6 Minute English - Internet and Technology Mega Class! One Hour of New Vocabulary!


Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm  Dan and joining me today is Neil. Hey Neil.

Hello Dan. What’s on the agenda today?

Well, I’ll give you a clue. It’s something that  makes the world go round, but it doesn’t really  

exist. In fact, if we all stopped believing in  it, it would have no use at all! What is it?

I haven’t got a clue!

Ok...how about this?


Yep! And not just any money, were  talking about crypto-currency.

Currency is the money that’s being used  in a given country at a certain time.  

But what about the cryptopart?

Well, crypto is a prefix meaning hidden  or secretit comes from the word cryptic  

which means mysterious or difficult to understand.  

You may have heard about the most popular  crypto-currency at the moment, the Bitcoin.

Well, I’ve certainly heard the namebut I can’t say I know what it is.

First our quiz question. When was the  Bitcoin crypto-currency first created?

a) 2004

b) 2009

c) 2013

Well, I think 2004 may have been  a little early, and I think 2013  

could be a little late, so  the smart money’s on 2009.

Well see if youre right later on in the  show. SoBitcoin, what do you know about it?

Well, I know it’s a digital currencyso  presumably, you can use it online to buy things?

You are right on the moneywhich means correct, both times.  

Bitcoin is just like any other  currency except for two things.  

First, it’s not printed by governments or  banks, which means that it’s not legal tender.

Legal tender means the official money  that can be used within a country.  

So that means we can’t use it to  pay taxes or settle debts, right?

Exactly. Governments won’t recognise it as an  official currency, although it acts just like  

one. You can use it to buy items from anyone  who will accept it, and its value fluctuates.

Fluctuates means changes in level or  amount. And what’s the second thing?

Ah, the second thing is that bitcoin is a digital  currency, meaning that with the exception of a few  

tokens, it largely exists online only. You can’t  carry a load of bitcoins around in your pocket!

Well, that makes a nicechange!

Oh dear, Neil. Was that a money pun? Terrible!

So if it’s a digital only currencywhere do new ones come from?  

Can’t I just say that I’ve gotmillion of them and make myself rich!?

Well, no. You see, even though Bitcoin  is not regulated by a bank or government,  

it still has a process that stops people from  cheating. There are only two ways to get bitcoins.  

You either trade them from  someone, or you go mining.

Oh wait, I've heard about this. This is when  you use your computer to run calculations which  

verify other Bitcoin transactions. You get  rewarded for thisworkby earning bitcoins.

Yep! It’s money for old rope, which  means it’s an easy way to earn money.

Wow! I’m going to start mining immediately!

Well, you wouldn’t be the only one!  

Bitcoin’s value has recently gone up quite a lot  and this has caused a lot of interest. In fact,  

one stock exchange in Chicago has begun  trading in Bitcoin futures contracts.

A futures contract? What’s that?

I’ll let BBC correspondent  Rory Cellan-Jones explain that.

A futures contract, a bet on where  the currency will be a month from now,  

soared above 18,000 dollars. That means that  investors believe Bitcoin, which started the  

year worth under 1000 dollars will continue  to rise in value, albeit at a slower rate.  

But at the big banks there’s still  plenty of scepticism about the currency.

Soared in this context means  increased very quickly. So,  

now big investors are betting on  the value of Bitcoin in the future.

Yes. But he also mentioned that the banks  have a lot of scepticism. That's a doubt  

that something is real or true. In this  case, whether Bitcoin is reliable or not.

Maybe it’s best I don’t get involved thenAfter all, a fool and his money are soon parted.

Well, you don’t have to be sceptical  about the answer to our quiz.  

We know that for a fact. I asked you when the  Bitcoin crypto-currency was first created.

a) 2004

b) 2009

c) 2013

And I said 2009.

And you were right! Well done. Shall  we go over the vocabulary again?

First, we had currency. That’s the money being  used in a given country at a certain time.  

Name three currencies and their countries, Dan.

Ok. Baht for Thailand. Rupee for India and  my favourite, Metical for Mozambique. Next  

we had cryptic. Something which is cryptic  is mysterious or difficult to understand.  

For example, what do rich people need, poor  people have and if you eat it, you die?

A cryptic riddle indeed! I’ll  have to think about that.  

Then we had legal tender, that’s the official  money that can be used within a country.  

The Euro is legal tender within Spainbut what was the legal tender before that?

Wasn’t it the Peseta? Then we had  fluctuates. If something fluctuates,  

it changes in amount or levelThe stock market fluctuates.

But my love for my family never does. Then we  had soared, which means increased very quickly.  

It’s used with this meaning in the  context of money, prices and statistics.

Finally, we had scepticism. Scepticism is doubt  

that something is real or true. What sort  of things are people sceptical about, Neil?

Some people think that human activity hasn’t  caused climate change. They are sceptical.

And that brings us to the end of today’s 6 Minute  English. Don’t forget to check out our Youtube,  

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pagesand well see you next time. Goodbye.


Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Rob.

And I'm Dan.

Hey Dan. What’s the time?

Time you got a new watch?

Now I didn’t ask you that just forjoke or a sarcastic comment now did I?

Well no, but look there’s a clock  over there, you are wearing a watch,  

you have a smartphone and a computer, all of  which show the time. So why are you asking me?

Dan! I was trying to introduce today’s topic  which is all about virtual assistants or bots.  

You seemed to have forgotten the script.

Oh yes, sorry. Were talking  about software that you talk to  

and that can talk back to you. Like Apple’s  Siri, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa  

and Microsoft’s Cortana. It might be on your  phone or computer or even a speaker in your house.

Now before we hear more about this  topic, here is today’s quiz question:  

Do you know when was the first computer which  could recognise speech, launched? Was it in

a) 1951

b) 1961

c) 1971

I have found my script, so I’ve seen the  answer but I have to say I was surprised.

Don't tell anybody, Dan, OK. Well give the answer  for the listeners at the end of the programme.  

Were going to hear now from Tom Hewitson, who  is a conversation designer, working in the field  

of virtual assistants, talking on BBC Radio  4's Word of Mouth programme. He talks about  

the whole idea of virtual assistants and how they  are changing the way we interact with technology.  

How does he describe our existing  relationship with computers?

It changes the way that we think about computersTo date weve thought of them largely as  

tools. Theyre just an advanced version ofcalculator. Theyre something you kind of use  

to get a specific thing done, whereas this is  kind of changing them more into like an agent.  

Theyre an active participant in the interaction  and in guiding you to make the right decision.

How did he describe our existing  relationship with computers then?

He said that to date, which is an expression  which means 'up until this point in time',  

we have thought of them as advanced calculators.

Yes, that’s right, we use them  as a tool to get things done.  

But he says that modern technology is turning them  into an agent. This doesn’t mean a secret agent,  

like James Bond! In this sense an  agent is something that has agency  

and that means it has the ability to act  individually and make its own decisions.

I’m not sure I’d like my phone to have agency. It  probably wouldn’t like being in my pocket all day.

Who would Dan? But I’m not sure Hewitson  is suggesting our devices would become  

that clever but he did say they could  become more active in our lives.

Maybe. I imagine, for example,  

telling us if we are spending too  much time in fast food restaurants?

Maybe in your case Dan. Mine would be  telling me I spend too much time in the gym!  

Hewitson goes on to explain how the way we will  talk to our virtual assistants will develop.  

What does he say we don’t need to do?

We will develop our own kind of vernacular  for speaking with machines that will be  

subtly different from how we  speak to other people because  

as you rightly point out you don’t need to make  the machine like you don’t need to kind of make  

random chit-chat that’s just filling the timeIt can be much more brusque and to the point.

A lot of what we say in human communication  

is to do with our relationship  with the person were talking to.

We say things and talk about things that are maybe  not directly relevant to our point. With a digital  

virtual assistant, we don’t need to do thatso we don’t need to make the machine like us.

Hewitson said that we will develop our own  vernacular, this is a general word for a native  

language. This vernacular will be a little bit  different from our everyday vernacular because,  

as we said, we don’t need to maintain a social  relationship with the artificial assistant.

This means that we won’t need chit-chatChit-chat is another expression for small talk:  

conversation topics which aren’t important  but are part of everyday social communication,  

like talking about the weather.

And because we don’t need to be  friends with our virtual assistants,  

we can be brusque and to the point. Both of  these mean being very direct and not very polite.

Well, Dan, I don’t mean to be brusque but it is  time for the answer to this week’s quiz question.  

Earlier I asked when was the first  computer which could recognise speech,  

launched. The options were:

a) 1951

b) 1961

c) 1971

Well actually the first computer which  could recognise speech was launched in 1961.

It was called the IBM Shoebox and could  recognise 16 words and the numbers zero  

to nine. That’s nearly as many as you!

Cheeky! Right enough of this chit-chatLet’s recap today’s vocabulary.

Well, chit-chat was one of today’s  expressions. Meaning 'small talk',  

but we also had the expression to dateThat meansup until this moment in time’.

Then we had the noun agent. This  refers to something that has agency.  

And that is the ability to thinkmake decisions and act independently.

The next word is vernacularanother word for language,  

particularly when talking about a native language.

And finally, there was brusque meaning  'direct and not polite' and to the point,  

which also means 'direct and  without unnecessary information'.

Hey Rob

Yes, what can I do for you Dan?

End the programme.

Certainly Dan. Well that’s all from us todaybe sure to check us out on all the usual places:  

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube,  

and of course please don't forget our  website bbclearningenglish.com. Bye for now!


Hello. This is 6 Minute English  from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil.

And I’m Sam. What’s the  matter, Neil? You sound upset.

Well, I am, Sam - I just spent  an hour working on my computer  

when it suddenly froze. I lost everything  and had to start all over again!

Agghh, that’s so frustrating - like pop-up  internet ads and buffering videos that never play!

Modern computers and the internet have  revolutionised the way we live today,  

bringing us the world with a click of a button.  

But not everyone feels happy about  these technological developments.

While potentially acting asforce for good and progress,  

the internet also provides a way of spreading  hate and misinformation. And for some people,  

the World Wide Web remainsmysterious and confusing place.

In this programme, well hear about  a new academic subject called Web  

Science. Web Science studies the  technology behind the internet.

But from the human side, it’s  also interested in how people  

interact with each other online. So well  be asking whether studying Web Science  

could make the internet better  for humanity in the future.

But first it’s time for our quiz question. I  wonder what the pioneers of the internet would  

think about how it is used today. So the question  is, who invented the World Wide Web? Was it

a) Bill Gates

b) Tim Berners-Lee, or c) Steve Jobs

Well, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the  brains behind Microsoft and Apple Mac,  

so I’m going to say c) Tim Berners-Lee.

OK, Sam, well find out later. Nowbecause of coronavirus the annual Web  

Science conference was held online this yearIts theme wasmaking the web human-centric’.

One of the conference’s key speakers, and  co-founder of the new discipline of Web Science,  

was Dame Wendy Hall. Here she is speaking  to BBC World Service’s Digital Planet:

People think about the web as a technology  but actually it’s co-createdby society.  

We put the content on, we interact with the  technology, with the platforms, with the social  

media networks to create it. What we study is how  that works as an ecosystem,this coming together  

of people and technology, and it’s very  interdisciplinary, very socio-technical,  

and of course these dayslot of it is powered by AI.

Web Science is not only interested in  the technology side of the internet.  

As a subject it’s very interdisciplinary  - involving two or more academic subjects  

or areas of knowledge. Web Science  combines digital technology with  

subjects ranging from psychology and  robotics to economics and sociology.

Exchanges between humans and the internet can  be seen in social media networks - websites,  

apps and computer programmeslike Facebook and Instagram,  

which allow people to use electronic devices  to communicate and share information.

This view of technology sees the internet as an  ecosystema complex pattern of relationships  

and mutual influences that exists between  all living things and their environment.

One ongoing and topical example of  websites helpfully interacting with humans  

is the Covid contact tracing app.

You might think the mobile phone app, which  tracks movements and contact between people  

to combat coronavirus, would be a useful  practical application of internet technology.

But as Carly Kind, Director of the  Ada Lovelace Institute in Cambridge,  

explained to BBC World Service’s Digital  Planet, things are never that straightforward:

Actually, there’s a lot of more fundamental  questions that haven’t been answered yet such as:  

is Bluetooth even an adequate mechanism for  doing what it says on the tin, which is detecting  

contact between two people? The trails so far  show that it’s not actually that great and so,  

do we know for sure that these apps work  and they work in the way we want them to?  

Do we get the public health  information that we need?

Apps like this are designed to  support public health - services  

to improve the standard of health  of a country’s general population.

But Carly thinks the mechanisms used must be  suitable and adequatethey must actually work or  

do what it says on the tinan informal idiom  meaning work exactly as it is intended to.

To find this out, trials - tests  to discover how effective or  

suitable something is - are  carried out over a period of time.

The kind of trials which were carried out during  

the invention of the internet  in the first place, right, Neil?

Ah yes, the invention of the internetor  to be more accurate, the World Wide Web. In  

our quiz question I asked you who invented  the World Wide Web? What did you say, Sam?

I said b) Tim Berners-Lee.

Well, youre a first class web scientistSam, because that’s the correct answer!

Great! In this programme, weve been hearing about  Web Science, a new interdisciplinary subject,  

combining several areas of study, which  investigates the ecosystem of the internetthe  

complex pattern of interconnections  between humans and their environment.

Social media networkswebsites and appslike Facebook, which let people use electronic  

devices to communicate on the internetshow how  humans and technology can successfully interact.

A new Covid contact tracing app is currently  undergoing trialstests to see if it works  

effectively. This will discover if it does what  it says on the tinworks as it’s supposed to.

If successful, by alerting people to  coronavirus risks the app will support  

public healthservices aimed at improving  the health of the general population.

And that’s all from us for now.

And we hope youll join us again soon  for more topical English vocabulary  

here at 6 Minute English. Bye for now!

Bye bye!

Hello and welcome to 6 Minute  English. I'm Catherine.

And hello, I'm Rob.

Today we have another technology topic.

Oh good! I love technology. It makes things  easier, it’s fast and means I can have gadgets.

Do you think that technology can  actually do things better than humans?

For some things, yes. I think cars that drive  themselves will be safer than humans but that  

will take away some of the pleasure of drivingSo I guess it depends on what you mean by better.

Good point, Rob. And that actually  ties in very closely with today’s topic  

which is technochauvinism.

What’s that?

Well find out shortly, Rob, but before we dotoday’s quiz question. Artificial Intelligence,  

or A.I., is an area of computer science that  develops the ability of computers to learn  

to do things like solve problems or drive cars  without crashing. But in what decade was the term  

'Artificial Intelligence' coined? Was it: a) the 1940s, 

b) the 1950s or c) the 1960s?

I think it's quite a new expression  so I'll go for c) the 1960s.

Good luck with that, Rob, and well give  you the answer later in the programme.  

Now, let's get back to our  topic of technochauvinism.

I know what a chauvinist is. It’s someone  who thinks that their country or race or sex  

is better than others. But how  does this relate to technology?

Were about to find out. Meredith Broussard is  Professor of Journalism at New York University  

and she’s written a book called  Artificial Unintelligence.  

She appeared on the BBC Radioprogramme More or Less to talk about it.  

Listen carefully and find out her  definition of technochauvinism.

Technochauvinism is the idea that technology is  always the highest and best solution. So somehow  

over the past couple of decades we got into the  habit of thinking that doing something with a  

computer is always the best and most objective  way to do something and that’s simply not true.  

Computers are not objective, they are  proxies for the people who make them.

What is Meredith Broussard's  definition of technochauvinism?

It's this idea that using technology  is better than not using technology.

She says that we have this idea that a computer is  objective. Something that is objective is neutral,  

it doesn’t have an opinion, it’s  fair and it's unbiasedso it’s  

the opposite of being a chauvinist. But  Meredith Broussard says this is not true.

She argues that computers are not objectiveThey are proxies for the people that make them.  

You might know the word proxy when you  are using your computer in one country  

and want to look at something that is  only available in a different country.  

You can use a piece of software  called a proxy to do that.

But a proxy is also a person or a thing that  carries out your wishes and your instructions  

for you. So computers are only as smart or as  objective as the people that programme them.  

Computers are proxies for their programmersBroussard says that believing too much in  

Artificial Intelligence can make the  world worse. Let’s hear a bit more.  

This time find out what serious problems in  society does she think may be reflected in AI?

It’s a nuanced problem. What we  have is data on the world as it is  

and we have serious problems with  racism, sexism, classism, ageism,  

in the world right now so there is no such thing  as perfect data. We also have a problem inside the  

tech world where the creators of algorithms do  not have sufficient awareness of social issues  

such that they can make good technology that  gets us closer to a world as it should be.

She said that society has problems with  racism, sexism, classism and ageism.

And she says it’s a nuanced problem. A nuanced  problem is not simple, but it does have small  

and important areas which may be hard  to spot, but they need to be considered.

And she also talked about algorithms used  to program these technological systems.  

An algorithm is a set of instructions  that computers use to perform their tasks.  

Essentially it’s the rules that they use  to come up with their answers and Broussard  

believes that technology will reflect the  views of those who create the algorithms.

Next time you're using a piece of software or your  favourite app you might find yourself wondering if  

it's a useful tool or does it contain these little  nuances that reflect the views of the developer.

Right, Catherine. How about the  answer to this week's question then?

I asked in which decade was the term  'Artificial Intelligence' coined.  

Was it the 40s, the 50s or the 60s?

And I said the 60s.

But it was actually the 1950s. Never mindRob. Let’s review today’s vocabulary.

Well, we had a chauvinistthat's  someone who believes their country,  

race or sex is better than any others.

And this gives us technochauvinism,  

the belief that a technological solution  is always a better solution to a problem.

Next - someone or something that is  objective is neutral, fair and balanced.

A proxy is a piece of software but also someone  who does something for you, on your behalf.  

A nuanced problem is a subtle one, it’s  not a simple case of right or wrong,  

in a nuanced problem there are small but  important things that you need to consider.

And an algorithm is a set of software  instructions for a computer system.

Well, that’s all we have time  for today. Goodbye for now.

Bye bye!

Hello, welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Rob.

And I'm Catherine.

So, Catherine, how long do  you spend on your smartphone?

My smartphone? Not that long  really, only about 18 or 19 hours.

No, sorry, I meant in a day, not in a week.

Er, that's what I meant too, Roba day.

Oh wow, so youve even got it right here

yep, got it now, Rob. Yes, I should  tell you that I suffer from FOMO.


FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. Something cool or  interesting might be happening somewhere, Rob,  

and I want to be sure I catch itso I have to keep checking my phone,  

to make sure, you know, I  don’t miss out on anything.

So we could call you a phubberHelloI said,  

so youre a phubber? Someone who ignores other  people because you’d rather look at your phone.

Oh, yeah, that's right.

It sounds like you have a bit of a problem  there, Catherine. But youre not the only one.  

According to one recent survey, half of teenagers  in the USA feel like they are addicted to their  

mobile phones. If you are addicted to somethingyou have a physical or mental need to keep on  

doing it. You can’t stop doing it. You often hear  about people being addicted to drugs or alcohol,  

but you can be addicted to other things toolike mobile phones. So, Catherine, do you  

think youre addicted to your phone? How long  could you go without it? Catherine? Catherine!

Sorry, Rob, yes, well I think  if I went more than a minute,  

I'd probably get sort of sweaty palms and  I think I'd start feeling a bit panicky.

Oh dear! Well, if I can  distract you for a few minutes,  

can we look at this topic in more detail  please? Let's start with a quiz question  

first though. In what year did the term  ‘smartphonefirst appear in print? Was it:

a) 1995 

b) 2000 c) 2005

What do you think?

OK, you've got my full attention  now, Rob, and I think it’s 2000,  

but actually can I just have a quick  look on my phone to check the answer?

No, no, that would be cheatingfor  youmaybe not for the listeners.


Right, Jean Twenge is a psychologist who  has written about the damage she feels  

smartphones are doing to society. She has  written that smartphones have probably led  

to an increase in mental health problems for  teenagers. Were going to hear from her now,  

speaking to the BBC. What does she say is  one of the dangers of using our phones?

I think everybody’s had that experience  of reading their news feed too much,  

compulsively checking your phone if youre  waiting for a text or getting really into  

social media then kind of, looking up  and realising that an hour has passed.

So what danger does she mention?

Well, she said that we can get so involved in  our phones that we don’t notice the time passing  

and when we finally look up, we  realise that maybe an hour has gone.  

And I must say, I find that to be true for meespecially when I'm watching videos online. They  

pull you in with more and more videos and I’ve  spent ages just getting lost in video after video.

Well that's not a problem if  you're looking at our YouTube site,  

of course - there's lots to see there.

Yes, BBC Learning English, no problemYou can watch as many as you like.

Well, she talks about checking our phones  compulsively. If you do something compulsively you  

can’t really control it - it’s a feature of being  addicted to something, you feel you have to do it  

again and again. Some tech companies, though, are  now looking at building in timers to apps which  

will warn us when we have spent too long on themDoes Jean Twenge think this will be a good idea?

It might mean that people look  at social media less frequently  

and that they do what it really should be used  for, which is to keep in touch with people but  

then put it away and go see some of those  people in person or give them a phone call.

So, does she think it’s a good idea?

Well, she doesn’t say so directly, but we  can guess from her answer that she does,  

because she says these timers will make people  spend more time in face-to-face interaction,  

which a lot of people think would be a good thing.

Yes, she said we should be using it for keeping in  touch with people - which means contacting people,  

communicating with them and also encouraging  us to do that communication in person. If you  

do something in person then you physically do it –  you go somewhere yourself or see someone yourself,  

you don’t do it online or through your smartphonewhich nicely brings us back to our quiz question.  

When was the term smartphone first used in print  - 1995, 2000 or 2005? What did you say, Catherine?

I think I said 2005, without  looking it up on my phone, Rob!

That's good to know, but maybe looking at your  phone would have helped because the answer was  

1995. But well done to anybody who did know that.

Or well done to anyone who looked it up  on their phone and got the right answer.

Mmm, right, before logging off  let’s review today’s vocabulary.

OK, we had FOMO, an acronym that means 'Fear of  Missing Out'. Something that I get quite a lot.

And that makes you also a phubber - people  who ignore the real people around them  

because they are concentrating on their phones.

Yes, I do think I’m probably  addicted to my phone. I have a  

psychological and physical need to  have it. My smartphone is my drug.

Wow, and you look at it compulsivelyYou can’t stop looking at it,  

you do it again and again, don't you?

It's sadly true, Rob. To  keep in touch with someone  

is to contact them and share your news regularly.

And if you do that yourself  by actually meeting them,  

then you are doing it in person. And that  brings us to the end of today’s programme.  

Don’t forget you can find us on the usual  social media platformsFacebook, Twitter,  

Instagram and YouTube - and on our website  at bbclearningenglish.com. Bye for now.


Hello. This is 6 Minute English  from BBC Learning English. I’m Neil.

And I’m Georgina.

Now, Georgina, what do you know about AC DC?

You mean the Australian rock’n’roll band?  

Well, their 1979 hitHighway to  Hellstayed at No.1 for eleven weeks

No, no, no - not that AC DC, Georgina!  I’m not talking rock music here,  

I’m talking electrical currents  – alternating current - AC,  

and direct current - DC, the two  ways in which electricity flows.

Oh, I see. No, I don’t know  anything about that ACDC!

Well, don’t worry because in  today’s programme well be  

finding out some quirky facts about  electricity - how it differs across  

the world and why some countries have more  complicated electrical systems than others.

Hmmm, I have noticed that whentravel to another country I need a  

converter plug to connect my laptopIs that something to do with AC DC?

Yes, it could be. Of course, electricity  itself doesn’t change from country to country.

No. It’s an invisible, natural force  at work in everything from lightning  

storms to the electrical sparks firing our brains.

But although it happens naturally, one scientist  was credited with discovering electricity.  

Who? That’s my quiz questionwho  discovered electricity? Was it

a) Thomas Edison 

b) Alexander Graham Bell, or c) Benjamin Franklin

I’m not a qualified electrician myselfNeil, but I’ll say c) Benjamin Franklin.

OK. Well one person who definitely is a qualified  electrician is BBC presenter Gareth Mitchell. So  

when BBC Radio 4’s ‘Science Storiessent  him to meet electricity expert Keith Bell,  

the conversation was, shall we say, sparky.

Standard frequency in the US is 60 hertzactually I think in the US on the mainland  

US, main continent, there are  three different synchronous areas.  

So although it’s around 60 hertz, at any moment in  time these three different areas, because theyre  

not connected to each other, will be going atslightly different frequency. There are bigger  

differences elsewhere. So in Japan for example, I  think one of the main islands is at 60 hertz and  

the other half of Japan is at 50 hertz. That’s a bit of a pickle!

Generally speaking, frequency  means how often something repeats.  

In the case of electrical currents, frequency is  

the number of times an electrical wave  repeats a positive-to-negative cycle.

It’s measured in hertz (Hz). In the US power is  at 60 hertz and in the UK it’s around 50 hertz.

So the US and UK are not in the same synchronous  

areanot occurring together at the same  time and rate, or in this case, frequency.

Which means that to safely useBritish electrical device in America,  

I need to convert the power supply. If not  it won’t work or even worse, it could break.

And a broken laptop could leave you  in a bit of a picklean informal  

expression meaning a difficult situation with no  

obvious answer. Here’s Gareth and Keith  again talking about more differences.

I’m pretty sure when I go to the United Statesmy electric toothbrush doesn’t charge up  

at 60 hertz - 110 volts, but my laptop  still works. Maybe you have no comment,  

Keith, but I’m just sayingone of these  anomalies that I seem to have found.

So, I’m not sure about the electric toothbrush  but I know a lot of our power supplies for  

laptops and stuff are solid state, you know  - theyve got electronics in that do all the  

conversion for you, so basically it ends up with  a DC supply into the machine itself. So there’s  

a little converter in there and it’s designed so  it doesn’t care what frequency the AC input is.

Gareth noticed that in the United  States his toothbrush doesn’t always  

fully charge upget the  power needed to make it work.

Electric toothbrushes which don’t fully charge  and differences between electrical frequencies  

are good examples of anomaliesthings which  are different from what is usual or expected.

But with modern technology these  anomalies are becoming less and less  

commonplace. For example, computer  companies have started making laptops with  

solid state electronicselectronics using  semiconductors which have no moving parts  

and can automatically convert  different electrical currents.

Meaning I can use my laptop to google  the answer to your quiz question!

Ah, yes. I asked you which scientist was credited  with discovering electricity. And you said?

c) Benjamin Franklinand I already know  I’m right because I googled it on my solid  

state laptop! To show that lightning was  electricity, Franklin attached a metal key  

to a kite and flew it during a thunderstorm. The  key conducted electricity and gave him a shock!

Hmm, not an experiment I recommend trying  at home! Today weve been talking about  

anomaliesor unexpected differences in  electrical currents between countries.

Electrical currents are measured in  frequenciesthe number of times  

a wave repeats a positive-to-negative cycleThese can be different if two countries are  

not synchronousoccurring at the same ratefor example Britain and the United States.

Different frequencies may mean your  electrical devices like your laptop,  

phone and toothbrush won’t properly charge up –  get the power to function, in other countries.

And having a phone with no power could leave you  in a bit of a pickle - a difficult situation.

Fortunately many modern devices use  solid state electronicsnon-moving  

semiconductors inside the machine which  automatically convert the electrical current.

So youll never miss another  edition of 6 Minute English again!

That’s all for today. See you soon at BBC Learning  

English for more interesting topics  and related vocabulary. Bye for now!


Hello I'm Rob and this is 6 Minute  Englisha programme that brings you  

an interesting topic, authentic listening practice  

and some vocabulary to help you improve your  language skills. Joining me today is Neil.

Hello. And today we're discussing those pilotless  

aircraft that we seem to be hearing  and reading a lot about at the moment.

You mean drones. And yes, they are in the  news quite often for good and bad reasons.  

They've been used for many things from smuggling  drugs, detecting water leaks and surveillance.

And surveillancethat meansthe  act of carefully watching someone or  

something’ – perhaps a criminalbut also  it means spying, maybe on me and you Rob?  

So should we be welcoming the  rise of the use of drones?

Well, before our discussion  about that 'takes off',  

we need to set today's question  for you to answer, Neil.

What are you droning on about Rob? And by  that I don't meanflying a drone’ – I mean  

talking too much in a very boring way’!

Thanks Neil. Now just answer this, will you?  

Drones are sometimes also referred to as  UAVs. So, what does UAV stand for? Is it

a) Unidentified aerial vehicle 

b) Unmanned aerial vehicle c) Unaided aircraft vehicle

Well, I'm going to go for  b) unmanned aerial vehicle.

Ok well, we'll see if you're right later  on. Now let's talk more about drones,  

which, apparently, seem to be everywhere now.

But are they safe and are they  necessary? I've heard about them  

being a hazard to aircraft because  they've been flown close to airports.

Well, figures in 2016 showed that in the UK  there were 70 near misses involving drones.  

And that's more than double the year  before. So that is a little worrying.

Yes. And there's the potential  risk of people's privacy being  

invaded when a drone is flown over their  property with a camera attached to it.

Ah, but those cameras are also  good at capturing some great  

aerial footagethat's the film recording  of the view from the above the ground. So  

they're not all bad. And Dr Yoge Patel would  agree. She is CEO of Blue Bear, which supplies  

unmanned planes and drones. Here she is speaking  about drones on the BBC's Woman's Hour programme

They have the potential to be dangerousagreed. They also have though, on the flip side,  

the ability to be a game changer in  both domestic use and in military use.  

So, some of our drones are being used for aircraft  inspections. We've put our drones into Fukushima.

So there you go Neil. There are  many useful things drones can do,  

and Dr Patel said they have the  ability to be a game changer.

And by that you meansomething that completely  

changes the way something  is done or thought about’.

Yes. Her company has used drones to  inspect the inside of the damaged  

Fukushima nuclear power station in JapanAnd another example of drones being a game  

changer is UNICEF and the Malawian government  testing drones for carrying medical supplies.  

This could help save lives in remote places. And I have read that in Australia,  

lifeguards are using drones to help rescue  swimmers who get in trouble in the sea.

And have you heard about a Japanese firm that's  planning to use a drone to force employees  

out of their offices by playing music at  them if they stay to work evening overtime.

I haven't, but you've convinced meit seems  like the sky's the limit for the uses of drones!  

I mean there's no limit to what they can do. But I  

am a little concerned about how  they are regulated or controlled.

Well Dr Yoge Patel says  because the technology is new,  

regulationsor legal controls  - are developing all the time

As technology progresses, regulation  and operational use needs to then be  

harmonised with it. And we are, as a communitygoing through that whole process of saying  

what is proportionate and appropriate  regulation to go with different uses of drones.

So she talked about regulations being  harmonised as technology progresses.

So I think she meansmaking regulations  suitable and appropriate for what the drones  

are being used for’. So they need some controlbut not so they can't be useful and effective.

Like flying drones to stop you working late!  

Now Rob, I'm dying to know what  the other name for a drone is.

OK, let me tell you. So earlierasked what does UAV stand for? Was it

a) Unidentified aerial vehicle 

b) Unmanned aerial vehicle c) Unaided aircraft vehicle

And I said b) – was that correct?

Yes Neil, you know your dronesthat's correctWell done. UAVs or drones have been around for  

quite a while in different formsIt's thought they were first used  

for providing practice targets for  training military personnel. OK Neil,  

let's quickly go over some of the vocabulary we  have mentioned today, starting with surveillance.

"The police kept the jewellery shop  under surveillance because they had  

a tip-off about a robbery." So that means  ‘carefully watching someone or something,  

usually to try to stop something illegal’.

Then we mentioned aerial footage –  that's film recording made from the sky.  

"The aerial footage on TV of the  dolphins swimming was spectacular."

Yes, drones have been a game changer  for wildlife programmes on TV.  

That meanssomething that completely changes  the way something is done or thought about’.

We also mentioned the phrase 'the sky's  the limit', meaningthere's no limit  

to something’. "The sky is the limit to what  professional footballers can earn these days."

Then we discussed harmonisedthat describes  two things being suitable for each other to  

allow them to work properly. "The garden has been  designed to harmonise with the natural landscape."

Very useful vocabulary, Neil. But let's  stop droning onand that meanstalking  

too much in a boring way’ - and remind  everyone to check out our You Tube,  

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram  pagesand of course, our website  

at bbclearningenglish.comSee you next time. Goodbye.


Hello. This is 6 Minute English, I'm Neil.

And I'm Sam.

It’s good to see you again, Sam.


Yes, of course, can’t you  tell by the way I’m smiling?

Ah well, I find it difficult to tell if someone  is really smiling or if it’s a fake smile.

Well, that’s a coincidence because today’s  programme is all about how computers may  

be able tell real smiles from fake smiles better  than humans can. Before we get in to that though,  

a question. The expressions we can make  with our face are controlled by muscles.  

How many muscles do we have in our face? Is it:

A: 26 

B: 43 C: 62

What do you think, Sam?

No idea! But a lot, I’d  guess, so I’m going with 62.

OK. Well, well see if youll be smiling or  crying later in the programme. Hassan Ugail is a  

professor of visual computing at the University of  Bradford. He’s been working on getting computers  

to be able to recognise human emotions from the  expressions on our face. Here he is speaking on  

the BBC Inside Science radio programme –  how successful does he say they have been?

We've been working quite a lot on  the human emotions, so the idea is  

how the facial muscle movementwhich is reflected on the face,  

through obviously a computer through video  frames and trying to understand how these  

muscle movements actually relate to facial  expressions and then from facial expressions  

trying to understand the emotions or to infer the  emotions. And they have been quite successful in  

doing that. We have software that can actually  look at somebody's face in real time and then  

identify the series of emotions that  person is expressing in real time as well.

So, have they been successful in  getting computers to identify emotions?

Yes, he says theyve been quite successfuland what’s interesting is that he says that  

the computers can do it in real time. This means  that there’s no delay. They don’t have to stop and  

analyse the data, or crunch the numbersthey can do it as the person is talking.

The system uses video to analyse a person’s  expressions and can then infer the emotions.  

To infer something means to get an understanding  of something without actually being told directly.  

So, you look at available information and use your  

understanding and knowledge  to work out the meaning.

It’s a bit like being a detectiveisn’t it? You look at the clues  

and infer what happened even if  you don’t have all the details.

Yes, and in this case the computer looks  at how the movement of muscles in the face  

or facial muscles, show different  emotions. Here’s Professor Ugail again.

We've been working quite a lot on the human  emotions so the idea is how the facial muscle  

movement, which is reflected on the facethrough obviously a computer through video  

frames and trying to understand how these muscle  movements actually relate to facial expressions  

and then from facial expressions trying to  understand the emotions or to infer the emotions.  

And they have been quite successful in doing  that. We have software that can actually  

look at somebody's face in real time and then  identify the series of emotions that person is  

expressing in real time as well. So, how do the computers know  

what is a real or a fake smile? The  computers have to learn that first.  

Here’s Professor Ugail again  talking about how they do that.

We have a data set of real smiles and  we have a data set of fake smiles.  

These real smiles are induced smiles in a labSo, you put somebody on a chair and then show  

some funny movies and we expect  the smiles are genuine smiles.  

And similarly we ask them to pretend to smileSo, these are what you'd call fake smiles. So,  

what we do is we throw these into the machine  and then the machine figures out what are the  

characteristics of a real smile and what  are the characteristics of a fake smile.

So, how do they get the data that  the computers use to see if your  

smile is fake or genuinewhich  is another word which means real?

They induce real smiles in the lab by showing  people funny films. This means that they make  

the smiles come naturally. They assume that the  smiles while watching the funny films are genuine.

And then they ask the people to pretend to  smile and the computer programme now has a  

database of real and fake smiles and  is able to figure out which is which

Figure out means to calculate  and come to an answer

Yes, and apparently the system  gets it right 90% of the time,  

which is much higher than we humans can. Rightwell before we remind ourselves of our vocabulary,  

let’s get the answer to the question. How  many muscles do we have in our face? Is it:

A: 26 

B: 43 C: 62

Sam, are you going to be  smiling? What did you say?

So I thought 62! Am I smiling, Neil?

Sadly you are not, you are using different  muscles for that sort of sad look!  

Actually the answer is 43. Congratulations to  anyone who got that right. Now our vocabulary.

Yesfacial is the adjective relating to face.

Then we had infer. This verb  means to understand something  

even when you don’t have all the informationand you come to this understanding based  

on your experience and knowledge, or in  the case of a computer, the programming.

And these computers work in real timewhich means that there’s no delay  

and they can tell a fake smile from a genuine onewhich means a real one, as the person is speaking.

They made people smile, or as the Professor  said, they induced smiles by showing funny films.

And the computer is able to figure out or  calculate whether the smile is fake or genuine.

OK, thank you, Sam. That’s all  from 6 Minute English today.  

We look forward to your company next  time and if you can’t wait you can find  

lots more from bbclearningenglish onlineon social media and on our app. Goodbye!


Welcome to 6 Minute English, where we  bring you an intelligent topic and six  

related items of vocabulary. I’m Neil.

And I’m Tim. And today were talking  about AIor Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence is the ability  of machines to copy human intelligent  

behaviourfor example, an intelligent  machine can learn from its own mistakes,  

and make decisions based on  what’s happened in the past.

There’s a lot of talk about AI these days, Neilbut it’s still just science fiction, isn’t it?

That’s not trueAI is everywhereMachine thinking is in our homes,  

offices, schools and hospitals. Computer  algorithms are helping us drive our cars.  

Theyre diagnosing what’s  wrong with us in hospitals.  

Theyre marking student essaysTheyre  telling us what to read on our smartphones

Well, that really does sound like science fiction  – but it’s happening already, you say, Neil?

It’s definitely happening, Tim. And an algorithmby the way, is a set of steps a computer follows  

in order to solve a problem. So can you tell  me what was the name of the computer which  

famously beat world chess champion Garry  Kasparov using algorithms in 1997? Was it… 

a) Hal

b) Alpha 60 or c) Deep Blue?

I’ll say Deep Blue. Although I’m just guessing.

Was it an educated guess, Tim?

I know a bit about chess

An educated guess is based on knowledge and  experience and is therefore likely to be correct.  

Well, well find out later on how  educated your guess was in this case, Tim!

Indeed. But getting back to AI and  what machines can doare they  

any good at solving real-life problemsComputers think in zeros and ones don’t  

they? That sounds like a pretty limited  language when it comes to life experience!

You would be surprised to what  those zeroes and ones can do, Tim.  

Although youre right that AI does  have its limitations at the moment.  

And if something has limitations there’s a  limit on what it can do or how good it can be.

OKwell now might be a good time to listen  to Zoubin Bharhramani, Professor of Information  

Engineering at the University of Cambridge  and deputy director of the Leverhulme Centre  

for the Future of Intelligence. He’s talking  about what limitations AI has at the moment.

I think it’s very interesting how many of the  things that we take for grantedwe humans take  

for grantedas being sort of things we don’t  even think about like how do we walk, how do we  

reach, how do we recognize our mother. You knowall these things. When you start to think how  

to implement them on a computer, you realize that  it’s those things that are incredibly difficult to  

get computers to do, and that’s where  the current cutting edge of research is.

If we take something for granted we  don’t realise how important something is.

You sometimes take me for granted, I think, Neil.

NoI never take you for grantedTim! Youre far too important for that!

Good to hear! So things we take for granted  are doing every day tasks like walking,  

picking something up, or recognizing somebodyWe implementor performthese things without  

thinkingWhereas it’s cutting edge research  to try and program a machine to do them.

Cutting edge means very new and  advanced. It’s interesting isn't it,  

that over ten years ago a computer  beat a chess grand masterbut the  

same computer would find it incredibly  difficult to pick up a chess piece.

I know. It’s very strange. But now youve reminded  me that we need the answer to today’s question.

Which was: What was the name of the  computer which famously beat world chess  

champion Garry Kasparov in 1997? Now, you said  Deep Blue, Tim, andthat was the right answer!

You see, my educated guess was  based on knowledge and experience!

Or maybe you were just lucky. So, the IBM  

supercomputer Deep Blue played against US  world chess champion Garry Kasparov in two  

chess matches. The first match was played in  Philadelphia in 1996 and was won by Kasparov.  

The second was played in New York City in 1997  and won by Deep Blue. The 1997 match was the  

first defeat of a reigning world chess champion  by a computer under tournament conditions.

Let’s go through the words we  learned today. First up was  

artificial intelligenceor AIthe ability  of machines to copy human intelligent behaviour.

There are AI programs that can write poetry.”

Do you have any examples you can recite?

Afraid I don’t! Number twoan algorithm is  a set of steps a computer follows in order to  

solve a problem. For example, “Google changes its  search algorithm hundreds of times every year.”

The adjective is algorithmicfor example,  “Google has made many algorithmic changes.”

Number threeif something haslimitations’  – there’s a limit on what it can do or how good  

it can be. “Our show has certain limitations  – for example, it’s only six minutes long!”

That’s rightthere’s only time to present  six vocabulary items. Short but sweet!

And very intelligent, tooOK, the next item istake  

something for granted’ – which is when we  don’t realise how important something is.

We take our smart phones for granted these  daysbut before 1995 hardly anyone owned one.”

Number five – ‘to implement’ – means  to perform a task, or take action.

Neil implemented some changes to the show.”

The final item iscutting edge’ – new and  advanced – “This software is cutting edge.”

The software uses cutting edge technology.”

OKthat’s all we have time  for on today’s cutting edge  

show. But please check out our InstagramTwitter, Facebook and YouTube pages.



Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Neil.

And I'm Catherine. Hello!

Now, Catherine, say cheese.

Cheeeese. Thank you, a little souvenir of our time together.

Let's have a lookHang on a minute. You just  took a selfie, I wasn't even in the picture.

Ah, well, that's the magic of the smartphonetwo cameras! You know, that's not something  

you can do with a traditional camera. I meando you even have a separate camera these days?

I do actually. It's incupboard somewhere at home

Well, that is the topic of this programme. Have  traditional cameras been completely replaced by  

smartphones, or to put it another way, have  cameras been made obsolete by the smartphone?

Interesting question. But before we get into this  topic, how about a question for our listeners?

Of course. We are certainly in the  digital age of photography but when  

was the first digital camera  phone released? Was it

a) 2000 b) 2004 or 

c) 2007? What do you think?

Well, I actually know this one, so I'm  going to be fair and keep it to myself.

OK, well, listen out for the  answer at the end of the programme.  

There are different kinds of cameras  available today. There are compact cameras,  

which are small and mostly automatic  and usually come with a fixed lens.

That's right. And then there are  SLRs and DSLRs which are bigger,  

and you can change the lenses on these cameras  and they allow for a lot of manual control.

And there are also mirrorless cameras, which arecross between compact cameras and DSLRs. They are  

small like a compact camera but you can also use  the same lenses on them that you can use on DSLRs.

And of course, there are  the cameras on smartphones,  

and these are convenient and they're  becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Phil Hall is the editor of Tech Radar  magazine. He was asked on the BBC programme  

You and Yours if he thought smartphones would  make other cameras obsolete. What is his opinion?

I don't think so. I think while compact camera  sales have really sort of dropped off a cliff,  

it's the lower end, cheap compacts where  people have opted for a smartphone and I think  

manufacturers are looking at the more higher end  premium cameras, high-end compacts, DSLRs, which  

are the ones you can attach lenses to, mirrorless  cameras. So, the market's changing. And I don't  

think there'll be a time soon, yet, thatthe  smartphone will take over the camera completely.

So does Phil think smartphones  will kill the camera?

In a word, no. He does say that sales of cheap  compact cameras have dropped off a cliff.  

This rather dramatic expression  describes a very big fall in sales.

This is because the kind of consumers  

who would choose a compact camera are now  opting for the camera on their smartphone.  

When you opt for something you  choose it rather than something else.

For people who want a quick, easy  to use and convenient way to take  

reasonable quality photos, compact cameras used  to be the best choicebut now it's a smartphone.

So camera makers are now moving to the more  high-end market, the DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.  

So who is still buying these more  expensive cameras? Here's Phil Hall again.

I think it's... some of it is people who  are picking up a smartphone and sort of  

getting into photography that way and that's  a really great first step into photography  

and I think people are probably, sometimesgetting a bit frustrated with the quality  

once they sort of start pushing their creative  skills and then looking to see what's the next  

rung up so it's people wanting to  broaden their creative skills a bit.

Who does he say might be buying cameras?

He says that people who are getting into  

photography might get frustrated  with the quality of smartphones.

Getting into something means  becoming very interested in it.

And if you are frustrated with something it  

means you are disappointed with  it. You are not happy with it.

So people who have got into  photography with a smartphone  

but are frustrated with its limitations  and want to be more creative are going  

to the next level. They are moving up, they  are, as Phil said 'taking the next rung up'.

Now, a rung is the horizontal step of a ladder,  

so the expression taking the next rung up isway to describe doing something at a higher level.

Now, talking of higher levels, did you get this  week's quiz question right? The question was:  

When was the first phone with a digital  camera released? Was it 2000, 2004 or 2007?  

The first phone with a digital  camera was released in 2000.  

Now, to take us up to the end of the  programme, let's look at the vocabulary again.

First, we had the adjective obsolete  which describes something that has  

been replaced and is no longer the first choice.

When the expression to drop offcliff is used about, for example,  

sales numbers, it means sales have fallen  significantly over a short period of time.

To opt for something means to choose something  

and when you become very interested in an  activity you can say that you get into it.

If you are trying to do something and you  can't do it because you don't have the skill  

or the equipment you are using is not right  or not good enough, you can become frustrated.

And developing your skills to a higher level  can be described as taking the next rung up.

Right, that's all from us from us in this  programme. Do join us again next time and  

don't forget that in the meantime you can  find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,  

YouTube and of course our website  bbclearningenglish.com. See you soon. Goodbye.