And so we came to the end in which the UK, or at least the English and Welsh parts of it, voted for Brexit. In doing so, the nation put aside the views of experts and other commentators and, as this blog suggested would be the case last week, voted in a different unknowable future largely on instinct and emotion. Whatever view you have on that, for those of us that live and work here, it is clear the country has irrevocably changed overnight in a way that I can’t recall ever happening in my lifetime:
We have woken up in a different country. The Britain that existed until 23 June 2016 will not exist any more. … we should not be under any illusions. This is not the country it was yesterday. That place has gone for ever.
Maybe we’ll be nostalgic for it one day the same way that many older voters seem to be nostalgic for an imaginary pre-EEC golden age in which Britain was basking in post-war and post-colonial confidence. The past is a different country now. The voting public have pivoted the country into the genesis phase of a new adoption cycle in nation and identity building. Where it ends up is therefore inherently uncertain as are all such exercises in innovation. Maybe we could be Silicon Valley radical and create our UK2.0 with a paid-for individual subscription option for EU membership for the millions who voted for Remain? Whatever the future holds for Britain the level of public division, fear and raw anger suggests it will probably not be the Swinging Sixties again. It was clear as the populist nature of the campaign unfurled that appeals to logic weren’t going to swing the result. Quite the reverse in fact as, with a week to go, proceedings took a further descent into the darkness that some had feared might happened with the unprecedented and shocking murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. It was what Alex Massie in the Spectator called ‘a day of infamy‘ marking a new low for the nation:
“I cannot recall ever feeling worse about this country and its politics than is the case right now”
Other left-leaning commentators like Nick Cohen of the Guardian shared the sense of despair:
the English air is as foul as it has been at any point since my childhood. It is as if the sewers have burst. The Leave campaign has captured the worst of England and channelled it into a know-nothing movement of loud mouths and closed minds.
and the cordite anger in the air was visceral to anyone following along which became increasingly hard and depressing to do, to be honest:
Something close to a chilling culture war is breaking out in Britain, a divide deeper than I have ever known, as I listen to the anger aroused by this referendum campaign. The air is corrosive, it has been rendered so. One can register shock at what has happened, but not complete surprise.
Many called out the stark divide in views across both region and class with the driver for Leave being a large-scale English working class insurrection that doesn’t sit well for the future of Britain next to a metropolitan elite that broadly voted for Remain and a Scotland that did so en bloc. One suspects Orwell would have had a field day with the class dynamics. Gordon Brown appealed to an end to the shrill intolerance and even the Economist waded in:
A country so intensely suspicious about its leaders, so wide-eyed in its willingness to believe the worst, so thirsty for proof of betrayal and decadence, is not a country in a good place.
References to sickness and poison in the nation’s bloodstream provided a grim backdrop in the run up to the vote:
Now the results are in, what happens next is that we get to find out if Leave were making it up as they went along. One Remainer who was prepared to invest the time and curiosity in studying the detail provided extensive evidence suggesting that was the case. Whether Leavers were calling the government’s bluff or not, there is no route to back out now and cry wolf. The train has left the station and it won’t be returning for this generation. The denial of right of movement was disproportionately decided by older voters. No wonder so many young people feel betrayed:
The FT had already laid out the brutal terrain facing whoever was left to clean up the ‘devastating’ fallout of a Brexit a few days before the poll:
The early indications now Leave have won aren’t exactly promising. Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation within an hour or so of the official result. Around him the FT 250 and Sterling were plunging and right on cue, Nigel Farage tried to disown his infamous 350 million NHS pledge. As what was, until as late as yesterday, seen as the merely theoretical became a reality, it’s already becoming clear that nothing will come of nothing from the EU 27 left behind who had already warned of the consequences of Brexit beforehand and were visibly hardening their “out as soon as possible” stance on so-called “Independence Day”.
We are leaving the EU and entering a dark and uncertain period. There will be many many difficult days and concerns ahead, not least for the many EU citizens who are already in the UK in critical roles many of them working in the tech industry. It’s critical that somebody in a position of actual authority in the weeks ahead provides a definitive assurance here if we are to avoid chaos:
“One thing the Government must do immediately is to guarantee the right to remain of EU citizens currently in the UK. Companies do not want to have to worry about losing valued staff.”
The ability of the tech sector to attract EU technical talent and build value from it for the UK is a real concern as is the overall impact on the tech sector in the UK. Early assessments from tech media are far from positive for anyone working with data and services across Europe. The EU already today faces massive challenges from the US and China. The real impact of this will probably be borne by those looking to set up the next generation of UK startups. They are likely to face a much tougher operational environment in a ruthlessly competitive global market:
“We sympathise with the next generation of startups, who may suffer without some of the advantages that got us where we are today.”
It seems certain there will be an impact on jobs over the coming two years. And the pressure for self-rule for Scotland in conjunction with the surge tide of English nationalism will surely break the Union.
As for immigration, it’s clearly been a huge vote driver. The massive irony is that Brexit will not magic the problem of non-EU migration away. It now seems inevitable this will become the area of shrill focus for the likes of UKIP:
It’s critical to be vigilant here if we want to avoid a descent into a further layer of hell:
I’ve been saying a while that when fascism comes to Britain it will be wearing a tweed jacket and a cheeky grin, holding a pint of beer in one hand and a noose in the other.
Exit pursued by dog whistles:
If there is any consolation, is is this. At least this whole awful ill-advised, unhinged and entirely misbegotten shambles is over. Hopefully it will serve as salutary lesson learned for future generations who are able to work out smarter and more graceful ways of pivoting a whole country into a new adoption cycle than ours did:
How foul this referendum is. The most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime. May there never be another
— Robert Harris (@Robert___Harris) June 16, 2016
- Clearly the odds have shortened on a Brexit-Trump double whammy and the Donald didn’t hold back in congratulating the British people on ‘taking their country back’ in a surreal press conference on landing in Scotland. Which voted Remain. Trump of course isn’t the least bit interested in expression of difference. His mission is essentially to get to define who is or isn’t an American and every opportunity he gets to speak he pushes it.
- Even so, Trump has had a very bad month which may have irretrievably holed his campaign before it has begun. Besides he appears to be broke. Even if his spoof is big in Japan:
- It’s hard to parse what motivates Trump supporters. No one size fits all. For the 22-year old profiled in this Atlantic article the primary driver seems to be specifically, political correctness. Or ‘cupcake fascism’ as it is sometimes referred to:
For me personally, it’s resistance against what San Francisco has been, and what I see the country becoming, in the form of ultra-PC culture. That’s where it’s almost impossible to have polite or constructive political discussion. Disagreement gets you labeled fascist, racist, bigoted, etc. It can provoke a reaction so intense that you’re suddenly an unperson to an acquaintance or friend.
- What’s next in AI? The death of truck driving as a profession and the re-engineering of the social contract. Those tasked with rebuilding Britain following Brexit may want to take constructive note:
We need to update the New Deal for the 21st century and establish a trainee program for the new jobs artificial intelligence will create. We need to retrain truck drivers and office assistants to create data analysts, trip optimizers and other professionals we don’t yet know we need. It would have been impossible for an antebellum farmer to imagine his son becoming an electrician, and it’s impossible to say what new jobs AI will create. But it’s clear that drastic measures are necessary if we want to transition from an industrial society to an age of intelligent machines.
- This Fortune piece on the future of work underlines the point that huge change to jobs and work is coming irrespective of Brexit. We need to anticipate and prepare not blame immigrants:
The Bank of England estimates that 48% of human workers will eventually be replaced by robotics and software automation, and ArkInvest predicts that 76 million U.S. jobs will disappear in the next two decades — almost 10 times the number of jobs created during the Obama years.
- Announced at WWDC, neural net support on iPhone backed by GPU is now available via an Apple developer API:
Basic neural network subroutines (BNNS) is a collection of functions that you use to implement and run neural networks, using previously obtained training data.
- Apple’s differential privacy also is a big deal for users. This blog post explains why in some technical detail:
it sure looks like Apple is honestly trying to do something to improve user privacy, and given the alternatives, maybe that’s more important than anything else.
- These developments underlining a point that’s been made in this blog several times in recent weeks, namely that Machine Learning is not magic, just maths:
the pundits often describe deep learning as an imitation of the human brain. But it’s really just simple math executed on an enormous scale.
- The problem of how to explain embodiment qualia is suggested in this Motherboard article as one reason among others why we don’t live in a computer simulation:
- Twitter acquired a small London-based Machine Learning startup called Magic Pony Technology for £150million.
- The Vision Next 100 is Rolls Royce vision of a driverless car. It is zero emission and “has no steering wheel and a silk “throne” from which its occupants can watch the world go by.”
- This robot ‘escaped’ from a lab in Russia and made a dash for freedom:
- Amazon’s ambitions in AI and ML necessitate bold hires such as Alex Amola who is moving from CMU to head up Amazon’s Cloud Machine Learning Platform.
- Bloomberg on life in the People’s Republic of WeChat. Getting familiar with it will be an imperative for post-Brexit British entrepreneurs tasked with expanding our ‘trade’ frontiers into Asia. We kept being told through the campaign we were being ‘prevented’ from doing so by EU regulation. Good luck:
- a16z on the enduring popularity and business potential of Stickers. Basically they’re like trading cards. If you’re in the UK, think Panini or Top Trump.
- The always absorbing Jeff Bezos of Amazon on AI, Thiel and other topics:
- Insight into the technical challenges of using Django at mass web scale at Instagram:
Instagram currently features the world’s largest deployment of the Django web framework, which is written entirely in Python.
- Samsung have acquired Joyent the ‘best kept secret in cloud computing’. Probably the least they could do to even try and keep pace with relentless developments in this arena.
- Martin Fowler position on the serverless paradigm:
- Ubuntu snap as a replacement for apt coming to a distro near you soon.
- Scala is the new golden child of programming languages. This TechCrunch article written from the perspective of a data scientist provides a good insight into why doing data science with Python may not be enough for many ‘serious’ gigs:
With a few exceptions, Python was clearly frowned upon. Of course, no one ever explicitly told me I couldn’t use Python to solve a problem. The coding environments always had a Python interpreter, but the interviewers would usually suggest that I use “a compiled language” (read: Java) and they would pose data structure problems that are hard to solve in Python.
- NYT on the end of reflection and what it means for us:
We’ve adopted the Google ideal of the mind, which is that you have a question that you can answer quickly: close-ended, well-defined questions. Lost in that conception is that there’s also this open-ended way of thinking where you’re not always trying to answer a question. You’re trying to go where that thought leads you. As a society, we’re saying that that way of thinking isn’t as important anymore. It’s viewed as inefficient
- A key Donald Trump pledge is to get Apple to shift iPhone production to the US. MIT looked at what that would do in terms of additional cost vs. additional US jobs. It turns out that thanks in large part to automation, it wouldn’t actually have that much impact on US job creation:
the bottom-line appears to be that assembly could be done in the U.S. if consumers were willing to pay an additional $30-40, rising to around an additional $100 if as many components as practical were manufactured here – but the impact on the job market isn’t likely to be significant.
- FirstRound on the recursive product strategy that “Musk used to build an empire”.
- The one science based technique to improve every email you send. We could do with more of this mode of thinking now we face our self-imposed uncertain future:
It is better to start off an email explaining your solution to a problem rather than stating the problem and then explaining the solution.