Science & Brexit

Science & Brexit

I wrote something more on immigration and Horizon, based on the report that the UK has had three applications for its super highly skilled visa scheme. I argue that the focus on prize winners is foolish, we need the next generation of prize winners, and that being out of Horizon Europe makes UK based innovators less attractive collaborators. I make a cheap crack about how this shows the emptiness of Sunak’s ambition to be a science super power. The article is on Linkedin and Medium, entitled, “Science, the UK and Horizon Europe, again”. It was followed up in the Independent.  …

Whose jobs are AI coming for?

Whose jobs are AI coming for?

McKinsey have produced a report on the role of generative AI on productivity and the future economy. The white paper can be found on their website. They launched the paper with a series of webinars, one of which I attended. Here are my notes and thoughts …

Data, Information, Knowledge, & Wisdom

The first point they wanted to make was that they don’t believe it will make programmers redundant. This is not the view of Forbes, who argue that these new machines will reduce the need for human programmers. My limited experience with ChatGPT suggests that its quite good at writing code, although it needed customising before use, but it was not so good at drafting laws, which is curious because as Lessig argues, “Code is Law”.  

Historically IT has automated low wage information processing jobs. While information processing is considerably broader than paper pushing, the new generation of AI tools are capable of adding significant value to people working higher up the data, information, knowledge, wisdom pyramid. , such as teachers, lawyers and doctors.

The speakers at my webinar said that life’s getting better, a proposition I question. I add, economic activity still fundamentally requires inputs of labour and capital. It is my contention that software and information systems are difficult to categorise as uniquely belonging to one of these classes of resource. However, to reduce the workforce headcount, it is necessary to increase productivity. Under capitalism, we need to recognise not the benefits of increased productivity are unlikely to go to the workers.

In the light of these macro-economic trends, we also need to consider both those jobs but cannot yet be automated, the manipulation of the real world, and those for whom there is no work, the latter implying that we need to consider our Social Security systems and training/retraining opportunities.

Some creative workers have already raised issues about the use of their copyrighted work to train these AI systems. This is not the last time that our industrial age intellectual property laws come into conflict with the needs of 21st century IT systems. We have seen constant and persistent battles between the DatenKraken and industrial age music monopolies; a political fight that has generally been won by the content owners, claiming a moral case on behalf of the creators. It should be noted that even exceptionally creative programming staff are not paid by royalty and neither are firefighters. Admittedly this is a decision taken by the creators themselves, although the creative industry monopolies have an immense amount of say in the payment models used.

Forbes suggests that, financial services, media & marketing and legal services jobs are particularly vulnerable andn threse industries will be able to take advantage of these new technologies. What they say about legal services shows that the opportunity to use the productivity increases to enable more customers to obtain legal advice may well occur.  I’ll be happy if the current generation of virtual assistants could do more than qualify if you need to speak to a human being. Forbes and McKinsey disagree about whether AI systems will impact Life Sciences with McKinsey saying it will and Forbes taking the opposite view. McKinsey also think that AI will impact the Retail sector. They both agree that one of the biggest impacts will be in software engineering, The McKinsey reports has  a chart/scattergram plotting impact in dollars vs the proportion of cost i.e. how much and how important are these benefits, the highlight being that software engineering will be heavily impacted. ( I wonder if it will increase the quantity of user authored apps, today, a source of significant risk.)

One of the curious things about this article, is that I was tidying up my office space and came across, my notes of the McKinsey webinar and also a copy of “Don’t Automate, Obliterate”,  which I read for the first time in 25 years. It seems less fearful today, I was first introduced to this paper in the 90s, where it was seen as part of a trend to “half the workforce, double the fear, and quadruple the profits”. On rereading, I see it as a call to look at process is in a holistic way and focus on outcomes. Several of Hammer’s examples of effective process redesign come from the early days of the Ford Motor Company, so they weren’t exactly revolutionary processes at the time the paper was published. The big idea that came out of the 90s and automation was supply chain management and EDI. The IT tools being produced required new skills, but not less hours. There seems to be, always more to do. Perhaps it’ll be the same this time.

It’s important that the politicians and regulators get there first. I have already mentioned copyrights, but product liability is another area of concern, and AI will require expert human supervision in the field of the professions for many years to come. Other areas of concern are surveillance, and working hours, both of which should be limited by law. It’s time to #JoinaUnion.

Featured Image Credit: Merrill College of Journalism CC 2012 BY-NC virtual human …

What did CoFoE say about digitisation?

What did CoFoE say about digitisation?

When socialising the CoFoE final outcome last summer, I didn’t look at the Digitisation chapter. I have decided to plug that gap. This is a personal summary of the Digitisation chapter of the Proposals/Outcomes of the CoFoE. The CoFoE was organised into streams and within those streams there were usually four citizen’s panels. This led to on occasion multiple proposals on the same topic, which have been collected together. In some cases, a topic is dealt with in multiple proposals and even multiple chapters.

There are four proposals in the Digitisation Chapter, they cover a right of access and use, the accrual of benefits to be shared by all, a safe, resilient, and trustworthy digital society covering cyber security, fake news, and data protection & privacy.  The issues of investment and citizen rights are covered in all four proposals.

The bulk of the article is overleaf, please use the "Read More" button ...

On proposals for a British digital currency

The UK Govt have issued a consultation on how or whether to implement a Central Bank Digital Currency. I have written up my thoughts on LinkedIn & Medium and have some further notes on my wiki. I look at the arguments in favour, cite some Swedish sources, who are four years ahead of the UK, and conclude, “This is ideologically dangerous, technically complex, and a solution in search of a problem.” …

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day three.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day three.

Here is my write up on Day 3; the meeting kicked off in working groups and then returned to plenary. The plenary video is indexed on their web page. This article is made from mainly contemporaneous notes, but I had to revisit the video for the final two speakers. The plenary had guest speakers and allowed some of the working groups to present their ideas. My article here does my best to tell the story of what happened. Most groups seem to have some difficulty in imagining what will change, and there is much inertia and fear on what we'll lose and whether it'll get worse and crime will grow. I am disappointed at the failure to emphasis privacy except for Renate Nikolay, from the Commission and there were some belated calls for free speech, universal access and a need to regulate and suppress fake news. There is an interesting but inconclusive discussion on how to catch up with the USA and China, and a need for education and information. Possibly the most important contribution came from Rehana Schwinninger-Ladak, one of the knowledge committee, again from the Commission who classified the problems and solutions as about people, industry and infrastructure.

The full article is overleaf, please use the "Read More" button. ...

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

On the second day of the EU’s citizens assembly on Virtual Worlds, I observed Working Group 6 which reconvened to further develop proposals aimed at informing the regulation and development of a digital Europe. The working group was directed to focus on the Commission’s digital principles, numbers four and five, “Fostering participation in the digital public space” & “Increasing safety, security and empowerment of individuals”. I wonder if the Commission’s short list of broad principles, is a better way of getting something on the table, rather than the detailed multi-point manifestoes that I have tried to build with others.

While the moderator tried to give the meeting some structure much of the meeting was very disjointed with citizen panel members saying what they wanted, which is their role, but rarely adding to what others say by improving or disagreeing. I believe the moderating team have created a summary to forward to the final plenary, if so they have done a better job than me.

This blog article is based on notes taken at the time, and while I have polished them and turned them into sentences, they do not tell really tell a coherent story but I hope that the combination of the wisdom of crowds and my comments, insights and lessons will be interesting

My notes and comments are below/overleaf; use the Read More button to see the full article.

Virtual Worlds, Day 2

Virtual Worlds, Day 2

This is based on my notes taken on Day 2 of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on Virtual Worlds. These have been polished, but are not easy to draw conclusions or a story from, partly because I have tried not to leave anything out, and the participants were not looking to bring their stories and thoughts together. These notes do not tell a story and this article is quite long for me. I hope it has something interesting for you; it talks of the technology, a little bit of economics, social engagement and control and even a little about the changing nature of personality.

This is an excerpt, the full blog is beyond the "Read More" button. ...

On Release Management

On Release Management

I wrote a piece on Release Management on my LinkedIn Blog. I talk about the minimum properties of a change control authorisation system, the minimum evidence required before agreement can be issued, the need for emergency change control process, the need for post implementation reviews, treating failures as incidents and applying problem management tools to them, and ensuring that there is an appropriate segregation of duties.  …

On Musk and Twitter

On Musk and Twitter

Elon Musk has taken over twitter; I wrote a short piece on LinkedIn on the deal, its funding, and the technology. Since then some, including the FT (£) have commented on its funding, not the least the bank loans and thus collateral required. The linkedin article has some interesting links commenting on the deal, or at least I think so.

I also like this theory, that it is/was all a big mistake which Musk’s ego cannot permit him to admit,

The first thing Musk did was fire senior managers but the second is to fire half the work force. Advertisers are having second thoughts, based on wild comments made by Musk, not helped by the fact that many of the job cuts are aimed at content moderation teams and that programmers being let go are those who released the least lines of code, as many have commented, this is unlikely to end well. Another threat to a platform like twitter is that of regulatory intervention; in the UK, the Online Harms Bill is going through Parliament and the EU will also legislate on fake information and cyberbullying. Since politicians are so often the targets of such bad behaviour, there’s little support for Musk’s free speech line. Furthermore, the way in which the ‘reduction in force’ is being conducted would seem to be in breach of both Californian and UK Law, and both Prospect and GMB have commented on the UK downsizings, and in Europe, I wonder if twitter has established a European Workers Council.

Many of twitters users are talking of leaving but as Maria Farrel comments, on Crooked Timber,

There are now tens of thousands of journalists, policymakers, academics and various other thought-leader types who viscerally get what it is to be trapped inside a monopolistic tech platform, and for it to be costly and painful to leave.

Maria Farrel

Richard Murphy and the ORG (and others) are asking questions about the private ownership of the digital world’s town square. The ORG and most others point at mastodon as an alternative, which is designed as impossible to capture.

What users need is pretty clear. They need greater control over what content they receive, how it is prioritised and how it is presented. The way this is done, in a digital world, is to create more “open” systems that allow third parties to repurpose, filter and represent content in ways that users want. This can and should include better ways to moderate content.

The Open Rights Group

The social networking system lock-in, is the audience and social graph. It’s not been possible, without coding skills to extract the social graph or even the message feed from twitter for a while and linkedin now require one to know the email address of your proposed new linkedin correspondent. i.e. I am looking at transferring my tweet followers to linkedin so that I have a means of contacting them if they decide to quit twitter. In terms of personal twitter hygiene I have been using tweet delete to remove old and unwanted tweets and likes. I have a mastodon account on, but don’t read it every day and neither the big news sites nor my preferred commentators are there.  (I may change my habits, the quality of my mastodon home feed is immeasurably better today, than it was last week.) I should add that my mastodon postings have been more dilatory and personal than those on twitter, and of course, many of my twitter posts are retweets, probably more than posts which may make twitter easier to leave. For those worrying about the complexity of federation, or the fediverse, don’t worry, these are for developers and service engineers.

One user response already in progress is to adopt alternative short messaging products, mastodon is the obvious choice; another response for content authors would be to return to blogging, and encourage people to use a feed reader such as feedly! At least then their readers can get the content as they choose. , and some excessively long threads don’t get read.

For my European readers, although if reading my blogs, they don’t need the help,

Ich frage mich, ob Twitter einen Europäischen Betriebsrat hat
Mi chiedo se Tweitter abbia un Consiglio europeo dei lavoratori
Je me demande si Twitter a un comité d'entreprise européen