John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for the ‘Guardian RSS’ Category

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Rich, reckless Brexit zealots are fighting a new class war | John Harris

Monday, August 6th, 2018

The likes of Liam Fox seek a Britain that would be disastrous for many leave voters. These ultra-free-marketeers must be stopped

We now know it beyond doubt: however we leave the European Union, the result is likely to be damage that Britain is in no position to absorb. Job losses are certain. A stack of Brexit impact reports from local authorities obtained last week by Sky News identified a catalogue of dire consequences, from farms in Shetland that could be plunged into impossible losses, through social care services in East Sussex already being hit by labour shortages, to the M26 being turned into a giant lorry park. With his characteristic emollience, the trade secretary, Liam Fox, says a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than a negotiated deal; Jeremy Hunt reckons we could fall off the same cliff-edge “by accident”, and reports about stockpiled food and medicines attest to the awfulness of any such prospect.

The referendum was the one meaningful political event in millions of voters’ lifetimes

February 2016

Related: ‘If you’ve got money, you vote in … if you haven’t got money, you vote out’

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In this grim age of Trump and Brexit, online fury is a dead end for the left | John Harris

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Progressives obsessed by Twitter spats and social media takedowns of the day’s chosen foe lose sight of what is really going on

Along with international football, brown grass and flaming hillsides, political swearing has been an integral part of the summer’s zeitgeist. The protests against Donald Trump’s visit to Britain were exactly the carnivals of dissent that they promised to be: I went on the march in London, and had a great time. But the subsequent media coverage also brought a pang of ambivalence about a seemingly endless array of slogans that mixed profanity with what the modern vernacular calls virtue signalling, and looked like they were unwittingly playing the president’s game: “Piss off you orange twat”, “Fuck off Trump”. One particularly subtle placard simply read: “Prick” .

Related: The Vortex: why we’re all to blame for the nightmare of online debate

The only beneficiaries of online discourse are the billionaires who have built empires on annoyance and misanthropy

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Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet | John Harris

Tuesday, July 17th, 2018

The energy used in our digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry

It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.

Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County.

Related: ‘Tsunami of data’ could consume one fifth of global electricity by 2025

Related: Bitcoin’s energy usage is huge – we can’t afford to ignore it

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The national calamity we don’t hear about – the death of local democracy | John Harris

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Cuts and closures underline the flaws of a system dominated by Westminster’s power. From health to schools to housing, we need an urgent rethink

‘We cannot survive as we are beyond this next financial year. There is no money. I am not crying wolf. I never cry wolf.” So says the Conservative leader of Torbay council, in Devon: a local authority that delivers the full range of services but can no longer function at even the most basic level.

After years of bone-crunching austerity, by 2020 it will be faced with another £12m of cuts – so the most obvious option is to downgrade itself to a district council, hand over its most essential work to the bigger Devon county council, and hope for the best. Whether this will improve anything is an interesting question: since 2010, in real terms, Devon’s funding from government has been cut by 76%.

Related: How can we protect our libraries from closure when the council ignores us?

Related: Council cuts are putting the vulnerable at risk, Tory peer says

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Robots could solve the social care crisis – but at what price? | John Harris

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

It’s the next wave of automation beyond retail and financial services. Yet can artificial intelligence ever replicate altruism and empathy?

Pepper is a 4ft tall approximation of a human being developed in France, and now manufactured and marketed by the Japanese-owned corporate giant SoftBank Robotics. If you went to the recent Robots exhibitions at London’s Science Museum or the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, you will be aware of what he (Pepper has been given a male pronoun, for some reason) can do.

Using a screen on his chest, he tells interactive stories, approximates the basics of conversation, and performs everyday gestures – all the while, according to his creators, “recognising the principal human emotions and adapting his behaviour to the mood of his interlocutor”. I have met Pepper on three occasions: the fact that my two children were so entranced spoke volumes not just about his capabilities, but the easy charm his inventors have wired into him.

Related: Carers don’t need to be paid compliments – they just need to be paid | Frances Ryan

Artificial Intelligence has various definitions, but in general it means a program that uses data to build a model of some aspect of the world. This model is then used to make informed decisions and predictions about future events. The technology is used widely, to provide speech and face recognition, language translation, and personal recommendations on music, film and shopping sites. In the future, it could deliver driverless cars, smart personal assistants, and intelligent energy grids. AI has the potential to make organisations more effective and efficient, but the technology raises serious issues of ethics, governance, privacy and law.

Related: In a world of digital nomads, we will all be made homeless | John Harris

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