07/2021: Atomic Spy (F Close)

Time: Thursday 22 July 2021 at 19:30 (change of date)

This event might be delivered in-person or (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) as an online event. More details will be available closer to the time.

Trinity: A real life story of ATOM spies – How GCHQ exposed Klaus Fuchs, but the FBI stole the credit.

Trinity was the codename for the test explosion of the atomic bomb in New Mexico on 16 July 1945. Frank tells the story of the bomb’s metaphorical father – Oxford professor, Rudolf Peierls; Peierls’ intellectual son, the atomic spy and Abingdon resident Klaus Fuchs; and the ghosts of the security services in Britain, the USA and USSR. Frank has found new insights from MI5 files in the National Archives and documents of the FBI and KGB about Fuchs’ treachery. These reveal that in addition to telling the Soviet Union everything about the atomic bomb, Fuchs passed key information about the H bomb much earlier than previously realised. Frank has also discovered that Fuchs was not exposed by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, as has been believed for decades, but by the cryptographers at GCHQ, He also solves a mystery of 70 years:  why did Fuchs’ colleague at Harwell, Bruno Pontecorvo, defect from his home in Letcombe Avenue to the USSR six months after Fuchs’ arrest?

Frank Close’s talk is based on two of his recent books: “Half Life – the divided life of Bruno Pontecorvo, physicist or spy?” and his latest, the highly acclaimed “Trinity – The treachery and pursuit of the most dangerous spy in history”, about atomic spy Klaus Fuchs.

Speaker: Frank Close, OBE

is Professor of Physics at Oxford University and a Fellow of Exeter College. He was formerly Vice President of the British Association for Advancement of Science, Head of the Theoretical Physics Division at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Head of Communications at CERN. He is the author of more than 200 research papers and two-time winner of the Association of British Science Writers award.

05/2021: Artificial Intelligence (N Hawes)

Time: Thursday 20 May 2021 at 19:30

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event will be delivered online. More details can be found here.

An Uncertain Mission: Decision Making for Robots

Autonomous systems such as robots and voice assistants are becoming increasingly capable of performing useful actions such as moving between two locations or looking up information from a website. To go beyond single actions, an autonomous system needs an algorithms that can produce sequences of actions which allow it to achieve a user-specified goal (such as collecting then delivering a package, or booking a holiday).  Within the field of AI, such a capability is often referred to as mission planning. Creating mission planning algorithms to control robots is particularly challenging because the effects of robot actions are often uncertain, i.e. they only achieve the desired outcome with some probability. In this talk I’ll present our recent work on mission planning algorithms that model the uncertainty of robot actions, and talk about how we’ve applied the algorithms to controlling robots in a range of domains from greeting people in a hospital, to inspecting nuclear waste stores.

 

Professor Nick Hawes completed a BSc (1999) and PhD (2004) in Artificial Intelligence (AI) at the University of Birmingham, before completing post-doctoral positions at MIT’s Media Lab Europe in Dublin, and in the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham. From 2009, he led a research group around AI applied to robotics at Birmingham, progressing to the title of Reader in Autonomous Intelligent Robotics. Nick moved to Oxford in September 2017, joining the Oxford Robotics Institute as an Associate Professor and Pembroke College as a Tutorial Fellow.

Nick was selected to give the Lord Kelvin Award Lecture at the 2013 British Science Festival. This honour is given to an active researcher who has demonstrated outstanding communication skills to a general audience.