Aired: 28 October 2013 at 6.30pm, BBC Radio 4
Repeated: 3 November 2013 at 12 noon, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Humphrey Ker
Steering Committee: Robert Llewellyn, Cleo Rocos, Professor Kevin Warwick
Author and Actor
Robert Llewellyn is an English actor, comedian and writer, best known for playing the mechanoid Kryten in sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, and as a presenter of shows like Scrapheap Challenge and How Do They Do It? As an actor he has appeared in Bottom, Christmas Carol: The Movie, Joking Apart, KYTV, Birds of a Feather, Murder Most Horrid, and Smith and Jones, among others. He has also acted in children’s TV shows such as MI High, Top Trumps and Mirror Mask.
Robert is a regular speaker at science events and is a staunch supporter of sustainable and renewable energy technologies. A former ‘petrol head’, he is now a convert to electric vehicles and runs a related video blog called Fully Charged. He also has an online chat show called Carpool where he interviews people whilst driving them to a destination of their choice.
In 1988 Llewellyn wrote and performed a show at the Edinburgh Festival called Mammon, Robot Born of Woman. The premise was that Mammon was designed and built by a female scientist and was supposed to be the perfect man, but as he became more 'human' he started to behave badly. The producer of Red Dwarf, Paul Jackson, saw the show and asked him to audition for Kryten. He joined the cast in the third series and has stayed ever since. In 2012 he recorded the 10th series and an 11th is forthcoming.
Llewellyn describes Kryten’s accent as ‘bad Canadian’. He needs a special pair of glasses to read the script with his Kryten mask on, and he used to have to schedule in trips to the loo, but now he has a zip in his costume to make the process easier. He says that he used to have to be the first to arrive for make-up but now the rest of the actors need ‘a bit more make-up help than they used to’. He was the only original cast member to appear in the aborted American version of Red Dwarf.
Llewellyn is married to novelist and actor Judy Pascoe, who starred alongside him in the Red Dwarf episode ‘Camille’. He himself has written 11 books, the most recent being the sci-fi novel, News from Gardenia.
'Pub'. Ah, yes: a meeting place where people attempt to achieve advanced states of mental incompetence by the repeated consumption of fermented vegetable drinks.
Cleo Rocos was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1962 to English and Greek parents. Her first job (aged 15) was as a professional skateboarder; she qualified as a member of the American women’s international team ‘The Alleycats’. While living in Hollywood as a teenager to write a sitcom, there was an attempt to kidnap her when three men tried to drag her into a van at knifepoint. She escaped with minor injuries.
Rocos’s first TV appearance was a minor role in the TV adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Coincidentally, given that she is now considered to be an authority on alcoholic drinks, she played the victim of the Universe’s strongest cocktail, The Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.
Cleo’s career took off when she co-starred in The Kenny Everett Television Show on the BBC in the 1980s. She and Kenny were inseparable until his death in 1995. She then became a roving reporter for the consumer show That’s Life! and for travel show Wish You Were Here…?, played parts in the comedy shows Pobol y Chyff (with Rhys Ifans) and Assaulted Nuts, and presented the travel show, Cleo Worldwide. In 2000, she produced the West End revival of The Seven Year Itch starring Daryl Hannah, and in 2005 she was executive producer on a special episode of The Comic Strip Presents, called Sex Actually.
In recent years Cleo has developed her own brand of tequila called Aqua Riva, made from 100% Blue Weber agave. She has become, perhaps, the most influential woman in the tequila industry, and is president of the The Tequila Society. She has been known to party with everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana to Freddie Mercury and Gore Vidal.
I’m not telling people how much, or how much not, to drink. It’s like eating... drink the good stuff.
In the 1940s, pioneering computer expert Dr Alan Turing predicted that computer responses to questioning would be indistinguishable from human responses (in 70% of cases) by the year 2000. Since then, the ‘Turing Test’ has been applied to many computers but none has yet achieved the level of ‘indistinguishabe from human’.
In 1956 a brainstorming session called the Dartmouth Conference, at which the term 'Artificial Intelligence' was coined, declared that, within a couple of months, they would be able to solve many of the problems associated with developing artificial intelligence (AI). Of course, they didn’t. Dr Stuart Armstrong has looked at all such historical predictions concerning AI and claims that most experts, irrespective of when they make the prediction, say that it will happen in 20-25 years.
That said, computer power is increasing more rapidly than ever before. If Moore’s Law – which states that computing power doubles every two years - continues to hold then, by 2030, our technology will be sufficiently small that we can fit all the computing power that's in a human brain into a physical volume the size of a brain.
Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, where he carries out pioneering research into artificial intelligence, robotics and biomedical engineering. He is particularly well-known for self-experimentation. In 1998, he had a transponder implanted into his left arm in order to link his nervous system directly to a computer, which could then monitor him as he walked around. Using an ID signal emitted by the chip he could operate doors, lights, heaters and computers without lifting a finger.
In 2002, Warwick implanted a more advanced transponder in his arm, this one with 100 tiny ‘spikes’ each as thin as a human hair. With it he was able to remotely control an electric wheelchair and an intelligent artificial hand. His wife Irena also had an implant connected to her nervous system as part of the experiment. Kevin can now technically be called a ‘cyborg’ (cybernetic organism) - part human, part machine.
Kevin has spent his career working on ways to merge humans with machines, and believes we needn’t accept the limitations of our bodies. He feels particularly trapped by our limited range of senses because there are so many signals out there—for instance, radio waves and X-rays—that, as humans, we cannot detect.
Kevin has demonstrated that deep brain stimulation can benefit Parkinson’s patients. It involves implanting a sort of brain ‘pacemaker’ that can send electrical impulses into specific brain regions. The technique seems to help patients control their symptoms. He foresees a time when more and more technology will be implanted into our bodies for medical reasons, pointing to successes like colour-blind artist Neil Harbisson who can now paint - in colour - thanks to a cybernetic device called the Eyeborg which converts 360 colours into different sounds. Then there are cochlear implants that allow deaf people to bypass damaged portions of the ear, and ‘bionic’ eyes that use cameras and video processors to treat macular degeneration by sending captured images directly to the retina and along the optic nerve to the brain.
I was born human. But this was an accident of fate - a condition merely of time and place. I believe it's something we have the power to change.