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Here to serve but not your slave
My wife and I were fortunate enough to go on holiday this year to a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Palm Island, a stone’s throw, well 10-minute boat ride (I’m not prone to exaggeration you understand) from Union Island, and some 45 minutes by plane to Barbados is a unique paradise described as the Maldives in the Caribbean.
The circumstances of the people that work on Palm Island (and history) are perhaps not too dissimilar to those that work in Cape Verde, a subject of a previous blog. Wages are poor, the staff are not exactly affluent, and work is hard to come by. Many have gravitated to Palm Island from nearby islands to find work and have subsequently stayed on Union Island, commuting every day after a long shift. Others stay on Palm Island in staff accommodation, returning home to their families every few months in St. Vincent and elsewhere. Whilst guests enjoy luxurious accommodation, great food and plentiful drinks, the workers receiving low wages, relying on a percentage of the service charge and tips, do not even have the luxury of a constant water supply on Union Island. Palm Island has its own water processing plant, Union Island does not. Hence the gardener telling me he had to pay $250 dollars to have water delivered to his home; £100 for the water and $150 for the delivery. The dry season is hard going and financially precarious.
The Island shut down during Covid and many of the workers returned home with no wages for the duration. Poverty is not an alien concept to them. Their lives and that of the visitors couldn’t be further apart and yet are intertwined by capitalism in the form of tourism. They need the tourists to sustain the jobs, the more tourists, the more in service charges and tips. Of course, the owners of the island want more tourists because it brings in more revenue. A moral dilemma for some perhaps, well for me anyway. I won’t be pretentious and state that I go to the island to support the local economy, vis-a-vie the poor people, I go there for a really good holiday. But here is the crux of the matter, and hence the title, I try my utmost to treat the staff with respect. I recognise that they are paid to serve me and other guests, and they do a brilliant job, but they are not my servants or slaves (the historical significance should be obvious). And yet I have witnessed people demanding drinks without a please or thank you, “give me a vodka”, “she wants a rum and coke”. I have seen people coming off yachts with day passes for the island, they came, they saw, they made a complete mess and they left…. You can clear up our mess! Glasses left all over the beach, beach towels left wherever, they last used them. “What did your last servant die of”, I ask, as they slope off into the rum filled sunset? “It certainly wasn’t old age” I shout after them. But it just seems lost on them.
I ask myself would they have treated me like that had I been the one behind the bar? I think not, perhaps the lighter colour of my skin may have persuaded them that I am worthy of some courtesy. But then who knows, it seems that some people that have money have a certain arrogance and disregard for anyone else.
Not all of the customers were like that, most were polite and some very friendly with the staff. But we shouldn’t forget the power dynamics, and above all else the privilege that some of us enjoy. Above all else it is a useful reminder that when people are there to serve, they are not your servant nor your slave and they and the job they do deserves respect.
The Moral Dilemma of Using Artificial Intelligence
Many academics, students, and industry practitioners alike are currently faced with the moral dilemma of whether to use or apply artificial intelligence (AI) to different aspects of their work and assessments. However, this is not the first-time humans are faced with such a moral dilemma, particularly in academia. Between 2003 and 2005 when I wrote at least 3 entrance examinations administered by the Joint Admission Matriculation Board Examination for university admission seekers in Nigeria, the use of electronic or scientific calculators were prohibited. Few years afterwards, the same exam board that prohibited my generation from using calculators for our accounting and mathematics exams started providing the same scientific calculators to students registered for the same exam. Understandably, AI is significantly different from scientific calculators, but similar rhetoric and condemnation resulted from the introduction of calculators in schools, same as the emergence of Google with its search capabilities.
For the most part, ChatGPT, the free OpenAi model publicly released in November 2022 drew public attention to the use and capability of AI and is often considered as the breakthrough of AI. However, prior to this, humans have long embraced and used certain aspects of AI to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Many academics not only use reference managers, but also encourage students to do so. We also use and teach students how to use the numerous computer-aided data analysis software for statistical and qualitative data analysis given the potential and capability of these software to replicate tasks that would ordinarily take us longer to accomplish. These are but few examples of some of the AI tools we use, while many others exist.
Types and examples of AI
There are several types of AI, including machine learning, natural language processing, expert systems, robotics, and computer vision. Machine learning is the commonly used type of AI. It involves training algorithms to learn from data and improve their performance over time, typical examples include Google Bard which performs similar tasks as ChatGPT. Natural language processing allows machines to understand and interpret human language, while expert systems are designed to replicate the decision-making capabilities of human experts. Robotics involves the development of machines that can perform physical tasks, and computer vision focuses on enabling machines to interpret and analyse visual information. Other common examples of AI include virtual personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, self-driving cars, and facial recognition software. With the wide array of AI tools, it is obvious that AI can be applied in different fields of human endeavour.
Application of AI
AI is currently being used in various institutions of society, including healthcare, finance, education, transportation, and the military. In healthcare, AI is being used to develop personalized treatment plans, predict disease outbreaks, improve medical image analysis, and carebots consultations is a near possibility. In finance, AI is being used for fraud detection, risk management, and algorithmic trading. In transportation, self-driving cars and drones are being developed and currently tested using AI, while in the military, AI is being used for autonomous weapons systems and intelligence gathering. In education, AI is being used for personalized learning, student assessment, referencing, and teacher training through the help of numerous AI tools. I recently responded to reviewer feedback on a book chapter and in doing so, I noticed my reference list which was not spotted by my reviewers was not appropriately aligned with the examples provided from the publisher. It would take me 2 hours to format the list despite already having the complete information of sources I cited. Interestingly, I did not spend half of this time on the reference list of my doctoral thesis because I used a reference manager.
Benefits of AI
Clearly, AI has many potential benefits. It has the potential to improve efficiency and accuracy in various industries, leading to cost savings and improved outcomes. AI can also provide personalized experiences for users, such as in the case of virtual assistants and personalized learning platforms. More so, where properly applied, it would not only improve productivity and save time, but result in increased efficiency. Researchers would appreciate the ability to make sense of bulky data using clicks and programmed controls in graphical, visual, or even coded formats. In healthcare, AI can improve diagnosis and treatment, leading to better patient outcomes. In addition, AI can be used for environmental monitoring and conservation efforts. The benefits from the use and application of AI across human endeavours are legion and I would be understating the significance if I attempt to elaborate further.
Shortcomings of AI, Concerns, and Reactions
Nonetheless, AI evokes certain concerns. New York City education department reportedly blocked ChatGPT on school devices and networks, and in respond to a tweet on this, Elon Musk replied, ‘it’s a new world. Goodbye homework.’ Musk’s reply reflects the array of reactions and responses emanating from the understanding of society with the capability of AI tools. And without a doubt, machine learning AI tools such as ChatGPT and Google Bard can be used to generate essay contents, likewise content for academic work. I imagine students have already began taking advantage of the capabilities of these tools, including others capable of summarising articles. Some Tweeps who regularly tweet about the capability and how to use AI tools have experienced astronomical growth in the number of their followers and engagement with such tweets over the past few months.
Without a doubt, academics have reasons to be concerned, particularly because AI undermines learning and scholarship by offering easy alternatives to reading, learning, and engaging with course materials. Students could generate essays with AI and gain unfair advantage over non-users and although the machine learning models do generate false, bias, and discriminatory results, they could over time generate the capability to overcome these. Claims have also been made that automation using AI has the potential to result in job losses for academics and other professionals, but beyond this, concerns over data safety and regulation are rife.
Some tech leaders including Elon Musk recently signed a statement urging that further development of AI beyond the capability of ChatGPT 4 should be halted until adequate regulations are put in place as it portends profound risks to society. The Turnitin plagiarism software provider which acclaims itself as ‘the leading provider of academic integrity solutions’ introduced and integrated the Turnitin’s AI writing detection tool for their service users. Universities and other users may likely adopt this to discourage students from using AI for assessments. However, the practicability of this enforcement is still challenging as issues around real-world false-positive report rates have been observed. An alternative approach adopted by some publishers including Taylor & Francis, Sage, and Elsevier is that authors declare the use of AI in their work with justification. Italy recently blocked ChatGPT over privacy concerns prompting the significance of AI regulation.
AI has the potential to improve efficiency and accuracy in various industries, leading to cost savings and improved outcomes, however, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with the technology. While AI has significant benefits, such as improved efficiency and accuracy, it also has drawbacks that must be considered. Academics must find ways to balance the benefits and drawbacks of AI to ensure that learning and scholarship are not undermined. It is important to recognize that AI is not a substitute for reading, learning, and engaging with course materials, and it should be used as a tool to augment human intelligence rather than replace it. Equally, it is also important to ensure that AI is used in a responsible and ethical manner. By carefully considering the pros and cons of AI, we can ensure that it is used to its full potential while minimizing the risks.
PS. Some parts of this blog were edited/generated by AI.
The ‘Chocolate Cost-of-Living Crisis’
Despite the turmoil and mess the country is currently in, this week’s blog post is dedicated to chocolate, and how to maintain a very much needed chocolate fix during the cost-of-living crisis and the sh** storm which British Politics currently is. Do not even get me started on the Casey Review (2022) which has been overshadowed by that sh** storm I previously mentioned. So, in an attempt to address a serious concern plaguing us all, but disproportionately those most vulnerable, I would like to share some of my findings on the ‘chocolate cost-of-living crisis’.
Before the ‘official’ cost-of-living crisis hit, chocolate was seriously upping its price tag. What used to be 99p or £1 for branded ‘share’ bag (I mean who actually has the self-control to share a share bag?!), has now risen to a huge £1.25 per bag! Now this is for Cadbury’s ‘share’ bags (buttons, wispa bites, twirl pieces to name a few), you are looking at £1.35 for Mars products (Magic stars, Minstrels, Maltesers, MnMs)! Those of us that eat Vegan, lactose-free chocolate are looking at an even higher price tag for an even smaller product. Supermarket chocolate has also gone up in price, and remains nowhere near as scrumptious as the likes of Cadbury, Mars and even Nestle (although I myself am not a Nestle loving due to their questionable ethical practices*). But given the sh** storm the Country is currently in, and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is having, we need chocolate more than ever! But do not fear: I have some handy tips when it comes to selecting the most reasonably priced and therefore affordable chocolate to help get us through these sh***y times.
The key when looking at the cost of chocolate, and all products, is to look at the price per g/kg. This is usually in teeny tiny writing at the bottom of the price tag on the shelves. Most chocolate (and because I am a self-proclaimed chocolate snob, I am discussing branded chocolate) is coming in around the 85p+ per 100g mark. But there are some sneaky little joys which are undercutting this, and I highly recommend stocking up!
Terry’s Milk Chocolate Orange: £1, (63p/100g): a clear winner! They have various types, dark chocolate, white chocolate and popping candy, and these vary in weights but come in between 63p/100g to 69p/100g!
Cadbury Dairy Milk (360g bar): £3, (83p/100g): the key to Cadburys is the bigger the cheaper! Do not be fooled by the smaller bars and their ‘cheaper’ price. They are not cheaper: and lets be honest who wouldn’t want 360g of chocolate over 150g?!
Galaxy Caramel (135g bar): 99p (73p/100g): good news for caramel lovers! The smaller caramel bar is cheaper than the 360g Galaxy smooth milk bar (97p/100g), so in this case less is actually more!
Galaxy Minstrels ‘More to Share’ Bag: £1.99 (83p/100g): best value share bag out there at the moment. Again, do not be tricked by the smaller and what may seem like cheaper bags, because they are not!
Growing up with a single-parent father who worked the ‘mum’ shift in a warehouse meant we were very stringent and careful with money: mainly because we didn’t have much. This skill of checking value for money and the price per g/kg is something engrained within me, and something I am extremely grateful for! Check those £’s per g/kg people! It may mean you can have a treat at the end of the week, which doesn’t burn through your pockets, to help off-set the sh** we are currently dealing with.
*it has recently been brought to my attention, the unethical historical practices of Cadbury’s in relation to the Slave Trade, and their racist advertisements in the early 2000’s (not sure how I missed this)! Morally, as I try to avoid Nestle products due to their unethical practices, I will also attempt the same with Cadbury’s: but I fear this will not be an easy transition.
Capitalism and tourism: an ethical conundrum
After a two-year delay in our holiday booking due to the Covid pandemic, my wife and I were fortunate enough to spend a two-week holiday in Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) on the island of Sal. We’ve been lucky enough to visit the islands several times over the last ten years. Our first visit was to Boa Vista but since the hotel that we liked no longer seemed to be available through our tour operators, we ended up going to Sal. When we first visited Boa Vista, there was little to be found outside of the hotel other than deserted beaches and the crashing of the Atlantic waves on the seashore. There was a very large hotel on the other side of the island and a smattering of smaller hotels dotted around, but that was it. After several visits we began to notice that other hotels were popping up along the seashore and there was a definite sense of development to cater for the holiday trade. The same can be said of Sal. The first hotel we visited had only just been built and there were the foundations of other buildings creeping up alongside but in the main, it seemed pretty deserted. Now though there are hotels everywhere and a fairly new very large one not that far away from where we stayed.
The first thing you notice as a visitor to the islands is that this is not an affluent country, far from it. Take a short trip into the town centre and you very rapidly see and sense the pervading poverty. This is a former Portuguese colony, and it comes as no surprise that it played a strategic role in the slave trade until the late nineteenth century whereupon it saw a rapid economic decline. Tourism has boosted the economy and plays a significant role in the country’s population, and this became even more evident during our latest visit. The country is only just recovering from the pandemic and several of the hotels were still mothballed as were the various businesses along the sea front. I’m not sure what the situation was or is in the country with regards to welfare, but I wouldn’t mind betting that they’d never heard of the word furlough, let alone implemented any such scheme. Quite simply no tourism means no work and no work means no wages, such as they are. In conversation with a number of the staff at the hotel, it became obvious that they were not only pleased we were there, but that they wanted us to return again. We were often asked if we would come back and one person, I spoke to pleadingly asked us to return as ‘we need the job’. Of course, it’s not just us that need to return, it’s all the tourists. Tourism supports so many aspects of the economy, not just jobs in hotels but local businesses as well. I think the fact that we keep going back there says something about the lovely people that we’ve been privileged to meet.
But then as I sat one night contently sipping a gin and tonic, debating whether I should have another before dinner, I began to think about whether all of this was ethical. The hotel we stayed in was part of a large international chain. Nearly all the hotels are part of large multinational corporations servicing their shareholders. Whilst my relaxation and enjoyment is great for me, it is on the back of the exploitative nature of the service industry. A business that probably doesn’t pay high wages, those working in the service industry in this country can probably attest to that, so goodness knows what it’s like in an impoverished place such as Cape Verde. My enjoyment therefore promotes exploitation and yet vis-a- vie enables people to have much needed work and pay. Of course, I may have this all wrong and the companies are pouring millions into the country to improve living standards for the inhabitants, and they may pay wages that are very reasonable. But somehow, because of the nature of business, and the eye on profit margins, I very much doubt it. When businesses consider business ethics, I wonder how far they cast the ethical net? As for me, it’s a bit of Catch 22, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But then so much of life seems to be like that.
The roots of criminology; the past in the service of the future;
In a number of blog posts colleagues and myself (New Beginnings, Modern University or New University? Waterside: What an exciting time to be a student, Park Life, The ever rolling stream rolls on), we talked about the move to a new campus and the pedagogies it will develop for staff and students. Despite being in one of the newest campuses in the country, we also deliver some of our course content in the Sessions House. This is one of the oldest and most historic buildings in town. Sometimes with students we leave the modern to take a plunge in history in a matter of hours. Traditionally the court has been used in education primarily for mooting in the study of law or for reenactment for humanities. On this occasion, criminology occupies the space for learning enhancement that shall go beyond these roles.
The Sessions House is the old court in the centre of Northampton, built 1676 following the great fire of Northampton in 1675. The building was the seat of justice for the town, where the public heard unspeakable crimes from matricide to witchcraft. Justice in the 17th century appear as a drama to be played in public, where all could hear the details of those wicked people, to be judged. Once condemned, their execution at the gallows at the back of the court completed the spectacle of justice. In criminology discourse, at the time this building was founded, Locke was writing about toleration and the constrains of earthy judges. The building for the town became the embodiment of justice and the representation of fairness. How can criminology not be part of this legacy?
There were some of the reasons why we have made this connection with the past but sometimes these connections may not be so apparent or clear. It was in one of those sessions that I began to think of the importance of what we do. This is not just a space; it is a connection to the past that contains part of the history of what we now recognise as criminology. The witch trials of Northampton, among other lessons they can demonstrate, show a society suspicious of those women who are visible. Something that four centuries after we still struggle with, if we were to observe for example the #metoo movement. Furthermore, from the historic trials on those who murdered their partners we can now gain a new understanding, in a room full of students, instead of judges debating the merits of punishment and the boundaries of sentencing.
These are some of the reasons that will take this historic building forward and project it forward reclaiming it for what it was intended to be. A courthouse is a place of arbitration and debate. In the world of pedagogy knowledge is constant and ever evolving but knowing one’s roots allows the exploration of the subject to be anchored in a way that one can identify how debates and issues evolve in the discipline. Academic work can be solitary work, long hours of reading and assignment preparation, but it can also be demonstrative. In this case we a group (or maybe a gang) of criminologists explore how justice and penal policy changes so sitting at the green leather seats of courtroom, whilst tapping notes on a tablet. We are delighted to reclaim this space so that the criminologists of the future to figure out many ethical dilemmas some of whom once may have occupied the mind of the bench and formed legal precedent. History has a lot to teach us and we can project this into the future as new theoretical conventions are to emerge.
Locke J, (1689), A letter Concerning Toleration, assessed 01/11/18 https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Letter_Concerning_Toleration