AI, Fog, Sharks, Jail, Music

I, Robot

Episode: “Affectiva: Software that detects how you feel” | Podcast: Should This Exist? | 42m34s

Would you like it if your computer could detect your emotions in real time as you were experiencing them? This episode explores the potential of a new AI-based facial recognition technology which can do just that. The creator of this software, Rana El-Kaliouby, wants it to improve the world and make tech more human. Yet the potentially harmful side effects are drastic: a device with this power could be used to exploit people at their most vulnerable for profit. Thoughtful contributions from psychotherapist Esther Perel and the tech investor Sam Altman give this discussion greater depth (42m34s)


Caution: Fog

Episode: “Pea-souper” | Podcast: The English We Speak | 2m19s

Gloriously stilted educational podcast from the BBC that teaches language learners how to use a different British idiom in each episode. This time, they tackle the delicious-sounding phrase “pea-souper”, which means “very thick fog that’s hard to see through”. The series is aimed at Chinese listeners, with the dialogue taking place between two colleagues: Feifei and Neil. Everything is perfectly enunciated and delivered at a pace designed to help those not yet fluent in English, but there’s something charming about it regardless of your language skills. It feels like a vestige of an earlier, more didactic period at the BBC — and it is: the division that makes it, BBC Learning English, has existed since 1943 (2m19s)


Man Eater

Episode: “Baby Shark” | Podcast: Decoder Ring | 35m47s

Investigation into the background of the mega-viral children’s song “Baby Shark”. It’s had multiple internet lives, with musically-similar versions each becoming popular before most recently a South Korean YouTube channel aimed at children spread the earworm to billions. Host Willa Paskin follows the twisty origin story of this deceptively simple ditty through copyright disputes, political wrangles and a revolution in media for young people — the latter affecting a digital landscape near-invisible to the over-5s. Recommended with apologies for getting this devilishly catchy tune stuck in your head for the foreseeable future (35m47s)


You’re Fired

Episode: “Spare the Rod” | Podcast: Public Official A | 32m50s

First of a six-part documentary about the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who received a 14-year prison sentence in 2011 for attempting to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder. Two elements in particular stand out. Firstly, the host’s delivery has a wry humour to it that fits the character of his subject (Blagojevich dabbled in reality television after his impeachment). Secondly, the frankness of his wife Patti, who has been appearing on Donald Trump’s favourite Fox News shows as part of a strategy to persuade him to use his power of presidential pardon on her husband (32m50s)


Sweet Music

Episode: “John Tavener” | Podcast: Desert Island Discs: Archive 1991-1996 | 38m19s

Interview from 1994 with the composer John Tavener, who somehow combined an avant-garde style and his Orthodox faith to create chart-topping classical music. He is vain enough to choose two of his own compositions with which to be cast away on a desert island, but on hearing the music you appreciate why — there is nothing more appropriate for solitude than his lush, strange harmonies. He suffered from very poor health throughout his life and hints here at a life of depression: “The only time that I’m happy is when I’m writing music”. A revealing conversation that leaves a lot unsaid (38m19s)