Brighton Science Festival

The Monstrous Day

Sunday 28 October 2018

12.00pm - 6.00pm

Sallis Benney Theatre
58-67 Grand Parade
Brighton, BN2 0JY
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The prophecies of Mary Shelley in Frankenstein are coming to pass: designer babies, organ donation, transhumanism, robots, artificial intelligence and the cloud-monsters of Google and Facebook… Are they the fearsome monsters they seem to be, or will they be the beneficial forces they were designed to be? Will they make life easier, or take our jobs and enslave our minds?

To help us debate and decide, we will have experts to answer important questions and provide important balance.

12.00 – It’s Alive! Simon McGregor hosts a session on what defines life. A ‘series of biological interactions’. Is that enough? Craig Venter created a synthetic cell in 2010. Was it alive? What would you consider the minimum requirements for life? Simon is with the A-Life Group at the University of Sussex, which works at the crossroads of biology, genetics, psychology and bio-engineering.

1.00 – Gene editing: disease cures and designer babies. Manipulation of an individual’s genes is easy nowadays, so what’s to stop us creating our own little monsters? We can remove inherited diseases from someone’s DNA, so that neither they nor their descendants will ever have it. Already there are designer dogs. Michelle West, from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Sussex, helps us predict the future.

2.00 – It’s Electric! Demonstration of the kinds of tricks and experiments that horrified Mary Shelley, and led to the invention of the electric motor in 1834.

3.00 – Frankenstein’s Brain. John Sutherland, researched the fount of all our fears, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – the New Prometheus, for his eponymous book. John is an admiring critic, but he had to wonder how to create a seven-foot monster with only five foot cadavers, or when, why and whence Igor emerged, etc. For those who have read the book, this will be an entertaining talk. For those who haven’t, the same applies.

4.00 Body donation: Bodies donated for anatomical examination are a vital resource for medical education and play a crucial role in producing practitioners of the highest standing. Throughout the centuries the requisition and preparation of corpses on which to practice has been a quiet but vital industry, albeit one surrounded by ethical and legal wrangles. And scandals, though nothing quite on the scale of Dr Frankenstein. Dr Claire Smith, Head of Anatomy at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, explains. (She also performs the live brain dissection at 1.00 pm on Wednesday October 24).

5.00 Artificial Stupidity. Intelligence, they say, is what the police are always searching for. Why don’t they ask your home digital assistant? She (and it is always a she) knows everything.

So how worried should we be about having one of those in our home, car, operating theatre, battlefield, or courtroom? Are our snazzy new assistants actually designed to put us out of work? New Scientist consultant Michael Brooks, has a good sense of humour. He needs it. So do we. 

Could artificial intelligence ever replace artists, composers or poets? Will there ever be a Leonarduino da Vinci, Facebach, Appleinaire?  Maggie Boden from the Centre for Cognitive Science, University of Sussex, has her answer!

We need people to ask the questions nobody has thought of…

SPECIAL – 10.30 AM – Devil’s cauldron.
Learn how to debate – to disagree without being disagreeable

Trainee devils will be taught the arcane craft of opposing. In mediaeval days, when the only authority was the church, devil’s advocates were allowed to disagree without being burnt alive, because they were only pretending. Not only will our curmudgeons not be burnt alive (not by management, anyway), they will be paid! This way we hope the fertile soil of debate will be thoroughly double-dug.

If you would like to become a devil’s advocate, contact


Sunday 28th October, 12.00am – 6.00pm

Tickets: £14 (general admission), £12 (concessions), £3 (student – please bring a valid student card) 


Zombies go free. 

Recommended age 16+

Sallis Benney Theatre, 58-67 Grand Parade, Brighton BN2 0JY