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Once Bitten

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White


You may have noticed that several of the city’s post offices have had wall-mounted, flat-screen televisions installed recently.  We’ve seen the same thing in most of the bank branches, even the odd doctor’s waiting room and it’s always a worrying sign.

You see, they are clearly put there to keep waiting customers amused and if you need to be kept occupied it’s pretty obvious they expect you to be hanging around for quite some time.  The provision of seating in Post Offices sends out much the same message – once upon a time there was no need to rest your weary bones while waiting to purchase a stamp or indulge in other sundry postal business; you didn’t expect to say there too long so it was fine to stand and there was no need for in-house entertainment to keep your mind off the interminable wait and waste of your valuable time.

That in-house entertainment varies from business to business.  Some of the banks subscribe to the premium DSTV bouquet so you can catch up with breaking news stories or major sporting fixtures, all from the discomfort of standing in a long queue.  Other less profitable places limit themselves to a filched Philibao offering or an entry-level DSTV subscription; thus you might find yourself watching any one f the innumerable reality TV shows which pass for mass entertainment these days; fat people trying to get thin, ugly people trying to be beautiful or  people with more money than sense airing their dirty laundry in public;  television evangelists from Nigeria,  with the gift of the gab and a mean slight of hand, pulling live snakes out of the mouths of their accursed or afflicted followers; or just a bunch of wannabee nobodies sitting in a house and caught on camera 24-7.

But none of this is for Botswana Post.  So far they have limited their output to public service advertising, most notably a short safety film courtesy of Botswana Power Corporation, depicting a few hapless members of the public chancing upon damaged cables and downed power lines or just setting up illegal electricity connections, all of whom end up fried.  I guess they mean well and I daresay there are plenty of people out there who need reminding but here’s where we come to my thought for the week:


There’s a certain irony in BPC advertising on a Botswana Post platform.  The former is arguably the nation’s most-despised utility and the latter is right at the top of the list of parastatals that folks just love to hate and the reason is the same in both instances – poor to miserable service provision. 

Since Eskom’s spectacular fall from grace in 2008 and the subsequent rolling blackouts, load-shedding and power rationing that have affected us on and off ever since, not to mention poor maintenance and old infrastructure which have resulted in frequent and prolonged power cuts in inclement weather, BPC has failed in its clear and simple mandate – providing the nation with a reliable source of electricity. 

 

It is probably the most despised acronym in the country right now.  Couple that with a postal service which is also failing to deliver, manned as it is by some of the surliest and uncooperative staff of any organisation in the country, bar the uncivil Civil Service and beset by a decade of leadership challenges and dingy, aging offices, the post office is a place you go to only when you must; thus the idea of BPC trumpeting its safety and service messages within the walls of creaking post office buildings crammed with customers who are about to lose the will to live, smacks of an unholy alliance between black kettle and even blacker pot.

Both corporate reputations have long been shot and both should be embarking on a serious programme of damage control and image repair.  Both, in fact, currently claim they are doing just that but public mistrust, like virginity, once lost, is hard or impossible to regain.  And I can only imagine what it must be like for those employees in either organisation who really do want to try and fulfil the promise and deliver a good service. 

 

Social media is punctuated with occasional reports of employee X or Y who went out of their way to sort a bad situation and leave a customer satisfied but these are a tiny proportion of the tales of woe peppering the sites on a daily basis, making those special few stars the exceptions that prove the rule.  Much the same can be said for WUC.  

 

A lot of venom is vented against the country’s sole clean water company, not least for the disastrous failure of the Gaborone city dam earlier this year, due in large part to a lack of forward planning and  a complete lack of a Plan B.  Add to that malfunctioning meters, billing issues and unattended pipe bursts and you have another set of acid acronyms.  Again, there are a precious few dedicated staff members who try and rise above the mire that is their employing organisation but their efforts end up like the little boy sticking his finger in the hole in the dyke wall, only to find the water bursting out somewhere else – at times, quite literally.

And it’s not just the national utility companies and large parastatals. Going the same way, are the 2 main cellular network providers, the above-mentioned satellite service provider and  all of the big banks – no exceptions.  All of the above are in the business of service provision and every one of them is getting it horribly wrong and here’s the real rub and reality check.

In between screenings of the shocking BPC safety video, the media company providing the closed circuit coverage optimistically puts out its ow contact details, should any company out there care to utilise the medium with their own advertising message. In case you’re even thinking about it, here’s my advice –  ‘cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent’.  Translated it means ‘he that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas’!
 

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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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