Technological Intuition And Clarke’s Third Law

This video managed to get some attention in the last week.  As part of the Kids React series produced by The Fine Brothers, watch kids try and figure out portable cassette players (Walkman is/was a popular brand produced by Sony).

It’s not the first Kids React video to have kids engage with ‘old’ technology.  Both of them serve as a useful point to consider along with the anecdotes you’ve heard about kids taking to new technology quite easily.  Now if these videos (and those anecdotes) are representative, why would older technology necessarily be more perplexing to the young?  In certain ways the technology is new to them, even if it has been around since their grandparents were their age. Continue reading

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of April 21

Most everyone is back from break, so relatively few repeats this week.  Unfortunately, there’s not much that qualifies for listing this week.

Tonight (Monday), the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, stops by The Daily Show. On Tuesday’s edition of The Talk, the show’s technology reporter, Chi-Lan Lieu, visits.  Robin Roberts will visit The Daily Show on Wednesday.  Her new book is a memoir heavily influenced by the diseases she’s struggled with over the last few years, so health may be a topic of discussion.  On Friday The Piedmont Bird Callers return to The Late Show with David Letterman (possibly for the last time).

In other science and technology television, COSMOS continues, with episode 7 (of 13) airing last night in the United States.  Host Neil deGrasse Tyson recently posted an episode of his podcast/radio show StarTalk with COSMOS writer Steven Soter.  Soter is an astrophysicist, and work on both the 1980 and 2014 presentations of COSMOS.  Soter and Tyson are joined by Tyson’s frequent co-host Chuck Nice.

In Other Festival News

While the science festival action is in Washington next weekend (and Philadelphia continuing through the following weekend), there are other large festivals of note that you may want to attend.  Check out the Science Festival Alliance for details on these and other science festivals in the U.S.

Tickets for the 2014 World Science Festival will go on sale May 1 (it’s closer than you think).  Taking place in New York City, this festival is in its seventh year, and will run May 28 through June 1.  Here’s the festival promotional video:

There was also a Gala connected to the Festival.  Held on April 7, it honored geneticist Mary-Claire King and was hosted by Alan Alda.  A schedule of this year’s festival events is not yet available, but if they can deliver on a scale with previous years, I would recommend any science and technology enthusiasts in the greater New York City area to take advantage.  Those in Europe may want to explore attending the World Science Festival in Amsterdam, scheduled for September 6 and 7.

Those in the Boston area are probably recovering from the first weekend of this year’s Cambridge Science Festival, which will run through April 27.  The first science festival in the United States (and not to be confused with the bigger science festival in the UK), the Cambridge Science Festival is co-sponsored by the city and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.



Festival The Third Coming To Washington Next Week

The USA Science and Engineering Festival has its Expo next Saturday and Sunday in Washington, D.C.  The schedule and map are available online, and I strongly encourage you to print them out and plan ahead.  There’s just too much going on to take it all in. The big names in attendance include:

Mike Rowe
They Might Be Giants (two concerts)
Bill Nye The Science Guy
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Danica McKellar
Michio Kaku
Science Cheerleaders

Well, those are the names you are most likely to recognize.  Many of the other guests you might recognize on sight, or at least the organizations they work with.  Scientists from several federal departments and research universities will be in attendance.  Science advisers for major television programs, hosts of other science programs, extreme athletes, authors and musical entertainment.  If you like science and engineering (and if you don’t, why are you here?) you should be able to find plenty here to fill your day, or even your weekend.

I’ll be there, wandering about, both days.  If you’d like to meet, look for a fellow in a They Might Be Giants or Rap Guide to Evolution t-shirt.

Does Transcendence Herald The Singularity?

Opening today in U.S. theaters is Transcendance, the feature debut of director Wally Pfister, the long time cinematographer for Christopher Nolan.  Nolan serves as executive producer of the film (and Nolan’s next science fiction film, Interstellar, will come out this fall).

Since I will be discussing plot elements of the film, it seems proper to note SPOILERS before continuing.

The film – which I have not yet seen – engages at least two major science fiction themes that have relevance to modern day debates.  The main characters are artificial intelligence researchers who (and this is in the promotional material for the film, so not really a spoiler) appear to succeed in uploading a human intelligence into a computer.  The transcendence of the title appears to be either the uploading of that intelligence, or the connection of that intelligence to the Internet.

If it’s the latter, that would resemble the Singularity predicted by Raymond Kurzweil.  His singularity is a point in time when machines become smarter than humans and things change so dramatically that it would be tough to predict what might happen.

The antagonists in the film are opposed to the goal of the artificial intelligence research in the film, which is to generate a sentient machine.  They take to violent means to achieve these goals, which helps propel the plot.  It certainly makes it easier to create drama with the judicious (or excessive) application of violence.  But I am concerned that it makes the treatment of the serious issues at the heart of the film more one-sided that it needs to be.  People can object to the means by which others obtain goals that the first group might otherwise support.  In the shorthand of cinema, I hope it doesn’t get lost in the drama and theatrics that those who would rather not download their consciousness into a machine (and/or connect it to the Internet) have a perspective worth discussing, even worth respecting.

About That Earth-Like Exoplanet

It’s about 500 light years away, but Kepler-186f may have provided NASA a little shot in the search for extraterrestrial life arm.  The planet is the first planet the size of Earth that has been found in the habitable zone of its star.  The possibility of life on this planet is much, much higher than of any exoplanet found to date (The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia lists 1784 as of April 17).

While Kepler-186f is on the outside of the habitable zone, and slightly larger than Earth, it could still hold liquid water, an important characteristic for possible life.  Unfortunately, the Kepler telescope can only detect planets of that size indirectly – in this case by a shadow cast by the planet on its star.  Additional evidence will have to wait for other sensors to target the planet (like the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument (NESSI)).

I expect that NASA will target Kepler-186f and any similar planets found with future exploration efforts.  That should be good enough to keep some money flowing for more launches of space instruments.  But since increased human spaceflight activity by China has not prompted new political support for NASA activity, I don’t think this discovery will do anything to get Congress to stop bickering about the asteroid mission and start agreeing on what to do in space.

It’s still really cool.

Not Every Innovation Prize Gets A Comic Book Tie-In

Next month is the deadline for submissions to the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize (If you haven’t already registered, you’re too late).  Thirty teams are working on a tool that can capture health information and diagnose a collection of 15 diseases.  Come September, 10 finalists should be selected to move on to building full versions of their devices.

In between now and then, there will be a promotional comic book.  Give the origins of the prize name, it’s not as surprising as it seems.  In a special Star Trek comic out in July, the six doctors from the Star Trek television series will join forces to fight a virus.  The special is called Flesh and Stone, and is published by IDW.  The XPRIZE Foundation is involved as well.  However, not many details are available, aside from a possible cover (which includes three tricorders).

I dig the Star Trek, so I’m interested.  But given how far along things are in the competition, I don’t know how effective the book will be in promoting the Prize.  I’ll have to wait and read it to see.