Trolley problems

Back in the grey drizzle of a late March Friday morning in the UK, the three Podnosticators of the SmallDataForum convene to take another sideways look at ‘events, dear boy, events’ (something Harold Macmillan apparently never said).

For once, and in spite of recent headline-grabbing incidents, we give relatively short shrift to the unflushable turds of politics on either side of the Atlantic – though Sam briefly reminds us of the two blonde bombshell’s travails – one with the UK parliament’s privileges committee, the other with a Manhattan grand jury.

Perhaps by SDF 72, there will have been some flushing. Though we’re not holding our breath.

In the meantime, we focus our attention on three themes:

  1. The “sic transit gloria – quo vadis” of the Tory party
  2. The UK government’s WORLD LEADING AI plans
  3. The BBC post causa Gary Lineker

Tory sleaze

Sam takes the lead on the sad state of the Tory party and again can’t help but mention the “lord of chaos” who is now routinely just called “Trolley” by his former spinmeister. Ever the thorough researcher, Sam also reminds us that the metaphor machine himself coined that phrase in early 2016 when he allegedly told friends that he “was veering all over the place like a shopping trolley” over Europe.

In the end, we know the cunning Classicist chose Aristotle over the Sophists and presented a pro-Brexit synthesis. “He set the culture,” Sam reminds us – all the way back to his Eton headmaster’s complaint in 1982 (poor petal probably thought the ‘privileges committee’ was assembled to assert one’s privileges).

From Fiona Bruce drawing blanks on Question Time when trying to gauge audience support for Boris Johnson’s truth-telling or the government’s Rwanda policy, to Led By Donkeys’ glorious ‘Korean sting’ – for Sam, it’s all a bit ‘last days of the Major government’, with reminiscences of Aitken, Al-Fayed and Mellor.

While not having launched his own Back to Basics campaign just yet, Rishi Sunak seems to be doing rather well on the leadership popularity front against Keir Starmer, as Neville points out.

Close call between Rishi and Keir?

Sam counters that Ipsos’s poll of polls still has a 26% gap between Labour and Conservatives. My cautious podnostication is that we might be a little wiser after May’s local elections.

Not so close call between Conservatives and Labour

To regulate or not to regulate? That is the question for AI

Our focus shifts to the British government’s newly published AI regulation white paper.

Neville largely approves of the light-touch, pro innovation approach, whereas I am – as always – more sceptical about free market self-regulation. Neville tells us that The Alan Turing Institute is supportive of the UK government’s position. But he also feels there’s a lot of spin to be unspun about the initiative.

In the meantime, an open letter signed by hundreds of AI luminaries is calling for a “pause on giant AI experiments.” One might be forgiven for feeling that particular horse has already well and truly bolted – and some of the researchers quoted have since disowned the initiative, calling it a “hot mess of hype”. Hype? In Big Tech?? Surely not…

Not at all hyped UK government AI regulation paper

And so we discuss our contemporary ‘printing press moment’ and at least on this, the podnosticators are agreed: something big is happening, and we don’t quite know how it is going to pan out. Though Sam urges caution on labelling every next Big Thing in tech as the equivalent of Gutenberg.

Perhaps a future episode will have us philosophising over AI’s trolley problem –  and it wouldn’t involve former Prime Ministers.

W(h)ither the BBC?

Our third feature theme is another “sic transit gloria – quo vadis” story: the one about a 101-year-old Auntie who seems to be struggling a bit with the world around her changing.

Three weeks ago in sunny Riogordo in Andalusia, we recorded an episode on the Saturday that Match of the Day aired sans punditry, where at least one of us firmly podnosticated the demise of the BBC. Not much has changed since then – and that also means not much has improved, although Gary and his pacemakers are back in their seats, and even the BBC Singers have been reinstated.

But the political brouhaha continues, and while Neville rightly points out that the BBC always had and always will (and should) have journalists of all denominations – the difference between balance and neutrality – it is also true that there is something of a privately schooled Oxbridge bent about all things Auntie (was with all of the Great British establishment): see for example the latest ‘elitism row’ about privileged access for Oxbridge colleges to University Challenge.   

Dear old Auntie being mocked – when she was only a teenager…

Sam remains sceptical about Auntie and states that he is “not listening to the Beeb for truth”, reiterating his critique of the corporation’s misapplied reporting balance. I remain a BBC fan, having first learned about (though never subsequently acquired) Received Pronunciation as a BBC standard during my grammar school days in Freiburg.

In that spirit, I remind my fellow podnosticators of BBC founder and first director-general Lord Reith’s almost Horatian principles for the public service broadcaster: to inform, to educate and to entertain. I also recite the five public purposes of the Royal Charter which, it is worth remembering, speak to the United Kingdom’s culture and values. And not just the Conservative and Unionist Party’s culture and values.

As always, we have more questions than answers. And that’s ok because only better questions will lead to better answers.

On all three fronts, then – future of the Tory party, future of AI, future of the BBC – our podnostications are valid ‘until further data’.

Listen to Episode 71:

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