Apparently Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), the renowned British physicist, left behind a mystery. From a February 11, 2022 posting by Bill Young on tellyspotting.kera.org blog,
While the Cambridge [University of Cambridge] cosmologist devoted his life to the conundrums of the cosmos, he left behind a mystery of his own amid the eclectic contents of his former office centering around his treasured blackboard that famously became smothered with cartoons, doodles and equations at a superspace and supergravity conference he arranged four decades ago in 1980.
What all the blackboard graffiti and in-jokes [emphasis mine] mean, however, is taking some time to unravel and has all the makings of a mystery that, ultimately, might prove even too much for the minds of Endeavour Morse, DCI John Barnaby, Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes to solve.
Today [January 8, 2022], on what would have been Professor Stephen Hawking’s 80th birthday, the Science Museum Group has announced a new temporary display, Stephen Hawking at Work, which will explore Hawking’s remarkable life as a scientist, science communicator, and as a person who lived with motor neurone disease. Opening on Thursday 10 February at the Science Museum, the display will feature significant objects from Hawking’s office, the extraordinary contents of which were acquired for the nation by the Science Museum Group in May 2021 through the UK Government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme. These important items will provide insights into a scientist who challenged perceptions of theoretical physics with a playful, imaginative and social approach to work.
In Stephen Hawking at Work,visitors can see Hawking’s rare PhD thesis, his spectacles adapted to aid communication and even an invitation to the time travellers’ party Hawking hosted. Visitors across the country will be able to study these fascinating items up close for the first time as the display embarks on a tour of the Science Museum Group’s museums, opening next at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester later this summer. The display is expected to tour the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, during 2023 and 2024. Global audiences will be able to explore hundreds of remarkable items from Hawking’s working life as this significant acquisition is catalogued, photographed and published to the Science Museum Group’s popular online collection in 2022.
Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries said: ‘I am thrilled the Science Museum Group, in its exciting new display, will be honouring the birthday of one of the greatest British scientists ever to have lived.
Our Acceptance in Lieu Scheme exists exactly so that works of national importance can be saved for the nation, and it’s fantastic that these objects will now go on public display across the country to inspire a new generation of thinkers and scientists.’
As a scientist, Hawking took a playful approach to collaboration. This is exemplified through one of Hawking’s most treasured possessions: a doodle-covered blackboard from the Superspace and Supergravity conference in 1980. Delegates covered the blackboard in equations, cartoons and jokes about each other. Hawking had this souvenir framed and hung in his office and now, forty years later, the Science Museum’s conservators have stabilised the chalk dust so it can continue to be enjoyed by those who see it.
Hawking’s sense of humour is further illustrated by one of his favourite pastimes, making bets with his peers on scientific debates. Perhaps the most famous is the Black Hole Information Paradox bet he made with Kip Thorne and John Preskill and visitors can see the wager Hawking signed with his thumbprint.
The display will also contain one of only five known copies of Hawking’s PhD thesis. This significant thesis examined possible solutions to Einstein’s equations of general relativity to demonstrate that the universe must have originated in a singularity, a single point of infinite density. The thesis also provides an early example of Hawking’s clear writing style when dealing with complex ideas – a style which ultimately enabled him to become a compelling communicator of science.
Sir Ian Blatchford, Director and Chief Executive of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘Stephen Hawking had a lifelong relationship with the Science Museum—from visiting as a child to receiving a museum Fellowship for his contributions to science—so I’m thrilled we are placing objects from his office, a hub of scientific debate and discovery, on display for the first time. These remarkable items will go on to tour the Science Museum Group, enabling visitors across the country to be inspired by and gain insights into one of the greatest scientists of our age.’
From his bestselling books to his unmissable cameos in popular television shows, Hawking used a huge breadth of channels to inspire and advocate for making complex scientific theories accessible to the wider public. On display in Stephen Hawking at Work will be a photograph from the set of Hawking’s guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the episode, Hawking—the only person to play themselves in the Star Trek universe—joins a game of poker as a hologram with Lt Commander Data (Brent Spiner), Isaac Newton (John Neville) and Albert Einstein (Jim Norton).
Hawking believed in the importance of debate and discussing topics with others who might disagree. His readiness to engage in discussions and understand the viewpoints of others is symbolised by the insignia given to him in 1986 on becoming a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences [a scientific academy of Vatican City], which will also be on display. The medal is a reminder of Hawking’s ability to inspire communities far beyond the world of theoretical physics.
Stephen Hawking at Work also explores Hawking’s experience of motor neurone disease. Initially given a two-year prognosis when diagnosed, Hawking lived with the disease for more than five decades. From the late 1960s he used a wheelchair and from 1986 Hawking used a voice synthesiser after an emergency tracheotomy meant he could no longer speak. On display will be the latest generation of wheelchair used by Hawking: the Permobil F3 model. Jonathan Wood, Hawking’s graduate assistant, noted it was far more than just a wheelchair – it was also his voice, how he communicated his ideas to the world, his ventilation support and his mobile office.
Hawking’s innovative communication systems demonstrate how technology was adapted to accommodate changing needs over the course of his life. Visitors will see Hawking’s earliest voice synthesiser, adapted to hang on the back of his wheelchair and his spectacles which had an analogue cheek sensor to control his voice software.
If you are unable to get to any of the locations where the exhibit will be available, the Science Museum has some of the objects displayed online.
I’ve already written about October 2019 science and art/science events in Canada (see my Sept. 26, 2019 posting), but more event notices for Octoberhave come my way. These events are all art/science (or sciart as it’s sometimes called).
… on the future of life forms … a two-night (Oct./Nov.) discussion in Toronto, Canada
Here’s more from the ArtSci Salon’s October 3, 2019 announcement (received via email)
“…now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. That would be less wasteful, as it took a lot of food and care to grow a pigoon. A great deal of investment money had gone into OrganInc Farms…” (Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake 2003)
In Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood describes a not-too-distant future where humans have perfected the art of fabricating and modifying a variety of creatures to improve and prolongue their own lives and wellbeing.
As Atwood has stated in various occasions, this is not science fiction.
It is in fact already happening. New forms of life appear not only as the product of lab fabrication or gene editing, but also as the result of toxic pollutants and climate change induced adaptation.
what to make of them?
how to cope with a world where extinction, adaptation and mutation risk to make traditional categories and taxonomies obsolete?
Join us to this two-parts series to discuss the ethics and implications of these transformations with artists, scientists and bioethicists.
Part 1 Thursday, October 17, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Altered Inheritance: extinction, recreation or transformation? a dialogue and discussion on the implications of genome editing on humans and other organisms
with Francoise Baylis – Research Professor, Bioethicist, Dalhousie University
Karen Maxwell – Dept. of Biochemistry, Maxwell Lab, University of Toronto
emergent artists from OCADU [Ontario College of Art and Design University] and YorkU [York University, Toronto]
Part 2 Thursday, November 21, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Classifying the new? why do we classify? what is it good for? what is the limit of taxonomy and classification in a transforming world?
with Richard Pell – Centre for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh, PA
Laurence Packer – Mellitologist, Professor of biology and environmental studies, York University
Stefan Herda – earth science artist
Cole Swanson – artist and educator (Art Foundation and Visual and Digital Arts, Humber college)
Anna Marie O’Brien – Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs, University of Toronto
Françoise Baylis is University Research Professor at Dalhousie University. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Baylis was one of the organizers of, and a key participant in, the 2015 International Summit on Human Gene Editing. She is a member of the WHO expert advisory committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing. Her new book “Altered Inheritance. CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing” is published by Harvard University Press
Karen Maxwell is a research professor in the dept of biochemistry at the university of toronto, where she runs the Maxwell Lab. Among other topics, the lab’s three branches “Anti-CRISPR”, “Phage morons” and “Anti-Phage defences” study the interplay of phages with their bacterial hosts, with a focus on phage mediated bacterial virulence mechanisms and inhibitors of anti-phage bacterial defenses.
Richard Pell works at the intersections of science, engineering, and culture. He has worked in a variety of electronic media from documentary video to robotics to bioart to museum exhibition. He is the founder and director of the Center for PostNatural History (CPNH), an organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally and heritably altered through domestication, selective breeding, tissue culture or genetic engineering. The CPNH operates a permanent museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museums throughout Europe and the United States, including being the subject of a major exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London.
Laurence Packer is a mellitologist, ie a scholar whose main subject of study is wild bees. his research primarily involves the systematics of the bee subfamily Xeromelissinae – an obscure, but fascinating group of bees, restricted to the New World south of central Mexico. he has also expended considerable energy leading the global campaign to barcode the bees of the world. his work is concerned with promulgating the importance of bees: for genetic reasons, it seems that bees are more extinction prone than are almost all other organisms
Stefan Herda‘s practice explores our troubling relationship to the natural world through drawing, sculpture and video. Inspired by the earth sciences, Herda’s work navigates the space between truth and fiction. His material and process-based investigations fuse elements of authenticity, façade, the natural and the manufactured together. He received his BAH from the University of Guelph in 2010. His work in both sculpture and video has been included in exhibitions nationally and has been featured by CBC Arts and Daily VICE. Recently, Stefan has held solo shows at Patel Projects (Toronto) and Wil Kucey Gallery (Toronto), participated in group shows such as Cultivars: Possible Worlds at InterAccess (Toronto) and was featured as one of 12 artists in the Cabinet Project at the University of Toronto
Cole Swanson is an artist and educator based in Toronto, Canada. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and throughout international venues in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. At the heart of recent work is a cross-disciplinary exploration of materials and their sociocultural and biological histories. Embedded within art media and commonplace resources are complex relations between nature and culture, humans and other agents, consumers and the consumed. Swanson has engaged in a broad material practice using sound, installation, painting, and sculpture to explore interspecies relationships.
Anna Marie O’Brien is a post doc in the Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs at University of Toronto, working on duckweeds, microbes, urban contaminants, and phenotypes.her PhD work was at Davis, with thesis advisors Dr. Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra and Dr. Sharon Strauss. she also collaborated closely with Dr. Ruairidh Sawers at LANGEBIO-CINVESTAV in Guanajuato, Mexico.
The first highlighted speaker, Françoise Baylis, has been mentioned here twice before, in a May 17, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Global plea for moratorium on heritable genome editing’ subheading) and in an April 26, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Finally’ subheading, the second paragraph). Both postings touch on the topic of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and germline editing (genetic editing that will affect all of your descendents).
Cartooney in New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) starting October 18, 2019
I like physics but I love cartoons Stephen Hawking
There you have it from one of the 20th/early 21st century’s most famous physicists. The quote is the opening line for the New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) New Media Gallery’s latest event webpage, Cartooney,
The impact of animated cartoons has been profound. In the early 20th century, we began exploiting the possibilities of the animated frame. The seven artists in this exhibition don’t create cartoons, they deconstruct those that already exist; from Looney Tunes, to The Simpsons to Charlie Brown. They exploit this potent material to reveal the inner and outer workings of our human world. The original cartoon is ever-present, haunting us with suggestive content.
The artists in this exhibition reframe our world. Here we are asked to consider the laws, systems and iconographies of the cartoon world while drawing parallels with our human world; physical laws, the laws of gravitation, matter + light, the physics of motion, and societal psychologies & behaviours. We are presented with fascinating catalogues and overlaying systems of symbolic language. The purposeful demolition of expectation in these works, mirrors the instabilities and dreams of modern life. They remind us that the pervasive medium of the cartoon can reflect and influence how we navigate the world. If there is a paradox here, it might be that dismantling a cartoon can throw open the doors of perception.
The New Westminster New Media Gallery’s next exhibition is exploring the impact of animated cartoons.
Cartooney opens at the gallery on Friday, Oct. 18 and runs until Dec. 8 , then again from Jan. 7 to Feb. 2 .
Artist Kevin McCoy, one-half of the duo of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, will be on hand for an artist talk on opening night, Friday, Oct. 18. The talk will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a reception and open exhibition from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, by Andy Holden (U.K.):
In his two-channel audiovisual installation, 57 minutes long, Holden becomes a cartoon avatar, giving both a lecture on cartoons and a cartoon lecture, describing how our world is best now understood as a cartoon. The project incorporates Greek philosophy, Stephen Hawking, critical theory, physics, art, the financial crisis and Donald Trump, while adapting 10 laws of cartoon physics to create a theory of the world and a prophetic glimpse of the world we live in.
CB-MMXVIII (I’ve been thinking of giving sleeping lessons), by Patten (U.K.):
In this multi-screen audiovisual installation, the artist duo Patten subjects Charlie Brown to all the digital stresses, distortions and manipulations available in 2018, testing his plasticity.
“Sampled texts from philosophy, science and critical theory criss-cross the screens and are linked with scrolling images related to the natural world, DNA, systems, multiples; all serving to influence our reading of the cartoon character and the texts,” says the release. The ambient soundtrack is a dramatically slowed down Linus and Lucy theme.
You can find the New Westminster New Media Gallery on the third floor at the Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St. See www.newmediagallery.ca for more details.
Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems in Vancouver, November 2019
Curiosity Collider, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization, will be hosting its inaugural art-science Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems at the VIVO Media Arts Centre from November 8 to 10, 2019. The festival features an art-science exhibition showcasing independent works and collaborative works by artist/scientist pairs, a hands-on DNA sonification workshop, an opening reception with performances, and guided discussions and tours.
Curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, the theme of the festival focuses on the “invasive systems” that surround us – from technology and infections, to pollution and invasive species. “We want to create a space to explore the influence of the invasive aspects of our world on our inner and outer lives” said Char. “We will examine our observations from both scientific and artistic perspectives- are these influences beneficial, inevitable, or preventable?” Attendees can anticipate a deep dive into the delicate and complicated nature of how both living and inanimate things redefine our lives and environments – through visual art, multimedia installations, and interactive experiences.
“I am not a scientist and do not come from a family of scientists, but I have always appreciated knowing how things work, how things are connected and how things evolve – collaboration between art and science feel natural to me,” said Vancouver artist Dzee Lousie. “Both artists and scientists are curious, perform experiments and are driven by questions.” Dzee’s work Crossing, an interactive puzzle painting that examines how microbial colonies can impact our behaviours and processes in our body, is the result of a collaboration with UBC PhD candidate Linda Horianopoulos. “As scientists, we often want people to take notice of our work and engage with it. I think that art attracts people to do exactly that,” said Linda.
The sculptural work Invasion by Prince George artist Twyla Exner explores the remnants of technology. “My artworks propose hybrids of technological structures and living organisms. They take form as abandoned technologies that have sprouted with new life, clever artificialities that imitate nature, or biotechnological fixtures of the not-so-distant future,” Twyla shared. Like Dzee, she feels that artists and scientists share the sense of curiosity, experimentation, and creative problem solving. “Both art and science have the ability to tell stories and shape how people see and interpret the world around them.”
The festival is hosted in collaboration with the VIVO Media Arts Centre (2625 Kaslo Street, Vancouver, BC V5M 3G9). It will open on the evening of November 8th, with a reception and a live performance by local sound artist Edzi’u, during which her sculptural installation Moose are Life will be brought to life. On Saturday, artist Laara Cerman will co-host a DNA sonification workshop with scientist Scott Pownall. Their work Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major – a hand-cranked music box that plays a tune created from the DNA of local invasive plants – will be on exhibit during the festival. The festival will also include tours by the curator at 3:30pm and guided discussions at 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Visit https://collisionsfestival2019.eventbrite.ca for festival tickets and http://bit.ly/collisionsfestival2019 for festival information.
Curiosity Collider and VIVO Media Arts Centre gratefully acknowledge the support of BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Regional Cultural Project Grants Program, UBC Faculty of Science, and our printing sponsor Jukebox, for making Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems possible.
About Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation
Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation is a Vancouver based non-profit organization that is committed to providing opportunities for artists whose work expresses scientific concepts and scientists who collaborate with artists. We challenge the perception and experience of science in our culture, break down the walls between art and science, and engage our growing community to bringing life to the concepts that describe our world.
In this DNA sonification workshop, participants will learn the process of DNA barcoding of invasive plant species, and how to sonify DNA sequences with basic music theory and MIDI freeware. Participants will also get hands-on experience in amplying specific genetic regions in plants through polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a step necessary in preparing samples for DNA barcoding.
This workshop will be led by artist Laara Cerman and scientist Scott Pownall, whose art-science collaborative work “Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major” will be on exhibit during Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems. Laara and Scott will also share their process of working together, and how decisions were made to arrive at their collaborative work of art and science.
We acknowledge that Collisions Festival and its events take place on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land.
I asked the Curiosity Collider folks (@CCollider on Twitter) if you needed to bring any equipment or have any knowledge of music. The answer was: no, you don’t need to bring anything (unless you want to) and you don’t need to know about music.
Uncorked at Science World at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver on November 14, 2019
This is not a cheap night out. An October 10, 2019 article by Lindsay William-Ross for the Daily Hive website gives you reasons to go anyway (Note: Links have been removed),
A new wine-themed event will have Vancouverites swirling with nerdy glee. Uncorked: A Celebration of the Science of Wine is an evening of sipping and learning that will bring together world-renown winemakers, chefs, and science experts for an unforgettable event.
Participating wineries are:
Mission Hill Family Estate CedarCreek Estate Winery CheckMate Artisanal Winery Martin’s Lane Winery Road 13 Vineyards
The wines will be paired with bites from Chef Patrick Gayler from Mission Hill’s Terrace Restaurant and Chef Neil Taylor from CedarCreek’s new Home Block Restaurant.
Programming for the evening includes seminars on the science of blending wine, the science of aging wine, the role of technology at modern vineyards, and the science of soil and terroir.
Proceeds from Uncorked will support Science World’s On the Road program, which last year brought live science performances to 41,500 students throughout B.C. who otherwise might not have had a chance to visit TELUS World of Science.
Tickets are $89 and can be purchased here. You may also want to reserve some money for the silent auction. Don’t forget, it’s November 14, 2019 from 7 pm to 10 pm at Science World in Vancouver. You can find directions and a map here.
It would seem I wasn’t having one of my brighter days today (Feb. 7, 2019) and it took me a while to to decode the messaging about this Stephen Hawking comic book. Briefly, they’ve (TidalWave Productions; Note: The company seems to have more than one name) repackaged an old title (Stephen Hawking: Riddles of Time & Space) and included new material in the form of his life story. After some searching, as best as I can tell, the ‘Tribute’ was originally released sometime in 2018 in a digital version. This latest push for publicity was likely occasioned by the release of a print version.
Here’s more from a February 7, 2019 TidalWave Entertainment/Bluewater Productions news release (received via email),
TidalWave Comics, applauded for illustrated biographies featuring the famous and infamous who influence our politics, entertainment, and social justice, is proud to present its newest comic book release this week. Telling the life story of a world-renowned physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking, “Tribute: Stephen Hawking,” is written by Michael Lent, Brian McCarthy and Michael Frizell with art by Zach Bassett. The comic book features a cover by famed artist Robert Aragon.
“Tribute: Stephen Hawking” is out this week in print and digital. With the passing of English cosmologist, theoretical physicist, and author, the world has lost one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Hawking united the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics but may be more known for his rare, early-onset and slow-progressing battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hawking believed in the concept of an infinite multiverse. Perhaps he’s watching us mourn his loss.
Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds of this century. The comic explores his brilliance while revealing some surprises.
Hawking’s life has been the subject of several movies, including the 2014 hit, “The Theory of Everything” starring Eddy Redmayne, who received an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his performance as the scientist dealing with an early-onset slow-progressing form of Lou Gehrig’s disease. The comic seeks to add to Hawking’s story.
“I learned a lot from reading the script and doing the research for the issue. The very concept of making an engaging comic book where the protagonist is essentially immobile is a pretty tall order, but I think the key to us keeping it exciting was being able to get inside his mind (one of the greatest of our time) and show some of his most abstract concepts in a visual and dynamic way,” said artist Bassett.
Darren G. Davis, publisher and creative force behind TidalWave, believes as Bassett does that the visual storytelling model is a good way to tell the stories of real people. “I was a reluctant reader when I was a kid. The colorful pages and interesting narrative I found in comic books drew me in and made me want to read.” In a market crowded with superheroes, the publisher’s work is embraced by major media outlets, libraries, and schools.
Michael Frizell, one of TidalWave’s writers and the author of the Bettie Page comic, enjoys writing for TidalWave’s biography lines Political Power, Orbit, Female Force, Tribute, and Fame because of the publisher’s approach to the books. “Darren asks us to focus on the positive and to dig deep to explore the things that make the subject tick – the things that drive them,” Frizell said.
In print on Amazon and are available on your e-reader from iTunes, Kindle, Nook, ComiXology, DriveThru Comics, Google Play, Overdrive, IVerse, Biblioboard, Madefire, Axis360, Blio, Entitle, EPIC!, Trajectory, SpinWhiz, Smash Words, Kobo and wherever eBooks are sold.
TidalWave’s recent partnership with Ingram allows them to produce high-quality books on demand – a boon for the independent publisher. The comic book will feature a heavy-stock cover and bright, clean colors in the interior. Ingram works across the full publishing spectrum, aiding some of the largest names in the business to local indie authors.
Comic book and book stores can order these titles in print at INGRAM.
TidalWave’s biography comic book series has been embraced by the media and featured on television news outlets including The Today Show and on CNN. The series has also been featured in many publications such as The Los Angeles Times, MTV, Time Magazine, and People Magazine.
About TidalWave Comics TidalWave delivers a multimedia experience unparalleled in the burgeoning graphic fiction and nonfiction marketplace. Dynamic storytelling coupled with groundbreaking art delivers an experience like no other. Stories are told through multiple platforms and genres, gracing the pages of graphic novels, novelizations, engaging audio dramas, cutting-edge film projects, and more. Diversity defines Storm’s offerings in the burgeoning pop culture marketplace, offering fresh voices and innovative storytellers.
As one of the top independent publishers of comic book and graphic novels, TidalWave unites cutting-edge art and engaging stories produced by the publishing industry’s most exciting artists and writers. Its extensive catalog of comic book titles includes the bestsellers “10th Muse” and “The Legend of Isis,” complemented by a line of young adult books and audiobooks. TidalWave’s publishing partnerships include legendary filmmaker Ray Harryhausen (“Wrath of the Titans,” “Sinbad: Rogue of Mars,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” and more), novelists S.E. Hinton (“The Puppy Sister”) and William F. Nolan (“Logan’s Run”), and celebrated actors Vincent Price (“Vincent Price Presents”), and Adam West of 1966’s “Batman” fame (“The Mis-Adventures of Adam West”). TidalWave also publishes a highly-successful line of biographical comics under the titles “Orbit,” “Fame,” “Beyond,” “Tribute,” “Female Force,” and “Political Power.”
One of the winners in Canada’s 2017 federal budget announcement of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy was Edmonton, Alberta. It’s a fact which sometimes goes unnoticed while Canadians marvel at the wonderfulness found in Toronto and Montréal where it seems new initiatives and monies are being announced on a weekly basis (I exaggerate) for their AI (artificial intelligence) efforts.
Intriguingly, it seems that Edmonton has higher aims than (an almost unnoticed) leadership in AI. Physicists at the University of Alberta have announced hopes to be just as successful as their AI brethren in a Nov. 27, 2017 article by Juris Graney for the Edmonton Journal,
Physicists at the University of Alberta [U of A] are hoping to emulate the success of their artificial intelligence studying counterparts in establishing the city and the province as the nucleus of quantum nanotechnology research in Canada and North America.
Google’s artificial intelligence research division DeepMind announced in July  it had chosen Edmonton as its first international AI research lab, based on a long-running partnership with the U of A’s 10-person AI lab.
Retaining the brightest minds in the AI and machine-learning fields while enticing a global tech leader to Alberta was heralded as a coup for the province and the university.
It is something U of A physics professor John Davis believes the university’s new graduate program, Quanta, can help achieve in the world of quantum nanotechnology.
The field of quantum mechanics had long been a realm of theoretical science based on the theory that atomic and subatomic material like photons or electrons behave both as particles and waves.
“When you get right down to it, everything has both behaviours (particle and wave) and we can pick and choose certain scenarios which one of those properties we want to use,” he said.
But, Davis said, physicists and scientists are “now at the point where we understand quantum physics and are developing quantum technology to take to the marketplace.”
“Quantum computing used to be realm of science fiction, but now we’ve figured it out, it’s now a matter of engineering,” he said.
Quantum computing labs are being bought by large tech companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft because they realize they are only a few years away from having this power, he said.
Those making the groundbreaking developments may want to commercialize their finds and take the technology to market and that is where Quanta comes in.
East vs. West—Again?
Ivan Semeniuk in his article, Quantum Supremacy, ignores any quantum research effort not located in either Waterloo, Ontario or metro Vancouver, British Columbia to describe a struggle between the East and the West (a standard Canadian trope). From Semeniuk’s Oct. 17, 2017 quantum article [link follows the excerpts] for the Globe and Mail’s October 2017 issue of the Report on Business (ROB),
Lazaridis [Mike], of course, has experienced lost advantage first-hand. As co-founder and former co-CEO of Research in Motion (RIM, now called Blackberry), he made the smartphone an indispensable feature of the modern world, only to watch rivals such as Apple and Samsung wrest away Blackberry’s dominance. Now, at 56, he is engaged in a high-stakes race that will determine who will lead the next technology revolution. In the rolling heartland of southwestern Ontario, he is laying the foundation for what he envisions as a new Silicon Valley—a commercial hub based on the promise of quantum technology.
Semeniuk skips over the story of how Blackberry lost its advantage. I came onto that story late in the game when Blackberry was already in serious trouble due to a failure to recognize that the field they helped to create was moving in a new direction. If memory serves, they were trying to keep their technology wholly proprietary which meant that developers couldn’t easily create apps to extend the phone’s features. Blackberry also fought a legal battle in the US with a patent troll draining company resources and energy in proved to be a futile effort.
Since then Lazaridis has invested heavily in quantum research. He gave the University of Waterloo a serious chunk of money as they named their Quantum Nano Centre (QNC) after him and his wife, Ophelia (you can read all about it in my Sept. 25, 2012 posting about the then new centre). The best details for Lazaridis’ investments in Canada’s quantum technology are to be found on the Quantum Valley Investments, About QVI, History webpage,
History has repeatedly demonstrated the power of research in physics to transform society. As a student of history and a believer in the power of physics, Mike Lazaridis set out in 2000 to make real his bold vision to establish the Region of Waterloo as a world leading centre for physics research. That is, a place where the best researchers in the world would come to do cutting-edge research and to collaborate with each other and in so doing, achieve transformative discoveries that would lead to the commercialization of breakthrough technologies.
Establishing a World Class Centre in Quantum Research:
The first step in this regard was the establishment of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Perimeter was established in 2000 as an independent theoretical physics research institute. Mike started Perimeter with an initial pledge of $100 million (which at the time was approximately one third of his net worth). Since that time, Mike and his family have donated a total of more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute. In addition to this unprecedented monetary support, Mike also devotes his time and influence to help lead and support the organization in everything from the raising of funds with government and private donors to helping to attract the top researchers from around the globe to it. Mike’s efforts helped Perimeter achieve and grow its position as one of a handful of leading centres globally for theoretical research in fundamental physics.
Perimeter is located in a Governor-General award winning designed building in Waterloo. Success in recruiting and resulting space requirements led to an expansion of the Perimeter facility. A uniquely designed addition, which has been described as space-ship-like, was opened in 2011 as the Stephen Hawking Centre in recognition of one of the most famous physicists alive today who holds the position of Distinguished Visiting Research Chair at Perimeter and is a strong friend and supporter of the organization.
Recognizing the need for collaboration between theorists and experimentalists, in 2002, Mike applied his passion and his financial resources toward the establishment of The Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. IQC was established as an experimental research institute focusing on quantum information. Mike established IQC with an initial donation of $33.3 million. Since that time, Mike and his family have donated a total of more than $120 million to the University of Waterloo for IQC and other related science initiatives. As in the case of the Perimeter Institute, Mike devotes considerable time and influence to help lead and support IQC in fundraising and recruiting efforts. Mike’s efforts have helped IQC become one of the top experimental physics research institutes in the world.
Mike and Doug Fregin have been close friends since grade 5. They are also co-founders of BlackBerry (formerly Research In Motion Limited). Doug shares Mike’s passion for physics and supported Mike’s efforts at the Perimeter Institute with an initial gift of $10 million. Since that time Doug has donated a total of $30 million to Perimeter Institute. Separately, Doug helped establish the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo with total gifts for $29 million. As suggested by its name, WIN is devoted to research in the area of nanotechnology. It has established as an area of primary focus the intersection of nanotechnology and quantum physics.
With a donation of $50 million from Mike which was matched by both the Government of Canada and the province of Ontario as well as a donation of $10 million from Doug, the University of Waterloo built the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre, a state of the art laboratory located on the main campus of the University of Waterloo that rivals the best facilities in the world. QNC was opened in September 2012 and houses researchers from both IQC and WIN.
Leading the Establishment of Commercialization Culture for Quantum Technologies in Canada:
For many years, theorists have been able to demonstrate the transformative powers of quantum mechanics on paper. That said, converting these theories to experimentally demonstrable discoveries has, putting it mildly, been a challenge. Many naysayers have suggested that achieving these discoveries was not possible and even the believers suggested that it could likely take decades to achieve these discoveries. Recently, a buzz has been developing globally as experimentalists have been able to achieve demonstrable success with respect to Quantum Information based discoveries. Local experimentalists are very much playing a leading role in this regard. It is believed by many that breakthrough discoveries that will lead to commercialization opportunities may be achieved in the next few years and certainly within the next decade.
Recognizing the unique challenges for the commercialization of quantum technologies (including risk associated with uncertainty of success, complexity of the underlying science and high capital / equipment costs) Mike and Doug have chosen to once again lead by example. The Quantum Valley Investment Fund will provide commercialization funding, expertise and support for researchers that develop breakthroughs in Quantum Information Science that can reasonably lead to new commercializable technologies and applications. Their goal in establishing this Fund is to lead in the development of a commercialization infrastructure and culture for Quantum discoveries in Canada and thereby enable such discoveries to remain here.
Semeniuk goes on to set the stage for Waterloo/Lazaridis vs. Vancouver (from Semeniuk’s 2017 ROB article),
… as happened with Blackberry, the world is once again catching up. While Canada’s funding of quantum technology ranks among the top five in the world, the European Union, China, and the US are all accelerating their investments in the field. Tech giants such as Google [also known as Alphabet], Microsoft and IBM are ramping up programs to develop companies and other technologies based on quantum principles. Meanwhile, even as Lazaridis works to establish Waterloo as the country’s quantum hub, a Vancouver-area company has emerged to challenge that claim. The two camps—one methodically focused on the long game, the other keen to stake an early commercial lead—have sparked an East-West rivalry that many observers of the Canadian quantum scene are at a loss to explain.
Is it possible that some of the rivalry might be due to an influential individual who has invested heavily in a ‘quantum valley’ and has a history of trying to ‘own’ a technology?
Getting back to D-Wave Systems, the Vancouver company, I have written about them a number of times (particularly in 2015; for the full list: input D-Wave into the blog search engine). This June 26, 2015 posting includes a reference to an article in The Economist magazine about D-Wave’s commercial opportunities while the bulk of the posting is focused on a technical breakthrough.
Semeniuk offers an overview of the D-Wave Systems story,
D-Wave was born in 1999, the same year Lazaridis began to fund quantum science in Waterloo. From the start, D-Wave had a more immediate goal: to develop a new computer technology to bring to market. “We didn’t have money or facilities,” says Geordie Rose, a physics PhD who co0founded the company and served in various executive roles. …
The group soon concluded that the kind of machine most scientists were pursing based on so-called gate-model architecture was decades away from being realized—if ever. …
Instead, D-Wave pursued another idea, based on a principle dubbed “quantum annealing.” This approach seemed more likely to produce a working system, even if the application that would run on it were more limited. “The only thing we cared about was building the machine,” says Rose. “Nobody else was trying to solve the same problem.”
D-Wave debuted its first prototype at an event in California in February 2007 running it through a few basic problems such as solving a Sudoku puzzle and finding the optimal seating plan for a wedding reception. … “They just assumed we were hucksters,” says Hilton [Jeremy Hilton, D.Wave senior vice-president of systems]. Federico Spedalieri, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California’s [USC} Information Sciences Institute who has worked with D-Wave’s system, says the limited information the company provided about the machine’s operation provoked outright hostility. “I think that played against them a lot in the following years,” he says.
It seems Lazaridis is not the only one who likes to hold company information tightly.
Back to Semeniuk and D-Wave,
Today [October 2017], the Los Alamos National Laboratory owns a D-Wave machine, which costs about $15million. Others pay to access D-Wave systems remotely. This year , for example, Volkswagen fed data from thousands of Beijing taxis into a machine located in Burnaby [one of the municipalities that make up metro Vancouver] to study ways to optimize traffic flow.
But the application for which D-Wave has the hights hope is artificial intelligence. Any AI program hings on the on the “training” through which a computer acquires automated competence, and the 2000Q [a D-Wave computer] appears well suited to this task. …
Yet, for all the buzz D-Wave has generated, with several research teams outside Canada investigating its quantum annealing approach, the company has elicited little interest from the Waterloo hub. As a result, what might seem like a natural development—the Institute for Quantum Computing acquiring access to a D-Wave machine to explore and potentially improve its value—has not occurred. …
I am particularly interested in this comment as it concerns public funding (from Semeniuk’s article),
Vern Brownell, a former Goldman Sachs executive who became CEO of D-Wave in 2009, calls the lack of collaboration with Waterloo’s research community “ridiculous,” adding that his company’s efforts to establish closer ties have proven futile, “I’ll be blunt: I don’t think our relationship is good enough,” he says. Brownell also point out that, while hundreds of millions in public funds have flowed into Waterloo’s ecosystem, little funding is available for Canadian scientists wishing to make the most of D-Wave’s hardware—despite the fact that it remains unclear which core quantum technology will prove the most profitable.
There’s a lot more to Semeniuk’s article but this is the last excerpt,
The world isn’t waiting for Canada’s quantum rivals to forge a united front. Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Intel are racing to develop a gate-model quantum computer—the sector’s ultimate goal. (Google’s researchers have said they will unveil a significant development early next year.) With the U.K., Australia and Japan pouring money into quantum, Canada, an early leader, is under pressure to keep up. The federal government is currently developing a strategy for supporting the country’s evolving quantum sector and, ultimately, getting a return on its approximately $1-billion investment over the past decade [emphasis mine].
I wonder where the “approximately $1-billion … ” figure came from. I ask because some years ago MP Peter Julian asked the government for information about how much Canadian federal money had been invested in nanotechnology. The government replied with sheets of paper (a pile approximately 2 inches high) that had funding disbursements from various ministries. Each ministry had its own method with different categories for listing disbursements and the titles for the research projects were not necessarily informative for anyone outside a narrow specialty. (Peter Julian’s assistant had kindly sent me a copy of the response they had received.) The bottom line is that it would have been close to impossible to determine the amount of federal funding devoted to nanotechnology using that data. So, where did the $1-billion figure come from?
In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Council of Canadian Academies assesses the ‘quantum’ situation in its more academically inclined, “The State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada,” when it’s released later this year (2018).
Despite any doubts one might have about Lazaridis’ approach to research and technology, his tremendous investment and support cannot be denied. Without him, Canada’s quantum research efforts would be substantially less significant. As for the ‘cowboys’ in Vancouver, it takes a certain temperament to found a start-up company and it seems the D-Wave folks have more in common with Lazaridis than they might like to admit. As for the Quanta graduate programme, it’s early days yet and no one should ever count out Alberta.
Meanwhile, one can continue to hope that a more thoughtful approach to regional collaboration will be adopted so Canada can continue to blaze trails in the field of quantum research.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparently extemporaneous response to a joking (non)question about quantum computing by a journalist during an April 15, 2016 press conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada has created a buzz online, made international news, and caused Canadians to sit taller.
For anyone who missed the moment, here’s a video clip from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC),
Aaron Hutchins in an April 15, 2016 article for Maclean’s magazine digs deeper to find out more about Trudeau and quantum physics (Note: A link has been removed),
Raymond Laflamme knows the drill when politicians visit the Perimeter Institute. A photo op here, a few handshakes there and a tour with “really basic, basic, basic facts” about the field of quantum mechanics.
But when the self-described “geek” Justin Trudeau showed up for a funding announcement on Friday [April 15, 2016], the co-founder and director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo wasn’t met with simple nods of the Prime Minister pretending to understand. Trudeau immediately started talking about things being waves and particles at the same time, like cats being dead and alive at the same time. It wasn’t just nonsense—Trudeau was referencing the famous thought experiment of the late legendary physicist Erwin Schrödinger.
“I don’t know where he learned all that stuff, but we were all surprised,” Laflamme says. Soon afterwards, as Trudeau met with one student talking about superconductivity, the Prime Minister asked her, “Why don’t we have high-temperature superconducting systems?” something Laflamme describes as the institute’s “Holy Grail” quest.
“I was flabbergasted,” Laflamme says. “I don’t know how he does in other subjects, but in quantum physics, he knows the basic pieces and the important questions.”
Strangely, Laflamme was not nearly as excited (tongue in cheek) when I demonstrated my understanding of quantum physics during our interview (see my May 11, 2015 posting; scroll down about 40% of the way to the Ramond Laflamme subhead).
As Jon Butterworth comments in his April 16, 2016 posting on the Guardian science blog, the response says something about our expectations regarding politicians,
This seems to have enhanced Trudeau’s reputation no end, and quite right too. But it is worth thinking a bit about why.
The explanation he gives is clear, brief, and understandable to a non-specialist. It is the kind of thing any sufficiently engaged politician could pick up from a decent briefing, given expert help. …
Butterworth also goes on to mention journalists’ expectations,
The reporter asked the question in a joking fashion, not unkindly as far as I can tell, but not expecting an answer either. If this had been an announcement about almost any other government investment, wouldn’t the reporter have expected a brief explanation of the basic ideas behind it? …
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the work being done at Perimeter and in Canada’s “Quantum Valley” [emphasis mine] is vital to the future of the country and the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau became both teacher and student when he visited Perimeter Institute today to officially announce the federal government’s commitment to support fundamental scientific research at Perimeter.
Joined by Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger, the self-described “geek prime minister” listened intensely as he received brief overviews of Perimeter research in areas spanning from quantum science to condensed matter physics and cosmology.
“You don’t have to be a geek like me to appreciate how important this work is,” he then told a packed audience of scientists, students, and community leaders in Perimeter’s atrium.
The Prime Minister was also welcomed by 200 teenagers attending the Institute’s annual Inspiring Future Women in Science conference, and via video greetings from cosmologist Stephen Hawking [he was Laflamme’s PhD supervisor], who is a Perimeter Distinguished Visiting Research Chair. The Prime Minister said he was “incredibly overwhelmed” by Hawking’s message.
“Canada is a wonderful, huge country, full of people with big hearts and forward-looking minds,” Hawking said in his message. “It’s an ideal place for an institute dedicated to the frontiers of physics. In supporting Perimeter, Canada sets an example for the world.”
The visit reiterated the Government of Canada’s pledge of $50 million over five years announced in last month’s [March 2016] budget [emphasis mine] to support Perimeter research, training, and outreach.
It was the Prime Minister’s second trip to the Region of Waterloo this year. In January , he toured the region’s tech sector and universities, and praised the area’s innovation ecosystem.
This time, the focus was on the first link of the innovation chain: fundamental science that could unlock important discoveries, advance human understanding, and underpin the groundbreaking technologies of tomorrow.
As for the “quantum valley’ in Ontario, I think there might be some competition here in British Columbia with D-Wave Systems (first commercially available quantum computing, of a sort; my Dec. 16, 2015 post is the most recent one featuring the company) and the University of British Columbia’s Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute.
Getting back to Trudeau, it’s exciting to have someone who seems so interested in at least some aspects of science that he can talk about it with a degree of understanding. I knew he had an interest in literature but there is also this (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),
Trudeau has a bachelor of arts degree in literature from McGill University and a bachelor of education degree from the University of British Columbia…. After graduation, he stayed in Vancouver and he found substitute work at several local schools and permanent work as a French and math teacher at the private West Point Grey Academy … . From 2002 to 2004, he studied engineering at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, a part of the Université de Montréal. He also started a master’s degree in environmental geography at McGill University, before suspending his program to seek public office. [emphases mine]
Trudeau is not the only political leader to have a strong interest in science. In our neighbour to the south, there’s President Barack Obama who has done much to promote science since he was elected in 2008. David Bruggeman in an April 15, 2016 post (Obama hosts DNews segments for Science Channel week of April 11-15, 2016) and an April 17, 2016 post (Obama hosts White House Science Fair) describes two of Obama’s most recent efforts.
ETA April 19, 2016: I’ve found confirmation that this Q&A was somewhat staged as I hinted in the opening with “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparently extemporaneous response … .” Will Oremus’s April 19, 2016 article for Slate.com breaks the whole news cycle down and points out (Note: A link has been removed),
Over the weekend, even as latecomers continued to dine on the story’s rapidly decaying scraps, a somewhat different picture began to emerge. A Canadian blogger pointed out that Trudeau himself had suggested to reporters at the event that they lob him a question about quantum computing so that he could knock it out of the park with the newfound knowledge he had gleaned on his tour.
The Canadian blogger who tracked this down is J. J. McCullough (Jim McCullough) and you can read his Oct. 16, 2016 posting on the affair here. McCullough has a rather harsh view of the media response to Trudeau’s lecture. Oremus is a bit more measured,
… Monday brought the countertake parade—smaller and less pompous, if no less righteous—led by Gawker with the headline, “Justin Trudeau’s Quantum Computing Explanation Was Likely Staged for Publicity.”
But few of us in the media today are immune to the forces that incentivize timeliness and catchiness over subtlety, and even Gawker’s valuable corrective ended up meriting a corrective of its own. Author J.K. Trotter soon updated his post with comments from Trudeau’s press secretary, who maintained (rather convincingly, I think) that nothing in the episode was “staged”—at least, not in the sinister way that the word implies. Rather, Trudeau had joked that he was looking forward to someone asking him about quantum computing; a reporter at the press conference jokingly complied, without really expecting a response (he quickly moved on to his real question before Trudeau could answer); Trudeau responded anyway, because he really did want to show off his knowledge.
Trotter deserves credit, regardless, for following up and getting a fuller picture of what transpired. He did what those who initially jumped on the story did not, which was to contact the principals for context and comment.
But my point here is not to criticize any particular writer or publication. The too-tidy Trudeau narrative was not the deliberate work of any bad actor or fabricator. Rather, it was the inevitable product of today’s inexorable social-media machine, in which shareable content fuels the traffic-referral engines that pay online media’s bills.
I suggest reading both McCullough’s and Oremus’s posts in their entirety should you find debates about the role of media compelling.
David Bruggeman has written an informal series of posts about robot movies. The latest, a June 27, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog, highlights the latest Terminator film and opines that the recent interest could be traced back to the rebooted Battlestar Galactica television series (Note: Links have been removed),
I suppose this could be traced back to the reboot of Battlestar Galactica over a decade ago, but robots and androids have become an increasing presence on film and television, particularly in the last 2 years.
In the movies, the new Terminator film comes out next week, and the previews suggest we will see a new generation of killer robots traveling through time and space. Chappie is now out on your digital medium of choice (and I’ll post about any science fiction science policy/SciFiSciPol once I see it), so you can compare its robot police to those from either edition of Robocop or the 2013 series Almost Human. Robots also have a role …
The new television series he mentions, Humans (click on About) debuted on the US tv channel, AMC, on Sunday, June 28, 2015 (yesterday).
HUMANS is set in a parallel present, where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a Synth – a highly-developed robotic servant, eerily similar to its live counterpart. In the hope of transforming the way his family lives, father Joe Hawkins (Tom Goodman-Hill) purchases a Synth (Gemma Chan) against the wishes of his wife (Katharine Parkinson), only to discover that sharing life with a machine has far-reaching and chilling consequences.
Humans (styled as HUM∀NS) is a British-American science fiction television series, debuted in June 2015 on Channel 4 and AMC. Written by the British team Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley, based on the award-winning Swedish science fiction drama Real Humans, the series explores the emotional impact of the blurring of the lines between humans and machines. The series is produced jointly by AMC, Channel 4 and Kudos. The series will consist of eight episodes.
David also wrote about Ex Machina, a recent robot film with artistic ambitions, in an April 26, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,
I finally saw Ex Machina, which recently opened in the United States. It’s a minimalist film, with few speaking roles and a plot revolving around an intelligence test. Of the robot movies out this year, it has received the strongest reviews, and it may take home some trophies during the next awards season. Shot in Norway, the film is both lovely to watch and tricky to engage. I finished the film not quite sure what the characters were thinking, and perhaps that’s a lesson from the film.
Unlike Chappie and Automata, the intelligent robot at the center of Ex Machina is not out in the world. …
He started the series with a Feb. 8, 2015 posting which previews the movies in his later postings but also includes a couple of others not mentioned in either the April or June posting, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Spare Parts.
It’s interesting to me that these robots are mostly not related to the benign robots in the movie, ‘Forbidden Planet’, a reworking of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in outer space, in ‘Lost in Space’, a 1960s television programme, and in the Jetsons animated tv series of the 1960s. As far as I can tell not having seen the new movies in question, the only benign robot in the current crop would be ‘Chappie’. It should be mentioned that the ‘Terminator’, in the person of Arnold Schwarzenegger, has over a course of three or four movies evolved from a destructive robot bent on evil to a destructive robot working on behalf of good.
I’ll add one more more television programme and I’m not sure if the robot boy is good or evil but there’s Extant where Halle Berry’s robot son seems to be in a version of the Pinocchio story (an ersatz child want to become human), which is enjoying its second season on US television as of July 1, 2015.
Regardless of one or two ‘sweet’ robots, there seems to be a trend toward ominous robots and perhaps, in addition to Battlestar Galactica, the concerns being raised by prominent scientists such as Stephen Hawking and those associated with the Centre for Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge have something to do with this trend and may partially explain why Chappie did not do as well at the box office as hoped. Thematically, it was swimming against the current.
Many hospitals lack the resources and patient volume to employ a round-the-clock, neonatal intensive care specialist to treat their youngest and sickest patients. Telemedicine–with real-time audio and video communication between a neonatal intensive care specialist and a patient–can provide access to this level of care.
A team of neonatologists at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles investigated the use of robot-assisted telemedicine in performing bedside rounds and directing daily care for infants with mild-to-moderate disease. They found no significant differences in patient outcomes when telemedicine was used and noted a high level of parent satisfaction. This is the first published report of using telemedicine for patient rounds in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Results will be published online first on June 29 in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.
Glimpse into the future?
The part I find most fascinating was that there was no difference in outcomes, moreover, the parents’ satisfaction rate was high when robots (telemedicine) were used. Finally, of the families who completed the after care survey (45%), all indicated they would be comfortable with another telemedicine (robot) experience. My comment, should robots prove to be cheaper in the long run and the research results hold as more studies are done, I imagine that hospitals will introduce them as a means of cost cutting.
2014 was quite the year for discussions about robots/artificial intelligence (AI) taking over the world of work. There was my July 16, 2014 post titled, Writing and AI or is a robot writing this blog?, where I discussed the implications of algorithms which write news stories (business and sports, so far) in the wake of a deal that Associated Press signed with a company called Automated Insights. A few weeks later, the Pew Research Center released a report titled, AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs, which was widely covered. As well, sometime during the year, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking expressed serious concerns about artificial intelligence and our ability to control it.
It seems that 2015 is going to be another banner for this discussion. Before launching into the latest on this topic, here’s a sampling of the Pew Research and the response to it. From an Aug. 6, 2014 Pew summary about AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs by Aaron Smith and Janna Anderson,
The vast majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing anticipate that robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance. But even as they are largely consistent in their predictions for the evolution of technology itself, they are deeply divided on how advances in AI and robotics will impact the economic and employment picture over the next decade.
We call this a canvassing because it is not a representative, randomized survey. Its findings emerge from an “opt in” invitation to experts who have been identified by researching those who are widely quoted as technology builders and analysts and those who have made insightful predictions to our previous queries about the future of the Internet. …
I wouldn’t have expected Jeff Bercovici’s Aug. 6, 2014 article for Forbes to be quite so hesitant about the possibilities of our robotic and artificially intelligent future,
As part of a major ongoing project looking at the future of the internet, the Pew Research Internet Project canvassed some 1,896 technologists, futurists and other experts about how they see advances in robotics and artificial intelligence affecting the human workforce in 2025.
The results were not especially reassuring. Nearly half of the respondents (48%) predicted that robots and AI will displace more jobs than they create over the coming decade. While that left a slim majority believing the impact of technology on employment will be neutral or positive, that’s not necessarily grounds for comfort: Many experts told Pew they expect the jobs created by the rise of the machines will be lower paying and less secure than the ones displaced, widening the gap between rich and poor, while others said they simply don’t think the major effects of robots and AI, for better or worse, will be in evidence yet by 2025.
Chris Gayomali’s Aug. 6, 2014 article for Fast Company poses an interesting question about how this brave new future will be financed,
A new study by Pew Internet Research takes a hard look at how innovations in robotics and artificial intelligence will impact the future of work. To reach their conclusions, Pew researchers invited 12,000 experts (academics, researchers, technologists, and the like) to answer two basic questions:
Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?
To what degree will AI and robotics be parts of the ordinary landscape of the general population by 2025?
Close to 1,900 experts responded. About half (48%) of the people queried envision a future in which machines have displaced both blue- and white-collar jobs. It won’t be so dissimilar from the fundamental shift we saw in manufacturing, in which fewer (human) bosses oversaw automated assembly lines.
Meanwhile, the other 52% of experts surveyed speculate while that many of the jobs will be “substantially taken over by robots,” humans won’t be displaced outright. Rather, many people will be funneled into new job categories that don’t quite exist yet. …
Some worry that over the next 10 years, we’ll see a large number of middle class jobs disappear, widening the economic gap between the rich and the poor. The shift could be dramatic. As artificial intelligence becomes less artificial, they argue, the worry is that jobs that earn a decent living wage (say, customer service representatives, for example) will no longer be available, putting lots and lots of people out of work, possibly without the requisite skill set to forge new careers for themselves.
How do we avoid this? One revealing thread suggested by experts argues that the responsibility will fall on businesses to protect their employees. “There is a relentless march on the part of commercial interests (businesses) to increase productivity so if the technical advances are reliable and have a positive ROI [return on investment],” writes survey respondent Glenn Edens, a director of research in networking, security, and distributed systems at PARC, which is owned by Xerox. “Ultimately we need a broad and large base of employed population, otherwise there will be no one to pay for all of this new world.” [emphasis mine]
Alex Hearn’s Aug. 6, 2014 article for the Guardian reviews the report and comments on the current educational system’s ability to prepare students for the future,
Almost all of the respondents are united on one thing: the displacement of work by robots and AI is going to continue, and accelerate, over the coming decade. Where they split is in the societal response to that displacement.
The optimists predict that the economic boom that would result from vastly reduced costs to businesses would lead to the creation of new jobs in huge numbers, and a newfound premium being placed on the value of work that requires “uniquely human capabilities”. …
But the pessimists worry that the benefits of the labor replacement will accrue to those already wealthy enough to own the automatons, be that in the form of patents for algorithmic workers or the physical form of robots.
The ranks of the unemployed could swell, as people are laid off from work they are qualified in without the ability to retrain for careers where their humanity is a positive. And since this will happen in every economic sector simultaneously, civil unrest could be the result.
One thing many experts agreed on was the need for education to prepare for a post-automation world. ““Only the best-educated humans will compete with machines,” said internet sociologist Howard Rheingold.
“And education systems in the US and much of the rest of the world are still sitting students in rows and columns, teaching them to keep quiet and memorise what is told them, preparing them for life in a 20th century factory.”
Then, Will Oremus’ Aug. 6, 2014 article for Slate suggests we are already experiencing displacement,
… the current jobless recovery, along with a longer-term trend toward income and wealth inequality, has some thinkers wondering whether the latest wave of automation is different from those that preceded it.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, among others, see a “great decoupling” of productivity from wages since about 2000 as technology outpaces human workers’ education and skills. Workers, in other words, are losing the race between education and technology. This may be exacerbating a longer-term trend in which capital has gained the upper hand on labor since the 1970s.
The results of the survey were fascinating. Almost exactly half of the respondents (48 percent) predicted that intelligent software will disrupt more jobs than it can replace. The other half predicted the opposite.
The lack of expert consensus on such a crucial and seemingly straightforward question is startling. It’s even more so given that history and the leading economic models point so clearly to one side of the question: the side that reckons society will adjust, new jobs will emerge, and technology will eventually leave the economy stronger.
More recently, Manish Singh has written about some of his concerns as a writer who could be displaced in a Jan. 31, 2015 (?) article for Beta News (Note: A link has been removed),
Robots are after my job. They’re after yours as well, but let us deal with my problem first. Associated Press, an American multinational nonprofit news agency, revealed on Friday [Jan. 30, 2015] that it published 3,000 articles in the last three months of 2014. The company could previously only publish 300 stories. It didn’t hire more journalists, neither did its existing headcount start writing more, but the actual reason behind this exponential growth is technology. All those stories were written by an algorithm.
The articles produced by the algorithm were accurate, and you won’t be able to separate them from stories written by humans. Good lord, all the stories were written in accordance with the AP Style Guide, something not all journalists follow (but arguably, should).
There has been a growth in the number of such software. Narrative Science, a Chicago-based company offers an automated narrative generator powered by artificial intelligence. The company’s co-founder and CTO, Kristian Hammond, said last year that he believes that by 2030, 90 percent of news could be written by computers. Forbes, a reputable news outlet, has used Narrative’s software. Some news outlets use it to write email newsletters and similar things.
Singh also sounds a note of concern for other jobs by including this video (approximately 16 mins.) in his piece,
This video (Humans Need Not Apply) provides an excellent overview of the situation although it seems C. G. P. Grey, the person who produced and posted the video on YouTube, holds a more pessimistic view of the future than some other futurists. C. G. P. Grey has a website here and is profiled here on Wikipedia.
One final bit, there’s a robot art critic which some are suggesting is superior to human art critics in Thomas Gorton’s Jan. 16, 2015 (?) article ‘This robot reviews art better than most critics‘ for Dazed Digital (Note: Links have been removed),
… the Novice Art Blogger, a Tumblr page set up by Matthew Plummer Fernandez. The British-Colombian artist programmed a bot with deep learning algorithms to analyse art; so instead of an overarticulate critic rambling about praxis, you get a review that gets down to the nitty-gritty about what exactly you see in front of you.
The results are charmingly honest: think a round robin of Google Translate text uninhibited by PR fluff, personal favouritism or the whims of a bad mood. We asked Novice Art Blogger to review our most recent Winter 2014 cover with Kendall Jenner. …
Beyond Kendall Jenner, it’s worth reading Gorton’s article for the interview with Plummer Fernandez.
Canadian-born rapper of science and many other topics, Baba Brinkman sent me an update about his current doings (first mentioned in an Aug. 1, 2014 posting featuring his appearances at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his Rap Guide to Religion being debuted at the Fringe, and his Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the creation of an animated rap album of his news Rap Guide to Religion), Note: Links have been removed,
Greetings from Edinburgh! In the past two and half weeks I’ve done fifteen performances of The Rap Guide to Religion for a steadily building audience here at the Fringe, and we recently had a whole pile of awesome reviews published, which I will excerpt below, but first a funny story.
Yesterday [August 14, 2014] BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Sunday Morning TV was in to film my performance. They had a scheme to send a right wing conservative Christian to the show and then film us having an argument afterwards. The man they sent certainly has the credentials. Reverend George Hargreaves is a Pentecostal Minister and former leader of the UK Christian Party, as well as a young earth creationist and strong opponent of abortion and homosexuality. He led the protests that got “Jerry Springer the Opera” shut down in London a few years back, and is on record as saying that religion is not an appropriate subject for comedy. Before he converted to Christianity, the man was also a DJ and producer of pop music for the London gay scene, interesting background.
So after an hour of cracking jokes at religion’s expense, declaring myself an unapologetic atheist, and explaining why evolutionary science gives a perfectly satisfying naturalistic account of where religion comes from, I sat down with Reverend George and was gobsmacked when he started the interview with: “I don’t know if we’re going to have anything to debate about… I LOVED your show!” We talked for half an hour with the cameras rolling and at one point George said “I don’t know what we disagree about,” so I asked him: “Do you think one of your ancestors was a fish?” He declared that statement a fishy story and denied it, and then we found much to disagree about.
I honestly thought I had written a hard-hitting, provocative and controversial show, but it turns out the religious are loving it as much as the nonbelievers – and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I asked Reverend George why he wasn’t offended, even though he’s officially against comedy that targets religion, and he told me it’s because I take the religious worldview seriously, instead of lazily dismissing it as delusional. The key word here is “lazily” rather than “delusional” because I don’t pull punches about religion being a series of delusions, but I don’t think those delusions are pointless. I think they have evolved (culturally and genetically) to solve adaptive problems in the past, and for religious people accustomed to atheists being derisive and dismissive that’s a (semi) validating perspective.
To listen to songs from The Rap Guide to Religion, you need to back my Kickstarter campaign so I can raise the money to produce a proper record. To check out what the critics here in Edinburgh have to say about my take on religion, read on. And if you want to help organize a gig somewhere, just let me know. The show is open for bookings.
On Sunday Morning [August 17, 2014 GMT] my segment with Reverend George will air on BBC One, so we’ll see what a million British people think of the debate.
All the best from the religious fringe,
Here’s a link to the BBC One Sunday Morning Live show, where hopefully you’ll be able to catch the segment featuring Baba and Reverend George Hargreaves either livestreamed or shortly thereafter.
A science movie and a science play
Onto the science movie and the play: David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog writes about two upcoming movie biopics featuring Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively, in an Aug. 8, 2014 posting. Having covered the Turing movie here (at length) in a July 22, 2014 posting here’s the new information about the Hawking movie from David’s Aug, 8, 2014 posting,
Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking are noted British scientists, well recognized for their work and for having faced significant challenges in their lives. While they were in different fields and productive in different parts of the 20th century (Hawking is still with us), their stories will compete in movieplexes (at least in the U.S.) this November.
The Theory of Everything is scheduled for release on November 7 and focuses on the early career and life of Hawking. He’s portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, and the film is directed by James Marsh. Marsh has several documentaries to his credit, including the Oscar-winning Man on Wire. Theory is the third film project on Hawking since 2004, but the first to get much attention outside of the United Kingdom (this might explain why it won’t debut in the U.K. until New Year’s Day). It premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival next month [Sept. 2014].
David features some trailers for both movies and additional information.
Interestingly the science play focuses on the friendship between a female UK scientist and her former student, Margaret Thatcher (a UK Prime Minister). From an Aug. 13, 2014 Alice Bell posting on the Guardian science blog network (Note: Links have been removed),
Adam Ganz’s new play – The Chemistry Between Them, to be broadcast on Radio 4 this month – explores one of the most intriguing friendships in the history of science and politics: Margaret Thatcher and Dorothy Hodgkin.
As well as winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her pioneering scientific work on the structures of proteins, Hodgkin was a left-wing peace campaigner who was awarded the Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Order of Lenin. Hardly Thatcher’s type, you might think. But Hodgkin was Thatcher’s tutor at university, and the relationships between science, politics and women in high office are anything but straightforward.
I spoke to Ganz about his interest in the subject, and started by asking him to tell us more about the play.
… they stayed friends throughout Dorothy’s life. Margaret Thatcher apparently had a photo of Dorothy Hodgkin in Downing Street, and they maintained a kind of warm relationship. The play happens in two timescales – one is a meeting in 1983 in Chequers where Dorothy came to plead with Margaret to take nuclear disarmament more seriously at a time when Cruise missiles and SS20s were being stationed in Europe. In fact I’ve set it – I’m not sure of the exact date – shortly after the Korean airliner was shot down, when the Russians feared Nato were possibly planning a first strike. And that is intercut with the time when Margaret is studying chemistry and looking at her journey; what she learned at Somerville, but especially what she learned from Dorothy.
Chemistry and authentication of a Lawren Harris painting
The final item for this posting concerns Canadian art, chemistry, and the quest to prove the authenticity of a painting. Roberta Staley, editor of Canadian Chemical News (ACCN), has written a concise technical story about David Robertson’s quest to authenticate a painting he purchased some years ago,
Fourteen years ago, David Robertson of Delta, British Columbia was holidaying in Ontario when he stopped at a small antique shop in the community of Bala, two hours north of Toronto in cottage country. An unsigned 1912 oil painting caught his attention. Thinking it evocative of a Group of Seven painting, Robertson paid the asking price of $280 and took it home to hang above his fireplace.
For anyone who might recognize the topic, I wrote a sprawling five-part series (over 5000 words) on the story starting with part one. Roberta’s piece is 800 words and offers her account of the tests for both Autumn Harbour and the authentic Harris painting, Hurdy Gurdy. I was able to attend only one of them (Autumn Harbour).
David William Robertson, Autumn Harbour’s owner has recently (I received a notice on Aug. 13, 2014) updated his website with all of the scientific material and points of authentication that he feels prove his case.
Yesterday, Nov. 14, 2013, I happened to catch Dr. Carin Bondar being interviewed on a local (Vancouver, Canada) television (tv) programme about her upcoming appearances as one of the hosts of Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World series (season two) being debuted tonight (Nov. 15, 2013). While enthusiastic about this latest venture, Dr. Bondar didn’t offer much science information during the interview where she focused on her adventures as part of a virtual military team and her surprise at some of the work being done in the field of prosthetics. There’s a bit more detail about the programme (not the science) in Bondar’s Nov. 12, 2013 blog entry on the Huffington Post website,
One of the highlights of my career thus far was being involved in a groundbreaking television series Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World premiering on Discovery World. A co-operative project between Handel Productions (Canada) and IWC (England), the series showcases some of the most mind-blowing new technologies that will impact our daily lives in the not-too-distant future.
Each of the six, one-hour episodes is narrated by Professor Stephen Hawking, world-renown physicist and author of the best-seller A Brief History of Time, and is comprised of the investigations of a team of five scientists who travel the world — Myself and Professor Chris Eliasmith from Canada, Dr. Daniel Kraft from the US, and Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Dr. Aarathi Prasad from the UK.
The premiere episode, called Inspired by Nature, is all about how we need only to look to the natural world for some of the most awe-inspiring inventions. Millions of years of evolution have resulted in some highly complex and innovative strategies for life across the animal kingdom…and this episode shows us how humans are attempting to re-create them for our own purposes.
Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World premieres Friday, November 15 at 8 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT on Discovery World.
Hi Everyone! I’m thrilled to be one of the presenters on season two of ‘Brave New World with Stephen Hawking’, which will premiere on November 15th. Shooting took place last spring all over the states. It was a crazy, exhausting whirlwind from Atlanta to San Diego, LA, Houston, Pittsburgh and Boston, but it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I love this promo image of me in a Faraday (bird) cage at the Boston Museum of Science.
The Discovery World website’s programme webpage provides a bit more detail (where’s the science?) about the first three shows in the series,
STEPHEN HAWKING’S BRAVE NEW WORLD: “Inspired by Nature”
Hawking and his team investigate groundbreaking innovations in science inspired by nature. Aarathi Prasad road tests two of the most advanced all-terrain robots in the world designed to go where humans and vehicles can’t; Chris Eliasmith examines an extraordinary new fabric that mimics the adhesive ability of gecko feet and bonds to any surface; Daniel Kraft visits Vancouver-based Nuytco Research where underwater subs are used to simulate zero gravity to train astronauts for deep space exploration; Jim Al-Khalili examines how re-engineering a virus can prevent pandemics; and Carin Bondar discovers how Nikola Tesla’s remarkable dream of wireless power is finally being realized.
STEPHEN HAWKING’S BRAVE NEW WORLD: “Code Red”
Hawking and his team examine new inventions that will change how humans deal with crises in the future. Chris Eliasmith looks into a revolutionary pilotless helicopter (the K-Max), that can fly and perform complex manoeuvres on its own; Daniel Kraft tests out the latest high-tech bomb disposal robot; Jim Al-Khalili checks out a sniper rifle equipped with jet fighter target tracking technology; Carin Bondar examines face recognition binoculars that can identify criminals within 15 seconds; then, Aarathi Prasad examines a lifesaving breakthrough that allows oxygen to be injected directly into the bloodstream. STEPHEN HAWKING’S BRAVE NEW WORLD: “Virtual World”
Hawking and his team investigate technology transforming the idea of reality. Carin Bondar takes part in a remarkable 3D virtual training program created for the military; Aarathi Prasad tests a new system that maps locations inaccessible by GPS; Daniel Kraft investigates 3D bio-printing where computer designs can be turned into living tissue; Chris Eliasmith tests the latest in gaming technology – a breakthrough in virtual reality that promises the most immersive experience yet; and Jim Al-Khalili tests a computer that can read the human mind.
It would have been nice to find out a little more about the science and a little less about the exciting aspects of these adventures. Perhaps the producers thought it best to confine the science to the broadcast.
The local tv programme where Dr. Bondar was interviewed is called The Rush and while the Nov. 14, 2012 interview has yet (as of Nov. 15, 2013, 13H30 or 1:30 pm PDT) to be posted online, you should be able to find it shortly.
I have mentioned Chris Eliasmith (University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) here before, notably in my November 29, 2012 posting about his work simulating neurons in the virtual world.
A June 25, 2013 news item on Azonano describes a collaborative agreement between the University of Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) to work together and fund nanotechnology-enabled solutions for more water in the Middle East and elsewhere,
The University of Chicago and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will begin funding a series of ambitious research collaborations that apply the latest discoveries in nanotechnology to create new materials and processes for making clean, fresh drinking water more plentiful and less expensive by 2020.
The announcement came June 23 following a meeting in Jerusalem among Israeli President Shimon Peres, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer, Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi and leading scientists in the field. The joint projects will explore innovative solutions at the water-energy nexus, developing more efficient ways of using water to produce energy and using energy to treat and deliver clean water.
The University of Chicago also brings to the effort two powerful research partners already committed to clean water research: the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill., and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.
“We feel it is critical to bring outstanding scientists together to address water resource challenges that are being felt around the world, and will only become more acute over time,” said Zimmer. “Our purification challenges in the Great Lakes region right now are different from some of the scarcity issues some of our colleagues at Ben-Gurion are addressing, but our combined experience will be a tremendous asset in turning early-stage technologies into innovative solutions that may have applications far beyond local issues.”
“Clean, plentiful water is a strategic issue in the Middle East and the world at large, and a central research focus of our university for more than three decades,” said Carmi. “We believe that this partnership will enhance state-of-the-art science in both universities, while having a profound effect on the sustainable availability of clean water to people around the globe.”
The first wave of research proposals include fabricating new materials tailored to remove contaminants, bacteria, viruses and salt from drinking water at a fraction of the cost of current technologies; biological engineering that will help plants maximize their own drought-resistance mechanisms; and polymers that can change the water retention properties of soil in agriculture.
UChicago, BGU and Argonne have jointly committed more than $1 million in seed money over the next two years to support inaugural projects, with the first projects getting under way this fall.
One proposed project would attempt to devise multi-functional and anti-fouling membranes for water purification. These membranes, engineered at the molecular level, could be switched or tuned to remove a wide range of biological and chemical contaminants and prevent the formation of membrane-fouling bacterial films. Keeping those membranes free of fouling would extend their useful lives and decrease energy usage while reducing the operational cost of purifying water.
Another proposal focuses on developing polymers for soil infusion or seed coatings to promote water retention. Such polymers conjure visions of smart landscapes that can substantially promote agricultural growth while reducing irrigation needs.
Officials from both the U.S. and Israel hailed the collaboration as an example of the potential for collaborative innovation that can improve quality of life and boost economic vitality.
Sidenote: In early May 2013, internationally renowned physicist Stephen Hawking participated in an ‘academic’ boycott of Israel over its position on Palestine. The May 9, 2013 article, Stephen Hawking: Furore deepens over Israel boycott, by Harriet Sherwood, Matthew Kalman, and Sam Jones for the Guardian newspaper reveals some of the content of Hawking’s letter to the organizers and his reasons for participating in the boycott,
Hawking, a world-renowned scientist and bestselling author who has had motor neurone disease for 50 years, cancelled his appearance at the high-profile Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, after a barrage of appeals from Palestinian academics.
The full text of the letter [from Hawking], dated 3 May, said: “I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank. However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference. Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
Steve Caplan in a May 13, 2013 piece (Occam’s Corner hosted by the Guardian) explained why he profoundly disagreed with Hawking’s position (Note: Links have been removed),
My respect for Hawking as a scientist and person of enormous courage has made my dismay at his recent decision all the greater. In these very virtual pages I have previously opined on the folly of imposing an academic boycott on Israel. The UK, which sports many of the supporters of this policy – dubiously known as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) – also appears to be particularly fertile ground for anti-Semitism. To what degree British anti-Semitism, the anti-Israel BDS lobby and legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies are related is an inordinately complex question, but it is clear that anti-Semitism plays a role among some BDS supporters.
The decision by Hawking to join the boycotters of Israel and Israeli academics is particularly ironic in light of the fact that the conference is being hosted in honor of the 90th birthday of Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. More than any other Israeli leader, Peres has been committed to negotiations and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. At 90, despite his figurehead position, Peres remains steadfastly optimistic in his relentless goal of a fair two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.
Caplan’s summary of how the ‘Palestine problem’ was created and how we got to the current state of affairs is one of most the clear-headed I’ve seen,
Pinning the blame on one side with a propaganda machine and a sleeve full of slogans is easy to do, but there is nothing simple or straightforward about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From the very birth of the State of Israel in 1948, the mode by which the Palestinian refugee problem was created has been debated intensely by historians. There is little question that a combination of intimidation by Israelis and acquiescence of the refugees to calls by Palestinian and Arab leaders to flee (and return with the victorious Arab armies) were the major causes of Palestinian uprooting.
To what degree was each side responsible? The Palestinians and Arab countries initiated the war in 1948, vetoing by force the United Nations Partition Plan to divide the country between Israelis and Palestinians – in an attempt to prevent any Jewish state from arising. And at the time, Israelis doubtlessly showed little concern at the growing numbers of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes. And later, after the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis displayed poor judgment (that unfortunately continues to this day) in allowing her citizens to build settlements in these conquered territories.
Both sides have suffered from poor leadership over the years.
Caplan also discusses the relationship between Israel’s government and its academics as he explains why he is opposed academic boycotts,
… in any case, Israeli academics and scientists are neither government mouthpieces nor puppets. There have frequently been serious disagreements between the government and the universities in Israel, highlighting the independence of Israel’s academic institutions. One such example is the Israeli government’s decision last year to upgrade the status of a college built in Ariel – a town inside the West Bank – to that of a university. This was vehemently opposed by Israel’s institutions of higher learning (and by perhaps 50% of the general population).
A second example is the unsuccessful attempt by the Israeli government to shut down Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government – which was attacked for its leftist views. The rallying opposition and petition by Israeli academics across the country who warned of the danger to academic freedom helped prevent the department’s closure.
You’ll note the reference to Ben-Gurion University in that last paragraph excerpted from Caplan’s piece, which brings this posting back to where it started, collaboration between two universities to come up with solutions that address problems with access to water. In the end, I am inclined to agree with Caplan that we need to open up and maintain the lines of communication.
ETA June 27, 2013: There is no hint in the University of Chicago news releases that these water projects will benefit any parties other than Israel and the US but it is tempting to hope that this work might also have an impact in Palestine given its current water crisis there as described in a June 26, 2013 news item in the World Bulletin (Note: Links have been removed),
A tiny wedge of land jammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean sea, the Gaza Strip is heading inexorably into a water crisis that the United Nations says could make the Palestinian enclave unliveable in just a few years.
With 90-95 percent of the territory’s only aquifer contaminated by sewage, chemicals and seawater, neighbourhood desalination facilities and their public taps are a lifesaver for some of Gaza’s 1.6 million residents.
But these small-scale projects provide water for only about 20 percent of the population, forcing many more residents in the impoverished Gaza Strip to buy bottled water at a premium.
“There is a crisis. There is a serious deficit in the water resources in Gaza and there is a serious deterioration in the water quality,” said Rebhi El Sheikh, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA).
A NASA study of satellite data released this year showed that between 2003 and 2009 the region lost 144 cubic km of stored freshwater – equivalent to the amount of water held in the Dead Sea – making an already bad situation much worse.
But the situation in Gaza is particularly acute, with the United Nations warning that its sole aquifer might be unusable by 2016, with the damage potentially irreversible by 2020.