The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 66 first broadcast on 4th September 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 66 HERE

On this weeks programme we have a celebration of the 50th anniversay of the hovercraft and then a fresh look at the Mark I computer (1948). I talk to one of the original programmers and then the man who has created an emulation of the Mark I  to reconstruct the first AI text generator, “Love Letters”.

Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, its a hovercraft.

tt_Hovercraft1168

This year sees the 50th anniversary of Sir Christopher Cockerell’s amphibious hovercraft. As a 10 year old boy, the hovercraft was symbol of the future for me – what would develop into the hovercar of the future. Sadly that hasn’t happened quite yet.

We celebrate this great British invention and I talk to founder and trustee of the Hovercraft Museum, Warwick Jacobs, about his lifelong love of the machine and the portrait he painted of Sir Christopher. He tells how it was invented and how it works.

Appartently the hovercraft still has a great future and business is booming. I even play you some nice hovercraft sound effects into the bargain.

A pertrait of Sir Christopher Cokerell

A pertrait of Sir Christopher Cokerell

What, more AI? The Mark 1 at Ferranti

Ferranti mark 1

I had a rare opportunity this week to interview one of the original programmers of the Mark 1 computer at Ferranti – arguable the first general purpose electronic digital computer in the world (as Baby or Manchester Mark I). Olaf Chedzoy tells me about how he got a job programming the Mark 1 in 1952 when he did not even know what a computer was. He talks about his experience at Ferranti and his encounter with Alan Turing – “they spoke about his in hushed whispers of reverence.

To make the best of it, I then interviewed German Computer Artist and Theorist (with an AI PhD), David Link about his emulation of the Mark 1. He has managed to get a hold of the original AI “love letters” program that generates – well what do you think – original love letters. This was certainly an extremely challenging problem that required novel methods of data storage at the time. David tells me about some of the problems that the early developers had to face and how the “database” for loveletters had to be stored on modified CRT screen (see picture below).

(CORRECTION: on the programme David Link said the memory of the Mark 1 was 2K – he contacted me afterwards to say that it was actually 1.25K. Let me put this in perspective with my iTouch (ipod touch).  In computing 1K = 1 Kilobyte. There are 1024K in a Megabyte and 1024Megabytes in a Gigobyte. So my itouch has 32 Gigobytes o = 33,554,432K of memory storage.)

HONEY DARLING
MY FANCY SIGHS FOR YOUR LOVESICK WISH. MY BEAUTIFUL ARDOUR CLINGS TO YOUR FANCY. YOU ARE MY SWEET FANCY: MY SEDUCTIVE WISH: MY ARDENT PASSION.
YOURS EAGERLY
M. U. C.  (an original example from David Link’s web site:

Cathode ray tube screen used for storing data (David Link)

Cathode ray tube screen used for storing data (David Link)

Next Week

Factory farming without animal suffering?

On next week’s programme (sept 11) we will be taking a look at animal welfare and the whole idea of creating a painfree environment for factory farmed animals. I talk to Dr Adam Shriver from Washington University in St. Louis about his recent paper in the journal Neuroethcis (also interviewed in the week’s New Scientist). I set his view in context with interviews from ethicist Professor Colin Allen (Indiana University) and animal ethologist Professor Mark Bekoff.

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September 4, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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