How Darwin’s work during the Beagle expedition influenced his theories.
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From Skynet and the Terminator franchise, through Wargames and Ava in Ex Machina, artificial intelligences pervade our cinematic experiences. But AIs are already in the real world, answering our questions on our phones and making diagnoses about our health. Adam Rutherford asks if we are ready for AI, when fiction becomes reality, and we create thinking machines.
This week we are joined by Sareh Heidari, a web developer at BBC News, who talks about accessibility, globalization, and CSS at scale.
Tim O’Brien has earned the nickname ‘the awesome astrophysicist dude from Jodrell Bank’ He is Professor of Astrophysics at Manchester University, and the associate director of Jodrell Bank Observatory, best known for the giant, iconic radio dish of the world-famous Lovell telescope which sits majestically on the Cheshire plain, where he carries out research on the behaviour of transient binary stars called novae.
For twenty-five years Tim O’Brien has been telling the public about astronomy, and recently he’s also become an organiser of concerts. Building on some very successful one-day events, the first Blue Dot Festival was held at Jodrell Bank in July 2016 and the second will be this summer. Tim talks to Jim al-Khalil about how he pops up on stage between acts to tell the audience about science - and doesn’t get bottled off!
Sareh Heidari speaking at Patterns Day in Brighton on June 30, 2017.
A one-day event for web designers and developers on design systems, pattern libraries, style guides, and components.
Patterns Day is brought to you by Clearleft.
How much might global economic output rise if anyone could work anywhere? Some economists have calculated it would double. By the turn of the 20th century only a handful of countries were still insisting on passports to enter or leave. Today, migrant controls are back in fashion. It can seem like a natural fact of life that the name of the country on our passport determines where you can travel and work – legally, at least.
But it’s a relatively recent historical development – and, from a certain angle, an odd one. Many countries take pride in banning employers from discriminating against characteristics we can’t change: whether we’re male or female, young or old, gay or straight, black or white.
It’s not entirely true that we can’t change our passport: if you’ve got $250,000, for example, you can buy one from St Kitts and Nevis. But mostly our passport depends on the identity of our parents and location of our birth. And nobody chooses those.
Aleks Krotoski asks if we are haunted by our technology, or are we haunting it?
So much of our experience of technology can feel a bit like being haunted. It starts like any good ghost story with the just mildly unsettling; things aren’t were you left them or seem to have moved on their own within our devices. Its a creepy feeling that leaves you unsure about what to believe. Our understanding of how much of technology works is so limited that when it starts to behave out of the ordinary we have no explanation. This is when we start to make very peculiar judgement’s; "why did you do that" we plead, as if some hidden force was at work.
For some these feelings of being haunted by our technology can develop into full blown apparitions; keen gamers frequently experience Game transfer Phenomena where they literally see images of their game play in the real world, an involuntary augmented reality. While the hallucinations aren’t necessarily distressing in themselves the experiences can leave individuals questioning their sanity.
The coming internet of things will bring problems of its own; smart locks that mysteriously open by themselves for example as if under the influence of some poltergeist. Aleks herself has had the experience of digital ‘gas lighting’ (a term drawn from an Ingrid Bergman movie of a woman being driven mad by husband) when her partner logged on to their home automation system remotely and started to mess with the lights while Aleks was home alone. As one commentator puts it in a reworking of the old Arthur C. Clarke quote "any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from haunting."
And as our devices and appliances increasingly start talking to each other bypassing us altogether who’s to say we, like Nicole Kidman’s character in The Others, haven’t become the ghost in the machine.
From Spacewar to Pokemon Go, video games – aside from becoming a large industry in their own right – have influenced the modern economy in some surprising ways. Here’s one. In 2016, four economists presented research into a puzzling fact about the US labour market. The economy was growing, unemployment rates were low, and yet a surprisingly large number of able-bodied young men were either working part-time or not working at all. More puzzling still, while most studies of unemployment find that it makes people thoroughly miserable, the happiness of these young men was rising. The researchers concluded that the explanation was simply that this cohort of young men were living at home, sponging off their parents and playing videogames. They were deciding, in the other words, not to join the modern economy in some low-paid job, because being a starship captain at home is far more appealing.
How does the accelerating pace of technology change the way we think about the future?
It’s said that science fiction writers now spend more time telling stories about today than about tomorrow, because the potential of existing technology to change our world is so rich that there is no need to imagine the future - it’s already here. Does this mean the future is dead? Or that we are experiencing a profound shift in our understanding of what the future means to us, how it arrives, and what forces will shape it?
Presenters Timandra Harkness and Leo Johnson explore how our evolving understanding of time and the potential of technological change are transforming the way we think about the future.
The clock was invented in 1656 and has become an essential part of the modern economy.
There’s no such thing as “the correct time”. Like the value of money, it’s a convention that derives its usefulness from the widespread acceptance of others. But there is such a thing as accurate timekeeping. That dates from 1656, and a Dutchman named Christiaan Huygens. In the centuries since, as Tim Harford explains, the clock has become utterly essential to almost every area of the modern economy.
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