National / International News

Reporter's Notebook: A Not-So-Grand Tour Of Ethiopia's Top Hospital

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 01:02

The reporter asks the nurse what the hospital needs. The nurse says, "If you don't help me, why do you ask me?" Welcome to Black Lion, said to be the country's best hospital.

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Min Headroom: Pop artificial intelligence t 30

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 01:00

For some reason, the 1984-born TV icon Max Headroom came up in conversation this week, and I immediately went down a very deep YouTube rabbit hole. Headroom was the star of a British sci-fi movie and TV show, talk show host and music video jockey, a David Letterman interviewee, and one of many Coke-hawking celebrities.

He was also one 0f the earliest forms of fictionalized artificial intelligence (along with the "Flight of the Navigator" spaceship and C-3PO) that I came in contact with as a kid. I am four years older than Max, but I wasn't even really conscious of him as a kind of AI. What I could discern: his glitchy and pitch-shifted vocal delivery, as well as his backdrop, was computer generated. Or at least it was meant to look that way. I was kind of scared of him. He yelled a lot and twitched and the lined walls of his rotating digital box of a room seemed weirdly prison-like. Here's an example. 


Kind of scary, right? The character's origin story is scary, too. In the 1985 television show, a TV reporter named Edison Carter has a bad accident after discovering a dubious television company's experiments and then gets his brain dumped into a computer program. The whiz-kid who does the dump tells a bad-guy network executive, "I could make a memory dump of his synaptic circuits...the brain is only a binary computer. A series of on-off switches. That's the basis of my computer generated people program." An interesting line to hear the same month IBM unveiled computer chips that mimic brain functions.

As a way to understand what was happening with lots of technologies in the 1980s, Headroom is a fascinating example in pop culture. While tape decks were first giving way to CD players, while popular music was featuring more synthesizers and digital drum sounds over their acoustic forbears, Headroom was also straddling the analogue-digital world. The rotating block that served to house Max's disembodied head was apparently first created with analogue animation technique, and later replaced with computer graphics. Max himself couldn't be made by a computer yet, so instead he was portrayed by the actor Matt Frewer and a ton of makeup. Max's visage also appeared in one of the strangest and most significant US cases of broadcast signal hijacking to date. Doubly strange because the intro to the show's first episode has network engineers talking about "intermittent loss" in a network link of some kind. 

I think what's most interesting to me about Max is how people in the 1980s were imagining AI, and how the character and the production compares to our current AI projects. These days a lot of our artificial intelligence work is embedded in faceless, voiceless algorithms and machine learning, while other forms, like Google Now and Siri -- whose inventors are right now working on a more powerful kind of AI -- are not disembodied heads but disembodied voices. Like a lot of the future we imagined in the past, Max delivers an entertaining picture. Definitely a 1980s picture. But is he as weird as his AI successors? 

21,000 council tax discounts checked

BBC - Thu, 2014-08-14 00:54
More than 21,000 people in Flintshire who have the 25% single person discount on their council tax are to have their claims checked against credit reference data.

VIDEO: Is politics risking space projects?

BBC - Thu, 2014-08-14 00:46
Collaboration between the US and Russia on the International Space Station (ISS) could be jeopardised as tensions between the two nations create political disputes.

Broadway lights dimmed for Williams

BBC - Thu, 2014-08-14 00:35
The marquees of Broadway's theatres are dimmed in memory of Robin Williams following the actor and comedian's death earlier this week.

India children die trapped in car

BBC - Thu, 2014-08-14 00:31
Police in India say four children have died from suffocation after they got trapped inside a car and could not open the door from inside.

Young Migrants May Request Asylum, But It's Hard To Get

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 00:30

Amid the emotional debate over the surge in unaccompanied minors from Central America, some migrants will be given refugee status while others can try for asylum.

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Pellegrini defends team selection

BBC - Thu, 2014-08-14 00:03
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini plays down the significance of omitting English players from his Community Shield side.

Who Gets First Dibs On Transplanted Liver? Rules May Change

NPR News - Wed, 2014-08-13 23:34

Location, location, location too often trumps medical need, some doctors say. But another solution to making the distribution of scarce organs fairer worries some transplant surgeons and patients.

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Woods' decision a 'big favour' for Watson

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 23:07
Tiger Woods' absence from the Ryder Cup is a shame but he will not be missed, says golf correspondent Iain Carter.

Thursday's gossip column

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 22:22
Hull target Welbeck, Liverpool want Rossi, Arsenal continue Cavani pursuit, while Spurs could swap Soldado for Guarin.

The gap in the world's longest road

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 22:08
The uncrossable gap in the middle of the world's longest road

Councils 'should have more power'

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 22:02
Councils should be able to raise most of the money they spend from local taxes, according to a new report.

Australia premier's daughter charged

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 22:02
The daughter of one of Australia's most well-known politicians, Neville Wran, has been charged with murdering a suspected drug dealer, police say.

Injured Woods ruled out of Ryder Cup

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 21:45
Tiger Woods rules himself out of September's Ryder Cup at Gleneagles after struggling with a back injury.

Lawro's predictions - opening weekend

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 21:43
BBC Sport's football expert Mark Lawrenson takes on Courteeners frontman Liam Fray on the first weekend of the Premier League season.

Fourteen in hospital after crash

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 21:31
Fourteen people are taken to hospital, two with serious injuries, after a crash involving a bus and a car in West Lothian.

Housing market 'pauses for breath'

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 21:13
The housing market "paused for breath" across the UK in July and went into reverse in London, surveyors say.

Why choose Birmingham for a sperm bank?

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 21:09
Can Birmingham solve the UK's sperm donor shortage?

SAS 'in Iraq' and A-level 'shock' - papers

BBC - Wed, 2014-08-13 21:08
The UK's role in helping refugees from Iraq's minority communities who have fled Islamist militants leads many papers, while other focus on A-level results.
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