Whispers & Screams
And Other Things

The Rise Of The Machines

One of the hot topics of the twenty teenies that was totally expected is the examination surrounding the ways in which AI or artificial intelligence will affect our lives and most specifically how AI will affect our jobs. For decades now, celebrated authors from Asimov to Zelazny have used robotics and AI as a key thread around which to weave a story.

That it is prominent in the public consciousness is in no doubt but in recent years as science fiction has slowly begun to become science fact, it is how this technology threatens to directly affect us that has become the core of the discussion. Unsurprisingly the kernel of that discussion has been how it will affect our bank balance and it is here that the real story lies in terms of how the fragile and unweildy human psyche copes against the agile and indefatigable machine.

To properly begin to understand this subject it is important to establish a rather obvious but sometimes surprising baseline. Ever since man discovered the flint and invented the wheel, technology has been changing our lives irrevocably. Its a track we have been travelling for millennia and, as the changes have affected our societies, we've adapted accordingly. Sure there's some tech we'd probably like to have not invented such as the nuke but even that thought is surrounded by controversy as it's by no means certain that we wouldn't still be embroiled in the Second World War if it hadn't been made. Its important therefore to accept that all of the tech in our world today has made the world what it is today and very few of us would seek to go back to a subsistence agrarian and feudal societal model with all its attendant drudgery and disease. Yes we have unemployment in modern society but it is rarely helpless unemployment and by learning new skills, the individual can once again find a foothold in the employment market.

This, in my opinion, is the key fact regarding AI and robots. It's manifest human nature to believe that everything that has gone before was somehow different but the crisis yet to come will change everything because of its uniqueness. The laughable fact that the British during the reign of Queen Victoria believed that they had invented everything testifies to that sentiment.

Looking at more contemporary disruption such as the invention of the tractor and the factory robot, its clear to see that whilst jobs have obviously disappeared, others have emerged. It is probably fair to expect that this model which has been the reality for millennia will continue to apply. As our economies develop increasingly technological foundations the need for unskilled human labour will continue to diminish however will not necessarily end. The slightly disturbing concept of meatware which is used to describe humans doing menial tasks that are not able to be done more economically by robots has come into the dictionary. Notwithstanding this unfortunate niche, society will continue to develop as its technology does. 

The key in all of this is the adaptability and indeed the ability of the individual to adapt and learn new and increasingly complex skills. This, if anywhere is where the drawbridge may be pulled up on certain sections of society. AI may well have already arrived. Of that there is no doubt however autonomous AI which can continue to operate with no intervention from humans for decades or indeed indefinitely is still a long way off. This is where the future human workforce will ply its trade and it was ever thus. 

Another interesting area which opens up as a result of this discussion topic is that of human robotic augmentation. It may well be the destiny of the human race to slowly mechanise using increasingly powerful technological assistance which will gradually find social acceptance in its integration into our bodies. This may present us with enough of an edge that we can continue to compete with advancing technology or to some it may be the thin end of a terrible wedge which will find us all as barely conscious semi automata, trapped in a body that is not really ours and connected to the hive mind forever. 

The future is coming whether we like it or not and we cannot uninvent that which we have invented. Even the heavily regulated field of human embryonic manipulation is never at a standstill but rather is always creeping forward as taboos slowly dissipate over time. The ratchet of progress can go only one way and it never really stops. As a species we are masters of this planet because of our enormous ability to adapt and overcome the most difficult of environments and it is this core human skill which will be our greatest asset in the decades to come. If we cannot then the social upheaval may well become the biggest influencer regarding our future. Discrepancies of wealth and opportunity in societies are rarely allowed to exist for long and usually end explosively and it may well be therefore that the surest way for humanity to survive is to assure a certain minimum living standard for all as we pivot to a new model where ones ability to earn a living becomes less important. There are many possible futures out there and, as has always been the case, many are terrible and many are not. The future's not ours to see. Que sera sera...

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Decisions Decisions

Making decisions in life is hard. Its a worry. Its a moment in time where all the comforting possibilities are whittled right down to just a few. Its tempting to think of those as limited to success or failure. Maybe even partial success but its more complicated than that.screen-shot-2014-07-28-at-10-38-59-am-e1406558423571

Ive taken the decision to start businesses, leave businesses, go back to University and even more significant and terrifying decisions in my personal life. To be fair, I think Ive done a good job so far. So far so good.

But how do you know if a decision is the right one? Is there a way to be sure that whatever you pick is the best choice? That it will surpass anything and everything that might have been?

Sorry but Nope.

You can’t know. You’ll never know for sure. You can't examine all of your possible futures and thats just tough.

But, you do know one thing and thats the thing that really matters. No matter how things play out, you will gain from the experience.

That something could be financial, educational, or it could just be a lesson learned. Perhaps a particularly tough one. Its irrelevant, because what you can say for sure is that the results you end up with will never amount to zero.

That decision could end up being just another decision you made in a long string of them. It could also be huge. But the point is you can’t try to quantify it before it has played out. Don’t try to put all the weight of the world in the decision.

A decision is just a single moment in your career. In the scheme of things it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re moving forward. Stop worrying about the things that don’t matter! Trying to figure out whether this is the moment that you “made it” will keep you from moving forward. And it will make it much harder to decide between everything you have going on. Which option will get me my “moment”? Why will it get me “there”?

What’s important is that you decided to do anything at all in the first place.

And what’s likely is that whatever “moment” you’re looking for hasn’t happened yet.

Spend all your time in the in-between space, the time between starting and stopping.

And remember that whatever decision you make, it will get you somewhere.

So go on. Jump. What's the worst that can happen?

Decisions aren’t ever right or wrong.

Your career hasn’t made it or not made it.

The magic is in the jump.

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GIMP plugins that stand out from the crowd

You may well be wondering what GIMP is. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Quite simply it is one of the most useful programs I have used throughout the last 10 years. Its an open source program that's ostensibly supposed to compete with Photoshop. When you compare the two programs they are surprisingly close competitors in all but one key area, price. Adobe Photoshop having moved to a subscription model comes in at about £50 per month give-or-take, GIMP on the other hand requires a one off payment of £0.00p. No brainer I'd say. On top of this, GIMP is the best open-source photo-editor out there in the marketplace. It packs in a neat set of features that can rival those of Photoshop. And that's not the end either! More than what GIMP lacks in terms of in-built features, it settles with its powerful set of plugins which are unbelievably small, and extremely versatile.

In my entire history of using GIMP, I haven't ever felt any need to consider using Photoshop. If there was something I just flat out could not do with GIMP that I'd be able to do with Photoshop then I might have considered it but I've never come across anything even close. In addition, there are a surprisingly large number of plugins for this elegant software, that can spice up your GIMP experience, especially if you're serious about your photos. I'll go on to list some of the most powerful and cool plugins for GIMP. All of them are free, and I'll provide the download links to each of them individually. Most of the effects below simply require you to download the respective files, grab the .scm script and put it inside your GIMP folder's 'Scripts' directory. Restart GIMP following each installation, and your effect is installed.

1. Photo Effects


This is really one big boss of photographic effects. It packs in a number of powerful, cool effects, neatly arranged in four categories:

Sunset at Maidan, glassified with the
Stained Glass effect.


A. Artist (Note Paper, Pastel, Water Paint, Stamp, Warp)
B. Style (Chrome Image, Cross Light)
C. Texture (Brick Wall, Patchwork, Stained Glass, Texturiser)
D. Others (High Pass)

Once installed, any of the above effects can be flawlessly applied to your photos, to make even ordinary shots look special. The merit of this plugin is that, it packs in so many cool effects into an unbelievably small sized package, 27 KB! Yeah, you read me right. ;)

Another glorious addition is the degree of end-user customizations. For example, while applying Stained Glass effect, you can choose the size of each glass-element in pixels! The Note Paper effect is something to be reckoned with. And to be honest, the textures are just way too superb.

Download: http://registry.gimp.org/node/97

2. HDR and HDR Plus plugins


These are two very powerful plugins that can add colour and life to otherwise bland shots. HDR or High Dynamic Ranging process attempts to capture and/or bring back the true colour (as it appears) to each element on the photo, thus livening it up.

Notice the original shot below:


Now, the colours obviously look a bit faded off, and it's time to apply the GIMP HDR Plus plugin. Look at the result below:


The result is clear, it's far more attractive and cool, even though the original shot did not have a good colour composition. I would say, the HDR plugin is the best if you use online Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr or Shuttershock.

Installation is very easy, just download and shift the .scm files to the scripts directory. These cool effects (HDR and HDR Plus) can be loaded from Scripts-Fu=>Enhance=>Fake HDR/Fake HDR Plus.

Download: http://registry.gimp.org/node/11776

3. National Geographic Script


This is a smooth and powerful run-once script, that can effective turn even ordinary shots into quality ones. Not that it does live upto its name, but it comes really close! As usual, nothing is better than a demonstration. Consider the photo below, shot at Duars, North Bengal (India).


Although the colour composition is okay, it still lacks some jibe, and just doesn't appear a very quality shot (it may vary, though). I took it with my Canvas 2 Android phablet, using the 8 MP shooter distilled to 5 MP. Now, let us apply the NatGeo script, and the result is shown below:


It's clear that the photo below is a far more refined and quality shot! This is the magic of the NatGeo script. It can be accessed from Filter=>Generic=>National Geographic.

Download: http://registry.gimp.org/node/9592

4. Quick Sketch


Quick Sketch is a very clear name, it digitally turns your ordinary shot into a fake painting, which is often just too marvelous to be considered a hand-drawn one though, let me warn you. However, it's very artistic, and will certainly help you amaze your friends and social contacts. Consider the photo of Jeses below:


Now, after adding the Quick Sketch effect:


Looks genuine enough! Not surprisingly, it also reduces the photo size in most cases, doing away with colours and extra graphics. It can be accessed from Scripts-Fu=>Artistic=>Quick Sketch. And it allows you to customize the blur factor too. And behold! It's only 3.25 KB!

Download: http://registry.gimp.org/node/5921

5. Blue Sky and Clouds


This is one neat little script that turns otherwise greyish or whitish sky blue, complete with fake clouds and blur. It just appears way too magical, doesn't it? Well, with the plugin, it's a breeze. Consider the photo below, an okay shot that however doesn't capture the serene bluishness of the sky:


Naturally, we'd use the plugin here. The result is shown below:


The plugin also allows tremendous customizations, and you will need a lot of time before mastering it. But even if you just accept the default settings, it'll look cool. And it's just around 5 KB in size. Access it fromScripts-Fu=>Darla=>Blue sky and clouds.

Download: http://registry.gimp.org/node/193

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Know the way, Go the way, Show the way



Over my many years in business, whether the business of the military or the business of commerce, one of the core threads of weakness in almost all but the best managers/leaders I have worked with has been an inability or perhaps an unwillingness to communicate. All too often I have witnessed poor management communication not only down through the command structure but also, quite frequently, within what would be considered the first tier of communications. Their direct reporters.

Many such businesses have, it seemed, succeeded or perhaps survived, in spite of rather than because of these individuals for whom communication should be the centrepiece of their toolbox. Usually in these situations, the intentions are top drawer but the reality is bargain basement. Individuals in such positions of authority resting on their past achievements or being reasonably content with the status quo and pulling up the drawbridge to their rarefied level perhaps feel like they should maintain an authoritative distance or refrain from fraternising with the ranks. Ridiculous as such a stance may sound on paper, it is all too often manifest in management positions in all levels of business with the reality for the organisation far more serious than any ridicule may reflect.

Directionless authority figures who fail to capitalise on the talent within their organisations because of their inability to communicate beyond their own lieutenants can lay waste to layer upon layer of that which makes an organisation truly prosper, its people. This is especially true in the world of the startup where those in authority and indeed in control have the greatest of vested interests in seeing the business boom.

As managers, and most especially as managers within small businesses for whom hierarchical structures are not best fit, communication is what ensures that our own value systems are properly superimposed on the wider team around us. We need to accept our weaknesses. Work on them. Learn by placing ourselves in the uncomfortable situations we could easily avoid and the best way to measure this and truly understand it is to get down and dirty every day. Do sweat the small stuff. Truly understand the small stuff because when we get the small stuff right and we can communicate down and listen up effectively, communicating all the way down and listening all the way up, we will find ourselves at the centre of a team that really will begin to reflect the hopes and dreams we all have for our own organisations.

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