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Babbage from The Economist

The Economist

Named after Charles Babbage, a 19th-century polymath and grandfather of computing, Babbage is a weekly podcast on science and technology. Host Alok Jha talks to our correspondents about the innovations, discoveries and gadgetry making the news. Published every Tuesday by Economist Podcasts. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

Named after Charles Babbage, a 19th-century polymath and grandfather of computing, Babbage is a weekly podcast on science and technology. Host Alok Jha talks to our correspondents about the innovations, discoveries and gadgetry making the news. Published every Tuesday by Economist Podcasts. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


London, United Kingdom


The Economist


Named after Charles Babbage, a 19th-century polymath and grandfather of computing, Babbage is a weekly podcast on science and technology. Host Alok Jha talks to our correspondents about the innovations, discoveries and gadgetry making the news. Published every Tuesday by Economist Podcasts. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.




Babbage: How to cure type-1 diabetes

A new drug for type-1 diabetes has been licensed in America. Teplizumab is the first treatment for the condition since insulin began being used a century ago. It targets one of the root causes of this type of diabetes and can slow the onset of the disease. Better still, the drug could be the herald of a new era in treating the condition. Colin Dayan, a professor of clinical diabetes and metabolism at Cardiff University, tells “Babbage” producer Jason Hosken why immunotherapy could be a...


Babbage at COP27: Part four—“Africa’s COP” concludes

COP27 was an arduous summit, with mixed results. A landmark agreement to create a new “loss and damage” fund was a historic achievement. But many delegates were disappointed by the lack of progress on decarbonising energy systems. In the final episode of our series, we explore what the final deal means for the future of climate action. Plus, we examine AFR100, a project that aims to pair climate action with economic growth in Africa. The Economist’s Rachel Dobbs reports on the gruelling...


Babbage at COP27: Part three—the energy crisis

COP27 takes place amid war in Ukraine and an energy crisis. In the third episode of our series covering the summit, we explore how energy-security concerns are affecting efforts to decarbonise. Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute says the energy crisis could deepen Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels. But Francesco La Camera, who leads the International Renewable Energy Agency, sees it as an opportunity to accelerate the green agenda. Plus, award-winning author Daniel Yergin explains...


Babbage at COP27: Part two—adapting to a changing climate

COP27 has kicked off in Egypt, and adaptation is high on the agenda. In the second episode of our series covering the conference, we explore how to step up global efforts to adapt to a changing climate. Edward McBride, The Economist’s briefings editor, travels to Iraq to investigate how a hotter world is affecting the way people live. Adeline Stuart-Watt, an adaptation policy fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, explains how to implement and finance...


Babbage at COP27: Part one—the new climate realism

This week, the COP27 climate summit will begin in Egypt. In the first of four episodes, we consider the themes set to dominate the conference. After a year lacking in climate action, do lofty targets need a dose of realism? Plus, “loss and damage” financing is expected to be high on the agenda at the summit. We explore its patchy history, and explain why we think rich countries are unlikely to pay compensation to vulnerable ones for historic emissions. Gavin Jackson, The Economist’s...


Babbage: How to use the pandemic to tackle TB

The pandemic shattered global efforts to control tuberculosis, which was the most lethal infectious disease in the world until covid-19 took its crown. Now, with deaths rising, TB is set to reclaim that dubious honour. But the covid era also holds important lessons for the fight against TB. Can innovations such as genomic sequencing facilities and new vaccine technologies be applied to TB care, too? Avantika Chilkoti, The Economist’s international correspondent, travels to Rio de Janeiro in...


Babbage: What are tactical nuclear weapons?

The war in Ukraine has raised the nuclear threat to its highest level since the Cuban missile crisis. What types of nuclear weapons could be used in Ukraine, and how much damage could they do? Cheryl Rofer, a former nuclear scientist at America’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, describes the “tactical” nukes in Russia’s arsenal. Patricia Lewis, research director for international security at Chatham House, explains the destruction that would be wrought if the war turned nuclear. Plus,...


Babbage: The gene-therapy revolution

Gene therapies border on the miraculous, transforming lives in a single shot. The treatments offer hope to millions around the world who live with genetic diseases, and could also help the fight against cancer and HIV. This year, four new gene therapies were approved—and there are thousands more clinical trials under way. But the path from miracles of science to miracles of medicine will not be easy. The Economist’s Natasha Loder explains the safety concerns and market challenges that must...


Babbage: How snooping on sewage could save lives

During the pandemic, wastewater monitoring became a valuable tool in spotting covid-19 infection waves and the arrival of new variants. But sewage surveillance can help track the spread of all kinds of diseases—and measure a population’s consumption of everything from vegetables to cocaine. The Economist’s Gilead Amit examines how spying on sewage could offer health agencies an unprecedented insight into the lives of local populations, and considers the privacy concerns that could arise....


Babbage: How psychedelics could fix the brain

Psychedelic drugs—such as LSD and psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms—may be coming to the medicine cabinet. Research into their use to treat mental-health conditions was long blocked by law and stigma. But in recent years, there has been a revival of interest in the drugs, which are now being trialled to treat conditions such as depression. The Economist’s Ainslie Johnstone visits one of Britain's most high-profile psilocybin research facilities, and investigates...


Babbage: How science can save the world

During the pandemic, scientists gained greater prominence in the lives of ordinary people than ever before. And while covid-19 highlighted the importance of the field to humanity, it also raised questions about the role of scientists in modern life. Host Alok Jha talks to the astronomer and cosmologist Martin Rees, one of Britain’s top scientists and a former president of the Royal Society. His new book “If Science is to Save Us” argues that scientific knowledge can solve some of the world’s...


Babbage: Will Ethereum’s merge transform crypto?

A monumental shift is about to take place in the crypto world. One of the most important blockchain projects, Ethereum, is set to change the way it secures its network—from the energy-intensive “proof-of-work” system to the greener “proof-of-stake” method. Known as “the merge”, the switch could slash Ethereum’s energy consumption by over 99 percent. The Economist’s Stevie Hertz investigates why the “proof-of-work” system of mining currencies like bitcoin is so bad for the environment, and...


Babbage: From our archive—the James Webb Space Telescope

In recent months, the world has been astounded by cosmic images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. By gazing deep into space, it can see billions of years back in time, and promises to transform human understanding of the universe. In this episode, first released in December 2021, host Alok Jha explores the telescope’s promise. And, science correspondent Gilead Amit asks NASA’s head of science Thomas Zurbuchen about the mission’s impact on the agency. For full access to The...


Babbage: The open-source intelligence war

Six months have passed since Russia invaded Ukraine. It is arguably the most transparent conflict ever, thanks to publicly available satellite data and social media. How has open-source intelligence (OSINT) shaped the war? The Economist’s defence editor Shashank Joshi examines the technologies behind the OSINT revolution, and how this new era of openness is changing warfare. Alok Jha hosts. For full access to The Economist’s print, digital and audio editions subscribe at...


Babbage: NASA’s newish rocket

NASA’s giant new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), will soon embark on its maiden journey to lunar orbit. The launcher is designed to send humans back to the Moon, but was built on old technology, and is years late and shockingly over budget. Does NASA even need a successor to the Space Shuttle, when Elon Musk’s SpaceX is developing a cheaper, more powerful alternative? Host Alok Jha examines the politics behind the SLS and the role of NASA against the backdrop of a now-flourishing,...


Babbage: Could artificial intelligence become sentient?

A debate has been raging in technology circles, after an engineer at Google claimed in June that the company’s chatbot was sentient. Host Kenneth Cukier explores how to define “sentience” and whether it could be attained by AI. If machines can exhibit consciousness, it presents myriad ethical and legal considerations. Is society equipped to deal with the implications of conscious AI? Find The Economist’s list of the five best books to read on artificial intelligence here. For full access...


Babbage: The child hepatitis mystery

Since April a mysterious outbreak of hepatitis in children around the world has baffled doctors. Some children have required liver transplants and more than 20 have died. Recent findings may link the spike in cases to covid-19 lockdowns. We examine the evidence and ask how a lack of exposure to bugs can affect immune systems. What other consequences could pandemic restrictions have for the long-term health of children—and adults? Kenneth Cukier hosts. For full access to The Economist’s...


Babbage: How AI cracked biology’s biggest problem

DeepMind’s artificial-intelligence system AlphaFold has predicted the three-dimensional shape of almost all known proteins. The company’s boss Demis Hassabis tells us how the AI was able to solve what was, for decades, biology’s grand challenge. Plus, Gilead Amit, The Economist’s science correspondent, explores the significance of the breakthrough for scientists tackling neglected diseases and designing new molecules. The leap forward could be AI’s greatest contribution to biology to date,...


Babbage: Can technology personalise your diet?

Digital tools and sophisticated wearable devices are being combined with the latest knowledge on metabolic science to build personalised eating plans. Slavea Chankova, The Economist’s health-care correspondent, explores the future of nutrition. Data from new nutrition technology can also be tied to exercise monitoring devices and blood biomarkers, to build algorithms that aim to make people get healthier. But can the emerging personalised nutrition era make a real difference to public...


Babbage: How to keep secrets in the age of quantum computing

The age of quantum computing is coming closer, presenting both an opportunity and a risk for individuals, companies and governments. Host Alok Jha explores why quantum computers threaten to crack the codes that keep data and communications secure over the internet. We also investigate how encryption techniques can be improved for a post-quantum age, and why it is urgent that they be deployed as soon as possible. For full access to The Economist’s print, digital and audio editions subscribe...