Science & Psychology

Dr Hannah Fry to give the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2019


We’re delighted to announce that Dr Hannah Fry will deliver the 2019 Christmas Lectures from the Royal Institution (Ri). In Secrets and Lies: The Hidden Power of Maths, Hannah will be asking big questions about the secret influences that shape our lives.

We all like to think that we know what we’re doing in our lives; that we’re fully in control. But our gut instincts are often unreliable. Thankfully, we’ve got mathematics – a peculiar power that can cut through reality and show us what it really looks like. The result is a hidden layer of maths that now drives everyday life in powerful and surprising ways.

Life’s most astonishing miracles can be understood with probability, big data dictates many of the trends we follow, and powerful algorithms secretly influence even our most important life choices.

In a series of three Lectures broadcast from the Royal Institution’s world famous theatre, Dr Hannah Fry will show how to decode life’s hidden numbers, helping us all to make better choices, separate news from fake news, and take back some of the control we have lost.

And by asking big ethical questions, she will warn how our unwavering faith in numbers may lead to disaster. Are there problems maths shouldn’t be allowed to solve? Do computers have too much control over our lives? Is it right that AI can decide who lives or dies?

Hannah said: ‘I’d argue that maths is the most important idea that humans have ever had. It’s the foundation of science. Its application has transformed our world. But because so much of it is invisible, we just don’t realise how powerful it is or the extent to which it influences our every decision.

Much of what maths does for us, is clearly for the benefit of society – it keeps skyscrapers standing and planes in the air, it helps us stay connected and hides behind the cures for when we’re ill. It’s also the most glorious playground, so we’ll be spending a lot of time sharing some of its delights with our young audience.

But you have to be careful not to get carried away, because maths also has the potential to go horribly wrong. I believe we should all be thinking more deeply about the place of maths in our lives and I will be asking some challenging questions to help show who’s really in control.’

Cassian Harrison, Channel Editor at BBC Four said: ‘The Christmas Lectures are always guaranteed to inspire, inform and entertain and that’s why they hold such a special place in the BBC Four Christmas schedules.

This is only the fourth time that the Lectures have focused on maths in nearly 200 years and with the rise of fake news, data scandals and technology like driverless cars already being tested on our roads, it couldn’t be better timed.’

Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of the Royal Institution said: ‘At the Royal Institution we want everyone to discover and critically examine the way in which science shapes the world around us. This year we’re leading a national conversation about the place of maths in our lives, because we all need to be sure it’s continuing to create a society we want to live in.’

The 2019 Christmas Lectures will be filmed in the Royal Institution’s iconic theatre on 12, 14 and 17 December 2019 and broadcast on BBC Four between Christmas and New Year.

The Lectures are produced by Windfall Films for BBC Four. The Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Tom Coveney. Series Producer is Laura Voak and Executive Producer is David Dugan.

Photo by Paul Wilkinson Photography

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