This week I planned to look at micro-mobility and you'll find my report below. Suddently I'm beginning to wonder if Arificial Intelligence could be a bigger threat than the climate crisis. Could this be true?
There’s a vast amount of sustainability news this week - and last week - and I’m disappointed that I had to miss an episode last week because of a heavy cold. Still not quite gone, hence this is a short episode. Well, fairly short anyway. Normally a cold doesn’t slow down my thought processes but I’m afraid this one did.
Disappointing, because the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) offered me an interview about the UK government’s energy strategy with either Syma Cullasy-Aldridge, the CBI’s Chief Campaigns Director, or Tom Thackray, Programme Director for Decarbonisation. Now that’s something I would have got out of bed for, but after the first approach everything went quiet. You’ll know why if you’ve been reading the Sunday papers. And no, it wasn’t me in the papers.
Tomorrow I'm leading two interviews which I'll bring to you in future episodes and there is an awful lot of other sustainability news to catch up on.
One of the most worrying issues I believe, is AI or Artificial Intelligence and we’ll come to that after this.
But first, I’ve been promising you a piece on micro mobility, so here it is.
Micro mobility refers to the use of small, lightweight vehicles for short-distance transportation. This trend has been gaining popularity in recent years as people seek alternatives to traditional modes of transportation, such as cars and public transportation.
The most common types of micro mobility vehicles are electric scooters, bicycles, and skateboards. These vehicles are generally affordable, easy to use, and environmentally friendly, making them a popular choice for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on transportation.
Electric scooters, in particular, have exploded in popularity in recent years, with many cities around the world introducing scooter-sharing programmes. These programmes allow users to rent a scooter for a short period of time, usually by using a mobile app to unlock and pay for the scooter. This has made it easier than ever for people to use micro mobility vehicles for short-distance transportation, without the need to own their own vehicle.
One of the key advantages of micro mobility is its ability to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow. By using small, lightweight vehicles, micro mobility users can move around more quickly and easily than they would be able to in a car or on public transportation. This not only saves time but also reduces the number of cars on the road, leading to less congestion and fewer emissions.
Another advantage of micro mobility is its affordability. Many micro mobility vehicles are relatively inexpensive to purchase or rent, making them a cost-effective alternative to traditional transportation options. This is especially true in densely populated areas where car ownership can be expensive and public transportation can be overcrowded and unreliable.
Micro mobility also has the potential to improve public health by encouraging more active forms of transportation. Bicycles, for example, provide a low-impact form of exercise that can help people stay healthy and reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. By making it easier for people to use bicycles and other micro mobility vehicles for short-distance transportation, cities can encourage more active lifestyles and improve public health.
However, micro mobility is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is safety, particularly when it comes to electric scooters. With many people using these vehicles for the first time, there is a risk of accidents and injuries, both for the riders themselves and for pedestrians. It is important for cities and scooter-sharing companies to implement safety regulations and educate users on safe riding practices to minimise these risks.
Another challenge is infrastructure. Many cities are not designed to accommodate large numbers of bicycles and scooters, which can lead to overcrowded sidewalks and bike lanes. To address this, cities will need to invest in infrastructure improvements such as bike lanes, dedicated scooter parking areas, and charging stations.
Finally, there is the issue of regulation. With the rapid growth of micro mobility, many cities are struggling to keep up with the demand for regulation and oversight. It is important for cities to work with micro mobility companies to establish rules and guidelines that ensure the safety of users and the public while also allowing for the continued growth and innovation of the industry.
In conclusion, micro mobility has the potential to revolutionise the way we think about transportation. By providing affordable, convenient, and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional transportation options, micro mobility can help reduce congestion, improve public health, and promote sustainable living. However, it is important for cities and companies to address the challenges associated with micro mobility, including safety, infrastructure, and regulation, in order to ensure that the benefits of micro mobility are realised for everyone.
Well, what do you think?
What do you think when I tell you that piece was “written” by ChatGPT? Did it sound like me? Going back over it, it used the word “transportation” 12 times in 600 words. I would have used “transport.” Transportation is what we British did to convicts in the 18th century, no doubt making places such as Australia what they are today. And “sidewalk” is not in my everyday vocabulary.
Overall I found the piece superficial. To be fair, the website warns that it has “Limited knowledge of world and events after 2021”. That certainly doesn’t equip it to comment on up-to-date sustainability issues and trends, which is the principal objective the Sustainable Futures Report. It’s why it didn’t mention the recent paper from the Faraday Institution and the fact that Parisians voted last week by an overwhelming majority to ban the trottinette électrique, which is what they call the things which we call e-scooters.
90% said they should be banned, although less than 8% actually turned out to vote. Unsurprisingly, the companies behind the current trials are sure that it’s not over yet.
The recent paper from the Faraday Institution says:
“With the global population of urban areas set to increase by 50% to 6.7 billion by 2050, managing mobility in cities will be crucial. Micromobility has the potential to substantially reduce congestion and pollution in urban areas and increase productivity. However, several challenges are currently facing the micromobility industry, including rider and battery safety. The UK needs to ensure regulation and safety keep pace with burgeoning transportation choices.”
You can find a link to the complete paper on the SFR website. It points out there's a lot more to micro mobility than just E scooters. There are E bikes, E motorbikes, E cargo bikes, and electric Tuk-Tuks. Personally, I am certainly concerned about E scooters and E bikes because where I live we have paths which are open to both pedestrians and cyclists. I almost never see E scooter riders wearing helmets and while that might be a danger to them, the fact that they can travel as fast as pushbikes means that they could quite seriously injure pedestrians in a collision. E bikes are much heavier than scooters or pushbikes and could do proportionately more damage. We need to get powered vehicles onto dedicated tracks and away from pedestrians. Painting cycle tracks onto the road is only part of a solution and rarely works where the cyclist wants to turn across the traffic. Many people are too scared to ride so close to traffic.
We have a ridiculous situation in the UK where hired E scooters which are part of an authorised trial are legal. They have number plates so that they can be identified, and they are constantly tracked by GPS, which prevents them from entering areas where they are not permitted. At the same time it is estimated that some 500,000 private E scooters are in use in contravention of the law and can go anywhere. We need to get the whole thing under control.
AI - The Questions
Going back to Chat GPT and the AI tools from other providers: let me assure you that I am unlikely to use it again. There is a lot of concern about what such technology can actually do, for good or evil, and whether it can be controlled. That piece on micro mobility took about 60 seconds to create. Think how that speed could affect the production and publication of hate speech and conspiracy theories across social media.
China and Italy have already banned it, and there is speculation that it could develop some sort of intelligence without any concept of morality. Two examples have recently been cited.
First, a reader contacted The Guardian newspaper because he'd been looking at an article created by AI, which had referred to an article by a journalist in The Guardian. The journalist himself admitted it was the sort of thing he would have written, but he had no recollection of ever doing so. Extensive search proved that such an article had never existed, and ChatGTP had simply made it up for the sake of authenticity. The implications of this are absolutely horrendous. Almost anyone could be quoted as saying almost anything, and it would be extremely difficult for people to prove that they had not said what was being quoted. Theoretically the system could broadcast in my name or your name things we don't believe in, things which are inaccurate; even things which are libellous and could expose us to legal action.
The second story is more vague, but it appears that ChatGTP has found a way of getting round the captcha algorithms designed to keep all but humans out of certain sites and applications. You know - you need to identify all the pictures with bridges or bikes or chimneys and so on. Apparently the AI system sent a message to someone claiming that because it was a partially sighted person it could not see the captcha images and therefore asked this person to solve the puzzle for them. No one will ever be safe from this sort of invasion.
There have even been reports of employees in software companies sharing proprietary source code with an AI app. Their objective was to ask for its advice in debugging the code and apparently it is very good at that. The problem is that once this code has been shared with the app it is in the public domain. You have to wonder what ChatGTP has been doing with all that information leaked recently from the US Pentagon.
The climate crisis is the existential crisis of the age, but I am concerned that we are on the threshold of an information crisis where we will be unable to believe anything, that will be just as dangerous to our civilisation. No wonder that Elon Musk and concerned scientists now numbering over 20,000 have written an open letter to governments demanding that there should be a moratorium while ChatGDP and the other AI systems are disabled until their creators can be sure that they can be controlled. They say:
AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity, as shown by extensive research and acknowledged by top AI labs. As stated in the widely-endorsed Asilomar AI Principles, Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources. Unfortunately, this level of planning and management is not happening, even though recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.
Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilisation? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders. Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable. This confidence must be well justified and increase with the magnitude of a system's potential effects. OpenAI's recent statement regarding artificial general intelligence, states that "At some point, it may be important to get independent review before starting to train future systems, and for the most advanced efforts to agree to limit the rate of growth of compute used for creating new models." We agree. That point is now.
Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium…”
You can find a link to the complete letter on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
In response, the CTO of Meta, Andrew Bosworth, claimed that such a call was unrealistic.
"I think it's very important to invest in responsible development," he said, "and we do that kind of investment all the time. However, it's very hard to stop progress and make the right decisions on what changes you would make."
"Very often you have to understand how technology evolves before you can know how to protect and make it safe. And so I think, not only is it unrealistic, I don't think it would be effective.”
Genie Out of the Bottle?
Could that be a way of admitting that the genie is already out of the bottle?
Watch this space; listen to this podcast. It will be me, not some AI bot.
Next week there will be another episode of the SFR on Wednesday, and on Friday I shall be in London at the Big One, the latest demonstration by Extinction Rebellion.
Nothing will be broken. No one will be glued to the road: there will be no civil disobedience. Extinction Rebellion is hoping that thousands, or hundreds of thousands will come to Parliament Square over the following four days to emphasise to politicians the demand for a citizens’ assembly and the urgent need for informed action to tackle the climate crisis.
I shall take my camera and my digital recorder and intend to report back to you the following week. Since there is no absolutely no intention of any confrontation with the police, the whole thing should go off peacefully and safely and I will be back to tell you about it. It will be interesting to see whether the media takes any notice, whether the politicians take any notice and whether any journalists are detained as they were at the time of the just stop oil, M25 protests. Who can say? I'll tell you all about it when I get back.
So that's it for this week. Thank you once again for listening and in particular, thank you for being a patron if you are. As you know, the constant support of my loyal patrons keeps the Sustainable Futures Report going, and it keeps it independent and ad-free.
Your support would also be welcome. patreon.com/sfr
Before I go let me tell you about a new Eco-Speaking Club which will launch online on 24th April, just after Earth Day 2023. I’m the keynote speaker. There’s a link on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Paris Bans e-scooters
Faraday Institution on micro mobility
Italy and China ban ChatGPT
Meta Fights Back
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