MATTSPLAINED [] MSP87 [] The Knowledge #1: Superflies, Space Sails & Picard.

Original Images: Pixabay. Glitched @ Kulturpop

Original Images: Pixabay. Glitched @ Kulturpop

MATTSPLAINED [] MSP87 [] The Knowledge #1: Superflies, Space Sails & Picard.

On today’s MSP, Matt talks about sailing to the moon. Wishes he had artificial skin, gets excited about the return of Jean-Luc Picard and advocates eating flies. That’s right, it’s a good news show.

Produced by Jeff Sandhu for BFM89.9

Episode Sources: 


A while ago, MSP did a show titled Let the Sun Shine, which was all about the positive and uplifting stories coming out of the worlds of technology and science. We promised that this would become a regular feature on the show and after only ten shows it’s back.

  • It’s not my fault so much has been going on.

  • We couldn’t ignore the moon landings or Walkman anniversaries.

  • So, yes, we are a bit late coming back to this.

  • So, we’re calling these shows The Knowledge, and they will be a regular feature, along with the MSP Ikons shows like the Walkman one, where we highlight some of technology’s greatest hits and have a look at their cultural impact.

On with the good news. What are we starting with?

  • On last weeks show, we reported that there had been delays with the launch of the India’s Chandrayyan 2 moon launch.

  • They launched earlier this week on 22 July.

  • If the flight is successful then the orbiter will discharge a small land called Vikram and a rover called Pragnan.

  • It should arrive at moon Central on 7 September.

  • Vikram is set to explore two craters near the South pole and will examine the chemical constituency of the dust around the craters.

  • The Lander and the Rover should have around 14 days of power and will conduct a range of tests to study the main surface and its atmosphere.

This is important because of the discovery of water on the moon, as we mentioned last week, right?

  • Yes. As mentioned last week, having a reliable source of water on the moon will be essential for any long-term habitats or human exploration, and can even be used to refine the fuel needed for return journeys back to earth and beyond.

Anything else Space related?

  • No, I'm going to give everyone a break from my Space obsession.

  • Interestingly the dictation software wrote my notes down as my MySpace obsession.

  • Which shows you how behind the times Apple is in the AI game.

  • Instead, I'm going to talk about something that is probably as amazing as space.

  • And that's the remake of the Lion King.

I didn't have you down as Disney fan?

  • I'm not. I had no interest in the original movie and people have tried to drag me to see the musical,

  • Frankly, I would rather watch Netflix’s The Ranch on repeat than any musical.

  • And before anyone tweets in with, ‘but what about…” I really do mean all musicals.

  • I don't know how many of you have seen the trailers for John Favreau's version of the lion king, you might have noticed how real the CGI looks.

  • And Favreau is making the rounds of the media talking about the movie– which is already out of course – and a lot of the conversation is centred around the fact that it doesn't look like CGI.

  • It's very difficult to tell where do CGI and where the live-action blend.

So, you are recommending a movie you don't really like?

  • In a sense. More a movie I haven’t seen.

  • Although I'm sure my wife is going to drag me off to see it.

  • We've seen Favreau pushing a lot of boundaries with his work over the years, especially in relation to the Marvel franchise where he flits between acting and directing roles.

  • In a sense what we’re seeing with the lion king is the start of the Next Generation of Technology blurred movies.

  • Movies where you can't tell where the animation or special effects are taking place.

  • And I do understand that some people may see this as a bad thing.

  • But to anyone who has been freaked out by the Cats movie adaptation trailer this week,

  • the ability to make these very realistic seeming animals come to life on the screen,

  • may be a lot easier to stomach than James Corden in top hat and a literal tail.

I know you have more movie News…

  • TV news really. back to that next generation thing.

  • We got quite a lot of good news out of the International comic con.

  • Natalie Portman will be back to star in the next instalment of Thor, and will even get to take on some of Thor’s powers.

  • And that Taika Waititi is back to direct. Also good news, as it means more of the day glo comedy fun in the next movie.

  • But really I Wanna talk about Star Trek.


  • For listeners of a certain age, Star Trek the Next Generation might not be the classic Star Trek series.

  • But for a lot of us Jean Luc Picard is the definitive Enterprise captain.

  • William Shatner as Kirk is fun but Patrick Stewart gave the role gravitas.

  • Now I admit that I've been a little disappointed by the recent Star Trek reboot Discovery,

  • Mainly because I think the usually fantastic Michelle Yeoh is utterly useless in the show, to the point of making me want to hurl objects at the screen for her ability to ruin a scene simply by coming into shot.

  • Various members of the TNG crew look likely to co-star or at least guests in the new show called Picard.

  • And it goes into slightly unusual territory, because it focuses on a retired Picard who seems to have fallen on, if not hard times, then difficult circumstances.

  • Why am I mentioning this on a tech show?

Yes, why are you mentioning this on a technology show?

  • Because the show has often been a bellwether and a beacon for science and technology.

  • It makes use of the latest discoveries, it treats experimental theories as though they have been proven, and it invents really outlandish stuff that science community essentially takes as a challenge.

  • Plus, Data’s an Android and he's back.

  • If you haven't seen it already the trailer is out so Watch it and tell your boss it’s scientific research.

Maybe scientific research is something we should get back to…

  • Okay. Well, here's the story that actually closer to home.

  • A team of researchers at The University of Singapore.

  • And, going back to the fact that I talked about Star Trek and showing that it's not a waste of time…

  • This is also really outlandish stuff.

  • The Singapore team has developed an artificial skin that can sense temperature and pressure and can process that information of thousand times faster than the human nervous system.

This is supposed to be good news show. I'm sensing something scary.

  • I did say it was outlandish.

  • And that's something with a lot of new technology, to begin with it does seem a little bit scary.

Yeah but we're talking about super sensing robots, that is scary…

  • We've done a few shows this year about how essentially useless robots and AI actually are.

  • It was that item we mentioned about the Amazon robots that happen to be essentially fed by human beings.

  • This kind of technology would allow robots to be much more sensitive.


  • I'm good with the concept of robots with emotions, it's the rest of humanity it gives nightmares to.

  • The skin can also detect how much an object flexes.

  • And that's really important. As important as knowing how much pressure to exert.

  • And that's one of the real obstacles to the kind of machinery that we have today and that's why Amazon has to have humans feeding the objects to the machines.

Your idea of good news is very strange?

  • If you don't like the robot aspect then think of it from A human perspective.

  • The skin can also be used in prosthetic limbs, or for people experiencing paralysis to give humans that feeling of sensation again.

  • Things we take for granted like gripping a cup or a glass and knowing what the temperature is.

  • And these aren't examples that have been specified by the Singapore design team, but I can imagine this replicant skin being incorporated into

  • …spacesuits, diving rigs, all those hazmat suits that health professionals and military people wear.

It might be better if you didn't call it replicant skin…

  • I know. But you have to let me deliver good news with at least a side order of gross out.

Give us something quick as we head into the break.

  • Browser extensions. We don't talk much about browser extensions, mostly because I'd rather watch a musical.

  • Some of you may have read a report over the last week that singles out some of the Brother and ethical behaviour of social media influences, and doesn't have great things to say about Malaysia social influencers.

  • The team at Princeton University has come up with browser extension called Adintuition for Firefox and chrome.

  • I think it only works on YouTube videos at the moment, but if you enable the extension, a warning will pop up on your screen if the video you're watching has affiliate links the creator receives a commission.

  • Some video makers are good and honest, they make it very clear if something is a commissioned product or if they earn any money from you clicking on any of the links attached to the video.

  • But the plug-in serves to give you a little bit more information, especially when you're searching for product reviews or unbiased opinions.

Are there any privacy issues? Presumably the algorithm is running on the video is the user watches?

  • Yeah, it would be pretty much impossible for the Princeton team to go out and analyse every bit of the video content on YouTube.

  • That in itself is a bit Big Brother-like, we've come to look at data scraping in a very different light over the last couple of years.

  • So, yes, if you opt into the Data feedback, and it will send information about the affiliate links and identifiers of that video although it will anonymise your user ID.

  • But I guess in this case you can think of that data-sharing as more of a community service.

  • Because as more people use these tools, it pushes content creators to act more transparently.

  • Because there’s no problem with earning money from brand tie ins and endorsements.

  • But telling us that whatever product is the best you've ever tried because somebody is paying you to say that.

  • That's not the kind of behaviour we should support.

When we come back. Can Matt stop himself from talking about space? Dark Matter: the musical, superflies and, of course, AI. Here on MSP. 


On today’s MSP we’re looking at some of the good news stories coming out of the worlds of technology and science. So far we’ve had browser extensions, fake skin and space. Where are we heading next?

  • As you know I always like to throw in a couple of positive AI stories in the shows.

  • A team at the University of Tartu in Estonia built an experiment based on the behaviour of chimpanzees in the wild.

  • The test was designed to train the AI to be able to see the world from someone else's perspective.

  • Another doesn't sound like much but that's one of the basic skills that human beings and a lot of other species with higher intelligence use for simple survival.

  • In humans it’s and some other species, it’s linked to emotional responses well.

  • And it's imperative for intelligent machines to have this understanding if they are to interact with us and to really understand the world that we live in.

Where do the chimpanzees come in?

  • The team in Estonia used a chimpanzee feeding study as their inspiration.

  • Dominant chimps get their pick of the available food.

  • Subordinate chimps will only eat if they’re not being observed by the dominant chimps.

  • So they set up the game in a simple grid, 11 squares by 11 squares.

  • Two AIs were set against each other, one in the dominant role one is a subordinate.

  • The subordinate lost points if it ate food that the dominant AI couldn't see, and lost points if it ate food while in the dominant’s line of sight.

How close are the machines to aping our own reasoning capabilities?

  • Just to show you how vast that gap still is.

  • This is a skill that humans and chimpanzees have pretty much automatically.

  • It took the AI thousands of trials before and they learned a skill that is pretty much hardwired in us.

  • On the other hand, those thousands of trials can be achieved and overcome in very short period of time, while our timeline for learning new skills is on a much slower evolutionary and social pathway.

  • You start to be able to See the enormity of the differences between natural and machine intelligence, you can also see the Incredible speed at which they’re converging.

More bad news dressed up as good I think. Anything else that’s likely to get people to change their minds about AI?

  • Probably not. so let’s skip to dark matter.

  • I think we mentioned, probably on a geeks episode a while ago, one of the reasons That we can't see dark matter in our universe is because it might all be in a mirror universe running parallel to our own.

  • Full of people who are shovelling their way through a blizzard of the stuff.

  • Of course, it’s very difficult to get a handle on something that is supposedly a building block of our universe, yet we can’t see or even detect it.

  • So, a sound artist, a theoretical physicist and an AI music maker have teamed up for an installation at London’s science museum that interprets dark matter as music.

Is this really science?

  • Yes. Normally when dark matter is simulated, the results are tabulated as dots on a screen.

  • That might look impressive to other scientists but what does it tell the casual observer.

  • Sound artist Aura Satz has created an installation that is designed to unsettle its audience.

  • It seems that the idea was to create something that was deliberately intangible, a bit like dark matter itself.

  • Something that is constantly moving and changing but never quite takes a form we can quite understand, or forms normal shards of melody or harmonics.

  • It’s part of a wider exhibition on dark matter running at the Science Museum until 26 August.

You want to go, don’t you?

  • Wouldn’t you.

  • I’ve been to other sound installations at the science gallery and they’re always astonishing.

  • Sound art in general is something that we don’t give enough time or consideration to, which is weird, because in general it’s a lot more accessible than most forms of art.

  • Because you can release it and allow people to enjoy it in its unadulterated form no matter where they are.

  • It’s not like looking at a picture of the Mona Lisa on your computer screen versus visiting the Louvre.

  • You are experiencing the original piece of work.

That’s the art history lesson over for today. I believe you promised us flies.

  • Yes. Most of us are not fans of the fly.

  • Our relationship with them, at best, is one of genocidal intent.

  • There’s something about even the sound of a buzzing fly that sets people on edge.

  • The fact that they target food and waste makes them especially unwanted visitors in our homes.

But all that is set to change?

  • Yes. We’ve talked about all kinds of insects being touted as the new future of sustainable food and protein production.

  • Crickets, grubs, beetles. But we haven’t talked about flies.

  • A company called Entocycle in the UK is farming flies.

  • Specifically the black soldier fly.

How is this good news? This is absolutely gross…

  • Stay with me. One of the reasons that they are such a good protein source is that the adult flies don’t have mouth parts.

  • Which means they don’t bite and they can’t carry disease.

  • Which is one of the things we worry about most when it comes to flies.

  • as they don’t eat they have to consume all the fats and proteins they need as larvae.

  • And when they do emerge as adults they tend to be larger and less good at flying than most household flies.

  • But the list of things they can do is quite astonishing.

Are we going to eat the fly or the larvae?

  • The larvae. We can use them in animal and fish food.

  • Which means we don’t need to use fishmeal to feed to farmed fish.

  • Or soy to feed to animals.

  • We can substitute it for our own consumption of meat and fish.

  • So there’s less pressure on the oceans and on farmed land.

  • Particularly the deforestation that tends to occur as we increase production of beef and soy.

That’s not so different from most insects…

  • but these little monsters are also garbage destroyers.

  • I’m going to say the maggot word now.

  • They can digest a lot of the waste we produce, and they do it without creating greenhouse emissions.

  • They’ve been made into a kind of flour and they can even be turned into a form of plastic.

Are we going to see fly larvae on supermarket shelves any time soon?

  • A lot of these insect based products are still going through the various approvals they need for approval to be used in animal feeds.

  • I didn’t realise it but in a lot of countries there’s more red tape concerning food for animals than people.

  • So, weirdly, it’s easier to put it on a supermarket shelf than in animal feed.

  • And we are starting to see both.

  • And there are black soldier fly larvae farms popping up all over the place. I mentioned the company in the UK.

  • There are also farms in South Africa and the States, and it seems that it’s an area getting interest from agritech venture firms.

What are we going to wrap up with?

  • Well, as you mentioned wrapping I’m going to break my word and do one final space story this week.

  • We mentioned on last week’s show that putting stuff into space is relatively cheap if you’re willing to rideshare.

  • Well, one of the passengers on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket that was launched on June 25 was the LightSail2.

  • I think we talked about the LightSail1 before.

  • It’s essentially an engine. Photons from the sun hit the mirrored sails and as they bounce off create thrust.

  • LightSail 1 was launched in 2015 and though it managed to unfurl the sail, it crashed back into our atmosphere before it could be piloted anywhere.

And the Light Sail 2?

  • Well, it’s unfurled the sails successfully.

  • And they’re quite amazing, they’re thinner than a human hair, yet they’re being used to propel a spacecraft.

  • It’s in a higher orbit this time, and its operators, the space advocacy group The Planetary Society hope that they’ll be able to fly it around for a year or so.

  • In the future, it’s hoped that technology based on the sail will make it possible to keep satellites in orbit, or even to fly small craft further out into the solar system without requiring the hug amounts of fuel currently needed to propel them.

  • So, a technology that has been the mainstay of maritime exploration on earth for thousands of years, may soon be the mainstay of our efforts to explore space.