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New horizons: Spy balloon mania, A-I chatbots and friendly robots

Robotic Hi-5_CROP_CREDIT Daimler und benz Stiftung, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons.png
A humanoid robot high-fives a human engineer with the Kuka Robotics Company, part of a global, Chinese-owned automated-systems maker. According to data from Precedence Research, Inc., the worldwide market for humanoid robots in 2022 was valued at $1.62 billion, and is projected to reach $28.66 billion by 2032, growing at a compound annual rate of 33.28%. By geography, North America last year accounted for the maximum revenue share. (Photo credit: Daimler and Benz Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcome to a science and tech edition of Midday, with guest host Ashley Sterner sitting in once again for Tom Hall.

Earlier this month, four unidentified flying objects were spotted moving across U.S. airspace. The first object was eventually identified as a surveillance balloon deployed by the Chinese government, and was shot down once it had floated over the Atlantic coast. The other three objects are believed to have been launched by private companies conducting research or recreational activities. In a press conference yesterday, President Biden clarified why we are seeing more aerial phenomena and how he plans to address the matter.

If you thought spy balloons were new and unusual, think again. These high-altitude tools have been in use since the 1950’s and are now in use by governments and private companies for surveillance and a multitude of other reasons. Will the new radar tracking of U.S. airspace lead to findings of more aerial objects and phenomena?

Joining Ashley is John Herrman, a staff writer for New York Magazine, and the author of a recent piece for the mag called“Spy Balloons Are a Growth Industry.”

John Herrman joins us today on Zoom from Brooklyn, New York.

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John Herrman is a staff writer at New York Magazine; Tinglong Dai is a professor of Operations Management and Business Analytics at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. (photos courtesy NYMag/JHU)

Artificial Intelligence, or "AI" is all around us, affecting our daily lives through iterations like Siri, Alexa and Roomba. But an emerging field called generative AI made a major splash recently with the release of Chat GPT, a computer program or chatbot that uses AI to respond to questions and compile information as a human would.

Here to discuss the promise — and potential perils —of generative AI is Tinglong Dai, Professor of Operations Management at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School.

Professor Tinglong Dai joins Ashley on Zoom.

In our final segment today, Ashley turns to the subject of human-robot interaction. Different types of robots have become familar features in our lives, such as Roombas, self-driving cars or robotic children's dolls. But will robots ever evolve to become friends that will laugh, hug and cry with us?

Joining Ashley to discuss this is Kathryn Hulick, a science writer who wrote an article for Science News Explores called “Can A Robot Ever Become Your Friend?” She’s also the author of numerous educational books for children. Her most recent book about science and technology is called “Welcome to the Future: Robot Friends, Fusion Energy, Pet Dinosaurs and More.”

Kathryn Hulick joins us on Zoom from Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

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Kathryn Hulick is a freelance science journalist and an author specializing in educational science books for children. (photo credit Kathryn Hulick)

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WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.
Teria is a Supervising Producer on Midday.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.