Described as the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival has always been a sumptuous feast of ideas. To be held from January 24rd to January 28th, the annual festival will be back with a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports-persons and entertainers who will converge to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate on an array of topics. The 2019 edition has a special emphasis on science, genetics, astronomy and astrophysics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and what the future holds for the planet.
The Festival’s Keynote Address: The Role of Science in Today’s World will be delivered by Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan who will also be in the session Gene Machine and the Culture of Science which will focus on his scientific voyage, and the human side of science, including blunders, egos, competition and collaboration. A British-American structural biologist of Indian origin, Ramakrishnan is also currently the President of the Royal Society. His recent book, Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome, is about the quest to understand the enigmatic molecule, the ribosome, that decodes genetic information to create life.
In a riveting session Genes: Blue Print, Not Destiny, medical doctor, scientist, social entrepreneur, and storyteller Sharad Paul tells us how to take charge of our health by understanding the connection between our evolutionary past and our future well-being. Presenting a compelling blend of medical mysteries, patient stories, and science, Dr. Paul, explains his approach to wellness, memory retention and overall longevity.
Another session Ancient DNA: Who We Are and How We Got Here chaired by writer and journalist Tony Joseph, brings together two of the most highly regarded paleoanthropologists and geneticists of our age – Daniel Lieberman and David Reich. The DNA is the essence of our being, influencing who we are and what we pass on to our children. While Reich tells the story of Who We Are and How We Got Here, Lieberman speaks of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. Together, they discuss the how all living populations today are a mix of our ancient predecessors and often carry a genetic component from archaic humans.
In a fascinating and engrossing session, Mapping the Heavens, introduced by Veena Venugopal, renowned astrophysicist and Professor at Yale Priyamvada Natarajan will give an insight into the nature of our universe. She will take us in her characteristic and charismatic way on a tour of the ‘greatest hits’ of cosmological discoveries over the past century.
While science is extremely pragmatic in nature, it finds inspiration from our imagination more often than not. And where better to look for imagination than in our stories? Poet and novelist Priya Sarukkai Chabria and author and civil servant Sadhna Shanker will be in conversation with independent international publishing consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose in Post Human: Sci-fi Readings to engage in some prophetic and rational crystal-gazing by two prominent women writers whose speculative fiction hurtles us into the future millennia.
Speaking of imagination, experts suggest that by 2062, we will have built machines as intelligent as us. Professor of Data Journalism Meredith Broussard and Professor of Artificial Intelligence Toby Walsh will get into an intriguing conversation on this topic with poet and literary journalist Anupama Raju. In The Future is Now, the trio will discuss whether we are sleepwalking into the AI future, how it will evolve and the choices we need to make to ensure that we remain in control of our own narrative. While Broussard is the author of Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World, Walsh has penned 2062: The World that AI Made and Android Dreams: The Past, Present and Future of Artificial Intelligence, among others.
With technology so smart you can order anything and everything under the sun at the swipe of a finger. Ideally, we should be having the time of our lives at this point in history. But still we’re not happy. American actress, mental health campaigner, lecturer, and author Ruby Wax will take up this pressing issue with Indian author Jerry Pinto in the session on How to Be Human. They will deep-dive into the subject of mental health in the tech-age and speak about the need to upgrade our minds as much as we’ve upgraded our iPhones.
The well-timed session Cellphone Nation has authors Assa Doron, Ravi Agrawal and Robin Jeffrey in a gripping interaction with Barkha Dutt to lead us into the heart of the transformative effect of mobile phone technology and the resultant changes it has brought about across every layer of Indian society.
Also in discussion is the internet and how it has changed our world in ways that it wasn’t envisioned for, paving the way for an anti-democratic revolution that now seems to threaten our entire human civilization. With the global wave of anti-democratic right-wing populations, the Silicon Valley companies have to ask themselves what role they have had in this development. Martin Gelin and Karin Pettersson have visited America’s leading tech companies – Facebook, Google, Twitter – and interviewed leading experts in the US media, democracy and new technology debate, from Cambridge to Palo Alto, to gain a deeper understanding of the enormous challenges that await us now. In conversation with Mihir Sharma in Internet is Broken, they address the crucial questions of how Internet and social media tools can be used to promote democracy?
For over a decade, the five-day Festival has hosted nearly 2000 speakers and welcomed over a million book-lovers from across India and the globe. Here’s to yet another year of a literary jamboree set against the backdrop of Rajasthan’s stunning cultural heritage in the pulsating environs of the Diggi Palace Hotel.
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