I’ve finally graduated:

Hooray!

Hooray!!! I’ve finally handed in my PhD thesis, all 220 pages. I’m trying to resit the urge to look at it again and find all the mistakes I missed.

Now, time to start looking for a job…

An interesting report has just been published by the Royal Academy of Engineering about the social legal and ethical implications surrounding autonomous machines.

I have yet to read the report, being far to busy finishing my thesis, looking after my daughter, and trying to find something to do post thesis – hence the lack of activity on my blog.

The topic is interesting though. As devices get more autonomy, get better at learning for themselves, how will people come to regard them. Will we start to see machines as having agency in the sense of being responsible for the things that they do. If fact we often have a tendency to regard inanimate objects as having agency, particularly when the won’t do the things you want them to! How much easier will it be to blame the machine when it appears to be operating under its own volition?

I suspect that many people will vary in their opinions of autonomous machines. When they do things we don’t like it will be the machines fault for acting like that but when they do things that are strangely human like we might want to dismiss it as just part of their programming.

I imagine that the advances in machine autonomy might also bring some fresh perspectives on how we perceive our own apparent autonomy and our ability (or not) to make responsible decisions.

While on the subject of conspiracy theories and moon landings, I came across this which made me laugh:

Its a conspiracy!

Its a conspiracy!

The first photos from NASA’s latest moon mission have just arrived and show some of the Apollo landing sites in just enough detail.

This one from the Apollo 14 site shows a bit more detail than the rest but they were all taken with the sun low on the horizon which means that the landers stand out because of the long shadows they cast:

369228main_ap14labeled_540

The spacecraft is still in an elliptical orbit which means the photos from different sites show different detail, averaging about four feet per pixel. When it achieves its final orbit height of 31 miles it will be able to achieve a resolution of around twice what it is getting at the moment.

It was a little while ago that we saw it but I thought I would put down a few words about my impression of the latest installment in this venerable enterprise.

In general terms, FANTASTIC, in particular the casting which was largely excellent. Spock, Kirk and McCoy were brilliant but I was less convinced by Chekhov and very underwhelmed by Scotty, which is a shame because I’m a fan of Simon Pegg but unfortunately he just didn’t come across as a convincing engineer, more of a slightly inept engineering student.

I did like what they did visually and its nice to see a slow move away from the old trek look of ‘ships on a sea’ to a more realistic vision of three dimensional space where there is no ‘up’ or ‘down’, something the new Battlestar Galactica captured superbly.  The general realism of the effects and the sense of scale were impressive as well.

There is a scene near the start where young Kirk is driving across the desert and we can see the hint of massive architecture looming in the hazy background, I did like this but its a shame the architecture was so … well … dull!

The inside of the Enterprise was interesting and not entirely satisfying.  I like the bridge, all modern and, as a reviewer pit it ‘ipod-esq’ but then in another part of the ship I swear I saw large steel girders with rivets … Victorian ship building technology just didn’t quite seem to fit with the high-tech setting and I would have expected to see something like a carbon fiber or bonded aluminum superstructure on a high tech starship.  The engine room was a bit unconvincing as well.  The seemed to have just filled it with futuristic looking pipework that wormed around the floor for no apparent reason, apart from as a prop for a weak comedy moment, again they seemed to be going for a Victorian style cavernous ships boiler room when I would have expected, at the very least, for the engineers to be working in a very advanced control room, something like what you would see in a nuclear power plant.

There were a few problems with the plot details, in particular when Scotty beams himself and Kirk onto the enterprise what ought to have been hours after it warped away but this and the niggles about the nerdy aspects of star ship design are minor and I generally thought it was an excellent film and a very interesting way to ‘re-boot’ the franchise with what is quite a daring piece of time travel storylining.

I’m looking forward to the next one.

Could the controversy over NASA’s allegedly faked Apollo moon missions soon be over? NASA’s latest moon mission is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) which includes as part of its instrument package a special camera. It is actually a collection of cameras, two of which provide a very narrow field of view and, if I understand their website correctly, can work at a resolution of 0.5 meters per pixel – which basically means that each of the pixels in the images it takes of the moons surface equate to a 50cm square. This should be easily enough to resolve objects the size of the Apollo landers on the surface of the moon and NASA plan to do several flyovers of the Apollo landing sites.

The interesting question will be whether this puts the conspiracy theories about faked moon landings to rest? Unlikely in my view, firstly people can simply claim that these photographs are just another set of fakes, but it also doesn’t resolve one version of the conspiracy theory, which is that NASA really did go to the moon but they faked the first event to give themselves some breathing room and to avoid a potential public disaster if it all went wrong.

Of course it is also the 40th anniversary of the moon landings so NASA is making a noise about it. The Guardian are also doing an anniversary special which includes a short piece debunking some of the conspiracy evidence.

A previous Japanese spacecraft also took some photos and other measurements of the moons surface. The SELENE spacecraft didn’t have a powerful enough camera to spot the Apollo landers directly but in one photo you can kind of make out the blast pattern caused by the landers ascent vehicle when it lifted off from the surface. What was most interesting was the radar system they used to create a complete topographical map of the moon. With this data they were able to overlay photographs of the surface onto their three dimensional map and then take virtual photographs of the surface from precisely where the Apollo astronauts (allegedly) took their photos.

The results can be seen here and they are a pretty good match. If NASA really did fake the landing then they needed detailed knowledge of the moons surface back in the 60′s that we are apparently only just getting now – or of course the Japanese are part of the conspiracy!

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