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Present. From Washington we present radio Smithsonian the program of music and conversation from the Smithsonian Institution. During the Second World War. Young boy living in a small town in the Netherlands. Kept a diary of the aircraft activity above his home. Contains records of many of the planes lost to both sides in the waters of resided. Today with that boy who is now in the Royal Netherlands Air Force and is involved with the mammoth project of identifying the remains of an aircraft and man. As he is. But before we talk with cattle the young Dr. James PETA's curator of the division of reptiles and amphibians tells us some of the interesting and informative results when he put snakes in a computer. Hardly some information
about snakes into a computer. Dr. Peters What was the purpose of your experiment with the computer and the rat hole. Well the primary idea was to find out whether it would be possible to supplement the normal exhibit function of the museum by permitting people to fulfill curiosity to answer additional questions after they've gone through the exhibits. I think it's very common for a visitor to go through an exhibit enjoy it and and at the door with a question in his mind which he under normal circumstances leaves without question still unanswered. And the time share computer gives us a possibility of supplying answers for a much large majority of the common questions that are asked. How did you program it originally with so many questions that you anticipated. Well we programmed it by trying to figure out what the standard questions are that people ask after they've been through an exhibit
with reptiles and amphibians. I think anyone who has worked in a museum or a zoo or any place where reptiles are kept very rapidly becomes familiar with the kinds of questions that people ask and you can anticipate by far the majority of the simpler questions by a single answer that will take care of perhaps a half dozen different questions. Do you feel that people after this experience people think that computers do think for themselves and are not programmed without answers. Well people get a little upset with the machine and they are not sure what is on the other end and they have some problems reconciling them is from themselves to a machine that can pick up a question and answer it so quickly they don't don't particularly care for that. What was some of the questions that you anticipated. Well some of the questions we anticipated were things like how many kinds of snakes are poisonous. What do snakes eat. What are their mating
habits. How long do they live how big do they get and this kind of thing of course is very simple to answer and very easy to clue the computer to the point where it jumps to an answer that sort very rapidly the kind of thing we didn't anticipate were questions like do snakes believe in life after death. Or do snakes have souls. This is a particular group that you had that came through and we were getting extraordinary cuts and we suspect it was a group that was coming through. We saw a bus from a Bible school outside the building the same time and we think they came right past the elephant in one of the first things they saw it was a time share computer so I think perhaps they had this kind of question on their mind. I'm not sure what did you find other people's approach to this. How did you physically go about it I mean the computer was there and had people walk up and and decide to want to try this at the beginning. We had to act almost like carnival barkers we would
design a little older. We designed a little patter that would permit us to draw the attention of the passing visitor to the machine. But after a little bit of publishing in the newspapers we quite often would come out and find people sitting and waiting for us to set up the machine they'd know it was there and they were anxious to have a chance to try it. There is a certain amount of reserve much more common on the part of adults and there is on the part of children. Children are generally quite anxious to try anything new in a museum atmosphere I think for kids leads them to anticipate more things that they can do more things that they can experience and they're delighted to try it. Adults hang back take it easy they're not too anxious to get at it. How did you how do they have to go about it they type a question. Yes it's a teletype that is connected to a computer in Silver Spring and the visitor has to type in his question so that
the machine can search through that question and uses a dictionary to compare the question with possible answers. Could they type the question in any phone any Lang and he would form and I started say any language it's not quite any language but in some cases it's obvious that the machine could have handled questions in other languages where the words are sufficiently similar. The machine can handle it because the technique it is used is not to spell out the entire word in the dictionary but simply use the first few parts of the word. We did this for example with the word mating. They might ask how do snakes mate or what are the mating habits of snakes and so on. And you don't want to use both mate and mating. So we simply use the letters M A T and we ran into a problem with this because I remember one visitor came in want to know something about snakes systematics and the machine
immediately picked up the M-80 in the middle of systematic started telling him about mating behavior and so we put a space in the front of it and then somebody pointed out well this still wouldn't eliminate mathematics. So I was delighted with this escape was a chance to have a little fun with the machine so when somebody came up and couldn't think of a question we'd say well ask it if Snake knows mathematics. And of course a type that does a snake no mathematics a machine would immediately respond with it pick up the M-80 at the beginning of mathematics and start giving him information on Snake mating behavior. And they look at it and say whoa Well that's all wrong and then the attendant of course which smile and say no that's not wrong it's telling you how they multiply. So we got a little bit of fun in our program as well as a little bit of education. Didn't you have some trouble with people who couldn't spell either and got very cross such as one man who felt United States states as DADT. That's right. This was fairly common and the machine was set up to cope with it
as it would examine the question and if it found nothing familiar in the question it would ask either I or inform him either I don't understand your question or you have typed a word wrong and then ask him to try to reframe the question hopefully using other words that he might be able to spell. But quite often our experience was that he didn't retire the question in another way. It was kind of like an individual talking to a deaf person. If you are a big part not a deaf person but a person who speaks a foreign language. What we do in English very commonly it will say something to a person who doesn't understand our language and he says what. And we simply repeat the same thing only a little louder as though he's deaf think I'm going to process your idea. And I think this was a common failing with the response to the computer's question please try to rephrase it. They would type the same thing over again and this bothers me because it was trying to get them to rephrase it so that a word might come in that the computer would recognize but
quite commonly they didn't wouldn't do it would not respond that way. Something to do with people's reaction that people react in a multitude of different ways to the machine and it was an enlightening thing for me to simply watch the psychology of the visitor that it's an experience I hadn't had for many years and in one never in quite the same way as this. What happened to how family I arrived with the first one to try. Well if a family came up after a while I got so that I would deliberately direct my question to the father because I was starting to test psychology in this thing because it was our experience very early that the head of the family did not like to. Sit down at the machine and the father would come up with his family and I would say Have you ever talked to a computer and he'd say no. Then I say what would you like to try it. And he turned to is 10 year old daughter and say sit down
Jane and try it. She only oh I don't want to fool with a computer. Then he turned to his 14 and used 14 year old son and say you try it John. Oh you won't get me to do it. And then he turned to his wife and he'd say you do it. He would tell her he wasn't asking her like you children he'd tell her when you sit down do it. If she refused. Ninety nine times out of 100 the family would turn and leave without anybody doing it. We very seldom got a father to sit down after the family refused and I'm convinced that this is a matter of the individual not wanting to embarrass himself in front of his family he was a dating devise just a little afraid of what that computer might do to him that he couldn't anticipate it was a little too strange a little too unfamiliar. And the likelihood of the thing saying something or doing something that he didn't care for was a little too strong. We never got a father after his family refused. Quite often he would stand and watch of one of the kids would sit down then he'd stand and watch. And if something funny happened it was hilarious for the father.
He didn't really enjoy that. I think that can an amateur psychologist then a flat live site shouldn't have gone he would have had to maybe a professor but I would not after this. Why did it why did some of the things that you discovered with this and what what people are using it for some specific purpose I know you mentioned the vice got merit you know to me I said this is something you haven't thought of. No we didn't anticipate this kind of thing at all. I do anticipate with this kind of thing in museums eventually there will be a thorough familiarity with this kind of machine and people will simply be using it as a source of information. This was not necessarily true with the temporary exhibit that we had. There was as much the delight and amusement of the first encounter with a computer as there was an attempt to ask the machine for information concerning reptiles. I think the information was rather secondary to the experience of talking to a computer. But this was not necessarily true. As the example you mentioned one young man came up and he had the Boy Scout
Handbook and he immediately started asking a series of questions concerning the. And it was necessary to get a marriage badge for rectal study in me. Boy Scouts and of course a machine could handle almost all of these questions. I still think that the machine ought to have gotten the merit badge and the boy should end up with it with a medal for ingenuity or perhaps a merit badge for computer science this is not first rough to study. Did you find out of the many other interesting people I think you mentioned also a teacher or are some student that came who had a teacher who had been using computers. We had a student from high school in Florida who came in and saw the machine tried it and then asked the guard who had done the work in preparing the material for the demonstration and the guard called me in my office and asked if this young man could come back to the office to talk to me which of course we did and he told me that
in his high school they had a similar machine. That one of their forward looking mathematics professors had arranged. He made it available to the students in the high school who wanted to use it they were doing their math problems on a day were experimenting with their own programming they were staying at night to try out new gadgets and he was fascinated with the potential of the kind of program that we had he wanted to find out whether the language we use would be available to him there whether he could go back and tell his math teacher about it. I think our youngsters today are very rapidly becoming familiar with computers computer use time shared computers all of the various and sundry things that have happened in the last 10 years and most of us old timers don't even know they're happening. But these kids are up on it and they're going to be taking full advantage of it in the next 10 years or so. Dr. Peters is the curator of the division of reptiles and amphibians.
How many cattle do young. Why did you start this excavating at all. Well this was in fact on request of that government. Since when you start to reclaim the land from the sea at a certain moment all kinds of obstacles are turning up as soon as a new land comes to light. When you know all of this stuff the total reclamation in fact started. Funny enough during World War Two were at the beginning of the whole seeing putting a door as a desire to see a large inland sea large so that they flee if you compare it to the size of Holland which was called the enclosure back in 1982. And from that moment I was no longer a connection with the North Sea and the Atlantic so the salt water to no fresh water ten years afterwards in 1942 the first four were what we call north east pole that was reclaimed ten fold like what sort of artifacts did you find.
While these are many many very old sayings we in fact as an Air Force Air Force Reka Felice. I specially focus on my craft and all other relax related resent these bombs explosives machine guns and human remains. But if we find old ships rowing boats fishing boats even battleships or small wooden battleships from only a Spanish Armada and from 16 or so and so there are other things we try very interesting it was that we found that a thousand years ago on that particular spot had been wooed There have even been a population that we never knew that. So far we found a couple of hundred altogether. That's another aspect of the whole story to how and why German targets which were tech to win World War 2 from 1979 to Lenny 45. For all these diets those
aircraft from the Royal Air Force and United States Air Force had to fly twice over Holland on the way to the target Braman of Wilhelm's haven't to go on. They tried to cross to Holland on the way to the target and to do it on the way back now and the Dutch coaster was that famous Atlantic wall the day fighter squadron airfields like anti-aircraft artillery and a little bit more inland we had the famous night fighter leaning of the German air force and it was tremendous good for the time operating was radar and radio controlled interceptions and they took a hell of a dollar out of the streams of bomber aircraft which went to bomb targets in Germany and that's why in these small countries so many US 6700 aircraft came down which means in every square mile at least an aircraft it must have crashed and that's also the reason why we find so many and it's been both.
So when you drain the water away there are all these things lying there you know on the bottom of the sea. Yes well seeing these things it's not what we often hope and not some people saying that you find suddenly an aircraft lying on its belly and you can take it away and fly it out. That's not practical. So much so heavily disintegrated because the impact of an aircraft is rather a relatively weak structure on the water surface is the same as the impact on the concrete wall in fact. Now what have you found to identify these planes can you would you have you found human remains or any books or maps or anything of the sort. Yes that's the first major method of expedience. It's like playing with puzzles. As soon as a piece turns up you have your first puzzle piece. Now one is easy one is difficult and in many cases it's a matter of minutes or an hour to eliminate other nationalities.
And then they have you know it's in English or off an aircraft. You're going to determine what type it was and asked possible what was the date of crash and what was the particular serial number of the craft and its squad. And soon as you no doubt you can trace back to information where the pilots are still missing on the missing list or had bombs on that particular missing or other dangerous bloated and he sings out of course a Feydeau importance to us just enough to risk leaving people at this very moment to find that people from the past. What about the bombs that are still on the planes are they still alive are they still a problem. Yes in fact I never found bombs which were not dangerous. In general they are at least as dangerous in most cases even more dangerous. I never found a bomb and from which the TNT explosive was wet for instance in the hope of a bomb.
Well there goes no water and the only thing which has corrosion and things like that it's diffuse and if the fuel is as close to the bit and at a certain moment you have to defuse that bomb. Well that's a hell of a risky job. Can you identify or can they be identified the human remains. Yes that's a remarkable job in fact I must admit this is not the air force's job we started the job of reclaiming the aircraft wrecks and the bombs and as soon as we know that there are human remains in we rely upon the enormous experience of the Netherlands Army grave service they have a couple of chaps who are rather cruel job in the years after World War 2 when the German concentration camps. Welcome world and how sweet and so on. And now they assist us as soon as we find human remains. It's not there. Very
pleasant story in fact but it has to be done you just cannot throw away your human remains hidden in an ashtray yourself. You'll have to do it on a decent an appropriate way as soon as we find it. Deuced dirty to the assistance of the university. I must say that so far out of all cases of human remains found we succeeded in bringing them home as we call it. This again has another aspect which I must say we did not consider that in the very beginning and that in many cases relatives most keen to know the last five minutes or last minutes what happened to their beloved husband or father or whatever it is and we found in 100 percent of these cases of these enormous consolation and rest and gratitude. If you want to bring it home. Human
remains and they can have a decent burial. And another name can be grabbed from the missing list. You have a number of these what we call strange euro currency strange experiences that at a certain moment we find if it is Wellington and we know that there were 12000 build you know that there were four hundred and eighty in Holland crashed. We could not solve that problem. When we finally invented what we were up in you. That was it was 15 miles due west of Cumberland. It must have happened in 41. The dates of the emanation had led us l. s painted on a battery which means LS could mean decode of number 15 quadrant. Royal Air Force and we found a human remains of one man only one man although it was a six crew aircraft and these men had a lector shoes and a lot of soldiers must have been in a I didn't know she wanted to get it but
afterwards we decided oh this is too small an information to know what typical Well I don't know of those formulas anything which came down in the wind and I decided well I'll add it at a store with a branch in London and I got to my normal work now the first letter I picked was it from a completely unknown fellow somebody in Ireland Mr Garak and he started in his letter. Dear Mr. Young I want to ask you attention and assistance since I was a dwelling kept in World War Two and I said to my assistant who are still in my office and yet you wait a moment I found the problem. I found the solution. This was just getting around but it meant further reading. My hair was raised really my aircraft was showdown on the tender federal 1941 a date to do it in from Hanover and it was on a location 15 miles due west of company. My new stood gun and Sergeant so-and-so was still missing and I feel myself still responsible. If you find my Wellington
and I think of the bailed out all the time the actual age was covered his ice had an engine on fire and he made a skidding lending ski the landing on the ice and five of those succeeded in getting out before the aircraft went through the ice and the other day that Sargeant which was still missing he went down with the aircraft and they walked. It was twelve o'clock and I worked until four o'clock in the next afternoon before they reached the coast and they went through the ice a couple of times and they were taken prisoner of war. Well this must have been a very coincidence that at a certain moment when we found the aircraft we started to decide well we can solve this problem that in fact was the first time that we didn't succeed in identifying both the aircraft and the human remains. And at that moment there's a lot of help and the problem was we were in
the process. No no I was too young but I thought I was at High School exactly from the beginning until the end of the war I started high school and I must say that. It is one of these and to stick aircraft recognition hobbyist and that's why I decided on the 10th of May 1940 human and the Germans invaded Holland to make a daily log of everything which had been over my hat and I went on for five years. Even when I was in the ground at a certain moment because of my age and not to be voted you know me I went on I think every happening in the air and this book was in some sort of a collection for many many years after the war and in a certain moment when we started work we just had to reduce the leisure you saw what happened over the Netherlands during the World War 2.
So then it's very useful this stuff was again used and we even had one there just that particular moment for me to show that map and that was a four engine bomb and when working that photo if breaking on it for the first minister with four machinegun sticking out of the dike and the firemen came along and you have all you have to remain this moment of is that and I know how it happened it was in your 94 usually And it was months after one and I still see it as it happened yesterday and it might be two or three pilots. I went to my personal blog this in fact happened four or five miles south of flying in what I believe. By that I mean overhaul of the lot of them and indeed I found it on the night of the 24th of July and one minute after one I had recalled it a large ball of fire in the air craft going down been burning for sleek Wilder's overnight. And the whole story as I had described it myself and know it to us in
1968 that twenty four years later I had to excavate the same thing. This map that you have here parts of it was this found in one of the airplanes. Yes this was recently found on a highly Frank's mom and it shows you were a part of it recreates flow when you see the pencil lines are made from the nephew gaiter setting out his course of the target. How did that survive in a case or a box or something. No it was just among pieces of wreckage only. The type of ground in which you're working in a different market you said to aircraft has struck through a layer of clay and there's layers of clay sometimes closed off again so that no oxygen or microbes can enter the brazen escape. It's preserved as how it's comes out as you know it's again a cruel story but in these cases you always find even
fresh scrolls on only human remains in these cases. After 25 years but they're out of their cages in which you do save your sanity or other kind of constitution of the ground. The corrosion and rust and so on do the job so it's always different in which condition you found it and this is in fact one of the main reasons why it goes intriguing so much to people who do it fish in a camel to Yong is a director of information for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and recently gave a lecture about the project here at the Smithsonian. Radio Smithsonian is presented weekly at this time produced by Dan McKeever the Office of Public Affairs. Frederick M. Phillips director. This is a. Yeah.
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Radio Smithsonian
Episode Number
Do Snakes Have Souls? and Reclaiming World War II Planes
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Identifier: 70-17-29 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Chicago: “Radio Smithsonian; 29; Do Snakes Have Souls? and Reclaiming World War II Planes,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
MLA: “Radio Smithsonian; 29; Do Snakes Have Souls? and Reclaiming World War II Planes.” 1971-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <>.
APA: Radio Smithsonian; 29; Do Snakes Have Souls? and Reclaiming World War II Planes. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from