Babbage from The Economist


Babbage: How Elon Musk’s satellites could change warfare forever

SpaceX’s Starlink was designed to provide off-grid high-bandwidth internet access to civilians. But the mega-constellation of satellites has become more famous for its role in Ukraine. In 2022, it became vital to the country’s war effort, revealing the military potential of near-ubiquitous communications. Now, with more companies and countries piling in to build their own mega-constellations, a new space race is on.

Shashank Joshi,The Economist’s defence editor, and Tim Cross, our technology and society editor, examine how the satellites have saved Ukraine and changed warfare. Aaron Bateman of George Washington University explores the military history of satellite communications. And Herming Chiueh, Taiwan’s deputy minister for digital affairs, explains why the threat from China has led the island to pursue its own Starlink-like satellite system. Alok Jha hosts.

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Babbage: Is GPT-4 the dawn of true artificial intelligence?

OpenAI's Chat GPT, an advanced chatbot, has taken the world by storm, amassing over 100 million monthly active users and exhibiting unprecedented capabilities. From crafting essays and fiction to designing websites and writing code. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s little it can’t do. Now it’s had an upgrade. GPT-4 has even more incredible abilities, it can take in photos as an input, and deliver smoother, more natural writing to the user. But it also hallucinates, throws up false answers, and remains unable to reference any world events that happened after September 2021.Seeking to get under the hood of the Large Language Model that operates GPT-4, host Alok Jha speaks with Maria Laikata, a professor in Natural Language Processing at Queen Mary’s university in London. We put the technology through its paces with the economist’s tech-guru Ludwig Seigele, and even run it through something like a Turing Test to give an idea of whether it could pass for human-level-intelligence. An Artificial General Intelligence is the ultimate goal of AI research, so how significant will GPT-4 and similar technologies be in the grand scheme of machine intelligence? Not very, suggests Gary Marcus, expert in both AI and human intelligence, though they will impact all of our lives both in good and bad ways. For full access to The Economist’s print, digital and audio editions subscribe at and sign up for our weekly science newsletter at

Babbage: The hopes and fears of human genome editing

The Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing was held this week in London. It was the first such meeting since 2018, when a Chinese researcher announced that he had created the world’s first genetically edited babies—a move that was roundly condemned at the time. Host Alok Jha and Natasha Loder, The Economist’s health editor, report from the conference to explore the exciting future—and knotty challenges—of the world that gene-editing therapies could create.Robin Lovell-Badge, a leading scientist at the Francis Crick Institute in London and the organiser of the summit, explains how genome-editing technology has rapidly advanced in recent years. Claire Booth, a professor of gene therapy and paediatric immunology at Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London discusses the hopes of gene-editing treatments. Plus, Kelly Ormond, a bioethicist from ETH-Zurich, explores the ethical dilemmas that are raised by the technology, and Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London, explains why human genome editing presents potential biosecurity risks.Listen to previous episodes of “Babbage” on the topic: the gene therapy revolution and an interview with Jennifer Doudna, the pioneer of CRISPR-Cas9 technology. For full access to The Economist’s print, digital and audio editions subscribe at and sign up for our weekly science newsletter at