Robot, know thyself

Written by Scarlett Regan, Researcher

Edited by Harriet Moll, Creative Director

Good morning, Last weekend, I decided to brave Storm Dennis and do something cultural that wasn’t armchair based. One broken umbrella later, I was at an exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London. Curated by artist Trevor Paglen, it explored the way in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) networks are taught to ‘see’ words. 30,000 images drawn from ImageNet were displayed, each photo relating to a specific word – ‘anomaly’ being one of the more memorable. All kinds of bias; racism, sexism – in fact any ‘-ism’ you can think of – was there on display. It was really quite creepy to see these judgements so clearly.

Disconcertingly, Monday evening’s BBC Panorama then investigated a similar topic. An exposé of Amazon’s use of data, this was a wallet freezing documentary that must have given even the most loyal Alexa fans pause. Amazon has so much data about us that it knows when we are pregnant, heartbroken, ill or hungry before we do. All of this data is willingly if unwittingly given. A Harvard Business School professor explained: “What we know is a pittance compared to what they can know about us. We are not customers, we are sources of raw material.” Not all of the experts see this as dystopian, however, and if you want to “know thyself” as Socrates said, Amazon will willingly give you everything they have on you.

One Californian requested his data from Amazon, and was astonished when he received two Excel spreadsheets of more than 20,000 lines each, a tedious inventory of his reading behaviour on his Kindle app. It seems the AI robots are easily entertained.

This focus on big data as Big Brother coincides with a new law in California that gives consumers more control over their data, providing them with tools to protect their personal information online. This landmark law in the US begins the long journey to catch up with the GDPR environment of the EU by obliging large companies with an annual gross revenue of upwards of $25 million, to delete consumers’ data upon request.

It remains to be seen whether we will sacrifice privacy for convenience; whether we will ultimately resist or continue to relish the black magic of AI, but in the meantime Jeff Bezos might help to save the world, so I think the judgement and the jury is still out.


As part of an overhaul of immigration laws, the UK will close its door to non-English speakers and unskilled workers, the government is due to announce today. There will be an Australian-style points system, with 70 points required to apply to work in the UK. Industry leaders have already accused the government of an assault on the economy, warning them of the “disastrous” consequences. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have also condemned the plans.  Passengers stranded on the quarantined cruise ship – the Diamond Princess - in Japan have been allowed to disembark. The UK Foreign Office has announced their plan to organise an evacuation flight “as soon as possible”, following the news that a British couple on the ship in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus. The ship contains the biggest cluster of those affected by the virus outside China.   In its demands for a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, the EU has added an “Elgin Marbles clause”. This clause refers to Greece’s longstanding claim to the ancient collection of sculptures acquired by Lord Elgin between 1801 and 1805 and still kept in the British Museum. This comes amid talks and negotiations between Michael Barnier and David Frost about the trade deal. Barnier has announced that the UK cannot have a Canada-style trade deal with the EU. (£)

Business and economy

Facebook has been accused by American tax authorities of deliberately “downplaying” the value of its assets in an attempt to pay less US tax. This court case could cost Facebook more than $9 billion. The trial focuses on how the social media giant valued intellectual property such as software and trademarks transferred to an Irish subsidiary in 2010. (£)  Mining giant Glencore has predicted that its carbon emissions will fall 30% by 2035, but will not announce any specific climate targets. Instead, it will gradually produce less coal due to the “natural depletion” of its coal reserves. The chief executive of Glencore, Ivan Glasenberg, described BP’s aim to be net zero by 2050 as “wishy-washy” as 2050 is such a long time away.   Jaguar Land Rover has announced that its parts from China ‘will run out in two weeks’, as coronavirus takes effect on its supply chain. The company has even resorted to bringing key products over in luggage by plane. This announcement comes as the firm unveils a box-like care of the future. (£)

Columns of note

In the Financial Times, Martin Wolf argues that achieving zero emissions by 2050 would require unprecedented global co-operation. Most participants in the climate debate either pretend to act or pretend to care, he notes, which must change if anything remarkable is to be done. He includes a series of detailed graphs, such as CO2 emissions, global economic stagnation, and the electricity economy, to substantiate his point. In this well-argued, well-researched piece, Wolf stresses the urgency of the climate situation, concluding that “we have to change course now”. (£)  And in The Times, Roger Boyes argues that the West is turning a blind eye to Putin’s crimes. He notes that the array of “unsettling news” from Beijing has allowed Putin to hide, and normalise his own “rogue behaviour”. Boyes predicts that by the end of the year, Putin will be an indispensable partner, as the geopolitical advantage shifts towards him. Watch out for next year’s Munich conference to be held in the Kremlin, he notes. (£)

Source: The Financial Times


What happened yesterday?

A sales warning from Apple that iPhone supply will be “temporarily constrained” as a result of the Covid-19 virus caused global stocks to dip. The S&P 500 dipped 0.3 per cent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.6 per cent for its third consecutive day of losses. European markets slipped too, with Stox 600 losing 0.4 per cent and Germany’s Dax down 0.8 per cent. Worst hit by this announcement were Asian shares: Tokyo’s Topix dropped 1.3 per cent. Apple itself fell 1.8 per cent. This raises even more worries about the impact of the virus on corporate and financial business, particularly as most global supply chains heavily rely on China.

On a more positive note, global shares have recovered most or all of their initial falls a month ago, when the coronavirus outbreak became a serious concern.

Renault shares dropped 6 per cent after a UBS price target cut, and HSBC Holdings slipped 6.6. per cent after announcing that it would cut 35,000 jobs and shed $100 billion in assets over three years. They too have announced that they have been affected by the virus.

What's happening today?


RPS Group


Gooch & Housego

UK Economic Announcements

(9:30) Retail Price Index

(9:30) Producer Price Index

(9:30) Consumer Price Index

Int. Economic Announcements

(7:00) Wholesale Price Index (GER)

(9:00) Current Account (EU)

(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)

(13:30) Building Permits (US)

(13:30) Producer Price Index (US)

(13:30) Housing Starts (US)

Source: Financial Times

Did you know?

In 1936, Russian scientist Vladimir Lukyanov invented a computer which could run on water.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons No business scheduled House of Lords No business scheduled Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee Debate: Social Prescribing: Physical Activity is an Investment, Not a Cost

Committee Announcements

Business Motions