The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 86 first broadcast 29th January 2010


More sexxx with robots

This week I continue on the fasination of  sex with robots. It is philospher Dr Peter Asaro’s turn this time. We continue the discussion about Roxxxy and the sex robots of the future that started with Dr David Levy last week. This is Peter’s third time on the programme. The last time was about his movie i The Love Machine, we enjoyed a drink in the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station in Manhattan. This time I was at home on the telephone – still!

Turning the tables

Turning the tables is a feature slot where I turn the tables on someone behind the stores that we read, hear or watch. This it is the turn of  BBC Senior Correspondent Chris Bowlby.  Chris is a regular presenter on BBC radio specialising in history, science and European affairs. He was the BBC correspondent in Prague during the division of Czechoslovakia, and has also worked on the research staff of the House of Commons. He is also a producer.

We discuss how he started in journalism, his role as a journalist and how he decides on what storeis to go for.

Next Week

There will be no programme next week as I will be lecturing about ethics to the military of 16 countries in Estonia. I hope to bring back some interviews.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 85 first broadcast 22nd January 2010


This is a xxx rated show this week folks. Are we entering a brave new world where the first sexual experiences of the young will be with an inanimate? No, this is not a joke. Noel talks to author and AI expert David Levy who has been predicting the rise of sex robots for some time. Now it looks like they have arrived.

Would you have sex with a robot?

Noel talks to David Levy, author of  “Love and Sex with Robots” about the sex industry, the history of sex toys leading on to the idea of sex robots. They discuss the new sex robot Roxxxy (pictured above) – unveiled in January, 2010.

David is Scottish international grand master who has had a number of significant achievments in AI. He has twice been winner of the Loebner prize for the best conversational AI. He first became well known in AI in 1968 by placing a bet with a number of AI luminaries that no chess playing programme would be able to beat him withing the next 10 years. It got harder for him to beat the machines as time went on, but sure enough in 1978 he won the bet. You can read more about his achievement by clicking on his name in the link above.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 84 first broadcast 15th January 2010

Liberating animals and ending world poverty


Peter Singer became interested in the the issues surrounding animal cruelty in 1971, as a young PhD student at Oxord. In 1975 he wrote the seminal book Animal Liberation that changed the lives of many people and animals throughout the world. As well as creating many vegetarians, he became the father of animal rights. He is now writing about how we can stop world proverty

I talk to him about how all of this started and about his current work. You can find all about how you can help to stop world poverty by going to his website at The sound of science strongly recommends his books.

Peter Singer was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1946, and educated at the University of Melbourne and the University of Oxford.  He has taught at the University of Oxford, La Trobe University and Monash University, and has held several other visiting appointments. Since 1999 he has been Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.  From 2005 on, he has also held the part-time position of Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, in the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.

Peter Singer first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975. Since then he has written many other books, including Practical Ethics; The Expanding Circle; How Are We to Live?, The Way We Eat (with Jim Mason) and most recently, The Life You Can Save.  His works have appeared in more than 20 languages. He is the author of the major article on Ethics in the current edition of the Encylopaedia Britannica.  Two collections of his writings have been published: Writings on an Ethical Life, which he edited, and Unsanctifying Human Life, edited by Helga Kuhse.

Outside academic life, Peter Singer is President of Animal Rights International, a Vice-President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (UK), a member of the Leadership Council of Oxfam America, and a member of the Advisory Board of

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 81 first broadcast on 18th December 2009


This weeks show begins with another science cooking tip about denaturing the protein in your eggs. Next its the rise of the robot warriors and finally The genetic basis of intelligence.

The rise of the robot warrior?

This week’s featured interview is with Professor Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield – yes its me myself. This is an interview conducted by a young German journalist, whose name I have lost, following a talk that I gave to the Deursche Welle Global Media Forum on “Conflict prevention”. Deutsche is the german equivalent of the BBC World Service and they know how to throw a party. There were over 1200 of us there and they managed a massive party every evening. On one night we were all put on a massive boat ride down the rhine with great rock bands playing.

Back to the point: in this interview, I talk about some of the threats and dangers arising from the rapid rise of the application of robots by the military. It was recorded in June and listening to it now, it already seems a bit out of date because there have been so many new developments over the past six months. This is intended as a reminder that this is going on behind the scenes and hopefull it serves as a warning that might help to inhibit the growth just a little.

Genes the regulate intelligence

The regular monthly Cafe Scientifique slot is presented by Erick Taylor. It feature interviews and discussion with  Dr Tony Payton from the University of Manchester BIG APOLOGIES HERE FOR CALLING HIM TONY RYAN ON THE PROGRAMME – (that was the information given to me by Cafe Scientifique).

Dr Payton  talked about  identifying the risk factors for individual differences in age-related cognitive ability and decline and how that is amongst the greatest challenges facing the healthcare of older people. Cognitive impairment caused by “normal ageing” is a major contributor towards overall intellectual deficit in the elderly and a process that exhibits substantial variation within the population. Both cognitive ability and its decline with age are influenced by both our genes and the environment with interaction between the two.

Over the past fourteen years genetic research has aimed to identify the genetic variation responsible for high cognitive functioning and successful cognitive ageing. During this period a bewildering array of contrasting reports have appeared in the literature that have implicated over 50 genes with effect sizes ranging from 0.1 to 21 per cent. This talk will discuss the progress that’s been made in the field and the benefits and pitfalls of discovering genes that regulate intelligence.

Holiday arrangements for the Sound of Science

May I wish all of our podcast listeners and merry holiday season and a very happy new year. I hope that you will stick with us through next year.

The podcast will be off air for the next two weeks to return on 8th January, 2010. The programme will still go out live on Sheffield Live 93.2FM. This is because I am broadcasting some science fiction  plays based on the writings of my favourite sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. The station is licensed to air recorded material and pays a royalty fee but I am not licensed to podcast the material.

BUT: I will be putting a link here to the radio station site each week so that you can pick it up directly from them so you wont lose out.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Show 80 first broadcast on 11th December 2009


This week is very varied show:  I start by talking about “Climate Change Denial” in the news over the last couple of weeks. Then I give a Christmas tip about ripening fruit. Our two features are on Vaccines: the good the bad and the ugly and on harvesting energy from machine vibrations

Go get a vaccine

There has been such a lot said about vaccines in 2009 especially after the big MMR scare that linked it, without scientific foundation, to Autism. I thought that I would ask someone who knows a lot about them what all the fuss is about.

I had a very enlightening chat to Adam Finn, David Baum Professor of Paediatrics Head, Unit of Child Health, Dept. Clinical Sciences at South Bristol, University of Bristol, Director, South West Medicines for Children Local Research Network Honorary Consultant Paediatrician, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, United Bristol Healthcare Trust

I’m diggin those good vibrations

Vibrations from the environments we live and work in could be much more widely harnessed as a clean source of electricity.

Known as ‘energy harvesting’, the concept has been around for over a decade, but researchers from the University of Bristol, in a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, aim to make it possible to make use of a much wider range of vibrations than is currently possible.It’s hoped that within five years ‘energy harvesting’ could be powering many more of our devices from heart monitors to mobile phones.

I asked team leader Dr Stephen Burrows about what is new with this work and where is it leading us.

December 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 79 first broadcast on 4th December 2009


MY SINCEREST APOLOGIES ABOUT THE PODCAST DELAY I have had a complete systems crash and have lost all my data. Luckily I have managed to retrieve the podcast from the Radio Station.

But on with the show! I have two contrasting items this week: (i) a look at the sub-lethal weapons that may be used to control our border regions when up to a billion people are displaced by climate change; (ii) using software to recreate the sounds of the past from stonehenge to coventry cathedral. You could hear yourself playing electric guitar in the streets of medieval London.

The Militarization of Climate Change and “Sub-lethal” weapons

As part of the Climate Change and Violence Workshop Series, there was a workshop on the militarization of climate change. I went along to Leeds to hear all about it (and give a presentation). Afterwards I talked to one of the organiser Dr. Steve Wright, a reader at Leeds Metropolitan University, about the workshop and about his extensive work into the use of sub-lethal weapons to maintain borders and supress civilians.

York Cathedral

Sounds of the Past

I spoke to Dr. Damian Murphy, from the University of York about an exciting new  project that he is leading on “Experiencing our heritage by recreating authentic sounds of the past”

  • What would a ritual at Stonehenge have sounded like 4,000 years ago?
  • Why would different acoustics have saved more lives during the Kings Cross Underground tragedy in 1987?
  • What did Coventry Cathedral sound like before it was bombed in 1940?
  • How is acoustics research changing the way we find out about our heritage?
  • How can listening to the past improve our quality of life for the future?

The work is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

This research cluster ‘Improving Heritage Experience through Acoustic Reality and Audio Research’ (I Hear Too) is part of AHRC and EPSRC’s Science and Heritage Programme.

December 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 78 first broadcast on 27th November 2009


In this weeks programme I travel to Newcastle upon Tyne to a conference for young people to put forward their ideas about the issue they will face with robots in the future. This will be fed back to a parliamentary audience later this year. Then we begin a new slot on the programme – turning the tables: interviewing the people behind science and technology stories.

The Visions conference

I travel to the Centre for Life at Newcastle upon Tyne where a conference for young people is underway. They get a couple of lectures about what is going on in modern robotics and then set about deciding on the issue that will concern society in their future. This is the brainchild of Dr Karen Bultitude and Professor Frank Burnett from the University of West England. I talk to Karen in the morning and the get back to the kids in the afternoon as they present their ideas to local dignitaries. Then I hear some insprirational words from Noel Jackson (the other Noel) the director of Education from Newcastles Landmark Centre for Life (and fantastic cocktail maker).

Turning the tables: Paul Marks

Paul is chief technology correspondent of the New Scientist. Prior to joining New Scientist, he wrote technology news for The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. Paul has also edited a clutch of technology magazines including Popular Computing Weekly, International Broadcasting and the microelectronics journal Micro Forecast. He was also an editor at a patents journal. Paul is an award winning journalist, having been Editor of the Year at Emap Media in 1996 and BT’s Infosecurity Journalist of the Year in 2007.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 77 first broadcast on 20th November 2009


In this weeks programme we investigate the world’s smallest single wing aircraft and then, in the regular cafe scientifique insert, there is a discussion of Volcanoes and Mass extinction.But first I take a look at new evidence for the presence of water on the moon – buckets full.

Swimming on the moon


In October, NASA send a rocket and a probe hurtling into the Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole. It kicked up a mile high plume that could then be analysed for the presence of water. The probe following the rocket used a near-infrared spectrometer to detect water ice and water vapour. And they found gallons of the stuff. Noel reports.

It flies like a maple seed and stings like walnut


Researchers  at Maryland University’s  Clark School (Aerospace Engineering) have designed micro-unmanned aerial vehicle inspired by a maple seed. The University of Maryland engineers studied the spiral flight the seeds take when they fall from a tree and created what the university claims is the “world’s smallest controllable single-winged rotocraft.”

I talked to the main man responble for the design and construction of this fascinating air craft, graduate student Evan Ulrich. He explains just about everything you could want to know about it. There is a youtube video showing just how well it works. I thought that it was quite a stunning piece of kit and I think that we might be seeing a lot of these in model shops in the future. It is easier to fly than a model helicopter and could really catch on.

cafe science

Mass Extinctions and Volcanism


In this months Cafe Scientifique  insert is presented by local science enthusiast, Eric Taylor. Dr Paul Wignall talked to the Cafe about  Mass extinctions and volcanism.

All major crises of life in the past 300 million years coincide with large scale volcanic eruptions. This includes the two biggest mass extinctions of all time: the end-Cretaceous and end-Permian events. The reasons behind this coincidence have not been clear but geologists have generally thought that it is related to the effects of two of the principal volcanic gases, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide. These have diametrically opposed climatic effects, the former causes long-term global warming and the latter causes short-term cooling due to formation of clouds of volcanic aerosols. The talk will look at some of the latest research which shows that some mass extinction events coincide with huge individual eruptions – involving up a thousand cubic kilometres of lava. Event Page: /200911.htm

November 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 76 first broadcast on 13th November 2009


Grey Wlater

W. Grey Walter and his amazing robots Pt2

This week, in part 2 of the life and times of William Grey Walter, we probe deeper into his life – how he was suspected of being a Russian spy and how his boss had a private eye following him. The historian of technology Rhodri Hayward and Professor Richard Gregory FRS, an old friend of Grey Walter, tell about how he loved the reputation of intrigue and mystery. They tell of Grey Walter’s romances and how he combined his love of women with his science.

At the beginning of the programme, I make a trip to the London Science Museum to see one Walter’s remaining robots from the 1951 Festival of Britain. I talk to Professor Own Holland about how he found the robot.

Contributors to this weeks programme were:

Professor Richard Gregory FRS, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology, University of Bristol. A personal friend of the late Grey Walter.

Dr. Rodri Hayward an historian from Queen Mary, University of London, who researches the history of medicine and has written a paper on Grey Walter called The Tortoise and the Love-Machine.

Professor Owen Holland now a Professor at the University of Sussex. Owen actually discovered one of the robots and replicated it. Owen has written about the legacy of Grey Walter.

Science Museum: Special thanks to Rob Skitmore and John Mumford from the London Science Museum for getting one of the original tortoises out of its case and explaining it to us.

Check out more pictures of the robots at the Bristol Robotics Lab in Bristol

There is a lovely old New Reel piece of Grey Walter, his wife and his robots Elmer and Elsie

There is a short biography here

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 75 first broadcast on 6th November 2009


This week’s program is the first in a two-parter dedicated to the memory of the great British Scientist William Grey Walter. It is a story of romance, sex, wife swapping, mystery and intrigue. If that isn’t enough for you, he was a great roboticist who build the first autonomous robots that could operate together. But first I have been forced onto my soapbox again.

Noel on the soapbox

If the government want to ignore scientific evidence they should make clear their moral or political arguments


I am on my soap box this week because of the sacking of the UK Government’s Head of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt. When Gordon Brown became prime minister he said that he would relook at the cannabis classification which had been downgraded from Class B to Class C before he took office.

Professor Nutt said that the Prime minister had ignored the scientific advice completely and had even made up his mind before the council had told him that there was no evidence to support reclassifying. David Nutt, who has been a psychiatrist working of drugs and alcohol abuse for over 30 years, got sacked because he spoke out at a lecture and said that the cannabis was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

The scientific community has been up in arms about his sacking and even the government chief scientific advisor said that he believed the evidence. There is a much wider issue here than drugs abuse. The government should separate it policy and moral arguments from scientific arguments. It is entitled to make decisions against scientific advice but it should not then make scientific arguments. It should justify is case in other ways.

See also the BBC website on the sacking.

W. Grey Walter and his amazing robots Pt1


This week’s programme begins my journey into the fascinating world of W. Grey Walter (1910-1977) a great British Scientist: psychologist-neurophysiologist-roboticist-social commentator-TV celebrity.

He was far ahead of his time. Apart from a couple of simple predecessors, Grey Walter designed and built the first fully autonomous tortoise robots that could seek light, avoid obstacles and return to their hutchs to automatically recharge. They were the first robots to interact with each other and the first learning robots. They were even said to flirt with each other

In this weeks programme I look at his work with robots and discuss its importance with world renowed roboticists:

Professor Rod Brooks from MIT founder of iRobots and widely held to be the father of modern Behaviour Based Robots.

Professor Owen Holland from the University of Essex who actually discovered one of the robots and replicated it. Owen has written about the legacy of Grey Walter.

Professor Alan Winfield director of the Bristol Robotics Lab at the University of West England

Check out more pictures of the robots at the Bristol Robotics Lab in Bristol

There is a lovely old New Reel piece of Grey Walter, his wife and his robots Elmer and Elsie

There is a short biography here

Next week I go in search of one of Walter’s surviving robots and I find out about Grey Walter the man from one of his old friends and from an historian of technology.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment