Androids and Robots

We are accustomed to them in sci-fiction, but they are becoming more common in real life. Do we think this is a good thing? Some examples.

A Chinese company, Pangolin, produces not only kitchen staff but waiters as well. According to one restaurant manager quoted a while back in The Times, the use of robots allows him to employ only a third of the normal number of human staff.

Robot waiter

No doubt policeman like the kitchen staff idea since robots are not likely to spit in their food before serving it up. And the rest of us? The way I see it, robot waiters will not require a tip.

Little attempt is made to give robots human features. The same is not true of androids, which are intended to resemble us. The following example is an android hotel receptionist made by the robotics company Kokoro. I don’t know what her name is, maybe she doesn’t have one yet, but I do know she speaks four languages – which is three more than your average bear and quite impressive, really. Depending on how well she speaks them. Guests of amorous disposition will wish to know what she will be doing at the end of her shift, but she will surely remain tight-lipped.

Android Receptionist

I move swiftly on to two products of the French company Aldebaran Robotics. The first is a bank clerk by the name of Nao. From April 2015, Nao will be working in several branches of the Mitsubishi Bank. Rumour has it that Nao is entirely trustworthy and will never become the inside man in a heist. Time will tell.

Nao Bank Clerk

And lastly, Pepper, who will be selling Nespresso coffee machines in Japan in the course of the year.

Nescafe Robot

Are we in favour of this trend? I have only just recovered from reading about a lady who lost most of her hair to a robotic vacuum cleaner – though falling asleep on the floor didn’t help.

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James Hutton – Geologist

James Hutton (1726–1797) was a Scottish farmer and naturalist. He was also the founder of modern geology.

He was a great observer of the world around him. More importantly, he made carefully reasoned geological arguments. Hutton came to believe that the Earth was perpetually being formed; for example, molten material is forced up into mountains, eroded, and then eroded sediments are washed away. He recognized that the history of the Earth could be determined by understanding how processes such as erosion and sedimentation work in the present day. His ideas and approach to studying the Earth established geology as a proper science.

However, the processes identified by Hutton required very long periods of time, and to realise how original  his views were, it is only necessary to compare them to those prevailing when he was publishing his research.

In the late eighteenth century, when Hutton was carefully examining the rocks, it was generally believed that Earth had come into creation only around six thousand years earlier (on October 22, 4004 B.C., to be precise, according to the seventeenth century scholarly analysis of the Bible by Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland), and that fossils were the remains of animals that had perished during the Biblical flood.

Hutton was from Edinburgh, and it is not surprising that he is featured in the National Museum of Scotland in that city, where he is seen by many.

James Hutton

But few people know of the existence of the James Hutton Memorial Garden. This is not surprising given that it is small, largely unadvertised, and accessible by a long flight of very steep steps from an obscure location off Holyrood Road. So for those who are unlikely ever to see it, here it is.

Hutton Memorial Garden 1

Hutton Memorial Garden 2

(Quotations are from EARTH: INSIDE AND OUT, edited by Edmond A. Mathez, American Museum of Natural History.)

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Airing Tonight

Airing tonight is the first of three programmes by Richard Fortey. Fortey is a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum. He is well known as a writer. I have two of his books and have read each of them twice. It strikes me as amazing that it has never occurrred to me to review them, as I would have done had they been novels.

The books are both excellent:

– ‘Life, An Unauthorised Biography’

– ‘Trilobite, Eyewitness to Evolution’

The sub-title of the second is very clever, given the astonishing construction of the trilobite eye.

The programmes air at 9 pm GMT on BBC 4 for three consecutive weeks. For those living outwith the YUK they may be available via the iPlayer. They will be worth watching.Here is what the BBC has to say about the first episode.

‘High in the Rocky Mountains lies a fossilised seabed harbouring remnants from one of the most fascinating periods in the planet’s history. More than 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian explosion, it appears Mother Nature was experimenting with an astonishing diversity of new species. Studying the petrified relics from this era has broadened our understanding about how complex life evolved.

Here, Professor Richard Fortey exhumes evidence of a curious menagerie of marine creatures, from tulip-shaped filter feeders to spiky, wriggling scavengers and titanic predatory shrimps.

ABOUT THIS PROGRAMME

1/3. Professor Richard Fortey travels to fossil sites to learn more about the distant past. In the first episode, he visits the Rocky Mountains to explore a 520-million-year-old fossilised seabed containing bizarre and experimental lifeforms that have revolutionised our understanding about the beginnings of complex life. Among the finds are marine creatures with five eyes, worm-like scavengers covered in spikes, and a metre-long predator resembling a giant shrimp.’