality. From Victorian séances to the embalming of Lenin’s corpse to plans to upload our minds into cyberspace, there have been numerous attempts to defeat death, with science as the driving force.

    The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death is published by Allen Lane.

    The Immortalization Commission

    Arthur C Clarke dismissed the idea that science fiction writing was a form of escapism; it’s more “escape into reality… It’s a fiction which does concern itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future.” So how can creating new and alternative societies increase understanding of how we live? The former botanist Paul McAuley writes what’s called ‘hard’ science fiction, equally at home talking about nanotechnology as alternative reality and space travel. He’s taking part in a conference next month which explores how far imaginative fiction can help in the study of international relations. He will explore how the creation of utopian and dystopian worlds by science fiction writers, unconstrained by the restrictions of academia, can help the analysis of present-day social and political issues.

    Paul McAuley will be speaking at the 'Science Fiction and International Orders' event at the LSE on Thursday 17 February.

    Science Fiction and International Orders

    2011 is the 90th anniversary of the robot, first imagined as a character in a play. The Czech word ‘robota’ means ‘compulsory labour’ and Karel ?apek’s androids were created on an assembly line to serve humans. Since then the robot has become an iconic part of modern culture, and huge technological advances have created the possibility that art might become real. In laboratories around the world the robot as purely a machine has transformed into research on robots as carers and companions. The anthropologist Dr Kathleen Richardson studies the implications of the ‘social robot’ and argues that it raises questions about what it means to be human. She also studies the trend of scientists to re-model robots as children, to overcome any fears the public has for a thinking ‘man machine’.

    Kathleen Richardson is giving a talk entitled ‘Will robots take over the world?’ on 24 February at 1.15pm at UCL.

    Will robots take over the world?

    This is a time of much soul-searching in Wales as voters will have the chance at the beginning of March to decide in a referendum whether to increase the powers of the Welsh Assembly and accelerate the pace of devolution. The historian Dai Smith explores the social and cultural history of his native South Wales over the last century. From the Rhondda workers chasing the American dream, to the rioters of Tonypandy, and the tradition of non-conformism in both politics and religion, Dai Smith argues that the collective memory of its people has played a distinctive role in shaping its present-day values. And while in its heyday at the beginning of the twentieth century there was little impetus to promote Welsh identity, he believes there is now a much stronger sense of pride in being Welsh and a growing movement to protect it.

    In the Frame: Memory in Society, Wales 1910 – 2010 is published by Parthian Books.

    In the Frame


Arts & Culture selection

Damian Lewis on reading A Delicate Truth

A selection of highlights from our arts and culture programmes.

Free download

  1. Image for Start the Week

    Start the Week

    Start The Week sets the cultural agenda for the week ahead, with high-profile guests discussing the…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss