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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.
Jimmy Carr and Acceptable Racism
Jimmy Carr’s Dark Material stand-up comedy is the latest in a long line of everyday racism that has been subjected to a trial by Twitter. The context in which the joke is told is as follows:
A wealthy white gorger man mocks Roma and Sinti people because of who they are. His mostly white gorger audience than laughs and finds this hilarious. This man’s stand-up is so successful that it is endorsed by Netflix, of which the CEO appears to be a rich white gorger man. Both Jimmy Carr and Netflix profit from dehumanising a marginalised group of people.
If the joke had been delivered to audiences which were predominantly Gypsy Roma and Traveller people this would not have been viewed as funny. To adapt Emma Dabiri’s (2021, p. 98) work, ‘a ‘joke’ in which the gag is that the person is [a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller] isn’t a joke, it’s just racism disguised as humour’ (2021, p. 98).
Carr’s joke should not be surprising as he prides himself on his use of homophobic, racist and misogynistic ‘career ending’ jokes and these jokes are enjoyed by many.
The anti-racist Twitter reactions to this joke could provide some hope that many people are becoming more willing to challenge racism. Some Tweets were aimed at increasing the awareness and calling-out racism. Many Tweets were kind, and others were asking for Jimmy to provide a genuine apology. Although, Carr’s words (plus the support of the audience and Netflix) are a symptom of a racist society, so does the focus on Carr’s interpersonal actions mean that people are being distracted from the broader structural issues of racism and white supremacy?
After scrolling though Twitter there was a clear divide between those claiming to be ‘anti-racist’ and those claiming that ‘the freedom of speech’ is more important than combating racism. This left me thinking,
How do we get to a point where people are willing to recognise that oppressive systems impact us all, but differently, in some way shape or form?
How could people be encouraged to fight against unequal and damaging systems in a way that encourages social change and forgiveness rather than hate and division?
It seems that online activism might be useful for raising awareness and giving voices to those pushed out of mainstream media. However, if focused on just ‘calling out’ individual acts of racism whilst online there is a danger of being caught up in an online culture war and not actually doing much to change structural issues in the offline world.
Whilst the Jimmy Carr Twitter debates continue, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which could further damage Gypsy Roma and Traveller lives is in the final stages of Bill passage. As well as this, inequality and misery is set to become further entrenched with the impending surge in energy bills. All of this is thanks to a government which is a mess, corrupt and devoid of any sense of morality. Even so, maybe Jimmy Carr should stick to making jokes about his own experiences of upper class tax avoidance next time.
Note: Thank you to Emma Dabiri’s What White People Can Do Next (2021) for helping me to articulte my frustrations with online Twitter debates.
#CriminologyBookClub: My Sister, the Serial Killer
The latest book to grace the Criminology book club was My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and after some excellent choices by @5teveh and @manosdaskalou, and a meh choice from @paulaabowles, the pressure was on for my choice. Unfortunately, it received mixed reviews, but I think I speak for all members of the book club when I say: It’s definitely better than The Yellow Room (sorry @paulaabowles)!
The negatives of the book, as expressed by the uneducated and picky members of the club (I promise I’m not bitter-HA), include the unlikableness of the characters: all morally repulsive, selfish and uninspiring. Whilst the book is set in Nigeria, there isn’t much description to transport you there, something the other books have done well, so this was disappointing. And there is a lot left unanswered. At times the book drops some hints into the characters’ past, hinting at why the sisters are the way they are (basically why one of them is a serial killer of her ex-boyfriends and the other mops up the mess), which is gripping and exciting, until it is left unanswered. The ‘older’ members of the club who weren’t overly keen on the book, felt it had potential but it wasn’t their cup of tea… and in all fairness the factors which they raised as being disappointing, were disappointing. BUT, it was still an excellent read! Myself (@jesjames50), @saffrongarside and @haleysread enjoyed the book, and below we have shared our views:
It is fast past, written in what feels like snippets, dangling possibilities and explanations in each chapter, throwing it back to their childhood, alluding at the dangers they faced together, fighting over the same man who isn’t great so that is slightly confusing: c’mon, have better choices in life partners, or even just dates! So many questions raised and so many left unanswered, but this is part of the book’s charm. It’s a story, an experience, a gripping account of a sister’s devotion to her strange, ex-boyfriend stabbing, sister. How far will she go? Why does she go to these lengths? What happens when the sister becomes too much of a loose cannon? You’ll have to read and not find out! But that’s what makes it an excellent read, by an excellent writer!@jesjames50
My Sister, the Serial Killer is unlike any other book I have read before. I loved the fast pace and the creeping sense of dread that builds as you read on. The book is like a snapshot in time of the lives of two sisters – there are no right answers, no resolutions and no sense of justice served. Although I felt little affection for the characters, I was invested in their relationships, the story and how it would play out. I think it would work well as a TV or film adaptation and I look forward to reading other books by Oyinkan Braithwaite in the future@saffrongarside
In an odd sort of way this book reminds me of my relationship with my younger siblings. I’m sure that many older siblings will agree that there is an unwritten obligation to support and protect younger siblings in many situations. In Kerode’s case… she takes this obligation to the extremes! I enjoyed this book as a thriller, but as with the last thriller we endured for book club I did not like any of the amoral characters. I also desired a bit more depth to the story line, the characters and location background – but maybe this is what makes thrillers so successful? Who knows?@haleysread
So overall, not quite as successful as the Baby Ganesha Detective Agency novels, but I mean come on, its competing with a Cadbury chocolate eating baby elephant! But it’s a book that’s modern, well written, gripping and possess twists and turns. It’s short, sharp and snappy! I am proud and satisfied with my choice, as is Saffron and Haley. The others are in agreement that they struggled to put it down, it was intriguing! But alas not all literature is for everyone (albeit I think they are just being fussy)! On to @saffrongarside’s choice next, wonder what the club will think of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada? Stay tuned…