Share

cover art for Babbage: Make space for Europe

Babbage from The Economist

Babbage: Make space for Europe

At a summit in Spain this week, officials from the European Space Agency (ESA) laid out bold ambitions: to become a more autonomous player in a burgeoning new space race, and to develop an American-style private space industry. But could the next SpaceX really be a European firm? It is clear that much work lies ahead. 


Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor, travels to ESA’s Paris headquarters to meet its director general, Josef Aschbacher.


Essential listening, from our archive:


“The race to the Moon's South Pole”, August 16th 2023


“Hunting for life elsewhere—part two, JUICE”, April 12th 2023


“The private Moon race”, January 25th 2023


“NASA's newish rocket”, August 23rd 2022


“A Starship is born”, February 15th 2022


This is a subscriber-only episode. To listen sign up for a free trial of Economist Podcasts+


If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription.


For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.

More episodes

View all episodes

  • Babbage: The hunt for dark matter

    43:47
    Dark matter is thought to make up around a quarter of the universe, but so far it has eluded detection by all scientific instruments. Scientists know it must exist because of the ways galaxies move and it also explains the large-scale structure of the modern universe. But no-one knows what dark matter actually is.Scientists have been hunting for dark matter particles for decades, but have so far had no luck. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held recently in Denver, a new generation of researchers presented their latest tools, techniques and ideas to step up the search for this mysterious substance. Will they finally detect the undetectable? Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Don Lincoln, senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; Christopher Karwin, a fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; Josef Aschbacher, boss of the European Space Agency; Michael Murra of Columbia University; Jodi Cooley, executive director of SNOLAB; Deborah Pinna of University of Wisconsin and CERN.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you’ll have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage: How AI is unravelling the secrets of the past

    40:16
    Centuries after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius entombed the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, archaeologists have amassed hundreds of scrolls from an ancient library known as the “Villa of the Papyri”. The scrolls had been carbonised by the hot volcanic gases that had left them too damaged to unravel, let alone read. But artificial intelligence has come to the rescue. Computer scientists deciphered the first letters from the scrolls in 2023 and, more recently, entire paragraphs of text and could soon open a new window into the past for historians.Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Tom Standage, The Economist’s deputy editor; Luke Farritor, a computer scientist and Vesuvius challenge winner; Adrienne Mayor, a historian of science at Stanford University.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you’ll have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage picks: Can Russia catch up with the West in AI?

    07:22
    An article from The Economist read aloud. This week, our business correspondent looks at Vladimir Putin’s ambitious aims for artificial intelligence.
  • Babbage: Cheaper, faster drones are intensifying warfare

    39:45
    First-person view (FPV), drones are transforming the war in Ukraine. Built from repurposed racing drones, they are laden with explosives and used like precision-guided missiles. They are cheap and have been used to disable tanks and other battlefield equipment and even to chase soldiers into dugouts. Both Russia and Ukraine are rapidly scaling up production of these drones and the technology is not standing still either. Both sides are looking to incorporate artificial intelligence into their drones so that they can better-recognise and attack targets, even when they have been cut off from their pilots. FPV drones will change how wars are fought everywhere.Host: Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor. Contributors: Oleksii Asanov, founder of the KazhanFLY drone school in Kyiv; Ulrike Franke, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations; Samuel Bendett, a military analyst at the Centre for Naval Analysis; Shashank Joshi, The Economist’s defence editor and The Economist’s David Hambling.Get a world of insights for 50% off—subscribe to Economist Podcasts+If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you’ll have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage: Climate fiction meets climate fact

    40:47
    The sheer scale and complexity of climate change can seem overwhelming. This week, therefore, we examine the topic from a different angle. Laurence Tubiana, a diplomat and climate policymaker, and Kim Stanley Robinson, author of “The Ministry for the Future,”  spoke to The Economist’s Oliver Morton to consider how science fiction can help us to stand back and imagine possible futures, as a way to inform the present. Hosted by Alok Jha, The Economist's science and technology editor.Sign up for a free trial of Economist Podcasts+. If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you’ll have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage picks: The potential for AI in developing countries

    07:51
    An article from The Economist read aloud. We explore how artificial intelligence (AI) should be tailored to suit the needs of the emerging world, promising to boost productivity. Most exciting of all, the technology could help income levels catch up with those in the rich world.
  • Babbage: Sam Altman and Satya Nadella on their vision for AI

    45:00
    OpenAI and Microsoft are leaders in generative artificial intelligence (AI). OpenAI has built GPT-4, one of the world’s most sophisticated large language models (LLMs) and Microsoft is injecting those algorithms into its products, from Word to Windows. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Zanny Minton Beddoes, The Economist’s editor-in-chief, interviewed Sam Altman and Satya Nadella, who run OpenAI and Microsoft respectively. They explained their vision for humanity’s future with AI and addressed some thorny questions looming over the field, such as how AI that is better than humans at doing tasks might affect productivity and how to ensure that the technology doesn’t pose existential risks to society.Host: Alok Jha, The Economist's science and technology editor. Contributors: Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist; Ludwig Siegele, The Economist’s senior editor, AI initiatives; Sam Altman, chief executive of OpenAI; Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft. If you subscribe to The Economist, you can watch the full interview on our website or app. Essential listening, from our archive:“Daniel Dennett on intelligence, both human and artificial”, December 27th 2023“Fei-Fei Li on how to really think about the future of AI”, November 22nd 2023“Mustafa Suleyman on how to prepare for the age of AI”, September 13th 2023“Vint Cerf on how to wisely regulate AI”, July 5th 2023“Is GPT-4 the dawn of true artificial intelligence?”, with Gary Marcus, March 22nd 2023Sign up for a free trial of Economist Podcasts+. If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you’ll have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage: Can India become a scientific superpower?

    41:13
    India’s government wants the country to surpass the World Bank’s high-income threshold by 2047, a century after its independence from Britain. Becoming a world-class scientific player will help to solve India’s most pressing challenges, such as improving sanitation and poor air quality. The applications from a booming scientific field—from vaccines to rockets—will also generate new industries, ensuring that the country continues to prosper. But to achieve that, India needs to get better at basic scientific research. That means addressing several challenges that stand in the way—such as crushing bureaucracy and a lack of private sector investment.Host: Alok Jha, The Economist's science and technology editor. Contributors: Leo Mirani, The Economist's Asia correspondent; Caroline Wagner, a professor of science policy at the Ohio State University; Yamuna Krishnan, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago; Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the Serum Institute of India.Sign up for a free trial of Economist Podcasts+. If you’re already a subscriber to The Economist, you’ll have full access to all our shows as part of your subscription. For more information about how to access Economist Podcasts+, please visit our FAQs page or watch our video explaining how to link your account.
  • Babbage picks: Can Biden or Trump beat the odds of ageing?

    10:52
    An article from The Economist read aloud. In this article, we investigate what the science of ageing has to say about the health of the candidates in America’s upcoming election.