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A world through a baby’s eyes

Elizabeth Rust : July 10, 2017 2:57 pm : Blog

A couple weeks ago I took my baby to an art gallery in south London. I may have had second thoughts, but I did an interview with the new director for the Dulwich Picture Gallery in May and she told me galleries are alive – bring your baby!

We were in a long hallway, just opposite a room where a film was playing. I picked him up out of his push chair so he would have a better view. He pointed to abstract letters on the wall and posters in another language, calling out: cat, cow, dada, red, blue, amongst other words. I found his observations amusing, probably wholly because I’m his mother, but nonetheless it was abstract, so how insightful to hear his words.

So you can imagine my shock when a woman glared at him. She was intensely drawing on a sketchpad. Her dark hair perfectly tied back in a ponytail. A few strands of grey glimmering. Why she was sketching, I can only imaging for a foundation degree. But we weren’t exactly at a top gallery. And to be honest, I’d never heard of the artist.

“This is a gallery. I’m trying to get some work done,” she said.

I smiled at my baby. “Shh,” I said to him. This only made him giggle. He started making a ‘Ba, ba, ba’ noise. A happy noise someone said to me when I took him along to an interview the day before.

But the woman was having none of it. She insisted babies shouldn’t be at the gallery. Announcing it to the room. No one acknowledged her. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. We left within a couple minutes. I felt ashamed for taking him.

We crossed the street from the gallery. I put him back in his push chair and pushed him up the treelined Camberwell Grove. And as I did so, I couldn’t help but think: “Isn’t art all about humanity? Shouldn’t this person, who is studying art, applaud what a baby is seeing? He is seeing the world with new eyes? Isn’t that what artists, writers and musicians try to do every day?”

And with that I gave him a little kiss on the cheek. Not because of anything other than I was so pleased to have him.

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Mark Carney: ‘No’ regulatory sweeteners

Elizabeth Rust : April 10, 2017 11:30 am : Blog

Not my usual habitat, I somehow blagged my way into the Mark Carney talk about the impact of Brexit on the City at Reuters last Friday. What I mainly learned is that I need to brush up my ‘adult banter’ as I’m so used to speaking with a sixteen-month old, that I now I just nod and smile when I talk to an adult. I swear I used to be able to do this! Ugh.

Financial stuff, FinTech, for example, is something I don’t feel very well versed in. So I thought he might talk a bit about this. But he really didn’t mention much. Only that London being the centre of financial technology innovation brings risks and complexities that need a proper level of regulation.

Regulation was his hot topic. Basically he referred to the current situation as being a ‘fork in the road’ for the global financial system, with the outcome of Brexit negotiations certain to have a significant impact on the way the City is regulated.

I found it particularly amusing that when someone asked if there would be any ‘regulatory sweeteners’ to encourage financial firms to do business in the UK, his response was an emphatic ‘No’. But I really loved that when the moderator said she was putting questions out to the ‘experts’ in the audience the first person to ask one came from the Daily Mail, which caused a roar of laughter in the room. Tough gig!

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Nick Clegg: Those who crave power probably shouldn’t have it

Elizabeth Rust : April 7, 2017 10:47 am : Blog

Last Wednesday – triggering of Article 50 day – I heard Nick Clegg speak about Brexit, Trump and the Politics of Fear. I also picked up a copy of his book, which is a good read about the subject too.

Nick is much taller than I expected. I knew he was tall, but he seemed to tower over the podium at St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street. During his speech he reflected on the ‘heady optimism’ and ‘sense of triumphant liberalism’ of the 1990s, he spoke about the rise of populism, pinpointing what he saw as the shared characteristics of Trump, Wilders, Le Pen et al as a claimed ‘umbilical relationship’ with the ‘real people’, an unwillingness to compromise and a propensity to channel blame and aggression towards a specific group (be it ethnic or religious) or city (London, Brussels, Washington).

However he admitted that there has been a paradigm shift away from the fixed political landscape of left versus right into something far more fickle, volatile and individualistic, noting this period in history will be viewed as a ‘moment of transition’. He highlighted the amount of in-work poverty, citing the anger felt by his Sheffield constituents towards bankers and politicians as being an understandable reason that led so many to vote for Brexit, and underlined the terrible irony of Brexit being a means to an ideological end for free market right wingers, with those most likely to suffer the consequences of reduced workers’ rights and a rolled back state being the workers who voted in their masses for Brexit in the first place.

Turning to the subject of social media, which he noted had originally been seen as a ‘great liberative force’, he observed that it has in fact had the opposite effect, exacerbating the balkanisation of ideological divisions, and providing a ready-made online army for populist politicians.

Nick ended on a more positive note, stating that the power to change matters begins locally in relatively mundane issues such as improved transport links, skills training and welfare, although citing the facts that Trump had in fact lost the popular vote and that ‘only’ 52% of votes were cast for Brexit as causes for optimism struck me as a little desperate.

I really enjoyed this speech. A bit of depression setting in from Brexit, perhaps, but he made me wish he was still in government, although I wondered whether he had perhaps been too empathetic for the job. He came across as one of the good guys – too good, perhaps – and looking at some members of the current administration it brought to mind the paradox of power; those who crave power probably shouldn’t have it.

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I only use travel apps

Elizabeth Rust : March 24, 2017 3:13 pm : Blog

I regularly use eight London mobile travel apps. I tap them all regularly – at least once a week. And my mobile usage stats concur. I use travel apps more than Facebook – shock! Which got me thinking, how did I survive crossing London prior to owning a smartphone? Well, I got lost … a lot!

But I’m quite an odd one. The average person uses two travel apps according to CWT Travel Management, with only 14% of people using more than five.

So what am I using:

Bus CountDown – I used to stand at a bus stop and wait. And wait. But I never walked away. If I invested time, I was getting on the bus! Walking would be giving up. Surrendering to TfL.

Citymapper – Because you can’t exactly get from point A to point B without it!

National Rail – Unfortunately, I live in Southern rail territory. Thank you strikes.

Google Maps – See, above. I get lost … a lot!

Then all the taxi apps. Well, because you have to compare prices – and sometimes they’re all booked up! Uber, Addison Lee, Greentomato, and Gett. I really love Gett. It’s my new favourite app. Hail a black cab from your mobile. They never get lost, and they don’t take you down a wrong street!

Not to mention when I go abroad, this adds to my app usage – XE Currency is invaluable. Google Translate – coffee in any language – and TripIt because who has time to print off all those confirmation emails?

Give my travel apps up for a day – maybe. A week – never!

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What is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI)?

Elizabeth Rust : March 22, 2017 2:04 pm : Blog

There’s been a bit of a media frenzy about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to take our jobs away. Sure it’s great for headlines – and clicks – but R2D2 is not the future anytime soon.

And the reason for that is because AI is only about mastering one task. For example, how to win a game. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), on the other hand is about linking and applying knowledge to other tasks. For example, AGI would be the equivalent to how a mouse has learned to outwit a cat’s tongue.

The difference was explained really well in The Guardian last week:

Most AIs are based on programs called neural networks that learn how to perform tasks, such as playing chess or poker, through countless rounds of trial and error. But once a neural network is trained to play chess, it can only learn another game later by overwriting its chess-playing skills. It suffers from what AI researchers call “catastrophic forgetting”.

PathNet is a project being run by Google’s DeepMind to tackle AGI. According to DeepMind, PathNet is a neural network algorithm that uses agents embedded in the neural network whose task is to discover which parts of the network to re-use for new tasks.

James Kirkpatrick at DeepMind explains in the article that AGI is still a way’s off:

“We know that sequential learning is important, but we haven’t got to the next stage yet, which is to demonstrate the kind of learning that humans and animals can do. That is still a way off. But we know that one thing that was considered to be a big block is not insurmountable.”

So rest assure, lawyers and accountants, your job is safe for the time being!

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