The Futures Lecture Series

A new lecture series showcasing pioneering interdisciplinary work across the sciences and humanities.

 The Futures Lecture series will feature high-profile guests who have redefined interdisciplinary research by making unexpected connections across fields and methodologies.

*We are delighted to continue the Futures lecture series in 2020-2021 with the following list of upcoming events organised and chaired by Professor Michela Massimi for EFI:*

Lea Ypi, 27 January 2021
What is political progress?

Progress is both a necessary and a dangerous idea. It is necessary if one strives to improve the way things are, and it is dangerous because the pursuit of progress has historically often given rise to paternalism, colonial domination and narratives of civilisational superiority. In my talk, I will defend a more critical account of progress. I will start by distinguishing between moral and political progress, then explore the relation between political progress, power and justice. I will suggest that we make political progress not when we approximate an ideal of justice that is always already known to us, but when the political institutions we construct reflect what we learn from the trials and failures of the past.


Ypi is a Professor of Political Theory in the Government Department, London School of Economics and Associate Professor in Philosophy at the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University. Before joining the LSE, Lea was a Post-doctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College (Oxford) and a researcher at the European University Institute where I obtained my PhD. A native of Albania, Lea studied Philosophy and then Literature at the University of Rome, La Sapienza. Her research interests are in normative political theory (including democratic theory, theories of justice, and issues of migration and territorial rights), Enlightenment political thought (especially Kant), Marxism and critical theory, as well as nationalism in the intellectual history of the Balkans (especially Albania). She is a co-editor of The Journal of Political Philosophy and a commissioning editor of Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracy

Between 2019 and 2021 she will work on a new project on “What is political progress?” funded through a Philip Leverhulme Prize.

For more info, please see

John Kay, 9 March 2021
New Bottles for New Wine – The Future of the Corporation

In the course of the twentieth century, economists, lawyers and business historians developed an account of the modern corporation implicitly or often explicitly descriptive of the iconic corporation of that century – General Motors. That account saw the firm as a collection of purpose specific assets operated by a homogeneous lightly skilled labour force, a management cadre sharply differentiated from that workforce, and theoretically if not practically accountable to shareholders. Corporate personality was a legal fiction, a convenient construct for a hierarchy based on a nexus of contracts. But General Motors went bust in 2009 and this model no longer describes the reality of today’s iconic corporations – Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google. This lecture will attempt to begin the process of describing a new model better representative of the twenty first century corporation and explore its relationship to the societies in which it operates.


John Kay is one of Britain’s leading economists.  His interests focus on the relationships between economics and business.  His career has spanned academic work and think tanks, business schools, company directorships, consultancies and investment companies. For twenty years, he wrote a regular column for the Financial Times.

His witty and authoritative style has won a wide following for his books and articles which have been recognised by numerous awards and prizes. Forty years after he co-authored The British Tax System with Mervyn King – a book which went through five editions – the two authors have come together again with a very different subject. Radical Uncertainty will be published by the New Bridge Street Press in March 2020.

For more info, please see

Sabina Leonelli, 27 May 2021
Big Data and the Nature of Scientific Inquiry

Big data are widely viewed as ushering in a new way of performing research and challenging existing understandings of what counts as scientific knowledge. The last few decades have witnessed the creation of novel ways to produce, store, and analyse data, culminating in the emergence of the field of data science, which brings together computational, algorithmic, statistical and mathematical techniques towards extrapolating knowledge from big data. At the same time, the Open Data movement has encouraged the sharing and interlinking of heterogeneous research data via large digital infrastructures. Researchers across all disciplines see the newfound ability to link and cross-reference data from diverse sources as improving the accuracy and predictive power of scientific findings and helping to identify future directions of inquiry, thus ultimately providing a novel starting point for empirical investigation. This talk explores these claims through a discussion of how the emergence of big data – and related technologies, institutions and norms – informs the analysis of the following themes: (1) how statistics, formal and computational models help to extrapolate patterns from data, and with which consequences; (2) the role of critical scrutiny (human intelligence) in machine learning, and its relation to the intelligibility of research processes; (3) the nature of data as research components; (4) the relation between data and evidence, and the role of data as source of empirical insight; (5) the view of knowledge as theory-centric; (6) understandings of the relation between prediction and causality; and (7) the separation of fact and value. These are areas where attention to research practices revolving around big data can benefit philosophy, and particularly work in the epistemology and methodology of science. In turn, philosophical analysis of data practices can elicit significant challenges to the hype surrounding data science and foster a critical understanding of the role of data-fuelled artificial intelligence within research.


Sabina Leonelli is Professor of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Exeter where she also serves as the Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences (Egenis). She leads the Data Studies research strand; theme lead for the “Data Governance, Algorithms and Values” strand of the Exeter Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (IDSAI). Sabina is a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute in London; Editor-in-Chief of the international journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, together with Professor Giovanni Boniolo, and Associate Editor for the Harvard Data Science Review. She serves as External Faculty for the Konrad Lorenz Institute for the Advanced Study of Natural Complex Systems and hold a Honorary Professorship at the School of History of the University of Adelaide.

For more info, please see

Justin Smith, 10 June 2021
Why Philosophers Should Study Indigenous Languages

Although discretion often prevents us from saying it openly, languages such as Yanomami, Ainu, Ket, and Sámi are generally held by academic philosophers to be non-philosophical languages, from which one must depart if one wishes to start doing philosophy. This judgment of them goes together with their status as non-cosmopolitan languages. That is, philosophy, throughout its long history and very much still today, is presumed to be an activity that may be pursued only in languages that may pretend to universality. Is this presumption well-founded? In this talk, I would like to explore what it is like to speak a language that may not pretend to universality, in the ultimate aim of showing why familiarity with such languages may be an important source of philosophical insight.


Justin E. H. Smith is professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Living Mirror: A Philosophy of the Internet (Princeton University Press, 2021), as well as of four other books published with Princeton. He is currently translating the Sakha (Yakut) oral epic, Olonkho, for the World Literature in Translation series of the University of California Press.

For more info, please see

Full details of the programme, including Eventbrite links, will be announced in due course. Because of COVID-19, we might need to change the schedule of the series and/or move online. Please stay tuned for any updates.

Past Futures Lecture series events:

Professor Dame Athene Donald

Professor Frank Pasquale

Professor Adam Habib

Professor Tom McLeish

Professor Rosi Braidotti

Upcoming Futures Lecture Series Events