Events exploring how ‘sexbots’ may impact on the relationships of humans and their love lives, the possibility of striking up friendships with the robots of the future, and the prospect of them being programmed to take moral and ethical healthcare decisions will be part of the 30th Edinburgh International Science Festival.
The hidden health risks linked to “the age of the selfie,” the rights and wrongs of scientific breakthroughs having the potential to “edit out” hereditary disabilities and diseases, and the way digital technology is transforming the grieving process will also be explored.
Other events will include a look at “the diseases you’ll wish you never have and ends you’ll never meet,” and the secrets of corpses, including how human tissue can be preserved.
The festival, the first of its kind when it was launched in 1989, will be staging a number of special events to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, including the scientific experiments and experimental surgeries that inspired the 19th century novel and its links to modern-day themes the medical world is grappling with.
Among the more chilling events lined up in the programme are a six-hour social experiment to “role-play the end of the world,” an exploration of what makes people afraid and what it takes to face your phobias, and a Friday the 13th special exploring the psychology of superstitions.
Experts will look at efforts to create a spaceport in the Highlands, the “inevitable” prospect of a human encounter with alien life, and whether science fiction can help some of the biggest challenges facing the planet, including food shortages, over-population and extreme weather.
The festival will also tackle the growing debate on the impact of sports concussion, stage a panel discussion on the need to tackle fake facts and separate truth from falsehoods in the wake of the Brexit referendum and the rise of Donald Trump.
The festival will be creating a low-carbon “village” for The Mound precinct next to the Scottish National Gallery while a huge installation will descend from the roof of the National Museum of Scotland. Amanda Tyndall, creative director of the event, which runs from 31 March to 15 April, said: “This year’s festival is a celebration of life, our existence and of the potential that science offers us as individuals as well as for the planet.
“We deliver this through an incredible programme of hands-on experiments, thought-provoking discussions, dynamic performances, events and exhibitions; all designed to show how important and central science is to shaping and living our lives and inspiring the problem solvers of tomorrow.”
Donald Wilson, culture leader at the city council, said: “Every year the festival transforms the city into a celebration of science and technology and 2018 will be no exception.”