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Why can’t machines be on the public’s side for once?

Why can’t machines be on the public’s side for once?

Posted by Zenobia HegdeMay 24, 2016

Sorry to say this, but M2M still frightens a lot of people. Not me, obviously. Ha! But, er, I’ve got this friend and he’s a bit nervous about the enormous potential for IoT.

Call me, sorry him, scale-o-phobic, but it’s impossible to see a vast shadow on the horizon and not suspect sinister motives. The lovelier the presenters are at those Smart City exhibits, the more one feels that the walls are closing in, says freelance IT and communications writer, Nick Booth.

Maybe it’s because we don’t have any relationship with the machines that are gathering the information and changing our environment. Granted their decisions are helpful, but it’s nice to be consulted first. Otherwise, it’s like someone grabbing the steering wheel while you’re driving. Yes, the Smart City means well, but sometimes it should bloody well mind its own business!

Meanwhile, the anonymous machines that slap out fixed penalties are absolutely hated. Devious snooping little widgets they are. Skulking in the shadows, putting profits before people, displaying no common sense or capacity for balanced judgement. The people who install them are to blame, often cynically misappropriating anti terror legislation so they can raise money for the local council and its favoured contractors. But we never see these faceless individuals, so we end up hating the machines.

It’s a bit unfair on the automatons, always getting sent out to do the dirty work and take the blame. When machines finally evolve to have feelings they’ll be pretty resentful about this. Being modern, metropolitan robots, the first thing they will want to do is mount a PR campaign, to spin the positive side of their contribution to society.

How could they persuade us that they aren’t just agents of the state? There are some obvious areas for improvement.

Take for example, the transport infrastructure. Every day, travellers up and down the country silently seethe at their unfair treatment at the hands of the train operators. The train times published on the electronic notices never bear any relation to the original timetable. So the schedules are a moveable feast. Which means we all lose a bit of our lives to the train company, every day.

While that routine tardiness is bearable, it’s a contract infringement that would be brutally punished if the tables were turned. Commuters who don’t have a ticket are fined on the spot by squadrons of ticket inspectors. But no officials ever hold the train company to account when they regularly flout the terms of their contract. Even where there are clear cases for giving refunds, the process is so time consuming and morale sapping that winning your money back becomes a pyrrhic victory.

This is where machines could come in. They could be automated advocates for the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. And not just for SouthWest Trains customers either. They could help all consumers.

Surely, like lawyers, everyone should be entitled to an automated advocate. They could gather information about their commuter’s journey and take action on their behalf, when necessary. They could file a report and apply for a refund every time the train is late or Virgin’s broadband doesn’t deliver.

The net effect of all those GrumbleBots would have a miraculous effect on the service operators, because passengers could file all the refund applications, media alerts and angry letters to our MPs that we never get around to completing. The operators get away with murder at the moment, because they can. Surely robots could help us fight back.

Meanwhile, the same would go for all aspects of public life where the individual is bullied by either the state or a giant corporation. The utilities, who dig up the roads and leave them like that for weeks on end, should be held to account. As should the water companies who leak this precious resource and bill us for their laxity. Same goes for the local authorities who leave the lights on all day, even in summer, then stick the cost on our taxes.

It can’t be that difficult to develop all the reporting facilities to automatically gather all this information. The company that created a system that stands up for the public would become an overnight sensation. Come on Wyless, Intel and co., what are you waiting for?

The author of this blog is freelance IT and communications writer, Nick Booth.

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Zenobia Hegde

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