Prof Freeman Dyson: scientist, mathematician, philosopher (interview)

28 May 2014

Prof Freeman Dyson

Nuclear bomb-powered spacecraft, attempting to locate intelligent life in the universe, and artificial intelligence are just some of the topics 90-year-old Prof Freeman Dyson has been involved with or studied and caught up with him when he visited Dublin.

To get an understanding of the scale to which Dyson has had in the fields of space exploration and space propulsion, you only need to look at his impact on the world of popular culture.

With a spaceship named after him in the iconic science-fiction show Star Trek – the USS Freeman Dyson – and the influence behind the Freeman in the Half Life computer game character Gordon Freeman, the importance of his work and theories about space put him in a pretty high regard in the scientific community.

Perhaps his most famous work was with Project Orion, the direct competitor to the Apollo space programme that proposed a propulsion system today’s minds would deem far-fetched and the result of having watched too many science-fiction films: to send a rocket to space powered by thousands of exploding nuclear bombs.

Dyson was visiting Dublin for his talk on a topic he is rather fascinated by: artificial intelligence. Before his talk on the subject with the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) entitled ‘Are Brains Analog or Digital?’, we asked him about some of the fascinating things he proposed during his 70 years of academic life.

Theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson – space exploration and artificial intelligence 

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic