First up in this week’s programme we go back to an item from Show 65 (August, 29) to find out what happened to the petition to get an apology from the UK for the treatment of mathematician and founder of computer science, Alan Turing. The petitioner, John Graham Cumming tells me about how he got a surprise phone call from the prime minister Gordon Brown and what was said.
In our featured interview this week I talk to world renowned AI and robotics expert, Professor Rolf Pfeifer about a revolutionary approach to AI that devolves some of some of the computing to the body. He argues that it is not processor speed that we need for human-like intelligence but a human body.
Feature Interview: How the body shapes the way we think
Professor Rolf Pfeifer is a visionary in AI and Robotics whose range is extremely broad. He has been head of the famous Zurich University AI labs since 1987.
Rolf is the author of the exceptional book “How the body shapes the way we think: a new view of intelligence,” MIT Press, 2007 (with Josh Bongard) which is written in popular science style (no specific prior knowledge required). Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic translations of “How the body …” are to appear shortly. I recommend this as part of your reading list if you want to know the most recent direction of AI and robotics.
Now Rolf is someone who seems to have been almost everywhere you can think of. He spent 3 post-doctoral years in the early 1980s at Carnegi Mellon University in the US and then with the Yale AI group (where I shared an office with him for a year). Then after his appointment at Zurich he was visiting professor and research fellow at Free University of Brussels (Belgium), the Beijing Open Laboratory for Cognitive Science (China), the MIT Artificial Intelligence laboratory in Cambridge, Mass. (US), the Neurosciences Institute (NSI) in San Diego (US), and the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris (France), he was elected “21st Century COE Professor, Information Science and Technology” at the University of Tokyo, Japan, for 2003/2004, from where he held the first global, fully interactive, videoconferencing-based lecture series “The AI Lectures from Tokyo” (including Tokyo, Beijing, Jeddah, Warsaw, Munich, and Zurich). In 2009 he was elected as a “Fellow of the School of Engineering at The University of Tokyo”. He is also a visiting professor at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy. Most impressive.
WE’RE BACK! WE’RE LEANER, MEANER AND BURNING TO GO.
Science in the News
According to the Journal of Dermatology,there’s a new disease doing the rounds called Playstation palmar hidradenitis.But don’t worry if you play on your Playstation too much, there is an easy cure.
Bring me the head of Albert Einstein
The new Einstein robot head that copies your facial expressions. It doesn’t feel emotion and so you can just kick it out of your way when you tire of it. Read my piece in the Guardian about it: While my android gently weeps.
From our futures defence correspondent
Rear Admiral Chris Parry talks us through electromagnetic radiation weapons. The can take out the who electricity supply for a whole city in seconds and anyone connected to it.
Feature Interview: Moral Machines with Colin Allen
Would you trust a machine to make life and death decisions about you. It doesn’t have to be a robot. I might be a piece of software that decides when to turn off your life support. A new book worth a read this year is Moral Machines: Teaching robots rights and wrongs by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen. Noel talks to one of the authors, Colin Allen a Professor of Cognitive Science and the History and Philosophy of Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington, USA, to find out what all the fuss is about. The book discusses many of the issues about why and how machines in the near future will make ethical decisions about our lives. They are not talking about some far fetched super intelligent machine that is conscious. They are talking about machines based on todays technology. The book is written in a very straighforward, interesting and non-technical style. Although there are parts where I don’t agree with them, it is in everyones interest to read this. It will make you better informed about a possible future that you may want to have opinions about – it is in your own interest.
W. Grey Walter and his amazing tortoise robots
This week’s programme is devoted entirely to the fascinating story of W. Grey Walter (1910-1977) a great British Scientist: psychologist-neurophysiologist-roboticist-social commentator-TV celebrity.
Our focus on Grey Walter is on his amazing futuristic robots. 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
I have long known about his work and this is my journey of discovery to learn about what was behind the man and to find one of the robots in the flesh.
The journey was helped by a number of interviewees who probably know more about Grey Walter than anyone else. Alphabetically:
Professor Rod Brooks from MIT founder of iRobots and widely held to be the father of modern Behaviour Based Robots.
Professor Richard Gregory FRS, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology, University of Bristol. A personal friend of the late Grey Walter.
Professor Alan Winfield director of the Bristol Robotics Lab at the University of West England
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.
Music on the show
Intro: Sound of Silence, Beastie Boys followed by Polar Bear Standing and Ready by Polar Bear from their album Dim Lit
Intro to the feature was tic composed and produced by Niall Griffith
Outro: Locomotion by the John Coltrane Quartet
A weekly science, engineering and technology magazine produced and presented by Professor Noel Sharkey.
Science in the News
Traffic control by satellite on UK roads (and then Australia). This is reported on the BBC website.
Powering up the insect cyborgs. Reported in the New Scientist.
The new lightweight high precision mortar weapon for unmanned aircraft.
Herds of robots help with order control in Walgreens and Staples wharehouses in the US. Reported in Scientific American.
Feature: Muslim Science
Noel talks to Professor Jim Al-Khalili about his new BBC 4 TV programme Muslim Science. Noel highly recommends watching this programme.
Noel explores some new and old results about the idea of what our smell signals to other people – from sexual attraction to fear. Some interesting music and a clip of Russel Brand telling Britany Spears about how nice she smells and what this means.
The Science Fiction Serial: Second Variety part 1
This (longish) short story by Philip K. Dick was adated for the move Screamers starring Peter Weller, Roy Dupuis and Jennifer Rubin (1995). The movie takes it title from the deadly attack robots shown in the picture – these were called “Claws” in the original story.
The story takes place in a harsh futuristic environment in which American Block governments are in a state of war with Russian forces. During the first year of conflict, the American block people escaped to the moon, leaving a few survivors in Canada and South America. Russian parachutists landed and managed to wipe out many of the survivors, until they too were forced to evacuate to the moon – along with the last of American production; leaving behind a relatively small number of troops. It is only after this crisis, that the so-called “Claws” become a force to be reckoned with – as they start to exterminate lone Russian soldiers and even make their way into the Russian bunkers. For a while, it looks as if the tide is turning in favour of American forces – but there is a new danger for both sides.
Music on the show
Intro: Sound of Silence, Beastie Boys followed by Polar Bear
News: Mathew Herbert
Intro to the serial was tic by Niall Griffith
Outro: Locomotion by John Coletrane Quartet