Pain in the machine

12 minutes

Out of mind

14 minutes

The Mozart effect

5 minutes

Thai country living

15 minutes

It’s rocket science

5 minutes

Pain leads to empathy and self-preservation: should we make robots ‘feel’ it?

Evolutionarily, pain exists to warn of potentially harmful and dangerous things in the environment, allowing us and other creatures to learn, respond and ultimately survive. Pain also triggers an emotional response in humans, which links the physical and the emotional experience in ways that are difficult to tease apart, though it does seem that empathy is one result of the emotional component of pain. For decades, scientists and researchers have constructed computers to mimic human neural networks. Recently, some advanced robots have been designed with self-preservation mechanisms that vaguely replicate a pain response. So to what extent should robots share in human pain? Combining interviews with experts from the University of Cambridge and elsewhere, together with clips from amusingly relevant science-fiction films and TV shows, Pain in the Machine explores whether there is a sense in which robots could come to experience pain, and probes the practical and ethical implications of equipping the next generation of robots with such a capacity.

Directors: Colin Ramsay, James Uren

Researchers: Beth Singler, Ewan St John Smith

Website: Little Dragon Films

What it’s like to have aphantasia, the inability to visualise images in the mind’s eye

After his mother’s death, Alex Wheeler felt guilty about how quickly he was able to move on from the initial shock, especially when compared with his siblings. His perspective on his emotions would come into clearer view when, by chance, he learned of a newly coined neurological phenomenon known as aphantasia, in which individuals are unable to generate images in their mind’s eye. In the short documentary Out of Mind, Wheeler retells his story and connects with the UK neurologist Adam Zeman, whose pioneering research on aphantasia gave it a name and brought it into public view, and the UK artist Amy Right, who also has aphantasia. Through Wheeler’s story, the UK filmmaker Simon Mulvaney explores the fascinating connections between images and emotions at the brain level.

Director: Simon Mulvaney

Producer: Anna O’Donohue

No, Mozart isn’t a brain hack for babies – here’s how music really affects intelligence

In 1991, a small study conducted at the University of California, Irvine found that young adults received a modest brain boost from listening to Mozart before performing small mental tasks. From this, an exaggerated mythology surrounding what became known as ‘the Mozart effect’ emerged, linking exposure to classical music with heightened intelligence – especially in babies. In this animation, the UK broadcaster and psychologist Claudia Hammond dissects how a mania for this Mozart effect took hold, and what the research on music and intelligence actually says. In doing so, the short video also provides a telling look at how academic studies are often distorted and overstated in the media and in the public imagination.

Video by BBC Reel

The rhythms of rural Thailand, where both food and music are sourced from the ground

Thai Country Living is a film with a title that doesn’t leave you wondering. This charming short documentary by the UK filmmakers Ben and Dan Tubby (also known as the Tubby Brothers) takes viewers on a brief journey to the Isaan region, in Thailand’s northeast. The host for the trip, Suman Tapkham, provides the home cooking, with ingredients fresh from his small farm; the music comes via a bamboo instrument known as a khaen, which Tapkham crafts by hand; and the warm conversation is largely made of reflections on his life spent in the country, and his worries that the unique culture there might soon be lost. Through their portrait, the Tubby Brothers capture a slice of Thailand far from the bustle of Bangkok most commonly associated with the country, and, for many viewers, a more than welcome portion of armchair travel.

Directors: Ben Tubby, Dan Tubby

Producer: Somboon Vichaisre

Website: Tubby Brother Films

How sky-high dreams launched one man’s audacious life in homemade rocketry

As the first civilian to successfully launch an amateur rocket into space in 2004, and a holder of a great many rocketry-related world records since the 1960s, Ky Michaelson has truly earned his self-anointed title as ‘The Rocketman’. Following a decorated career as a Hollywood stunt performer and coordinator, Michaelson, now aged 82, is retired from show business and spends most of his time building rockets in his garage. And his audacious spirit hasn’t mellowed with age. These days, he has his sights set on launching the first homemade manned rocket into space. This upbeat documentary portrait by the US-based director Rachel Knoll explores Michaelson’s unconventional path as a high-school dropout turned rocket engineer who wouldn’t let dyslexia stop him from aiming for the sky.

Director: Rachel Knoll

Producer: John Pesavent

Pain leads to empathy and self-preservation: should we make robots ‘feel’ it?

Evolutionarily, pain exists to warn of potentially harmful and dangerous things in the environment, allowing us and other creatures to learn, respond and ultimately survive. Pain also triggers an emotional response in humans, which links the physical and the emotional experience in ways that are difficult to tease apart, though it does seem that empathy is one result of the emotional component of pain. For decades, scientists and researchers have constructed computers to mimic human neural networks. Recently, some advanced robots have been designed with self-preservation mechanisms that vaguely replicate a pain response. So to what extent should robots share in human pain? Combining interviews with experts from the University of Cambridge and elsewhere, together with clips from amusingly relevant science-fiction films and TV shows, Pain in the Machine explores whether there is a sense in which robots could come to experience pain, and probes the practical and ethical implications of equipping the next generation of robots with such a capacity.

Directors: Colin Ramsay, James Uren

Researchers: Beth Singler, Ewan St John Smith

Website: Little Dragon Films

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Artists impression of ʻOumuamua courtesy M Kornmesser/ESO

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