Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Impact of Instantaneous, Global, 24 Hour, Bad News

Now it can be quite normal for those of an older generation to look back on their youth as some sort of golden age and I’m no exception to this. In my defence, however, I did grow up during the 50’s and 60’s, the latter of which was recently referred to on Radio 4 as “a golden age, the likes of which we are unlikely ever to see again”.  So, maybe members of, what I refer to as “the lucky generation”, have some justification for our memories.

Interestingly, we also grew up during the Cold War when the threat of nuclear annihilation, the so called “Mutually Assured Destruction” or “MAD” was also very real. The Cuba Missile Crisis probably being the epitome of those times. At which time I was a member of Her Majesty’s Forces with responsibility for maintaining the War Room map in Germany. Now there’s a claim to fame for you. Well, probably, more by luck than judgement, the human race survived. Although it might well have been a close run thing. So, why am I worried?


Well, much as we tried not to think about it, the effect of that Cold War climate and the persistent, imminent threat that it generated, was unlikely not to have had an impact on our thinking. The world is still here, albeit facing the greater threat of climate change. However, what I’m concerned about today (and as pervasive as the climate of those Cold War times) is summed up in the title of this blog. Along with the unhealthy effect that that that may well be having on a new generation. I further worry that its insidious nature is in danger of having a really detrimental effect of the wider society and I use the word “insidious” because at least we knew that nuclear weapons weren’t a good thing.

Now, anyone who’s ever read, listened to or watched the news knows that the majority of it is bad news. The good stuff hardly seems to figure. It’s almost as if it was a side issue and “bad” news becomes “the” news. Another factor is its global and instantaneous nature. It wasn’t so long ago that news spread far less quickly. So that, by the time, it reached these shores, it was a report of something that had occurred some days before; probably from somewhere far away. Then there is the fact that is 24 hour news that doesn’t ease up. All of this, it should be noted, direct to your mobile, a device that seems to create an imperative in itself. This, one which, if reports of the number of times people use daily it are credible, means that it tends not to be ignored. And that’s before we get on to the vituperative nature of much of the social media that surrounds us. Now, I’m no technophobe but it seems to me that we might have a perfect storm.

So, do I have cause for concern that we might be going through a sea change that will do us more harm than good?

Memories of a Free Spirit

Yesterday, along with her family and other friends, I said goodbye to someone who, everyone referred to as, a free spirit. A much overused phrase but one that, in this case, was accurate. Moreover, someone who was the epitome of those heady, colourful, creative times that were the 1960’s.

Now, I have to admit to not having seen Anne for quite some time since we first met.  She was then going out with one of my oldest friends, eventually marrying him. Soon after, I moved to Yorkshire and her and Bob emigrated to Australia. Given what I knew of them both and the culture that I thought they were moving to at the time, I wasn’t too surprised when they moved back a few years later. By this time, they had their first child, Matthew, followed, two years afterwards, by Toby. Unfortunately, Bob and Anne later divorced and, among other things, Anne went back to university. Bob and I have remained good friends, but the divorce took Anne in other directions, just as mine had done for me. In her case pursuing her dreams of travel; mostly as a single woman on her own. Now that’s real freedom of spirit for you.

Well, it wasn’t until a few years ago that, at a party, we met up again and it was as if it was yesterday. We chatted and I was reminded of older and more caring times. Little did I realise then that that would be the last time that I would see her. Well, unfortunately, a few weeks ago, Anne had a heart attack and the flame that was that that free spirit was extinguished.

So, yesterday, to the sound of Van Morrison, we entered the chapel in Richmond, to be followed by a plain cardboard coffin, to pay our respects.  The fragility of the coffin along with its simple rope fastening, in stark contrast to the usual sealed, heavy, polished wood casket. Somehow it made Anne seem part of the celebration of her life instead of being an absent friend. It was as if you could have reached out and touched her. To the accompaniment of lightning and loud cracks of thunder, I learnt things I hadn’t previously known, all of which confirmed the memories of her that I’d had. The strains of Tom Waits followed, as did, inevitably perhaps, “The Times They Are a Changing” from the inimitable Robert Zimmerman. Unique music for a unique person.

So this is a sad goodbye to a free spirit and the embodiment of those times that Joan Bakewell recently described as “a golden age, the likes of which we were unlikely to ever see again”. Sadly, true. So, thanks, Anne, for helping to keep them alive.

Food for Thought

My eldest grandson, Chris, is now studying for his MSc in Physics and living just down the road from us. So, on a Sunday evening, he pops over and we get a takeout. While he’s here, we chat about our shared belief in the current theory that the universe is made up of tiny bits of string and other matters.

Well, last night, we got onto artificial intelligence and the benefits (largely, but not solely, Chris) and the concerns (largely, but not solely, me) that the development of this branch of science might bring. Along the way I said that, although science might come up a great many ideas and their practical application, it was then up to society, as a whole, to decide whether any particular developments might then be continued, or not (and, yes, I know how idealistic that particular notion is). I cited, for example, nuclear research, something that had led to the creation nuclear weapons; the former being amazing and the latter, less so. We then got into the finer detail in regard to AI. We discussed computer generated music and whether technology could ever have written the music of Bob Dylan, for example. Can, in fact, a robot develop the idiosyncrasies of a human mind and what would the world be like if they did so? If I listened as much as I talked, I think Chris felt that they could.

So, my point is? Well I woke up this morning with a thought in my head. If they did and we continued to develop such entities, they could become complete replicas of humans with all the foibles of the latter. In which case, what would be the point of developing them in the first place when we have the original versions already. More importantly, what would be the outcome for humanity if we did? Food for thought there, for sure.