An Apprentice

Let’s face it, it’s entertaining although a bit of a Victorian freak show. The Apprentice[1] is back on the tele. The BBC have again given a platform for Lord Sugar and his workday philosophy. It’s deeply engrained in a City[2] centred British philosophy. Boy made good; you might call it. A South Easterner’s quest for the streets of gold that Dick Whittington[3] sought.

What’s on offer is a fast moving climb up a greasy pole in full public view. It’s like no other apprenticeship on offer. The classroom highlights are edited to make the viewer squirm and shiver. Slumped on the sofa we can all say, I wouldn’t have been so silly.

The BBC has a creed. The BBC’s founding purpose, “to inform, educate and entertain”, remains admirable. This includes an equal consideration of viewpoints, probity, popularity, and a commitment to public service. The Apprentice hits one of these buttons. But as we watch, does it inform us what real business is like? Does it educate us about how to conduct successful business? I’d say – not much. The show does, however, give the tie a better name. It’s not bad for pinstripes and power dressing too. Pile on the 1980s stereotypes. Even the wired phones in the Board Room.

As a public funded national broadcaster, the BBC is aware of its commercial competitors. Tooth and nail, they are fighting over our eyeball time. Digitisation has increased the intensity of that fight. So, is it surprising that we get fed monster egos, inexplicable fails, and smug triumphs? Afterall this formula is remarkably entertaining. It creates those watercooler moments.

I’d like to go back to the creed mentioned above. The BBC should be committed to universality. I mean by that a commitment to all sectors of our society. If a public broadcaster is going to do a popular show about business success and failures it ought to cover more ground. Pounding on about the City stereotype is missing a big opportunity.

In a week when Apple[4] reaches a global size of unbelievable proportions, and we watch The Apprentice on their devices, how come we are so blind to the most successful entrepreneurs of the last couple of decades? Making thing matters. OK selling them matters too but both matters.

Having a rough vision in 1976, the year I left school to take up an engineering apprenticeship, a group of West Coast nerds started to shape our future. They shaped it far more than they could ever have imagined. It’s our digital world that continues to expand.

Again, I’d like to go back to the creed mentioned above. There’s would be entrepreneurs messing around with computers, strings and wires in garages and sheds up and down Britain. There’s schools and colleges with incredibly imaginative pupils and students dreaming up dreams and playing with the stuff of the future. Yet, the BBC gives no prime-time space for this corner of our society.

Let’s have a show called – The Innovators. Or even The Disruptors.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0071b63

[2] https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/supporting-businesses

[3] https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/london-history/dick-whittington.htm

[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/265125/total-net-sales-of-apple-since-2004/

topsy-turvy

2022 is only a few days old. Yet, it seems a lot older. The bizarre confusion of last year has followed us across the threshold of the years. What do I mean? It’s an upside down, back to front state of almost permanent upset.

Go get tested we are told. Testing will help us avoid further restrictive measure to contain this 3rd wave of COVID-19 infections. So, I walked up to the door of our local Boots the chemist and right in front of me was a notice saying they had no test kits but were waiting for the next order to arrive.

Put on a mask[1]. Don’t wear masks. Children must wear masks. Masks cause mental illness in schools. So many contradictory confused messages bouncing off the walls. Constantly senior politicians are racing to say the opposite to their colleagues. It’s possible to see a relish in the discomfort that they cause their colleagues.

Plan B or not plan B. But what is the plan? It’s clear the pandemic is far from over. Wishfull thinking does not make a threat go away.  The reality is that very large numbers of new coronavirus cases have been recorded. Their impact is being seen in the NHS and on the High Street.

A record number of job vacancies remain unfilled[2]. We are told to be prepare for a quarter of the work force being off sick. Ministers put on a brave face and say: don’t worry everything will be hunky-dory. That bright red, much reprinted “Keep Calm and Carry On” wartime motivational poster is now Government policy.

By the way, I’m not talking about the 1961 film: “Carry On Regardless[3]” but maybe I should be. Comedy farce is as British as British can be. The cast of characters in that film would probably make a better Government than the one we have in office. I shouldn’t even go down this avenue of thought. It’s too tragic.

Prime Minister Johnson is thought to be delaying decisions waiting for new data to become available. By the time official COVID-19 data is available it’s clear it’s going to be way behind the curve. Omicron’s progress over Christmas has been rapid.

As an engineer, I wish we had politicians who had just smidgen of systems engineering knowledge. Just a tiny appreciation of how control systems work can go a long way. How we respond to feedback can have a determining impact on what happened next. An approach solely based on “let’s wait and see what happens next” has a huge potential to result in undesirable outcomes.

The topsy-turvy world of tabloid media and Conservative backbench thinking is blinding Johnson. Our peculiar British fairground ride is continuing.


[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19

[2]https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/jobsandvacanciesintheuk/latest

[3] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054727/

2222

As we welcome in 2022 with the hope that it will be an order of magnitude better than the last 2 years, it’s a good time to look ahead. Better that is for general wellbeing.

I’m a fan of Science Fiction. Maybe it was my years of childhood influenced by Gerry Anderson’s imagination. “Space 1999” envisioned a fully functioning moon base[1] before the 21st century had begun. It was a popular UK TV Series between 1975 and 1977. That’s me at age 15 to 17.

Now, here we are in the 2nd decade of the 21st century and space travel has a long way to go. There’s no first moon base in prospect in 2022. It maybe 50 years before imagination becomes reality. Rare examples of predictions that got the future right do exist. However, there’s a lot more cases where fanciful ideas, plausible in their day are lost in the mists of time.

As we enter 2022, I wonder what 2222 will look like. Naturally I’ll never see that day. That is unless a magical means of extending life is discovered in the next decade.

Projecting forward 200 years is mighty challenging. Before I go there let’s look back 200 years. A long time in human terms but a short time in so far as the universe is concerned. That was a time when the secrets of the Rosetta Stone were deciphered.

In the year 1822, Englishman Charles Babbage publishes a plan for a difference engine. That could be said to be the start of the computing era. He got support to build a working computer but sadly it was not completed in his lifetime.

French microbiologist Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. Today, as we struggle out of a pandemic, we have a lot to be thankful for his work.

In that year Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was on the bookshelves. Thus, the notion of a “mad scientist” conducting dangerous experiments with technology was on the streets. That could be said to be the start of the science fiction era.

Given an acceleration of technical advancement, looking 2 decades ahead the scope opens for some dramatic and transformational changes to take place. Without getting bogged down with dystopian futures that will see humanity on its knees I’ll consider some positives.

Unlike Frankenstein there will certainly be “nice” autonomous robots that work alongside humans in every setting. The extent to which these companions will be self-aware and free to do as they wish is potentially the subject of an endless debate. I think they will be constrained by some well-considered fixed laws.

Life will still be a mystery. That said, the microbiologist 200 years hence will be studying lifeforms discovered on other planets. No other intelligent life, evolved as far as humans will be communicating with Earth. That’s not to dismiss the likelihood that they are out there somewhere.

The word computing will have lost its meaning in 2222. Abstract and virtual worlds of immense capacity, performance and realism will be part of everyday life. It’ll add new dimension to physical life. It may bring us to value our physical environment much more.

Travelling through time will still be science fiction. But simulated time travel will be available to all. In 2222 it will be possible to step back into a realistic simulation of 2022. That will make history lessons a warp around experience. I’m wondering if such a high-fidelity knowledge of our past will make us better people or not. Who will be the keeper of the truth of the past?

The political world of 2222 is likely to exhibit new versions of past problems. 200 years isn’t much in human evolution so we will still be struggling with our place in the universe. Granted the knowledge of how it works will be off the scale when measure in comparison with 2022.

I’m confident that a human colony, or more than one will be up and running as industrial enterprises on the Moon. It will be there to facilitate every kind of space travel. Human will not venture much beyond the immediate vicinity of Earth. Our automatons will be spread throughout the solar system. Some to explore and some to extract valuable elements and harvest fuels.

The Earth’s population will have stabilised at about 15 billion people. There will not be much uninhabited or underpopulated land surrounding established mega cities. To compensate there will be massive parks and reserves under global governance dedicated to preserving environmental diversity.

This is just a flight of fantasy. The most remarkable changes in 2 centuries will be the ones that are impossible to predict. Today. we have taken to the smart phone and social media in a decade to the point of dependency. That’s one busy decade. Multiply that by 20 and who knows?


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072564/