So, why might artificial intelligence (AI) be so dangerous in a free society?

Democracy depends upon information being available to voters. Ideally, this would be legal, decent, and honest information. All too often the letter of the law may be followed whilst shaping a message to maximise its appeal to potential supporters. Is it honest to leave out chunks of embarrassing information for the one nugget that makes a politician look good? We make our own judgement on that one. We make a judgement assuming that outright lying is a rare case.

During key elections news can travel fast and seemingly small events can be telescoped into major debacles. I’m reminded of the remark made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown[1] when he thought the media’s microphones were dead. In 2010, when an aide asked: What did she say? Gordon Brown was candid in his reply. It’s an occasion when the honest thoughts of a PM on the campaign trail popped into the public domain and livened up that election coverage considerably.

What’s concerning about AI[2] is that, in the hands of a “bad actor,” such events could be faked[3] extremely convincingly. Since the fast pace of election campaigning leaves never enough time for in-depth technical investigations there’s a chance that fake events can sway people before they are uncovered. The time between occurrence and discovery need only be a few days. Deep fakes are moving from amateur student pranks to the tools of propagandists.

Misinformation happens now, you might say. Well, yes it does, and we do need people to fact-check claims and counter claims on a regular basis. However, we still depend on simple techniques, like a reporter or member of the public asking a question. It’s rather a basic in format.

This leaves the door open for AI to be used to produce compelling fakes. Sometimes, all it needs is to inject or eliminate one word from a recording or live event. The accuracy and speed of complex algorithms to provide seamless continuity is new. It can be said that we are a cynical lot. For all the protest of fakery that a politician may make after an exposure there will be a plenty of people who will not accept any subsequent debunking.

My example is but a simple one. There’s a whole plethora of possibilities when convincing fake pictures, audio and videos are only a couple of keyboard stokes away.

Regulatory intervention by lawmakers may not be easy but it does need some attention. In terms of printed media, that is election leaflets there are strict rules. Same with party political broadcasts.

Being realistic about the risks posed by technology is not to shut it down altogether. No, let’s accept that it will become part of our lives. At the same time, using that technology for corrupt purposes obviously needs to be stamped on. Regulatory intervention is a useful way of addressing heightened risks. Some of our 19th century assumptions about democracy need a shake-up. 

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/bigotgate-gordon-brown-anniversary-gillian-duffy-transcript-full-read-1957274.html

[2] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/05/16/tech/sam-altman-openai-congress/index.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/07/technology/artificial-intelligence-training-deepfake.html


Semiconductor superpower. Where have I heard that before? Let’s go back to the moment when the silicon revolution was a topic of popular conversations. Today, as much as people are speaking of AI. It has been difficult to accept that Moore’s Law is real. Early on, the notion that the number of transistors on a microchip would double every two years seemed far fetched.

I remember the 1980s, and the privatisation drive that effectively gave away the country’s technology crown jewels. UK semiconductor manufacturers of the 1980s such as GEC, Plessey, Ferranti and Inmos waned or sold-up[1]. Policy makers of that time saw globalisation as risk free. Now, that looks like selling off the family silver.

At the time, silicon chips were predicted to kill off a substantial percentage of white colour jobs. Only a few people saw the potential for massive new industries to spring-up and employ large numbers of new workers. It’s true that the jobs created were, on the whole, quite different from the ones they displaced. Admin work in a giant insurance office is miles from that of a being an on-line games developer, tester, or marketer.

My point is that Government intervention in technology hasn’t got a good record. That’s not an argument for a hands-off approach. That too has proven to have negative outcomes. I’m often tempted to go back to the story of videotape and VHS against Betamax[2] The better technology is not always the one that wins in the global marketplace. Boring reality and dull pragmatic considerations can tip the balance.

The record shows Government Ministers get swayed by the whizzy, super advanced, “superpower” labels that get stuck on the latest promotion. Let’s face it, a photo opportunity next to an exciting futuristic image gets the media’s heart beating. Marketing hype is not new. It has a role in druming-up investments in risky ventures.

Unquestionable is the intense level of competition in the global semiconductor marketplace. If the UK is to be taken seriously when billions of dollars are placed on the table by others there really must be a matching offer. One billion over a decade will end up getting spread as thin as oil on water. A strong collaboration with other, who have common interests would help. Let’s not forget that doing the “dull stuff” can be highly profitable too.

The open market, in deals of the past, has seen a concentration of power. This is not good for a medium sized country on the edge of a continent. Inward investment is to be welcomed. At the same time strategic domestic protections should have a place. Investments in domestic technology capabilities secures a future.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/470bf7d8-cd32-472d-b75f-6019eb4b100a

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Videotape_format_war


Brexit “outrage” as The Express newspaper put it. Headlines like this are signs of shear desperation. It seems every time something goes wrong, which it regularly does, the call comes out from Brexit supporters – it must be Remainers or the House of Commons or Lords or civil servants or large corporations or lefty liberals thwarting the great Brexit plan. Noting, of course, that there never was a plan in the first place.

“Take Back Control” has become the hollowest political slogan in British history. Rather than dimming the light of fervent Brexit advocates these repeated setbacks just pump them up. This kind of thinking is both sad and dangerous. It has a deep flavour of paranoia.

This month, shocks from the Conservative Party’s council election meltdown are another trigger for the political right to agitate. Shouting: bring back Boris Johnson is unsurprising. The dreamy magical thinking is that because he delivered a big parliamentary majority in 2019, somehow, he, and he alone, can do the same in 2024. Other conservatives are positioning themselves for the next run at being Prime Minister.

I’m not one to totally dismiss the Johnson proposition. Naturally, it would be calamitous and beyond reason but that has not been an impenetrable barrier since 2016. Brexit, as a happening, delights in causing chaos. There’re political thinkers who invite chaos and disruption to free potentially creative energies. They’re not a bit concerned about the impact of that approach on the average person.

Brexit continues to hobble aviation in UK. A large percentage of the people who worked in UK aviation, before the COVID pandemic, were EU nationals. A lot have gone. Now, it’s often the case that when EU nationals apply for jobs in the UK, the aviation industry must turn them down[1].

The legislative proposal to remove retained EU laws has created yet more uncertainty for UK’s aviation sector. The threat remains regardless that it may be in the process of being watered down. Debates in the House of Lords focused on democratic scrutiny of the process where significant changes are planned[2]. Ministers continue to wish to use arbitrary powers to make changes. There’s ambition in the policies advanced while, at the same time, there’s a wish to look all ways at once.

For a lot of aviation topics, the UK has stated it will continue to use European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules and guidance. Although, this is eminently sensible in an international setting it does suggest that Brexit benefits, if they exist at all, have been greatly overstated.

Given the tabloid media jitters seen in recent headlines, it’s perfectly clear that Brexit is a million miles from being “done”. A bad idea remains a bad idea, however it’s dressed up.

Expect turbulence right up to the next General Election. Change is not assured. People will have to campaign hard to make it happen. In comment on the change of the crown, “The country is in a waiting room” said historian Simon Schama.

[1] One major airline – We have had to turn down a huge number [8,000] of EU nationals because of Brexit. Another has blamed the British government’s post-Brexit immigration constraints on the labour market for fuelling staff shortages.

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-65605035


I know this is not a new issue to raise but it is enduring. Years go by and nothing much changes. One of the reasons that “engineering” is poorly represented in the UK is that its voice is fragmented.

I could do a simple vox pop. Knock on a random door and ask – who speaks for engineers in the UK. The likelihood is that few would give an answer, let alone name an organisation. If I asked who speaks for doctors, those in the know would say the BMA[1]. If I asked who speaks for lawyers, most would answer the law society[2]. I dare not ask who represents accountants.

Professional engineering institution have an important role. That’s nice and easy to say, in-fact all the ones that are extant do say so. Supporting professional development is key to increasing access to engineering jobs. It’s spokespersons, specialist groups and networking opportunities can provide visibility of the opportunities in the profession.

So, why are there so many different voices? There’s a great deal of legacy. An inheritance from bygone eras. I see lots of overlap in the aviation and aerospace industries. There’re invitations in my in-box to events driven by IET[3], IMECHE, Royal Aero Society and various manufacturing, software, safety, and reliability organisations.

The variety of activities may serve specialist niches, but the overall effect is to dilute the impact the engineering community has on our society. Ever present change means that new specialist activities are arising all the time. It’s better to adapt and include these within existing technical institutions rather than invent new ones.

What’s the solution? There have been amalgamations in the past. Certainly, where there are significant overlaps between organisations then amalgamation maybe the best way forward.

There’s the case for sharing facilities. Having separate multiple technical libraries seems strange in the age of the connected device. Even sharing buildings needs to be explored.

Joint activities do happen but not to the extent that could fully exploit the opportunities that exits.

If the UK wishes to increase the number of competent engineers, it’s got to re-think the proliferation of different institutions, societies, associations, groupings, and licencing bodies.  

To elevate the professional status of engineering in our society we need organisations that have the scale and range to communicate and represent at all levels. Having said the above, I’m not hopeful of change. Too many vested interests are wedded to the status-quo. We have both the benefits of our Victorian past and the milestone of that grand legacy. 

[1] https://www.bma.org.uk/

[2] https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en

[3] http://www.theiet.org/

Eurovision – the result

Time for a bit of post-match analysis. We can have all sorts of theories about what entertainment is but last night it was very much on the box[1]. It was Liverpool. It was in solidarity with Ukraine. It was Europe and beyond. When Reith put it that the BBC’s role is to: inform, educate, entertain, he must have had Eurovision in mind. Connecting broadcasters together, in unity across Europe is a wonderful achievement. Every year we are reminded of the things that draw us together.

For all the devices we carry around and snap five second glimpses of the world, they cannot compete with a large scale, live, in the moment experiences, shared with millions of other people. Especially when that massive event springs positivity from every direction.

Not only that, but the talent on displays in Liverpool this year was astonishing. Fine that one or two acts tipped the balance of the crazy scales to the limits. The bulk of the acts were briming over with enthusiasm, excitement, and electricity.

To the technical staff who made the staging work – what an incredible job. The ability to create impact and spectacle is a great gift. And no doubt, extremely hard work.

Eurovision has taken place with a war raging in Europe. Lives are being lost. Communities are being devastated. This is a good reason to remind ourselves that the world can be a better place and that better place is worth fighting for.

As per previous years, the voting system is a mysterious concoction of strange machinations. As complex and opaque as a social media algorithm. As the votes roll-in so expectation builds. It’s cruel too. Sudden leaps from single figure votes to hundreds of votes can be seconds away.

It was sad to see the UK entry fall by the wayside. To me it was a good song, but it peaked at average.

I was converted to Sweden. It’s not easy to put into words. The story telling wasn’t overblown. However, the act drew my attention like a powerful magnet to a chunk of steel. As the staging ascended so the song climbed. Its pacing didn’t race. It burrowed deeper into my mind.

Sweden’s Loreen had a magical attraction that captivated both judges and the public. Commiserations to Finland. Loreen is a worthy winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2023. 

For me the star of the show was a song. A song that is so inspiring in difficult times. Singing this song is open to everyone and the moment you sing the song, the words become true. You’ll Never Walk Alone[2] with hope in your heart. Thank you, Gerry & The Pacemakers.  Thank you, Liverpool. 

[1] Or on the tube as we once said, when it was a tube. It’s TV. 

[2] https://youtu.be/OV5_LQArLa0


Eccentricity, excess and exuberance. That’s entertainment. Eurovision is a big mark on the calendar. Each year it’s getting bigger. It has songs and it has a contest and much more besides.

This year’s coverage is a bit OTT. Now, I like the occasional bacon and eggs for breakfast, but I don’t want it for lunch and dinner too. And for supper I’d like anything but bacon and eggs. Media’s May menu is a video age version of Monty Python’s Spam sketch. That’s how I’m getting to feel about the wall-to-wall coverage. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing.

That’s what’s special about Eurovision. It comes but once a year in a blaze of musical colour and preposterous lyrics. Then it’s gone only to rise like a phoenix in the year to come.

This scribbling is no criticism of the massive stage set and inventive use of every form of graphical illusion. Even some music. Liverpool is proving to be a number one venue for this extravaganza. The stage set and the mastery of its technical complexities are outstanding.

Please, no more Beatles illusions. We get it.

Earlier this evening, BBC Radio 4 gave us proof that Artificial intelligence (AI) has a way to go. It’s attempts at writing funny jokes are beyond a joke. With that in mind, maybe the writers of the hosts scripts for the semi-finals were using AI. I’d cringe even if I didn’t hide behind the sofa. I know British humour doesn’t always translate well but it’s better if it’s aimed at real humans.

Musicality is all well and good, it’s the weirdness that makes an act stand out. Staging a whole song around Edgar Allan Poe[1] is mind bending. Well, you might say, why not? I wish Austria well with their catchy use of Poe, Poe, and more Poe.

Australia is not in Europe. Who said that? It doesn’t matter. They are 100% welcome. Especially when they bring a regular rock rampage to the stage. Their efforts are not going to win. That much doesn’t matter. Their stadium rock show number is still going to do well.

I not sure why but my soft spot goes to Belgium. That guy has got a star quality that shines bright. Is he a contemporary version of Boy George? Not sure. Then there’s Cyprus. At the other end of the scale, he’s auditioning to be a Greek God. Thunder and lightning. Very Very Exciting (to quote Queen).

Sweden has the drama. It’s a mega blast that dominates the arena. She could be the winner.

Saturday evening should be a memorable triumph. Let’s hope it is for the sake of unity and good fun.

POST: Liverpool is twinned with Cologne in Germany. I’ve always found that a good match. Two major cities with a strong sense of their identity and place in the world.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe


There’s nothing wrong with making an argument for deregulation. What’s absurd is to make that argument as an unchallengeable dogma. It’s the irrationality of saying that deregulation is good, and regulation is bad, de-facto. This kind of unintelligent nonsense does permeate a particular type of right-wing political thinking. It pops it’s head up in a lot of Brexiters utterances. For advocates of Brexit their great goal is to throw away rules and lower standards. Mostly, this is for financial gain.

Let’s take some simple examples. The reasons for rules and regulations can often be found in recent history. Hazards are recognised and action is taken.

There’s still lead paint to be found in many older houses. There was a time when such paint was used on children’s toys. Toy safety has been a confusing area of law, and there have been several sets of regulations since the 1960. From our current perspective this past laxness seems insane, but such lead paint mixtures were commonplace. In fact, all sorts of toxic chemicals have been used in widely used paints.

I remember working in one factory building where a survey was done of the surrounding grounds. Outside certain windows there were small fluorescent flags placed at in the grass verges. They marked places where minor amounts of radiation had been detected. This came from discarded paint brushes and tins that had accumulated in the war years. At that time radioactive luminescent paint was used to paint aircraft instrument dials.

Any arguments for the deregulation of toxic chemicals in commonly used paints should be one that is quashed instantly. However, some deregulation fanatics are only to happy to endorse a loosening of the rules that protect the public from toxic chemicals.

One result of the loosening of public protection is often to put greater profits in the hands of unscrupulous industrialist. Across the globe there are numerous cases studies of this sad folly. Newspapers and political parties that push the line that rules, regulations and regulators, by their very nature are crushing our freedoms are as bad as those unscrupulous industrialists.

Yes, there’s a case to be made for pushing back over-regulation. There’s risks we are prepared to take where the risks are low, and the benefits are large. This is a matter for intelligent debate and not throwing around mindless slogans. We should not be cowed by loud voices from small corners of society intent on tearing down decades of learning and sound practical laws. I could come up with an encyclopaedic list of examples. Opponents rarely, if ever want to address a particular case since it’s much easier for them to thunder off sweeping assertions. Beware these siren voices.

NOTE: The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011 implemented the requirements of Directive 2009/48/EC, whose purpose is to ensure a high level of toy safety.


Any study about “change” will tell you that it’s not easy. Take a few of the big social transformations that have occurred over the last six decades. I can’t point to one that just happened without a campaign or fight. Social and political change comes when momentum has built-up. Pressure is needed. Often that pressure comes in the form of protest and extensive campaigning in public.

As ever faster digital connections are becoming universal, it’s still possible to buy physical digital media. Charity shops have piles and piles of CDs and DVDs as people off-load the stuff that clutters their shelves. It’s remarkable that yesterday’s whizzy new thing has become a historic artefact so quickly[1]. In 40-years, the optical digital disk has risen and then faded into the background.

I picked up a little bit of social history in a Red Cross charity shop. It’s a series of 3 DVDs that captures a slice of the career of the well-known journalist and broadcaster Alan Whicker. Stretching over six decades of travelling around the globe it’s a great watch. The series is called “Journey of a Lifetime” and was published in 2009[2]. Although, there’s plenty that dates Whicker’s documentary style there’s no doubt that his ability to quickly summing up big changes is a masterclass.

That straightforward diction and incongruous club jacket became a trademark. It gave him a neutral camouflage so he could talk eye-to-eye with hippies, dictators, evangelists, social campaigners, film stars and dubious gurus. That’s what created so many revealing conversations that are now time stamped as emblematic of an era. I recommend viewing the Whicker’s reflections on six decades of social history. It’s a great reminder of where we have been and how learning the lessons of the past is so difficult.

Back to my initial subject – change. It’s easy to say that it’s inevitable and unrelenting but its nature is less easy to discern. Change undulates. We go forwards then we go backwards in differing amounts.

I have a theory that our social progression can be plotted like an inclined wood saw. Yes, I know. It’s the engineer in me. Look at the shape of the saw’s teeth. They go forwards, and then quickly go backwards but they always go backwards less than they go forwards. That’s how a saw’s teath cut.

This is one of my abstrat reasons why the UK Government’s most recent laws to supress public protest are as stupid as political debate can get. Resisting change is nothing new. After all, the word “conservative” has a simple commonplace meaning. When all else fails, the basic political instinct to push out laws that comfort supporters is built in. As a direction for a whole country to take, this way of working is foolish and naive.

Locking up climate change protestors is not going to fix climate change. Locking up protestors against sewage on beaches and in rivers not going to fix greedy water companies. Locking up republican protestors is not going to fix the decline in public support for the monarchy.

Using the pretext that – this is what the public want – as a cover for these policies is to show the vacuum that conservative political thinking is thrashing around in. Sadly, as I’ve said, reflection on the last six decades of conservative thinking shows regressive tendencies in abundance.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/optical-storage-technology/zv7bpg8

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whicker%27s_World


Even in the early 1980s the “rubber bumper” MG sports cars were viewed as not quite authentic. The original MG Midgets had a cute simplicity. I had two MG Midgets. Both were of the 1500cc Triumph engine “rubber bumper” variety. The bumper was a change to meet regulations for export to the US car market. To some enthusiasts this was an ugly and unnecessary adornment to a much-loved traditional British sports car.

The Midget was an affordable little sports car that was “modern” for the 1970s. It was fun and straightforward. Nothing complicated. Eminently repairable. The car was made for the twisting and turning back roads of Somerset and Dorset. Those hidden single-track roads with grass growing down the middle and shaggy green hedges that overhang.

Both with the silky yellow one and the sharp black one, I had a couple of incidents.

One was hurtling down a road with steep dirt banks on either side. Now, that’s fine when there’s plenty of visibility and the roads are dry. In this case the narrow lane, linking farms and villages was regularly plastered with mud. Cows were herded up and down the road on their way to and from milking. When applying a car’s brakes hard on a surface like that the results are likely to be not what you want. Slipping and sliding is going to happen, and it did.

My cherished yellow MG hit the bank and didn’t stop immediately. It slid along the road on its side slowly soaking up its energy and leaving me watching the sky go by through my side window. Not a nice feeling. As the car stopped, hanging on my seatbelt, my adrenaline kicked in. I was out of there like a shot. Pushing the driver’s door up into the air, I climbed out and surveyed the damage.

Both my pride and the car were wounded. Fortunately, not as much as I feared. Surprisingly, the car was relatively easy to push back onto its four wheels. It drove without a problem. What was a problem was a nasty rash of scrapes and piles of mud. Yes, I was lucky. Such an “incident” with a soft-top car could have been extremely unpleasant if the car had gone all the way over. My MG didn’t have a roll bar.

Another incident that was a real heart stopper happened on a motorway. This time it was unavoidable. Driving west on the M40, late one night, what I remember is a bright light to my left. This was the car’s headlamp beam reflected off a running deer that bounced off the car’s wing. There was an instantaneous flash and then a loud thump. At the time I had no idea what I’d hit. In shock, I slowed and stopped the car on the motorway hard shoulder. It was a cold drab wet night. Much the worst of times to be stuck on the side of a motorway. I got out and walked around the car. Despite the drama of the event the car looked relatively unscathed. A dented left wing.

By the time I’d stopped I was well ahead of the place where the impact took place. My instinct was that I needed to tell someone what had happened. Maybe there was a dead or dying animal on the embankment way back behind me. Seeing the car was drivable, I set off to find a telephone. No mobile phones then. Eventually, I got to inform the police and get the car patched up to continue my journey westward to Cheltenham.

There was a lot of enjoyable happy driving of my little sports car. However, I have to say, for all the fun a 1970s MG Midget is not a good car to have any kind of serious incident. Those were different times and I have been lucky.

Winds of Change

At the start of a new Carolean Era. Wow, I’ve been wanting to say that for some time. Yes, it’s a new era in this country. In Britain, we mark the passing of history by reference to the monarch of the time. Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian, Elizabethan and so on, it’s a tag to place a period in history. They are often associated with national accomplishments, culture and styles that were fashionable.

It’s a blustery wet day in London and King Charles III is being crowned sovereign. Apparently, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II had to contend with wet weather too. At the age of 73, King Charles became the oldest person to accede to the British throne. I’d say in 2023, we can no longer say that 73 is old. There are numerous Heads of State across the globe who can top that easily.

We don’t do this designation act with politicians, but we do use a shorthand for their time in power with a reference to their approach to the job or an iconic slogan or two. Thatcherism, Blairism, the white heat of technology or you have never had it so good, or things can only get better.

What’s great about the beginning of the Carolean Era is the signals of political change. Hopefully we will no longer need to hold our head in our hands in astonishment at the utter folly enacted by our elected representatives. Well, maybe less so as we run up to a General Election.

This week’s local elections in England are an awakening. Voters have decided – enough is enough. There are a more than a thousand less Conservative Party councillors in the country. This is democracy at work. I’ll quote Dick Nolan, who wrote in The San Francisco Examiner in 1966: “Politicians are like diapers. They should both be changed regularly and for the same reason.”

The Conservative Party has performed so badly over the last decade they deserve to be put out of power for the next decade. Now, extrapolating from this week’s political earthquake to the result of the next General Election is a doggy business. That said, the trend seems set and the expectation is that a political change is inevitable.

Although, I feel secure in saying this there’s always at least one catalyst that can upset this prediction dramatically. For this I’ll go back to Mrs Thatcher. What would the politics of Britain look like if the Falklands War of 1982 had not occurred? This short international conflict transformed the climate of the day and, no doubt the Prime Minister. However, people might think of the successes and failures of that time the result was the strengthening of her premiership.

Local elections recent held the Conservative Party to account in one way. The bigger story will be written over the next 18 months or so. Mayism was chaotic. Borisism was a total disaster. Trussism was insane. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s time in office maybe as that of John Major. The boy with his finger in the dam awaiting a flood of change. Let’s see what the country looks like after a weekend of pomp but also of reflection.