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In the loop: merging with machines and the consumer spending slump

Written by Josh Russell on Friday, 17 February 2017. Posted in Insight, Analysis

The EU referendum is finally catching up with the retail sector, the government is taking the fight to late payments and Elon Musk unveils his scheme to prevent the rise of Skynet

In the loop: merging with machines and the consumer spending slump

Musk believes becoming cyborgs will help humans counteract AI threat

Tesla founder Elon Musk has hardly played down his fears around the dangers that deep AI could pose to the human race. But his new solution for facing down this threat seems to be ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Musk stated humanity’s best hope of avoiding obsolescence is to become one with AI. “In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there’s a need to merge with machines,” he said. Using a sufficiently high-bandwidth interface, Musk maintains that in the future we will be able to connect human brains to AI and “achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence”.

Given he has previously mooted ideas that humanity is living in a giant computer simulation or that we should use nuclear armaments to terraform Mars, creating an unholy hybrid twixt man and machine seems a fairly sober suggestion by Musk’s standards.

Consumer spending drops for third month in a row

Even the most ardent Remainer has to admit that, despite doom and gloom predictions, consumer confidence has proven rather resilient in the wake of the Brexit vote. But unfortunately it seems like this may have finally come to an end: retail sales fell for the third month running in January, suggesting that rising inflation has shoppers spooked.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, sales volumes for the period from November to January were down 0.3% compared to the three months preceding it. One doesn’t need to look far to find explanations for the public’s increased wariness to part with their cash: inflation reached a two-year high of 1.8% last month, driven in part by soaring fuel and food prices. Coupled with slowing wage growth, this means that for the first time since the referendum consumers are feeling the pinch.

And, with economists suggesting that this is likely to worsen as the year progresses, it does seem like there are trying times ahead for the British high street.

Government launches hunt for a small-business commissioner

Given late payments can cause cashflow to slow to a trickle and jeopardise the health of Britain’s small businesses, it’s been heartening to see the government go on the offensive against the industry’s worst offenders. And this week it has fired another salvo: the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has finally begun the hunt for small-business commissioner.

First proposed in the Enterprise Bill 2015, the small-business commissioner will help small businesses better assert themselves in contractual disputes, point the way to dispute resolution services, encourage larger businesses to improve their payment practices and potentially name and shame the worst offenders. According to the government’s job listing, the ideal standard-bearer for SMEs will be able to develop and maintain constructive relationships across the business community, have experience of working with both small and large companies and possess outstanding leadership and communication skills.

In light of the fact that applications don’t close until March 13, it may be a little while before we see a new small-business commissioner in the job. But without a doubt SMEs’ bottom lines are soon going to start looking a lot healthier.

YouTube bins unskippable 30-second ads

Few things are quite so universally reviled as ads on videos that you can’t skip. When you’re loading up a quick 20 seconds of epic fails, the last thing you want is to have to sit through an interminable advert for cleaning products.

Fortunately, Google has revealed that as of 2018 it will no longer be running unskippable 30-second ads on its videos, something that will come as a major relief for anyone with a major YouTube habit. Commenting on the changes, a Google spokesperson explained: “We’re committed to providing a better ads experience for users online. As part of that, we’ve decided to stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads as of 2018 and focus instead on formats that work well for both users and advertisers.”

While some other ad spots will remain unskippable, such as the shorter 6- and 20-second slots, it does seem like having to wait an aeon before you can watch that cat video is a thing of the past. 

About the Author

Josh Russell

Josh Russell

As editor, Russell is the man in charge of properly apostrophising our publication and ensuring Oxford commas are mercilessly excised. Our digital doyen, he’s also a Photoshop Pro, a dab hand with InDesign and the man to go to if you need a four-hour soliloquy about the UK's best silicon startups.

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