The Sound of Science

Fridays 9am – Sheffield Live! – 93.2FM

Show 74 first broadcast on 30th October 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 74 HERE

On this week’s programme: Chemical weapons testing that may double as a roadside drugs breathalyzer and could machines really understand our language.

chemical weapons

Detecting chemical weapons in seconds

Dr. Stephen Bell from Queen’s University, Belfast is heading up a project on developing new sensors to detect chemical agents and illegal drugs.

For chemical weapons sensing, the devices will use special gel pads to ‘swipe’ an individual or crime scene to gather a sample which is then analysed by a scanning instrument that can detect the presence of chemicals within seconds. This will allow better, faster decisions to be made in response to terrorist threats.

The scanning instrument will use Raman spectroscopy which involves shining a laser beam onto the suspected sample and measuring the energy of light that scatters from it to determine what chemical compound is present. It is so sophisticated it can measure particles of a miniscule scale making detection faster and more accurate.

breathalyzer1

Stephen also hopes that the new sensors will also be the basis for developing ‘breathalyzer’ instruments that could be of particular use for roadside drugs testing in much the same way as the police take breathalyzer samples to detect alcohol.

At present, police officers are only able to use a Field Impairment Test to determine if a person is driving under the influence of drugs. The accuracy of this method has been questioned because of concerns that it is easy to cheat.

To ensure the technology is relevant, senior staff members from FSNI (Forensic Science Northern Ireland) will give significant input into the operational aspects of the technology and give feedback as to how it might be used in practice by the wider user community.

cafe science

Could a machine ever understand you

In this month’s Cafe Scientifique package, Eric Taylor presents Professor Robert Gaizauskas talking about processing human language by computer. Rob talks about the developments and the difficulties and talks about the Turing Test and why it has been so difficult to pass.

Matrix

October 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 73 first broadcast on 23rd October 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 73 HERE
In this weeks programme I ask, can you become super bright  just by taking a pill

ritalin

Cosmetic Neurology: a stupid way to get smart?

My featured guest this week is Dr Anjan Chatterjee MD (Institute of Neurological Science at the University of Pennsylvania) a world authority of cognitive enhancing drugs. These were designed for therapy in a wide range of problems from Attention Deficit Disorder to Alzheimer’s. They help with reduced memory and concentration among other cognitive deficits. But now they are becoming widely used in the USA by students and business people to give them a competitive edge.

Anjan coined the term Cosmetic Neurology for the non-therapeutic use of such drugs. I talk to him about their function and the ethics of their use by the population at large. What are the risks for the individual and society?

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 72 first broadcast on 16th October 2009

DOWNLOAD FIXED: SORRY! There were some problems with the audio for progs 71 and 72 which are now fixed.

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 72 HERE


This weeks feature is about robot cars. Professor Sebastian Thrun’s  team won the DARPA Grand – a race of about 140 miles across the Mojave desert – with an autonomous Volkswagen Toureg car – no driver and no remote control. When we will have automated cars on our roads?

Robot cars sooner than you think

stanley2_lr

The Royal Academy of Engineering recently released a report on Autonomous Systems (which I contributed to) that discusses the impact of self driving cars and lorries for the future of our road system. What are the obstacles that are keeping us back? What are the legal restrictions?

This week I talk to one of the world’s leading exponent of robot car development, Professor Sebastian Thrun director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). In 2005 Sebastian’s team famously won the DARPA Grand Challenge – a race of autonomous cars across 140 miles of the Mojave desert. Here is a video clip of his car, Stanley, winning the race. Sebastian is very modest about the win but it was a very significant achievement.

Sebastian tells me about how this could save many lives on the world’s highways and how the disable, the blind and even children will be able to take to the roads on their own in a robot car. In 2007, the DARPA Grand Challenge moved to an Urban environment and Sebastian’s team came second – beaten by their strongest rivals at Carnegie Mellon University were Sebastian used to work. It is always close between the two of them and as Sebastian has pointed out, the greatest victory goes to the achievement of robotics in general.

Sebastin Thrun

Sebastin Thrun

Next Week: Can drugs make you smarter?

I talk to Dr Anjan Chatterjee MD, a neuralogist at the University of Pennsylvania, who is one of the world’s leading experts in cognitive enhancement drugs about how they are being used to boost work at school and in business. They were originally designed for therapies for disorders from Attention Deficit Disorder to Altzheimer’s disease but are now being used widely (and illegally) for “cosmetic neurology” in the the US.

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Show 71 – 9th October 2009

LISTEN TO A PODCAST OF SHOW 71 HERE

This week I am up to my eyes in giving public talks and so here is one of my all time favourite interviews

The morality of other animals in the wild

wild justice

This weeks programme is entirely devoted to this intriguing topic that is becoming part of a quiet new scientific revolution on animals and animal behaviour. For centuries animals have been thought of and treated as mere machines by science. Decartes in the 17th century proposed his ideas that animals, unlike humans, were like mere mechanical automata without souls (read as mind/consciousness). This lead to  increased vivisection on live animals (not Descartes’ intention). The father of mechanistic biology, Jaques Loeb, in the early part of the 20th century was fairer – he saw all animals, including us, as machines.

One of the problems is that we do not understand what mind is – it is like the holy grail of science. It is not a good idea to invoke mind and emotion unnecessarily in scientific explanation – it can clouds the issues and hold up scientific progress. Nonetheless I think that we have gone too far in ruling them out altogether. On the one hand I don’t believe an old lady when she tells me that her cat understands everything that she says to it. But on the other hand, animals may have their own types of thinking that fits in with their world.

In this show Marc Bekoff and I chat about many of these issue from Anthropomorphism to evolution and cooperation as well as the moral natures of animals with a focus on his book Wild Justice with Jessica Pierce

This is an accessible book litered with interesting anecdotes behind the science: stories about animals that put themselves out for others or punish others for their wrong doings. You can buy Wild Justice from Amazon

Next Week: robot cars sooner than you think

I talk to one of the world’s leading exponent of robot car development, Professor Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). Sebastian tells me about how this could save many lives on the world’s highways and how the disable, the blind and even children will be able to take to the roads on their own in a robot car.

October 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 70 first broadcast on 2nd October 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 70 HERE

In this weeks programme our two featured interviews are about new research centres based on issues that could improve our lives: designing disease resistant buildings and creating robust cyber security.

New Cyber-security centre set to transform crime prevention

Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT)

Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT)

We are living in a world that communications are making continuously smaller. There is great freedom speech and access for everyone. But without careful attention to cyber-security it could all collapse or become unusable. Cyber crime and attacks as well as fraud are on the increase and the criminals are getting racing against the protections. The new £25 million Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), based at Queen’s University Belfast, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Technology Strategy Board, Queen’s University Belfast and a range of partner organisations, has been set up to tackle the problems.

I talked to Professor John McCanny, a principle investigator on the project, to find out what the centre will do for us and how it will help to prevent crime.

Curbing disease by changing the infrastructure of buildings

They’re everywhere: micro-organisms from a typical hand print as revealed by ‘blood agar’, a substance used by scientists to detect and distinguish pathogens

They’re everywhere: micro-organisms from a typical hand print as revealed by ‘blood agar’, a substance used by scientists to detect and distinguish pathogens

The spread of swine flu and other infectious diseases could be dramatically reduced by revolutionising the way that the places we live in are designed and built.

That’s the view of experts investigating how the micro-organisms that cause disease behave in buildings and associated infrastructure.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), researchers at the new ‘Healthy Infrastructure Research Centre (HIRC), at University College London, are studying the behaviour of pathogens in places like hospitals and schools and drainage and sewage systems.

HIRC aims to:

  • spot characteristics in building/infrastructure design that encourage diseases to spread
  • pinpoint changes that can be made to infrastructure (in design, materials, maintenance etc) to restrict pathogens’ ability to survive and move around there.

I talked to Dr. Ka-man Lai about how the centre aims to help change the infrastructure of buildings so that they are healthier for the inhabitants.

October 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 69 first broadcast on 25th September 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 69 HERE

This week I interview two of the members of the newly establish International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) to find out about some of the issues of the new military technology.

Swat3

Talon SWORD- US military robot

Robot Arms Control – limiting military technology

Now if you’re a regular listener to the programme you will know that I have been banging on about the new robot weapons coming into play in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are thousands of these on the ground and in the air.

You can download programme 58 to hear Obhama advisor, P.W. Singer give a lot of facts about them.  The majority of these are for surveillance and bomb disposal but the worry is that an increasing number are being armed. At present there is always a person in the loop to make decisions about killing people …. but the US plans show a drive to reduce the role of the person and eventually do away with them altogether and let the robots decide who to kill.

This seems quite astonishing and many people just don’t believe it but it is all there in black and white if you care to look for it. Here is a link to the US unmanned aerial systems roadmap 2009-2047 and here is link to a Daily Telegraph article of mine on the topic. You can get a lot of information very quickly and quotes from generals etc with a google search for military robots or unmanned systems or autonomous robot weapons. It is worth havin a look.

These are not super smart machines like terminator but dumb killing machines and the US are not the only country at it – they are  proliferating – there are over 50 other countries with military robot programmes.

A group of us have now gotten together to set up the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRA) and I interview two of the members: Juergen Altmann  a physicist from Dortmand the Technical University in Dortmund in Germany – author of Military Nanotechnology and  Rob Sparrow from the Philosophy department in Monash University in Australia

juergen rob noel ed

Jeurgen-Noel-Rob at Sheffield Station

September 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Show 68 first broadcast on 18th September 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 68 HERE

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 and arms

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.

rolfs book

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Science on Radio, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 67 first broadcast on 11th September 2009

DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF SHOW 67 HERE

This weeks programme is devoted to pain: the pain that factory farmed animals suffer to be exact. One philosopher wants to take away one component of that suffering has a controversial idea. I talk to him and then take comments from two senior academics – an ethicist and a animal ethologist.

Factory farming without animal suffering? Not quite.

Factory farmed pigs
Factory farmed pigs

Our featured interview this week is with philosopherAdam Shriver’s new paper on the idea of alleviating animal suffering by genetically modifying factory farmed animals so that they feel the sensation of pain but do not find in unpleasant. Adam explains the neurophysiology and plausibility of this idea on the programme. The question then is whether or not this is the right thing to do.

Adam’s heart is clearly in the right place. He has been a commited vegetarian since he was 5 years old and his mother read “Animal Liberation” by P.W. Singer. His arguement is that while he dislikes factory farming of animals it seems that it is inevitable into the forseeable future. So we should do what we can to reducet he suffering. But as he well knows his views are not without critics.

shriver

Adam Shriver is a graduate student at Washington University Philosophy Department in St Luis, Missouri. He was the  winner of the  William James Award from the Society of Philosophy and Psychology in 2006 for his paper”Minding Mammals” and so his career is off to a great start. We talk about his recent paper in the journal Neuroethics (he was also interviewed in the week’s New Scientist). It is wise to read the actual paper rather than relying on an interview to decide on the ideas.

Commentaries

I set his view in context with interviews with ethicist Professor Colin Allen (Indiana University) and animal ethologist Professor Marc Bekoff.

allen

First up is Professor Colin Allen from the department of The history and philosophy of science at Indiana University. He  was previously interviewed on the programme about his book Moral Machines: robot rights and wrongs. Colin cut his ethical teeth in the area of animal ethics and is author of the paper Ethics and Animal Minds. While he likes Adam’s work, he has some sharp criticisms to offer.

Colin is author of Species of Mind (MIT Press, 1997) and coeditor of The Evolution of Mind (Oxford University Press, 1998), Nature’s Purposes (MIT Press, 1998), The Cognitive Animal (MIT Press, 2002), and Philosophy Across the Life Sciences (MIT Press, in press). He is also co-editor of a special issue of the journal Biology and Philosophy (Dec. 2004) on animal cognition, in which he has a paper titled “Is Anyone a Cognitive Ethologist?” and a forthcoming special issue of the journal Synthese on “Representing Philosophy” covering the applications of digital technologies to philosophy.

Photo-Bekoff

Next up is Professor Mark Beckoff who does not like the idea at all and is highly critical in a carefully considered manner. Marc was first interviewed on the Sound of Science about his fascinating book on animal morality: Wild Justice. He is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a former Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc is also an ambassador for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, in which he works with students of all ages, senior citizens, and prisoners, and also is a member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute. He and Jane co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies in 2000

Breaking News – Turing apology

Two weeks ago we ran a piece with John Graham Cumming about a petition of his to get an aplogy for the great mathematician and founder of computing Alan Turing about his ill treatment as a criminal from being gay after he had served the UK so well in war and peace.  Success, the UK prime minister Gordon Brown has apologised on behalf of the government and the British People.

Next Week: how the body shapes the way we think

We will be talking to world renowned AI and robotics expert, Professor Rolf Pfeifer, Director of the Zurich AI labs, 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.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Show 65 first broadcast on 29th Aug. 2009

LISTEN TO A PODCAST OF SHOW 65 HERE

Artificial Intelligence special

This week’s programme is an AI special brought on by news this week of a call for the goverment to apologise for the odious treatment of the Alan Turing the Grandfather of Artificial Intelligence. I discuss Turing’s importance with the petitioner Dr. John Graham-Cumming, we have a word about the Turing Test from AI guru Professor Yorick Wilkes and I interview the founding father of AI, Professor John McCarthy.

An apology for the treatment of Turing?

turing_234424s

This week saw the launch of a petition to the UK goverment asking for an apology for the treatment of the great Alan Turing. Turing who, as well as being credited with shortening WWII with the code breaking enigma machine, gave us  foundations of computer science – the Turing machine. He was also instrumental in the development of Artificial Intelligence – although he did not use that term. He made the separation of intelligence (the computer programme) from the machine.

As a reward for his great efforts, he was prosecuted for being homosexual (gross indecency) and given the choice of imprisonment or forced female hormone injections. He chose the latter and committed suicide two years later.

I interivewed the petitioner, Dr John Graham-Cumming about the importance of Turing and why he created the petition. If you feel moved by this story, you can sigh the petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/turing/

AI guru Professor Yorick Wilks (Oxford Internet Institute) explains the Turing test.

The man who named AI

McCarthy

About a year ago, I had the good fortune to interview Professor John McCarthy from Stanford University now in his 80s. If Turing is the Grandfather of AI, McCarthy is its Dad. He created the term for the Darmouth AI conference in 1956. In this excerpt from the interview I asked him when he first thought about intelligent computers, why he called the subject Artificial Intelligence and whether it has lived up to his dream.

On Next Week’s Show

A little more history next week (we are usually more of a news 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”.


August 27, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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