Humans vs robots

A note from the editor

Dinyar Godrej

We are not the robots

1978. I still wore flared trousers while everyone else had graduated to skinny bottoms. I had just entered my teens and my soundtrack was Kraftwerk rather than the racket of punk.

‘We are the robots, do do do doo,’ I’d sing, arms jerking in a robotic dance, while the music blared from the family stereo. Back then, robots were definitely ‘of the future’. And the wave of new tech that has since transformed our lives with giant leaps in automation, robotics, computing and communications technology was barely taking shape.

Today many would describe automation as a tsunami. The pace of change is accelerating, affecting our jobs, privacy, notions of governance and, increasingly, promising a rigid technocratic future. At times, it seems like technology itself will dictate how we live, rather than playing a subordinate, enabling role. ‘We are the robots’ becomes a bitterly ironic refrain.

At such times it is useful to remind ourselves that it is not the tech that is at fault but the motives of those who jostle to control it. And when it is corporate players setting the agenda, that means we have a serious fight on our hands.

Other features in this edition highlight some of the struggles that make us human – whether that be patients bending the rules to access drugs, exploited migrant workers rising up in Lebanon, or a savvy Rastafarian lawyer leading the charge for cannabis freedom.

Dinyar Godrej for the New Internationalist co-operative.
www.newint.org

Keynote article.

Robocop for real, a police robot makes its debut in Dubai, May 2017. It will help citizens report crimes and answer parking ticket queries, rather than make arrests. 25 per cent of the Dubai police force will be robotic by 2030.

Robocop for real, a police robot makes its debut in Dubai, May 2017. It will help citizens report crimes and answer parking ticket queries, rather than make arrests. 25 per cent of the Dubai police force will be robotic by 2030.

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

The age of disruption

Technology is changing society at breakneck speed but considerations of human impacts lag far behind. Dinyar Godrej sketches out some of the key political battles ahead.

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We are always at the threshold of the future. But whereas in the past, the path beyond seemed like a gradient, with a horizon that one might dimly view, today it seems to resemble a graph of seismic activity. Our threshold is a brink.

The main reason for this altered future landscape is often given as the breakneck acceleration of technology. While previous technological revolutions occurred over millennia (farming) or centuries (industrialization), comparable breakthroughs today happen in a...




Features.

Audrey Watters: ‘AI is ideological’

Think of computer code as a new and powerful accomplice to legal code – the rules by which society finds itself governed. Who gets to enforce it? asks Audrey Watters.

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Killer robots

We urgently need to slam the brakes on automated violence. Noel Sharkey dispels some myths about the newest arms race. Illustrations by Simon Kneebone.

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Woof in boots: a robotic dog provides diversion and companionship to a woman in a nursing home.

Building the future, living in the past?

Robots aren’t likely to replace postal workers in Japan, but they may soon be looking after grandma – or sharing the bed. Christopher Simons explores some of their unique impacts.

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China leads in industrial robots. Estimates for select countries/regions, in thousands of units.

When the Foxbots muscle in

Industrial robots are being put to work on a massive scale in China. Taking the case of electronics giant Foxconn, Jenny Chan considers what an automated future holds in store for human workers.

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Aerial drone and combine harvester in a version of the new pastoral in a French wheat field.

Automating the farm

Self-driving tractors and the internet of cows – welcome to the world of precision agriculture. Jim Thomas lays out the vision driving corporate giants into a merger frenzy.

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All that glistens: Silicon Valley lights up as night descends.

Plutocrats and paupers

If job-killing robots will play a big role in our future, inequality could get turbo-charged. The counter-proposals on the table barely scratch the surface, argues Nick Dowson.

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Protesters march against the pricing of Sovaldi in 2014, wearing masks of John C Martin – former CEO now Executive Chairman of Gilead.

Shopping for their lives

The patented breakthrough drugs for hepatitis C are so expensive that even the wealthiest of nations strictly ration them. Now desperate patients are going where their governments will not, by defying the system to get their meds from India. Sophie Cousins reports.

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Maria Soccorro dela Cruz (pictured with her grandson), was sexually and verbally abused while a domestic worker in Lebanon and Syria to support her family in Manila.

Sponsored abuse

A lack of legal protection combined with toxic prejudice leaves migrant workers in Lebanon between a rock and a hard place. But the struggle for rights is under way and, as Fiona Broom reports, it’s coming from the ground up.

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Get up, stand up!

Meet the Rastafarian lawyer fighting for cannabis freedom in South Africa. Interview by Alice McCool.

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Web exclusives.

There is a silent killer claiming millions of lives in Majority World kitchens: cooking smoke.

Smoke and Mirrors

Revealing Malawi's untold health and environmental crisis. Ingrid Gercama and Nathalie Bertrams for New Internationalist.

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Chief Paulo Douglas of Mulumbe ordered tree-planting in his village – as an investment for his grandchildren.

A woman's burden

To collect firewood, Malawian women are travelling farther from home by the day as deforestation escalates – and this makes things harder at home, too.

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Kamuzu Central Hospital in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe is one of the few clinics in the country that has a dedicated burns ward.

A broken system

Household Air Pollution causes over 13,000 deaths a year in Malawi – but it still can’t get on the country’s health agenda.

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Rose Kandodo from Nessa with an improved Aleva stove. She is able to afford the device because her husband has a job on the tea plantation nearby.

The cookstove community

Meeting the people trying to have an impact on Malawi’s health and environmental crisis.

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A statue of Africa’s ‘Big Five’ towers in front of the ‘Hapuwani Village Lodge’, a luxurious resort in Mulanje, in the south of Malawi.

Cookstove millionaire

Producing more efficient cookstoves has proved lucrative business for some, like Ken Chilewe.

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Mr Aubrey Palani, Plantation Manager at Katate Plantation close to Dzalanyama, warns: ‘in five years, there could be no more trees left’.

Malawi's black gold

The illegal charcoal business is driving deforestation - but also providing a source of income to thousands of Malawians in poverty.

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Read more web-exclusives...

Opinion.

Why some punchlines are beyond a joke

Jokes may have more power to make people think than facts – but is mainstream comedy doing enough to open people’s minds? Kate Smurthwaite jabs back at the comedians with only easy targets in their sights.

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The dangerous dignity of war

Mark Engler asks why it only takes a bit of a bomb-dropping and sabre-rattling to rally the reporters and bestow a presidential aura on our leaders.

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Agenda.

Grouper are protected for now. But at what cost?

Who is Palau’s marine sanctuary really for?

Is Palau's marine reserve as good as it sounds – or a route to luxury tourism?

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Happy feet for Chilean penguin campaigners

After concerted campaigning, the Chilean government has turned down a proposal for two open-pit copper and iron mines – that would have sat right next to the nature reserve sheltering the endangered Humboldt penguin. Lydia Noon reports.

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Bleeding veggie burger

Bleeding veggie burger

Meat without ‘murder’ might seem a worthy goal, but even if most vegans did want to eat a convincing replica of the real thing, is it safe? Yohann Koshy reports on a new vegan food product from Silicon Valley.

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Introducing... Leo Varadkar

Will Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s new, gay Taoiseach, live up to high expectations? Richard Swift reports.

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Sanctuary scholarships for migrant students

Sanctuary scholarships for migrant students

Seven students are now studying at SOAS university in London thanks to ‘sanctuary scholarships’, reports Hazel Healy. These scholarships have enabled them to take up their degrees despite the British government’s efforts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. Hazel Healy reports.

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The dark side of the desert Louvre

Downtrodden workers have been ignored in France’s rush to a cultural partnership with the building of the UAE’s new Louvre gallery. Yohann Koshy reports.

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Grief and guilt post-mudslide

Grief and guilt post-mudslide

In August hundreds died in a landslide in Sierra Leone. Dumbuya Mustapha reports on the arguing over who was responsible that has followed – and the efforts to hold the government responsible to ensure the tragedy is not repeated.

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Brexit threat to Africa trade

Brexit threat to Africa trade

East-African campaigners are warning Brexit may hit some Global South economies by harming their ability to export to Britain – a key market for some. Nick Dowson reports

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Cash averts famine in Somalia

Cash averts famine in Somalia

SIM cards loaded with cash handed out across the country have been credited with staving off a Somali famine after warnings of an impending crisis in February. Roshni Majumdar reports.

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Reasons to be cheerful

It’s always sunny; Find me a river; No more puppy mills.

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Regulars.

Letters

Praise, blame and all points in between? Your feedback published in the November 2017 magazine.

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Cochabamba fire.

Lights in the mountains

Not a sign of progress but a cause for alarm. Amy Booth reports from Cochabamba’s overlong dry season.

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Open Window - European Art

Payam Boromand from Iran with ‘European Art’

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Clockwise from top left: A typical neighbourhood corner shop in Uzbekistan; Tajik bakers selling bread at Siab Bazaar – the main market in Samarkand; friendly smiles from children; the ship graveyard on the former shore of the Aral Sea in Moynak; and two women sheltering from the heat.

Country Profile: Uzbekistan

Last December, in a ballot described as ‘a sham’ by international observers, the country elected Mirziyoyev as successor of its first post-independence president and long-time dictator Karimov. But things might not get that much better, writes Tina Burrett.

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Southern Exposure: Maheder Haileselassie

Highlighting the work of artists and photographers from the Majority World.

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A word with Yuri Herrera

The Mexican author and political scientist talks drugs, racism and masculinity with Graeme Green

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Film, Book & Music Reviews.

Going places – TootArd from the Golan Heights.

Mixed Media: Music

We review TootArd, from the Golan Heights, with their second album Laissez Passer, and Live at Ronnie Scott’s, by Nitin Sawhney.

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Rungano Nyoni brings feminist intent to her debut film about a girl accused of witchcraft.

Mixed Media: Film

I Am Not a Witch, directed and written by Rungano Nyoni; Menashe, directed and co-written by Joshua Z Weinstein

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Mixed Media: Books

This month, we review The White Book, by Han Kang; Red Famine, by Anne Applebaum; The Rage, by Julia Ebner and The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton.

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