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Podcast Review: Tech Tent

Neema Kotonya15 March 2016

Tech Tent is a new periodical BBC podcast, hosted by the BBC technology editor Rory Cellan-Jones. Each week Jones brings his audience news on the latest goings-on in the world of technology. In the most recent episode, titled Beyond the Connected Kettle.

Another segment of the podcast discusses Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) research team DeepMind, whose AI Alpha Go, at the time of the podcast recording, had just successfully completed its first game of Go (an ancient Chinese board game).  Late last week, Go World Champion, Lee Sedol, became the first human player to defeat the AI at the game, after previously being defeated by the AI. Lee was later defeated by the AI, leaving Alpha Go’s win-loss ratio at 4-1.

It was interesting to hear the different prospectives of academics concerning whether this achievement by the DeepMind team means we are a step closer to realising AIs which can rival human beings in intelligence. An Imperial College London professor stated that though the AI is able to outperform professional players in the highly complicated strategic game of Go, Lee Sedol and other human beings can perform tasks such as running, driving and cooking which Alpha Go can not, so until programs which have a large repertoire are developed, we are still a long way away from human-level intelligence.

Jones cohosts this segment with Andrew Stanford-Clark and Jeni Tennison, who share their views on the success of DeepMind’s Alpha Go. As a computer science student who is taking a module in artificial intelligence, I found this discussion to be particularly interesting, as it gave me a different perspective on AI to the one which I have previously encountered during my studies.

BBC Tech Tent Podcast

The subject of the second segment is The Internet of Things and personal data. For this half of the podcast, Jones investigates the new and exciting prospects presented by the Internet of Things (IOT) and how this will affect the way we live our lives and go about accomplishing everyday household tasks. The Internet of Things is the idea that electronic processes and tasks can be accomplished much more efficiently if all digital devices are connected to the Web.

Now that I have listened to this episode, I will definitely be downloading the previous episode as well as subscribing to the podcast. I like the fact that the podcast is approachable for those who are from a non-technical background, but at the same time the depth and breadth of conversation means that it is also interesting to those who are more tech savvy. Also, if you prefer to read, Tech Tent publishes a weekly newsletter,  which can be subscribed to here.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


 

Podcasts:

  1. Tech Tent – Beyond the Connected Kettle: Prod. credit Unknown, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 15:05 11/3/2016, BBC World Service, 27 mins. http://bobnational.net/record/391655 [radio programme, online] (Accessed 15/3/2016)
  2. Click – 8th March, 2016: Prod. credit Unknown, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 13:45 8/3/2016, BBC World Service, 30 mins. [radio programme, online] http://bobnational.net/record/391658 (Accessed 15/3/2016)
  3. Tech Tent – India Halts Free Facebook Plan:  Prod. credit Unknown, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 15:05 12/2/2016, BBC World Service, 27 mins. http://bobnational.net/record/391654 [radio programme, online] (Accessed 15/3/2016)
  4. Tech Tent – Driverless Cars on Collision Course?: Prod. credit Unknown, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 15:05 4/3/2016, BBC World Service, 27 mins. [radio programme, online] http://bobnational.net/record/391656 (Accessed 15/3/2016)

Other useful resources:

  1. If you do not have access to BoB National  the Tech Tent podcasts can be downloaded in mp3 format from this page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01plr2p/episodes/downloads.
  2. BBC Click podcasts can be downloaded here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002w6r2/episodes/downloads.

A Brief History of Programming Languages: A Review of “Codes That Changed the World”

Neema Kotonya9 December 2015

As part of the Make It Digital campaign, in April BBC Radio 4 first broadcast a series about “Codes That Changed the World,” in which journalist Aleks Krotoski presents a history of programming languages divided into five easily digestible 15-minute sound bites. The first four episodes focus on a different programming language in chronological order from Fortran, which is widely considered the progenitor of an modern computing languages, to Java, a language most of people have heard of even if they know little about it.


Family Tree of Computer Languages

Krotoski introduces key computing terms such as compilers, interpreters, low level languages, high level languages and functional programming languages using uncomplicated language and real-world analogies. I found this refreshing because often computer science theory is presented using mathematical notation and complex technical terminology, which can be daunting for beginners and non-engineers.

The episodes feature interviews with women programmers like Barbara Alexander (Ep 1, Fortran), Jill Clark (Ep 2, Cobol), Sophie Wilson (Ep 3, Basic) and Haskell coder Elise Huard. This disrupts the notion that computing and the tech industry is solely the realm of men and highlights the contributions made by women in tech. Although, this does not discount the fact the barriers-to-entry were high for women technologists in the fifties and sixties. Alexander remarks that upon graduating from Cambridge University she was told at the women’s job appointments board that she “must want to teach since she had done maths.” She firmly told them that no, she did not, and took herself to the men’s appointments board where she landed her first job as a Fortran programmer.

Also, a large part of the Cobol episode is dedicated to the work of Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist who was arguably one of the most influential women in twentieth century computing. Hopper sat on the committee responsible for developing Cobol (Common Business-Oriented Language) and strongly advocated that the language should be as close to written English as possible so as to encourage as many people as possible to take up programming. Hopper gives her name to the world’s largest celebration of women in computing and the London Hopper Colloquium, a conference for women computer science researchers that is co-hosted by UCL and the British Computer Society.

In the final episode Krotoksi and technology writer Rupert Goodwins discuss how we now have specialised programming languages, which are developed to perform niche jobs. They also explain how the existence of very large code bases and how the management of these code bases is essential for them to work properly and to avoid the high costs of system failure.

As a computer science student, I thought that the radio series was very informative and well-produced. Although, I did find the background music, what sounded like punch-card machine in the earlier episodes that evolved into electronic dance music and a computer-synthesised voice singing code, slightly off-putting and unnecessary. Overall, I’m really pleased that the BBC made a show about coding and the history of computer science.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


Codes That Changed The World Episodes 1 to 4 (from Box of Broadcasts):

  1. Codes That Changed the World: Fortran, [radio programme, online], Prod. credit Peter McManus, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 13:45 6/4/2015, BBC Radio 4, 15mins. http://bobnational.net/record/287133, (Accessed: 05/12/2015).
  2. Codes That Changed the World: Cobol, [radio programme, online], Prod. credit Peter McManus, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 13:45 7/4/2015, BBC Radio 4, 15mins. http://bobnational.net/record/287134, (Accessed: 05/12/2015).
  3. Codes That Changed the World: Basic, [radio programme, online], Prod. credit Peter McManus, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 13:45 7/4/2015, BBC Radio 4, 15mins. http://bobnational.net/record/287135, (Accessed: 05/12/2015).
  4. Codes That Changed the World: Java, [radio programme, online], Prod. credit Peter McManus, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 13:45 7/4/2015, BBC Radio 4, 15mins. http://bobnational.net/record/287132, (Accessed: 05/12/2015).

Also, all the episodes can be downloaded as podcasts from the BBC:

  1. BBC iPlayer Radio Codes That Changed the World [podcast, online], Prod. credit Peter McManus, Prod. British Broadcasting Corporation, Prod. country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 10/4/2015, BBC Radio 4, 75mins.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qqhqp/episodes/downloads (Accessed: 5/12/2015)