Cyber Threat

How prepared are you for a cyber attack? Experts warn Britain faces a heightened threat from hostile governments, terrorists and criminals.

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Forget about missiles and fighter jets, the next wars will be fought online.
How prepared are you for a cyber attack?

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. Governments around the world are beefing up their defences against the threat from cyber space.

The threat is the de-stablisation of the country, crippling networks that sustain public utilities and military facilities and stealing data from government, companies and individuals.

It comes from hostile powers, criminals and thrill-seekers. Different groups with different motivations.

Among the state actors around the world, North Korea, Iran, China and Russia lead the pack.

British intelligence says North Korea created the bug called WannaCry that left NHS officials in tears earlier this year, when it froze hospital computers, demanding a ransom payable in untraceable Bitcoin currency.

Iran is blamed for the attack on computers in the Palace of Westminster, hacking the email accounts of MPs and ministers.

Russia has launched cyber attacks on the military and economic infrastructure of its neighbours, Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia.

China is said to have a hacker army numbering 100,000 people. It’s renowned for cyber industrial espionage, stealing trade secrets from foreign rivals.

The west is no innocent bystander as whistleblower, Edward Snowden would attest.

But even Bill Gates’ Microsoft says the US National Security Agency created a bug, known as EternalBlue, which exploits a vulnerability in Windows software. EternalBlue has been used by other hackers, such as the attack on the NHS.

European Union leaders will soon proclaim cyber attacks as acts of war, to which the response could include conventional weapons.

But this is hyperbole. The thing about cyber warfare is it’s not clear who is attacking you. And hackers can purposely leave electronic fingerprints to frame other states.

Meanwhile, the National Cyber Security Centre has been established to coordinate the UK’s technical and strategic efforts.

It works closely with the National Crime Agency, Britain’s FBI, which leads the policing response.

Together they warn Britain faces a daily barrage of serious cyber assaults and it’s just a matter of time before we experience our first Category One attack, one that creates a national emergency with immediate danger to the population.

So what can we do about it?

It’s clear the criminal justice system is not the solution. Hackers are prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act. But last year, there were just 60 prosecutions. Most got community orders and suspended sentences. Only four people went to prison.

The police only catch relatively low level, domestic offenders.

This is a technology problem for which the solutions lay in better technological resilliance.

But in the end, no system is perfect. Hackers will get through. So, government, companies and individuals need to plan for the worst and build in systems that mitigate the damage.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Extradition

British citizens are being extradited to foreign countries when the evidence against them is not sufficient to bring charges in the UK. So, should we change our extradition laws?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Extraditing Britons to foreign prisons.
To face rough justice.
Why is it so easy?

Hi. I’m Leon Hawthorne. Extradition isn’t working, so why is the government doing so little to protect UK citizens?

Extradition is the process where people accused of crimes in another country can be deported. It’s a two way path. Britain can ask other countries to extradite suspects to us. And those countries can do the same.

The problem is: the system is uneven and fails to safeguard the basic rights of British citizens.

The Extradition Act of 2003 is the principal law on the subject. It encompasses an extradition treaty with the United States, the European Arrest Warrant and extradition agreements with other countries.

The treaty between the US and UK was agreed at the height of the War on Terror. Tony Blair bent over backwards to appease the American desire for easy extradition of alleged al Qaeda terrorists. However, the treaty terms apply to all of us.

US authorities need only show a “reasonable basis” for believing a person was involved in a crime. This is a much lower threshold than that required by the Crown Prosecution Service to charge someone.

Think about that. The British Government sends its citizens, in chains, to prisons, thousands of miles away from their families, on evidence that is insufficient to charge them with a crime at home.

Also, we extradite people when the alleged crimes relate to events that took place in the UK, like computer hacking, which could be prosecuted here.

But it’s not the same the other way around. The American Constitution better protects its citizens. That’s why we extradite seven times as many people as they do.

The European Arrest Warrant is another beauty. It ensures an arrest warrant issued anywhere in the EU will be executed elsewhere. Supporters say it’s quick, efficient and simple.

More than a thousand people are extradited from Britain, each year, to other EU states on this basis. The vast majority – 95% – are not British citizens.

I think it’s fine to have different extradition rules for citizens and non-citizens. We can do it, post Brexit. But it’s time to reform the extradition law, altogether.

Rip up the US treaty and scrap the European Arrest Warrant. We need to better protect British citizens and those lawfully residing here.

Foreign prosecutors must meet the same evidentiary criteria as required by the Crown Prosecution Service to charge a suspect.

If crimes can be prosecuted in the UK, we should never extradite.

Extradition should only cover serious offences attracting prison sentences greater than five years; and not many trivial offences, as now.

UK citizens must be given Legal Aid abroad, to hire adequate defence lawyers.

Also, the sentence faced, if convicted abroad should not be disproportionate to the sentence in the UK. None of these ridiculous 100-year prison sentences the Americans like to dole out.

As Home Secretary, Theresa May blocked one high profile extradition and ordered a review of the procedures. As Prime Minister, now is the time to act.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Care-BNB

The NHS is trying to solve the problem of “bed blocking” by discharging elderly patients and paying homeowners £50 a night to let them stay in a spare bedroom. Is this a shocking disregard for welfare or an innovative use of the sharing economy?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Get your care home, Airbnb-style.
An innovative scheme to solve NHS bed blocking.
Moving patients into your spare room.

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. The NHS is planning to solve the problem of bed blocking by renting rooms from private landlords.

They’ll be paying homeowners £50 a night to take in elderly patients who are medically fit, but unable to take care of themselves, perhaps due to reduced mobility.

This is the problem of so called ‘bed blocking’ – the official name is “delayed discharges” – where the social care system doesn’t have enough money or space to take these elderly people, so they lay in hospital, preventing a bed being used by someone who actually needs it.

Every year in England, 850,000 NHS bed-days are blocked in this way. It’s one reason for long waits in Accident and Emergency, because doctors cannot find the beds for urgent cases.

CareRooms, which is a private company, has a website canvassing for ‘hosts’ in Essex. They’ll undergo a criminal background check, first, but they don’t need any medical qualifications… after all, the tenants are not sick.

Why not? These elderly people don’t need a doctor or nurse 24/7. Just someone maybe to draw the curtains and let in the meals on wheels-like service that will bring food to the door.

Hospitals are not the best places to be at any time. They are impersonal, with no privacy and it’s very easy to pick up an infection.

At £50 a night, this scheme’s not exactly going to attract people looking to get rich quick. It’s likely to appeal to many, well-meaning people in our society who want to help others; and have a spare room.

The scheme is to be piloted by Southend University Hospital Trust. It was reported to have backed out of the pilot following negative headlines and criticism from Labour MPs, who called it ‘care on the cheap’ and a danger to patient safety.

But the Trust told me its position is unchanged. The pilot is just not yet ready to launch.

I think the idea is wonderful. It leverages the sharing economy, developed by companies like Airbnb and Uber, and applies it to doing social good, while saving the taxpayers a lot of money.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

CPS: Dodgy Numbers

The Crown Prosecution Service is guilty of fiddling the crime figures, so it appears to have a higher conviction rate for rape. Following an investigation by this show, the UK statistics watchdog criticises the CPS’s use of dodgy numbers that could mislead the public.

VIDEO SCRIPT:

SOUNDBITE: ALISON SAUNDERS. DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
“We will be honest and open…”

Except when we fiddle the crime figures.
The Crown Prosecution Service – found guilty by a government watchdog.
Censured for inflating the number of rape convictions.

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. The country’s lead prosecuting agency has been caught red-handed attempting to commit a fraud on the British public.

The Crown Prosecution Service published fake numbers, this month, trying to inflate its success rate for convicting men accused of rape.

SOUNDBITE: ALISON SAUNDERS. DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
“Hello, I’m Alison Saunders. I’m the Director of Public Prosecutions, heading the Crown Prosecution Service.”

Alison Saunders went on the media to boast about how more and more rapists are being found guilty.

The problem is her figures are a calculated deception. Not an exaggeration or an alternative interpretation. In plain language, a lie.

Let me explain…

This month, the CPS published its ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Report for 2016-17’.

Here’s a graph from that report, asserting the highest ever number of rape convictions – 2,991.

This, it claimed, represented a “conviction rate… of 57.6%.”

This is important because the general conviction rate for all crimes is 85%; and rape conviction rates are historically low.

But here’s the problem. Every quarter, the Ministry of Justice publishes a line by line breakdown of all cases going through the courts. It’s a massive spreadsheet with 25,000 rows and 100 columns of data.

So, not many people check the numbers, but I did. It shows…

– 3,716 rapes proceeded against in 2016.
– which resulted in 1,352 convictions.
– This is a conviction rate of 36%.

So, why is there a big difference between these figures and those from the CPS? The answer is buried away in the small print, in the definition of a ‘rape conviction’ used by the CPS.

“CPS data on successful rape prosecutions includes not only cases resulting in a conviction for rape, but also cases initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.”

In other words, if somebody is initially arrested or charged with rape, but subsequently convicted of, say, common assault, that could be included as a successful ‘rape conviction’ in the CPS figures.

Clearly that is not a rape conviction by any standard use of the English language. It is a lie, concocted so the CPS can claim a 57% conviction rate, when the true figure is 36%.

I discovered this deception and reported it to the independent watchdog on government statistics.

SOUNDBITE: ED HUMPHERSON. DIRECTOR GENERAL FOR REGULATION, UK STATISTICS AUTHORITY
“Official statistics serve the public good in so many ways.”

The UK Statistics Authority investigated and concluded the CPS had published misleading data.

Alison Saunders has form. It previously wrote to her in 2015 about the same annual report… that time for dodgy data on domestic violence.

Ms Saunders: we need to have confidence in the criminal justice system and you undermine that when you employ fraudulent accounting to deliberately con the public.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Iran versus America

President Trump pulls the plug on the Iran Nuclear Deal and threatens economic sanctions. But is it time for the US to acknowledge its own violent meddling in Iranian politics and try to build better diplomatic relations?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Trump challenges the Iran nuclear deal.

Claiming Iran’s government sponsors world terrorism.

But is it time for the US to mend fences, not go looking for more wars?

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. The international community is standing firm behind the agreement struck with Iran not to become a nuclear power.

That’s despite President Trump de-certifying the deal, meaning the US Congress has sixty days to impose economic sanctions against Iran or simply ignore the president.

SOUNDBITE: PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP
‘In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with the Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.’

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told the UN he would not break the terms of the deal; and nobody credible believes he has. Trump has long asserted the deal was bad, because it gave too many economic concessions to Iran without getting enough in return.

In particular, Trump claims the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the I-R-G-C, is the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the world. It gives financial and military assistance to Shia militant groups that engage in insurgencies across the mideast, including support to:-

– the Assad regime in Syria.

– Shia groups in Iraq.

– Hezbollah in Lebanon.

– Islamic Jihad; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and Hamas in Palestine.

– And the Houthis in Yemen.

In short, Iran is fighting numerous proxy wars, challenging western hegemony, sticking up two fingers to the US and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel… not coincidentally, the only countries to back Trump’s de-certification.

Look. Iran is no angel on the international stage. Its human rights record at home is appalling.

Currently, it’s holding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman accused of spying.

The UK blames Iran for a June cyber attack on parliament, attempting to hack the email accounts of MPs and ministers.

All of this is bad, but my question is: what should we expect?

Trump’s recollection of history begins in 1979 when Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and held over 50 diplomats hostage for more than a year. The story was retold in the 2012 Academy Award winning, Best Picture, Argo. Like the movie about Pearl Harbour, Hollywood managed to tell a story that was somehow a victory for America.

But why did those events in 1979 happen?

Because Britain and America had been undermining Iranian sovereignty for a hundred years.

Most notoriously in 1953, when Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and MI6. We replaced him with a puppet regime headed by the Shah, the one that was itself toppled in 1979.

The Iranian people have no reason to trust America or the west. In public, our governments assert a belief in democracy while – behind the scenes – they have rigged elections and taught friendly dictators the best methods of torturing and murdering nationalist rebels.

We owe the Iranian people an apology for a century of misdeeds. And then, we can start rectifying the reasons they feel a need to confront us.

It is not our place to dictate to any mideast country who its government should be. They can decide that for themselves. If we stop meddling in their regional politics, Iran will have no need to finance resistance to counter our influence.

The only issue in which the international community should be involved is brokering a peace deal between Israel and its neighbours. And for that, we need to engage with Iran, not follow Trump’s lead and try to bully and isolate it.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Sex Crimes and a PM

The late Prime Minister, Ted Heath would have been arrested and questioned about a child rape. But why do the police arrest so many innocent men for rape, without credible evidence, when there is no realistic prospect of a conviction?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

A former Prime Minister accused of child sex offences.

The police say there is a case to answer.

So why are the police on trial?

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. Sex, crimes and a dead politician… who has friends in high places, attacking the police for dragging his name through the mud.

Sir Edward Heath, the former Conservative Prime Minister would have been arrested if he were alive today and questioned under caution for child sex abuse.

That’s according to Wiltshire Police, who spent £1 million investigating dozens of accusations. In the end, concluding there were seven credible claims, including the rape of an eleven year old boy.

But Heath’s friends say the police investigation was a disgrace. First, a senior officer held a press conference outside Heath’s family home, effectively convicting him in the court of public opinion; and inviting every publicity-seeking nutter to make a claim.

They say the Metropolitan Police previously investigated and dismissed the most serious accusation. A fact, the 109-page Wiltshire Police report failed to mention.

In short, the police have acted as judge, jury and executioner of a dead man’s reputation and it is they, the police, who should be probed by a senior judge.

Look. We will never know what happened, but there is a principle in English law that we are all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

The evidentiary bar required for police to make an arrest is ridiculously low. And that is part of a wider problem for anyone accused of a crime, especially one of rape, where the accusation alone can destroy a man’s reputation, career and family life.

Last year, there were 35,699 rapes of a woman, man or child reported to police in England and Wales.

Just one in ten of those cases, 3,716 were brought to trial.
And of those, just one third (1,352) resulted in a conviction.
Whereas, the conviction rate for all crimes is 85%.

In other words, the police arrest tens of thousands of men and the Crown Prosecution Service charges a few thousand of them… when there is little prospect of a conviction. In the eyes of the law, that means innocent men have their lives destroyed.

Believe me. I have not lost sight of the victims of rape, especially child rape. Those who are guilty deserve severe sentences. And of course, some people do get away with it. But how many innocent people must we destroy in order to convict one guilty man?

These are difficult cases to prove. The solution is not to recklessly believe every accusation, which is current police policy. Instead, police have to be neutral and rigorously formulate a credible case before they make an arrest?

The rules on arrest are defined by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. This sets a test of “necessity”, meaning it must be: “… necessary to arrest the person… to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence.”

As it’s highly unlikely a guilty man would actually confess to a rape, I cannot see how arresting anyone is necessary until the police have overwhelming evidence to charge him.

Nobody is obliged to speak to the police or provide an alibi or explanation for events surrounding a crime, so there needs to be a higher bar for arrest to protect innocent people being dragged through the mud.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Independence Daze

Catalonia and Kurdistan are on the verge of independence. So, why are western governments standing in the way? If not through peaceful referenda, will these two peoples have to fight for statehood?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Catalonia, Kurdistan… the latest nations seeking independence.

So, why are western governments standing in the way?

After a weekend of police violence, Catalonia is on the verge of declaring independence from Spain.

A referendum resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of founding a breakaway republic.

But King Felipe went on television to call for unity, labelling the referendum as illegal, saying it undermined peace and prosperity for all of Spain.

But his words likely fell on deaf ears among some Catalan people, reeling from scenes of brutality against unarmed citizens, dished out by national police on orders from Madrid.

The government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could not have handled this any worse.

Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of independence for one moment, tactically, they should have just ignored the referendum.

The courts had ruled it as unconstitutional, so Madrid should have shrugged its shoulders and taken a long siesta, while the Catalan leaders staged a piece of meaningless political theatre.

Instead, their hysterical, heavy handed over-reaction has bolstered Catalan separatism.

Catalonia’s regional leaders say they’ll formally declare independence in a matter of days. All of Spain is braced for a turbulent and uncertain outcome.

The same is true in Kurdistan, where 93% voted in favour of independence from Iraq, in a referendum held just days before the one in Catalonia.

The Kurds have been the only winners from the war in Iraq. After years of persecution, they have managed to solidify their autonomy and form something resembling a functioning mini-state with a competent army.

America and the west are happy to give the Kurds weapons to fight Islamic State and liberate Shia and Sunni parts of Iraq, but they have been obstructionist in the Kurds’ quest for statehood.

They are worried about Turkey, which has been persecuting its Kurds for a long time; and fears a Kurdish state would catalyse rebellion among its Kurdish population in the south, possibly joining forces with Kurds in Syria and Iran.

The west also fears if the Kurds break away, they won’t be able to hold the Shia and Sunni parts of Iraq together. They might fracture, to the benefit of Shia Iran.

Ironically, Israel is the only state to have backed an independent Muslim Kurdistan.

I believe in self determination. If any nation of peoples wishes to form an sovereign state and has majority support for doing so, the only question to be resolved is how, not if.

So, yes of course, Kurdistan should be recognised and welcomed into the international community, at the United Nations. So too Catalonia, after a legal and unhindered fresh referendum, with a higher voter turnout.

Half the nation states in the world are artificial constructs, whose borders were drawn for the convenience mostly of British and French imperialists.

True nationhood is a feeling of unity with the people around you. A shared language, culture, history, religion. You cannot bind different people together against their will. Madrid and Baghdad will have to learn this lesson soon, or else there will be blood.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Judging the Judges

A Crown Court judge faces investigation after he was reported saying: a drug addict, Oxford University student, who stabbed her boyfriend was too intelligent to go to prison. Just how biassed is the judicial system against anyone who isn’t rich or privileged?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Do the crime, do the time?
Unless you’re too bright to go to prison.
Why some people get away with it?

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. The criminal justice system came under the microscope this week as one violent drug addict who stabbed a man was told she could walk free.

Lavinia Woodward is an Oxford University medical student, who got high on drink and drugs before attacking her boyfriend, punching him in the face, throwing a computer at him and slashing his leg and hand with a bread knife.

She was convicted of unlawful wounding, contrary to section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.

But His Honour Judge Ian Pringle QC concluded it would be a shame to send Lavinia to prison. He said:

“To prevent this extraordinary able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the [medical] profession… would be a sentence which would be too severe.” (Source: Mail Online).

So, he gave her a suspended 10-month sentence and she walked free.

What if she were a working class girl, employed in a shop and not a high flying would-be doctor, presumably it would not be too severe to lock her up?

The judge is literally describing one rule for the rich and privileged and another rule for everybody else.

I can reveal the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office has received a formal complaint about Judge Pringle. Any possible findings of misconduct will be published at a later date.

Perhaps Judge Pringle saw a girl who could be his daughter? Posh, from a good family, well educated, privileged. I wonder how many times judges are so lenient on other offenders.

Here are the figures:-

Last year, 2,879 adults aged 21 or older were sentenced for the same offence of unlawful wounding.
55% were given immediate custodial sentences.
39% had their sentences suspended.
And 6% were give community orders and other punishments.

So, Miss Woodward’s sentence statistically is not that unusual, but it does highlight shocking injustices, especially if you break down the figures by gender.

Men convicted of this offence are twice as likely (57%) to be sent to prison as women (31%).

If Lavinia were called Larry and HE had punched and stabbed his girlfriend, he would not have walked free.

The Sentencing Council issues guidelines to judges, who must assess the level of harm caused by the offence and the level of culpability of the offender.

In this case, the stab wounds were not severe. This is called “lesser harm”.

But attacking someone wildly with a bread knife is high culpability.

So, this case had lesser harm and higher culpability, for which the guideline is between 18 months and three years in prison.

But the judge has full discretion to suspend any sentence below two years. And this is what he did.

So, what if Ms Woodward were black? The recent report by David Lammy MP found blacks are more harshly treated at virtually every stage of the criminal justice system. It’s fair to say a black Lavinia would be behind bars.

I propose the Ministry of Justice routinely publishes detailed statistics on every judge, to list the outcomes of every offence they consider.

This government is keen on league tables for schools, hospitals and surgeons. So, let’s have more transparency, so we can judge the judges.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Uber and Out

The tech taxi company, Uber is banned in London. The authorities say it is not a fit and proper business. But is this a political move that has more to do with protecting vested interests?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Uber and out.
The tech taxi company is banned in London.
It’s condemned as not a fit and proper organisation.

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. The gig economy has suffered a massive blow as the London government regulator cancels Uber’s licence to operate.

Transport for London says Uber has demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility and is not a fit and proper company to hold a private hire licence in the capital.

TfL did not elaborate, but this follows allegations Uber fails to conduct proper background checks on drivers, some of whom have carried out sexual offences against passengers.

Also, the controlling way Uber treats its drivers and its alleged use of computer software to avoid certain police actions against it.

Uber has denounced all criticism and says it will file an appeal in the courts, which will allow it to carry on trading, at least for several months.

At risk are 40,000 Uber drivers’ jobs in London; and the travel plans of 3.5 million Uber registered app users.

Recently, I had a conversation with the driver of a black cab. He told me he believed in free trade and competition. The problem was he could not compete with Uber because he couldn’t lower his fares, which are set by TfL. So, his hands were tied.

Obviously, Uber is a young tech start-up, which has grown to a massive scale in a short time period. Like many from Silicon Valley, its creators are tech geniuses, bucaneers, anarchists who love to disrupt every market they enter.

But it has come up against the vested interests of licensed taxi drivers and their Labour union friends, who now run the London Mayoralty and TfL.

Uber has not helped itself by failing to adopt ethical business practices, such as not employing sex offenders, criminal or illegal immigrants. And by allowing itself to be perceived as tax dodgers.

It seems to me: if the safety of passengers were the main concern of TfL, it could have imposed strict terms on Uber to make certain undertakings, subject to audit within a strict time period, or else face a ban.

Instead, TFL has fired a nuclear rocket at the heart of the gig economy, which could have a seismic ripple effect throughout the rest of the UK and Europe, as other cities follow suit.

The board of TFL is made up of political appointees, mostly in their 50s and 60s. No doubt, they have chauffeurs to drive them around, but they are a generation away and worlds apart from many young people who love the convenience of Uber and cannot afford the higher prices of London’s black cabs.

This was clearly a political decision and it must be reversed, if not by the courts, then by central government.

With Brexit on the horizon, this is a time London needs to be open to business, not shutting them down. And Uber needs to show as much concern for its passengers and drivers as it does for its bottom line.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Artificial Intelligence

Do artificial intelligence and robotics pose a threat to jobs and the very existence of humanity? Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk issue a warning.

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Intelligent machines taking over the world.
Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warn of the threat to humans.
Not just to our jobs, but also to our very existence.

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne.

Could artificial intelligence pose a serious risk to the future of the human race?

It’s the stuff of science fiction. Hollywood has been making movies about robots challenging our supremacy for a long time.

The cyborg in ‘Terminator’.

The robots in ‘I, Robot’.

CLIP – ‘I, Robot’.

‘Dr Lanning suggested robots might naturally evolve. .’

The androids in ‘Blade Runner’.

CLIP – ‘BLADE RUNNER 2049’.

‘Every civilisation was built off the back of a disposable workforce. Shhh.’

Now, leading figures from the world of science and business are warning real-life might soon replicate art.

Tesla and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk is particularly concerned about the threat to employment posed by the mechanization of many roles. He asks: “What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human].” 

This view is echoed by Deutsche Bank CEO, John Cryan who told the Financial Times:
“In our banks we have people behaving like robots doing mechanical things, tomorrow we’re going to have robots behaving like people.”

But these warnings do not convince many politicians, who are mesmerised by the white heat of technology.

The UK government has an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, designed to pick winners and invest £93 million of taxpayers’ money in robotics and artificial intelligence projects.

Look. Ever since Gutenberg invented the printing press, somebody somewhere has been inventing something that can change the world. There’s nothing we can do or should do to stop technological progress.

But Government does need to think more about the human cost. Its current thinking is new jobs will be created to replace the old ones, so all you need to do is learn computer skills.

Well, that might be true for some people, but the logic of progress is fewer jobs will be needed overall.

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates proposed government start taxing robot workers in the same way as it taxes human workers. He told Quartz website: “[If a] human worker does $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed… If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level.

But that advice has been rejected by the European Commissioner for the digital economy, who said flatly: “no way”.

The jobs most at risk are ones that are relatively low skilled or repetitive… virtually everyone involved in warehousing, transportation and delivery of goods.

For example, Amazon has successfully trialled Amazon Prime Air, an automated process of picking orders at the warehouse and using autonomous drones to deliver the item to your home.

The British government has enthusiastically embraced trials for Google’s self-driving cars… and Volvo’s driverless delivery trucks… ignoring warnings about cyber criminals hacking into these vehicles and deliberately causing crashes.

And the intelligence community is worried it’s just a matter of time before terrorists use Amazon-like commercial drones to deliver bombs into heavily populated city centres.

But the most serious warning is not about jobs or terrorism, but the very existence of the humanity.

SOUNDBITE: PROFESSOR STEPHEN HAWKING.
“Don’t let others decide your future.”

Physicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

He points out human development is limited by the speed of biological evolution, whereas machine learning could be at an exponential rate.

CLIP: TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES.
“The life you know. All the stuff you take for granted. It’s not going to last.”

This was the idea envisaged by the ‘Terminator’ movies, where computers that contol the defence system decided to nuke the world and enslave any remaining humans.

Yes, artificial intelligence does pose an existential threat to mankind… as do nuclear and biological weapons.

But we cannot legislate to stop scientists dreaming up new technologies. So, if the ‘Terminator’ shows one possible future for humanity, we can take heart from one line in that movie – “there’s no fate but what we make.”

I’m Leon Hawthorne. And I’ll be back.