Last week, Rick Edwards and Dr Michael Brooks brought their hit show Science(ish) to Swansea Grand Theatre. I was lucky enough to have a front row seat and also got to chat to them both beforehand about their show, the role of pop culture in producing scientists of the future, and what Michael’s next PhD would be, if he had chance – “Consciousness and neuroscience”, he said “You can make a really significant contribution, which appeals to me a lot.”

“What that answer tells you about Michael is that he’s an egotist,” Rick teases. “All he’s interested in is thinking ‘how can people think that I’m amazing?’…ah yeah, I defined consciousness.”

Rick and Michael clearly share a love of talking (and joking) about science, which is why their playful, informative podcast has become a hit since they began last September. They both really enjoy the show too, getting to explore a variety of cutting edge topics besides Michael’s specialism of physics. Rick himself has a science background, but he can’t get enough of maths it seems. The show is well-researched and explores science issues through a mix of discussion, banter, talking heads, and clips from works of fiction.

They told me that their show this week would use the 2013 film ‘Her’ to talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and modern society’s growing relationship with technology. The film, directed by Spike Jonze, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an intelligent computer system called Samantha, which (or maybe who?) communicates with a female voice (Scarlett Johansson).

With all this talk of ‘female’ artificial intelligence, I wanted to know what Rick and Michael felt about some real life female intelligence - the future of women in science. I asked them whether films and other popular culture can alter perceptions of female scientists and if they can play a role in inspiring children to become scientists.

Both Rick and Michael believe that science is just as important in our culture as the arts, but we need to acknowledge that a bit more, to get rid of the stigma of it being ‘square’. They hope that shows like theirs help do that for adults and children. Rick joked about how completely unacceptable it would be if his son turned said he hated Rick’s beloved maths.

They felt that fiction is getting better at depicting intelligent, skilled women, but that more can always be done. Michael felt that where the real work needs to be done is making sure more women in the real world are at the forefront of science so that girls can aspire to be scientists like their role models. Rick mentioned how the tech world is largely men developing technology for other men and Michael talked about the lack of female programmers. He also felt that this was not just a gender problem.

“When you bring different mind-sets – gender, culture…the whole gambit of humanity - into tech then you’ll get different approaches to problems and probably much more productive ones.”

This duo undoubtedly works brilliantly, but I speculated if there was room for third. Possibly a female presenter or scientist they might be keen to work with? They thought for a while, before Michael said, “There’s loads of female broadcasters and scientists who could do our job. Please don’t tell them!”

After our chat, I stayed to watch the show. The banterful pair began their discussion with the topic of consciousness and how we define it. “I don’t know that you’re conscious”, quipped Michael to Rick. They then turned to the voices of experts in Psychology and other fields for more insight on the matter.

They went on to talk about the ways technology is changing the way we interact and even the way we love each other. They analysed Tinder and other online dating sites, apps for supporting children with autism, and asked whether our online self is our real self or, as Rick thinks, it is “choosing the bits of yourself you want to amplify.”

Of course, no discussion of technology and relationships would be complete without the hot topic of whether mobile phones are a barrier to meaningful face-to-face communication, and the lesser-explored question of whether there has been a downturn in toilet graffiti since mobile phones became glued to our hands. As a Sociologist, I think they’re on to something there.

In the final part of the show, Rick and Michael turned to the subject of what the future of AI has in store. Will the level of AI featured in ‘Her’ ever become a reality? The AI expert, Prof. Murray Shanahan, had advised them that this would be the case by 2050, which is astounding.

Rick and Michael’s podcast will be available to listen to soon on Radio Wolfgang.

Dr Rowenna Baldwin is a Manchester Metropolitan University Media Fellow. She is a Senior Research Assistant at the MMU Policy Evaluation and Research Unit.