Tuesday 15 June, 2021

A wild rose, spotted yesterday on a walk.

Quote of the Day

”I do think it would speed things up if you followed my social media.”

  • Patient to psychotherapist in a New Yorker cartoon.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Blackbird (Lennon and McCartney) | Guitar adaptation | Soren Madsen


Long Read of the Day

On Algorithmic Communism

Long, thoughtful and interesting review by Ian Lorrie of Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the future: Postcapitalism and a world without work.

While neoliberal capitalism has been remarkably successful at laying claim to the future, it used to belong to the left — to the party of utopia. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future argues that the contemporary left must revive its historically central mission of imaginative engagement with futurity. It must refuse the all-too-easy trap of dismissing visions of technological and social progress as neoliberal fantasies. It must seize the contemporary moment of increasing technological sophistication to demand a post-scarcity future where people are no longer obliged to be workers; where production and distribution are democratically delegated to a largely automated infrastructure; where people are free to fish in the afternoon and criticize after dinner. It must combine a utopian imagination with the patient organizational work necessary to wrest the future from the clutches of hegemonic neoliberalism.

In other words, accept the emerging realities of digital capitalism and learn from the Neoliberal Thought Collective on how to change the ideological weather.

Worth reading.

UK to abandon the backward glance

A thought experiment: Imagine putting a blackout screen over the windscreen of your car and then setting off to drive through a violent storm guided entirely by what you can see through the rear-view mirror and shouts from passengers who are leaning out of the side windows trying to see what’s ahead through the driving rain.

Well, basically, that’s how governments have traditionally been trying to manage their economies.

Now the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Alan Turing Institute have teamed up to do something about this. The press release has just dropped into my inbox:

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) and The Alan Turing Institute have today announced a new strategic partnership to produce close to real time economic statistics to help track changes in the economy while preserving privacy.

The collaboration, which will initially run for two years, between the UK’s national statistics institute and the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence will see ONS economists, analysts and data scientists working closely with a team of Turing researchers.

The first three projects set for delivery are:

Understanding Economic Networks – This project will utilise a variety of cutting-edge data science techniques to provide new insights about transactions between firms in near real time, allowing the ONS to better understand the impact of seasonal patterns and major events such as the Covid-19 pandemic or Brexit on the UK economy.

Economic nowcasting – By rapidly bringing together a range of new data, we aim to create economic models in close to real time that track changes in retail prices, household spending and income at a detailed local level, allowing us to measure the pulse of the economy.

Synthetic data and privacy preservation – This project will develop tools to allow the sharing of private datasets with a wider range of stakeholders, while preserving privacy. This can be done using synthetic data generators which offer a private way to generate data, whilst preserving statistical features in the original data set. Applying this methodology to sensitive data held by ONS would allow greater flexibility for collaboration between ONS and researchers in the wider community and government.

The Age of Combustion

Because of my decision to buy a Tesla last year, and the decision of governments everywhere to outlaw fossil-fuel-powered cars, I’d been searching for a term to describe the now-doomed era of the Internal Combustion Engine. I’d thought of calling it the ‘ICE Age’ but I’m sure many others have already thought of that. Stephen Bayley has come up with a much better term: ‘The Age of Combustion’, is the title of his new book (with the subtitle ‘Notes on Automobile Design’). I’ve pre-ordered it on the basic of an extract published (behind a paywall) in the Financial Times. Here’s a sample:

Tom Wolfe said that cars are “freedom, style, sex, power, motion, colour… everything”. And indeed, from Huckleberry Finn to Grand Theft Auto, via Kerouac and Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, America reads like a road epic. Consider F Scott Fitzgerald, the great poet of ruined glamour and wasted promise. In 1920, flush with the advance from This Side of Paradise, he fired up his 1918 Marmon, bundled his wife into the passenger seat and drove from Connecticut to Alabama, so Zelda could rediscover the peaches and biscuits of her southern youth. They were looking for a lost Golden Age, a quest which later became the subject of The Great Gatsby. (In the book, a yellow Rolls- Royce plays an important part.) Fitzgerald turned this eight-day journey into a series of articles, which appeared in the US Motor magazine, in 1924, eventually published in book form, in 2011, as The Cruise of the Rolling Junk.

The reality was one of bust axles, blow-outs and misdirections, since Zelda could not read a map. Scott and Zelda never found their Golden Age, but Fitzgerald could not let the fantasy go. He described “an ethereal picture of how we would roll southward along the glittering boulevards of many cities, then, by way of quiet lanes and fragrant hollows whose honeysuckle branches would ruffle our hair with white sweet fingers”. That’s what a Marmon could do for you. On return, Zelda icily wrote “the joys of motoring are more-or-less fiction”.

En passant Bayley has been obsessed with cars for a long time — see, for example, his Cars Mini: Freedom, Style, Sex, Power, Motion, Colour, Everything and Sex, Drink and Fast Cars. So he’s spent ages thinking about the automobile culture that has shaped most of our lives. His new book peers forward to a time when self-driving cars will take the thrill out of motoring and replace it with drab mobility-as-a-service provided by fleets of autonomous vehicles owned by tech companies. So we’ll move from an era where owning a car was once a badge of adulthood to one where it’ll be such an inconvenience that only elderly boomers with more money than sense will want one.

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