Conscious Robots for December

You may recognise our December speaker from previous Bath Skeptics events as Joanna Bryson is sometimes in attendance at our monthly talks (even when she has no voice!)

Dr Joanna Bryson will be taking the microphone at our December event on Tuesday 6th with a talk entitled ‘The ethics on conscious robots’ that will look at whether it is possible that artifical intelligence built as artefacts by humans might themselves be considered moral subjects?  Moral patients that deserve our protection, or even moral agents that deserve credit or responsibility for their own actions? And what, if anything, would a robot’s consciousness contribute to this question?

photo of Dr Joanna Bryson

After twenty years of involvement in artificial intelligence, Joanna has come to the conclusion that the answers to these questions have less to do with technology and more to do with sceptical enquiry into the origins of our concepts of morality.

Joanna has been at Bath University since 2002 and in 2010 was made a Reader in Computer Science. We’re really excited that Joanna is going to be speaking to us on a subject that is something we’ve never explored before.

There have been a few changes to the way our events are organised – we are now trialing the use of Eventbrite to see if we can get a better head for numbers of those attending the event (something that will help us set up the room accordingly etc.) If you are thinking of coming to our December talk then please select how many free tickets you need by clicking here and we’ll see you on the night!

We’re currently organising events for 2012 so watch our event website for details of upcoming talks as they’re organised and arranged.

Also worth a mention is the fact that on November 29th the very first Bristol Bright Club is talking place and previous Bath Skeptics in the Pub speaker, Ian Walker, is on the line up! More details here.

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vampires, tattoos & robots – oh my!

The rest of the year looks very exciting for Bath Skeptics in the Pub with a whole range of different talks coming our way – not only that, but we’ve already started to plan ahead for 2012 too!

On Tuesday October 4th we have Deborah Hyde coming to talk for us about ‘Unnatural Predators’. Deborah is the acting editor of The Skeptic Magazine and also blogs as Jourdemayne. Below is a look at some of the word Deborah has done in the past on ‘The Vampires of Rhode Island’ and demonstrates how interesting her talk promises to be.

Our November speaker, Dr Matt Lodder, was recommended to us by the previous ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ groups he has spoken for. His talk will be a fascinating look at how the media perception of tattoos has been trying to convince people that tattoos are ‘not just for sailors’ for a very long time.

Matt recently wrote a brilliant piece for The Guardian outlining some of the most common myths surrounding those who are tattooed. Did you know Winston Churchill’s mum was even inked? Neither did I, which is why I can’t wait for this talk to learn about more myths surrounding body modification and tattoo art.

It’s a talk with a difference, but it’s important to remember that there are claims made in all walks of life that effect people and the way they view others, that deserve equal skepticism. Those who have tattoos will be able to relate to some of the myths Matt wrote about in The Guardian. This talk may challenge the view of tattoos you hold – it promises to be an enlightening discussion.

In December Dr Joanna Bryson, from Bath University (we ❤ local academics!) will be talking to us about the ethics of conscious robots. Learn more about Joanna on her website here.

We hope to see you on Tuesday at the usual venue (The Westgate) which has recently has a lovely refurbishment and is even cosier than it used to be. We’re busy looking for speakers for 2012 so if you have any suggestions or recommendations to do be sure to get in touch with us.

Take the mic!

We’re opening the stage up to our audience for our social event in September!

Have you ever had to bite your tongue about something so that you wouldn’t offend those around you who aren’t as skeptical of things as you are? Have you ever had a question you couldn’t openly discuss with your family because it conflicts with their beliefs?

We’ve all been there – whether the topic is religion, alt med, paranormal beliefs or political thoughts and ideas. Be silent no longer, for Bath Skeptics has a solution! We will be hosting a ‘skeptical open mic night’ where audience members can take the microphone for five to ten minutes to discuss a skeptical subject they feel passionate about, share their ideas, or to ask their questions to an open audience for feedback.

Think of it as one huge discussion about the things that matter to you with like minded people, in the relaxed atmosphere of a pub. We will confirm a date soon (our venue is currently going through a refurb and isn’t open). However, if you are interested in taking part we’d love to hear what you’d like to talk about, or what questions you’d like to open up to the audience so that we can start forming a schedule for the night.

How to create a cult…

Scientology has been in the public eye for a very long time, & much criticism has been levelled their way, the most recent being the case against Cllr. John Dixon in what was termed the ‘Stupid Scientology’ case.

Martin Poulter has been a critic of Scientology for a long time, here he explains what his talk (that he delivered to Lewes Skeptics, but will be delivering for Bath Skeptics in June) is going to be about.

Martin also recently appeared on Channel 4’s ‘4thought.tv’ in the week that marked the centenary of the birth of Scientology founder, Ron L Hubbard. Watch him here.

Don’t leave it there though! Come along on June 21st to learn more about Scientology and how there’s more to the ‘religion’ than you probably know.

“As somebody who thought she was well researched on the truth of Scientology, I once interviewed Martin about the religion and his criticism of it and I came away from the interview in a state of shock at what I had learned.
When you listen to Martin, what he says brings you a sense of discomfort that leaves you wanting to learn more. ” Hayley Stevens, Righteous Indignation Podcast

Date for your diary
Bath Skeptics in the Pub with Martin Poulter
June 21st, 7:30pm at The Westgate [details here]

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Last minute fancy dress ideas!

The date for the Bath Skeptics ‘Geek Pride Celebrations’ is fast approaching and I bet some of you haven’t even written out your Vogon inspired poems… there’s still time left though so fear not!

The biggest problem people seem to be having is finding inspiration for their Geek Pride fancy dress costumes, the best of which will win a prize, so I thought I’d piece together a blog to give those of you who are still costumeless some last minute ideas for great costumes that you can make yourself.

Of course, you could buy or hire a costume from a shop which is fair enough, but making your own is much more fun!

Arthur Dent

With just a dressing gown over some casual clothes or pyjamas you can transform yourself into the main character from ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy’.

Star Trek Costume

You can hire these from shops, but why not make your own by finding a blue, yellow or (if you’re brave enough) red long sleeved top/dress. Create your own badge using some cardboard, foil and a safety pin and you’re ready to beam up!

Tin foil hat

Follow these step by step directions to make your own tin foil hat to wear along to the quiz.

Astronaut

If you worked hard enough you could put together a really good astronaut suit from things laying around at home and the odd thing bought at the local hardware store. For a last minute costume though why not throw together a dustsuit/jump suit with some boots and an oversized headset with a mic?

Back to the Future

With a red body warmer, some sunglasses and a skate board you can transform yourself into Marty McFly from ‘Back to the Future’. Or loose the sunglasses and skateboard and throw in a backpack and baseball cap to become Ash from Pokemon.

MIB agent

A black suit with added sunglasses instantly transforms you into an agent of the ‘Men in Black’. Just be sure to refer to yourself as the first letter of your name for the whole evening for added effect.

These are just a few ideas, and although it can be tricky to work something out it can be surprising what costumes you might already have around your house. It doesn’t have to cost too much (mine cost me £9 in total from local charity shops) and it doesn’t have to look professionally made – It’s the thought that counts the most!

Remember, all money raised is going to ‘Save The Rhino’, of which Douglas Adams was a founder patron. What better charity to raise funds for on ‘International Geek Day’ and Towel Day?

A date for your diary

Bath Geek Pride Celebrations will start at 7pm on May 25th at The Westgate on West Gate Street, Bath.
The evening will include a geek pub quiz, optional fancy dress contest and Vogon Poetry Recital.

Entry is £3 with all money going to ‘Save The Rhino’.

Be there and be square!

What happens when you try to leave the church of Scientology?

“Many Sea Org volunteers find themselves with no viable options for adulthood. If they try to leave, the church presents them with a “freeloader tab” for all the coursework and counselling they have received; the bill can amount to more than $100,000.
Many of them actually pay it,
They leave, they’re ashamed of what they’ve done, they’ve got no money, no job history, they’re lost, they just disappear.
I would gladly take down the church for that one thing.”

Read the full article offering a depressing insight into the world of Scientology here.

Bath SitP, June 21st: Martin Poulter – How to start your own cult; the Scientology way. [details here]

We need help!

One of the most popular events that that Bath Skeptical Society put on is the “Skeptics In The Pub” talk events held every month. These have been consistently attended by 40 to 50 people with numbers growing constantly. Those joining us have enjoyed talks as diverse as the science behind ghost hunting, alt med, and even transport policy.

With the success of these talks and the positive feedback we have had from all involved, it has become apparent that things at the Bath Skeptical Society (that launched in February after months of work to get the group off the ground) needs to step up a gear.

The talks are just the public face of what happens at Bath Skeptics, behind the scenes an extremely small team of volunteers work to make events like this happen, and we need more help to ensure that the people of Bath and the surrounding areas continue to have high quality speakers coming to the city for such events.

Let’s look at the work that goes behind setting up just one talk to give some insight:

“That person looks interesting”

First and foremost, someone needs to work out who could speak for us. We are attempting to look as widely as possible, and of course the more people that are involved the more likely it is that we’ll continue to approach speakers from varied walks of life and expertise.

“Hi there!”

We then have to approach them, explaining our reasons for contacting them and why we feel they would be an excellent guest speaker. If they agree, we need to work with them to find a suitable date for them to come to Bath to speak.

If the speaker is from out of town, we need to arrange transport, accommodation and food. This is one of the main reasons that we ask for donations on entry to Skeptics In The Pub events, and without these we would not be able to approach speakers from outside the area. It would obviously be rude to ask someone to travel a long distance for a voluntary talk and ask them to foot the bill, and it would be just as rude not to arrange this for them too.

“It’s a bit cold out here. And I’m thirsty”

Then there’s the venue. A “Skeptics In The Pub” talk wouldn’t work without a pub to put all the skeptics in. This is harder than it sounds, and has been a long struggle for the group, however we are now finally finding it easier to approach venues now we have a proven track record of attracting crowds. But we still need to ensure that the date we want hasn’t already been taken, and if it has we need to go back to the speaker to rearrange or to find an alternative venue.

“It’s a bit quiet in here, isn’t it?”

We have a speaker, we have a way of getting them to us, and we have a venue. Now we need to tell people about the talk, otherwise the whole thing will have been in vain. So it’s on to the publicity bandwagon, printing and sticking up posters, utilising social media, updating the website and contacting local media. As we currently aim to host a Skeptics In The Pub events monthly, this is an almost ongoing task.

The big night

In the run up to the talk we’ve had to get in touch with the speaker and the venue to ensure that everything is OK.

And on the day the work doesn’t stop until we get to bed. We’ve had to ensure the speaker is met and brought to the pub, and the room itself needs to be setup – a manual process involving tables been moved, chairs arranged and equipment turned on and fine tuned.

Our volunteers have been able to borrow essentials such as sound systems, microphones and projectors, and donations from attendees have helped purchase a projector screen. Without all of this undoubtedly the talks would not be the success they have been.

And when the Q&A has finished and people start to go home, we have to put the room back just the way we found it (we like to keep on good terms with our venue), and the speaker helped back to their hotel or to the train station.

I hinted a couple of paragraphs ago that the work stops when we go to bed. That’s a lie. Inevitably as we’re packing up someone asks the question “is everything OK for next month?”

And just like that, the process starts again.

We need help!

We’re not trying to scare people into thinking that volunteering will take up many hours of their life each week, but many hands do make light work, and the more help we have the easier event organisation will be.

We are currently in the process of putting together a comittee for the Bath Skeptical Society and we are looking for people to become an integral part of the group that makes Bath Skeptics events work.

If you have something you can offer, get in touch at bathskeptics@gmail.com and we’ll let you know when the first board meeting is being held. You could become a part of something fantastic.

photo credit: Dmitri N