Robot doctors all part of the cut and thrust of Being Human 2019 

Thursday 24 October 2019

What better to take away people’s terror of surgery than a chat with an expert? ‘Surgical Speed-Meet’ is an interactive speed dating-style event for the public to talk to surgeons about their work and experiences.  

The aim of this Being Human 2019 festival event organised by the University of Roehampton (21 November, 6–9.30pm) is to demystify and humanise surgery and open up one-to-one conversations between the public and doctors about the range of emotions involved in medical care. Researchers will facilitate the discussions, and explore the place of emotions in surgery past and present. 

And if a flesh-and-blood physician fails to reassure, would a robot doctor with artificial intelligence fare better? ‘Your Robot Doctor Will See You Now’, organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society (14 November, 7–8.30pm) will explore how artificial intelligence is shaping the future of healthcare.

Would people trust a robotic carer or believe a diagnosis from an electronic device? Bring along your phone to have your say on everything from digital diagnosis to robotic surgeons. 

These events are part of the fascinating ‘Science and Technology’ strand of the sixth annual Being Human festival that celebrates and shares humanities research across the UK (14–23 November) – the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. It’s now even growing international shoots with collaborations in the USA, Australia, Italy and Romania. 

Led by the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, Being Human is a partnership that includes the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. The theme for 2019 is ‘Discoveries and Secrets’.  

The festival brings together hundreds of academics and researchers to share their research and ideas with the public. They want to demonstrate the ways in which subjects such as history, classics, archaeology, literature, art history, philosophy and languages are relevant to society, culture and everyday life. 

Public engagement drives the programme, and more than 70 participating universities and cultural organisations are staging some 250 events, many of them showcasing collaborations with artists, writers, collectives and performers, across 54 UK towns and cities. 

Professor Sarah Churchwell, director of the festival said: “The humanities help us to understand what it means to be human. From global issues like climate change and the rise of political extremism to hyperlocal issues affecting communities who feel left behind, the humanities provide us with the ideas and critical frameworks to empower people and make a difference. Being Human festival is all about celebrating cutting edge research in the humanities by making direct connections with communities across the UK. Our events bring people together to work on problems, share ideas and, above all, have fun. It’s a very human humanities festival, and I am delighted with this year’s programme.”

‘Science and Technology’ is a rich strand for Being Human and many events in this year’s programme will cast light on current research in science, medicine and our bodies, and explore how science and medicine intersect with culture, philosophy, ethics, history and politics. They will also grapple with some of the big questions around the relationship between the humanities and science. 

This year’s highlights include: 

  • Humanising Medicine (organised by Queen Mary University of London, 19 November, 5.30–7.30) is an evening of art and storytelling at Bart’s Pathology Museum, in celebration of the humanity and artistry at the core of medicine. Featuring an exhibition depicting the lived experiences of people involved in all aspects of healthcare, it’s a chance to hear the personal stories of health, illness and care from doctors, nurses, students and patients.   
     
  • Inherited Secrets (organised by TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities at the University of Oxford), 14 November, 6.30–8pm). What do you really want to know about your DNA? Advances in science mean we can now discover a range of potentially life-changing facts about our DNA. In this event, a panel of experts will explore how this knowledge might affect your life choices and family relationships.  
      
  • The Georgians’ Marvellous Medicines (organised by Northumbria University, 16 November, 10–11am and 2–3pm). Join Mistress Slurp, who needs your help finding the perfect prescription for pimples and pox, at this Georgian performance full of comedy and capers for all the family. Also, complete the family treasure hunt throughout the day and discover marvellous medical ingredients. 
     
  • Beyond Bodies (organised by the University of Edinburgh, 14–21 November) is a series of interdisciplinary humanities events, led by the university’s Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, exploring what the body has been, is and could become in relation to illness, health, biomedicine and biotechnologies.  
     
  • 21st-Century Body (organised by the University of Birmingham, 21 November, 6.30–9pm). Join author and TV broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts as she debates evolving beauty demands and body ownership with an interdisciplinary panel of fellow University of Birmingham researchers. From ever-changing beauty ideals to increasingly complex questions about the property rights of human biomaterials, ‘21st-Century Body’ offers a participatory, thought-provoking ride through contemporary ethical and moral questions relevant to us all. 

This is just a sample of some of the many free public events taking place across the UK. Also involved are 236 cultural and community organisations, from libraries and heritage sites to archives and charities.  

The science and technology strand is one of five – the others are music, history, politics and protest, and nature and environment. The full programme is available now at beinghumanfestival.org.   

Ends  

Notes to Editors 

  1. Find out more about the festival at www.beinghumanfestival.org and on social media, Twitter at @BeingHumanFest and Instagram @BeingHumanFest.
     
  2. For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations OfficerSAS, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8859 maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk 
     
  3. Being Human: the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, 14–23 November 2019. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, Being Human festival is a national forum for public engagement with humanities research. Established in 2014, the Being Human festival has quickly become a national presence, and since 2017, the festival has also begun to introduce international partnerships – with activities to date taking place in Singapore, Melbourne, Paris, Rome and Princeton. Every year the festival features around 300 events across the country, working with an average of around 80 universities and research organisations in 50 towns and cities each year. The festival highlights the ways in which the humanities can inspire and enrich our everyday lives and aims to increase understanding of the relevance of the humanities to local and international issues. This year’s festival theme is Discoveries & Secrets.
     
  4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 892 research fellows and associates, held 1,903 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 25.9 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 173,493 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews
     
  5. The Arts and Humanities Research Council which is part of UK Research and Innovation, funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe. You can find out more information via ahrc.ukri.org or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at @artsandhumanitiesresearchcouncil, or Instagram at @ahrcpress.
     
  6. The British Academy is the voice of the humanities and social sciences. The Academy is an independent fellowship of world-leading scholars and researchers; a funding body for research, nationally and internationally; and a forum for debate and engagement. For further information, please contact the British Academy press office on press@thebritishacademy.ac.uk  or 020 7969 5273 / 07500 010 432. www.britishacademy.ac.uk. Twitter @BritishAcademy_