Rise of intelligent machines key to today’s forecasts
I HAVE spent the past week on North American soil where folks are gearing up for Monday’s total solar eclipse by stockpiling sunglasses and playing Bonnie Tyler records on full.
But the purpose of my visit was not “eclipse chasing” but rather visiting the world’s leading artificial intelligence laboratories.
People there were brimming with revolutionary zeal about the potential of these new technologies to change the way we live – and forecasting the weather was chief among them.
Indeed, machines with AI have already proven to be far more accurate at predicting weather patterns than the traditional forecasting model used on standard computers.
Such is the pace of change that even the new Met Office’s much-trumpeted “super-computer”, which is capable of making 16,000trillion calculations per second could soon be out of date.
British forecasting entered the machine age in 1959 when the Met Office bought a Ferranti Mercury, nicknamed Meteor. Prior to that, weather charts were painstakingly updated by hand.
Recently, reader Stanley Jones, former RAF meteorological assistant, wrote to tell me a bit about this old system of working in the Second World War.
Stanley, who was posted at RAF Moreton-in-marsh, Glos, from 1941 to 1943, recalls writing hourly weather reports in red and black ink, which were then coded and teleprinted to HQ in Dunstable.
Small hydrogen-filled balloons measured the height of the cloud base and on bright days, larger balloons were released and tracked through a theodolite to determine the strength and direction of winds.
It was pioneering work. But the notion then of intelligent machines taking over was the stuff of science fiction. Half a century later, the future has arrived. What will happen next? Joe Shute
Spitfires got weather guidance during the war from meteorologists using balloons