The EU is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet. Chatting today to a friend who has been involved in the buying and selling of European banks. I asked him today about the situation of Deutsche Bank, he said it will be renamed DLB, (Deutsche Lehman Bank) Letting it fail would create a global financial meltdown. Germany will have to break every rule in the EU rulebook to keep Deutsche afloat. Then Italy will ask for the same treatment from the EU for its banking sector, which is also in crisis. There just won’t be enough money to go around and the result will be a political and financial fracture which will rip the EU apart.
In quite extraordinary scenes at the United Nations security council, Britain, France and the USA directly accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria. The accusations are based on the use of bunker-busting bombs and other heavy weapons in east Aleppo where many civilians are trapped.
Matthew Rycroft, the UK ambassador to the UN said “Incendiary munitions, indiscriminate in their reach, are being dropped on to civilian areas so that, yet again, Aleppo is burning. And to cap it all, water supplies, so vital to millions, are now being targeted, depriving water to those most in need. In short, it is difficult to deny that Russia is partnering with the Syrian regime to carry out war crimes.” Then, along with his French and American counterparts, they walked out in protest before the Syrian government representative began speaking.
What all this shows is just how powerless the UN really is. Because each permanent member of the UN security council has a veto and can block any decisions it doesn’t like, the whole thing can be brought to a standstill. It is obvious that Russia and probably China will block any resolution about taking action to bring the blood, death and misery in Syria to an end.
Maybe the UK, France and the USA will invoke the “Uniting for Peace” resolution of November 1950 (resolution 377 (V)). This states ‘the Assembly may also take action if the Security Council fails to act, owing to the negative vote of a permanent member, in a case where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. The Assembly can consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to Members for collective measures to maintain or restore international peace and security.’
This resolution hasn’t been used very often but the feeling is that now there is genuine anger, spilling over into direct and less than diplomatic speech by certain security council members at the actions of Russia in Syria. At the end of the day, this resolution can only make recommendations. In 1980, the General Assembly convened in a “Uniting for Peace” session and passed a resolution demanding the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Soviets merely shrugged. Russia would mostly likely do the same if such a resolution were passed today.
The biggest irony for me regarding Russia’s actions in Syria is that it claims to be a christian country, in fact the link between the Orthodox church in Russia and the Kremlin would take many by surprise. It is directly influencing the making of laws in Russia. Where is the church’s role in this? Giving guidance on morality or where are the politicians who claim to be christian asking themselves, ‘what would Jesus do in my situation?’ You would have to wait a very long time indeed for that to happen.
There we have it, the UN is basically pointless, it can’t live up to its charter, it is unable to stop wars or give all the aid needed to the refugees caused by those wars. The big powers simply ignore the UN when it suits them. The UK, France, USA and China are just as guilty as Russia, it is basically a toothless old dog that needs to be put down. In fact if there were no UN it would make it much easier for countries, acting alone or as a group to take action and intervene. Instead they are all stuck in an organization which is unable or unwilling to do anything. Innocent people continue being slaughtered. Well done UN, you are 71 years old now, maybe it is time you were retired.
The Pokemon Go craze is beyond me but I’ve never been into computer games. As the craze kicked off and I learned what the game is about and how it works it got me thinking. Is there something more to this game than meets the eye?
How the game works is cool, no denying it. Get people running around their local towns, chasing down Pokemons which are computer graphic characters layered on top of the real world view of your smart phone camera. But then I started thinking more about how the creators of the game could use it in other ways. When you play the game, a huge amount of information is collected, it has access to your GPS location, camera and microphone. For this reason I began to understand how Pokemon Go could quite simply be the biggest intelligence gathering tool of the digital age. In general Pokemons are scattered around, waiting to be caught in parks and on the street etc. But they can also be inside buildings and other private spaces. Today I was reading in the Independent newspaper, the Israeli army have been banned from playing because of the fear of sensitive information being leaked. The article also tells of a Palestinian player in Gaza who was playing but couldn’t capture a Pokemon because it was inside a Hamas run government building.
This is the point, if you want to collect information about locations and what is happening there, plant a Pokemon and wait for a player to go after it. If there is a player who works in the Hamas run government building and is not aware of security, they could be running around the building capturing all sorts of camera footage for whoever runs the data collection for the creators of the game.
In fact, some companies I know, have banned playing the game on their premises due to the risk of sensitive information being leaked. With data security being such a big issue these days, even if the game is not being used deliberately to gather intelligence the fact remains, your data from the game, camera footage and GPS location plus most of the other permissions on your phone, are being captured stored. This is a goldmine of information for hackers, you can be sure they will try to steal it. So either way, I will not be touching Pokemon Go with a barge-pole
Whether Fethullah Gulen was behind the failed coup attempt or if President Erdogan staged it himself is unimportant. What is important is what is happening now. The general impression appears to be that a large part of the population supports Erdogan, if only because it is better to have a bad politician as leader rather than a military leadership. The Syrians I know who live in Turkey support Erdogan, the last thing they want to see is the country slide into chaos after escaping the bloodshed of Syria.
This does not mean the dangers have receded and the country will not yet face fresh instability in the future. With emergency powers in place, actions are happening which I believe to be part of a longer term strategy.
The main consequence so far is the ongoing purge, not only and understandably of the military but also of judges, civil servants, teachers and heads of universities. Leaving the military purge to one side, the purge of civil institutions reminds me of the purges that happened in the USSR under Lenin and Stalin. It also makes me think about what happened in Iraq after the fall of Sadaam Hussein. His Baath party ran all the institutions of the country, the USA decided to remove everybody connected to the Baath party, the institutions that ran the country were hollowed out and is a major reason for the chaos we see in Iraq today. Erdogan is going down the same road, by removing so many people for ideological reasons he is weakening the institutions that hold the country together. Many people are losing their jobs and on a practical level dealing with the civil service will become much harder. With so many judges having been fired, the legal process is grinding to a halt. Any country without a functioning legal system is on a very slippery slope.
We can all see what is happening but more interesting are the potential reasons why. Obviously Erdogan wants all the power for himself, he is authoritarian. But more interesting is how he is using religion, Islam, as an instrument of power and the part it plays in his long term objective. The Turkish constitution is secular, Erdogan is Islamist, for the last two years he has been increasing the role of religion in politics. His ambition is for Turkey to once again be the spiritual leader of the Sunni muslim world as it was during the time of the Ottoman empire. For now, that role is held by Saudi Arabia and Erdogan wants it back. This is the reason for his purge, he is clearing out secularists from the judicial system, education and the civil service. The replacements will be Islamists. In so doing Turkey will be able to promote itself as more ideologicaly pure than the Saudi kingdom, where outside of the elite class many see only corruption in their leaders. Erdogan is also pushing his anti-USA rhetoric as part of the plan, many Islamists have negative feelings about the USA, with its drone strikes and bombings that often kill innocent people and its ‘corruption’ of the muslim world with its military bases, particularly in Saudi Arabia. As a part of that I can see the real possibility of Turkey refusing to allow the USA to continue using its air bases to launch strikes against Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. I would go as far as saying that Turkey could well withdraw from NATO, if it isn’t pushed out first, as part of Erdogan’s ideological drive. Turkey is no longer looking west, its gaze is now firmly set on the middle east. Religion is just a tool used to increase power and influence
As part of that strategy it has repaired its relations with Russia and one of the main reasons for this is Syria. If Erdogan can offer Russia something of real value it may well withdraw its support for Bashar al Assad and force him to step down and bring some stability back to Syria. If Erdogan can pull this off he will outmaneuver both the USA and Saudi Arabia and his influence in the middle east would dramaticaly increase. Saudi Arabia is aware of this and is also trying to tempt Russia economically and strategically with influence in the middle east in exchange for withdrawing support from Bashar al Assad. There is now a power race between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, you can be sure there will be a lot of dirty tricks on the road ahead.
Coming back to the situation inside Turkey today, yes a large part of the population are Islamists and support Erdogan but there are also many who are secular and educated, the military has never wanted to see the power of religion increased in Turkey. It is by nature secular. The purges will remove as many secularists as possible but in my opinion I think the seeds for civil war are being sown as we speak and it will be a religious war, for and against.
I’m fascinated by technology, I love it. I was born when the world was still mostly analogue and the few computers that did exist would take up an entire room. Televisions still had electronic valves and the IC (integrated circuit) had not long been in mass production. I think my interest in science started when I was seven years old, I had a big magnet and one day while watching TV alone in the room I had the bright idea of putting the magnet on the TV screen. Imagine this seven year old being blown away as he moved the magnet around on the screen and the picture distorted and followed the magnet, the effect was psychedelic. Then imagine as the fascination turned to horror when I took the magnet off the screen and the picture didn’t go back to normal. I turned the TV off and ran up to my room and started reading a book as if nothing had happened. A while later I heard my mother say, ‘whats happened to the TV!!!’ Then she came up to my room and asked if I had seen anything wrong with it. Like any good seven year old, I denied all knowledge. When the TV engineer came out to fix it, it didn’t take long, he took a look at me and said ‘someone has a magnet’, I was busted. But that experience kickstarted my interest, how could a magnet have such a powerful yet invisible force. In high school I loved physics and I got my first computer in 1982, a Sinclair ZX81 and learnt how to program it. Also, when I first got into photography when I was ten, I was as much interested in the science as the art, how light works and how it can interact to create images.
So this article is based on how I see technology impacting the world of work and its effect on society as well as also looking forward to see what can be in the next five, ten and beyond years. I have been speaking to people who work in automation and robotics, designers and programmers. It is a fascinating world but one that will also raise many challenges for people in the world of work.
A lot of my conversations have been with people who design and build production lines for the automotive industry, one of the most highly automated industries in the world. While robots have been used for many years now, for instance in welding panels together, and conveyors automatically moving everything along, these systems are relatively ‘dumb’ compared to what is being developed and implemented today.
Today, the sensor technology that is used for quality control can work to very tight tolerances and very quickly. Vision systems can optically analyse a part to see if it has been made correctly, measuring systems with touch sensors can operate very accurately and rapidly. Pressure and leak testing systems are now fully automatic. What ties all these different parts together is the PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) as it tells the different robots and sensors what to do and collects, controls and coordinates the data that is sent back. In fact, a major area of development today is in traceability, with all the data being collected, if something does go wrong in production, the data exists to pinpoint the precise reason why, whether it be a design fault, machine fault or human error. This leads us to another point, with all the technology available, the need for human workers in mass production is being reduced and from conversations it is clear that number of human workers in automotive production is going to be cut even further over the next five years.
What is really fascinating is the idea that in future we won’t even need programmers to program the robots and sensors beyond entering the basic parameters of what is needed. With the rapid development of Machine Learning (ML) or Artificial Intelligence (AI) as most call it, the time is coming when machines will be able to program other machines. Earlier this year, Google pitched its AlphaGo computer against the best Go players in the world and won. It is a very complex game that requires a certain level of intuition, Chess is simple in comparison. As ML is refined and developed there will be the possibility to use it to teach other machines what to do. For example, nowadays a production line is built and has different stations for the different robots and quality control systems. A programmer must write the code to tell each station exactly what to do and how, with robots working in close proximity care also has to be taken that there are no collisions between the different stations. The programmer also has to write the code which studies the data sent back from the robots and sensors to check no errors have been made. With ML, there is no reason why, in the not so distant future, it will not be possible to build a production line, and have a Machine Teaching system (MT) do this work. All that will be needed is to tell it the role of each station, the order of component assembly and then let the MT get on with it. Programming is logic, mathematics, perfect work for a system that functions on mathematics and logic, able to analyse vast numbers of possibilities and outcomes in a short time to find the best solution. Each robot and sensor station works on repeated cycles, there is no reason why in the future it won’t be possible, using Machine Teaching to take the role of a human programmer.
Increasing automation is used for two different reasons; quality and cost control. Machines don’t need lunch breaks or holidays, they don’t break down very often and they don’t get tired and make mistakes. The rapid refinement of automation machines means they can take on increasingly delicate jobs, which before demanded the dexterity of human hands. Of course there are still some jobs robots can’t do and I don’t think will be able to do for a very long time, stitching the leather to a Rolls Royce steering wheel is definitely one job that needs a human. But in general, the machines will take over.
But there are many other areas of work where automation using Machine Learning and Machine Teaching will be able to take over, accounting comes to mind as does insurance and certain areas of commercial law. I can even see how purchasing will become automated. In fact, this is already happening in the world of finance with electronic trading systems that buy and sell stocks automatically, they can react to price changes much faster than a human can, the system does have its weaknesses but in general works well. Even financial advice is now being automated using very complex algorithms to study stocks, bonds, commodities and company performance etc. So in the future buyers and sellers of a product will be able to use a system that can automatically negotiate with other buyers and sellers in order to get the best price, in the same way that is happening in the financial world today. Any job that is based on numbers, that doesn’t require genuine creativity will eventually be automated when it becomes cheaper to use a machine than a human. Machine Learning and Machine Teaching will make this happen, the technology is being developed more rapidly than many realise.
Where does this leave us? Eventually, most office jobs will go the way of factory jobs, where only a small number of people will be needed to keep a general eye on things. So what will happen? The effect on society will be dramatic, new jobs that people can do are not being created anywhere near as quickly as the jobs which are being automated, I doubt mass new jobs will ever be created. People need money to live and businesses need customers to consume. There is no point in automating yourself out of business because few people have a job and the money to buy your product or service. Only so many people can work in medicine, design engineering, building construction or infrastructure etc. Automation in conjunction with Machine Learning and Machine Teaching is a road from which there is no turning back, now started it won’t be stopped. So what is a possible solution to the social upheaval that is coming? The idea of a universal basic income is being considered in some countries but for it to work it will need to be more than a basic income if people are to have enough money to spend and not just live hand to mouth. So looking further into the future and being aware of how governments would like to move us toward a cashless society, I want to get a bit creative in a utopian/dystopian kind of way. Could it be that every year, every person is given a sum of money, the governments would use their central banks to ‘print’ the money even though it only exists in electronic form in your bank account. Then at the end of the year that money is deleted, wiped off the balance sheet of the central bank and any which is left over in your bank account before being recreated as the clock ticks over to the new year to start all over again. The downside of this is that the government would know everything you use the money for and could delete the money in your account if it decided it didn’t like you. Cold hard cash would no longer exist so you would be well and truly stuck. In this future, business would decide when you need to buy something, for instance, you have had your home entertainment system for two years, it is now time to upgrade. A new one will be delivered and installed after the money has been automatically deducted from your account. You are being paid to consume and consume you must. Everything must be done to keep business running, that is the point of government which is now just a subsidiary of a corporation. But what about schools and hospitals etc. Education would change, with machines doing most of the work most people wouldn’t need much of an education, the most important thing they would need to be taught is the importance of consumption and would consist of mainly watching advertainment videos as sponsored by Google, the biggest advertising company in the world. At that time all products and services will have to be approved for sale by Google, now the worlds most powerful company and de-facto government of Europe and the Americas. It will be extremely hard to make and sell something if you are not approved for listing on the only approved search engine in the western hemisphere, it happened a few years after the final death of Net Neutrality. In fact, at that time hand made items made on the ‘black market’ will be in demand but very dangerous to own. Once the Internet of Things, ‘IoT’ finally took off and there were so many ‘smart devices’ in people’s homes with cameras and microphones it became very easy to detect if there was a ‘black market’ object in the house, easily checked by image recognition software in seconds against the database of approved items from approved businesses. If you are caught, ‘your’ bank account could be emptied.
As for health, doctors and surgeons will still exist but many diagnosis will be made by machine bristling with sensor and scanning technology, although I’m not sure about the idea of a machine proctologist! None of the administration staff and middle management that absorb so much of a hospital’s budget will be needed, that work has been automated. But healthcare will be administered on a cost/benefit basis, can the patient be made well enough to keep consuming will always be the question.
Forgive me for going a bit sci-fi but everything I have written here about the technology is possible and under development. The technology of automation is accelerating and it is going to change the face of work across all levels of society. The impact can not be escaped. While I went off into rather an imaginative view of the future of business and government it is true that the current system of managing the coming change is seriously inadequate and will need drastic solutions if the advancements in technology today are not to be responsible for the upheaval of society tomorrow.
The faster the weeks, months and years seem to fly by, the more I become convinced of the irrelevance of time. The only moment which truly matters is the present as it is the only moment which ever really exists. The past only exists because we can remember it in the present moment and the future has not yet happened, but when it does it will be in the present. The important thing is how we live now, in this everlasting moment
I see the world differently to most people and create abstract photographic images that most would never imagine. I never use Photoshop, I do vision, capturing the image most will never notice.
I have always been fascinated by reflections, ultimately it is through reflecting light that we see most of the world around us. We see an object because of the light it reflects, rather than see it directly, unless of course it is its own light source.
As a photographer, I love watching how water reflects light, particularly when the surface of a lake or the sea is almost but not quite totally calm. Then, the very gentle movement of the water creates, for me, the best reflections of all. It is quite easy to not notice these reflections but when you photograph them, freeze them in time, something amazing happens. Reflections become abstract with an almost sculptural quality and because of the way the water is moving each image captured is totally unique. The water will never move in exactly the same way again and recreate the same reflection again. Each reflection becomes like a snowflake, infinite in variety, never to be repeated.
With this in mind I have decided to create an art-work based on one of my images of a reflection. It is quite large, 100x150cm, printed on brushed aluminium using a complex thermal sublimation process. This high definition printing process onto aluminium gives the colour of the image a strong impact as well as being very durable. The work is called Flamingo, when you look at it you will understand why. This is a one off piece, never to be reprinted in any form and will be supplied with a certificate of authenticity. If you are interested in owning a unique and original work of abstract photography then you can find more information about it at the Saatchi Art gallery