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.

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.

 

Top AI in film

March 12, 2016

Following on from last week’s post about the AI movie Ex Machina, here is a list of my favourite movie AI:

HAL – the machine in 2001 A Space Oddessey. Space ship has conflicting programing with consequences for the crew.

Sonny – I Robot – based on the books of Asimov, this movie was good fun, Will Smith gave a good performance and played really well with AI debating which of them could create an artistic masterpiece.

The Terminator – the determined machine with one task, kill Sarah Connor. The special effects look a bit dated, particularly the scene with the part human part machine face, but the concept was so strong it launched a franchise of films, a tv series and some under rated comics.

The Matrix – the false world humans live inside as part of a great lie perpetuated by machines. The most interesting part of this is the discussion of the early version where everyone got what they wanted, but it failed as no one believed in it.

False Maria – Metropolis. A fake girl who changed film forever. Love the look.

Feel free to tell me your favourite AI in the comments section.

The Turing test is a concept which most people interested in computers and particularly AI have heard of. Named after genius Alan Turing of Bletchley Park fame (the type of fame which comes after your work is declassified many years later) who was finally posthumously pardoned for the non crime which scandalized his career.
Turing set the test for AI two decades before Bill Gates dropped out of college with the ambition to put a pc on every desktop.
The premise of Turing’s test is a simple one. Can a machine pass for human?
Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina turns the test into drama. His skill as a writer is evident when he explains the test in conversation between the two protagonists. The concept of the movie is one which touches on some of the fears of our age. How are those who oversee all of humanity’s internet searching using that data? Are they training AI to spot when a human lies, are they tracking an individual’s searches so they can build an AI body which matches those desires? There is also the underlying issue of once you have built a sentiment AI, is it your property? Should it be free?
Garland wrote the novel which became the excellent Danny Boyle movie, he also wrote the screenplay for another highly acclaimed Boyle movie 28 Days Later as well as penning Sunshine which Boyle also directed (as an aside, I thought the better tale would have been what happened on the first ship which failed in its mission rather than the second attempt).
The movie is well acted and Garland does get under the skin of his characters, including the AI – which in a movie about the Turing test is vital.
The special effects are at the standard you would expect, but this movie is really about the interaction of characters, human and AI.
I highly recommend watching Ex Machina.
(as a further aside Garland ends the film in a place where many would have started a film about AI. And perhaps that film in Garland’s hands would be interesting, but he has done a brave and intellectually challenging thing, making the Turing test into great drama.)

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