The Hobbit turned 80 this week and here is my blog post titled “An unexpected change of pace” from a couple of years ago where I re-read the classic novel by Tolkien.wp-1455455294830.jpeg

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Recent events in Barcelona (thoughts with all those affected) got me thinking again about how I consume news.

I first wrote seven years ago about social media versus traditional news outlets as a source of news – blog post here.

I no longer look at news websites on a daily basis. In fact only during the football season do I look on such sites – and this is only to look at Spanish and German results, a somewhat obscure use of such a sprawling resource of information.

Last weekend I choose not to listen to the radio while driving (schedule nowhere near as good as during the week) and instead listened to Led Zeppelin IV, which |I forgot how much I liked, so kept on listening repeatedly all week as I drove.

Only after I saw reactions on Facebook to the events in Barcelona did it occur to me I hadn’t consumed any news this week I hadn’t found on social media.

I almost never read national newspapers (If I have an empty Sunday I may be the Sunday Times, but that is maybe a couple of occasions a year). Only rarely do I read a physical copy of the local paper where I live. I follow them on Facebook and I can see anything relevant to me in my stream, so why spend the 95p?

And it took a terrible event the week I skipped radio for me to notice this media was my main source of news these days outside social media. And I only catch those bulletins because they interrupt the music I listen to while driving.

But doesn’t your job involve monitoring the media for your organisation, you probably won’t ask, Well, yes it does. But I let Google Alerts take care of the media monitoring for me. Every mention pops right into my inbox and so far the alerts I have set up have never failed me.

By not watching TV news, nor reading print or websites direct, the editorial choice about what potential news stories I am served comes from the algorithms of Facebook and Twitter. I have no complaints about what I see in my feeds. But, is that because these algorithms serve me exactly the news I want because they know me, or is it because I don’t know what they don’t tell me? The answer to this is unclear to me.

What is clear as social media becomes my gateway to the world is my choices about who to follow, what I like, comment on and share feed into these algorithms which shape how I see the world.

Some of you may already have heard of Ready Player One. It is a speculative fiction novel which was released a few years ago with the name Ernest Cline on the cover.

The book is apparently being turned into a movie by no less a genius than Steven Spielberg. I see a massive box office hit.

The narrative contains a series of puzzles which need to be solved to inherit ownership of the VR system the whole world uses. There is a rival conglomerate trying a hostile takeover via attempting to win the contest.

After finishing the novel I was pondering some issues I had with it, these are around lack of depth of characters as well as a tendency towards telling not showing and it occurred to me all the gripes I had with it were the same as I had with The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

The plot of Ready Player One is straight out of the Dan Brown play book and the style of writing is quite similar in my opinion.

It is not unusual for novelists trying a different genre to be asked to use a pen name so the change in direction does not effect sales of future books back in their usual arena. Speculative fiction would be a new genre for Brown as all his works I am aware of are current day thrillers.

I may be way off base here, but did Dan Brown write Ready Player One under the pen name Ernest Cline?

If he did, is there some puzzle within the novel which can be cracked to solve the identity of the writer – from what I know of him, that would be very Dan Brown.

Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments section…

Enfield Council is to use Artificial Intelligence as part of its customer service, planned to go live in Autumn 2016.
The story is relatively straightforward in terms of innovation and positive customer experience.
But read down to the end and note the quote from the council’s opposition.
UK local authorities are facing huge financial pressure at present, so is there anything in the concerns in this article about reducing the staff numbers?
Is the opposition quote reactionary or prophetic?
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

The Swiss referendum on the basic income was backed by just under a quarter of the country’s population.
So, while it will not be introduced, a large minority of the voters see a need for it as a way of dealing with the rise of automation.

In a recent post I mentioned the concept of basic income. The idea being due to robot labour there will be less work for humans in the future.
Today Switzerland is having a referendum with this idea on the ballot paper.
The article also cites this idea being tested in two other European countries.

“It’ll murder me in my sleep,” is Frank’s (Frank Langella) first response to receiving a robot from his son in this light-hearted movie directed by Jake Schreier.
Set in the near future this film shows us a world where older people with memory problems can have a 24/7 companion, allowing their family who live far away to know there is some support on hand.
The film explores the parameters of this relationship and the robot tells Frank early on that he meeds a project. With initial attempts to bond being around planting a vegetable patch.
What actually gets them to bond is planning a burglary. Frank explains to the robot teaching it to pick locks is the hobby he needs.
The comparison of robot to human care is telling. Frank’s son and daughter live far away and when Madison (Liv Tyler) does visit, she doesn’t always want to do what Frank wants, while the robot has no other needs or agenda. Even the most giving human is not 100 pet cent altruistic.
There are some interesting insights into legal aspects of robots. And I don’t just mean it doesn’t come preprogrammed to not collude in criminal activity with the human it supports. But Frank cannot switch it off as its owner is his son Hunter (James Marsden) who has said he does not have user rights to do this. The machines memory can also be accessed by law enforcement, although I would assume a warrant was required, but this is not made clear – and the police seemed able to search Frank’s house on circumstancial evidence, with the victim of the crime present, with no mention of a judge considering the issue.
The movie touches on the politics of robots, notably when the machine asks if Madison is against robot labour.
One thing I thought robots who are used in health / social care settings should be programmed to request is a name. We wouldn’t give someone a pet and expect them not to name the animal. Susan Sarandon, the librarian in the film, has a work place robot she has named Mr Darcey. Part of the bonding with the support robot would be selecting a name.
Finding a project and keeping a routine are both vital for older people, particulary those with memory issues, any occupational therapist can tell you. But having someone on hand to help you keep to the project and routine will be priceless.
The film is not perfect, but it does raise a number of issues we will face in the near future in an accessible way.

* I mentioned this film when I first heard about it, but have only recently got round to watching, so my post is quite tardy.

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