BOX SET: 6 Minute English - 'Technology and lifestyle' English mega-class! 30 minutes of vocabulary!
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Dan. And I'm Rob. So, Dan, what's that… Oh, sorry. Oh, it's my wife. Err… hang on… You didn't answer! Well, don't take this personally, Dan, but I'm not exactly crazy about someone eavesdropping on my phone call. If you eavesdrop on something, you secretly listen to someone's conversation.
Some things are private, you know? Oh! Of course! I totally understand. One quick question for you though… do you have a smart speaker? You know, like the Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa or Apple's Siri. Oh sure, yes, I've got one! It's great! I can ask it all sorts of questions, it tells me about the news and weather, it plays music when I want… it does all sorts! You just give it a voice command and it does what you want! So it can hear you, can it? Of course! How else can you give it a voice command? All the time? Well, I assume so.
So how do you know it's not eavesdropping on you? Well, I… oh… I see. I hadn't thought of that. That's our topic for this 6 Minute English. How safe is your smart speaker? However, before that, here is our quiz question. By what percentage
has the number of smart speakers used in US households increased from December 2017 to December 2018? Is it… a) around 40% b) around 60%, or c) around 80%? Oh, well, I know they are very popular even in my household. So I'm going to go for c) around 80%. Well, we'll find out if you're right later in the programme. So, smart speakers and privacy! Florian Schaub is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information. Here he is speaking on the BBC World Service programme The Why Factor about smart speakers. What does he say people are introducing into their homes? You're basically introducing...
listening bug in your home, in your most intimate space. While the companies say they are only actively listening to what's going on in your home when they hear the keyword, the microphone is still on the whole time in order to be able to detect that keyword. We don't know to what extent companies are co-operating with the government or to what extent the government might try to circumvent company security mechanisms in order to then be able to listen to what you're doing. So, what did he say people are introducing, Rob? He basically said we're introducing a listening bug. Now, a bug is a small electronic device used for secretly listening to conversations. Much like a spy would use.
Yes, and he mentioned it was in our most intimate space! 'Intimate' means 'private and personal'. Well, I can't think of anywhere more intimate than my home. Indeed! He also said that the smart speaker's microphone is on the whole time – even though the companies insist that they're only actively listening when the keyword is said. Yes, he suggested that we can't know how far a company might be co-operating with a government to eavesdrop on people. Or whether a government might be circumventing a smart speaker's security and listening in anyway without the company's or owner's permission! 'Circumvent' means 'cleverly bypass or go around'. So, if all this eavesdropping is possible, why are smart speakers so popular? Good question! And here's Florian Schaub again with an answer. He
conducted a study on people's attitudes to privacy when it comes to smart speakers. How do people feel about having a smart speaker that could eavesdrop on them? What we often saw is people just being resigned to 'this is the trade-off they have to make' if they want to enjoy the convenience that a smart speaker provides to them. He said that people are resigned to the privacy trade-off. If you are resigned to something, you accept something unpleasant that can't be changed. Yes and a trade-off is a compromise. You accept something bad to also receive something good.
So people accept that a smart speaker gives them advantages, even though there could be downsides? Yes. In the grand scheme of things, the data that these devices hear is probably not that significant considering all the data companies have about us already anyway! So, can I have the answer to the quiz then? Of course! Earlier I asked by what percentage the number of smart speakers used in US households increased from December 2017 to December 2018? Was it… a) around 40% b) around 60%, or c) around 80%? What did you say, Rob? I said c) around 80%. And you are right. The answer is around 80% - from 66 million in December 2017 to 118 million in December 2018, and around ten million people in the UK now use one too! I guess they're really not worried about eavesdropping.
Nice slide into the vocabulary there, Dan. If someone eavesdrops on you, it means they secretly listen to your conversation. They could be eavesdropping on you through a bug, which is a small electronic device used to secretly listen to conversations. Yes, they may have bugged your most intimate, or private and personal, spaces. Next we had circumvent. If you circumvent something, such as security, you cleverly or bypass it or go around it.
Then we had resigned. If you are resigned to something, it means you accept something unpleasant that can't be changed. And lastly, we had trade-off. A trade-off is a compromise. You get something good, but you also get something bad.
Right - like 6 Minute English! A great discussion and vocabulary, but the trade-off is it only lasts six minutes! Which is just about now, actually - time to go. So until next time, find us all over the place online and on social media. Just search for BBC Learning English. Bye for now. Goodbye! Hello. This is 6 Minute English from BBC Learning English.
I’m Neil. And I’m Sam. People collect all kinds of things for a hobby, from stamps and coins to comics and football stickers. Do you collect anything, Sam? I used to have a big collection of Pokémon cards but I have no idea where they are now. Well, maybe you should start looking for them because all kinds of collectables – that’s objects that people want to collect – are selling for big money on the internet. It’s all part of a new tech craze called non-fungible tokens, or NFTs for short.
Non-fungible tokens? Basically, NTFs are unique, one-of-kind items that can be bought and sold like any physical object but only exist in the digital world. ‘Tokens’ can be thought of as certificates of ownership for these virtual possessions. Hmmm, OK. I understand the ‘token’ part but what does ‘non-fungible’ mean? If something is ‘fungible’ it can be interchanged, like money, for example. With money you
can swap a £10 note for two £5 notes and it will have the same value. So, something non-fungible cannot be interchanged with something else. Is that because it has special features that make it unique? Exactly. Imagine something totally unique like the Mona Lisa. You can take a photo of the painting or buy a copy of it, but there will only ever be the one original painting. I can see that the Mona Lisa is one-of-a-kind and extremely valuable, but it’s not for sale on the internet! True, but lots of other things are, from signed celebrity artwork to virtual football cards. NFTs are like autographed
photos – collectors want something no-one else has, even though there’s nothing physical they actually own and keep. And the value of NFTs is going up and up? Massively. A digital sticker of French footballer, Kylian Mbappé, recently sold for £25,000! Which reminds me of my quiz question, Sam.
In June 2021, Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold the original source code he used to invent the World Wide Web as an NFT at a charity auction. The sale started at $1000 but how much did the source code eventually sell for? Was it: a) 5.4 thousand dollars? b) 5.4 million dollars? or c) 5.4 billion dollars?
If you’re asking me how much the internet sold for, I’d say c) 5.4 billion dollars. OK, Sam, we’ll find out later if that’s right. Sir Tim Berners-Lee famously never made any money from the World Wide Web, insisting that his invention should be free for everyone. But the world of NFTs is controversial and not everyone thinks Sir Tim should be getting involved.
That’s certainly the view of Shona Ghosh, technology editor at the ‘The Insider’ website, as she told BBC World Service programme, Tech Tent: I think there’s a balance to be struck between exploring new technologies and Sir Tim Berners-Lee is an amazing figure but NFTs are a Wild West. Not everything associated with NFTs are rogue, but these so-called digital collectables are going for lots of money. Internet NFTs are very new and there are no rules controlling what can be sold and for how much, so Shona describes them as a 'Wild West'.
The Wild West means a situation where people can do whatever they want because there are no laws or controls, like the early history of the western part of the United States. She also calls some things about NFTs rogue - behaving differently from what’s normal or expected, often in a way that causes damage. Love them or hate them, there are strong opinions on both sides of the NFT debate, as Rory Cellan-Jones, presenter of BBC World Service’s Tech Tent, explains: To some NFTs are a brilliant innovation which has promised to put a value on digital artefacts. To others they’re little more than a dubious pyramid scheme with a damaging impact on the environment because of the way the tokens are created.
Some people are suspicious of the large amounts of money collectors are willing to pay, comparing NFTs to pyramid schemes - business tricks or scams where money is obtained dishonestly. But for others NFTs are a legitimate and useful way to put a price on rare digital artefacts – items, such as images, videos and music, that are produced and stored as electronic versions. Items like, for example, the original source code for the internet. So, how much money did Sir Tim Berners-Lee raise for charity when he sold it off, Neil? In my quiz question, I asked Sam how much the NFT for the original internet source code sold for at auction.
I said c) 5.4 billion dollars. You were… wrong! In fact, it was less - 5.4 million dollars – but still far too expensive for me to collect. Hmmm, now I’m wondering how much my Pokémon card collection would sell for. If only I could find it! Well, while you look for your collection, Sam, let’s recap the vocabulary from this programme all about NFTs which are digital artefacts or items that are produced and stored as electronic versions. NFTs are virtual collectables – desirable objects that people search for and collect.
And they are non-fungible meaning they have special and unique characteristics that cannot be interchanged with anything else. If something is rogue it behaves in a different way from what’s normal or expected, often causing damage. The Wild West describes a chaotic situation without laws or controls. And finally, a pyramid scheme is a business scam where money is gained dishonestly.
If you’d like to know more about non-fungible tokens, bitcoin and other trending internet topics there’s plenty to find on the BBC website. And for more interesting conversation and useful vocabulary, remember to join us again soon here at 6 Minute English. Bye for now! Bye! Welcome to 6 Minute English, the programme where we explore an interesting topic and bring you six items of useful vocabulary. I'm Catherine.
And I'm Rob. I have a question for you, Rob: how would you feel about having therapy from a robot? I'm not too sure about that – you'll need to tell me more! But first things first, the word 'therapy' refers to a kind of treatment that helps someone feel better – including treatment for mental health issues. Someone who delivers therapy is called a therapist. We'll find out more about this robot therapist in just a moment, but first, Rob, I've got a question for you about the scale of mental health issues globally. So, roughly how many people do you think experience mental health issues at some point during their lifetime? Is it… a) one in ten people, b) one in four, or c) one in three? I'll go for one in four, but I know whichever answer is right – it's a big issue. How might a robot therapist help? We're not talking about a robot in the Star Wars sense – so, there's no flashing lights and mechanical arms, Rob! It's actually an app in your smartphone that talks to you – and it's called Woebot.
So – it has a sense of humour. 'Woe' means 'sadness'; so this is a 'woe' bot, not a robot. And it was developed by psychologist Dr Alison Darcy from Stanford University in the US. Here she is, talking to the BBC
radio programme All in the Mind. Well, after you start an initial conversation with the Woebot, and he'll take you through sort of what he can do and what he can't do, he'll just essentially check in with you every day and just give you a sort of figurative tap on the shoulder and say: "Hey Claudia, how are you doing? What's going on in your day? How do you feel?" So if you say, like "I'm really, really stressed out", Woebot might offer to help talk you through something. Woebot checks in with you every day and asks you how you are. So here, to check in with someone doesn't mean to register at a hotel with that person! It's an informal way of saying you talk to someone in order to report or find out information.
And this usage is more common in the United States. So, for example: "I can't meet you today, Rob, but I'll check in with you tomorrow to see how the project is getting on." So, this robot checks in with you every day. It tracks your mood and talks to you about your emotions, using a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a common therapeutic technique that helps people deal with problems by changing the way they think.
That all sounds great, but does Woebot actually work? They've done some trials which show it can be more effective than simply reading information about mental health. But they haven't compared Woebot to a real therapist due to ethical concerns. Yes, it could be unethical to deny a real patient access to a human therapist for the sake of a trial. 'Ethical' basically means 'morally right'.
And another concern is privacy. People who use apps like this are not protected by strong privacy laws. Despite these fears, digital therapy is booming – and Woebot is just one of an increasing number of electronic services. One reason for this could
be using an app carries less stigma than maybe seeing a human therapist. And stigma refers to the negative associations that people have about something, especially when these associations are not fair. Even though mental health is now being talked about more openly than before, some people do still see mental health issues and therapy negatively.
Whatever you think of robot therapy, Dr Darcy believes that in the modern world people need to self-reflect more – which means thinking deeply about yourself, in order to understand the reasons behind your feelings. The world that we live in right now is very noisy. Particularly digitally. You know, since we've had these little computers in our pockets with us everywhere we go, there aren't that many opportunities for real silence or self-reflection. You know, even a commute on the tube might have been a moment to just take a second to yourself, but now that void can be filled always with super-engaging content by looking at your phone.
Darcy believes that we don't have much time for self-reflection because there are so many distractions in life – especially smartphones! After discussing all this – would you actually try a therapy app like this? Yes I would, actually – I think it might be quite helpful. And how about the question you asked me at the beginning of the programme: how many people experience mental health issues? The answer was: one in four, according the World Health Organisation and the World Federation for Mental Health. But the WHO say that as many as two-thirds of people never seek help from a health professional – with stigma being one of the main reasons.
And just there we had stigma again; let's now run through the other words we learned today. So we had 'woe' - meaning 'sadness'. I'm full of woe. Woe is me! Maybe you need some therapy – that's the process of receiving treatment for a particular health issue, especially mental health illness.
And we had – to check in with someone. After we finish this programme, I need to check in with the boss about my new project. We also had self-reflection – that's the process of thinking deeply about yourself. And finally, we had 'ethical'. If you describe something as ethical, you mean it's morally right. So woe, stigma, therapy, check in with, self-reflection and ethical.
That's it for this edition of 6 Minute English. We'll leave you to self-reflect – and after you've done that, do visit our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube pages, and of course our website! Bye for now. Bye bye! Hello. Welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Rob.
And I'm Neil. Now, Neil, can you remember the first time you ever used the World Wide Web or as we often call it, the internet, and what you used it for? Oh, that's a good question. I do remember. And... well, nothing really changes does it? Because I looked up pictures of cats! Cats! Very useful, anyway do you think the internet has generally been positive or negative for the world? Wow! Now, that's a big question. A huge question. I don't know if I can
answer that. Well, one person who perhaps can answer it, is the man who invented it: British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. We'll find out what he thinks has become of his 'child' shortly but before that, a question for you all. When did Berners-Lee first suggest the idea for what would become the World Wide Web? Was it in...
a) 1985, b) 1989, or, c) 1991? Tricky, but I think it's earlier than people think so I'm going to go for 1985. Well, that was a long time ago but we'll reveal the answer a little later in the programme. I think it's true to say that the internet has been one of, if not the most important technological developments perhaps of all time. Would you agree, Neil? Well, it's hard to imagine living without it. Not impossible, but not
nearly as convenient. These days we take the internet for granted. We share our lives on social media and not just with friends and family. And that isn't always a positive thing, according to the father of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee. In a recent BBC Tech Tent programme, he talked about his concerns with the internet and particularly the companies that control its information. Companies which he calls 'internet giants'. What does he say
he thought these companies had to do? Initially, I felt the main thing an internet giant had to do was just to be neutral, just be a platform and humanity, once connected by technology, will do wonderful things. And, clearly, it doesn't work like that. If you connect humanity via Wikipedia then they do produce, in general, wonderful things. If you connect people by social network where they have anonymity, then it can bring out the very nastiest of people. So, what did he say he thought these internet giants had to do? He said that he thought initially, that they just had to be neutral. 'Initially'
means 'at first', 'in the beginning' and it also suggests that later he changed his mind. Anyway, he said that he thought they just had to be neutral. 'Neutral' here means that they didn't need to do anything, they didn't need to control the internet or information. He thought it would be a tool to connect people and ideas and information and it would be wonderful. But it's not all good, is it? No. He does say that giving people access to sources of information is generally a good thing but that when it comes to social networks, social media, people have anonymity.
Anonymity? Yes. It means that on the internet people can hide their true identity or personality. Some people write things that they would never say to someone in person because they think there will be no consequences. Berners-Lee says anonymity can bring out the nastiest side of people.
People saying horrible and terrible things to each other. Berners-Lee does have some suggestions for how this could be changed. And it's based on the idea of likes and shares, which he calls kudos. What's his suggestion? The different social networks and different platforms are in different situations and, in some cases, they have acknowledged there is an issue. I think they realise that the issue could be hugely ameliorated by tweaking the way the thing works by changing the way retweets are propagated or changing the way people get kudos - give them more kudos for being constructive, for example. So, how does he think companies could address the problem? Well, he says that some of the social networks have agreed that there is a problem and they know what could improve it.
He didn't use the word 'improve' though, did he? No, he actually used the rather formal verb 'ameliorate', which means 'to improve or make something better'. So, how does he suggest the problem could be ameliorated? By tweaking the way in which people give or receive kudos. 'Tweaking' means 'making a small change to the way something works'. Much of what happens on
the internet is driven by our desire to get likes and shares – this is the kudos that Berners-Lee talks about. He feels that tweaking this could lead to a better experience. For example, getting more kudos for constructive or positive actions. Mmm, interesting – but I wonder who would decide if something is constructive? Well, that's another big question for another day, I guess. For now though, let's have the answer to our small question. In what year did Berners-Lee present the idea for what would become the World Wide Web? The options were a) 1985, b)1989, or c) 1991.
It was, in fact, 1989. Now, before we go, let's have a quick recap of today's vocabulary. 'Initially' – means 'at first - in the beginning'. Then we had 'neutral'.
In this case, it meant 'not controlling' or 'not taking any action to control'. Then, there was the noun 'anonymity' which is the state of having a hidden identity or personality. Next, to 'ameliorate' a situation is to make it better.
To 'tweak' something is to 'make a small change to the way something works'. And then we had, of course, 'kudos'. 'Kudos' is praise and appreciation for something you've done. Well, kudos to you, Rob, for today's programme.
Thank you very much. Well, thank you, Neil, and thank you everyone for listening. That's all we have today, but you can, find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and, of course, our website bbclearningenglish.com! Bye for now.
Thanks for joining us and goodbye. Hello. This is 6 Minute English and I'm Rob. And I'm Neil. Today we’re talking about buttons.
Yes, buttons. Buttons are what we have on our clothes to fasten them but the word is also used for things that we push to make things happen. Things like your bedside alarm, radio, toaster, kettle. We press hundreds of buttons every week without thinking about it. Not everyone
likes buttons though, particularly the ones we have on our clothes. It’s a recognised phobia. What is this fear called? Is it: A: buttonophobia, B: koumpounophobia, or, C: coulrophobia? Any ideas Neil? Er – I think I’ve got a fear of pronouncing these words! I've got no idea what the answer is, I think buttonophobia is much too obvious – so it’s one of the others – or is it? It’s a hard one. Well, I'll have the answer later in the programme. Thinking Allowed is a BBC Radio 4 programme which covers a range of interesting topics. Recently, they featured a
discussion about buttons and how important they are to everyday life. Steven Connor, Professor of English at the University of Cambridge, was on the programme and he talked about appeal of buttons. What does say about children and buttons? We do love buttons and I think the pleasure and the temptation of buttons… this temptation and everyone feels it, which is why buttons have to be very convenient. On the other hand, they have to be kept away from children, so they've got to be put high up on the wall, and buttons that really matter have to be made quite hard to push – like put behind glass or something.
OK. What does he say about children and buttons? That they have to be kept away from them! As I said before, I loved pressing buttons as a child. I would press any that I saw, so important ones did have to be out of my reach. Yes, he said buttons are a temptation. A temptation is something that makes you want to do something and it’s often used when it’s something you shouldn’t really do. So, buttons that lead to potentially dangerous or serious consequences, like a fire alarm, need to be protected, maybe behind glass, so temptation doesn’t get the better of us.
But many buttons have a useful, practical purpose in everyday life, like calling a lift - so, these buttons have to be easy to use without difficulty. The adjective for this is 'convenient'. These everyday buttons have to be convenient.
Professor Connor goes on to say a bit more about why buttons are so appealing. What’s his opinion? You know what I think? I think it's down to the fidgeting instinct of very digital or manual creatures. I think we want to fidget with things and adjust them, we want to make them slightly better… I guess it's the grooming instinct in apes.
So then, why can’t we resist buttons? Because as humans we have a fidgeting instinct. We can’t stay still for very long, we need to move around a lot because we are very digital creatures. The use of digital though, is nothing to do with modern online technology, is it? No, a 'digit' is a finger or toe. So, we are digital creatures – we have fingers and we like to use them. And one thing other digital creatures do, creatures like apes, is grooming. That is they use their hands to clean the body hair of other apes. They look through
the hair for insects and bugs and pull them out and eat them. But we can also use the word grooming for humans, someone who is well-groomed for example is neat and tidy, clean and well presented. Here’s Professor Connor again. You know what I think? I think it's down to the fidgeting instinct of very digital or manual creatures. I think we want to fidget with things and adjust them, we want to make them slightly better… I guess it's the grooming instinct in apes.
Before we wrap up, time to get the answer to this week’s question. Some people have a fear of buttons, it’s a recognised phobia, but what’s it called? Is it A: buttonophobia B: koumpounophobia, or C: coulrophobia? And, Neil, you said? Well, I didn’t, but I don’t think it can be ‘buttonophobia’, that would be too easy. And I think coulrophobia is a fear of clowns, so I’m going for the other one - koumpounophobia. That it right. Buttonophobia is a made up word, and as you said, coulrophobia is a fear of clowns.
Right, now let’s review today’s vocabulary. We’ve been talking about buttons. These can be small round things we use to fasten our clothes, or the things that we push to make something happen. Buttons can be a temptation. We see one, we want to push it.
So, a 'temptation' is something that makes us want to do something we know we shouldn’t. And then we had the adjective 'convenient'. Something that is convenient is easy to use without difficulty. For example, the buttons to call a lift are at a very convenient height, they can be reached easily. Professor Connor went on to talk about our fidgeting instinct.
As humans we love to fidget, we like to keep moving around, we can’t stay still for very long and we love to do stuff with our hands. The professor talked about us being digital creatures, which means creatures with fingers – a digit is another word for a finger or toe. And finally, we had grooming.
This is the habit of making ourselves look nice by cleaning, washing and doing our hair. It’s something some animals, such as apes, do for each other. Well, the button here in the studio is flashing, which tells me it’s time to wrap up for today. Do join us next time and if you can’t wait, you can always find us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube our app and, of course, on our website bbclearningenglish.com.
Bye bye for now. Bye!