The US television network, Home Box Office (HBO) is getting ready to première Westworld, a new series based on a movie first released in 1973. Here’s more about the movie from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
Westworld is a 1973 science fiction Western thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton and produced by Paul Lazarus III about amusement park robots that malfunction and begin killing visitors. It stars Yul Brynner as an android in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as guests of the park.
Westworld was the first theatrical feature directed by Michael Crichton. It was also the first feature film to use digital image processing, to pixellate photography to simulate an android point of view. The film was nominated for Hugo, Nebula and Saturn awards, and was followed by a sequel film, Futureworld, and a short-lived television series, Beyond Westworld. In August 2013, HBO announced plans for a television series based on the original film.
The latest version is due to start broadcasting in the US on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016 and as part of the publicity effort the producers are profiled by Sean Captain for Fast Company in a Sept. 30, 2016 article,
As Game of Thrones marches into its final seasons, HBO is debuting this Sunday what it hopes—and is betting millions of dollars on—will be its new blockbuster series: Westworld, a thorough reimagining of Michael Crichton’s 1973 cult classic film about a Western theme park populated by lifelike robot hosts. A philosophical prelude to Jurassic Park, Crichton’s Westworld is a cautionary tale about technology gone very wrong: the classic tale of robots that rise up and kill the humans. HBO’s new series, starring Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, and Ed Harris, is subtler and also darker: The humans are the scary ones.
“We subverted the entire premise of Westworld in that our sympathies are meant to be with the robots, the hosts,” says series co-creator Lisa Joy. She’s sitting on a couch in her Burbank office next to her partner in life and on the show—writer, director, producer, and husband Jonathan Nolan—who goes by Jonah. …
Their Westworld, which runs in the revered Sunday-night 9 p.m. time slot, combines present-day production values and futuristic technological visions—thoroughly revamping Crichton’s story with hybrid mechanical-biological robots [emphasis mine] fumbling along the blurry line between simulated and actual consciousness.
Captain never does explain the “hybrid mechanical-biological robots.” For example, do they have human skin or other organs grown for use in a robot? In other words, how are they hybrid?
That nitpick aside, the article provides some interesting nuggets of information and insight into the themes and ideas 2016 Westworld’s creators are exploring (Note: A link has been removed),
… Based on the four episodes I previewed (which get progressively more interesting), Westworld does a good job with the trope—which focused especially on the awakening of Dolores, an old soul of a robot played by Evan Rachel Wood. Dolores is also the catchall Spanish word for suffering, pain, grief, and other displeasures. “There are no coincidences in Westworld,” says Joy, noting that the name is also a play on Dolly, the first cloned mammal.
The show operates on a deeper, though hard-to-define level, that runs beneath the shoot-em and screw-em frontier adventure and robotic enlightenment narratives. It’s an allegory of how even today’s artificial intelligence is already taking over, by cataloging and monetizing our lives and identities. “Google and Facebook, their business is reading your mind in order to advertise shit to you,” says Jonah Nolan. …
“Exist free of rules, laws or judgment. No impulse is taboo,” reads a spoof home page for the resort that HBO launched a few weeks ago. That’s lived to the fullest by the park’s utterly sadistic loyal guest, played by Ed Harris and known only as the Man in Black.
The article also features some quotes from scientists on the topic of artificial intelligence (Note: Links have been removed),
“In some sense, being human, but less than human, it’s a good thing,” says Jon Gratch, professor of computer science and psychology at the University of Southern California [USC]. Gratch directs research at the university’s Institute for Creative Technologies on “virtual humans,” AI-driven onscreen avatars used in military-funded training programs. One of the projects, SimSensei, features an avatar of a sympathetic female therapist, Ellie. It uses AI and sensors to interpret facial expressions, posture, tension in the voice, and word choices by users in order to direct a conversation with them.
“One of the things that we’ve found is that people don’t feel like they’re being judged by this character,” says Gratch. In work with a National Guard unit, Ellie elicited more honest responses about their psychological stresses than a web form did, he says. Other data show that people are more honest when they know the avatar is controlled by an AI versus being told that it was controlled remotely by a human mental health clinician.
“If you build it like a human, and it can interact like a human. That solves a lot of the human-computer or human-robot interaction issues,” says professor Paul Rosenbloom, also with USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. He works on artificial general intelligence, or AGI—the effort to create a human-like or human level of intellect.
Rosenbloom is building an AGI platform called Sigma that models human cognition, including emotions. These could make a more effective robotic tutor, for instance, “There are times you want the person to know you are unhappy with them, times you want them to know that you think they’re doing great,” he says, where “you” is the AI programmer. “And there’s an emotional component as well as the content.”
Achieving full AGI could take a long time, says Rosenbloom, perhaps a century. Bernie Meyerson, IBM’s chief innovation officer, is also circumspect in predicting if or when Watson could evolve into something like HAL or Her. “Boy, we are so far from that reality, or even that possibility, that it becomes ludicrous trying to get hung up there, when we’re trying to get something to reasonably deal with fact-based data,” he says.
Gratch, Rosenbloom, and Meyerson are talking about screen-based entities and concepts of consciousness and emotions. Then, there’s a scientist who’s talking about the difficulties with robots,
… Ken Goldberg, an artist and professor of engineering at UC [University of California] Berkeley, calls the notion of cyborg robots in Westworld “a pretty common trope in science fiction.” (Joy will take up the theme again, as the screenwriter for a new Battlestar Galactica movie.) Goldberg’s lab is struggling just to build and program a robotic hand that can reliably pick things up. But a sympathetic, somewhat believable Dolores in a virtual setting is not so farfetched.
Captain delves further into a thorny issue,
“Can simulations, at some point, become the real thing?” asks Patrick Lin, director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University. “If we perfectly simulate a rainstorm on a computer, it’s still not a rainstorm. We won’t get wet. But is the mind or consciousness different? The jury is still out.”
While artificial consciousness is still in the dreamy phase, today’s level of AI is serious business. “What was sort of a highfalutin philosophical question a few years ago has become an urgent industrial need,” says Jonah Nolan. It’s not clear yet how the Delos management intends, beyond entrance fees, to monetize Westworld, although you get a hint when Ford tells Theresa Cullen “We know everything about our guests, don’t we? As we know everything about our employees.”
AI has a clear moneymaking model in this world, according to Nolan. “Facebook is monetizing your social graph, and Google is advertising to you.” Both companies (and others) are investing in AI to better understand users and find ways to make money off this knowledge. …
As my colleague David Bruggeman has often noted on his Pasco Phronesis blog, there’s a lot of science on television.
For anyone who’s interested in artificial intelligence and the effects it may have on urban life, see my Sept. 27, 2016 posting featuring the ‘One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence (AI100)’, hosted by Stanford University.
Points to anyone who recognized Jonah (Jonathan) Nolan as the producer for the US television series, Person of Interest, a programme based on the concept of a supercomputer with intelligence and personality and the ability to continuously monitor the population 24/7.
A science rhyming quiz set to music? Here’s more from David Bruggeman’s Aug. 30, 2016 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog; Note: Links have been removed),
Tom McFadden, fresh off of his featured appearance as Joseph-Louis Lagrange in William Rowan Hamilton [a science-oriented production by Tim Blais featuring music from the Broadway musical, Hamilton], has a rhyming quiz going on at his YouTube channel. That’s right, a rhyming quiz, and it’s called Fill in the Planck.
There are two quizzes so far, one on the JUNO spacecraft and the most recent on water. The idea is to complete each rhyme in the verse. …
McFadden includes instructions in his into. to the quiz. Here’s the second in the series, Hot Water – Fill in the Planck #2,
Thanks to David Bruggeman’s Aug. 20, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for this tidbit from Marvel Comics (Note: A link has been removed),
This week Marvel announced that several of its titles will have STEAM-themed variant covers. Readers are likely familiar with the STEM acronym – science, technology, engineering and math. STEAM adds art to the acronym, and can be favored by some advocates (who are generally objecting to the crowding out of many subjects in American education).
In November  Marvel will issue variant covers for five of its titles, each one corresponding to a category in STEAM. …
An Aug. 19, 2016 article by Xavier Harding for Popular Science provides more information and preview images for the covers,
Marvel heroes are no strangers to science. Characters like Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Reed Richards and many more all have ties in science as either part-time, or full-time, scientists. Keeping with their science-based roots, Marvel’s latest crop of characters are engaging in the science fun as well.
In an attempt to spark interest in math and the sciences amongst readers, Marvel will introduce STEAM variant covers. Each cover will represent one of the themes relating to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. The education-themed Marvel covers will hit stands November 2016.
In a statement issued by Marvel, senior vice president of sales & marketing David Gabriel mentions how Marvel’s characters have inspired fans for ages. “With our new STEAM variants, we plan to continue to motivate our fans to explore their passions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math,” said Gabriel, “and present these disciplines through some of our favorite young heroes who are doing just that – following their dreams and preparing for the challenges that await them ahead.”
Moon Girl: Science
The Moon Girl, Lunella Lafayette, covers Marvel’s STEAM-branded issue.
*Iron*-Man Cover: Engineering
Invincible Iron Man
Riri Williams will be know known as Ironheart
Champions Cover: Arts
Marvel STEAM branded cover
Starring Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Incredible Hulk, Viv and teenage Cyclops, this cover offers the Arts in STEAM.
I miss the days when you could find comic books at drugstores. In order to find these, I’ll have to make a special effort.
A chimera is an animal/human hybrid (shades of the Island of Dr. Moreau) and the US government conducted a public consultation on the topic according to an Aug. 11, 2016 article by Dr. Andrew Maynard for slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),
On Aug. 4 , the NIH proposed two changes to the way the agency will oversee research using human stem cells in nonhuman primates. Policy changes like these are required to go out for public review and comment before being implemented, so we’re now entering a 30-day public comment period—everyone with opinions on research into combining humans with other animals has a chance to have his or her say.
That sounds inclusive and democratic, but usually only advocacy groups, concerned organizations, and policy wonks get involved. This isn’t surprising: The call for comments is posted in the rather esoteric Federal Register, a great publication for curing insomnia but not everyday reading for most people. Furthermore, issues like this are usually complex and require at least some background knowledge to understand.
But mashing up humans with pigs, sheep, and other animals is probably the sort of thing that ordinary citizens will want to have a say in. The challenge is, how do you help draw society’s ethical lines if you’ve only got 30 days to comment, and the issue is not straightforward?
The science at stake here involves “chimeras”—animals that are engineered to include both human and nonhuman cells and organs. This technology is increasingly possible with advances in stem cell research and gene editing. And it’s got a lot of scientists excited. Chimeras create brand-new research possibilities that might help us prevent devastating illnesses or understand the health impacts of chemical exposures. They also open the door to the possibility of growing replacement human organs in animals. Think about the possibilities of getting a new heart or lungs without someone having to die first.
Yet not everyone’s excited by the prospect of animals becoming partially “human.” Chimeras raise complex moral and ethical questions around creating part-human animals, questions that have less to do with the “could we?” of science and more to do with the broader “should we?”
Things become especially gnarly when faced with the possibility of chimeras developing part-human brains. Margaret Atwood explored this to great effect in in her MaddAddam trilogy, in which pigs designed to grow human organs (pigoons) developed humanlike intelligence. Atwood’s imagined future is speculative, but the science is catching up fast. And as it does, it may become harder to draw the line between humans and humanlike animals.
Scientists are already close to creating chimeras. Look at this description from my Aug. 11, 2016 posting on osteosarcomas,
… Researchers usually inject human or other tumor cells into their [mouse] bodies to mimic human cancers, Fan said. They also are bred to have compromised immune systems, to prevent them from rejecting the tumors.
Specifically there were two public consultations (from Andrew’s article; Note: A link has been removed),
… the agency has now put forward two proposals for public comment. One is an amendment to the 2009 guidelines that would extend slightly what researchers cannot do with nonhuman primates and breeding animals. The other proposal—and the more relevant of the two here—would establish an internal committee that reviews proposals for using human stem cells in nonhuman animals.
Here, NIH [US National Institutes of Health] is proposing to set up an internal committee that would decide which chimera research proposals get funded and which do not. According to the agency’s announcement, it’s looking for public input on the scope of the committee—essentially what types of research proposals would end up in front of it and how it would subsequently decide what is ethical and responsible (and therefore fundable) and what is not.
Initially, the plan is for the committee to focus on general research using human stem cells in nonhuman vertebrates (excluding primates) and on research where human cells may end up affecting an animal’s brain function. This second point gets to the core of concerns that somehow, by introducing human stem cells, hybrid animals could develop humanlike brain functions, possibly resulting in greater intelligence or more humanlike behavior. The problem is, once introduced to the embryo, it’s not always possible to tell where human stem cells will end up and what they’ll do.
This committee will be made up of NIH staff, presumably including experts in socially responsible research and innovation, as well as stem cell researchers and bioethicists. But beyond the 30-day comment period, it’s unclear how they’ll engage (or even whether they’ll engage) with ordinary people. Yet for ethical and responsible chimera research, ongoing public participation in the review process is essential. There are too many “should we?” questions that must not be left solely to scientists: What are the ethical boundaries around creating human-nonhuman chimera, for instance? Or how do we decide what are acceptable or unacceptable outcomes?
For this public participation to be meaningful, scientists and others need to do a better job explaining chimera research, what they are planning to do (and why), and what the benefits and consequences might be.
Andrew’s piece is primarily focused on the public consultation aspect of this research but it also offers an interesting and nuanced approach to some of the questions and issues raised by the research.
That was a bit unusual since the Americans make a point of being clear in their public consultation requests. Regardless, I hope Canadians follow suit at some point.
Finally, there was one comment to Andrew’s article which I feel deserves to be seen by as many people as possible,
don’t I have enough to worry about as the father os [sic] a two year old girl without you people raising the possibility that she might someday bring home a centaur to meet the family …
Part 1 concerned the soon-to-be-released movie, Hidden Figures and a film which has yet to start production, Photograph 51 (about Rosalind Franklin and the discovery of the double helix structure DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]). Now for Part 2:
A matter of blood, Theranos, and Elizabeth Holmes
A few months ago, a friend asked me if I’d heard of Theranos. Given that I have featured various kinds of cutting edge diagnostic tests here, it was a fair enough question. Some of my first questions to her were about the science. My friend had read about the situation in The Economist where the focus of the story (which I later read) was about venture capital. I got back to my friend and said that if they hadn’t published any scientific papers, I most likely would not have stumbled across them. Since then I’ve heard much more about Theranos but it seems there’s not much scientific information to be had from the company.
Reportedly, US film star Jennifer Lawrence is set to star, from a June 10, 2016 posting by Lainey (at Lainey Gossip; Note: A link has been removed),
Deadline reported yesterday [June 9, 2016] that Jennifer Lawrence will star in Adam McKay’s upcoming film about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes was basically the Jennifer Lawrence of Silicon Valley after inventing what she claimed to be a revolutionary blood testing system. Instead of submitting full vials of blood for limited testing, her product promised more efficiency and quicker results with just a pinprick. You can imagine how that would change the health care industry.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal investigated the viability of Theranos’s business plan, exposing major problems in the company’s infrastructure. Elizabeth Holmes went from being called the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, the millennial in a turtleneck, to a possible fraud. It’s a fascinating story. …
FIRST they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then all of the sudden you change the world,” said Elizabeth Holmes as troubles mounted for her blood-testing startup, Theranos, last year. Things look ever less likely to go beyond the fighting stage.
On July 7th  a government regulator, the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Ms Holmes would be barred from owning or running a laboratory for two years. It will also revoke her company’s licence to operate one of two laboratories where it conducts tests. As The Economist went to press the firm was due to reply to a letter from Congress, which asked how, exactly, Theranos is going to handle the tens of thousands of patients who were given incorrect test results. Even so, Ms Holmes looks set to remain in position even as the situation deteriorates around a firm that once commanded a multi-billion-dollar valuation.
These may be some of the last twists in a story which will be turned into a Hollywood film by the director of “The Big Short”.
For anyone wondering how a movie could be made when the story has come to any kind of resolution, there’s this from a June 24, 2016 posting by David Bruggeman for his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
Since last I wrote about a possible film about the medical device/testing company Theranos, a studio has successfully bid on the project. Legendary Studios won an auction on the film rights, beating out 9 other offers on the project, which has Jennifer Lawrence attached to star as Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Adam McKay would write the script and direct the project, duplicating his roles on the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short. The film now has a preliminary title of Bad Blood. It is certainly too early to tell if the Taylor Swift song of the same name will be used in the movie.
While getting a studio offer is important to the film getting produced, what is perhaps as interesting to our readers is that a book is connected to the film deal. Two-time Pulitzer-prize winning writer John Carreyrou, who has written extensively on Theranos in The Wall Street Journal, will be writing a book that (presumably) serves as the basis for the script. This follows the development arc for The Big Short, for which McKay shares an Adapted Screenplay Oscar (in addition to his nomination for directing the film)
Theranos once promised to revolutionize the blood testing industry. But its methodology remains secretive, despite calls for transparency from the scientific community. Now, it is facing federal investigations, private litigation, voided tests, and its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, is banned from operating a lab for two years.
But all that was entirely glossed over today at the company’s much-awaited first presentation to the scientific community at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry’s conference in Philadelphia.
In an hour-long presentation (you can review the slides here), Holmes failed to discuss the fate of the company’s proprietary blood-testing technology, Edison, or address any of the controversy. Instead, she skipped right to pitching a new product, dubbed the MiniLab.
In fairness to Theranos, this was a positive step as the company did provide some internal data to show that the company could perform a small number of tests. But despite that, many took to social media to protest its failure to address and acknowledge its shortcomings before moving on to a new product.
“Clearly, the scientific and medical community was hoping for a data-driven discussion today, and instead got a new product announcement,” says John Torous, a psychiatrist and clinical informatics fellow at Harvard Medical School.
In an emailed response to Fast Company, a Theranos company spokesperson did not say whether components of Edison would be used in the miniLAB, but instead stressed that it’s one early iteration of the technology. “The miniLab is the latest iteration of the company’s testing platform and an evolution of Theranos’ technology,” they said.
Farr describes the MiniLab and notes that it is entering a competitive market,
The new product, the MiniLab, essentially takes equipment used in a standard lab and puts it in a single box. Holmes refers to this technique as “decentralizing the lab,” as in theory, clinicians could use this as an alternative to sending samples to a centralized facility and awaiting results. “Think of it as being a huge diagnostics lab that has been condensed down to the size of a microwave,” the company’s website explains.
But scientists are questioning whether the MiniLab technology is a breakthrough. The current market is already fairly saturated: Abbott’s iStat system, for instance, is a handheld device for clinicians to test patients for a plethora of common tests. Roche just received FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] clearance for its Cobas device, which can test for ailments like the flu and some strep infections in under 20 minutes. And Theranos competitors Quest and Labcorp already operate versions of this type of equipment in their own labs.
“I can’t imagine why they’re wasting their time,” says MIT-trained material scientist and biotech entrepreneur Kaveh Milaninia by phone. …
I recommend reading Farr’s article in its entirety as she provides more detail and analysis as to just how competitive the market Theranos proposes entering with its MiniLab actually is.
Theranos is withdrawing its bid for FDA approval of a diagnostic test for Zika that they announced earlier in August, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
Theranos confirmed to Business Insider that the test has been withdrawn, but said the company has plans to resubmit it.
John Carreyrou and Christopher Weaver report that an FDA inspection found that, as part of a study to validate the new test, the company had collected some data without a patient safety plan in place that was approved by an institutional review board.
“We hope that our decision to withdraw the Zika submission voluntarily is further evidence of our commitment to engage positively with the agency. We are confident in the Zika tests and will resubmit it,” Theranos vice president of regulatory and quality Dave Wurtz said in a statement emailed to Business Insider. Wurtz joined the company in July .
Getting back to the point of my story at the beginning of this piece, it seems that Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes have not been as forthcoming with scientific data as is common in the biotech field. Interestingly, I read somewhere that the top 10 venture capitalists in the biotech field had not invested a penny in Theranos. The money had come from venture capitalists expert in other fields. (If you can confirm or know differently, please let me know in the comments section.)
In its favour, the company does appear to be attempting to address its shortcomings.
*ETA Oct. 6, 2016: Theranos is closing down some of its labs according to an Oct. 6, 2016 news item on phys.org,
Theranos, a onetime star Silicon Valley startup focused on health technology, is closing its consumer blood-testing facilities amid its struggles with US regulators.
The company, which has been seeking to disrupt the medical testing sector with new technology, said the closings will mean cutting some 340 jobs.
“After many months spent assessing our strengths and addressing our weaknesses, we have moved to structure our company around the model best aligned with our core values and mission,” company founder Elizabeth Holmes said in an open letter.
Theranos, which touts a new way of testing that uses far less blood and delivers faster results at much lower cost than traditional methods in US labs, has been under civil and criminal investigation over its claims.
Holmes said the company would focus on a so-called miniLab which can be commercialized with partners.
Things don’t look good.*
In any event, all these goings on should make for an interesting script writing challenge.
Bits and bobs of science and movies (The Man Who Knew Infinity, Ghostbusters, and Imagine Science Films)
The Man Who Knew Infinity had its debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. I haven’t seen it at any movie houses here (Vancouver, Canada) yet but a film trailer featuring its star, Dev Patel, was released in Feb. 2016,
Ramanujan must have been quite the mathematician, given the tenor of the times. Here’s more about the movie from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
The Man Who Knew Infinity is a 2015 British biographical drama film based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel. The film stars Dev Patel as the real-life Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematician who after growing up poor in Madras, India, earns admittance to Cambridge University during World War I, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G. H. Hardy (played by Jeremy Irons despite Hardy being only 10 years older than Ramanujan).
Filming began in August 2014 at Trinity College, Cambridge. The film had its world premiere as a gala presentation at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, and was selected as the opening gala of the 2015 Zurich Film Festival. It also played other film festivals including Singapore International Film Festival and Dubai International Film Festival.
Distinguished mathematicians Manjul Bhargava and Ken Ono are Associate Producers of the film. Ono, the mathematics consultant, is a Guggenheim Fellow, and Bhargava is a winner of the Fields Medal.
Next up, Ghostbusters, the all woman edition. While it hasn’t become the blockbuster some were hoping for, I have some hope that it will become a quiet blockbuster over time. As I wait there is this information about how Ghostbuster: The All Woman Edition was grounded in real science. From a July 18, 2016 news item on phys.org,
Janet Conrad and Lindley Winslow, colleagues in the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Department of Physics and researchers in MIT’s Lab for Nuclear Science, were key consultants for the all-female reboot of the classic 1984 supernatural comedy that is opening in theaters today. And the creative side of the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—will be on full display.
Kristin Wiig’s character, Erin Gilbert, a no-nonsense physicist at Columbia University, is all the more convincing because of Conrad’s toys. Her office features demos and other actual trappings from Conrad’s workspace: books, posters, and scientific models. She even created detailed academic papers and grant applications for use as desk props.
“I loved the original ‘Ghostbusters,’” says Conrad. “And I thought the switch to four women, the girl-power concept, was a great way to change it up for the reboot. Plus I love all of the stuff in my office. I was happy to have my books become stars.”
Conrad developed an affection for MIT while absorbing another piece of pop culture: “Doonesbury.” She remembers one cartoon strip featuring a girl doing Psets. She is discouraged until a robot comes to her door and beeps. All is right with the world again. The exchange made an impression. “Only at MIT do robots come by your door to cheer you up,” she thought.
Like her colleague, Winslow describes mainstream role models as powerful, particularly when fantasy elements in film and television enhance their childhood appeal. She, too, loved “Ghostbusters” as a kid. “I watched the original many times,” she recalls. “And my sister had a stuffed Slimer.”
Winslow jokes that she “probably put in too much time” helping with the remake. Indeed, Wired magazine recently detailed that: “In one scene in the movie, Wiig’s Gilbert stands in front of a lecture hall, speaking on challenges of reconciling quantum mechanics with Einstein’s gravity. On the whiteboards, behind her, a series of equations tells the same story: a self-contained narrative, written by Winslow and later transcribed on set, illustrating the failure of a once-promising physics theory called SU(5).”
Movie reviewers have been floored by the level of set detail. Also deserving of serious credit is James Maxwell, a postdoc at the Lab for Nuclear Science during the period he worked on “Ghostbusters.” He is now a staff scientist at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia.
Maxwell crafted realistic schematics of how proton packs, ghost traps, and other paranormal equipment might work. “I recalled myself as a kid, poring over the technical schematics of X-wings and Star Destroyers. I wanted to be sure that boys and especially girls of today could pore over my schematics, plug the components into Wikipedia, and find out about real tools that experimental physicists use to study the workings of the universe.”
He too hopes this behind-the-scenes MIT link with a Hollywood blockbuster will get people thinking. “I hope that it shows a little bit of the giddy side of science and of MIT; the laughs that can come with a spectacular experimental failure or an unexpected break-through.”
The movie depicts the worlds of science and engineering, as drawn from MIT, with remarkable conviction, says Maxwell. “So much of the feel of the movie, and to a great degree the personalities of the characters, is conveyed by the props,” he says.
Kate McKinnon’s character, Jillian Holtzmann, an eccentric engineer, is nearly inseparable from, as Maxwell says, “a mess of wires and magnets and lasers” — a pile of equipment replicated from his MIT lab. When she talks proton packs, her lines are drawn from his work.
Keep an eye out for treasures hidden in the props. For instance, Wiig’s character is the recipient of the Maria Goeppert Mayer “MGM Award” from the American Physical Society, which hangs on her office wall. Conrad and Winslow say the honor holds a special place in their hearts.
“We both think MGM was inspirational. She did amazing things at a time when it was tough for women to do anything in physics,” says Conrad. “She is one of our favorite women in physics,” adds Winslow. Clearly, some of the film’s props and scientific details reflect their personal predilections but Hollywood — and the nation — is also getting a real taste of MIT.
Finally and strictly speaking not a movie but it is an online magazine about science-based movies according to David Bruggeman’s Aug. 6, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
LaboCine is an online film magazine from the people behind Imagine Science Films. The films in each issue come from artists and scientists from around the world. They are not restricted to documentary films, and mix live-action, animated and computer film styles.
The first issue of LaboCine is now online, so you can view the short films, which are organized around a common theme. For August the theme is Model Organisms. …
In the last few years, there’s been a veritable plethora of movies (and television shows in Canada and the US) that are about science and technology or have a significant component or investigate the social impact. The trend does not seem to be slowing.
This first of two parts features the film, *Hidden* Figures, and a play being turned into a film, Photograph 51. The second part features the evolving Theranos story and plans to turn it into a film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, a film about an Indian mathematician, the science of the recent all woman Ghostbusters, and an ezine devoted to science films.
For the following movie tidbits, I have David Bruggeman to thank.
From David’s June 21, 2016 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: A link has been removed),
Hidden Figures is a fictionalized treatment of the book of the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly (and underwritten by the Sloan Foundation). Neither the book nor the film are released yet. The book is scheduled for a September release, and the film currently has a January release date in the U.S.
Both the film and the book focus on the story of African American women who worked as computers for the government at the Langley National Aeronautic Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia. The women served as human computers, making the calculations NASA needed during the Space Race. While the book features four women, the film is focused on three: Katherine Johnson (recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. They are played by, respectively, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Other actors in the film include Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Aldis Hodge, and Jim Parsons. The film is directed by Theodore Melfi, and the script is by Allison Schroeder.
*ETA Oct. 6, 2016: The book ‘Hidden Figures’ is nonfiction while the movie is a fictionalized adaptation based on a true story.*
According to imdb.com, the movie’s release date is Dec. 25, 2016 (this could change again).
The history for ‘human computers’ stretches back to the 17th century, at least. From the Human Computer entry in Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),
The term “computer”, in use from the early 17th century (the first known written reference dates from 1613), meant “one who computes”: a person performing mathematical calculations, before electronic computers became commercially available. “The human computer is supposed to be following fixed rules; he has no authority to deviate from them in any detail.” (Turing, 1950) Teams of people were frequently used to undertake long and often tedious calculations; the work was divided so that this could be done in parallel.
Prior to NASA, a team of women in the 19th century in the US were known as Harvard Computers (from the Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),
Edward Charles Pickering (director of the Harvard Observatory from 1877 to 1919) decided to hire women as skilled workers to process astronomical data. Among these women were Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Antonia Maury. This staff came to be known as “Pickering’s Harem” or, more respectfully, as the Harvard Computers. This was an example of what has been identified as the “harem effect” in the history and sociology of science.
It seems that several factors contributed to Pickering’s decision to hire women instead of men. Among them was the fact that men were paid much more than women, so he could employ more staff with the same budget. This was relevant in a time when the amount of astronomical data was surpassing the capacity of the Observatories to process it.
The first woman hired was Williamina Fleming, who was working as a maid for Pickering. It seems that Pickering was increasingly frustrated with his male assistants and declared that even his maid could do a better job. Apparently he was not mistaken, as Fleming undertook her assigned chores efficiently. When the Harvard Observatory received in 1886 a generous donation from the widow of Henry Draper, Pickering decided to hire more female staff and put Fleming in charge of them.
While it’s not thrilling to find out that Pickering was content to exploit the women he was hiring, he deserves kudos for recognizing that women could do excellent work and acting on that recognition. When you consider the times, Pickering’s was an extraordinary act.
Getting back to Hidden Figures, an Aug.15, 2016 posting by Kathleen for Lainey Gossip celebrates the then newly released trailer for the movie,
If you’ve been watching the Olympics [Rio 2016], you know how much the past 10 days have been an epic display of #BlackGirlMagic. Fittingly, the trailer for Hidden Figures was released last night during Sunday’s Olympic coverage. It’s the story of three brilliant African American women, played by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, who made history by serving as the brains behind the NASA launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962.
Three black women helped launch a dude into space in the 60s. AT NASA. Think about how America treated black women in the 60s. As Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P Henson, jokes in the trailer, they were still sitting at the back of the bus. In 1962 Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” These women had to face that truth every day and they still rose to greatness. I’m obsessed with this story.
Overall, the trailer is good. I like the pace and the performances look strong. …
I’m most excited for Hidden Figures (as Lainey pointed out, this title is THE WORST) because black girls are being celebrated for their brains on screen. That is rare. When the trailer aired, my brother Sam texted me, “WHOA, a smart black girl movie!”
*ETA Sept. 5, 2016: Aran Shetterly contacted me to say this:
What you may not know is that the term “Hidden Figures” is a specific reference to flight science. It tested a pilot’s ability to pick out a simple figure from a set of more complex, difficult to see images. http://www.militaryaptitudetests.com/afoqt/
Thank you Mr. Shetterly!
Photograph 51 (the Rosalind Franklin story)
Also in David’s June 21, 2016 post is a mention of Photograph 51, a play and soon-to-be film about Rosalind Franklin, the discovery of the double helix, and a science controversy. I first wrote about Photograph 51 in a Jan. 16, 2012 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way) regarding an international script writing competition being held in Dublin, Ireland. At the time, I noted that Anna Ziegler’s play, Photograph 51 had won a previous competition cycle of the screenwriting competition. I wrote again about the play in a Sept. 2, 2015 posting about its London production (Sept. 5 – Nov. 21, 2015) featuring actress Nicole Kidman.
The versions of the Franklin story with which I’m familiar paint her as the wronged party, ignored and unacknowledged by the scientists (Francis, Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins) who got all the glory and the Nobel Prize. Stephen Curry in a Sept. 16, 2015 posting on the Guardian science blogs suggests the story may not be quite as simple as that (Note: A link has been removed),
Ziegler [Anna Ziegler, playwright] is up front in admitting that she has rearranged facts to suit the drama. This creates some oddities of chronology and motive for those familiar with the history. I know of no suggestion of romantic interest in Franklin from Wilkins, or of a separation of Crick from his wife in the aftermath of his triumph with Watson in solving the DNA structure. There is no mention in the play of the fact that Franklin published her work (and the famous photograph 51) in the journal Nature alongside Watson and Crick’s paper and one by Wilkins. Nor does the audience hear of the international recognition that Franklin enjoyed in her own right between 1953 and her untimely death in 1958, not just for her involvement in DNA, but also for her work on the structure of coal and of viruses.
Published long after her death, The Double Helix is widely thought to treat Franklin unfairly. In the minds of many she remains the wronged woman whose pioneering results were taken by others to solve DNA and win the Nobel prize. But the real story – many elements of which come across strongly in the play – is more complex*.
Franklin is a gifted experimentalist. Her key contributions to the discovery were in improving methods for taking X-ray pictures of and discovering the distinct A and B conformations of DNA. But it becomes clear that her methodical, meticulous approach to data analysis – much to Wilkins’ impotent frustration – eventually allows the Kings ‘team’ to be overtaken by the bolder, intuitive stratagem of Watson and Crick.
Curry’s piece is a good read and provides insight into the ways temperament affects how science is practiced.
Interestingly, there was a 1987 dramatization of the ‘double helix or life story’ (from the Life Story entry on Wikipedia; Note: Links have been removed),
The film tells the story of the rivalries of the two teams of scientists attempting to discover the structure of DNA. Francis Crick and James D. Watson at Cambridge University and Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College London.
The film manages to convey the loneliness and competitiveness of scientific research but also educates the viewer as to how the structure of DNA was discovered. In particular, it explores the tension between the patient, dedicated laboratory work of Franklin and the sometimes uninformed intuitive leaps of Watson and Crick, all played against a background of institutional turf wars, personality conflicts and sexism. In the film Watson jokes, plugging the path of intuition: “Blessed are they who believed before there was any evidence.” The film also shows why Watson and Crick made their discovery, overtaking their competitors in part by reasoning from genetic function to predict chemical structure, thus helping to establish the then still-nascent field of molecular biology.
In addition to Life Story, the dramatization is also sometimes titled as ‘The Race for the Double Helix’ or the ‘Double Helix’.
Getting back to Photograph 51 (the film), Michael Grandage who directed the stage play will also direct the film. Grandage just made his debut as a film director with ‘Genius’ starring Colin Firth and Jude Law. According to this June 23, 2016 review by Sarah on Laineygossip.com, he stumbled a bit by casting British and Australian actors as Americans,
The first hurdle to clear with Genius, the feature film debut of English theater director Michael Grandage, is that everyone is played by Brits and Aussies, and by “everyone” I mean some of the most towering figures of American literature. You cast the best actor for the role and a good actor can convince you they’re anyone, so it shouldn’t really matter, but there is something profoundly odd about watching a parade of Lit 101 All Stars appear on screen and struggle with American accents. …
That kind of casting should not be a problem with Photograph 51 where the action takes place with British personalities.
The latest video game in the Deus Ex series was released on Aug. 23, 2016. The preceding title Deus Ex: Human Revolution was featured here in an Aug. 18, 2011 post where I focused on the real life augmentation research, which influenced the game.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the latest and fourth installation in the series, is focused on the social and ethical implications of augmentation according to an Aug. 30, 2016 posting by Matthew Bulger for thehumanist.com,
One recent release has transhumanists and humanists alike captivated. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the fourth game in the Deus Ex franchise made [published] by the Japanese company Square Enix [the game is developed by Canadian Eidos Montreal], is a visually stunning masterpiece that has gamers considering the impact of their decisions and prejudices just as often as it has them killing some bad guys.
Mankind Divided takes place in the year 2029, in a future in which humanity has begun to augment itself with emerging biotechnology. Those without limbs are able to purchase hyper-responsive and durable augmented arms and legs, as well as other augmentations that prolong life or increase strength and stealth. Many of those who use the augmentations are regular people, from soldiers and police officers who lost limbs in the call of duty to grandparents who simply wish to be strong and energetic enough to keep up with their overactive grandchildren.
Unfortunately, in this world, society is divided about the use of augmentation technology and in the midst of an existential crisis about what it means to be human. This soul-searching is only complicated by an incident that took place several years before the start of the game, in which people with augmentations lost control of their bodies and began to attack others at random as a result of a hardware malfunction caused by an unknown terrorist organization.
In the wake of this attack and because of the revolutionary nature of augmentations, human society starts to repress and isolate those who are augmented. A UN Resolution passes in the wake of the attack requiring the world’s nearly seven million augmented people to preemptively register with police forces in order to ensure that their behavior is monitored, and many augmented people are being sent to isolated desert cities to live separate from the rest of humanity.
This backstory and political developments make Deus Ex: Mankind Divided an important game because it not only shows the amazing potential of human ingenuity and scientific research, but because it deals seriously with several important questions: What limits should society place on technological advancement? What are the defining features of humanity and human existence? How discriminatory and oppressive should national and global governments be in order to prevent potential catastrophes?
Not unexpectedly, the game has sparked some controversies according to its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
The developers of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided came up with the term “mechanical apartheid” for the repulsion and distrust shown by natural people towards augmented people in the game. However, the use of the term caused controversy; the developers were criticized for using it, especially due to the historical use of the term “apartheid”, referring to discrimination against blacks in South Africa. The game was accused of being racist and racially insensitive by some critics. Eidos Montreal’s Jonathan Jacques-Belletete responded in an interview that he felt the complaints were “ridiculous” and justified the use of the term as appropriate for the game since the Deus Ex franchise is about human nature, which has historically repeated trends of segregation. Mary DeMarle, the executive narrative director of the game, responded to the controversy by saying that they are trying to present the issues of the world without judging anyone for their actions. Gilles Matouba, the former director of the game and a black Frenchman, added that the term was coined by him and Andre Vu, an Asian Frenchman who is the brand director of the Deus Ex franchise and they wanted to offer the audience something unique and something that was close and personal to them. He continued, saying that racism was a dark part of human nature and they wanted to treat this subject. He also scorned those who had criticized the developers for using the term, especially those who had suggested they were all white.
The usage of the term “Augs Live Matter” in the game caused controversy; with critics alleging it was trying to appropriate the Black Lives Matter movement including BioWare designer Manveer Heir who claimed the game’s narrative might come across as anti-black even if it was not. Andre Vu however denied the accusations claiming the phrase was coined before the movement started and stated that it was an “unfortunate coincidence”.
I wonder if the developers/narrators are feeling somewhat satisfied that their games has touched on hot button issues. That’s something a lot of artists, filmmakers, and writers strive for.
Dear Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and Minister of Science, Innovation and Economic Development Navdeep Bains,
Thank you both. It’s been heartening to note some of the moves you’ve made since entering office. Taking the muzzles off Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada scientists was a big relief and it was wonderful to hear that the mandatory longform census was reinstated along with the Experimental Lakes Area programme. (Btw, I can’t be the only one who’s looking forward to hearing the news once Canada’s Chief Science Officer is appointed. In the fall, eh?)
Changing the National Science and Technology week by giving it a news name “Science Odyssey” and rescheduling it from the fall to the spring seems to have revitalized the effort. Then, there was the news about a review focused on fundamental science (see my June 16, 2016 post). It seems as if the floodgates have opened or at least communication about what’s going on has become much freer. Brava and Bravo!
The recently announced (June 29, 2016) third assessment on the State of S&T (Science and Technology) and IR&D (Industrial Research and Development; my July 1, 2016 post features the announcement) by the Council of Canadian Academies adds to the impression that you both have adopted a dizzying pace for science of all kinds in Canada.
With the initiatives I’ve just mentioned in mind, it would seem that encouraging a more vital science culture and and re-establishing science as a fundamental part of Canadian society is your aim.
Science education and outreach as a whole population effort
It’s facey to ask for more but that’s what I’m going to do.
In general, the science education and outreach efforts in Canada have focused on children. This is wonderful but not likely to be as successful as we would hope when a significant and influential chunk of the population is largely ignored: adults. (There is a specific situation where outreach to adults is undertaken but more about that later.)
There is research suggesting that children’s attitudes to science and future careers is strongly influenced by their family. From my Oct. 9, 2013 posting,
Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.
“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’. [emphases mine]
Family as a bigger concept
I suggest that ‘family’ be expanded to include the social environment in which children operate. When I was a kid no one in our family or extended group of friends had been to university let alone become a scientist. My parents had aspirations for me but when it came down to brass tacks, even though I was encouraged to go to university, they were much happier when I dropped out and got a job.
It’s very hard to break out of the mold. The odd thing about it all? I had two uncles who were electricians which when you think about it means they were working in STEM (science, technology,engineering, mathematics) jobs. Electricians, then and now. despite their technical skills, are considered tradespeople.
It seems to me that if more people saw themselves as having STEM or STEM-influenced occupations: hairdressers, artists, automechanics, plumbers, electricians, musicians, etc., we might find more children willing to engage directly in STEM opportunities. We might also find there’s more public support for science in all its guises.
That situation where adults are targeted for science outreach? It’s when the science is considered controversial or problematic and, suddenly, public (actually they mean voter) engagement or outreach is considered vital.
Given the initiatives you both have undertaken and Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent public outbreak of enthusiasm for and interest in quantum computing (my April 18, 2016 posting), I’m hopeful that you will consider the notion and encourage (fund?) science promotion programmes aimed at adults. Preferably attention-grabbing and imaginative programmes.
Should you want to discuss the matter further (I have some suggestions), please feel free to contact me.
Regardless, I’m very happy to see the initiatives that have been undertaken and, just as importantly, the communication about science.
UA: Looking ahead, where would you like Canada to be in terms of research in five to 10 years?
Dr. Duncan: Well, I’ll tell you, it breaks my heart that in a 10-year period we fell from third to eighth place among OECD countries in terms of HERD [government expenditures on higher education research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product]. That should never have happened. That’s why it was so important for me to get that big investment in the granting councils.
Do we have a strong vision for science? Do we have the support of the research community? Do we have the funding systems that allow our world-class researchers to do the work they want do to? And, with the chief science officer, are we building a system where we have the evidence to inform decision-making? My job is to support research and to make sure evidence makes its way to the cabinet table.
As stated earlier, I’m hoping you will expand your vision to include Canadian society, not forgetting seniors (being retired or older doesn’t mean that you’re senile and/or incapable of public participation), and supporting Canada’s emerging science media environment.
The variant cover of the comic Civil War II: Choosing Sides #5, featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau surrounded by the members of Alpha Flight: Sasquatch, top, Puck, bottom left, Aurora, right, and Iron Man in the background. (The Canadian Press/Ramon Perez)
Make way, Liberal cabinet: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have another all-Canadian crew in his corner as he suits up for his latest feature role — comic book character.
Trudeau will grace the variant cover of issue No. 5 of Marvel’s “Civil War II: Choosing Sides,” due out Aug. 31 .
Trudeau is depicted smiling, sitting relaxed in the boxing ring sporting a Maple Leaf-emblazoned tank, black shorts and red boxing gloves. Standing behind him are Puck, Sasquatch and Aurora, who are members of Canadian superhero squad Alpha Flight. In the left corner, Iron Man is seen with his arms crossed.
“I didn’t want to do a stuffy cover — just like a suit and tie — put his likeness on the cover and call it a day,” said award-winning Toronto-based cartoonist Ramon Perez.
“I wanted to kind of evoke a little bit of what’s different about him than other people in power right now. You don’t see (U.S. President Barack) Obama strutting around in boxing gear, doing push-ups in commercials or whatnot. Just throwing him in his gear and making him almost like an everyday person was kind of fun.”
The variant cover featuring Trudeau will be an alternative to the main cover in circulation showcasing Aurora, Puck, Sasquatch and Nick Fury.
It’s not the first time a Canadian Prime Minister has been featured in a Marvel comic book (from the CBC news item),
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1979’s Volume 120 of The Uncanny X-Men. (The Canadian Press/Marvel)
Trudeau follows in the prime ministerial footsteps of his late father, Pierre, who graced the pages of “Uncanny X-Men” in 1979.
The news item goes on to describe artist/writer Chip Zdarsky’s (Edmonton-born) ideas for the 2016 story.
h/t to Reva Seth’s June 29, 2016 article for Fast Company for pointing me to Justin Trudeau’s comic book cover.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), funded by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), have developed a program that teaches robots to read stories and more in an effort to educate them about humans. From a June 16, 2016 ONR news release by Warren Duffie Jr. (also on EurekAlert),
With support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have created an artificial intelligence software program named Quixote to teach robots to read stories, learn acceptable behavior and understand successful ways to conduct themselves in diverse social situations.
“For years, researchers have debated how to teach robots to act in ways that are appropriate, non-intrusive and trustworthy,” said Marc Steinberg, an ONR program manager who oversees the research. “One important question is how to explain complex concepts such as policies, values or ethics to robots. Humans are really good at using narrative stories to make sense of the world and communicate to other people. This could one day be an effective way to interact with robots.”
The rapid pace of artificial intelligence has stirred fears by some that robots could act unethically or harm humans. Dr. Mark Riedl, an associate professor and director of Georgia Tech’s Entertainment Intelligence Lab, hopes to ease concerns by having Quixote serve as a “human user manual” by teaching robots values through simple stories. After all, stories inform, educate and entertain–reflecting shared cultural knowledge, social mores and protocols.
For example, if a robot is tasked with picking up a pharmacy prescription for a human as quickly as possible, it could: a) take the medicine and leave, b) interact politely with pharmacists, c) or wait in line. Without value alignment and positive reinforcement, the robot might logically deduce robbery is the fastest, cheapest way to accomplish its task. However, with value alignment from Quixote, it would be rewarded for waiting patiently in line and paying for the prescription.
For their research, Riedl and his team crowdsourced stories from the Internet. Each tale needed to highlight daily social interactions–going to a pharmacy or restaurant, for example–as well as socially appropriate behaviors (e.g., paying for meals or medicine) within each setting.
The team plugged the data into Quixote to create a virtual agent–in this case, a video game character placed into various game-like scenarios mirroring the stories. As the virtual agent completed a game, it earned points and positive reinforcement for emulating the actions of protagonists in the stories.
Riedl’s team ran the agent through 500,000 simulations, and it displayed proper social interactions more than 90 percent of the time.
“These games are still fairly simple,” said Riedl, “more like ‘Pac-Man’ instead of ‘Halo.’ However, Quixote enables these artificial intelligence agents to immerse themselves in a story, learn the proper sequence of events and be encoded with acceptable behavior patterns. This type of artificial intelligence can be adapted to robots, offering a variety of applications.”
Within the next six months, Riedl’s team hopes to upgrade Quixote’s games from “old-school” to more modern and complex styles like those found in Minecraft–in which players use blocks to build elaborate structures and societies.
Riedl believes Quixote could one day make it easier for humans to train robots to perform diverse tasks. Steinberg notes that robotic and artificial intelligence systems may one day be a much larger part of military life. This could involve mine detection and deactivation, equipment transport and humanitarian and rescue operations.
“Within a decade, there will be more robots in society, rubbing elbows with us,” said Riedl. “Social conventions grease the wheels of society, and robots will need to understand the nuances of how humans do things. That’s where Quixote can serve as a valuable tool. We’re already seeing it with virtual agents like Siri and Cortana, which are programmed not to say hurtful or insulting things to users.”
This story brought to mind two other projects: RoboEarth (an internet for robots only) mentioned in my Jan. 14, 2014 which was an update on the project featuring its use in hospitals and RoboBrain, a robot learning project (sourcing the internet, YouTube, and more for information to teach robots) was mentioned in my Sept. 2, 2014 posting.
There’s a fascinating June 17, 2016 article about Wonder Woman’s seventy-fifth anniversary (points to anyone who her recognized her ‘Lasso of Truth’) by Susan Karlin for Fast Company,
William Moulton Marston—an attorney and psychologist who invented a systolic blood pressure deception test, the precursor to the modern polygraph—created Wonder Woman as a new type of superhero who, beyond her strength, used wisdom and compassion as weapons against evil—not to mention a magic golden lasso to compel people to tell the truth.
“Marston recognized not only the thereto untapped commercial market for a strong female superhero, but also the powerful potential for comic books to educate and inspire. He understood that education and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive,” says Vasilis Pozios, a forensic psychiatrist who cofounded [Broadcast Thought; mental health-and-media think tank with three forensic psychiatrists – H. Eric Bender, M.D., Praveen Kambam, M.D., and Pozios], which uses media and comic convention panels to educate about mental illness, and author of Aura, an award-winning comic about bipolar disorder.
The article has various versions of Wonder Woman images embedded throughout and it includes a few nuggets like this about her and her originator,
Wonder Woman is the only female comic book character to have her own stories continuously published for the past three-quarters of a century, spawning numerous other incarnations, including the hit 1975-1979 TV series starring Lynda Carter, and finally a big-screen introduction in this year’s  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Marston, who was strongly influenced by the women’s suffrage movement, devised that WW’s would lose her strength if men bound her in chains. Initially controversial due to a look inspired by pinup art and bondage intimations, she emerged as a symbol of equality and female empowerment—gracing Ms. magazine’s inaugural cover in 1972—that resonates today.
I gather this Wonder Woman 75th anniversary is going to be celebrated over a two year period with DC Comics hosting a 2016 Wonder Woman 75 San Diego Comic-Con panel and costume display and then, releasing the first (and fortuitously timed) Wonder Woman feature film starring Gal Gadot on June 2, 2017.
Do read Karlin’s if only to catch sight of the images. I have written about Wonder Woman before notably in a July 1, 2010 (Canada Day) posting featuring a then new makeover,
I wasn’t thrilled by the makeover and was not alone in my opinion although reasons for the ‘lack of thrill’ varied from mine.