Friday, February 3, 2017

Does AI threaten our jobs?

Will Lord Sugar one day point to a robot candidate on The Apprentice and say ‘you’re hired’? Recent developments in AI (artificial intelligence) mean it’s a question many leaders, economists and technologists are asking.

In March, 2016, a computer beat a human at the complex Chinese board game, Go, for the first time. Though Korean, Lee Sedol, showed he could still adapt in ways Google’s Deep Mind AlphaGo couldn’t. AlphaGo’s neural networks mimic those in the brain, allowing it to analyse massive amounts of digital data. Its machine learning capabilities are making their way into real world applications, helping them recognise faces and speech commands.

In November last year, Google applied machine learning to its Translate app. Nearly overnight, the text it produced was almost indistinguishable from a professional, human, translation. The New York Times Magazine called it The Great AI Awakening.   

Google and Uber are already trialling driverless cars. But they are not yet autonomous. And would we want them to be? Millions are employed around the world as taxi, van and truck drivers. What happens when machines take the wheel? Will humans be redeployed as driverless vehicle supervisors? Or will they be usurped by machines?

And how many other jobs are at risk? Many, including MIT and The Economist, have claimed up to 50% of jobs could be lost. Market research company, Forrester, says 6% of US jobs will go by 2012. Forbes reckons jobs in ten industries are under threat, including healthcare, financial services and law. Reports suggest nurses already follow IBM’s question-answering computer, Watson’s, guidance in 90% of cases.

If machines take our jobs, will governments need to provide each of us with a universal basic income, an unconditional sum separate from anything we earn ourselves? Perhaps. It’s also possible technology will help us in our jobs and creates new ones, instead of taking them away from us. Take Microsoft’s Project Oxford. It helps developers build more intelligent apps, thanks to a range of tools, including voice recognition, speech processing and language understanding. It therefore helps developers achieve things they’d never have time to do on their own.

Bob Moritz, CEO of professional services firm PwC, is optimistic. Based on his conversations with CEOs, companies will always be in the market for what robots cannot provide.

We’re still looking for creativity, because that can’t be coded,” he said. “Robotics and computers and coding actually gives you a very straight and narrow path to go down a fine course. The world we’re living in today is a lot more zig zag, and people are going to be important to that equation to solve those problems.”

One thing is for sure - massive changes are on the way. And we’re going to need all the human ingenuity we can muster to adapt to them, survive and thrive.

What’s truly mind-blowing is that the examples discussed above are ‘only’ examples of ANI (artificial narrow intelligence). What benefits will general (AGI) and super intelligence (ASI) bring? And when can we expect them? I urge you to read this fascinating two-part blog post to find out: The AI revolution: The road to superintelligence and Our immortality or extinction.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The best stories of 2015

And I don't mean 'brand stories', whatever they are. I mean actual stories about real people. Stories that make you cry, stories that make you laugh, stories that leave you open-mouthed. Here are some of the year's most memorable, in no particular order.

How Ross Ulbricht set up a vast $1.2billion online drug market – and how the feds shut it down. 

In November 2012, Salvador Alvarenga went fishing off the coast of Mexico. Two days later a storm hit and he sent an SOS. It was the last anyone heard from him from 438 days. 

Not from 2015 but so poignant that I had to include it in this list, as I finally managed to re-find this Policeman's heart-wrenching tale from 2011.

How did Manju Das become the richest housemaid in the world?

If you remember this product and the impact it had on popular culture, then you'll forgive me for including another story from another year. This one was first published in 2008.  

There are no words. 

Security researcher outs botmaster. Botmaster tries to frame security researcher. Botmaster (and justice) gets served.

There's something wonderful about beating the system. And to do it by buying chocolate puddings that cost $1 is even better. See also: 37 rental cars in two days

"Even by the sorry standards of justice in the Bronx, this case is extreme."

Always good to end on a high note. Headline and story of the year? 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Colman's sauces. Rescuing bland meals

Also doing a very good job of rescuing bland advertising. I'm delighted that I'll be number one on Google for the search term 'Colman's sauces. Rescuing bland meals.' But I'd rather know who produced these cracking posters. I imagine there'll be some info online very soon but if you know, will you let me know in the comments?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

BBC Store copy

Just over a year ago I applied for a job at the BBC. To my surprise, I got an interview. The role was for copywriter on the BBC Worldwide's latest venture, BBC Store, which launched on the 5th of November.

BBC Store lets you stream or download your favourite BBC shows. I had to take a copy test before I was summoned for interview. I remember writing a few hundred words to persuade someone to watch The Wire (one of my interviewers wasn't a fan – said he didn't have the time to commit), a piece about Have I Got News For You, and some copy for a children's collection that included Paddington, The Magic Roundabout and Shaun The Sheep.

I've been waiting for BBC Store to launch. It was supposed to do so in March or April. It would have been a fun five months or so. Of course, it took an extra seven.

I think what's interesting about the site copy is how little of it there is (It is a shop, after all, and how much copy is there on Amazon, for example?) Of course the majority of copy describes the programmes. But there's some nice copy all over the site. And here are its best bits:

Meta description

Own And Keep Programmes You Love Past And Present From The BBC Store 

Weirdly, every word is capitalised, like a vintage US print ad. I love that it features ampersands instead of the word 'and' (Blogger wouldn't let me use ampersands!), presumably to save space (it's the little things).

Call to action

The best of the BBC, past and present. Start your collection today. 


BBC Store, Making the Unmissable Ownable.

Those capital letters again, complete with comma and full stop. Nice line, though. 

Introduction to 'Collections'

Welcome to our Collections, a place to explore and discover wonderful television. 

Description of 'Collections', in 'About BBC Store'

There are also themed Collections gathering together programmes from the BBC archive to bring you absorbing and enriching stories from the past, and guide you to new destinations. 

Loving the words 'absorbing' and 'enriching' and the phrases 'to bring you' and 'guide you'. And I like the hint that they'll take you places you've never been before. 

Collection sample copy

Courting Controversy 
Unflinching dramas that broke boundaries and shocked the nation. 

Fantastic writing. And, at the salary the BBC was offering, an absolute bargain. Well done to whoever got the gig. 

To raise awareness of BBC Store, BBC Worldwide hosted billboards featuring real-time results from Twitter votes asking people to choose their favourite BBC characters using hashtags. 

Are you Team Darcy or Team Poldark? Join the vote using or !

Friday, October 10, 2014

Not On The High Street Dad Academy: DIY rocket building workshop

A high percentage of the crafts people who make the products sold by Not on the High Street are female, so its founders decided to do something about that.

It's calling for Dadpreneurs everywhere to get in touch and set up Dad Academy to support this initiative.

Dad Academy sets out to teach dads some potentially lost playtime skills. Last week they built and raced their own LEGO cars. Next week we'll learn about storytelling. This week we built rockets.

You can try this at home. All you'll need is.

1 fizzy drink bottle.

1 piece of cardboard.

1 piece of thick coloured paper.

1 cork.

1 football pump adapter.

Gaffer tape.


1 track pump.

Some water.

1 tennis ball.

Step 1. Turn your bottle upside down and gaffer tape a tennis ball to the end of it. This provides a bit of weight at the tip of your rocket - so it doesn't go floating off to the sides like one of those super-light kids' footballs.

Step 2. Cut three fins for your rocket by taking a rectangle of cardboard and cutting it into two triangles. 

Step 3. This is probably the trickiest bit. Stick your fins to the end opposite to the tennis ball. You want about 10cm of find protruding out from the bottom of the bottle. This is so you can attach the pump to the nozzle when it comes time to launch. This step is tricky because, well, it's hard to tape your fins on to the bottle and get them to stay rigid. 

Step 4. Take your football pump nozzle and poke it through a cork you've cut in half so that it looks like the one in the picture below. Don't put it in your bottle yet. You'll need to fill it with a bit of water before you do. If you do put it in the end, do it gently so you can remove it easily. 

Step 5. Make a nose cone for your rocket by folding your thick coloured paper and taping it to the bottle over your tennis ball. 

Step 6. Fill your bottle 20-25% full of water then put your cork in the bottom pushing it in as far as it will go. Then invert it, stand it on its fins and connect your track pump. It'll look something like this. 

Step 7. Start pumping! After enough pressure has built up, it will pop your cork out and water will spew out of the nozzle and towards the ground with enough force to lift your rocket high (probably around 50m) up in the air. Experiment with amounts of water. The world record is around 600m! Good luck!

Thanks to Evolutionary Biologist Dr. Jan Wong for the rocket building masterclass, thanks to Not On The High Street for arranging it all and thanks to Harriet, Bryony and Sharan for being such lovely hosts. Oh and thanks to the Soho House basement staff for keeping those mini burgers, sausages and JD and cokes coming. Here's to drunk rocket building! No hold on, that's probably Bad Dad Academy. Save the bottles for the rockets. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Should the UK get e-voting?

I've been writing about elections and electronic voting for the past 20 months. So it's interesting to watch it appear on the agenda in the UK.

 I was in Parliament last week for the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy And I'm still signed up to Google Alerts to get the latest news.

 It's fascinating to hear the debate, although sometimes it's frustrating - the UK should offer electronic voting this year or next, not in the five or ten years it'll probably take.

 The older I get, the more I admire the line advertising agency, Beattie McGuinness Bungay, use: "Whilst we don't hope to re-invent the wheel, we would like it to turn a bit faster."

 I'm writing this as I listen to this debate and I can tell you that Emma Mulqueeny from the Speaker's Commission, one of the people involved, reveals the timeframe she predict's for e-voting's implementation in the UK.

 Read what Sky News has to say about the debate.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Watch your tone

Getting tone of voice right is tricky.

Especially in emails.

Avoid having to send 'I didn't mean it like that' follow-ups with MyFaceWhen, in its own words 'like using emoticons, on steroids'.