Buffet meal

BBC Click Live: A veritable feast of fresh tech

Did you know that it’s possible to 3D print a tasty, hold-in-your-hand, fully edible raspberry? No? I didn’t either, until yesterday. Fellow Babelite Sophie managed to bag tickets to BBC Click Live, the BBC’s flagship technology programme. The difference with this particular show was that, for the very first time, it would be filmed in front of a live audience. And so yesterday evening, Sophie and I made our way to the historic Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House to enjoy a smorgasbord of exclusive mouth-watering, eye-popping and mindboggling technology.

Here’s a recap of the highlights from that two-hour show, hosted by Spencer Kelly and Kate Russell.

Droning on about drones

Before we got into the Radio Theatre, Sophie was ‘recruited’ by a BBC staff member to have a go at flying a Star Wars drone. Turns out her next career won’t be a Junior Lieutenant in the Rebel Alliance. Drones featured heavily in the Click Live show, and not just from a consumer entertainment perspective. Dr Mirko Kovac from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London showcased a variety of new drones that aim to propel the UK to the forefront of a very lucrative aerial and robotics industry. This included the SpiderMAV drone, which can literally shoot wires from its underbelly to connect itself to structures and therefore stabilise itself in dangerous or unreachable environments for humans. The AquaMAV mimics the movement of flying fish or diving birds, and is used to monitor water quality in reservoirs. Look out for these technology superheroes as they transform the way we monitor resources and build critical infrastructure in the future.

Should robots feel pain?

This is where the show got a bit Descartes-level deep. We watched a video of various robots being pushed over and beaten up and were then asked this very question. If we’re building artificial intelligence capabilities within robots that emulate human knowledge and sentience, should robots feel pain? What do we feel when we see a robot being physically abused? Do we laugh it off because we think it’s just a machine? Or do we empathise? Would giving robots the ability to feel pain prevent it from doing its job? Perhaps more questions than answers there, but definitely an interesting debate, led by Dr Beth Singler from the University of Cambridge. The answers to those questions will either inhibit or open up the development of robots and their capabilities in the future.

Magic Tom and his AI assistant

This was perhaps one of the more impressive showcases of the night. Tom London, tech magician, hacker and programmer performed a special magic trick with the help of his Alexa-enabled artificial intelligence machine, programmed to ‘read minds.’ A willing participant was brought up on stage, given a pack of cards, and asked to select one at random. The first trick involved getting Tom’s AI assistant to guess what colour card the audience member was holding, all by looking into the camera it had and thinking about the colour picked. The second trick then involved, after a bit of calibration, picking the actual number of card held by the participant. The trick worked pretty darn well, which is no mean feat in the realms of AI and magic.

There was much more technology than I can possibly fit into one blog – cultured and 3D-printed food, an unofficial Guinness World Record attempt using the whole audience’s participation and a bunch of BBC micro:bits, and even a bit of Augmented Reality! But don’t despair – you can catch all of this and more when the show airs in the New Year. You might even catch us in the audience!

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