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.

 

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When I was a teenager I was semi stalked by a poster of Robert Smith from The Cure.
Lots of people I knew had the exact same poster of Robert with his white face make up, rosy lips, white shirt and flowing mounds of black Goth hair.
Maybe I had a particular type of people I was friends with in my teens, but there was that same poster of Robert looking down at me.
I had heard the odd song by his band The Cure before this stalking incident, but hadn’t paid them a great deal of attention.
But during this period of my life I seemed to hear the Wish album on repeat whoever I was hanging out with.
Friday I’m in Love was the really big and – dare I say – pop ish song on the album, with the immense and fun video they made to promote it.
But the album also has To Wish Impossible Things, a lament to a relationship which didn’t work out which is one of my favourite pieces of music of all time.
A variation on a theme is this line from A letter to Elise “I’ll never really get inside of you / to make your eyes catch fire / the way they should” sums up the sadness felt by everyone who has been in a relationship where you are into them, but they are just not that into you.
On the album there is also Apart. Listen to Robert sing about his broken relationship: “How did we get this far apart? / I thought this love would last forever”
Without fail when I hear this track I want to burst into tears.
While the rhyme in High “When I see you sticky as lips / as licky as trips” always makes me want to giggle as it is just good fun and shows Robert’s less fragile side.
Aside from that beautifully tragic album you should also try more of the band’s back catalogue.
Listen to Boys Don’t Cry, Love Cats and In-between Days or any other song they recorded in the 1980s or early 90s.
Dark soundscapes, black emotions, the depths of despair with the odd moment of elation, but throughout gorgeous music.
The boys from the Mary Whitehouse Experience mercilessly mocked him for being miserable. But like any caricature, they only showed part of the story.
I read an article a while ago which said Robert is still writing songs and the band are undertaking a pretty big tour this year.
In spite of the slightly unconventional and downright weird way I first came to know Robert and his work, I highly recommend the band.
Whether or not you like Goth music or its bastard son Emo (and if you like Emo, The Cure most likely were an influence on the bands you listen to) or guitar music at all – if you enjoy music which moves you emotionally, you should check out the Cure.

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.

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.)

Professor River Song is among the best characters ever to grace Doctor Who.
My brother complains she is essentially a renamed Bernice Summerfield from the spin off books from the 1990s . But the on screen coup of getting Alex Kingston to play a recurring character in the series cannot be underplayed.
From her first appearence in the Library she was a force to be reckoned with. The constant use of wibbly wobbly timely wimey to show what would really happen to time travellers who cannot possibly meet in the right order.  River’s last chronological lines before she dies are that through everything they have been through he has always known how she is going to die. At that point she is basically a stranger to the 10th Doctor.
The 11th Doctor then slowly gets to learn more about her as they meet again and again all the while more mystery being revealed as we discover who River is and how she fits in to the lives of the 11th Doctor’s other friends.
The way she gets to know more than the Doctor is a refreshing change for a show which has run, with a break, since 1963. Previously the only characters who have got anywhere near him have been other timelords.
Her entrance into the 11th Doctor’s life involves some pretty awesome shoes followed by psychic lipstick and a cameo from Mike Skinner of The Streets fame.
The Weeping Angels, one of the best baddies of modern Who play second fiddle to her.
The juxtaposition of transformation is one of the funniest elements of the show in recent years. The Doctor doesn’t recognise himself when Prisoner Zero takes on his form, but the first thing River does is find a mirror.
Rule number one is the Doctor lies, which River oft repeats. But she is a liar too and this is clear when she sees Amy just after she has defeated the Weeping Angels, but much later on in Amy’s timeline.
The definitive moment of River Song is when facing a dalek in the pandorica story, where the dalek predicts she will let it live and she says: “I’m professor River Song, look me up.” It’s response after looking her up sums up why River is so unique in Doctor Who.

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My copy of The Hobbit

I have been reading The Hobbit to my seven-year-old son. He is loving it as his bed time story and I am enjoying re-reading the childhood classic I loved. It was one of the early books I selected for myself and I whizzed through it when I was 11.
But during the bedtime re-read I have noticed something – and it is a bug bear I have with other books – the pacing.
So, the first 10 chapters cover about 200 pages, with some chapters pretty heavy going (just before the woods, the slog through those woods, the bit with the elves) but the last 9 chapters cover about 100 pages and quite quickly zip along. Short and to the point, the plot moves much faster than in earlier chapters.
Sometimes I feel like I am reading a completely different book.
Now Tolkien has form for poor pacing in my opinion, when I was reading The Two Towers at 12 years old, I was aware of the weary trek of Frodo and Sam which went on and on and on . I nearly gave up on that book , abandoning the two of them to those marshes. Much later I would laugh heartily at Clerks 2 with the comment on the film adaptations: “even the trees walked in those movies”.
But, back to my point. It feels like two different books, kind of jammed together. The long saga of The Unexpected Journey and the fast pace of the adventures at the Lonely Mountain.
How did this happen? A fast approaching deadline, perhaps? A change of editors halfway through the job.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the book when I first read it and I am enjoying the re-read with my son. If not for this book, many of the books I have enjoyed would never have happened.
And Tolkien is not alone in having pacing issues. I often find myself frustrated at books, films and tv series for this exact reason. I may blog about another more modern example at some point, but for now, feel free to tell me if you agree or disagree with my view of this legendary and much loved book.

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