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Last Night’s TV: Brave New World with Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking in his extraordinary new science series

Channel 4
Alex Hardy
October 18 2011 12:01AM
Unfeasible plot twists, a filmic score and trips to galaxies far away: is this a science show or a sci-fi blockbuster?

Brave New World with Stephen Hawking
Channel 4

Brave New World: there’s a beefy title — epic, filmic and loaded with expectation. And how Stephen Hawking and co delivered. This was a science show with a cast and unfeasible plot twists worthy of a sci-fi blockbuster. We met robots who learn and travelled to galaxies far, far away. It was so filmic that it wrote a strapline for its own poster: “Machines give us the power to be better than we are”, the voiceover soundbite announced. Its score was that of a movie, all strings, booms and dramatic emphasis — now there’s something to wind up science-doc purists. It even made me cry filmic tears; ones that slowly gather in the corner of your eyes and synchronise themselves with the swell of the music. Having a silent cry as a paralysed woman stood up and walked: what could be more filmic than that?

That she could move courtesy of an exoskeleton — an electronic leg frame attached to her own — made her literally alive with science; as were others in this film, metaphorically. The physicist Kathy Sykes was saucer-eyed and open-mouthed with fear and excitement as she was whisked about in a driverless car. Equally astounding — terrifying? — were the little robots with learning patterns like children’s. The agility with which their eyes traced new objects; their white Casper-like faces, lit by moving eyebrows that are really no more sophisticated than emoticons, or the crude pencillings-on that old ladies resort to. You can bet those brows will get much cleverer very soon.

Hawking and his team carefully made linkages to a real, human future. Driverless cars could mean fewer roads, and the exoskeleton’s superhuman strength could impact on anything from warfare to housebuilding. This thoughtfulness was no doubt enhanced by Hawking, who is defined not only by his extraordinary brain but by the machines that give him voice and movement. This was a spectacular expression of the capabilities of science, and one that will live with me for a long time, like the moment when Tomorrow’s World introduced us to that mouse with a human ear grafted onto its back; or when Doc Brown and Marty McFly got the DeLorean to take flight.




American Federation of Musicians 
Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada 
Société du droit de reproduction des auteurs compositeurs et éditeurs du Canada inc.  
Société professionnelle des auteurs et des compositeurs du Québec 
Guild of Canadian Film Composers

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