Podcast with @jamestagg: Are The Androids Dreaming Yet?

On the Sunday morning at Hacklands, after we’d heard some lovely Chopin, James Tagg got up to speak about his new book “Are The Androids Dreaming Yet?” a popular science look at the history and potential future of Artificial Intelligence.  I sat down with James a few weeks later to talk more about the ideas in the book.

Back in August, listening to the talk, I realised just how strongly ingrained our idea is that machines will just get smarter and smarter until they meet and then exceed human capability but also the implication that we’re advanced machines ourselves.  Many people are resigned to it, accepting that it will happen sometime in the near future.  And we do see machines doing things routinely now that a few years ago would have been impossible – the example I always think of is language translation, I would have argued (even five years ago) that it was just too complex a task for machines to do, and while Google Translate isn’t quite perfect, it does a much better job than I would have predicted.  I was wrong.

But.  I also believe that there are human qualities and activities that machines might mimic well, but that that isn’t the same as them being intelligent.  But what if I’m just wrong (again…)?

In his book and in the conversation we’ve recorded, James moves the argument from beliefs and faith, to the arena of mathematical proof.  He shows how the work of Hilbert, Gödel and Turing (among many others), which formed the basis of digital computing in the last century, also holds the key to understanding its limitations.

The good news is that creativity and free will remain something we can reserve for ourselves – and to prove it, I woke up this morning and decided to write this post, and I made up which words to use and the order in which I put them.  I think.

Download the podcast (21MB)

Buy the book!

PS if you like talking about this stuff and you’re near London, you can join in the conversation at Future of Work: Artificial Intelligence on November 10th.

Open Data Institute, Devon at Hacklands

odi node devon logo


What can you do with open data?
With enough of it and with enough processing power you can predict the future. Much of this useful data is often locked away in government departments or publicly funded institutes. If only people could get to it and exercise their creativity we might be able to predict the onset of crop disease or plan harvest times better.

ODI Devon will be at Hacklands to explain how you can harvest information from these large data sets and put it to good use.

A bit of background
Open data has to have a licence that says it is open data. Without a licence, the data can’t be reused. The licence might also say:

  • that people who use the data must credit whoever is publishing it (this is called attribution)
  • that people who mix the data with other data have to also release the results as open data (this is called share-alike)

For example, the Department for Education makes available open data about the performance of schools in England. The data is available as CSV and is available under the Open Government Licence, which only requires reusers to say that they got the data from the Department for Education.


Parrot Dones to play with at Hacklands


We have a couple of these coming to Hacklands for you to play with. They have a mile range, are somewhat artificially intelligent – they can find their way home and take hi resolution video which can be streamed to the Internet. Maybe we can hack the Samsung Oculus VR headsets so you can experience the world as a bird does – in first person.

Welcome to The Bit on The Side at Hacklands

11802661_921154444611092_1630215430425415603_oOh do we have foodie delights in store for you, dear Hacklanders. The Bit On The Side Cafe, run by Nourish Catering, will be open for business on Friday evening with plenty options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. We have barbecue delights for you on Friday night, a cooked breakfast on both mornings, Indonesian Laksa on Saturday night and a Persian Feast lined up for you on Sunday.

Not only that, but you’ll be able to buy additional cakes and snacks. Bit on the Side will also be serving soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, tea and coffee and choctails and cofftails at reasonable prices to sup by the campfire.

About Wendy and Nourish Catering

Wendy runs the Tarner Community Cafes in Brighton, where she uses local, seasonal foods to create a diverse range of meals, at a reasonable price so that it can be available to all members of the local community. The cafes work with volunteers with mental health and learning difficulties, providing them with training, and building their confidence to move into employment or other opportunities.

Most of her food is sourced by Nick from Fin and Farm who collects fresh vegetables, meat, and dairy products from local farms in Sussex & Kent with good ethical methods, as well as being very tasty. We’re also sourcing local Kent and Surrey produce for the festival.

More recently, Wendy started to provide catering for weddings, events and crew catering, building a business, Nourish Catering, which also provides an additional income which helps sustain her work within the community. Having recently bought a trailer, she is now expanding to larger events this summer. And we’re delighted to welcome her and her team to Hacklands.

Trains and taxis

Not got a car? Don’t worry, you can get to Hacklands by train. Trains leave London Bridge and Victoria Station at regular intervals on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, trains run regularly from Oxted to London Victoria.

If you’re not staying over on Friday or Saturday night, the last train to Central London leaves at 23.16.

You can usually pick up a taxi at Oxted station, but if there isn’t one there, or you would prefer to book in advance, try these local taxi companies who cover the area.

  • Westerham Cars http://www.westerhamcars.co.uk/ Tel: 01959 562091
  • Century Cars http://www.centurycars.net/ Tel: 01883 723 717  Freephone: 0800 311 2130
  • Oxted Taxis http://www.oxtedtaxis.com/ Tel: 01833 338 027 Freephone: 0800 298 4353
  • TrainTaxi  http://traintaxi.co.uk came up with these two numbers: Station – 01883 722 999 Direct Line 07885 868 085

The train journey takes about 40 minutes from London Victoria or London Bridge. You can also get direct trains from Clapham Junction, East Croydon and East Grinstead (if you’re coming from the other direction).


There are 2 or 3 trains an hour from London Bridge and 2 trains an hour from London Victoria.

Trains home on Sunday go into London Victoria via East Croydon and Clapham Junction. They are every half an hour. An off-peak day single ticket is £10.50 on a week day or £9.00 on Sunday. If you have a network railcard, you may be able to use that to get a third off the price.

Check your train times and prices at http://traintimes.org.uk or http://nationalrail.co.uk

Oxted station is in the town and there are cashpoints and a Little Waitrose and a Sainsbury’s nearby if you need to pick up any supplies.

Coming by car? The postcode is TN8 6RA for your satnav. The full address is Hurst Farm, Dairy Lane, Crockham Hill, KENT TN8 6RA There is another farm nearby – Dairy Farm. It’s not that one, it’s the next one along!

Walking in the woods

I love walking in the woods. I often go on my own, but I also very much enjoy the experience of walking with a small group with the opportunities to share observations and reflections as well as the chance to be still and silent with other people in a natural environment.

There’s so much exciting stuff happening at Hacklands over the weekend, but I’m going to give some time to pause from the doing, talking and actively thinking and to get away with a small group to breathe and reflect and just be for a short while.

We’ll be doing less, listening to whatever is there in the woods (including our inner voices) and see what miracles we can discover together. If it all sounds a bit mysterious, don’t worry, you’ve understood it completely, you’ll come back refreshed, at peace and renewed, ready to engage again with the hacka-festi-think-athon.

We’ll do sign ups for this at the beginning of Saturday. It’s best to do this sort of thing with a small group, so if there are more than seven people interested, I’ll do more than one trip during the day.

Gentlecise or bootcamp, we have you covered

Personal trainer, specialising in nutrition, fitness and general well being, Amanda Stollery, is joining us this weekend. She’ll run a gentlecise class with some stretching and movement on Saturday and Sunday morning to ease us in gently into the day before we enjoy our cooked breakfasts. No gym kit required. If you fancy something a bit more challenging than that, bring your gym kit and book a free personal training session with her. She’ll adjust what she covers with depending on your fitness levels. Drop her a line to book in advance, or book when you get to the farm. And once you’ve done your workout, you can relax in the hot tub!

About Amanda Stollery

amanda stollery
Amanda Stollery, Personal Trainer

Running and marathon obsessed, no goal is too small and my focus is on simple, no nonsense, fad-free exercises. It’s all about keeping your mind and body happy and creating the right balance between work and play.

After being in the digital (mobile) environment for four years, I realised that something had to change. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a huge mobile, digital, tech fan – it is our future – but the lifestyle me wasn’t sustainable for me.
The two worlds of fitness and technology are starting to collide and merge, but there is still a fine line where technology is useful in exercise. It is important to ensure it does not become disruptive and invasive. Don’t let it distract you from the pure, simple joy of a run or a workout, and that post-exercise glow. But, obviously I religiously check my step count on my Google fit app.

Is White Collar Automation just around the corner (again?)

Going upI shall be holding a discussion in the Open Space on Saturday about how the blockchain technology that brought us bitcoin promises to create even more of a stir in the next few years.

Smart contracts mean that where bitcoin gave us programmable money, platforms like ethereum herald programmable companies. When you can fulfill most of the functions of a bank or an insurance market in code on a peer-to-peer network with no central authority, what happens to all the people who used to work in a) the old central authorities and b) the supporting and participating organisations in financial centres like the City of London?

This is another wave in the long-term trend of automating away inefficient human-beings while trying to maintain high levels of employment but will people in Financial and Professional Services be saved from the disruption that has transformed manufacturing and media or will we soon see the stockbroker-belt version of Boys from the Blackstuff?