Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Dan and joining me today is Neil. Hey Neil.
Hello Dan. What’s on the agenda today?
Well, I’ll give you a clue. It’s something that makes the world go round, but it doesn’t really
exist. In fact, if we all stopped believing in it, it would have no use at all! What is it?
I haven’t got a clue!
Ok...how about this?
Yep! And not just any money, we’re talking about crypto-currency.
Currency is the money that’s being used in a given country at a certain time.
But what about the cryptopart?
Well, crypto is a prefix meaning hidden or secret – it comes from the word cryptic
which means mysterious or difficult to understand.
You may have heard about the most popular crypto-currency at the moment, the Bitcoin.
Well, I’ve certainly heard the name, but I can’t say I know what it is.
First our quiz question. When was the Bitcoin crypto-currency first created?
Well, I think 2004 may have been a little early, and I think 2013
could be a little late, so the smart money’s on 2009.
We’ll see if you’re right later on in the show. So…Bitcoin, what do you know about it?
Well, I know it’s a digital currency…so presumably, you can use it online to buy things?
You are right on the money, which means correct, both times.
Bitcoin is just like any other currency except for two things.
First, it’s not printed by governments or banks, which means that it’s not legal tender.
Legal tender means the official money that can be used within a country.
So that means we can’t use it to pay taxes or settle debts, right?
Exactly. Governments won’t recognise it as an official currency, although it acts just like
one. You can use it to buy items from anyone who will accept it, and its value fluctuates.
Fluctuates means changes in level or amount. And what’s the second thing?
Ah, the second thing is that bitcoin is a digital currency, meaning that with the exception of a few
tokens, it largely exists online only. You can’t carry a load of bitcoins around in your pocket!
Well, that makes a nice… change!
Oh dear, Neil. Was that a money pun? Terrible!
So if it’s a digital only currency, where do new ones come from?
Can’t I just say that I’ve got a million of them and make myself rich!?
Well, no. You see, even though Bitcoin is not regulated by a bank or government,
it still has a process that stops people from cheating. There are only two ways to get bitcoins.
You either trade them from someone, or you go mining.
Oh wait, I've heard about this. This is when you use your computer to run calculations which
verify other Bitcoin transactions. You get rewarded for this ‘work’ by earning bitcoins.
Yep! It’s money for old rope, which means it’s an easy way to earn money.
Wow! I’m going to start mining immediately!
Well, you wouldn’t be the only one!
Bitcoin’s value has recently gone up quite a lot and this has caused a lot of interest. In fact,
one stock exchange in Chicago has begun trading in Bitcoin futures contracts.
A futures contract? What’s that?
I’ll let BBC correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones explain that.
A futures contract, a bet on where the currency will be a month from now,
soared above 18,000 dollars. That means that investors believe Bitcoin, which started the
year worth under 1000 dollars will continue to rise in value, albeit at a slower rate.
But at the big banks there’s still plenty of scepticism about the currency.
Soared in this context means increased very quickly. So,
now big investors are betting on the value of Bitcoin in the future.
Yes. But he also mentioned that the banks have a lot of scepticism. That's a doubt
that something is real or true. In this case, whether Bitcoin is reliable or not.
Maybe it’s best I don’t get involved then. After all, a fool and his money are soon parted.
Well, you don’t have to be sceptical about the answer to our quiz.
We know that for a fact. I asked you when the Bitcoin crypto-currency was first created.
And I said 2009.
And you were right! Well done. Shall we go over the vocabulary again?
First, we had currency. That’s the money being used in a given country at a certain time.
Name three currencies and their countries, Dan.
Ok. Baht for Thailand. Rupee for India and my favourite, Metical for Mozambique. Next
we had cryptic. Something which is cryptic is mysterious or difficult to understand.
For example, what do rich people need, poor people have and if you eat it, you die?
A cryptic riddle indeed! I’ll have to think about that.
Then we had legal tender, that’s the official money that can be used within a country.
The Euro is legal tender within Spain, but what was the legal tender before that?
Wasn’t it the Peseta? Then we had fluctuates. If something fluctuates,
it changes in amount or level. The stock market fluctuates.
But my love for my family never does. Then we had soared, which means increased very quickly.
It’s used with this meaning in the context of money, prices and statistics.
Finally, we had scepticism. Scepticism is doubt
that something is real or true. What sort of things are people sceptical about, Neil?
Some people think that human activity hasn’t caused climate change. They are sceptical.
And that brings us to the end of today’s 6 Minute English. Don’t forget to check out our Youtube,
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and we’ll see you next time. Goodbye.
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Rob.
And I'm Dan.
Hey Dan. What’s the time?
Time you got a new watch?
Now I didn’t ask you that just for a joke or a sarcastic comment now did I?
Well no, but look there’s a clock over there, you are wearing a watch,
you have a smartphone and a computer, all of which show the time. So why are you asking me?
Dan! I was trying to introduce today’s topic which is all about virtual assistants or bots.
You seemed to have forgotten the script.
Oh yes, sorry. We’re talking about software that you talk to
and that can talk back to you. Like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa
and Microsoft’s Cortana. It might be on your phone or computer or even a speaker in your house.
Now before we hear more about this topic, here is today’s quiz question:
Do you know when was the first computer which could recognise speech, launched? Was it in
I have found my script, so I’ve seen the answer but I have to say I was surprised.
Don't tell anybody, Dan, OK. We’ll give the answer for the listeners at the end of the programme.
We’re going to hear now from Tom Hewitson, who is a conversation designer, working in the field
of virtual assistants, talking on BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth programme. He talks about
the whole idea of virtual assistants and how they are changing the way we interact with technology.
How does he describe our existing relationship with computers?
It changes the way that we think about computers. To date we’ve thought of them largely as
tools. They’re just an advanced version of a calculator. They’re something you kind of use
to get a specific thing done, whereas this is kind of changing them more into like an agent.
They’re an active participant in the interaction and in guiding you to make the right decision.
How did he describe our existing relationship with computers then?
He said that to date, which is an expression which means 'up until this point in time',
we have thought of them as advanced calculators.
Yes, that’s right, we use them as a tool to get things done.
But he says that modern technology is turning them into an agent. This doesn’t mean a secret agent,
like James Bond! In this sense an agent is something that has agency
and that means it has the ability to act individually and make its own decisions.
I’m not sure I’d like my phone to have agency. It probably wouldn’t like being in my pocket all day.
Who would Dan? But I’m not sure Hewitson is suggesting our devices would become
that clever but he did say they could become more active in our lives.
Maybe. I imagine, for example,
telling us if we are spending too much time in fast food restaurants?
Maybe in your case Dan. Mine would be telling me I spend too much time in the gym!
Hewitson goes on to explain how the way we will talk to our virtual assistants will develop.
What does he say we don’t need to do?
We will develop our own kind of vernacular for speaking with machines that will be
subtly different from how we speak to other people because
as you rightly point out you don’t need to make the machine like you don’t need to kind of make
random chit-chat that’s just filling the time. It can be much more brusque and to the point.
A lot of what we say in human communication
is to do with our relationship with the person we’re talking to.
We say things and talk about things that are maybe not directly relevant to our point. With a digital
virtual assistant, we don’t need to do that, so we don’t need to make the machine like us.
Hewitson said that we will develop our own vernacular, this is a general word for a native
language. This vernacular will be a little bit different from our everyday vernacular because,
as we said, we don’t need to maintain a social relationship with the artificial assistant.
This means that we won’t need chit-chat. Chit-chat is another expression for small talk:
conversation topics which aren’t important but are part of everyday social communication,
like talking about the weather.
And because we don’t need to be friends with our virtual assistants,
we can be brusque and to the point. Both of these mean being very direct and not very polite.
Well, Dan, I don’t mean to be brusque but it is time for the answer to this week’s quiz question.
Earlier I asked when was the first computer which could recognise speech,
launched. The options were:
Well actually the first computer which could recognise speech was launched in 1961.
It was called the IBM Shoebox and could recognise 16 words and the numbers zero
to nine. That’s nearly as many as you!
Cheeky! Right enough of this chit-chat. Let’s recap today’s vocabulary.
Well, chit-chat was one of today’s expressions. Meaning 'small talk',
but we also had the expression to date. That means ‘up until this moment in time’.
Then we had the noun agent. This refers to something that has agency.
And that is the ability to think, make decisions and act independently.
The next word is vernacular, another word for language,
particularly when talking about a native language.
And finally, there was brusque meaning 'direct and not polite' and to the point,
which also means 'direct and without unnecessary information'.
Yes, what can I do for you Dan?
End the programme.
Certainly Dan. Well that’s all from us today, be sure to check us out on all the usual places:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube,
and of course please don't forget our website bbclearningenglish.com. Bye for now!
Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil.
And I’m Sam. What’s the matter, Neil? You sound upset.
Well, I am, Sam - I just spent an hour working on my computer
when it suddenly froze. I lost everything and had to start all over again!
Agghh, that’s so frustrating - like pop-up internet ads and buffering videos that never play!
Modern computers and the internet have revolutionised the way we live today,
bringing us the world with a click of a button.
But not everyone feels happy about these technological developments.
While potentially acting as a force for good and progress,
the internet also provides a way of spreading hate and misinformation. And for some people,
the World Wide Web remains a mysterious and confusing place.
In this programme, we’ll hear about a new academic subject called Web
Science. Web Science studies the technology behind the internet.
But from the human side, it’s also interested in how people
interact with each other online. So we’ll be asking whether studying Web Science
could make the internet better for humanity in the future.
But first it’s time for our quiz question. I wonder what the pioneers of the internet would
think about how it is used today. So the question is, who invented the World Wide Web? Was it:
a) Bill Gates,
b) Tim Berners-Lee, or c) Steve Jobs
Well, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the brains behind Microsoft and Apple Mac,
so I’m going to say c) Tim Berners-Lee.
OK, Sam, we’ll find out later. Now, because of coronavirus the annual Web
Science conference was held online this year. Its theme was ‘making the web human-centric’.
One of the conference’s key speakers, and co-founder of the new discipline of Web Science,
was Dame Wendy Hall. Here she is speaking to BBC World Service’s Digital Planet:
People think about the web as a technology but actually it’s co-createdby society.
We put the content on, we interact with the technology, with the platforms, with the social
media networks to create it. What we study is how that works as an ecosystem,this coming together
of people and technology, and it’s very interdisciplinary, very socio-technical,
and of course these days a lot of it is powered by AI.
Web Science is not only interested in the technology side of the internet.
As a subject it’s very interdisciplinary - involving two or more academic subjects
or areas of knowledge. Web Science combines digital technology with
subjects ranging from psychology and robotics to economics and sociology.
Exchanges between humans and the internet can be seen in social media networks - websites,
apps and computer programmes, like Facebook and Instagram,
which allow people to use electronic devices to communicate and share information.
This view of technology sees the internet as an ecosystem – a complex pattern of relationships
and mutual influences that exists between all living things and their environment.
One ongoing and topical example of websites helpfully interacting with humans
is the Covid contact tracing app.
You might think the mobile phone app, which tracks movements and contact between people
to combat coronavirus, would be a useful practical application of internet technology.
But as Carly Kind, Director of the Ada Lovelace Institute in Cambridge,
explained to BBC World Service’s Digital Planet, things are never that straightforward:
Actually, there’s a lot of more fundamental questions that haven’t been answered yet such as:
is Bluetooth even an adequate mechanism for doing what it says on the tin, which is detecting
contact between two people? The trails so far show that it’s not actually that great and so,
do we know for sure that these apps work and they work in the way we want them to?
Do we get the public health information that we need?
Apps like this are designed to support public health - services
to improve the standard of health of a country’s general population.
But Carly thinks the mechanisms used must be suitable and adequate – they must actually work or
do what it says on the tin – an informal idiom meaning work exactly as it is intended to.
To find this out, trials - tests to discover how effective or
suitable something is - are carried out over a period of time.
The kind of trials which were carried out during
the invention of the internet in the first place, right, Neil?
Ah yes, the invention of the internet – or to be more accurate, the World Wide Web. In
our quiz question I asked you who invented the World Wide Web? What did you say, Sam?
I said b) Tim Berners-Lee.
Well, you’re a first class web scientist, Sam, because that’s the correct answer!
Great! In this programme, we’ve been hearing about Web Science, a new interdisciplinary subject,
combining several areas of study, which investigates the ecosystem of the internet – the
complex pattern of interconnections between humans and their environment.
Social media networks –websites and apps, like Facebook, which let people use electronic
devices to communicate on the internet – show how humans and technology can successfully interact.
A new Covid contact tracing app is currently undergoing trials – tests to see if it works
effectively. This will discover if it does what it says on the tin – works as it’s supposed to.
If successful, by alerting people to coronavirus risks the app will support
public health – services aimed at improving the health of the general population.
And that’s all from us for now.
And we hope you’ll join us again soon for more topical English vocabulary
here at 6 Minute English. Bye for now!
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Catherine.
And hello, I'm Rob.
Today we have another technology topic.
Oh good! I love technology. It makes things easier, it’s fast and means I can have gadgets.
Do you think that technology can actually do things better than humans?
For some things, yes. I think cars that drive themselves will be safer than humans but that
will take away some of the pleasure of driving. So I guess it depends on what you mean by better.
Good point, Rob. And that actually ties in very closely with today’s topic
which is technochauvinism.
We’ll find out shortly, Rob, but before we do, today’s quiz question. Artificial Intelligence,
or A.I., is an area of computer science that develops the ability of computers to learn
to do things like solve problems or drive cars without crashing. But in what decade was the term
'Artificial Intelligence' coined? Was it: a) the 1940s,
b) the 1950s or c) the 1960s?
I think it's quite a new expression so I'll go for c) the 1960s.
Good luck with that, Rob, and we’ll give you the answer later in the programme.
Now, let's get back to our topic of technochauvinism.
I know what a chauvinist is. It’s someone who thinks that their country or race or sex
is better than others. But how does this relate to technology?
We’re about to find out. Meredith Broussard is Professor of Journalism at New York University
and she’s written a book called Artificial Unintelligence.
She appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme More or Less to talk about it.
Listen carefully and find out her definition of technochauvinism.
Technochauvinism is the idea that technology is always the highest and best solution. So somehow
over the past couple of decades we got into the habit of thinking that doing something with a
computer is always the best and most objective way to do something and that’s simply not true.
Computers are not objective, they are proxies for the people who make them.
What is Meredith Broussard's definition of technochauvinism?
It's this idea that using technology is better than not using technology.
She says that we have this idea that a computer is objective. Something that is objective is neutral,
it doesn’t have an opinion, it’s fair and it's unbiased – so it’s
the opposite of being a chauvinist. But Meredith Broussard says this is not true.
She argues that computers are not objective. They are proxies for the people that make them.
You might know the word proxy when you are using your computer in one country
and want to look at something that is only available in a different country.
You can use a piece of software called a proxy to do that.
But a proxy is also a person or a thing that carries out your wishes and your instructions
for you. So computers are only as smart or as objective as the people that programme them.
Computers are proxies for their programmers. Broussard says that believing too much in
Artificial Intelligence can make the world worse. Let’s hear a bit more.
This time find out what serious problems in society does she think may be reflected in AI?
It’s a nuanced problem. What we have is data on the world as it is
and we have serious problems with racism, sexism, classism, ageism,
in the world right now so there is no such thing as perfect data. We also have a problem inside the
tech world where the creators of algorithms do not have sufficient awareness of social issues
such that they can make good technology that gets us closer to a world as it should be.
She said that society has problems with racism, sexism, classism and ageism.
And she says it’s a nuanced problem. A nuanced problem is not simple, but it does have small
and important areas which may be hard to spot, but they need to be considered.
And she also talked about algorithms used to program these technological systems.
An algorithm is a set of instructions that computers use to perform their tasks.
Essentially it’s the rules that they use to come up with their answers and Broussard
believes that technology will reflect the views of those who create the algorithms.
Next time you're using a piece of software or your favourite app you might find yourself wondering if
it's a useful tool or does it contain these little nuances that reflect the views of the developer.
Right, Catherine. How about the answer to this week's question then?
I asked in which decade was the term 'Artificial Intelligence' coined.
Was it the 40s, the 50s or the 60s?
And I said the 60s.
But it was actually the 1950s. Never mind, Rob. Let’s review today’s vocabulary.
Well, we had a chauvinist – that's someone who believes their country,
race or sex is better than any others.
And this gives us technochauvinism,
the belief that a technological solution is always a better solution to a problem.
Next - someone or something that is objective is neutral, fair and balanced.
A proxy is a piece of software but also someone who does something for you, on your behalf.
A nuanced problem is a subtle one, it’s not a simple case of right or wrong,
in a nuanced problem there are small but important things that you need to consider.
And an algorithm is a set of software instructions for a computer system.
Well, that’s all we have time for today. Goodbye for now.
Hello, welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Rob.
And I'm Catherine.
So, Catherine, how long do you spend on your smartphone?
My smartphone? Not that long really, only about 18 or 19 hours.
No, sorry, I meant in a day, not in a week.
Er, that's what I meant too, Rob – a day.
Oh wow, so you’ve even got it right here…
…yep, got it now, Rob. Yes, I should tell you that I suffer from FOMO.
FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. Something cool or interesting might be happening somewhere, Rob,
and I want to be sure I catch it, so I have to keep checking my phone,
to make sure, you know, I don’t miss out on anything.
So we could call you a phubber… Hello… I said,
so you’re a phubber? Someone who ignores other people because you’d rather look at your phone.
Oh, yeah, that's right.
It sounds like you have a bit of a problem there, Catherine. But you’re not the only one.
According to one recent survey, half of teenagers in the USA feel like they are addicted to their
mobile phones. If you are addicted to something, you have a physical or mental need to keep on
doing it. You can’t stop doing it. You often hear about people being addicted to drugs or alcohol,
but you can be addicted to other things too, like mobile phones. So, Catherine, do you
think you’re addicted to your phone? How long could you go without it? Catherine? Catherine!
Sorry, Rob, yes, well I think if I went more than a minute,
I'd probably get sort of sweaty palms and I think I'd start feeling a bit panicky.
Oh dear! Well, if I can distract you for a few minutes,
can we look at this topic in more detail please? Let's start with a quiz question
first though. In what year did the term ‘smartphone’ first appear in print? Was it:
b) 2000 c) 2005
What do you think?
OK, you've got my full attention now, Rob, and I think it’s 2000,
but actually can I just have a quick look on my phone to check the answer?
No, no, that would be cheating – for you – maybe not for the listeners.
Right, Jean Twenge is a psychologist who has written about the damage she feels
smartphones are doing to society. She has written that smartphones have probably led
to an increase in mental health problems for teenagers. We’re going to hear from her now,
speaking to the BBC. What does she say is one of the dangers of using our phones?
I think everybody’s had that experience of reading their news feed too much,
compulsively checking your phone if you’re waiting for a text or getting really into
social media then kind of, looking up and realising that an hour has passed.
So what danger does she mention?
Well, she said that we can get so involved in our phones that we don’t notice the time passing
and when we finally look up, we realise that maybe an hour has gone.
And I must say, I find that to be true for me, especially when I'm watching videos online. They
pull you in with more and more videos and I’ve spent ages just getting lost in video after video.
Well that's not a problem if you're looking at our YouTube site,
of course - there's lots to see there.
Yes, BBC Learning English, no problem. You can watch as many as you like.
Well, she talks about checking our phones compulsively. If you do something compulsively you
can’t really control it - it’s a feature of being addicted to something, you feel you have to do it
again and again. Some tech companies, though, are now looking at building in timers to apps which
will warn us when we have spent too long on them. Does Jean Twenge think this will be a good idea?
It might mean that people look at social media less frequently
and that they do what it really should be used for, which is to keep in touch with people but
then put it away and go see some of those people in person or give them a phone call.
So, does she think it’s a good idea?
Well, she doesn’t say so directly, but we can guess from her answer that she does,
because she says these timers will make people spend more time in face-to-face interaction,
which a lot of people think would be a good thing.
Yes, she said we should be using it for keeping in touch with people - which means contacting people,
communicating with them and also encouraging us to do that communication in person. If you
do something in person then you physically do it – you go somewhere yourself or see someone yourself,
you don’t do it online or through your smartphone, which nicely brings us back to our quiz question.
When was the term smartphone first used in print - 1995, 2000 or 2005? What did you say, Catherine?
I think I said 2005, without looking it up on my phone, Rob!
That's good to know, but maybe looking at your phone would have helped because the answer was
1995. But well done to anybody who did know that.
Or well done to anyone who looked it up on their phone and got the right answer.
Mmm, right, before logging off let’s review today’s vocabulary.
OK, we had FOMO, an acronym that means 'Fear of Missing Out'. Something that I get quite a lot.
And that makes you also a phubber - people who ignore the real people around them
because they are concentrating on their phones.
Yes, I do think I’m probably addicted to my phone. I have a
psychological and physical need to have it. My smartphone is my drug.
Wow, and you look at it compulsively. You can’t stop looking at it,
you do it again and again, don't you?
It's sadly true, Rob. To keep in touch with someone
is to contact them and share your news regularly.
And if you do that yourself by actually meeting them,
then you are doing it in person. And that brings us to the end of today’s programme.
Don’t forget you can find us on the usual social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram and YouTube - and on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Bye for now.
Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil.
And I’m Georgina.
Now, Georgina, what do you know about AC DC?
You mean the Australian rock’n’roll band?
Well, their 1979 hit ‘Highway to Hell’ stayed at No.1 for eleven weeks…
No, no, no - not that AC DC, Georgina! I’m not talking rock music here,
I’m talking electrical currents – alternating current - AC,
and direct current - DC, the two ways in which electricity flows.
Oh, I see. No, I don’t know anything about that ACDC!
Well, don’t worry because in today’s programme we’ll be
finding out some quirky facts about electricity - how it differs across
the world and why some countries have more complicated electrical systems than others.
Hmmm, I have noticed that when I travel to another country I need a
converter plug to connect my laptop. Is that something to do with AC DC?
Yes, it could be. Of course, electricity itself doesn’t change from country to country.
No. It’s an invisible, natural force at work in everything from lightning
storms to the electrical sparks firing our brains.
But although it happens naturally, one scientist was credited with discovering electricity.
Who? That’s my quiz question – who discovered electricity? Was it:
a) Thomas Edison
b) Alexander Graham Bell, or c) Benjamin Franklin
I’m not a qualified electrician myself, Neil, but I’ll say c) Benjamin Franklin.
OK. Well one person who definitely is a qualified electrician is BBC presenter Gareth Mitchell. So
when BBC Radio 4’s ‘Science Stories’ sent him to meet electricity expert Keith Bell,
the conversation was, shall we say, sparky.
Standard frequency in the US is 60 hertz, actually I think in the US on the mainland
US, main continent, there are three different synchronous areas.
So although it’s around 60 hertz, at any moment in time these three different areas, because they’re
not connected to each other, will be going at a slightly different frequency. There are bigger
differences elsewhere. So in Japan for example, I think one of the main islands is at 60 hertz and
the other half of Japan is at 50 hertz. That’s a bit of a pickle!
Generally speaking, frequency means how often something repeats.
In the case of electrical currents, frequency is
the number of times an electrical wave repeats a positive-to-negative cycle.
It’s measured in hertz (Hz). In the US power is at 60 hertz and in the UK it’s around 50 hertz.
So the US and UK are not in the same synchronous
area – not occurring together at the same time and rate, or in this case, frequency.
Which means that to safely use a British electrical device in America,
I need to convert the power supply. If not it won’t work or even worse, it could break.
And a broken laptop could leave you in a bit of a pickle – an informal
expression meaning a difficult situation with no
obvious answer. Here’s Gareth and Keith again talking about more differences.
I’m pretty sure when I go to the United States, my electric toothbrush doesn’t charge up
at 60 hertz - 110 volts, but my laptop still works. Maybe you have no comment,
Keith, but I’m just saying…one of these anomalies that I seem to have found.
So, I’m not sure about the electric toothbrush but I know a lot of our power supplies for
laptops and stuff are solid state, you know - they’ve got electronics in that do all the
conversion for you, so basically it ends up with a DC supply into the machine itself. So there’s
a little converter in there and it’s designed so it doesn’t care what frequency the AC input is.
Gareth noticed that in the United States his toothbrush doesn’t always
fully charge up – get the power needed to make it work.
Electric toothbrushes which don’t fully charge and differences between electrical frequencies
are good examples of anomalies – things which are different from what is usual or expected.
But with modern technology these anomalies are becoming less and less
commonplace. For example, computer companies have started making laptops with
solid state electronics – electronics using semiconductors which have no moving parts
and can automatically convert different electrical currents.
Meaning I can use my laptop to google the answer to your quiz question!
Ah, yes. I asked you which scientist was credited with discovering electricity. And you said?
c) Benjamin Franklin – and I already know I’m right because I googled it on my solid
state laptop! To show that lightning was electricity, Franklin attached a metal key
to a kite and flew it during a thunderstorm. The key conducted electricity and gave him a shock!
Hmm, not an experiment I recommend trying at home! Today we’ve been talking about
anomalies – or unexpected differences in electrical currents between countries.
Electrical currents are measured in frequencies – the number of times
a wave repeats a positive-to-negative cycle. These can be different if two countries are
not synchronous – occurring at the same rate, for example Britain and the United States.
Different frequencies may mean your electrical devices like your laptop,
phone and toothbrush won’t properly charge up – get the power to function, in other countries.
And having a phone with no power could leave you in a bit of a pickle - a difficult situation.
Fortunately many modern devices use solid state electronics – non-moving
semiconductors inside the machine which automatically convert the electrical current.
So you’ll never miss another edition of 6 Minute English again!
That’s all for today. See you soon at BBC Learning
English for more interesting topics and related vocabulary. Bye for now!
Hello I'm Rob and this is 6 Minute English – a programme that brings you
an interesting topic, authentic listening practice
and some vocabulary to help you improve your language skills. Joining me today is Neil.
Hello. And today we're discussing those pilotless
aircraft that we seem to be hearing and reading a lot about at the moment.
You mean drones. And yes, they are in the news quite often for good and bad reasons.
They've been used for many things from smuggling drugs, detecting water leaks and surveillance.
And surveillance – that means ‘the act of carefully watching someone or
something’ – perhaps a criminal – but also it means spying, maybe on me and you Rob?
So should we be welcoming the rise of the use of drones?
Well, before our discussion about that 'takes off',
we need to set today's question for you to answer, Neil.
What are you droning on about Rob? And by that I don't mean ‘flying a drone’ – I mean
‘talking too much in a very boring way’!
Thanks Neil. Now just answer this, will you?
Drones are sometimes also referred to as UAVs. So, what does UAV stand for? Is it…
a) Unidentified aerial vehicle
b) Unmanned aerial vehicle c) Unaided aircraft vehicle
Well, I'm going to go for b) unmanned aerial vehicle.
Ok well, we'll see if you're right later on. Now let's talk more about drones,
which, apparently, seem to be everywhere now.
But are they safe and are they necessary? I've heard about them
being a hazard to aircraft because they've been flown close to airports.
Well, figures in 2016 showed that in the UK there were 70 near misses involving drones.
And that's more than double the year before. So that is a little worrying.
Yes. And there's the potential risk of people's privacy being
invaded when a drone is flown over their property with a camera attached to it.
Ah, but those cameras are also good at capturing some great
aerial footage – that's the film recording of the view from the above the ground. So
they're not all bad. And Dr Yoge Patel would agree. She is CEO of Blue Bear, which supplies
unmanned planes and drones. Here she is speaking about drones on the BBC's Woman's Hour programme…
They have the potential to be dangerous, agreed. They also have though, on the flip side,
the ability to be a game changer in both domestic use and in military use.
So, some of our drones are being used for aircraft inspections. We've put our drones into Fukushima.
So there you go Neil. There are many useful things drones can do,
and Dr Patel said they have the ability to be a game changer.
And by that you mean ‘something that completely
changes the way something is done or thought about’.
Yes. Her company has used drones to inspect the inside of the damaged
Fukushima nuclear power station in Japan. And another example of drones being a game
changer is UNICEF and the Malawian government testing drones for carrying medical supplies.
This could help save lives in remote places. And I have read that in Australia,
lifeguards are using drones to help rescue swimmers who get in trouble in the sea.
And have you heard about a Japanese firm that's planning to use a drone to force employees
out of their offices by playing music at them if they stay to work evening overtime.
I haven't, but you've convinced me – it seems like the sky's the limit for the uses of drones!
I mean there's no limit to what they can do. But I
am a little concerned about how they are regulated or controlled.
Well Dr Yoge Patel says because the technology is new,
regulations – or legal controls - are developing all the time…
As technology progresses, regulation and operational use needs to then be
harmonised with it. And we are, as a community, going through that whole process of saying
what is proportionate and appropriate regulation to go with different uses of drones.
So she talked about regulations being harmonised as technology progresses.
So I think she means ‘making regulations suitable and appropriate for what the drones
are being used for’. So they need some control, but not so they can't be useful and effective.
Like flying drones to stop you working late!
Now Rob, I'm dying to know what the other name for a drone is.
OK, let me tell you. So earlier I asked what does UAV stand for? Was it…
a) Unidentified aerial vehicle
b) Unmanned aerial vehicle c) Unaided aircraft vehicle
And I said b) – was that correct?
Yes Neil, you know your drones – that's correct. Well done. UAVs or drones have been around for
quite a while in different forms. It's thought they were first used
for providing practice targets for training military personnel. OK Neil,
let's quickly go over some of the vocabulary we have mentioned today, starting with surveillance.
"The police kept the jewellery shop under surveillance because they had
a tip-off about a robbery." So that means ‘carefully watching someone or something,
usually to try to stop something illegal’.
Then we mentioned aerial footage – that's film recording made from the sky.
"The aerial footage on TV of the dolphins swimming was spectacular."
Yes, drones have been a game changer for wildlife programmes on TV.
That means ‘something that completely changes the way something is done or thought about’.
We also mentioned the phrase 'the sky's the limit', meaning ‘there's no limit
to something’. "The sky is the limit to what professional footballers can earn these days."
Then we discussed harmonised – that describes two things being suitable for each other to
allow them to work properly. "The garden has been designed to harmonise with the natural landscape."
Very useful vocabulary, Neil. But let's stop droning on – and that means ‘talking
too much in a boring way’ - and remind everyone to check out our You Tube,
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages – and of course, our website
at bbclearningenglish.com. See you next time. Goodbye.
Hello. This is 6 Minute English, I'm Neil.
And I'm Sam.
It’s good to see you again, Sam.
Yes, of course, can’t you tell by the way I’m smiling?
Ah well, I find it difficult to tell if someone is really smiling or if it’s a fake smile.
Well, that’s a coincidence because today’s programme is all about how computers may
be able tell real smiles from fake smiles better than humans can. Before we get in to that though,
a question. The expressions we can make with our face are controlled by muscles.
How many muscles do we have in our face? Is it:
B: 43 C: 62
What do you think, Sam?
No idea! But a lot, I’d guess, so I’m going with 62.
OK. Well, we’ll see if you’ll be smiling or crying later in the programme. Hassan Ugail is a
professor of visual computing at the University of Bradford. He’s been working on getting computers
to be able to recognise human emotions from the expressions on our face. Here he is speaking on
the BBC Inside Science radio programme – how successful does he say they have been?
We've been working quite a lot on the human emotions, so the idea is
how the facial muscle movement, which is reflected on the face,
through obviously a computer through video frames and trying to understand how these
muscle movements actually relate to facial expressions and then from facial expressions
trying to understand the emotions or to infer the emotions. And they have been quite successful in
doing that. We have software that can actually look at somebody's face in real time and then
identify the series of emotions that person is expressing in real time as well.
So, have they been successful in getting computers to identify emotions?
Yes, he says they’ve been quite successful, and what’s interesting is that he says that
the computers can do it in real time. This means that there’s no delay. They don’t have to stop and
analyse the data, or crunch the numbers, they can do it as the person is talking.
The system uses video to analyse a person’s expressions and can then infer the emotions.
To infer something means to get an understanding of something without actually being told directly.
So, you look at available information and use your
understanding and knowledge to work out the meaning.
It’s a bit like being a detective, isn’t it? You look at the clues
and infer what happened even if you don’t have all the details.
Yes, and in this case the computer looks at how the movement of muscles in the face
or facial muscles, show different emotions. Here’s Professor Ugail again.
We've been working quite a lot on the human emotions so the idea is how the facial muscle
movement, which is reflected on the face, through obviously a computer through video
frames and trying to understand how these muscle movements actually relate to facial expressions
and then from facial expressions trying to understand the emotions or to infer the emotions.
And they have been quite successful in doing that. We have software that can actually
look at somebody's face in real time and then identify the series of emotions that person is
expressing in real time as well. So, how do the computers know
what is a real or a fake smile? The computers have to learn that first.
Here’s Professor Ugail again talking about how they do that.
We have a data set of real smiles and we have a data set of fake smiles.
These real smiles are induced smiles in a lab. So, you put somebody on a chair and then show
some funny movies and we expect the smiles are genuine smiles.
And similarly we ask them to pretend to smile. So, these are what you'd call fake smiles. So,
what we do is we throw these into the machine and then the machine figures out what are the
characteristics of a real smile and what are the characteristics of a fake smile.
So, how do they get the data that the computers use to see if your
smile is fake or genuine – which is another word which means real?
They induce real smiles in the lab by showing people funny films. This means that they make
the smiles come naturally. They assume that the smiles while watching the funny films are genuine.
And then they ask the people to pretend to smile and the computer programme now has a
database of real and fake smiles and is able to figure out which is which.
Figure out means to calculate and come to an answer
Yes, and apparently the system gets it right 90% of the time,
which is much higher than we humans can. Right, well before we remind ourselves of our vocabulary,
let’s get the answer to the question. How many muscles do we have in our face? Is it:
B: 43 C: 62
Sam, are you going to be smiling? What did you say?
So I thought 62! Am I smiling, Neil?
Sadly you are not, you are using different muscles for that sort of sad look!
Actually the answer is 43. Congratulations to anyone who got that right. Now our vocabulary.
Yes – facial is the adjective relating to face.
Then we had infer. This verb means to understand something
even when you don’t have all the information, and you come to this understanding based
on your experience and knowledge, or in the case of a computer, the programming.
And these computers work in real time, which means that there’s no delay
and they can tell a fake smile from a genuine one, which means a real one, as the person is speaking.
They made people smile, or as the Professor said, they induced smiles by showing funny films.
And the computer is able to figure out or calculate whether the smile is fake or genuine.
OK, thank you, Sam. That’s all from 6 Minute English today.
We look forward to your company next time and if you can’t wait you can find
lots more from bbclearningenglish online, on social media and on our app. Goodbye!
Welcome to 6 Minute English, where we bring you an intelligent topic and six
related items of vocabulary. I’m Neil.
And I’m Tim. And today we’re talking about AI – or Artificial Intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence is the ability of machines to copy human intelligent
behaviour – for example, an intelligent machine can learn from its own mistakes,
and make decisions based on what’s happened in the past.
There’s a lot of talk about AI these days, Neil, but it’s still just science fiction, isn’t it?
That’s not true – AI is everywhere. Machine thinking is in our homes,
offices, schools and hospitals. Computer algorithms are helping us drive our cars.
They’re diagnosing what’s wrong with us in hospitals.
They’re marking student essays… They’re telling us what to read on our smartphones…
Well, that really does sound like science fiction – but it’s happening already, you say, Neil?
It’s definitely happening, Tim. And an algorithm, by the way, is a set of steps a computer follows
in order to solve a problem. So can you tell me what was the name of the computer which
famously beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov using algorithms in 1997? Was it…
b) Alpha 60 or c) Deep Blue?
I’ll say Deep Blue. Although I’m just guessing.
Was it an educated guess, Tim?
I know a bit about chess…
An educated guess is based on knowledge and experience and is therefore likely to be correct.
Well, we’ll find out later on how educated your guess was in this case, Tim!
Indeed. But getting back to AI and what machines can do – are they
any good at solving real-life problems? Computers think in zeros and ones don’t
they? That sounds like a pretty limited language when it comes to life experience!
You would be surprised to what those zeroes and ones can do, Tim.
Although you’re right that AI does have its limitations at the moment.
And if something has limitations there’s a limit on what it can do or how good it can be.
OK – well now might be a good time to listen to Zoubin Bharhramani, Professor of Information
Engineering at the University of Cambridge and deputy director of the Leverhulme Centre
for the Future of Intelligence. He’s talking about what limitations AI has at the moment.
I think it’s very interesting how many of the things that we take for granted – we humans take
for granted – as being sort of things we don’t even think about like how do we walk, how do we
reach, how do we recognize our mother. You know, all these things. When you start to think how
to implement them on a computer, you realize that it’s those things that are incredibly difficult to
get computers to do, and that’s where the current cutting edge of research is.
If we take something for granted we don’t realise how important something is.
You sometimes take me for granted, I think, Neil.
No – I never take you for granted, Tim! You’re far too important for that!
Good to hear! So things we take for granted are doing every day tasks like walking,
picking something up, or recognizing somebody. We implement – or perform – these things without
thinking – Whereas it’s cutting edge research to try and program a machine to do them.
Cutting edge means very new and advanced. It’s interesting isn't it,
that over ten years ago a computer beat a chess grand master – but the
same computer would find it incredibly difficult to pick up a chess piece.
I know. It’s very strange. But now you’ve reminded me that we need the answer to today’s question.
Which was: What was the name of the computer which famously beat world chess
champion Garry Kasparov in 1997? Now, you said Deep Blue, Tim, and … that was the right answer!
You see, my educated guess was based on knowledge and experience!
Or maybe you were just lucky. So, the IBM
supercomputer Deep Blue played against US world chess champion Garry Kasparov in two
chess matches. The first match was played in Philadelphia in 1996 and was won by Kasparov.
The second was played in New York City in 1997 and won by Deep Blue. The 1997 match was the
first defeat of a reigning world chess champion by a computer under tournament conditions.
Let’s go through the words we learned today. First up was
‘artificial intelligence’ or AI – the ability of machines to copy human intelligent behaviour.
“There are AI programs that can write poetry.”
Do you have any examples you can recite?
Afraid I don’t! Number two – an algorithm is a set of steps a computer follows in order to
solve a problem. For example, “Google changes its search algorithm hundreds of times every year.”
The adjective is algorithmic – for example, “Google has made many algorithmic changes.”
Number three – if something has ‘limitations’ – there’s a limit on what it can do or how good
it can be. “Our show has certain limitations – for example, it’s only six minutes long!”
That’s right – there’s only time to present six vocabulary items. Short but sweet!
And very intelligent, too. OK, the next item is ‘take
something for granted’ – which is when we don’t realise how important something is.
“We take our smart phones for granted these days – but before 1995 hardly anyone owned one.”
Number five – ‘to implement’ – means to perform a task, or take action.
“Neil implemented some changes to the show.”
The final item is ‘cutting edge’ – new and advanced – “This software is cutting edge.”
“The software uses cutting edge technology.”
OK – that’s all we have time for on today’s cutting edge
show. But please check out our Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages.
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Neil.
And I'm Catherine. Hello!
Now, Catherine, say cheese.
Cheeeese. Thank you, a little souvenir of our time together.
Let's have a look… Hang on a minute. You just took a selfie, I wasn't even in the picture.
Ah, well, that's the magic of the smartphone, two cameras! You know, that's not something
you can do with a traditional camera. I mean, do you even have a separate camera these days?
I do actually. It's in a cupboard somewhere at home.
Well, that is the topic of this programme. Have traditional cameras been completely replaced by
smartphones, or to put it another way, have cameras been made obsolete by the smartphone?
Interesting question. But before we get into this topic, how about a question for our listeners?
Of course. We are certainly in the digital age of photography but when
was the first digital camera phone released? Was it:
a) 2000 b) 2004 or
c) 2007? What do you think?
Well, I actually know this one, so I'm going to be fair and keep it to myself.
OK, well, listen out for the answer at the end of the programme.
There are different kinds of cameras available today. There are compact cameras,
which are small and mostly automatic and usually come with a fixed lens.
That's right. And then there are SLRs and DSLRs which are bigger,
and you can change the lenses on these cameras and they allow for a lot of manual control.
And there are also mirrorless cameras, which are a cross between compact cameras and DSLRs. They are
small like a compact camera but you can also use the same lenses on them that you can use on DSLRs.
And of course, there are the cameras on smartphones,
and these are convenient and they're becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Phil Hall is the editor of Tech Radar magazine. He was asked on the BBC programme
You and Yours if he thought smartphones would make other cameras obsolete. What is his opinion?
I don't think so. I think while compact camera sales have really sort of dropped off a cliff,
it's the lower end, cheap compacts where people have opted for a smartphone and I think
manufacturers are looking at the more higher end premium cameras, high-end compacts, DSLRs, which
are the ones you can attach lenses to, mirrorless cameras. So, the market's changing. And I don't
think there'll be a time soon, yet, that… the smartphone will take over the camera completely.
So does Phil think smartphones will kill the camera?
In a word, no. He does say that sales of cheap compact cameras have dropped off a cliff.
This rather dramatic expression describes a very big fall in sales.
This is because the kind of consumers
who would choose a compact camera are now opting for the camera on their smartphone.
When you opt for something you choose it rather than something else.
For people who want a quick, easy to use and convenient way to take
reasonable quality photos, compact cameras used to be the best choice – but now it's a smartphone.
So camera makers are now moving to the more high-end market, the DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
So who is still buying these more expensive cameras? Here's Phil Hall again.
I think it's... some of it is people who are picking up a smartphone and sort of
getting into photography that way and that's a really great first step into photography
and I think people are probably, sometimes, getting a bit frustrated with the quality
once they sort of start pushing their creative skills and then looking to see what's the next
rung up so it's people wanting to broaden their creative skills a bit.
Who does he say might be buying cameras?
He says that people who are getting into
photography might get frustrated with the quality of smartphones.
Getting into something means becoming very interested in it.
And if you are frustrated with something it
means you are disappointed with it. You are not happy with it.
So people who have got into photography with a smartphone
but are frustrated with its limitations and want to be more creative are going
to the next level. They are moving up, they are, as Phil said 'taking the next rung up'.
Now, a rung is the horizontal step of a ladder,
so the expression taking the next rung up is a way to describe doing something at a higher level.
Now, talking of higher levels, did you get this week's quiz question right? The question was:
When was the first phone with a digital camera released? Was it 2000, 2004 or 2007?
The first phone with a digital camera was released in 2000.
Now, to take us up to the end of the programme, let's look at the vocabulary again.
First, we had the adjective obsolete which describes something that has
been replaced and is no longer the first choice.
When the expression to drop off a cliff is used about, for example,
sales numbers, it means sales have fallen significantly over a short period of time.
To opt for something means to choose something
and when you become very interested in an activity you can say that you get into it.
If you are trying to do something and you can't do it because you don't have the skill
or the equipment you are using is not right or not good enough, you can become frustrated.
And developing your skills to a higher level can be described as taking the next rung up.
Right, that's all from us from us in this programme. Do join us again next time and
don't forget that in the meantime you can find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,
YouTube and of course our website bbclearningenglish.com. See you soon. Goodbye.