In a recent poll in the north of England, 42 per cent of the people questioned stated that they would rather learn a new fact than have sex. 39 per cent said they would rather have sex than learn a new fact. 19% were ‘don’t knows’.

Oxford researchers, working with experts in Washington, say that huge numbers of plant and animal species could be saved if 25 key areas of the planet were attended to and preserved. Between 33% and 66% of all the world’s plants and animals are facing extinction. By looking after relatively small areas which are best endowed with plant and animal life humankind could avoid a huge impoverishment of nature, which could take millions of years to rectify through evolution. The crucial areas are called ‘hot spots’, and in total they cover less than 1.5% of the earth’s surface. But by targeting them 133,149 species of plants and 9,645 species of vertebrates could be saved.

Here in the United Kingdom, Starlab was the subject of a BBC talk entitled ‘Acting for the Deep Future’. It was broadcast on the 6th February and was given an instant repeat. Many thanks to those who wrote in about it.

Also in London, Starlab has been invited to become involved with a musical installation. Set in a lighthouse on the Thames in which Faraday used to conduct research, the work of art involves a programme set in motion by Jem Finer, member of the cult band, The Pogues. Finer has created a piece of music that, using a computer, will play continuously throughout this millennium. (

The current fashion for stronger links between art and science is to be heralded, and much has been made of a new play in London, ‘Comic Potential’. It features a love affair between a young man and a female robot. Amusing, but the play goes nowhere towards dealing with any of the science, philosophy or even the truth of what artificial intelligence has in store for us. Janie Dee as the robot, deploys stiff movements and a stare and gets a lot of laughs

Plans are afoot in the United Kingdom for an international, web-based University. This is Britain’s most ambitious educational project since the founding of the Open University in 1960. Much of the funding will come from student fees. Universities and private companies are being invited to become part of the consortium which will run the e-university. The aim is to utilise the cream of British expertise, but international links will be forged. There will be no physical campus.

Present as Jem Finer’s long-playing musical piece was launched were members of the Long Now Federation, who created the Millennium Clock in the United States.

Danny Hillis, legendary member of the ‘biterati’ told Shebang a story about the great physicist Murray Gell-Mann. Hillis had challenged Gell-Mann on some point about quantum mechanics. Gell-Mann stopped in mid-speech, thought for a moment and admitted: ‘I actually don’t know much about quantum mechanics.’ Then he added: ‘I just know more than anybody else alive.’

Coming events in Britain:

  • Software Architecture 2000 conference on the art of building software. Swallow Hotel London. March 1-2
  • Java Development Exhibition QE11 Conference Centre March 14-15
  • National Science Week . Royal Association for the Advancement of Science March 17-25
  • London International Book Fair. Olympia. March 19-21
  • Knowledge Management 2000. Novotel. April 4-5