Tag: European Parliament

When will the e-people be allowed to vote?

Monday, 27 June, 2016 0 Comments

On the surface, at least, the world was still in order on 31 May. Yes, it was World No Tobacco Day, but it’s been that since 1987 and smoking remains popular in many parts of the world. Change comes dropping slow, as the poet said. But quiet can be deceptive; it can lull us into a false sense of security and that’s why very few noticed a draft motion “with recommendations to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics” (PDF) drawn up by the European Parliament’s committee on legal affairs that was discussed on 31 May in Brussels. People should have paid more attention, however, because it is revolutionary.

No taxation without representation! That slogan led to violent change 250 years ago and what the European Parliament is asking the European Commission to do is equally radical. According to the draft motion, the commission should consider “that at least the most sophisticated autonomous robots could be established as having the status of electronic persons with specific rights and obligations, including that of making good any damage they may cause, and applying electronic personality to cases where robots make smart autonomous decisions or otherwise interact with third parties independently.” The motion also says organizations should have to declare any savings they make in social security contributions by using robotics instead of people, for tax purposes.

Robots voting On the face of it, then, while Europe’s robot workers would be classed as “electronic persons,” with rights and obligations, they would still be regarded as property (slaves?) and their owners subjected to additional taxes for having the initiative (temerity?) to deploy them. The realities of a new industrial revolution suggest that different thinking and terminology is needed.

Today, robots are being used in ever-greater numbers in factories and they are also taking on tasks such as personal care and cardiac surgery. The result is that all kinds of fears about unemployment, wealth inequality and alienation are being raised. The growing intelligence, pervasiveness and autonomy of robots demands a debate involving citizens, lawyers, accountants, ethicists and legislators. In the end, e-votes by e-people might play a decisive role in any referendum on these tectonic changes.


Speech Writing vs. Speech-Writing in Dublin

Friday, 19 April, 2013 0 Comments

That was quick. Yesterday’s post here about the execrable speech delivered to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday by Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland, has prompted a fast response in the form of this job specification:

“The Head of Speech-Writing is responsible for preparing draft speaking material and written messages for the President and works under the direction of the Secretary General and deputy-Secretary General to the President, in close cooperation with the Adviser to the President and operates as part of the wider team at Áras an Uachtaráin.”

Typically, the job title is “Head of Speech Writing“, while the text begins: “The Head of Speech-Writing is responsible for…” So, which is it, then? With or without the hyphen? Actually, it doesn’t matter as the bureaucrats who wrote the job spec are cut from the same cloth as those who famously tried to improve upon the writing of James Joyce. Whoever gets the job will be challenged, as they say, to better this gem from the infamous Strasbourg speech:

“They feel that in general terms the economic narrative of recent years has been driven by dry technical concerns; for example, by calculations that are abstract and not drawn from real problems, geared primarily by a consideration of the impact of such measures on speculative markets, rather than driven by sufficient compassion and empathy with the predicament of European citizens who are members of a union, and for whom all of the resources of Europe’s capacity, political, social, economic and intellectual might have been drawn on, driven by the binding moral spirit of a union.”

Clearly, a new Head of Speech Writing or a new Head of Speech-Writing is badly needed at Áras an Uachtaráin.

UPDATE: John Waters of the Irish Times rows in on the debate with The President has momentously said the unsayable about our economy. Waters, who is able to write clear English, notes “In a carefully crafted and historical-minded speech, the President said some very clear things…” And he said some very unclear things, too, which does not seem to concern Waters. Instead, the unsayable speech leads him to conclude: “But we can sleep a little easier now that the President has spoken as he has.” Agreed. It was a soporific speech.


Breaking Umberto Eco’s rules of writing

Thursday, 18 April, 2013 1 Comment

In his list of “Rules for Writing (Well)”, the Italian polymath Umberto Eco wittily noted:

“Be concise; try expressing your thoughts with the least possible number of words, avoiding long sentences — or sentences interrupted by incidental phrases that always confuse the casual reader — in order to avoid contributing to the general pollution of information, which is surely (particularly when it is uselessly ripe with unnecessary explanations, or at least non indispensable specifications) one of the tragedies of our media-dominated time.”

In light of that, consider this:

“I believe that a European Union that has the courage to face all of its past, including its darker periods of empire, with honesty, and its future with a commitment to values that are inclusive of all humanity, with a discourse that respects diversity, has a profound contribution to make — not only to its own citizens in Europe but to the global community.”

That sentence is taken from an address to the European Parliament delivered yesterday in Strasbourg by Michael D Higgins, the President of Ireland.