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Speechless

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

The 21st of September not an auspicious day by any notable ‘day’ standards but it’s the day I received my invitation to speak at TEDx Gaborone.  Before I go any further let me give you the TED story. TED is, according to their website, “a platform for ideas worth spreading”.

It started in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged and TED today shares ideas from a broad spectrum — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.

I have been watching Ted talks for a while and to think that I am now “in the club” is almost more than I can hope for. Last night I watched a TED talk on Aspergers and I am feeling quite inadequate because I don’t have that (great TED talk material), at the same time I am intimidated by others who have gone before.

I am not a motivational speaker (Tony Robbins), know anything about Global Warning (Al Gore) nor have a sex scandal attached to my name (Monica Lewinsky) or written a bestseller like Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert). So what am I to talk on and what will my story be? 

I sense this is important and while I am not sure exactly how it all works , I am visualising millions of people watching me on YouTube and I am struck by the terror, my usual fear of failure and a very strong thought that I don’t actually have a story to tell. It’s the same feeling you have when you appear naked in a dream in front of all your work mates.

You see, I have always copied and never been original. Those who know me might be shocked at this disclosure because other people tend to describe me as creative but I know where my ideas come from and it’s always other people.  On the basis that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I have always copied, in business, in theatre, in philosophy and in life lessons. 

I tend to take others’ ideas develop them or make them better. I am definitely not a blank-piece-of-paper type of guy and sometimes when I really don’t have a clue and copying isn’t an option, I improvise.

I am reminded of my first year at school in South Africa after my family had emigrated just months before. I was put in a class labelled “practical” for a number of reasons that are far too embarrassing to mention (but if you were to think truancy, bad crowd and wayward behaviour you’d be on the right track).

Practical was a euphemism for remedial I guess and if you didn’t know this by the name the subject choice gave it away…woodwork, metal-work, maths lit, business studies aka filing, typing etc. Those who know me today acknowledge this as an unlikely fit. 

When you have two left thumbs, and half of a technical brain and you are asked to make a breadboard (Woodwork 101), you do what anyone else does when faced with this overwhelming task, which was to outsource the task in a schoolboy trade agreement. Jeffery Brown was everything I wasn’t at 12, big, muscular, hairy, good at rugby and could plane AND weld. JB wasn’t too good at maths so we traded and after all, fair exchange is no robbery.

When it came to presenting our breadboards for marking we were strung out in a line and would, one-by-one, move forward to the teachers’ table for inspection after which the Woodwork Master, Mr Stalin (I kid you not and never was a name so apt) would award a suitable mark. The plan was simple – JB goes first and after being marked, surreptitiously passes his perfect breadboard to me and later in the queue I re-present it as my work. All breadboards look the same right?

But here is the twist; for the self-same piece of woodwork, JB got an A and I got a D. I was completely floored but it might have been at that moment when I realised that we are judged not by what we do but what people think we are capable of doing.  Comrade Stalin marked me on his expectation of my scant ability, and JB on the expectation of his perfectly turned and planed triumph.  I never did ask JB what mark he got for his maths homework but as maths is more cut and dried, right or wrong, he probably got the better of our bargain.

I have told this story many times before of how I cheated and by karmic punishment, was cheated of my A which of course wasn’t mine anyway. Sometimes I use the story to illustrate the illogic of the system and sometimes it is about being unfairly put into remedial class. It makes me think that there are things that happen to you in life and then there is the story you tell yourself of what happens in your life!

So who am I if I don’t have a story for the TEDx talk and what will I say to the millions of viewers who could potentially watch this? Already I am feeling sick at the possibility of having only 23 YouTube views, made up of my two daughters, ex-wife, present partner and my own personal 19 logged views.

But here’s the rub, because in putting this down on paper I realise I do indeed have a story. The breadboard is my story. It’s a funny story when deceit catches you out and you can do nothing about it. I couldn’t exactly challenge Mr Stalin (even if I had the courage) about his inconsistent marking principles without giving the whole game away.

It’s tragic that I was forced to make the damn breadboard in the first instance when I had been wrongly assigned to the academically-challenged practical class instead of staff making an effort to understand the difficulties I was facing dealing traumatically with a move to a new country, the culture shock, some incidental bullying and a smidgen of youthful rebellion. It is empowering when I consider the resourcefulness of the situation and using my wits and wherewithal to survive. 

So I am not sure if that will be my TEDx cautionary tale and modern, moral fable.  Who knows how much of a hit it could be but I can predict with absolute certainty that every one of you who wants to judge for yourself can be one more ‘hit’ on my listing.  So that should take the total up to at least 30 then!


STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at www.hrmc.co.bw

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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