Alison Gopnik is an American professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. She is known for her work in the areas of cognitive and language development, specializing in the effect of language on thought, the development of a theory of mind, and causal learning. Her primary study is looking at how we learn and grow from the earliest years of our lives.
How did Alison get started down this path? She is the eldest of 6 children brought up in a bohemian style family. Being the oldest of 6 she had a deep understanding of children at a young age. She saw relationships between play and learning in babies first hand and was intrigued early on.
Alison also looks at the relationship between how long a baby is a baby before adulthood and how that relates to the rest of their life that follows. Humans generally have twice the amount of childhood than any of our animal relatives. If we have these extended periods of learning, compared to other mammals, what are human babies doing in that time? What are the other animal babies doing in that time? How does this time shape the rest of our lives in comparison?
Why is Alison so passionate about her work? She works with children everyday. She observes, plays and sees first hand how important they are. Other fields of science, particularly the artificial intelligence community, is beginning to take notice of her work. They are starting to look at children and cognitive development to help advance their programming. Introducing play and adaptation to their systems is one thing scientists have taken away from observing children. The more you play around and experiment in your childhood, the more you are able to adapt and adjust to the unknown environments. How do you go about taking on new challenges? Exploring and having fun with things often helps to solve problems quicker.
What are some lessons we are learning about kids and technology? Will this generation’s technology ruin the world? Michael and Alison end the podcast discussing the ever changing technological advances and what impacts it may or may not have on the world and the children living on it.