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The Power of Connections

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 16 June 2012

On the Forum this week, we explore connections: Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Thomas Friedman argues that the best way for the USA to overcome its present economic difficulties is to re-define its ties with the rest of the world and re-think its educational policy. British economist Paul Ormerod believes that we need to combine standard economic analysis with the psychology of crowds if we want to understand how people in 21st century make decisions. And Korean-American neuroscientist Sebastian Seung has begun a pioneering project to map every single neural connection in our brains, all the many billions of them.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: connections within our brain and across the world.


4 items
  • Thomas Friedman

    Thomas Friedman

    A recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes, Thomas Friedman is an internationally renowned author, reporter, and New York Times columnist. He argues that one consequence of the recent merger between globalisation and the IT revolution is that we all need to be much better educated: the age of average is over. On the other hand, anyone with an internet connection now has access to some of the best courses from top American universities.

    Friedman and Mandelbaum: That Used to Be Us
  • Paul Ormerod

    Paul Ormerod

    Economist Paul Ormerod studies networks, the many ways in which people, companies and things are connected to each other. One area of his research focuses on the influence which people around us exert when we make economic and social decisions: we seem much more likely to copy what others do rather than objectively weigh up the pros and cons of individual products or actions. So is it time governments used networks of influencers, instead of tax incentives, when they want us to change our preferences?

    Ormerod: Positive Linking
  • Sebastian Seung

    Sebastian Seung

    Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT, Sebastian Seung
    wants to map the neurons in our brains, all 100 billion of them, plus all their connections. This might provide precise foundation for understanding not just mental disorders such as schizophrenia but also what makes each person unique. However, the amount of data this would generate greatly exceeds our current computing capabilities, and analyzing the images from even small areas of brain could take thousands of man-hours: can citizen science help here?

    Seung: Connectome

    Paul Ormerod says that for the next five years, all Western central banks and economic ministries should be banned from employing any economists. In the 1950s and 60s, the UK government employed just six economists. From 1997 to the present, there have been hundreds of economists on the combined UK government and central bank payroll. Arguably, the last 15 years have been the worst in terms of UK's economic performance, while the 1950s and 60s were the best...

  • In Next Week’s Programme:

    We celebrate the centenary of the father of computing Alan Turing by examining the shifting boundary between man and machine. With reCaptcha inventor Luis von Ahn, robotics expert Manuela Veloso and sci-fi scholar Peter Swirski.



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