BOX SET: 6 Minute English - 'Technology 2' English mega-class! Thirty minutes of new vocabulary!
Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. I’m Sam. And I’m Neil. On Saturday mornings I love going to watch football in the park.
The problem is when it’s cold and rainy - I look out the bedroom window and go straight back to bed! Well, instead of going to the park, why not bring the park to you? Imagine watching a live version of the football match at home in the warm, with friends. Sound good, Sam? Sounds great! – but how can I be in two places at once? Is there some amazing invention to do that? There might be, Sam - and it could be happening sooner than you think, thanks to developments in VR, or virtual reality. According to Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg, in the future we’ll all spend much of our time living and working in the ‘metaverse’ – a series of virtual worlds. Virtual reality is a topic we’ve discussed before at 6 Minute English. But when Facebook announced that it was hiring ten thousand new workers to develop VR for the ‘metaverse’, we thought it was time for another look.
Is this programme, we’ll be hearing two different opinions on the ‘metaverse’ and how it might shape the future. But first I have a question for you, Neil. According to a 2021 survey by gaming company, Thrive Analytics, what percentage of people who try virtual reality once want to try it again? Is it: a) 9 percent? b) 49 percent? or, c) 79 percent? I guess with VR you either love it or hate it, so I’ll say b) 49 percent of people want to try it again. OK, I’ll reveal the correct answer later in the programme. But what
Neil said is true: people tend to either love virtual reality or hate it. Somebody who loves it is Emma Ridderstad, CEO of Warpin’, a company which develops VR technology. Here she is telling BBC World Service programme, Tech Tent, her vision of the future: In ten years, everything that you do on your phone today, you will do in 3-D, through your classes for example. You will be able to do your shopping, you will be able to meet your friends, you will be able to work remotely with whomever you want, you will be able to share digital spaces, share music, share art, share projects in digital spaces between each other. And you will also be able to integrate the digital objects in your physical world, making the world much more phygital than is it today.
Virtual reality creates 3-D, or three-dimensional experiences where objects have the three dimensions of length, width and height. This makes them look lifelike and solid, not two-dimensional and flat. Emma says that in the future VR will mix digital objects and physical objects to create exciting new experiences – like staying home to watch the same football match that is simultaneously happening in the park. She blends the words ‘physical’ and ‘digital’ to make a new word describing this combination: phygital. But while a ‘phygital’ future sounds like paradise to some, others are more sceptical – they doubt that VR will come true or be useful. One such sceptic is technology innovator, Dr Nicola Millard. For one
thing, she doesn’t like wearing a VR headset – the heavy helmet and glasses that create virtual reality for the wearer – something she explained to BBC World Service’s, Tech Tent: There are some basic things to think about. So, how do we access it? So, the reason, sort of, social networks took off was, we’ve got mobile technologies that let us use it. Now, obviously one of the barriers can be that VR or AR headsets - so VR, I’ve always been slightly sceptical about. I’ve called
it ‘vomity reality’ for a while because, frankly, I usually need a bucket somewhere close if you’ve got a headset on me… and also, do I want to spend vast amounts of time in those rather unwieldy headsets? Now, I know they’re talking AR as well and obviously that does not necessarily need a headset, but I think we’re seeing some quite immersive environments coming out at the moment as well. Nicola called VR ‘vomity reality’ because wearing a headset makes her feel sick, maybe because it’s so unwieldy – difficult to move or wear because it’s big and heavy. She also makes a difference between VR - virtual reality- and AR, which stands for augmented reality – tech which adds to the ordinary physical world by projecting virtual words, pictures and characters, usually by wearing glasses or with a mobile phone. While virtual reality replaces what you hear and see, augmented reality adds to it. Both VR and AR are immersive experiences – they stimulate your senses and surround you so that you feel completely involved in the experience. In fact, the experience feels so real that people keep coming back for more.
Right! In my question I asked Neil how many people who try VR for the first time want to try it again. I guessed it was about half – 49 percent. Was I right? You were… wrong, I’m afraid. The correct answer is much higher - 79 percent of people would give VR another try.
I suppose because the experience was so immersive – stimulating, surrounding and realistic. Ok, A, let’s recap the other vocabulary from this programme on the ‘metaverse’, a kind of augmented reality – reality which is enhanced or added to by technology. 3-D objects have three dimensions, making them appear real and solid. Phygital is an invented word which combines the features of ‘physical’ and ‘digital’ worlds. A sceptical person is doubtful about something.
And finally, unwieldy means difficult to move or carry because it’s so big and heavy. That’s our six minutes up, in this reality anyway. See you in the ‘metaverse’ soon! Goodbye! Hello. This is 6 Minute English
from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil. And I’m Sam.
What do shopping with a credit card, finding love through internet dating and waiting for the traffic lights to change have in common? Hmmm, they all involve computers? Good guess, Sam! But how exactly do those computers work? The answer is that they all use algorithms – sets of mathematical instructions which find solutions to problems. Although they are often hidden, algorithms are all around us. From mobile phone maps to home delivery pizza, they play a big part of modern life. And
they’re the topic of this programme. A simple way to think of algorithms is as recipes. To make pancakes you mix flour, eggs and milk, then melt butter in a frying pan and so on. Computers do this in more a complicated way by repeating mathematical equations over and over again.
Equations are mathematical sentences showing how two things are equal. They’re similar to algorithms and the most famous scientific equation of all, Einstein's E=MC2, can be thought of as a three-part algorithm. But before my brain gets squashed by all this maths, I have a quiz question for you, Sam. As you know, Einstein’s famous equation is E=MC2 - but what does the ‘E’ stand for? Is it: a) electricity? b) energy? or c) everything? I’m tempted to say ‘E’ is for ‘everything’ but I reckon I know the answer: b – ‘E’ stands for ‘energy’. OK, Sam, we’ll find out if you’re right later in the programme.
With all this talk of computers, you might think algorithms are a new idea. In fact, they’ve been around since Babylonian times, around 4,000 years ago. And their use today can be controversial. Some algorithms used in internet search engines have been accused of racial prejudice. Ramesh Srinivasan is Professor of Information Studies at the University of California. Here’s what he said when asked what the word ‘algorithm’ actually means by BBC World Service’s programme, The Forum: My understanding of the term ‘algorithm’ is that it’s not necessarily the bogyman, or its not necessarily something that is, you know, inscrutable or mysterious to all people – it’s the set of instructions that you write in some mathematical form or in some software code – so it’s the repeated set of instructions that are sequenced, that are used and applied to answer a question or resolve a problem – it’s a simple as that, actually.
Some think that algorithms have been controversial, but Professor Srinivasan says they are not necessarily the bogyman. The bogyman refers to something people call ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ to make other people afraid. Professor Srinivasan thinks algorithms are neither evil nor inscrutable – not showing emotions or thoughts and therefore very difficult to understand. Still, it can be difficult to understand exactly what algorithms are, especially when there are many different types of them. So, let’s
take an example. It’s autumn and we want to collect all the apples from our orchard and divide them into three groups – big, medium and small. One method is to collect all the apples together and compare their sizes. But doing this would take hours! It’s much easier to first collect the apples from only one tree - divide those into big, medium or small – and then repeat the process for the other trees, one by one.
That’s basically what algorithms do – they find the most efficient way to get things done, or in other words, get the best results in the quickest time. Mathematics professor Ian Stewart agrees. Listen as he explains how the algorithm called ‘bubble sort’ works to BBC World Service’s programme, The Forum: Think of when your computer is sorting emails by date and maybe you’ve got 500 emails and it sorts them by date in a flash. Now it doesn’t use bubble sort, but it does use a sorting method and if you tried to do that by hand it would take you a very long time, whatever method you used. Professor Stewart describes how algorithms sort emails. To sort is a verb meaning to group together things which share similarities.
Just like grouping the apples by size, sorting hundreds of emails by hand would take a long time. But using algorithms, computers do it in a flash – very quickly or suddenly. That phrase – in a flash – reminds me of how Albert Einstein came up with his famous equation, E=MC2.
And that reminds me of your quiz question. You asked about the ‘E’ in E=MC2. I said it stands for ‘energy’. So, was I right? ‘Energy’ is the correct answer. Energy equals ‘M’ for mass, multiplied by the Constant ‘C’ which is the speed of light, squared. OK, let’s recap the vocabulary from this programme, starting with equation – a mathematical statement using symbols to show two equal things. If something is called a bogyman, it’s something considered bad and to be feared.
Inscrutable people don’t show their emotions so are very difficult to get to know. Efficient means working quickly and effectively in an organised way. The verb to sort means to group together things which share similarities. And finally, if something happens in a flash, it happens quickly or suddenly.
That’s all the time we have to discuss algorithms. And if you’re still not 100% sure about exactly what they are, we hope at least you’ve learned some useful vocabulary! Join us again soon for more trending topics, sensational science and useful vocabulary here at 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English. Bye for now! Goodbye! Hello. This is 6 Minute English
from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil. And I’m Sam. In recent years, many people have wanted to find out more about where they come from.
Millions have tried to trace their family history and discover how their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago. The internet has made it much easier to find historical documents and records about your family history - and one of the most useful documents for doing this is the census. A census is an official count of all the people living in a country. It collects information about a country’s population and is usually carried out by the government. In Britain, a census has been carried out every ten years since 1801. In 2002, when census records from a hundred years before became available online, so many people rushed to their computers to access them that the website crashed! But before we find out more about the census and its related vocabulary it’s time for a quiz question, Sam. Someone who
knows a lot about his family history is British actor, Danny Dyer. When BBC television programme, Who Do You Think You Are? researched his family history they discovered that the actor was related to someone very famous – but who was it? A) King Edward III, B) William Shakespeare, or, C) Winston Churchill? Well, I know Danny Dyer usually plays tough-guy characters so maybe it’s C), war hero Winston Churchill? OK, Sam, we’ll find out later if that’s correct. Now, although the first British census took place in 1801, other censuses have a much longer history. In fact, the bible story of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem is linked to a Roman census.
So, what was the original reason for counting people and what did governments hope to achieve by doing so? Here’s Dr Kathrin Levitan, author of a book on the cultural history of the census, speaking to BBC World Service programme, The Forum: I think there were probably two most common reasons. One was in order to figure out who could fight in wars, so basically military conscription and in order to find out who could fight in wars ancient governments like the Roman Empire had to find out how many men of a certain age there were. And I would say that the other thing that censuses were most commonly used for was for purposes of taxation.
According to Kathrin Levitan, ancient censuses were used to figure out – or understand, how many men were available to fight wars. The Roman Empire needed a strong army, and this depended on conscription – forcing people to become soldiers and join the army. The other main reason for taking a census was taxation – the system of taxing people a certain amount of money to be paid to the government for public services.
Ancient and early modern censuses were large and difficult-to-organise projects. They often involved government officials going from house to house, asking questions about the people who lived there. But over time governments’ desire to know about, and control, its citizens gave rise to new technologies for counting people.
Here’s statistician and economist Andrew Whitby explaining how this happened in the US to BBC World Service programme, The Forum: The 1890 census of the United States was the first in which some kind of electro-mechanical process was used to count people… so instead of armies of clerks reading off census schedules and tabulating these things by hand, for the first time an individual census record would be punched onto a card… so that there were holes in this card representing different characteristics of the person and then those cards could be fed through a machine. Old-fashioned censuses were managed by clerks – office workers whose job involved keeping records. Thousands of clerks would record the information gathered in the census and tabulate it, in other words, show the information in the form of a table with rows and columns. The US census of 1890 was the first to use machines, and many censuses today are electronically updated to record new trends and shifts in populations as they happen. In fact, so much personal information is now freely available through social media and the internet that some people have questioned the need for having a census at all. Yes, it isn’t hard to find out about someone famous, like a TV star.
Someone like Danny Dyer, you mean? Right. In my quiz question I asked Sam which historical figure TV actor, Danny Dyer, was related to. And I said it was C) Winston Churchill. Was I right?
It was a good guess, Sam, but the actual answer was A) King Edward III. And no-one was more surprised that he was related to royalty than the EastEnders actor himself! OK, Neil, let’s recap the vocabulary from this programme about the census - the official counting of a nation’s population. To figure something out means to understand it. The Romans used conscription to force men to join the army by law. Taxation is the government’s system of taxing people to pay for public services. A clerk is an office worker whose job involves keeping records.
And tabulate means show information in the form of a table with rows and columns. That’s all for our six-minute look at the census, but if we’ve whetted your appetite for more why not check out the whole episode – it’s available now on the website of BBC World Service programme, The Forum. Bye for now! Bye bye. Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English.
I’m Neil. And I’m Georgina. What do Homer, Ray Charles and Jorge Borges all have in common, Georgina? Hmm, so that’s the ancient Greek poet, Homer; American singer, Ray Charles; and Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges… I can’t see much in common there, Neil. Well, the answer is that they were all blind. Ah! But that obviously didn’t hold them back - I mean, they were some of the greatest artists ever! Right, but I wonder how easy they would find it living and working in the modern world.
Blind people can use a guide dog or a white cane to help them move around. Yes, but a white cane is hardly advanced technology! Recently, smartphone apps have been invented which dramatically improve the lives of blind people around the world. In this programme on blindness in the digital age we’ll be looking at some of these inventions, known collectively as assistive technology – that’s any software or equipment that helps people work around their disabilities or challenges.
But first it’s time for my quiz question, Georgina. In 1842 a technique of using fingers to feel printed raised dots was invented which allowed blind people to read. But who invented it? Was it: a) Margaret Walker?, b) Louis Braille?, or c) Samuel Morse? Hmm, I’ve heard of Morse code but that wouldn’t help blind people read, so I think it’s, b) Louis Braille. OK, Georgina, we’ll find out the answer at the end of the programme.
One remarkable feature of the latest assistive technology is its practicality. Smartphone apps like ‘BeMyEyes’ allow blind users to find lost keys, cross busy roads and even colour match their clothes. Brian Mwenda is CEO of a Kenyan company developing this kind of technology. Here he explains to BBC World Service programme, Digital Planet, how his devices seek to enhance, not replace, the traditional white cane: The device is very compatible with any kind of white cane. So, once you clip it on to any white cane it works perfectly to detect the obstacles in front of you, and it relies on echo-location. So,
echo-location is the same technology used by bats and dolphins to detect prey and obstacles and all that. You send out a sound pulse and then once it bounces off an obstacle, you can tell how far the obstacle is. When attached to a white cane, the digital device - called ‘Sixth Sense’ - can detect obstacles – objects which block your way, making it difficult for you to move forward.
‘Sixth Sense’ works using echo-location, a kind of ultrasound like that used by bats who send out sound waves which bounce off surrounding objects. The returning echoes show where these objects are located. Some of the assistive apps are so smart they can even tell what kind of object is coming up ahead – be it a friend, a shop door or a speeding car. I guess being able to move around confidently really boosts people’s independence. Absolutely. And it’s challenging
stereotypes around blindness too. Blogger, Fern Lulham, who is blind herself, uses assistive apps every day. Here she is talking to BBC World Service’s, Digital Planet: I think the more that society sees blind people in the community, at work, in relationships it does help to tackle all of these stereotypes, it helps people to see blind and visually-impaired people in a whole new way and it just normalises disability – that’s what we need, we need to see people just getting on with their life and doing it and then people won’t see it as such a big deal anymore, it’ll just be the ordinary. Fern distinguishes between people who are blind, or unable to see, and those who are visually impaired – experience a decreased ability to see. Assistive tech helps blind people lead normal, independent lives within their local communities. Fern hopes
that this will help normalise disability – treat something as normal which has not been accepted as normal before… …so being blind doesn’t have to be a big deal – an informal way to say something is not a serious problem. Just keep your eyes closed for a minute and try moving around the room. You’ll soon see how difficult it is… and how life changing this technology can be. Being able to read books must also open up a world of imagination.
So what was the answer to your quiz question, Neil? Ah yes. I asked Georgina who invented the system of reading where fingertips are used to feel patterns of printed raised dots. What did you say, Georgina? I thought it was, b) Louis Braille. Which was…of course the correct answer! Well done, Georgina – Louise Braille the inventor of a reading system which is known worldwide simply as braille. I suppose braille is an early example of assistive technology – systems and equipment that assist people with disabilities to perform everyday functions. Let’s recap the rest of
the vocabulary, Neil. OK. An obstacle is an object that is in your way and blocks your movement. Some assisted technology works using echo-location – a system of ultrasound detection used by bats. Being blind is different from being visually impaired - having a decreased ability to see, whether disabling or not. And finally, the hope is that assistive phone apps can help normalise disability – change the perception of something into being accepted as normal… ..so that disability is no longer a big deal – not a big problem.
That’s all for this programme but join us again soon at 6 Minute English… …and remember you can find many more 6 Minute topics and useful vocabulary archived on bbclearningenglish.com. Don’t forget we also have an app you can download for free from the app stores. And of course we are all over social media, so come on over and say hi. Bye for now! Bye! 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… a) Hal, 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. Bye-bye! Goodbye!