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.

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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.

In the UK today is the Queen’s speech, which is the day each year the Government sets out its programme of work for the coming year – what laws it plans to pass.

There has been some mutterings about there not being much in it due to other political things going on at present.

But when historians look back the piece of legislation (assuming it does become law) which will change our society from today are the plans to allow driverless cars onto our roads (sixth item down in their list of points) and the legislative framework for insurance companies to provide policies for vehicles on our roads without humans.

(the bill also outlines the framework for commercial UK space ports as well as extending use of drones – lots in there which will change our society)

This blog first mentioned the concept of driverless cars about six years ago. So on the one hand I am pleased to see this is finally becoming a reality. But on the other, we really need to be considering what this means for us all. In Australia the trucking industry appears to be worried. What needs to also be considered beyond the truck drivers themselves is the insurance industry (fewer accidents, less claims), the healthcare industry (so we have less accidents and less sick people, hurrah, except if you are a physio who makes your living fixing broken people) the mechanics (less accidents, less repair work) as well as all the road side cafes and motels no longer feeding hungry  drivers or providing beds for when they are tired.

This is not the first area robots are changing our work place – I blogged previously about supermarkets and how jobs were being effected post the big global crash of the last decade. What we are still seeing now, eight years on from this crash is high levels of youth unemployment across Europe and in the UK anecdotal evidence of middle-aged workers laid off from whatever they were doing and now competing with young people for entry-level roles and getting them due to the years of experience they bring.

As well as putting legislation in place to allow the technological changes robots bring us, our Government’s should be looking at how to manage the social change which will accompany them. An option I have heard a lot about is the Basic Income idea. This would avoid a great deal of the social issues around a changing economy – there is already hysteria around robots taking jobs.

I am not necessarily advocating the Basic Income at this point, but it certainly is one of the options policy makers should be looking at when they plan how to tackle this likely social change.

It is also possible we could all find alternate jobs which spring up around the rise of the robots. I have heard it argued stable boys thought the coming of the automobile would leave them jobless forever, yet around the automobile industry whole new classes of careers opened up in the factories building them, the garages repairing them, on the oil rigs fueling them and the law firms insuring them. So perhaps all the humans will be working in jobs which haven’t even been invented yet.

 

Do you think Antiques Roadshow is for your gran and that one kid at school who wore glasses, had patches on his elbows and understood the Gold Standard?
Me too.
But, what about if, instead of stuffy toffs and crap old things, we had a down-to-earth yank (with a passing resemblance to a Mitchell Brother) and oddball, but cool, collectables?
Now that is a totally different proposition.
In Pawn Stars we have a Las Vegas pawn shop owner Rick who could also pass for Vic from The Shield.
Rick runs the shop with his old man who has seen everything in the pawn trade.
Also working there is Rick’s son Big Hoss and his friend Chumlee whose role in this is to play the fool, which he seems to love.
Episodes are formulaic where random items (guns, a Harley, replica bat mobile or Kiss pinball machine) come into the shop and either gets valued straight away or for the particularly oddball items (table with inbuilt gun, New Deal bank notes) an expert comes in to value the item.
So far, so Antiques Roadshow variant.
But then Rick offers his own money to buy the item. Which is where the fun really begins as Rick and the item’s owner haggle over the price.
Sod old blokes in stuffy tweed suggesting how much to insure the piece for or how much something could get at a hypothetical auction.
Witness the auction as it happens.
Offer and counter offer. The cut away shot to earlier where the seller tells the camera what the lowest possible price they would take is, which is followed by Rick getting them to part with it for less.
My personal favourite is when they get a gambling item in, such as a roulette wheel.
Rick will do something awesome like say he’ll meet a price if they spin and it lands on the colour the seller selects.
But if it lands on the other colour, Rick only pays the price he has named. Real money in reality TV makes for real drama.
The format may be formulaic, but the show is well made and extremely compelling viewing.
A sparkling gem amongst the dross of reality TV which you can find showing in the UK on ITV 4.

Minecraft is awesome – a world-wide phenomenon, loved by millions, including me.

But, there is just one small thing which bugs me about this sandbox game.

Maybe it is just how my friends and I play it, but after a while you end up with so much clutter, it starts to feel like an episode of Hoarders.

In survival mode, you’ve built a shelter from the Googlies (Stampy word) and you have mined, chopped down trees and collected all sorts of objects from gold to buckets full of lava.

What do you do with all this stuff?

You build chests to store all these things for the day later in the game you may need this item or that one.

Then you play some more, which naturally means collecting more stuff.

Then your chest is full, so you extend it to be a double chest.

Then the double chest is full.

So you make a new double chest and another and another. Soon you have so many you have to make signs to hang above each double chest to label each: “plants”; “rocks”; “food”; “tools”; “weapons”; and so on and on and on.

Each world I have played in Minecraft survival mode has been awesome until I have got to the point where I have so much stuff I have a house full of chests all full of clutter.

On some level the game seems to lead us towards the accumulation of things. At some point it flips from the basics you need to survive the harsh world to a modern problem of having just way too much stuff in your life.

The game moves seamlessly from battling to live with nothing but your wits to the world of high capitalism in its purest form.

You mine, you farm, you make, you barter, you own. You own some more.

The whole game boils down to accumulating more and more, some kind of Ferengi heaven of acquisition.

I don’t know if there is some hidden, intentional irony, in where the game takes you – the guy who built it sold the game to Microsoft for an astronomical sum.

Maybe the whole game is some kind of ironic take on human society which I am not smart enough to get.

Or maybe its a great game of battling against the elements, building unbelievably cool structures until you end up with a house full of chests full of stuff you don’t need.

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