Robot origami

3 minutes

Andy Clark: virtual immortality

13 minutes

King of Saxony: otherworldly calls

4 minutes

How to make a rainbow

16 minutes

Daybreak express

5 minutes

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Could these printable, self-assembling origami robots transform medicine?

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers make origami robots, just a centimetre long and a third of a gram in weight, that could offer a glimpse into what the future of robotics holds: small, versatile and environmentally friendly devices. After being printed, each one of these origami robots self-assembles, navigates around obstacles on land and in water, and ultimately dissolves into liquid, making them the first robotic devices to complete ‘a full lifecycle from birth to death’. The robots’ inventors hope they could someday be used as a controllable drug capsule or to help execute surgeries.

Producer: Melanie Gonick

Website: MIT Media Lab

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Your body is scanned, destroyed, then reproduced. Do ‘you’ live on the copy?

For centuries, philosophers – and more recently, science-fiction writers – have been concocting riffs and variations on a particular thought experiment: if every bit of your body could be perfectly scanned and replicated, in what ways would the replica still be ‘you’? In this interview from the PBS series Closer to Truth, Andy Clark, a professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, dissects a version of this experiment posed by the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, in which a body is scanned, destroyed, and replicated in a distant place. While science hasn’t yet brought us close to putting Dennett’s conundrum to the test, we can still grapple with the intriguing and perhaps troubling metaphysical questions it raises, questions that might become even more material as we careen further into the information age, including: would ‘you’ be dead, or would your sense of self perpetuate in the copy? And, if you were recreated several times, where exactly might you expect to find your embodied sense of self?

Video by Closer to Truth

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This bird-of-paradise in New Guinea sounds like something from another planet

Endemic to the mountain forests of New Guinea, the King of Saxony bird-of-paradise (Pteridophora alberti) is best-known for the flamboyant, mate-attracting efforts of its males. The bird’s courtship displays – which often double as a means of keeping competitors at a comfortable distance – make use of bright yellow breast feathers, wildly waving head plumes and peppy dance manoeuvres capped off with an exceptionally outsized, almost otherworldly bit of squawking. This video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a rare glimpse into the world of this idiosyncratic little bird, which has proven notoriously difficult to photograph in its rugged natural habitat.

Director: Tim Laman

Websites: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of Paradise Project

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‘I live with a girl papa!’ Two years in the life of Alaizah and her trans mother Jade

How to Make a Rainbow is a glimpse into the life of a young girl, Alaizah, and her single mother, Jade, during two especially challenging years. Together, they face the challenges of Jade’s transition from male to female – including new pronouns, unsympathetic family members, stretches of homelessness and top surgery – with high spirits, love and honesty. Ryan Maxey, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and Jade’s longtime friend, traces the nuances and contours of the duo’s relationship with skill and affection, offering a gentle and intimate rendering of family, and a tribute to the openheartedness of children.

Director: Ryan Maxey

Producer: Jade Phoenix Martinez

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D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film

The US filmmaker D A Pennebaker – a pioneer of the documentary form – died on 1 August 2019 at the age of 94. He is perhaps best-known for his feature films Don’t Look Back (1967), a remarkable portrait of Bob Dylan while on a concert tour near the height of his fame, and The War Room (1993), which followed Bill Clinton’s run and eventual surprise victory in the 1992 US presidential election. Coming of age at a time when portable 16mm cameras with the ability to record sync sound on the fly allowed filmmakers newfound levels of freedom, Pennebaker was one of the first US documentarians to use the tools and aesthetics of cinéma vérité (or direct cinema), which emphasised recording reality with authenticity and representing stories truthfully.

With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame. Today the impressionistic short plays not only as an ode to the dizzying dance of New York City transit, but the very power and potential of the documentary form itself.

Director: DA Pennebaker

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Could these printable, self-assembling origami robots transform medicine?

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), researchers make origami robots, just a centimetre long and a third of a gram in weight, that could offer a glimpse into what the future of robotics holds: small, versatile and environmentally friendly devices. After being printed, each one of these origami robots self-assembles, navigates around obstacles on land and in water, and ultimately dissolves into liquid, making them the first robotic devices to complete ‘a full lifecycle from birth to death’. The robots’ inventors hope they could someday be used as a controllable drug capsule or to help execute surgeries.

Producer: Melanie Gonick

Website: MIT Media Lab

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Pink and blue tsunami

From tutus to trucks, parents are often struck by the gendered choices made by their children. Could these be ‘hardwired’?

Gina Rippon

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The American Aristotle

Charles Sanders Peirce was a brilliant philosopher, mathematician and scientist. His polymathic work should be better known

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