The BBC may not be well known for cutting edge techniques and pioneering the use of new technology, perhaps we normally look to the big screen for such things. However Virtual Reality has been something they have worked with on a number of occasions.
Making use of new technology teaches us how it can be used to the best effects, and by trialling various methods and styles, we can learn about how the technology works within the given media. VR has been used in countless projects, from computer games to training simulators, but finding its niche in the media sector has been tricky.
The BBC have worked with several companies over the years to produce virtual reality media, such as the 360 camera shot “Trafficked” which looks at the scourge of human trafficking in glorious panoramic detail. There was also the highly acclaimed “The Turning Forest”, which was run with Google as a virtual reality sound immersive fairytale.
Now, the BBC have turned to the technology again. Pioneering the uses of VR for the television watching generation with the final frontier, the launch shows us an all encompassing tour of a spacewalk outside the ISS.
Taking a leap from the recent Google ISS street view, viewers can now experience the act of floating around in zero gravity with nothing but a space suit to keep the vacuum of space from reaching you.
By paring up with production teams called VR Hub and Rewind, the BBC aim to release short and powerful pieces that make full use of this inventive and inspiring technology. The spacewalk is just the first of many experiences planned for the future.
Read the press release.
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Watch the short trailer.
In order to take care of its users, and to provide a service that takes account of the intimate level of connection a person has with its interface, Facebook have been testing suicide prevention AI algorithms. In previous roll-outs, the system required a human to notify the program before any action was taken, however now it believes it can detect risk of suicide or self-harm before anyone else.
With determined parameters to choose from, the artificially intelligent program can make a choice whether a person is at risk or not. The status updates and live video feeds can all be monitored by a non human guardian, quietly checking up on everyone's mental health. Provided the data is not shared or used in inappropriate ways, there is no real change here. Facebook have been able to monitor what users upload since it began. Only this time, even more psychological insights can be gained by what computers have managed to learn about people.
Similar AI systems have been used to determine exactly what the alarm bells look like and what people generally do when they are about to harm themselves. By learning about the behaviours of people who are at risk in this way, it's possible to now guess accurately before the events may occur. Appropriate steps can be taken to safeguard the individual and in the case of Facebook, the system detects a high risk then alerts a real person who will make a trained human decision whether or not to contact emergency services.
So far the AI has only been available in the United States, and with this new upgrade the rest of the world will also get their chance to make use of this new technology. The only place where it wont be used is the European Union. Data protection laws in the EU prevent companies from having these powers. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he wants the website to act as a community, presumably seeking to care for and nourish friendships and relationships.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are an ancient set of texts which contain part of the Holy Bible. Thought to be perhaps the original version of some religious and historical texts, their origin and history are matters of peaked human interest. The world faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all take scripture from the original Hebrew writings that date to several periods in time BC.
A popular theory is that the people who wrote and then hid the scrolls within the area now known as West Bank in the Middle East were the Essenes. This mystical sect of individuals have roots that share similarity to Judaism at the time, and it's believed by some that many of the apostles of Christ could have been Essenes.
The location of the scroll findings, named Qumran, was founded nearly three thousand years ago and its peoples have changed in culture over this time due to the changing world powers in various points in history. The Essenes were present in Qumran during pre-biblical times which does suggest a likely candidacy for the origin of the scrolls.
New skeletons were uncovered in the same area recently, and these have been studied in great detail. Bone samples were taken and tested, and the skeletal remains were examined in situ. A lot more detail has been uncovered about the people who were in the area at the time of the scrolls, since the skeletons have been found to be of the same age.
The most interesting factor in the remains is that every skeleton is considered to be from a male. A few children were discovered too, however the all male population suggests that the area was used differently to a usual community. Men dominated certain trades and the military has traditionally always been male for Roman culture which was also thriving during the same period.
This leads archaeologists to conclude that the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls could have been a male religious sect, possibly practicing celibacy like the members of Byzantine monasteries which began to appear around 330AD. Perhaps it is a cemetery for traders who could have acquired the scrolls in some form of transaction. Another theory suggests that a military cemetery was built there, and the scrolls could have been spoils of war or taxation however none of the skeletons showed signs of war trauma or unusual mortality in early life.
Once the bones had been examined, and determined to be of the same age as the scrolls and all from males, they were respectfully buried in the spot they were found in. Knowing more about the people who lived in the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden in a set of caves in Qumran, can help scholars, theologians, and laypeople alike to feel a little closer to the books which frame so many aspects of our lives.
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Construction has begun on the biggest telescope the world has ever seen. A joint venture between United States of America, Brazil, and Korea sees the assemblage of seven giant mirrors, painstakingly crafted to precision by Arizona's Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory, producing the Giant Magellan Telescope which will point at the light-pollution free skies over Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.
Thanks to the principle of adaptive optics, which cancels out the distorting effects of the Earth's atmosphere on light, and the revolutionary size of the mirror array the GMT will be capable of capturing images of ten times higher resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope. Having learned a great deal more about the universe from images taken by the Hubble, having a magnitude of greater clarity can only mean more secrets will be revealed.
By staring at the skies for long periods of time, the GMT will be able to detect light from the most distant objects ever seen by human eyes. The macro-structure of the universe is there to be examined and the scope of cosmology is preparing for this massive influx of new data that will help unravel one of the most primordial of conundrums - Why is the universe like it is and where did it come from?
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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