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Time Travel

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I have many memories of me as a young boy being on ‘the buses’ with my mother who was a bus conductor.  They were a common feature of many local bus services in larger towns and cities in the UK until the late 1970s and early 1980s, the purpose of whom was to collect fares, supervise passenger loading and unloading and maintain discipline.

  The main reason two-person crews were needed was that most towns and cities used double decker buses for urban services and until the 1960s, all double deck vehicles were built with front-mounted engines and a "half-cab" design, like the familiar London bus. This layout totally separated the driver from the passenger saloons. The conductor communicated with the driver using a series of bell codes, such as two bells to start (the well-known "ding-ding"). I would be filled with pride as I watched my Mum do her job.

She was so important, the queen of her private realm with full control of the start and stop operation and the mastery of the main tool of her trade – a ticket machine  attached by a shoulder strap like a military sword, to calculate fares and issue tickets.  I often got to play with the machine after work and I thought I might be a bus driver or conductor one day.

Of course, as a toddler there were other career options which attracted my attention. Once a year (if we were lucky) we would make the monumental journey to Glasgow, a whole hour train ride away. Glasgow was another world where they had not only a circus but an enormous department store called Bremners where my eye had caught another career option also in the people transportation domain, but this time floor to floor as a lift attendant (so called in Scotland) or an elevator operator if you were cross the Atlantic.

Being an effective elevator operator required many skills. Manual elevators were often controlled by a large lever. The elevator operator had to regulate the elevator's speed, which typically required a good sense of timing to consistently stop the elevator parallel to the floor. In addition to their training in operation and safety, department stores later combined the role of operator with greeter and tour guide announcing product departments, floor by floor, and occasionally mentioning special offers.  It really was very captivating to my small being.

I am relieved that both these professions ceased to exist by the time that I had to seriously consider my career options. These are just two professions which have died out in my lifetime but there are countless others. The future world of work will be unlike the past because of a fundamental shift which the workforce will experience. It is about big data, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3D printing, genetics and biotechnology which will all bring about significant seismic, rapidly evolving and lasting change to the way business will operate. 

Emerging technologies have the potential to dramatically replace human workers in the next few years. From self-driving cars to care-bots for elderly people, rapid advances in technology will take away many of the jobs people have done. Experts now believe that almost 50 per cent of occupations existing today will be completely redundant by 2025 as artificial intelligence continues to transform businesses. Other predications are that over 7 million of today’s jobs are predicted to disappear by 2020 and that 65% of students entering primary school today will end up working in a job that doesn’t exist yet.

According to a new report by consulting firm CBRE and China-based Genesis, customer work, process work and vast swatches of middle management will simply 'disappear' and people will take up more creative professions. This means that jobs will evolve and so will real estate development.  Workspaces with rows of desks will become completely redundant, not because they are not fit for purpose, but simply because that purpose no longer exists, according to the report.

'The next fifteen years will see a revolution in how we work, and a corresponding revolution will necessarily take place on how we plan and think about workplaces,' said Peter Andrew, Director of Workplace Strategy for CBRE Asia Pacific. A growing proportion of jobs in the future will require creativity intelligence, social skills and the ability to leverage artificial intelligence. 'And for most people that will be a route to happiness and fulfilment,' the report states. Thus, we get rid of the monotony that must surely exist in many jobs not least of all as a bus conductor and lift attendant!

Everything has its end and people’s professions are no exception. Much manual work has been replaced by machines and mental work has been replaced by computers, while some professions simply disappear because they are no longer needed. And this is not some sci-fi delusion – it’s jobs that are around us now. Do you really still need a dedicated travel agent to purchase your air fare or plan an itinerary for you? With Bing Travel, Google Flights, Travelstart,  Skyscanner and a bunch of other flight-search engines, scoring dirt-cheap tickets has become as easy as one, two, three. Same goes for booking a nice room with a view somewhere in Paris after checking a bunch of real reviews and scanning all the prices.

  Airbnb allows you to rent an awesome apartment somewhere spectacular and couch-surfing lets you sleep for free on a fellow traveller’s couch. And just look at all those travel bloggers out there. Their blogs already have all sorts of itineraries and things to do in almost every city in the world.   Even tour guides have become redundant in many tourist attractions, replaced with touch-screen info centres and audio-visual commentaries and virtual reality experiences.    All of which begs the question, in a few years time will we even bother visiting such attractions or will we simply enjoy a virtual experience in front of our computers and tablets at home?

Sounds great, doesn’t it?   A life of leisure, no need to leave the house for work or play, in fact no need to work at all with clever machines to do it all for us?  But there is a downside and here it is.  It’s the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ .  As man has evolved we lost the hair that covered our bodies when we found fire and learned to clothe ourselves.  We invented knives to cut our meat and our teeth grew smaller. 

We evolved to fit our changing lifestyles and if that is purely sedentary and cranial, theoretically we’ll only need our heads and maybe hands in the future!  I will leave you with the salutary lyrics of the Zager & Evans song ‘In The Year 2625
In the year 2525, if man is still alive
If woman can survive, they may find

They may thrive
In the year 3535
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today
In the year 4545
You ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes
You won't find a thing to chew
Nobody's gonna look at you
In the year 5555
Your arms hangin' limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin' to do
Some machine's doin' that for you
In the year 6565
You won't need no husband, won't need no wife
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube
Scary, isn’t it!

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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

… 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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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    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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