Friday, June 03, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to science, space tourism and artificial intelligence

The Science Museum's Dana Centre is launching a series of debates to explore the fact and fiction behind one of the nation's best-loved sci-fi classics, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, to coincide with the launch of the Science Museum's Hitchhiker's exhibition.

Since the 1950s science fiction has explored the weird and wonderful possibilities of science, including time-travel, teleportation, androids and aliens. But how much of this speculation has become science fact?

The forthcoming events at the Dana Centre - London's only venue for adults to discuss contemporary and controversial science - feature experts from a variety of fields exploring artificial intelligence, space tourism and the science of Hitchhiker's during three evenings of informal discussion.

Each event will raise a range of perplexing questions, such as: Which ideas in science fiction have been developed further by true scientific research and development? Could a robot eventually have human feelings and emotions? Should scientific developments like these be encouraged or suppressed? What would it feel like to be a space tourist?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Exhibition opens at the Science Museum on 28 May. The exhibition - specially created by the Museum and makers of the new movie - explores the fantastic voyage of Arthur Dent and some of the science which shapes our lives, the universe and everything.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to... Science... Space Tourism... and Artificial Intelligence
Date: Thursday 2 June, Tuesday 7 June and Tuesday 14 June
Time: 19.00-20.30
Venue: Science Museum's Dana Centre, 165 Queen's Gate, London SW7 5HE

Events are FREE but must be pre-booked on 020 7942 4040 or email or

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Exhibition at the Science Museum opens 28 May, tickets can be pre-booked on 0870 906 3890 or

Hitchhiker's Guide to Science - Thursday 2 June
Could The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy inspire future scientific inventions? Which science-fiction creations could become science fact, and which are far-fetched fantasy?

Scientists are investigating the possibilities of interstellar travel, colonising other planets and to develop theories for concepts such as time travel, teleportation and alternate realities - all of which are alluded to in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Michael Hanlon, author of The Science of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will be joined by a panel of experts to discuss with the audience the possibilities of such future technological developments.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Space Tourism, Tuesday 7 June
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent was quite unprepared for his experiences of space travel, yet commercial space travel is fast becoming a viable possibility.

But what would it feel like to be a space tourist? Travelling into space can push the human body to its limits, making space tourism more like an expedition than a holiday. How dangerous are the physical effects of space travel and how does your body cope with them?

Mark Shuttleworth, the second tourist into space, will share his own experiences of space travel, Natasha Loder, The Economist aerospace journalist, will discuss the recent developments in commercial space travel and the expectations of future space tourists and Andrew Smith, author of Moondust, will provide an insight into the life-changing experiences of lunar astronauts and question whether space tourism would feel the same.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Artificial Intelligence, Tuesday 14 June
For more than 30 years, science fiction has predicted the existence of artificially intelligent machines that can think and feel like humans. Most of us use limited forms of artificial intelligence in our computer games, car navigation systems and internet search engines.

Now scientists are trying to develop computers and robots that seem to show human intelligence and emotion. But will science ever be able to create machines like Marvin the paranoid android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? What roles would such machines have in our society and how should they be treated? Could machines ever use their intelligence to rebel against their human creators, as in films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator and The Matrix?

Our panellists discuss what makes us "human" and why these characteristics are so hard to artificially create. Lynn Hamil, University of Surrey will talk about human reaction to and interaction with AI. Professor Noel Sharkey, University of Sheffield, will argue that robots will never be able to express real emotions or human intelligence and Dylan Evans, a lecturer on Intelligent Autonomous Systems at the University of the West of England, will look at the positive side of creating human robots.

"This year will really see the summer of science fiction - with the return of Dr Who, the final instalment of Star Wars, the much-awaited War of the Worlds and the renewed phenomenon of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," said Jennie Pollard, Dana Centre event organiser. "Douglas Adams' creations seemed like the perfect way to explore the realms of science and science fiction in an exciting and entertaining way."

Further information and images are available from Lauren Gildersleve:
Science Museum Press Office, 020 7942 4328; 07989 979864;

The exhibition will run from 28 May 2005 to 27 November 2005
Adult: £7.95
Concession: £6.95
A 15% discount is offered on joint and family tickets.
Tickets can be pre-booked on 0870 906 3890 or

The Film
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is currently showing at cinemas across the UK.
Stills are available at
Production notes from the movie are available at
Further information: Annabel Hutton at McDonald & Rutter

DVD Launch
The two disc DVD will be available to own on 5 September 2005

The Book
The Science of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Michael Hanlon, published in hardback by Macmillan 6 May 2005 at £16.99/$24.95. ISBN 1-4039-4577-2


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