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- Sport week: Robot football
- Asa Briggs: A short reading and viewing list
- Budget 2016: Snap judgements
- iPlayer: Thinking Allowed
Just about to arrive on BBC Radio's iPlayer is today's edition of Thinking Allowed. On the agenda today: philanthropy and charity. Are we living through a new golden era of giving? And how does charity behave during hard times?
A team of academic experts have quickly cast their eyes over this afternoon's budget. You can read their responses here.
This time last week, we were at an Open University event down at the Houses of Parliament. One of the speakers was former OU associate lecturer, and current MP, Gordon Marsden. In his speech, Gordon made reference to his friendship with Lord Asa Briggs, and how Lord Briggs would recall his period as Chancellor of The Open University as one of his greatest achievements.
Sadly, Lord Briggs died yesterday. Here's a short collection of pieces about and by him by way of tribute.
From the Times Higher Education:
An acclaimed writer on the recent social and cultural history of Britain and the history of broadcasting, he was also a “founding father” of the University of Sussex who went on to become its second vice-chancellor (1967–76).
He later served as both the provost of Worcester College, Oxford (1976-91) and chancellor of the Open University (1978–94). He became a life peer – as Lord Briggs of Lewes – in 1976.
Sussex’s current vice-chancellor, Michael Farthing, described him as “a visionary and a dear friend” with a “stellar career” who “contributed to an enormous number of different universities, different ideas to his discipline of history, and on a much wider scale to higher education in general”.
From the obituary in the Guardian:
Always a staunch Yorkshireman, Briggs kept in close touch with his roots, and was a proud president of the Brontë Society. But when the call came from Sussex, Briggs did not hesitate. His involvement with the new university reflected an increasing interest in the extension of higher education, and he was one of those instrumental in persuading Harold Wilson’s Labour government to launch the Open University in 1969. Nine years later Briggs became the OU’s chancellor, a post he held until his retirement in 1991.
The call to lead the OU wasn't the first connection between Lord Briggs and the Milton Keynes area - during the war, he'd served at Bletchley Park.
In 2014, he published a collection of his writings from across his career, and joined an audience at the University of Sussex to discuss the publication.
A man of many interests, amongst his most acclaimed work is his history of broadcasting. The Museum of Broadcasting details his scope:
A Victorian historian of considerable note, Asa Briggs began his great work The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom in the 1960s. The first volume entitled Birth of Broadcasting was published in 1961, and contained a marvelously evocative description of the birth of the BBC and of its founder John Reith, through 1927. The second volume Golden Age of Wireless, published in 1965, covered the period from 1927 to 1939, and received very favorable reviews. Volume Three War of Wordscovered the war years 1939 to 1945. The fourth volume entitled Sound and Vision covered the period 1945 to 1955, and the final volumeCompetition brought the story from the end of the BBC monopoly in 1955 to the mid-1970s.
Because Independent Television was not created until 1955, Briggs is primarily a historian of the BBC. However, in 1985 Briggs was commissioned by the ITV companies to write with Joanna Spicer an account of the way the Independent Broadcasting Authority organized awarding franchises in 1980. In this book The Franchise Affair his normal Olympian detachment from the politics of broadcasting was dropped in a fascinating and often critical account of the development of independent TV. Cynics pointed out that Briggs had been a director of Southern Television, one of only two companies whose franchise was arbitrarily removed in 1980.
But while he was an expert on the past, Briggs always had an eye on the future - and the vision of him, and people like him, is at the heart of how the OU has managed to morph and change during the years. Here, to round off, is a 1986 OU programme in which Lord Briggs talked about technology, and the future of the OU:
This week, to celebrate Sport Relief, we're looking at some amazing stories from the world of sport. Yesterday, we met some senior Olympians. Today, it's the turn of the robots.
With the defeat of the world's best Go player by a machine, it's starting to look like the singularity might be followed by nothing more threatening than giant AI computers hogging the Cribbage board down the Red Lion. Humans, looking for an upside, pointed out that while a computer might be really good at playing the game, it still relies on a fleshy person's hand to make the moves for it. So, are robots all thinking, no action?
Not so much. Since 1998, robot soccer players have been coming together every year to take part in a world cup - and although the machines are unlikely to be joining Manchester United in the Premiership any time soon, a few are getting good enough that they could get a run out with one of the London clubs.
Robot football even has its own equivalent of FIFA (in the sense of a governing body, rather than the other aspects of FIFA activity) - FIRA, the Federation of International Robot-Soccer Assocation. This organisation has a number of aims:
To take the spirit of science and technology to the young generation and laymen.
To promote the development of autonomous multi-agent robotic system that can cooperate with each other and to contribute to the state-of-the-art technology improvement in this specialized field.
To bring together skilled researchers and students from different backgrounds such as robotics, sensor fusion, intelligent control, communication, image processing, mechatronics, computer technology, artificial life, etc. into a new and growing interdisciplinary field of intelligent autonomous soccer-robots to play the game of soccer.
To organize the FIRA Robot World Cup and Congress every year
To work together to establish the FIRA Robot World Cup as a Science and Technology World Cup
As the winners of last year's competition, UNSW from Australia, explained in a piece for The Conversation, each year FIRA move the goalposts. In a figurative sense:
The competition changes the rules each year to make the games more challenging. This year, all the finals matches were started by a referee’s whistle, instead of the regular Wi-Fi message. This meant that the robots had to listen out for the whistle before each kick off.
We were the only team to reliably start all our robots on the referee’s whistle. A big reason for this was that the team decided whether or not they had heard the whistle, together.
If only one robot heard a whistle, but the other four didn’t, they decide that the one robot must have been wrong, and don’t play. If three out of the five hear a whistle, but the last two don’t, then they decide the two must have missed it and they all start playing.
This majority vote system was crucial in ensuring our team listened to the whistle reliably.
And it's this that is the serious side of the sport - it's not just a bit of fun, but since the idea was first proposed by Alan Mackworth it's a way for engineers to better understand and develop robotics and AI for all sorts of purposes. Maybe even coming up with a machine that will be able to play its own moves in Go, rather than relying on one of us to help out.