Charlotte Street Partners

DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

Humankind's choice

Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate 
Edited by David Gaffney, partner
4 November 2021

Good morning,

It would be too embarrassing to disclose the number of times I’ve found myself pondering the end of Sophie’s Choice. I won’t give anything away, but the Alan J Pakula film starring Meryl Streep poses a genuine moral dilemma.
 
Although we may not encounter as poignant or difficult a situation as that portrayed in the award-winning film, ethical quandaries are a feature of our daily lives.
 
However, as unlikely as it may seem that moral decisions could be outsourced to machines in the same way that logical problems can, artificial intelligence (AI) may in fact be capable of coming to our rescue.
 
A new AI bot called Ask Delphi has been developed to provide ethical advice based on more than 1.7m moral judgements on everyday questions and scenarios. You pose an ethical question and the machine-learning algorithm built into the prototype will give you an answer.
 
As is often the case with machine-learning projects, however, most of Ask Delphi’s judgements are directly influenced by the framing of its researchers and is highly sensitive to the nuances of language. So much so, that small changes to a question’s phrasing can flip the oracle’s judgement from condemnation to approval and vice versa.
 
Proving that point is the main purpose of the research programme. As the disclaimer on the demo’s website reads, the project is “intended to study the promises and limitations of machine ethics” – something with which some big corporations and regulators are still grappling.
 
On Tuesday, Meta (aka Facebook) announced that it would be shutting down its face recognition system on the Facebook app, “as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products.” The social media group cited “growing concerns about the use of this technology as a whole” at a time of widespread criticism over Facebook’s attitude towards user privacy and safety.
 
Yet Meta’s move has done little to dissuade the many voices expressing concern about its “metaverse”, which relies on AI to run most of its platforms’ algorithms. Business leaders such as former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and Tesla boss Elon Musk have criticised Meta’s aim to create alternative worlds, warning that they engender unhealthy and parasocial relationships.
 
The race to develop AI is happening at break-neck speed, in most cases raising more questions than answers about its potential risks to human rights. Until safeguards are agreed at a global level, being wary of the most dangerous possibilities brought by AI systems will prove key to preventing them.

News

The Conservative MP Owen Paterson has avoided suspension for now as the government intervened last minute and ordered its MPs to back a review of standards investigations on Wednesday. The former cabinet minister had been found to have misused his position as an MP to benefit two companies for which he worked. The result of the vote was met with cries of “shame” from opposition MPs at the House of Commons.
 
Police Scotland made five arrests yesterday as hundreds of climate activists marched through Glasgow as part of demonstrations around the Cop26 summit. Disturbances broke out during an Extinction Rebellion protest outside the energy company SSE’s building as two activists tried to force their way in. However, most of the demonstrations against corporate “greenwashing” were peaceful.
 
England’s chief medical officer has warned of a “potentially problematic” Christmas due to Covid-19 as he heralded “hard months to come”. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told the BBC that the use of face coverings, along with the take-up of vaccines and booster shots, would determine how the UK copes with the virus during winter.

Business and economy

The US Federal Reserve said it would begin scaling back its $120bn monthly bond-buying programme this month. The decision follows months of debate among Fed officials about the level of support the American economy needs, amid price pressures that have begun to extend beyond the sectors most sensitive to the post-pandemic reopening.
 
The owner of Swedish furniture giant Ikea has warned of price rises as the disruption to global supply chains is expected to last into next year. Inter Ikea Group, which reported a drop in full-year profit due to higher transport and raw material costs, will reportedly pass some of these costs on to its outlets, which will be free to then charge customers more. The retailer has been temporarily removing out-of-stock items from its website and stores and suggesting other products instead, to avoid disappointing customers. 
 
UK meat producers have started sending carcasses to the European Union for butchering before re-importing them amid ongoing labour shortages. The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has said producers are sending beef to the Republic of Ireland while pork producers are set to begin sending pigs to the Netherlands for butchering and packing.

Columns of note

Reacting to the move to delay a decision on the Owen Paterson case, the Financial Times’ Robert Shrimsley describes Boris Johnson’s use of parliamentary majority in the Commons on Wednesday as “a shameful and damaging day for British politics”. He argues that the government’s calculation removes another brick from the edifice of shared belief in the agreed democratic process by showing contempt for the system and sweeping away another check on the power of Whitehall and its friends. (£)
 
Writing in City AM, Dominique Sivak outlines what she believes are the three key attributes of effective hybrid teams: (i) thoughtfulness through proactively shaping the culture around remote working, while mitigating any possible issues; (ii) creativity in the sense of experimenting to see what helps and doesn’t help; and (iii) transparency by listening to employers and their different needs. These attributes notwithstanding, Sivak concludes that communication, understood as the existence of robust and consistent processes for sharing information, is essential.

Cartoon source: The Times

Markets

What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed lower on Wednesday, as investors awaited the latest policy announcement from the US Federal Reserve. The FTSE 100 ended the session down 0.36% at 7,248.89, while sterling was stronger both against the dollar by 0.36% at $1.37 and versus the euro by 0.31% at €1.18.
 
In the US, on the other hand, Wall Street stocks climbed to record highs. The benchmark S&P 500, tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite, and Russell 2000 index of smaller companies all closed up 0.6%, 1.0%, and 1.9%, respectively.
 
In company news:
 
Trainline lost 7.07% even after the online ticket seller said it had returned to profitability in the first half as passengers returned to rail and shifted to digital ticketing.
 
Pets at Home was down 1.88% after the pet supplies retailer upgraded its full-year profit expectations but announced the departure of chief executive Peter Pritchard.
 
British Airways and Iberia owner IAG closed 2.33% higher after German competitor Lufthansa said it had returned to profit for the first time since the pandemic.
 
Micro Focus surged 10.04% after the software and information technology business agreed the sale of its archiving and risk management portfolio to Smarsh for $375m in cash.

What’s happening today?

Finals
Gattaca

AGMs
Argos Resources
Capital Metals
Induction Heal.
Ncc
Provexis

UK economic announcements
(09:30) PMI Construction
(12:00) BoE Interest Rate Decision

Int. economic announcements
(07:00) Factory Orders (GER)
(08:55) PMI Composite (GER)
(08:55) PMI Services (GER)
(09:00) PMI Services (EU)
(09:00) PMI Composite (EU)
(10:00) Producer Price Index (EU)
(12:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(12:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(14:00) ISM Prices Paid (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

After their defeat at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, the Danes responded by planting 90,000 oak trees toward the navy’s rebirth. The Danish Nature Agency, successor to the royal forester, informed Denmark’s defence ministry in 2007 that their trees were ready. (Source: @aniemyer)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Transport (including Topical Questions)
 
Business Statement
Business Questions to the Leader of the House
 
Backbench Business
General debate on the proposal for an inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the NATO-led mission to Afghanistan
 
General debate on the use of medical cannabis for the alleviation of health conditions

House of Lords 

Oral questions
Government discussions with Transport for London and the Mayor of London regarding abolition of temporary cycle lanes in London
 
Availability of places for nomadic Gypsies and Travellers to legally and safely stop, and plans to address shortage of places
 
Prohibition of second homes advertised as holiday rentals from avoiding council tax by registering for business rates and thereby qualifying for small business rate relief
 
Inquiry into the reasons why the COP26 summit venue did not provide equal access for people with disabilities and what steps are being taken to ensure that similar events in future are accessible to all
 
Debate
Impact of government policy and spending on the creative sector
 
Short debate
Use of facial and other biometric recognition technologies in schools
 
Debate
Situation of leaseholders who are facing bills for fire and building safety remedial work and the need for safe, green and affordable housing

Scottish parliament 

General Questions
 
First Minister’s Questions
 
Members’ Business
S6M-01767 Gillian Mackay: Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
 
Portfolio Questions
Constitution, External Affairs and Culture
 
Scottish Government Debate
Accessing Scottish Social Security Benefits

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email