Sofia Science Fest 2019: Psychology of addiction, black holes and big bangs, AI and more

The 2019 Sofia Science Festival is on at Sofia Tech Park from May 9 to 12, promising the customarily stellar presentations on all manner of topics by international and Bulgarian presenters, with a considerable number of the lectures in English.

Among the highlights is a presentation on May 9 by Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research, entitled “Slots of fun? The psychology of gambling addiction”.

This talk argues that all addictions (including gambling addiction) consist of a number of distinct common components (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse) and that addictive behaviours arise as a consequence of individual, situational, and structural factors.

The example of slot machine gambling will be used to argue the importance of these contributory factors in helping explain the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling and problem gambling.

On May 10, Professor Carole Mundell, Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will speak on “Black holes and Big Bangs”.

“Professor Mundell will give a whirlwind tour of black holes, explaining their importance for galaxy evolution and the cataclysmic death of massive stars, and how advanced robotic technology is opening new windows on the black-hole driven dynamic Universe.  In doing so, she will try to give a flavour of the hectic life of an astronomer in the modern era of robotic telescopes and real-time discoveries,” according to the festival programme.

An event recommended for children aged 10 and above is the presentation on May 10 by British scientists from the University of Hull, Professor Mark Lorch and Phil Bell-Young, entitled “Superheroes”.

“Have you ever wanted to have some incredible superpower like the heroes of the comics or movies? To be invisible or be able to fly? Well, if so, then you certainly need to see this show…you will have a shot at creating your very own superheroes. Get ready for some pretty weird demos and awesome experiments which will rely on your help too.”

Also on May 10, Ian Jackson, Conservation Director at WWF Bulgaria, who has dedicated 20 years of his life to protecting the habitats of East Africa and Southeast Asia, will shed some light on the devastating consequences of poaching wild animals. His presentation, in English with translation into Bulgarian, is entitled “What do ivory and heroin have in common?”

On May 11, University of Edinburgh palaeontologist Steve Brusatte will speak on “The rise and fall of the dinosaurs”. Brussatte travels around the world discovering and studying dinosaurs and has named more than 15 new species. His 2018 book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs was an international bestseller and named ‘Science Book of the Year’ by the Times of London.

“Using fossil clues gathered with brand new technology, Brusatte’s new book, due to come out in Bulgarian soon, traces these magnificent creatures from their evolution in the Triassic period, through the Jurassic to their financial catastrophic days in the Cretaceous. Discover what it means to be a dinosaur hunter. This is the thrilling untold story of a lost world.”

Also on May 11, Dr Chris Nash, a professional programmer, composer and researcher, currently Senior Lecturer and Course Leader for Audio & Music Technology at UWE Bristol, will be on stage with “Musical algo/rhythm”.

“With examples from Bach to Beats, Dr Nash will present a history of music as the combination of pattern and process, before exploring expressions of music through code using Manhattan, a digital platform for learning and creativity that bridges composition and programming ( Following examples of generative music that balance rules and randomness, he will show how patterns can be found in the most chaotic of places: using machine learning to detect people’s positions and movement in a bustling crowd, interpreted by Manhattan into beautiful live music (as featured in BBC Music Day).”

On May 11, Alex Fefegha, co-founder and head of making at Comuzi, a design and innovation studio, working at the intersection of emerging technology and humans, will speak on “AI with bias”.

“AI systems are only as good as the data we put into them. Bad data can contain implicit racial, gender, or other biases. Many AI systems will continue to be trained using bad data, making this an ongoing problem. A crucial principle, for both humans and machines, is to identify how we could take steps to limit the impact of bias. Bias in AI system mainly occurs in the data or in the algorithmic model. As we work to develop AI systems, it’s critical to develop and train these systems with data that is unbiased (if possible) and to develop algorithms that can be easily explained.”

These are just a few of the Sofia Science Festival 2019 highlights. For further details of the programme, in English, as well as how to get tickets and to reach the venue, please visit the festival’s website.

Created in 2011 by the British Council and the Forum Democrit, and under the patronage of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, from its very first year the festival has attracted a large number of supporters. The Sofia Globe is a media partner of the Sofia Science Festival.



The Sofia Globe staff

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