Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brave New TV: Stephen Hawking On The Future

I didn't know what to expect when I tuned into my preview copy of Stephen Hawking's Brave New World.
After all the internationally famous host is virtually paralyzed and speechless because of ALS.
And yet here he sits rather impassively using his new electronic voice which  as one British critic wrote seems to be borrowed from that old series Knight Rider.
I don't know about that but the whole experience seems very futuristic to anyone who  tunes in Friday November 15 at 8 p.m. on Discovery World.
In Hawkin's optimistic view of the future gadgets rule.
And the scientists we see here aren't the old bunch of male gray hairs but a diverse selection of young, fit, eager futurists who have already eagerly adapted to the demands of TV.
This crack team includes two youthful and photogenic Canadian presenters --Dr. Carin Bondar and Professor Chris Eliasmith.
Joining them are American import Dr. Daniel Kraft plus Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Dr. Arathi Prasad from the U.K.
Take a very close look at Dr. Bondar who I'm sure is very close to getting her own TV show.
She is pretty comfortable in the cool medium of TV science. She can simplify the complex without turning it into a cartoon.
The day when TV science was magnificently served by the likes of Dr. David Suzuki and David Attenborough is , alas, coming to a close --old age catches up with all of us, I'm afraid.
Bondar says she has yet to meet Hawking or even chat him up on Skype.
"Handel Productions does all that so far."
And understandably she's not entirely sold on the idea that science can completely resolve many of today's problems. Some futurists believe science is to blame partly at least for such phenomena as global warming.
"I guess I got contacted through my work for Scientific American," Bondar says from her Chilliwack, B.C. home..
But she also appears on Discovery's Daily Planet with some regularity.
"Every segment I did took at least a full day to shoot and prepare. I was in San Diego for one, anther was done in Pittsburgh."
"The idea is to shoot everything. Editors then guarantee it all gets put into place. Because we can't afford to return and reshoot."
She doesn't think it at at all odd for a woman to anchor difficult subjects. "I've got the goods --my PhD."
But her emphasis on content makes her anything but a TV bio-starlet.
"I'm not overly optimistic about where we're headed. The planet today is not what it once was, But maybe with our scientific capabilities we can stem this degradation. You know there's a garbage patch in the ocean the size of Texas. But how to arouse people to the problem?
"We never seem to tackle these issues until we're in a state of  crisis. People would much rather watch fluorescent frogs in the Amazon."
In the first new episode the game changing inventions are inspired by nature itself.
There are attempts to imitate the sticky traction of geckos with man made adhesive qualities --think how this might help window cleaners 30 stories up.
Or there's new gaming technology guaranteed to change the gambling industry plus a 3D printer that can generate live tissue (Hawking is most enthusiastic about this one) and also a Canadian innovation that substitutes small submarines for deep space training.
And Bondar looks at new ways of generating electricity in a completely wireless way.
Brave New World , an expensive, challenging slice of TV, is described as a "co-operative" project between Montreal based Handel Productions and UK's IWC and runs for five weeks.
MY RATING: ****.

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