Turning it on again


Thanks to Beth Gittings and presumably Channel Four

It’s just over a year since I last tried (and failed) to restart this blog.

This time I’m sticking to Twitter, and plan to tweet links to developments specific to the human-machine relationship, as well as stuff on religion and technology in general.

There’s a lot more of the latter about than when I started this blog in 2014, so I’m hopeful I’ll find enough thought-provoking links to keep the momentum up.

Do follow Subtle Engine on Twitter: SubtleEngine

If you come here from Google, you might be looking for this post on what MPs studied at university. But be aware this is historical and related to MPs elected in 2010.

Since then, Nesta have taken the same approach of scraping Wikipedia for data on the education of 2017 parliamentary candidates, which will be more up to date.


Friday Links – 3rd June 2016

A bumper set of links this Friday, partly because I haven’t written one for over a year, and partly because there is quite a lot out there at the moment:

  • Chi Onwurah’s talk to the Hay Festival on the digital revolution and Labour’s role in securing fairness in the new economy: “We should never forget that while change is inevitable progress isn’t.”
  • Nesta have published an interesting comparative review of ten national innovation agencies, from Innovate UK to the USA’s DARPA and Finland’s Tekes
  • Huffington Post Tech has a series on Tech for Good, with contributions from NGOs and startups in the public and social sector, including a piece on London’s role
  • Tom Steinberg writes about two camps in the technology world: the mitigators and promoters: the former sceptical about technology’s social benefits, the latter less so
  • Cassie Robinson blogs on an evolving set of principles of what constitutes Tech for Good, including its ability to benefit the ‘99%’, its purpose, its provenance and more
  • Back in March, Demos Quarterly focused on tech, from AI to blockchains to h+: “technological advance over the last decade in particular has think tanks struggling to catch up” – yup!
  • Also not-new, but there have been a few posts and publications on basic income (partly in response to automation), including The Economist, the RSA and Adam Smith Institute
  • Speaking of automation, the OECD reckon estimates of how many of today’s jobs are at risk are overblown, and take a task-based approach to calculate that 9% of jobs could be automated
  • Lastly and enigmatically, Y Combinator announced HARC: Human Advancement Research Community, with a grand mission statement to “ensure human wisdom exceeds human power”

Technology in Parliament

Image from the Mail, with apologies to Baroness Trumpington

TheyWorkForYou has a great email alert service, which looks up Parliament’s Hansard and lets you know if a topic has been mentioned at Westminster, Holyrood or the Welsh Assembly.

The SubtleEngine twitter account is going to start tweeting occasional paragraphs from speeches that touch on technological trends, such as automation, artificial intelligence and enhancement.

Here’s the first, from Dean Lockhart MSP, during a speech at Holyrood on the Scottish economy:

Read the rest of the speech here.

Generation Y, Faith & Science

Data from Ipsos MORI, March 2014, Public Attitudes to Science 2014

Data from Ipsos MORI, March 2014, Public Attitudes to Science 2014

Here’s some interesting data from Ipsos MORI’s Public Attitudes to Science 2014 study. Since 1988, when people are asked whether “we depend too much on science and not enough on faith”, there has been an overall decline in three generations, but a small rise in one.

Generation Y (or Millennials), which MORI define as those born after 1980, were more likely to agree in 2014 than they were in 2011, lifting them just above the baby boomers. MORI plan to evaluate this trend to see whether it continues its upwards slant.

Public Technology


Image of The Brains Trust borrowed from the BBC

“There’s no think tank for technology in the UK” someone said to me once.

They were right. There are think tanks with political leanings, like IPPR or Policy Exchange, there are think tanks for some of the big policy areas, such as RUSI or The Kings Fund, and there are think tanks about the processes of government itself, like the Institute for Government.

There is at least one tech think tank in the US, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, who “formulate and promote public policies to advance technological innovation and productivity”. Perhaps the closest thing in the UK are academic research groups such as SPRU and the OII, or Demos’s social media project.

Why are think tanks important? In their lesser moments their ideas are obscure and superficially evidenced, funded by murky sponsorship deals. In their better moments they make new ideas viable, test them with rigorous research and raise levels of public understanding and debate on important issues.

Astronomer and science writer Carl Sagan wrote in 1996:

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster.

There are an abundance of technological trends: big data, machine learning, the internet of things… One that’s particularly interesting – for the questions it raises and the future it suggests – is the future of people and technology: human enhancement, robots replacing workers, the changing relationship between people and machines.

That’s what this blog is about. Providing news reports on developments in personal technology; analyses of new products and prostheses; interviews with experts and so on. It’s not a think tank, it’s just a blog – but like a think tank it does hope to spread ideas and provoke thought.