This week's big questions: Has state spying gone too far? Who should be on our banknotes?

This week's big questions are answered by author and scientist, Susan Greenfield


Your forthcoming novel is about a future dystopia caused by “extreme technologies”. How worried are you that this is where humanity is heading?

I am most worried that we are not asking where we are headed. In the developed world, a child born now has a one-in-three chance of living to be 100. After a career is established and a family raised, what will they do with the second half of their lives? I think we need to explore all the options that a longer life span and increased leisure time are giving us, thanks to technology. In my novel, I try to project forward to imagine extreme and opposing possibilities a century or so from now.

There are specific anxieties at the moment about online pornography. How do we deal with this problem?

Pornography is surely a problem when it involves or impacts on anyone other than consenting adults. The short-term goal can only be to introduce adult opt-in procedures for anyone wishing to indulge in this kind of entertainment/activity. In the longer term, it would be better, although perhaps idealistic, to hope that we could explore why some people need this kind of outlet, how it relates to their own self-esteem and identity, and how we might be able to shape an environment for an attractive alternative – but then that is the neuroscientist in me speaking, with an endless fascination for how our brains make us the individuals that we are.

Revelations about state surveillance are coming thick and fast. If governments can spy on their citizens, isn’t it inevitable that they will?

As always there is a trade-off, as has been said by many, between privacy and safety. However, I think we are now living in a culture where identity and relationships are already increasingly constructed and enacted out externally in cyberspace, and perhaps privacy for many is no longer the premium it once was. If so, then the temptation, indeed the culture to know everything about everyone, could continue uncontested.

Was Julia Gillard judged on her performance or her gender?

Julia Gillard herself commented that gender didn’t have “nothing” to do with it, nor “everything”. I’m sure that is probably the most accurate summary. What amazed me more than anything were the strong sexist views aired by some participants in a radio phone-in programme on the subject.

George Osborne thinks he can keep cutting his way to “recovery”. Is he right?

Neuroscientists are not known for their great insights into economics. As someone once said: “For every complex situation there is always a simple solution – and it’s always wrong.” That said, I can’t help thinking that an atmosphere that is unremittingly punitive without any significant opportunities or new ideas for individuals to set in train positive innovations can only be demoralising. I’d like to see some visionary schemes for helping young people to have careers that are not always dependent on a university education. One idea would be to pair school-leavers, who are hi-tech savvy, with baby boomers, who have a lifetime of entrepreneurial experience, to develop business ideas that neither could have achieved unilaterally.

Universities are racing to adapt to the needs/wishes of the tuition-fee generation. How do you view this development?

The issue here follows on from the answer to the previous question. We really do need to think about the skills needed for mid-21st-century society and how best to meet them, as well as catering for the personal talents of the young person in question. I think it’s certainly a mistake for someone who is not of an academic disposition to spend three years studying for a degree that they may not enjoy and which lands them in debt. Rather than focus just on the issue of tuition fees, we should broaden the debate to vocational and business-based alternatives.

From the Care Quality Commission to the Met Police, public bodies appear to be looking after their own first, and citizens second. Is that a thesis you subscribe to?

It’s perhaps inevitable that those in the public sector will be mindful of their own positions. There can be a mentality that “blame mustn’t stick to me” and a resultant response to turn to others, to procrastinate, or to just do anything to maintain the status quo. I feel that this is a trend widely taking hold where emphasis has shifted from an individual accountability for accepting both culpability and credit to one of a committee-based culture that is satisfied with “system failure”.

Should Jane Austen appear on our banknotes? Who would your other nominations be?

Rosalind Franklin and Dorothy Hodgkin, pictured left, would be two British women scientists to whom I think more tribute could be paid. I have also been a great admirer of Queen Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher but realise that neither would be eligible! I wonder whether Boudicca is sufficiently ancient to qualify; if not, then it would be great to think of more contemporary women who would embody the spirit of all of those above.

What lessons do you draw from the record numbers attending the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum?

It’s great that large numbers are actively seeking new insights and experiences in the 3D real world rather than just sitting in front of the screen.

Baroness Greenfield is the author of numerous science books. Her first novel, ‘2121: A Story for the 22nd Century’, is published next month by Head of Zeus

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage

The digital world is incredible – but it’s human bonds that make us who we are

Joanna Shields
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness