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Sam's Best Of 2015: Artificial Intelligence, Homo Naledi And John Dewey

Producer Sam Gale Rosen shares his favorite segments from 2015.

Each day this week, we are handing the reins over to a member of the Vermont Edition team, who will share their favorite segments from the past year!

Today’s selection comes to us from producer Sam Gale Rosen

Merging Mind And Machine

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BINA48 is an artificial intelligence built by The Terasem Movement Foundation in Lincoln. Talking to her in person is a little unusual — she's an electronic head-and-shoulders bust with eyes that follow your movements and a computerized voice that comes out of a nearby speaker. She's also a replica of the voice and personality of a real person, but you'll hear more about that in a few minutes.

In addition to being the home of BINA48, there's a lot else going on there that sounds like science fiction.

In the basement, DNA samples are cryogenically frozen for the purpose of far-future cloning. And computers store the personality traits of volunteers, to be transformed into digital avatars or beamed into deep space.

Back in July, we spoke with Terasem Movement Foundation managing director Bruce Duncan about BINA48 and the rest of the Foundation's work.

Why highlight this piece?

I want to start with a personal high-point; I had been wanting to talk to BINA48 since before I had even moved to Vermont and she was entirely worth the wait.

Homo Naledi, Which Rocked The World Of Paleontology, Comes To The Montshire

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Last month, the Montshire Museum in Norwich received a remarkable donation - a cast of the bones of homo naledi, an early humanoid that could be a direct ancestor of modern humanity.

We talked about homo naledi with Dartmouth Paleoanthropologist Jerry DeSilva, who has been studying the bones and what they might mean.

Why highlight this piece?

Since our interview, the discovery of homo naledi has made a number of lists of the top science stories of 2015. There's still a fair amount of debate about how old the bones are and whether they really come from a completely new species.

John Dewey

John Dewey, born in Burlington in 1859, was one of America's most wide-ranging and influential thinkers. We had a couple opportunities this year to talk about Dewey and his legacy.

How John Dewey Changed The World

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First of all, Vermont native John Dewey did not invent the Dewey Decimal System. That was another guy. What he did do was change the world with his far-reaching insights into philosophy, education, politics, psychology and art.

In October, we spoke with two Dewey scholars about the lasting effect his work has had on the world.

Credit Sam Gale Rosen / VPR
Gonzalez with his ten-foot tall John Dewey puppet.

With Puppets And A Parade, Burlington Celebrates John Dewey

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We also had the chance to talk to Frank Gonzalez, a big John Dewey enthusiast. Gonzalez, an artist and teacher, started Burlington's annual Dewey Day parade, in which a ten-foot Dewey puppet is marched up and down Church Street in Burlington.

He traces his admiration of Dewey to his time in a California elementary school program inspired by Dewey's teachings.

"He brought the idea that we are all uniquely born, and that education should be to develop that uniqueness," says Gonzalez. "This way, we expect the differences from each other. And we learn from each other."

I caught up with Gonzalez at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, where he was leading a mask-making workshop for children before the parade. He showed me the big puppet, and talked a little about what Dewey means to him.

Why highlight these pieces?

Our conversation with Gonzalez' about his art, the parade and why he draws inspiration from Dewey and his work is a must-listen.  

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