Discussion with Astrobiologist and Author David Grinspoon

The PETAL lab mainly focuses on the ethical issues related to Planetary Science and Artificial intelligence. As part of our exploration of these concepts, we interview famous authors, scientists, and researchers who do work related to these fields. We share the audio and a brief description of the interviews online, so that everyone can have the opportunity to listen.

In our first interview, we were honored to interview Dr. David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist, award-winning science communicator, and prize-winning author. We asked him questions about the concepts and problems mentioned in his book “Earth in Human Hands”, the professor’s own experience, and his views on the future of science.

Each section below has the questions asked by each PETAL student fellow, and the audio recording of the relevant segment. Feel free to listen to the ones you find interesting, in any order.


Autobiographical Questions

Why did you write the book “earth in human hands?” Is there an interesting story that you want to share with us?

What first got you interested in the subject of astrobiology?

Progress and Technology

Is there any progress in discovery, or is the nature of life still unexplainable?

You mentioned the analogy of cigarette lighters and wizards. As many people are now worrying about the advancement in technology, how can we distinguish whether some new technology is like a harmless cigarette lighter or a destructive wizard ’magic’?

When you talk about the world of humans going forward you address how humans are changing the earth and the way that that all interacts, but what do you think humans are supposed to be doing in the future, and what do you think we are actually going to be doing?

Do you have any concrete ideas about how those ideas could actually be incorporated and merged?

Do you think that at some point in the future human technology will have developed so far that we will have actually transformed into AI humans? Do you think that is possible?


The Gaia hypothesis in your book reminded me of some Chinese and Asian philosophy concepts I learned when I was young. For example, the Buddhists say that “everything has a spirit”, and the Taoists emphasize the unity of human and nature. Have you heard about these concepts? Did they inspire you?

How do we define life?


How advanced can an alien technology be? Is it possible for a culture to make something totally perfect, such as the Monolith in the film 2001: Space Odyssey?

How much effort should we be putting in searching for life, or for other information, outside of Earth and outside of our own atmosphere versus preserving what we have left of the Earth right now?

What do you think is the most convincing response to the Fermi paradox?

Communication between Fields

What relation do you see between astrobiology and planetary science?

Have you been seeing a trend towards fields communicating more? (with regard to the fields of planetary and cognitive science)

Do you think that anything is lost when people use more general language to talk about specialized areas of interest?