RoboticSurgeryPage2Before we can even begin to discuss Artificial Intelligence, it is essential to define what we mean by the word ‘intelligence’ itself. Loosely, in humans and animals, it can be said to be the ability to absorb information, to understand its meaning, and make decisions based upon that.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the creation of machines intended to mimic the functions of the human brain – using computers to do the arithmetic.

There are two fundamental approaches to AI, known as ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’. The first is based on building electronic replicas of the brain’s networks of cells, known as neurons. The second consists of creating computer programs aimed at imitating the actual behaviour of the brain.

Two scientists – Warren McCullloch, a qualified doctor, and Walter Pitts, a mathematician, theorized that neurons might operate on the basis of binary numbers – which also happen to be used in computer calculations. In simple terms, the binary system uses only two numbers: ‘1’ and ‘0’, which means that all sums can be simplified to represent a switch being either on or off. The number ‘1’ represents ‘on’, and ‘0’ represents ‘off’.

McCulloch and Pitts made some electronic replicas of these networks – proposing that they could be used to learn and recognize pattterns. Their researches showed some success, but the complexity of the networks required impractically large computers, and although the method has not been adopted in full, elements of it have been incorporated into other systems.

Partwork series for De Agostini Ltd


RobotSurgery1Over the past two decades, advances in surgery have taken a leap into the realms of science fiction with the development of robotic surgery. At present, robots can only assist rather than replace humans, but even now they are capable of a large range of functions, from cutting and stitching to the most delicate brain operations.

Before we can even begin to discuss

There are many advantages. Robotic surgery is carried out with the aid of an endoscope – a small fiber optic instrument that enables the surgeons to view the site. This means that much smaller incisions need to be made than for conventional practice – for which large cuts have to made so that doctors can see the organs that they are working on. Less invasive surgery means less pain for the patient, faster recovery and minimized risk of infection. It is, of course, especially useful when operating on babies.

Endoscopic surgery began to be developed in the 1980s. Initially, it was used for abdominal surgery, and work on internal organs such as the gall bladder and kidneys. It was then extended to orthopaedic procedures, such as knee and hip replacements, and later to heart surgery. It has now become an invaluable aid for delicate brain operations.

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The story of Hector Berlioz’s love for Estelle Duboef begins at a country house owned by the composer’s grandfather at Meylan, three miles from Grenoble, close to the border of Savoy.


Berlioz2In his early years, Hector would go there, with his mother and sisters, to stay for three weeks at the end of every summer.

Above Meylan, close under the steep wall of the mountain, lies a little white villa, surrounded by vineyards and gardens.

Behind are some rocky hills, a crumbling old tower, some woods, and the huge, imposing mass of the great Saint-Eynard rock.

The villa belonged to Madame Gautier, who spent the summer there with her two nieces, the younger of whom was called Estelle.




She was eighteen, tall and elegant, with splendid, shining eyes, hair worthy to adorn the helmet of Achilles, and the feet of a thoroughbred Parisian – clad in a pair of pink shoes!… You may laugh, but I was twelve, and I had never seen a pair of pink shoes before. I cannot think of her now without recalling the glitter of her great eyes, and her equally brilliant pink shoes.

The moment I set eyes on her, I felt an electric shock; I fell in love with her, desperately, hopelessly. I had no wishes, no hopes, and I suffered acutely. I crept away like a wounded bird, and hid myself in the maize fields and the orchards. I was haunted by jealousy, and suffered tortures when any man approached my idol.


The spectacle of so young a child, overwhelmed with a feeling for a girl who was almost a woman, afforded all the neighbours the keenest amusement. Estelle was the first to discern it, and she was more amused than anyone.

© Richard Gibson


Staged reading, performed by Jill Freud and Company,

Southwold and Aldeburgh Summer Festival

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