Skip to main content
Read page text

FOCUS

DECEMBER 2016

WELCOME

We tend to talk about artificial intelligence as though it’s some blurry vision of the future, yet to sharpen into focus. But the reality is it’s already here, and it’s already wormed its way in to our everyday lives.

Online strings of code follow our every click, logging and learning what we like and what we don’t. Facebook does it to show us only the posts it hopes we’ll enjoy, Google does it to offer up what it thinks we’re looking for, and who hasn’t bought something that Amazon thought we might like?

These algorithms – sets of step-by-step mathematical instructions for computers – are becoming more and more sophisticated, less machine, more human. Digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Cortana from Apple, Amazon and Microsoft respectively, can now understand our natural language and answer our questions to a degree. And again, every request is inputted into a ‘deep learning’ system that trains each assistant to better meet our needs in future. Even their voices are meticulously designed to make us happy.

But how are we going to get from here to the AIs we know and love? For better or worse, how do we build the f luent, intuitive, almost human machines of science fiction? We need to add a little something extra: find out what on p40.

In the US, eating only GM-free food would increase the average food

WHAT WE’VE FOUND OUT THIS MONTH

bill by a third p85

We may have a lost sixth sense p64

If you feed graphene to a silkworm, it will make supersilk p21

The smell of lavender really does help you sleep p103

Daniel Benne￿, Editor

IN THIS ISSUE

Catfish have learned to hunt pigeons in Albi, France p58

P O T T S

: A N D Y

C O V E R

FREDI DEVAS New series Planet Earth II comes to our television screens this winter after five years in the making. Fredi, one of the series’ producers, shares some of his incredible experiences creating this show. p52

PROF JIM DUNWELL Jim is a professor at Reading University’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, with a particular interest in plants. In this issue he asks if it is time we got over genetically modified food. p78

PROF KATHY WILLIS Love Kew Gardens? Meet Kathy, the director of science at this stunning a raction. This month, she tells us what her job entails and reveals some of the intriguing plants she gets to research. p130

CONTACT US

Advertising neil.lloyd@immediate.co.uk 0117 300 8276

Le ers for publication reply@sciencefocus.com

Editorial enquiries editorialenquiries@sciencefocus.com 0117 314 7388

Subscriptions focus@servicehelpline.co.uk 0844 844 0257*

Other contacts sciencefocus.com/contact

WANT MORE BBC FOCUS?

FOLLOW SCIENCEFOCUS

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

PINTEREST

YOUTUBE

BBCScience Focus (ISSN 0966-4270)(USPS 015-160) is published 13 times a year (monthly with a Christmas issue in December) by Immediate Media Company, Bristol, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax St., Bristol BS1 3BN. Distributed in the US by Circulation Specialists, LLC, 2 Corporate Drive, Suite 945, Shelton, CT 06484-6238. Periodicals postage paid at Shelton, CT and additional mailing o ices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to BBCScience Focus, PO Box 37495, Boone, IA 50037-0495. * Calls will cost 7p per minute plus your telephone company’s access charge. Lines are open weekdays 8am-8pm and Saturdays 9am-1pm. If calling from overseas, please call +44 1795 414 699

3

My Bookmarks


    Skip to main content