In the UK today is the Queen’s speech, which is the day each year the Government sets out its programme of work for the coming year – what laws it plans to pass.

There has been some mutterings about there not being much in it due to other political things going on at present.

But when historians look back the piece of legislation (assuming it does become law) which will change our society from today are the plans to allow driverless cars onto our roads (sixth item down in their list of points) and the legislative framework for insurance companies to provide policies for vehicles on our roads without humans.

(the bill also outlines the framework for commercial UK space ports as well as extending use of drones – lots in there which will change our society)

This blog first mentioned the concept of driverless cars about six years ago. So on the one hand I am pleased to see this is finally becoming a reality. But on the other, we really need to be considering what this means for us all. In Australia the trucking industry appears to be worried. What needs to also be considered beyond the truck drivers themselves is the insurance industry (fewer accidents, less claims), the healthcare industry (so we have less accidents and less sick people, hurrah, except if you are a physio who makes your living fixing broken people) the mechanics (less accidents, less repair work) as well as all the road side cafes and motels no longer feeding hungry  drivers or providing beds for when they are tired.

This is not the first area robots are changing our work place – I blogged previously about supermarkets and how jobs were being effected post the big global crash of the last decade. What we are still seeing now, eight years on from this crash is high levels of youth unemployment across Europe and in the UK anecdotal evidence of middle-aged workers laid off from whatever they were doing and now competing with young people for entry-level roles and getting them due to the years of experience they bring.

As well as putting legislation in place to allow the technological changes robots bring us, our Government’s should be looking at how to manage the social change which will accompany them. An option I have heard a lot about is the Basic Income idea. This would avoid a great deal of the social issues around a changing economy – there is already hysteria around robots taking jobs.

I am not necessarily advocating the Basic Income at this point, but it certainly is one of the options policy makers should be looking at when they plan how to tackle this likely social change.

It is also possible we could all find alternate jobs which spring up around the rise of the robots. I have heard it argued stable boys thought the coming of the automobile would leave them jobless forever, yet around the automobile industry whole new classes of careers opened up in the factories building them, the garages repairing them, on the oil rigs fueling them and the law firms insuring them. So perhaps all the humans will be working in jobs which haven’t even been invented yet.

 

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Top AI in film

March 12, 2016

Following on from last week’s post about the AI movie Ex Machina, here is a list of my favourite movie AI:

HAL – the machine in 2001 A Space Oddessey. Space ship has conflicting programing with consequences for the crew.

Sonny – I Robot – based on the books of Asimov, this movie was good fun, Will Smith gave a good performance and played really well with AI debating which of them could create an artistic masterpiece.

The Terminator – the determined machine with one task, kill Sarah Connor. The special effects look a bit dated, particularly the scene with the part human part machine face, but the concept was so strong it launched a franchise of films, a tv series and some under rated comics.

The Matrix – the false world humans live inside as part of a great lie perpetuated by machines. The most interesting part of this is the discussion of the early version where everyone got what they wanted, but it failed as no one believed in it.

False Maria – Metropolis. A fake girl who changed film forever. Love the look.

Feel free to tell me your favourite AI in the comments section.

Professor River Song is among the best characters ever to grace Doctor Who.
My brother complains she is essentially a renamed Bernice Summerfield from the spin off books from the 1990s . But the on screen coup of getting Alex Kingston to play a recurring character in the series cannot be underplayed.
From her first appearence in the Library she was a force to be reckoned with. The constant use of wibbly wobbly timely wimey to show what would really happen to time travellers who cannot possibly meet in the right order.  River’s last chronological lines before she dies are that through everything they have been through he has always known how she is going to die. At that point she is basically a stranger to the 10th Doctor.
The 11th Doctor then slowly gets to learn more about her as they meet again and again all the while more mystery being revealed as we discover who River is and how she fits in to the lives of the 11th Doctor’s other friends.
The way she gets to know more than the Doctor is a refreshing change for a show which has run, with a break, since 1963. Previously the only characters who have got anywhere near him have been other timelords.
Her entrance into the 11th Doctor’s life involves some pretty awesome shoes followed by psychic lipstick and a cameo from Mike Skinner of The Streets fame.
The Weeping Angels, one of the best baddies of modern Who play second fiddle to her.
The juxtaposition of transformation is one of the funniest elements of the show in recent years. The Doctor doesn’t recognise himself when Prisoner Zero takes on his form, but the first thing River does is find a mirror.
Rule number one is the Doctor lies, which River oft repeats. But she is a liar too and this is clear when she sees Amy just after she has defeated the Weeping Angels, but much later on in Amy’s timeline.
The definitive moment of River Song is when facing a dalek in the pandorica story, where the dalek predicts she will let it live and she says: “I’m professor River Song, look me up.” It’s response after looking her up sums up why River is so unique in Doctor Who.

You may not have heard of The Martian yet, but I suspect soon enough you will have.
Matt Damon is about to star in the big budget Hollywood version of the book. Trailer here.
Damon is a big name to play the role of astronaut Mark Watney. This big name actor and Hollywood movie are an indication of the immense success the novel has had.
If the film follows the book closely enough, it should be a good film and a huge box office success.
Perhaps this blog will cover the film after it is released (or perhaps not).
The novel is a rare thing, a self-publishing smash hit. Andy Weir released the ebook in 2011 and it sold and sold and sold by word of mouth alone of just how good the narrative is.
A publishing deal followed with an imprint of Random House, hardback edition followed by paperback.
The novel is really well written in the vein if your classic adventure story of a stranded man trying to survive in a hostile environment (Robinson Crusoe in space anyone?).
The pacing is superb. You roll along with Watney at a great speed bouncing from one problem to another sharing his highs and lows.
There is a fair amount of science in the novel too. The technical challenges of growing vegetable matter on Mars should bore the pants of you, but it doesn’t.
You find yourself wanting to understand the process as it is a matter of life and death to Watney. Making you care about this biological problem demonstrates Weir’s masterful writing.
Bearing in mind the majority of the text is about one man alone in a hostile environment, the narrative races along.
definitely read the novel, if you like it, try the film when it comes out too.

The Kepler data keeps giving us more data about potential earth-like planets in other solar systems.

This latest batch discusses planets nearly 500 light years away from our solar system.

With the galaxy (and one assumes universe) teeming with planets in the zone we recognise as habitable, the statistics of us being the only planet with life forms seems remote (and bearing in mind we know little about the possibility of life developing outside the zones we view as habitable, we shouldn’t discount the possibility of life by completely different rules to those we know).

But our own planet is the only guide we have to the evolutionary process required for life to develop. The bad news to be found here lays in the logic of the reptile being the most likely creature to develop to the top of the food chain in any ecosystem.

Dinosaurs ruled the earth for many. many millions of years. Only knocked down from their dominance by what scientists believe is a freak extinction event of an asteroid crashing into the planet and wiping them out. The likelihood of this kind of event being replicated on other planets with such lifeforms seems relatively low.

And in all those millions of years pre extinction event, no intelligent dominant reptile species evolved on earth.

Even if it did, again looking at the history of our own planet for guidance, the rate of development of humans was different in locations across the world  A relatively advanced civilization such as the Mayans was developing at the same time as Europeans were much further down the line of technology. The Mayans from my understanding were similar to civilizations like the Egyptians of 2,000 years BC. And while the Mayans were at their height, in North America and Australia the aboriginals living in both places were not too far beyond the stone age level (if my understanding of their civilisations is accurate).

So when we eventually get out into the galaxy, I suspect the odds tell us the planets with life will quite likely have reptiles. possibly of dinosaur scale, or if there are intelligent life they may well be far less advanced than us. Which probably means we need a Star Trek style Prime Directive.

There is the possibility any intelligent species could have wiped itself out (we have been pretty close ourselves with nuclear weapons). Or overtaken by robots (another interest of mine) or be much more intelligent than us and view us how we would view a Bronze age society.

So, while I am excited about Kepler finding these planets and I expect them to be teeming with life of one sort or another, I am quite sceptical about finding intelligent life.

An earth sized planet, within a habitable zone is soon to be announced according to sources.

That is fantastic news – I have been following the Kelper project for some years and this is the breakthrough that I – and many others – have been waiting for.

Kelper has found tons and tons of planets, of varying distances from stars and differing sizes, so why does this one matter?

For life as we know it to exist, there is a distance from a star (based on how much warmth it pushes out into its solar system) where it can happen. Within this habitable range around a star there needs to be a rocky planet for an atmosphere to grow up around. My understanding of this project is that  the scientific opinion is planets much larger than ours are likely to be gaseous in composition rather than rocky. So the closer to earth size the higher the probability of a rocky planet with the potential for an atmosphere, liquid water and life.

Humans have been pointing radio telescopes at different star systems for decades in the hope of hearing radio waves and therefore signs of intelligent life. Kelper will tell us if we have been pointing at the right ones so far – and certainly ensure we point our expensive radio telescopes at the star systems with the potential for life from now on.

Kelper has told us stars with planets are common in our galaxy, including near earth size in habitable zones  – and it is reasonably safe to extrapolate this across other galaxies across the universe. With so many planets, it is not hard to jump to the conclusion that somewhere life similar to us exists.

And that is what makes this announcement really exciting news.

If this earth size planet, around a dwarf star, is in our galactic neighbourhood. What does that mean for our space programmes? There is currently talk various national space programmes are looking back at the moon (where mankind haven’t been for almost half a century) as well as our near neighbour, (intelligent) lifeless Mars.

Would a nearby earth-like planet in a habitable zone spark a new interstellar space race?

What do you think?

Today the BBC is celebrating 50 years of Dr Who (no one is dwelling on the decade and half (ish) when they did not make the show for TV (aside from the under rated US pilot).

Why has the show endured for so long, especially during that TV show blank period (altho I understand the continuation books flew of the shelves during this era). There are countless audio books available and fan sites, blogs and the British tabloids go properly nuts for any snippet of Dr Who news.

But why is this the case?

Well, certainly domestically, the Doctor is very British. An eccentric, intelligent gentleman (so far – am personally very pro a female Doctor as that would be within the (modern) show’s ethos of refreshing itself). There is a bit of Sherlock Holmes in there and as quoted in the BBC dramatisation of the genesis of the Doctor a bit of HG Wells, CS Lewis and father Christmas. British quirkie-ness, British geekie-ness (before the term geek probably existed).

Outside of the UK, why has the Doctor endured? Well in the US he is so that lone hero character so popular in Westerns and beyond: think Clint Eastwood in the Dollars trilogy, Batman or Superman or the Lone Ranger. Even Buffy – which I remember reading somewhere the 2005 return was particularly influenced by, in terms of the companion element of the narrative. Buffy was that lone hero who had friends, but walked a path they could not ever fully understand. The Doctor walks a path like that too.

And what has contributed most to the longevity of the Doctor on TV? The genius idea of regeneration – or what to do with your TV show when the star wants out. This sci fi way of dealing with the problem is completely genius and works so well within the narrative universe of the Timelords. This also gives the producers a way of refreshing the show every so often and, in theory at least*, allowing it to go on and on. What is not to like: a little blue phone box; new Doctors every now and then; endless new companions; adventures across all of time and space.

 

* There is that lingering plot device about the Master being on his last regeneration (13th, if memory serves) but I am sure some genius already has that covered (spoilers alert) – I expect River Song gave him all of hers when she saved his life that time, or maybe he has all of the Timelords regenerations ever, assuming it was he who wiped them out during the Time War.

 

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