Saturday 13 April 2024

Saturday Sample: Aftermath, cold tea



 Aftermath is the companion book to Covid 19: An Extraordinary Time. For both books we invited writers who are published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown and The Red Telephone, and their trusted friends, to submit texts they created in 2020 whilst the world began to get used to and control Covid 19. 

All of the works here have been edited but only lightly. We accepted all submitted pieces. This time we kept going until we had fifty texts. We’ve again arranged the works in date order so they reflect any changing mood. Only in order to accommodate a formatting issue such as having a poem on one double page spread instead of including a page turn have we deviated from this a little. 

These are souvenir books. They are books writers may want to bury in a time capsule. You’re probably reading this because you are or you know one of the contributing writers. This offers a partial record of a truly extraordinary time – hence our subtitle on the first book. We felt it needed documenting but not merely in descriptive prose, as Samuel Pepys did in his diaries, which describe some equally challenging times, but in all sorts of other texts, texts that show the creativity of their authors. 

 As I write this, the vaccine is rolling out and deaths and severe cases are dropping but new variants are emerging. We are returning to something that approaches normality but also holding on to some of the new things we’ve learnt. Hopefully this book also records some of those.

When Corona Virus leaves Town

Colin Payn

Isn’t that what we all want? Yet numerous commentators are predicting that it will be a new normal we return to, whether it happens in a year or five years, they believe that we will all live in a changed world. Some are optimistic about our wakeup call on the environment, the cleaner air during lock down forcing recognition that we must never get back to a situation where more people are dying of pollution each year than the virus at its worst.[1]

Others believe, ‘When life returns to normal . . .’ that the nature of the pandemic will bring governments around the world to the stark realisation that it probably won’t be the last, and the only way to avoid another health and economic catastrophe will be to work closer together.

Another cause for optimism may be that the first wave of the virus will be defeated in first world countries, and the fear of a second wave coming crashing in from countries with under developed health systems could lead to a transfer of wealth and expertise into those areas, purely out of self-interest.

At the top end of the optimism curve is the hope that a world order would emerge that recognises the interdependence of all countries, and leads to a rejection of armed conflict anywhere.

Sadly, there is, as yet, little evidence that any of these outcomes are the focus of world leaders. Quite the opposite. In countries where democracy is already weak their leaders have taken the opportunity to enhance their control of the population through legislation and through technology.[2] Where close ties between mature

democracies, such as within the EU, have existed for some time, there has been a knee jerk reaction to protect their economies and population on a national basis. Even within the far more integrated economy of the USA there has been a political factionalism, setting State against State and led by the President.

So, where does this leave the global economy as companies navigate their way out of the shutdown, aided or not by their Governments?

The big picture is that we are at the beginning of what has been called, the Fourth Industrial Revolution[3], a time when the most obvious take-over of jobs by machines has been in the manufacturing industry. The number of robots in use varies greatly by country, with the UK  pretty much bottom of the developed world pile.[4] Which could account for the poor productivity record where labour is deemed more abundant than innovation.

But, when a manned production line has to be completely closed down because of the pandemic, whilst another can be kept working because there are few staff but many robots, then the economic case for commercial life returning to ‘normal’ will be harder to make. There will be many companies, not just in the UK but around the world, taking this opportunity to re-evaluate their business model.

However, the real Revolution is not even about industry, it is about the service sector. The professionals like solicitors, accountants, designers, surveyors, even in a cannibalistic way, the computer experts. Plus all their office staff. For all its over-hyped capability, the fact is Artificial Intelligence, even in its crude mass learning current state, is capable of being tasked to handle millions of jobs that are employing workers week in and week out.

You may ask why, if this is so, companies haven’t installed AI already?

The answer may be in the risk averse culture of many professions, or it may be in the fact that the very managers who would be in a position to recommend AI to the Board are the ones who would lose their jobs if it was implemented.

It is likely that Covid-19 will persuade many service companies to investigate the possibilities, and some will take the chance to invest in systems that will enable them to offer the same services as before but without the high staff costs, including office rents and rates, or the danger of being closed down by another pandemic. Companies in this position will have the choice of undercutting rivals or taking greater profit. Either result would cause turbulence in their markets and be quickly followed by secondary adopters.

Scale this up to all world service and manufacturing industries and the effect would be enormous and probably, unsustainable levels of unemployment.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not a new concept, but evidence can be found in both industry and the professions  that the use of AI is increasing. From the sight of linked, unmanned tractors ploughing thousands of acres at a time, to the legal systems able to locate previous case law in seconds rather than hours.

What Covid-19 may have done is push the accelerator harder for many companies, and even public bodies, in efforts to move away from the risks of relying on human employees in an age of heightened uncertainty. When the alternative of AI is becoming more widespread, the chances of ‘life returning to normal,’ are pretty remote.

  1. Air pollution deaths worldwide in 2017  8 million, Source: Global Alliance on Health & Pollution. Covid-19 deaths worldwide at 20th April 2020 165,000. Source: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
  2. In Romania the Prime Minister has taken over full control; Egypt has revoked the rights of the Guardian’s reporter for questioning their Covid -19 figures; Jordan has closed all news outlets; China, Brazil and Turkey have all seen citizen’s rights reduced.      
  3. The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab
  4. 21st out of 30 in 2017 according to the Information Technology Foundation                

Find your copy here 


No comments:

Post a Comment