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.

 

A recent article in the UK press discusses how robots may steal our jobs and ruin the economy.
This is a topic I have covered before – quite some time ago.
Anyone got any thoughts on this issue?

The Kepler data keeps giving us more data about potential earth-like planets in other solar systems.

This latest batch discusses planets nearly 500 light years away from our solar system.

With the galaxy (and one assumes universe) teeming with planets in the zone we recognise as habitable, the statistics of us being the only planet with life forms seems remote (and bearing in mind we know little about the possibility of life developing outside the zones we view as habitable, we shouldn’t discount the possibility of life by completely different rules to those we know).

But our own planet is the only guide we have to the evolutionary process required for life to develop. The bad news to be found here lays in the logic of the reptile being the most likely creature to develop to the top of the food chain in any ecosystem.

Dinosaurs ruled the earth for many. many millions of years. Only knocked down from their dominance by what scientists believe is a freak extinction event of an asteroid crashing into the planet and wiping them out. The likelihood of this kind of event being replicated on other planets with such lifeforms seems relatively low.

And in all those millions of years pre extinction event, no intelligent dominant reptile species evolved on earth.

Even if it did, again looking at the history of our own planet for guidance, the rate of development of humans was different in locations across the world  A relatively advanced civilization such as the Mayans was developing at the same time as Europeans were much further down the line of technology. The Mayans from my understanding were similar to civilizations like the Egyptians of 2,000 years BC. And while the Mayans were at their height, in North America and Australia the aboriginals living in both places were not too far beyond the stone age level (if my understanding of their civilisations is accurate).

So when we eventually get out into the galaxy, I suspect the odds tell us the planets with life will quite likely have reptiles. possibly of dinosaur scale, or if there are intelligent life they may well be far less advanced than us. Which probably means we need a Star Trek style Prime Directive.

There is the possibility any intelligent species could have wiped itself out (we have been pretty close ourselves with nuclear weapons). Or overtaken by robots (another interest of mine) or be much more intelligent than us and view us how we would view a Bronze age society.

So, while I am excited about Kepler finding these planets and I expect them to be teeming with life of one sort or another, I am quite sceptical about finding intelligent life.

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