News Article | April 25, 2017
News Article | April 29, 2017
“THE doubt-driven ride this book will take you on is going to physically change your brain,” claims Beau Lotto early in Deviate. He wants to change our brains by making us reassess the reality we perceive. The book draws on his research at University College London, where he studies perception, and his work at the Lab of Misfits at London’s Science Museum – an exhibition creating experiences designed to alter how and what our brains perceive. To this end, Deviate plays with the book’s design: some words get larger fonts (making the page look like a word cloud), and occasionally pages are upside down, or columns of text run diagonally across. The intent is to shake up our very experience of reading. The idea that our perceptions don’t mirror objective, external reality is not new. People with neuropsychological conditions provide stark evidence that we can perceive things that really aren’t there. The question is whether everyday perception is also questionable. Deviate takes sides, aiming to convince that normal perception is also suspect. As Lotto says, “We’re all like Alice all the time… except that we didn’t have to drop through the rabbit hole. We’re already deep inside it.” And he tries myriad ways to show us that. There’s the delicious story of Goethe’s ill-advised odyssey to undermine Newton’s theory of light with his own theory of colour. Goethe got it wrong because “like most of us, he took for granted that he saw reality”. Then there’s Michel Eugène Chevreul, a French chemist who showed why the colours of the tapestries displayed in the Paris showrooms of the 1820s (“rich burgundies, grassy greens, sun-kissed golds”) looked so different in the homes of customers. The perception of a colour has to do with the colours surrounding it – reality is constructed in the mind. That’s the key idea: perception is the outcome of the brain trying to make predictions, based on experiences and assumptions that are either hardwired (over evolutionary time) or that accumulate during individual lifetimes. If we have to change ourselves, for whatever reason, then “the first challenge is to accept everything you do is a reflex grounded in your assumptions”, writes Lotto. He reveals how to see things differently, with some tantalising insights. For instance, if your perceptions are the result of what your brain has experienced and the meanings attributed to these experiences, one way to change your future perceptions is to use the power of thought and imagination to rewire those associated meanings. Unfortunately, the book rarely gets stuck in for long. So in the section on changing our past to influence our future, he writes: “Governments – especially totalitarian ones – and their spin doctors understand the power of re-meaning history”. But in two paragraphs, he has moved on to big data. “One way to change future perceptions is to rewire the meanings associated with past experiences” Deviate can wander into pop psychology, as when Lotto talks about how living purposeful, creative lives means having to embrace uncertainty. He even dispenses relationship advice: “Waking… with another needs to be like seeing a sunrise.” In the end, Deviate can’t quite make up its mind if it’s about the neuroscience of perception or helping us change our lives using neuroscience. The tension is best illustrated when Lotto discusses how hard it was to apply his neuroscientific knowledge to make sense of an illness causing him neurological problems: “You know too much and nothing.” This article appeared in print under the headline “Seeing is not perceiving”
News Article | February 18, 2017
IN 2002, two NASA satellites nicknamed “Tom” and “Jerry” were charting Earth’s gravitational field, as part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. As they moved in the same polar orbit, the distance between them was monitored to an accuracy of 10 micrometres, a tenth of the width of a human hair. When either satellite flew over an area of increased gravity, it would speed up slightly and the distance would increase or decrease. The experiment’s vital result is recounted in Satellite, Doug Millard’s accessible and superbly illustrated book, which tracks the history of this amazing extension to our lives. By combining the changes in distance between the satellites with their respective positions – measured by GPS – it was possible to build a detailed map of Earth’s gravity field, writes Millard, deputy keeper of technologies and engineering at London’s Science Museum. Satellites have a long history, with Isaac Newton the first to imagine one in Principia Mathematica (1687). He envisioned a cannon projecting a ball from a mountaintop with ever more force. In the end, noted Newton, the ball would reach beyond Earth’s circumference, retain its velocity and “describe the same curve over and over”. But Newton had no concept of a satellite’s usefulness. That came in 1869, when Edward Everett Hale suggested in his story, The Brick Moon, that they could be used as an orbiting reference point for measuring longitude. By the early 20th century, rocket pioneers like Robert Goddard, Hermann Oberth and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky were showing how satellites could be launched, and in 1944, a German military team led by Wernher von Braun fired a V2 missile to an altitude of some 180 kilometres. Inspired by the V2, in 1945 Arthur C. Clarke, then a Royal Air Force radar engineer, predicted that it would take only three satellites in geostationary orbit, 36,000 kilometres above the equator, to handle Earth’s communications. In the 1950s, the US and Soviet Union raced to launch a satellite. The Soviets won in 1957, marking the start of the space age. The name of their satellite, Sputnik, translated into “fellow traveller”, or companion to Earth. Fellow traveller was also cold-war speak for Communist sympathiser. The triumph humiliated the US, provoking the country to set up NASA, launch Explorer (its first satellite) in 1958, establish the Apollo space programme in 1961, and Telstar, the first commercial communications satellite, in 1962. Millard, who curated the Science Museum’s 2015 hit Cosmonauts show, mixes technology with Russian, US and European politics to great effect. For example, his book includes an early 1960s photo of a US aircraft that could capture a capsule dropped by a US satellite, containing film of Earth’s surface. He quotes an off-the-record comment by President Lyndon Johnson about the secret film’s value: “We were building things we didn’t need to build… Because of satellites I know how many missiles the enemy has.” “Isaac Newton imagined satellites in Principia Mathematica, but had no concept of their usefulness” Today, everyone has access to detailed images of Earth’s surface. More than 1400 satellites, some 500 in geostationary orbit, predict weather and handle navigation, communications and TV broadcasting. But, says Millard, we must not depend on them completely. In 2009, a retired Russian satellite crashed spectacularly into a working US communications satellite. Indeed, tonnes of space junk threaten to degrade all satellite services. Then there are solar flares, which caused electrical disruption in 1859 and 1921. In 2012, one just missed Earth. The price of our connected world is that the next big flare will produce chaos. This article appeared in print under the headline “Connecting the world”
News Article | November 12, 2015
The Science Museum will not renew a controversial sponsorship deal with Shell in which the oil company provided significant funding for its high-profile climate change exhibition. The museum in London answered a freedom of information request saying: “No, the Science Museum Group [formerly the National Museum of Science & Industry] does not have plans to renew its existing sponsorship deal or initiate a new deal or funding agreement with Royal Dutch Shell.” The Shell arrangement – the value of which has not been made public – will lapse in December despite the fact that the museum’s director argued in June that such external funding was vital at a time of declining government funding. Critics have previously attacked the choice of a fossil fuel company as a funder for the museum’s Atmosphere gallery on climate science and said emails show Shell sought to influence the programme. However, current and former directors of the museum have rejected the charges, saying no curatorial changes had been made on Shell’s behalf. Chris Garrard, of campaign group BP or not BP?, which discovered the deal would not be renewed, called on the museum to end its relationship with BP as well. “It’s no secret that Shell relentlessly lobbies against measures to tackle climate change – but the Science Museum went ahead with this ill-advised deal nonetheless. This is a step in the right direction, but the museum needs to stop legitimising the fossil fuel industry completely by ditching its deal with BP too,” he said. Ian Blatchford, the museum’s director, has defended the sponsorship, saying: “I know some people will have a broader disagreement with our decision to form partnerships with corporations such as Shell. I respect their right to hold that opinion, but I fundamentally disagree.” The Science Museum told the Guardian it had not changed its position, and the five-year deal was simply coming to an end. It did not rule out future partnerships with Shell. “For the avoidance of doubt, we have a long-term relationship with Shell, with whom we remain in open dialogue. We may or may not enter into partnership agreements with Shell in the future,” a spokesman said. Former director Chris Rapley, who approved the Shell deal, did not want to comment. He has robustly defended the sponsorship, saying the museum needed the funding and that disengagement from oil companies was “too simplistic” because society still relied on their products. The lapsing of the deal will be seen as a blow to Shell after it was forced out of the Prince of Wales’s climate change project earlier this year because of its efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic. Last year, toy firm Lego also ended its partnership with the oil company after a sustained campaign by Greenpeace, which said Shell’s polar plans were at odds with the Danish company’s green image. A Shell spokesperson said: “Shell and the Science Museum have a longstanding relationship, based on shared interests such as the need to inspire young people about science. Shell will continue to be a supporter of the museum and we look forward to maintaining our strong relationship into the future.” Shell has successfully lobbied in Europe to undermine targets for renewable energy, which is seen by the world’s top climate science panel as key in tackling climate change. In September, the company shelved its plans for Arctic drilling off the coast of Alaska, conceding privately that opposition from environmentalists had played a part in its decision. Campaigners against fossil fuel sponsorship in the arts said the Science Museum’s decision not to renew its deal with Shell would put pressure on other top cultural institutions to do the same. BP has deals in place worth £10m over five years with Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Royal Opera House. Shell is a sponsor of the National Theatre on London’s Southbank. Anna Galkina of the art and environment group Platform London, which this year won an FOI battle to force the Tate to reveal how much it was paid by BP, said: “Tate is among four other cultural institutions that have BP sponsorship deals that expire at the end of 2016. They’re going to be deciding what to do on that. So really the Science Museum news should be a useful prod to reconsider these relationships, especially with the Paris climate talks coming up.” However, the director of the Museums Association said that the issue was not straightforward. “I think that’s too much of a black and white way of approaching it,” said Sharon Heal of the idea that all museums and galleries should stop taking money from oil companies. “Obviously we do recognise that museums are in a difficult place in terms of their public funding environment. However they are in a good place in terms of public trust and the public don’t want to see that abused or misused through any sponsorship arrangements.” National institutions such as the Science Museum face budget cuts of between 25 and 40% as part of the government’s comprehensive spending review, details of which are due to be announced on 25 November, she said. Heal added that museums had been encouraged by the government to develop alternative sources of income. Activists are planning to target the Louvre in Paris during the UN climate summit that opens in three weeks’ time, over the art gallery’s ties with French oil company Total and Italian oil company Eni.
News Article | January 27, 2017
In the second coming of sorts, British astronaut Tim Peake will be returning to the International Space Station for a second mission to be sponsored by the European Space Agency. Though the next mission has not been named, it may happen before 2019. The next European astronaut tipped to go to space in May 2017 is Paolo Nespoli of Italy. Peake announced this at the Science Museum in London during an event. "It's what every astronaut wants to do," he said. Peake's first space mission in December 2015 earned him the distinction as the first British astronaut on board the ISS. During the six-month stint at ISS, Peake executed many research projects. He is credited with zero gravity flips and interactions with supporters back on Earth. While spending 186 days in ISS, the 44-year-old Peake undertook more than 250 experiments. By profession, he is a helicopter test pilot and a family man with two children. Peake's time in ISS was also noted for a spacewalk with the NASA astronaut Tim Kopra. Peake's space trip was also confirmed by Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark, who hailed Peake's work on scientific research. Peake is known in the UK for driving interest in science, technology, engineering and maths in schools and nurturing talent for the future technical expertise of the country. "Tim Peake's Principia mission inspired a generation, and showed just how far science can take you," Clark said. The announcement of Peake's second trip to ISS came during the unveiling of the Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft, which brought Peake from the ISS to Earth on June 16, 2016. During the event, Peake said he was seeing the spacecraft first time since he landed in Kazakhstan and expressed his liking to be back in the ISS and said he would go back to space "in a heartbeat." The Soyuz TMA-19M spacecraft has now been acquired by the Science Museum for making it a part of a new virtual reality experience to be voiced by Peake. Ian Blatchford, director of Science Museum Group, said unveiling Soyuz TMA-19M has been an honor, as it extends the space frenzy created by Tim's ISS journey in December 2015. "What better way to launch the UK-Russia Year of Science and Education than displaying the Russian-built craft that took the UK's first ESA astronaut into and back from space?" he added. The British business secretary also announced that a national funding of US$88 million for promoting UK space businesses in areas like monitoring of the environment and other global issues will be coming soon. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 21, 2017
British astronaut Tim Peake poses with the Soyuz TMA-19M descent module that carried him and his crew to and from the ISS, at the Science Museum in London, Britain, Jan. 26, 2017. —If some Members of Parliament lawmakers get their way, satellites will blast off from British soil within three years. A draft “Spaceflight Bill” unveiled Tuesday detailed regulations for a British spaceport that could begin operations as early as 2020. A “Launch UK” conference brought space industry leaders together in London to discuss this possibility. While Britain has sent astronauts and satellites into orbit for decades, it had to partner with the United States, Russia, and other countries for a ride. But as a lucrative new market emerges for satellite launches, some say it’s time for Britain to develop its own launch capability. “We have never launched a spaceflight before from this country,” said the country’s aviation minister, Lord Tariq Ahmad, in a statement. “Our ambition is to allow for safe and competitive access to space from the UK, so we remain at the forefront of a new commercial space age, for the next 40 years.” As The Christian Science Monitor has previously reported, small, inexpensive satellites known as CubeSats have created a lucrative new market for satellite technology and launches in recent years. Britain has benefited from this growth, according to a report published last June by the House of Commons’s Science and Technology Committee. “In 2012–13, the UK space economy generated a turnover of £11.8 billion [and] directly employed over 35,000 people.” The report’s authors “found an ambitious sector poised for even greater success, particularly in the field of small satellites,” and urged the nation to develop this potential by “expanding the use of ‘space-enabled services’ by business and by the public sector. Achieving this target could deliver billions of pounds worth of new exports and up to 100,000 skilled jobs.” The Royal Academy of Engineering says that a Britain-based spaceport “has the potential to catalyse the market for low-cost access to space, hand-in-hand with the development of smaller satellites that could be launched from the spaceport.” The draft bill unveiled Tuesday sets out regulations for a spaceport to operate. Last May, Queen Elizabeth II suggested to Parliament that though the spaceport might not be built with public funds, the government could "ease regulatory burdens" to encourage investors. Jo Johnson, the nation's science minister, says he wants British spaceflight to be “primarily a commercial enterprise." But it’s not yet clear if the private sector will want to pick up the tab. Ruy Pinto, the chief operating officer of telecom firm Inmarsat, told Aviation Week that pro-satellite incentives are more important than having a spaceport." Firms like Inmarsat already have several attractive options for getting their satellites into space, including deploying them from the International Space Station or launching them aboard a low-cost Indian rocket. If Britain wants to compete with those options, it will have some catching up to do. Developing Britain's space sector could also complicate its relationship with the European Space Agency (ESA). That 22-member inter-governmental organization exists separately from the European Union, and Britain plans to stay in even as it leaves the EU. But the spaceport’s backers may want to keep more of Britain's ESA contribution at home. The report from the House of Commons, published just days before the Brexit vote, said, "Over three-quarters of the UK Space Agency’s expenditure is channelled through the European Space Agency which gives the UK a high return. An even greater return could be secured, however, through establishing a strong national space program."
News Article | February 8, 2017
A technician holds the hand of Rob's Open Source Android (ROSAL) which was built in France from 2010-2016, during a press preview for the Robot exhibition held at the Science Museum in London, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. The exhibition which shows 500 years of mechanical and robotic advances is open to the public form Feb. 8 through to Sept. 3. As robots appear more in daily life, what jobs should be performed by humans and who should be responsible when robots go awry? —Someday soon, you will ask a robot to fetch a slice of pizza from your refrigerator. On that day, you’ll trust that the robot won’t tear through your walls and rip the fridge door off its hinges to get at your leftovers. Getting robots to do the things humans do in the ways that humans do them (or better) without human intervention is an immensely wicked problem of autonomy. With as many as half of American jobs at risk of automation according to one study, and with an expected 10 million self driving cars on the road by 2020, robots are going to be everywhere, forever, and they won’t go away. The enormous scope and scale of how autonomous robots will begin changing our lives requires the public and technologists alike to consider the challenges of autonomy. Where will we allow robots to intercede into our lives? How do we make ethical judgments about the behavior of robots? What kind of partnerships will we develop with them? These are big questions. And one key challenge at the core of many of them is, in roboticist-talk, what it means to establish “meaningful human control,” or sufficient oversight over an autonomous agent. To get a grip on our autonomous future, we’ll need to figure out what constitutes “enough” oversight of a machine imbued with incredible intelligence. Today, most robots are made to accomplish a very specific set of tasks within a very specific set of parameters, such as geographic or time limitations, that are tied to the circuits of the machine itself. “We’re not at the stage where robots can do everything that humans can do,” says Dr. Spring Berman, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Arizona State University. “They could be multi-functional but they’re limited by their hardware.” Thus, they need a human hand to help direct them toward a specific goal, in a futuristic version of ancient dog and human partnerships, says Dr. Nancy Cooke, a professor of human systems engineering at ASU, who studies human-machine teaming. Before dogs can lead search and rescue teams to buried skiers or sniff out bombs, they require an immense amount of training and “on-leash” time, Cooke says, and the same level of training is necessary for robots, though that training is usually programmed and based on multiple tests as opposed to the robot actually “learning.” Even after rigorous “training” and vetting against a variety of distractions and difficulties, sometimes robots still do things they aren’t supposed to do because of quirks buried in their programming. In those cases, someone needs to be held accountable if the robot goes outside of its boundaries. “It can’t be some patsy sitting in a cubicle somewhere pushing a button,” says Dr. Heather Roff, a research scientist at ASU’s Global Security Initiative and senior research fellow at Oxford University. “That’s not meaningful.” Based on her work with autonomous weapons systems, Dr. Roff says she is also wary of the sentiment that there will always be a human around. “A machine is not a morally responsible agent,” she says, “a human has to have a pretty good idea of what he’s asking the system to do, and the human has to be accountable.” The allure of technology resolving problems difficult for humans, like identifying enemy combatants, is immense. Yet technological solutions require us to reflect deeply on the system being deployed: How is the combatant being identified? By skin tone, or gender or age or the presence or absence of certain clothing? What happens when a domestic police force deploys a robot equipped with this software? Ultimately, whose finger is on the trigger? Many of the ethics questions in robotics boil down to how the technology could be used by someone else in the future, and how much decision-making power you give to a robot, says Berman. “I think it’s really important that a moral agent is the solely responsible person [for a robot],” says Roff. “Humans justify bad actions all the time even without robots. We can’t create a situation where someone can shirk their moral responsibilities.” And we can’t allow robots to make decisions without asking why we want robots to make those decisions in the first place. Answering those questions allows us to understand and implement meaningful human control.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Here is a tweet from Fengyun, a piece of space junk currently orbiting Earth at around 28,000 kilometres per hour: Fengyun has been up there since 2007, but now it and two other pieces of debris have a new purpose in life. They are part of Project Adrift, Cath Le Couteur and Nick Ryan’s artistic exploration of the secret world of space junk – and what a serious problem it is. Fengyun used to be part of Chinese weather satellite FY-1C, until it was blown to smithereens by an experimental anti-satellite missile. It might burn up soon, but millions of other pieces, including Fengyun’s estimated 2840 high-velocity siblings, will continue to circulate. Any one of them could hit a working satellite any second now, and blow that to smithereens too. Through three Twitter streams, a short film and a soundscape called Machine 9, Project Adrift captures the weirdness of this enormous junkyard floating 1000 or so kilometres above the planet. Vanguard, an abandoned weather satellite whose claim to fame is to be oldest of the estimated 100 million human artefacts in space, narrates an 11-minute documentary by Le Couteur. “I had value,” says the satellite, voiced by the film director Sally Potter. “And now? I drift. Aimlessly. In perpetual orbit.” All kinds of stuff becomes space junk: batteries, old satellites, rocket pieces – and once, even a spatula. Astronaut Piers Sellers, interviewed by Le Couteur for her film, created a minor crisis in 2006 when the spatula he was using to make repairs to the outside of the International Space Station went missing. “She went off to become a satellite of her own,” he says. Nick Ryan, meanwhile, has given the junk a soundtrack. A composer and sound artist, Ryan transformed data on the trajectories of 27,000 pieces into a score for Machine 9, a giant, specially built “space debris sound instrument”. Every time a piece of debris flies silently overhead, the instrument generates one of 250 different recorded sounds made with earthly rubbish. The succession of knocks, clicks and other strange sounds eerily highlights the threat junk poses to our future in space. When a piece of debris hits a satellite, it creates thousands more pieces. They may hit other satellites, whose pieces will hit others, and on and on into a cascade of collisions. Never mind reaching Mars, one day there could be so much debris we won’t even be able to leave Earth. There are numerous efforts, of course, to find ways to clean up. “Janitor” satellites, laser tractor beams and soccer ball robots have been proposed, while Japan is developing an electromagnetic tether. All projects are at a very early stage, and all face enormous technical challenges. Sellers, who died shortly after Le Couteur’s film was made, appears on screen to explain one of them. “Everything smaller than 10 centimetres across… we can’t see it,” he says. Being unable to detect small pieces means we have no way to remove them. His spatula burned up a few years ago. But Fengyun, Vanguard and Suitsat, a floating spacesuit, remain in space limbo, and you can find out how they feel about it by following them on Twitter. Soon, 4500 more satellites will be sent into low-Earth orbit to enable global broadband coverage – meaning they will also provide more targets for the junk. Project Adrift is a compelling and timely reminder that we need to stop just sending stuff up there and start thinking about what we are going to do about it. You can see Machine 9 and talk to the artists, along with space junk expert Hugh Lewis, at the Science Museum in London from 14 to 16 February
Blatchford I.,Science Museum
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences | Year: 2016
There is a fascinating tradition of depicting solar eclipses inWestern art, although these representations have changed over time. Eclipses have often been an important feature of Christian iconography, but valued as much for their biblical significance as for the splendour of the physical event. However, as Western culture passed through the Renaissance and Enlightenment the depictions of eclipses came to reflect new astronomical knowledge and a thirst for rational learning well beyond the confines of the church and other elites. Artists also played a surprisingly important role in helping scientists in the nineteenth century understand and record the full phenomena of an eclipse, even as the advent of photography also came to solve a number of scientific puzzles. In the most recent century, artists have responded to eclipses with symbolism, abstraction and playfulness. This article is part of the themed issue Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse. © 2016 The Authors.
News Article | February 7, 2017
Design critic Oliver Wainwright goes behind the scenes at the Robots exhibition at the Science Museum in London. Curator Ling Lee introduces him to some of the most advanced humanoid robots in the world, from a lifelike baby to robots without conscience. She explains the stage that the technology is at, who may use it and how far it has to go