Machines like Me by Ian McEwan

This is an Audible book that I listened to recently while I was on holiday. Listening to an enjoyable story that is engaging makes long road journeys pass so much more quickly!

It’s alternative history based on the fact that Alan Turing wasn’t turned insane by taking oestrogen tablets to cure his homosexual urges. With this in mind we end up with a very different 1980’s. We have advanced sufficiently with AI to build completely life like humans that tests what it is to be human after all. They are an exercise in humanity as it teaches us whether we can accept machines into our lives as equals.

I loved the philosophical debates that Adam engages in with his housemates Charlie and Miranda. I also loved the technical, mathematical and physics details along with the anthropological studies. Adam raises a lot of interesting questions and provokes strong emotions which you wouldn’t expect a machine to be capable of. He is not really a machine though; but a conscious being capable of existing all by himself as along as he has the same comforts were used to like shelter, sleep and fuel.

This is essentially an exploration of the contradictions of being human. This is what every child has to learn and what autistics struggle with greatly. The same things that Adam can’t comprehend are also what we have difficulties with. There is however no real solution to these issues as life is such a messy business.

Best wishes

Angela

The Wonders of the Universe by Brian Cox

This is a 4 part series on BBC 4 where he uses information gained from previous series of his like The Planets, The Wonders of Life or Forces of Nature, to explore in ever increasing detail how and when our world came to be formed.

The first part Destiny talks about how entropy was discovered by accident using the 2nd law of thermodynamics. This is a given for those that like trains, maths or physics which is usually the same people but it explains how time travels in one direction only and therefore we can see the difference between the past and the future. Cause and effect means you can define your place in time by looking at the state of decay of your surroundings. The Arrow of Time indicates the passage of time which we are all subject to even the stars although their timescale is much, much greater than our own.

Part 2 is about Stardust. Here he analyses the fact that everything in the universe is made of the same 92 elements. We can discover that we are in fact the same as stars by looking at the reactions of those chemical compounds. It turns out that to create all of the elements necessary for life stars have to die. The bigger the star, the more elements are created due to the energy given off from the heat that is created from its destruction.

The 3rd part deals with gravity and is entitled Falling (No Alicia Keys here;)) Falling as it turns out is an essential way to explain how gravity works using Einstein’s theory of relativity as our guide. Newton’s laws of physics can only take us so far and in fact they are not sufficient to explain things like the odd elliptical orbit of Mercury. When talking about gravity you have to mention black holes from which nothing not even light can escape.

Part 4 is on Messengers. This is about the different forms light can take from straight forward white sunlight to a rainbow to infra red and even radio waves. Heat itself is just another form of light only on a different wavelength. Here he talks about the age of the universe and how while it was relatively easy to break the sound barrier it was much more difficult to break the speed of light. For much of history even didn’t even know that light had a speed until it was discovered that the speed of the orbit of Io one of Jupiter’s moon seemed to differ depending on what time of year it was. The orbit in fact never changed just our position in relation to it. As we got further away light took longer to reach us therefore we thought it was changing rather than ourselves. The speed of light is now what is termed a light year and this is used to measure how far away distant stellar objects are.

To compare methods I also watched a program on the Discovery Science channel done by Stephen Hawking about whether “God did create the universe or not.”

It is his belief that a divine creator could not possibly have had time to create anything because of the quantum laws of physics. This is how the universe could be created out of nothing utilising Einstein’s theory of relativity – E = MC2. As time didn’t exist before matter/energy and space was created by the Big Bang; nobody else did either.

Best wishes

Angela

The Code on Netflix

Here in a 3 part series, mathematics is examined to find out the underlying rules of the universe. Famed mathematician Marcus du Sautoy looks into the Golden ratio, Pi and other notable numbers to find out how they define and rule our lives without us even realising. This is pure mathematics for those geeks out there that have a need to understand the workings of the universe. There is no theory here.

Episode 1 is all about those iconic numbers that we learn about at school to help us work out angles, and all those other things required in mathematics.

Episode 2 looks at how nature utilises this knowledge to build honeycomb structures like the Giants Causeway in Ireland or a bee’s nest.

Episode 3 looks at how chaos theory turns things that look completely random like the life cycle of a lemming into something that can be understood in a logical way. It also covers probability theory by trying to predict who is going to win in a rock, paper, scissors contest.

Although this may sound dull especially in comparison to someone like Brian Cox we need different kinds of people for different jobs.

Best wishes

Angela

For the love of mathematics

My first love in life was maths. I was astonishly good at it. I had the kind of brain that just knew the answer to problems without even realising it. I was very much like Daniel Tamnet. He struggled enormously with his talent and the fact he wasn’t like anyone else. He also couldn’t connect with others. It was only later in life that he learnt that he was capable of more than just maths. He also is a celebrated linguist and has a phenomenal ability to explain how he does this seemingly unearthly talents.

While I no longer have such mathematical talents I am still very much interested in maths and physics problems. I’m just reduced to reading about others accomplishments as you will learn in the book, maths is a young persons game and by the time you reach your thirties your pretty much over the hill just like in sports. They have even proven that you are much more likely to win the noble prize when you are much younger due to the sheer output that is possible in your youth.

I don’t want to sound morbid because I still have many decades left in me I hope but I know that life can be cut short quite quickly as mine almost was 17 years ago. It’s almost like an anniversary. I don’t celebrate it but maybe I should. It reminds me that I was one way for so long and then in the blink of an eye I wasn’t. As an autistic that throws you the most extreme curve ball you can ever deal with. When you have reassess your whole life’s plan, reanalyse what you are now capable of but most crucially relearn basic human behaviour like walking, bowel control and sleeping through the night, is it any wonder that I have been lost for so long trying to rediscover myself?

I had barely found myself at 17 having led a very isolated and protected life. My mother worried excessively about my vulnerability to the point of making her obsessive about protecting me. This doesn’t help when your recovering from a near fatal car accident and she has to raise you all over again from not knowing what 2+2 is to the realisation that the reason you have sent your daughter to many hospital appointments is vindicated because she is autistic. Her differences with viewing the world finally make sense but now you have a new challenge as you don’t know the affects the car accident is going to have on her. Are you going to allow her the freedom to grow or are you going to increase your efforts to cocoon her from the harshness and realities of the world?

I spent the next year off school recovering and adjusting to my new way of being. I had done the SAT test immediately before my accident so that was a marker of my intelligence then but what was I now?

I never took the test again as far as I recall so we will never know but suffice to say I completed high school, did an Access course, a CISCO course in my spare time and got to university.

This is where the trouble begins because as well as losing my mathematical ability it seems I have also my ability to program. This is a big problem for a person who wants to be a computer scientist. Cue me exploring many other areas of interest while learning how to socialise, be a human and basically epically failing at my degree without me even realising. I passed in case your wondering.

For an autistic no longer having a sense of purpose is devastating. I had fulfilled all of the things (read my mother) had wanted for me. I had beat a accident that could have killed me, I had got a degree, I even had a partner with a house and his own business. What on earth was I going to do since I was clearly incapable of getting a job?

I’m still in the quandary of what do I do with my life and what am I capable of but I keep exploring new options. Life has never been simple or easy for me but hopefully I figure it out before it ends whenever that is.

Best wishes

Angela