BBC | Podcast, ±24 min episodes every 1 week
An in-depth look at the most significant ideas, discoveries and trends in science, from the smallest microbe to the furthest corner of space. Podcast weekly on Mondays.
For more than 65 years we have known that smoking kills. So how can it be that a Mexican wave of tobacco use, disease and death is heading at breakneck speed towards the world’s poorest people? Millions will die of lung cancer and it is hard to grasp that this is a largely preventable disease. Uruguay in South America could hold the key to breaking this wave. Under a President who is a cancer specialist they introduced some of the most radical tobacco control policies in the world and attracted the wrath of corporate tobacco giant, Philip Morris, in the process. Anu Anand reports on Uruguay’s crusade to save its citizens.Image: Roberto, life long smoker who has lung cancerCredit: Anu Anand
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.
Robots are becoming present in our lives, as companions, carers and as workers. Adam Rutherford explores our relationship with these machines. Have we made them to be merely more dextrous versions of us? Why do we want to make replicas of ourselves? Should we be worried that they could replace us at work? Is it a good idea that robots are becoming carers for the elderly? Adam Rutherford meets some of the latest robots and their researchers and explores how the current reality has been influenced by fictional robots from films. He discusses the need for robots to be human like with Dr Ben Russell, curator of the current exhibition of robots at the Science Museum in London. In the Bristol Robotics Laboratory Adam meets Pepper, a robot that is being programmed to look after the elderly by Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly. He also interacts with Kaspar, a robot that Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn at the University of Hertfordshire has developed to help children with autism learn how to communicate better. Cultural commentator Matthew Sweet considers the role of robots in films from Robbie in Forbidden Planet to the replicants in Blade Runner. Dr Kate Devlin of Goldsmiths, University of London, talks about sex robots, in the past and now. And Alan Winfield, Professor of Robot Ethics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, looks ahead to a future when robots may be taking jobs from us.Image; BBC ©
The idea of robots goes back to the Ancient Greeks. In myths Hephaestus, the god of fire, created robots to assist in his workshop. In the medieval period the wealthy showed off their automata. In France in the 15th century a Duke of Burgundy had his chateau filled with automata that played practical tricks on his guests, such as spraying water at them. By the 18th century craftsmen were making life like performing robots. In 1738 in Paris people queued to see the amazing flute playing automaton, designed and built by Jacques Vaucanson. With the industrial revolution the idea of automata became intertwined with that of human workers. The word robot first appears in a 1921 play, Rossum's Universal Robots, by Czech author Carel Chapek. Drawing on examples from fact and fiction, Adam Rutherford explores the role of robots in past societies and discovers they were nearly always made in our image, and inspired both fear and wonder in their audiences. He talks to Dr Elly Truitt of Bryn Mawr College in the US about ancient and medieval robots, to Simon Shaffer, Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University and to Dr Andrew Nahum of the Science Museum about !8th century automata, and to Dr Ben Russell of the Science Museum about robots and workers in the 20th century. And Matthew Sweet provides the cultural context.Picture credit: BBC
IBM is giving users worldwide the chance to use a quantum computer; Google is promising "quantum supremacy" by the end of the year; Microsoft's Station Q is working on the hardware and operating system for a machine that will outpace any conventional computer. Roland Pease meets some of the experts, and explores the technology behind the next information revolution.Picture: Bright future for Quantum Computing, credit: Jonathan Home @ETH
Synthetic biology, coming to a street near you. Engineers and biologists who hack the information circuits of living cells are already getting products to the market. Roland Pease meets the experts who are transforming living systems to transform our lives.Picture: MIT spinout Synlogic is re-programming bacteria found in the gut as "living therapeutics" to treat major diseases and rare genetic disorders, courtesy of Synlogic
As a small rocky planet, Mars is similar in many respects to the Earth and for that reason, many have thought it may harbour some kind of life. A hundred years ago, there was serious talk about the possibility of advanced civilisations there. Even in early 1970s, scientists mused that plant-like aliens might grow in the Martian soil. The best hope now is for something microbial. But the discovery that even simple life survives there or did some time in its history would be a profound one. We would know that life is not something special to Earth.NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered that 3.7 billion years ago, there were conditions hospitable to life on Mars – a sustained period of time with lakes and rivers of water. The earlier rover Spirit found deposits of silica from ancient hot springs which some planetary scientists argue bear the hallmarks of being shaped by microbes - possibly. The next five years may dramatically advance the hunt for life on Mars. In 2020 the European and Russian space agencies will send their ExoMars rover. That will drill two metres into the Red Planet’s surface and sample material shielded from the sterilising radiation. It will analyse for life both extant and extinct. In the future, robotic or possibly human missions may even explore Martian cave systems in Mars' vast volcanoes. Monica talks to Nasa's Penny Boston whose adventures in some of the world's most dangerous caves have convinced her that underground is the best place ...
In Lifechangers, Kevin Fong talks to people about their lives in science.Major General Charles Bolden – a former NASA administrator – talks to Kevin Fong about his extraordinary life, from childhood in racially segregated South Carolina to the first African American to command a space shuttle. He had originally hoped to join the Navy, but was unable to as an African American. Although Charles refused to take no for an answer and after much petitioning he was accepted. From there he reached for the stars.Image: Charlie Bolden, © Alex Wong/Getty Images