The Machines

Steven Hawking is a very clever bloke with a brain the size of Yorkshire. Sometimes though, I do wonder. In recent years he has warned about the catastrophic dangers humanity faces in the 21st century. He said we should be cautious in attempting to contact aliens warning that advanced extra-terrestrial life may not be friendly toward us and could destroy the human race. Of course they won’t be friendly. Didn’t he ever watch Dr Who?

Hawking though has more recently warned of what he thinks is a more dangerous threat to civilisation, automation. He argued that the future is wrought with the peril of rampant inequality expedited by an automated machine-based global economic system.

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed.” Hawking continued, “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”

We’ve been on a trajectory of wealth consolidation amongst a shrinking percentage of population for many years and it will present pretty serious issues for our children’s generation. Rather like demographics however, it is one of those big themes which no politician has the courage to take on. Certainly, our education system is woefully inadequate in preparing children with the skills they need, that will be in demand, in the coming fifty years. Food for thought though.

Flight MH 17 row continues to escalate

The Defence Ministers of Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Germany and their Russian opposite number, Sergei Shoigu

The Defence Ministers of Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Germany and their Russian opposite number, Sergei Shoigu

The Flight MH 17 row continues to escalate; why is it so difficult for someone to get on a plane and go and talk to Putin? The traditional mediator at such times, Germany, has excused and absented themselves from the process. Mrs Merkel must swing into gear, far from protecting Germany's interests she will achieve the opposite in sacrificing the long term good for short term industrial interests.

My view from the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis is that I wouldn’t trust either side as far as I could throw them and propaganda and misinformation continues to stream from both sides. The EU are absolutely culpable in precipitating the crisis in making impossible demands while making unfulfillable promises. Like it or not, EU meddling resulted in the overthrow of an elected government and having lit the fuse the EU stood back, turned and ran away. Now we have nigh on 300 innocents dead, and many thousands more in Ukraine itself and the European economy under threat of being destabilised.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has accepted at face value the assertion that rebels downed the civilian aircraft. That may transpire to be fact but should be left to clinical investigation. Russia’s Defence Ministry is challenging the allegations and has produced evidence suggesting a Ukrainian fighter jet had tracked the airline despite early assertions from the Ukrainians that no fast jets were in the air. The Russians have also challenged the Americans to produce the satellite imagery they say they have showing that the missile was launched by the rebels. There are many more conflicting assertions and pieces of supposed evidence out there, such as the report of a Spanish air traffic controller working in Ukraine who said the Boeing was under escort by two Ukrainian fighters, and I know not which may or may not be accurate. I would simply encourage a healthy scepticism of the output of both sides. We’ll get the truth, eventually.

As an aside, I'm no fan of John Pilger and am diametrically opposed to just about everything he stands and has stood for but its a funny old world. So warped and pliable have political principals become in our modern world and so diluted has the integrity of journalism become that I find myself in almost absolute agreement with his thoughts on the Ukraine in this pretty searching and articulate piece from his blog. Worth a read.

One further point. Much has been made of lack of respect for the dead. If looting has taken place its unforgiveable but amongst the swaggering gangsters it is also clear that many local volunteers, firemen, miners and the like, have collected bodies and body parts. That is a traumatic experience. My old company was at Lockerbie, (after I had left them), and did just that job. The legacy of social problems and PTSD among those men lingers on and in fact I attended a funeral just two weeks ago, the cause of which may well stretch back down the years to Lockerbie. People who haven’t been handed a plastic bag and been asked or told to “go and collect” shouldn’t be so quick off the mark to criticise. It’s not a nice thing to have to do.

Scotsie 100

The Scottish independence debate has so far been characterised by a poverty of original clear thinking.  The paper below by Paul Marsh, Emeritus Professor of Finance at the London Business School and Scott Evans of Walbrook Economics, about the merits of Scottish independence from a stock market perspective, changes the tone somewhat. In it, they soberly de-construct how Scotland would have fared since 1955 with its own stock exchange and how it would fare as an independent country.

With the clock running down we urgently need more input of similar calibre. One could be forgiven for thinking that the actuality of the situation is that Salmond & Co are dreading the "Oh bugger, that wasn't supposed to happen, what now?" moment if they actually do win while one might be left to think that Cameron & his playmates, latterly supplemented with a squadron of clickty-clack heeled media friendly thirty-something women junior ministers, won't shed a tear because the embedded Labour majority at Westminster will be gone forever.