Being comfortable in robotics' uncanny valley

Robot
Safety first: This robot moves out of the way as soon as the human reaches over

The robot's eyes flick towards me, and its head turns, eyebrows raised, lips forming a smile, as if we are about to meet and start a conversation.

In the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, I am a little disconcerted by my first encounter with an intelligent machine.

The robot's head is attached to a box rather than a body and looks more like something from a mannequin than a human.

The rational part of me knows all too well that this is simply a bundle of plastic and silicon.

"Hello, do you want to play a game?" it asks.

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Chernobyl: Containing the world's worst nuclear accident

Rising above the scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident is the spectacular sight of the largest moveable structure ever created on land.

The complex of nuclear power plants at Chernobyl has dominated this corner of northwest Ukraine for decades but the new construction towers over it all.

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Healthy dose of hope for one-use syringes

Syringe

The people of the farming community of Roka in Cambodia are living through exactly the nightmare scenario that the World Health Organisation wants to stamp out with a new policy on syringes.

In wooden huts and farmhouses dotted among paddy fields, families are struggling to cope with the bombshell of a sudden and frightening mass infection of HIV.

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Cannabis: Promise, risk and controversy

Medicinal cannabis sold in Los Angeles before a 2012 ban

Cannabis is bad for you, cannabis is good for you - confused?

That's not surprising. Complicated and controversial, cannabis is revealed by recent science to have a dual personality, with a dark side and a more positive one. Radio 4's PM programme is this week running a whole series on cannabis, and the debate surrounding it.

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Will the falling oil price undermine green energy?

solar panels in Minneapolis
Supporters of renewable energy say it is a more stable option than the volatile fossil fuel market

Common sense would surely tell you that if you slash the cost of one source of energy, then alternatives look less appealing.

You might think, therefore, that the crash in the price of oil must be dealing a potentially fatal blow to renewable power.

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Should we try to halt extinction?

In an age when mankind can send robots to look for life on Mars, why can't science stop so many forms of life from being wiped out here on Earth?

The question comes amid the loss of species on such a relentless scale that conservationists call it the Sixth Mass Extinction - the fifth being the asteroid that killed the large dinosaurs. This one is driven by human activity.

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What does Beagle2 say about how to handle failure?

Colin Pillinger
Images show the daring mission, masterminded by the late Colin Pillinger, came tantalisingly close to glory

The discovery of Beagle2 on the surface of Mars confirms the mission as one of most glorious near-misses in the history of British exploration.

Bold, imaginative, and brilliantly-engineered, the spacecraft came very close to upstaging Nasa but ultimately failed.

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The largest vessel the world has ever seen

Climbing onto the largest vessel the world has ever seen brings you into a realm where everything is on a bewilderingly vast scale and ambition knows no bounds.

Prelude is a staggering 488m long and the best way to grasp what this means is by comparison with something more familiar.

Read full article The largest vessel the world has ever seen

World on course for warmest year

This year is in the running to be the hottest globally and for the UK since records began, early estimates show.

In the first 10 months of 2014, global average air temperature was about 0.57 Celsius above the long-term average.

Read full article World on course for warmest year

How could we intervene to change the climate?

  • 28 November 2014
  • From the section Africa
Namib desert
Could action by one country cause rains to stop in another?

Imagine the trouble that would ensue if China resorted to desperate measures to cool its climate but the result was that the Indian Monsoon suddenly failed.

Or that India tried to head off a rise in temperatures only to find that Pakistan suffered from massive flooding.

Read full article How could we intervene to change the climate?