Anne Hailes: Where is technology leading us? Nowhere as pleasant as a bike ride

Will the rise of artificial intelligence eventually do away with us all?

“IN FIVE years time 70 per cent of jobs available to young people don’t yet exist.”

That’s scary – 70 per cent. So what are these jobs? Think a world of digital technology, advanced space-age knowledge and equipment, algorithms, data analytics, controversial G5, it’s a currency where data is the new oil, according to Conor Houston, head of engagement at Digital DNA, the company behind an important event over the next two days at St George’s Market im Belfast.

Around 150 speakers, exhibitors and a chance to network with the best in the business.

“We don’t have enough specialists in Northern Ireland so this event will encourage and inform,” Conor says.

It’s a world for young people; Conor talks of adults being the aliens, the young people are the natives with the bravery to talk truth to power.

One topic to be discussed at the event is the cyber security industry which generates salaries of more than £70 million each year and employs almost 1,700 people here and the fact that Northern Ireland is a world leader.

“Our mission is very simple; to encourage and support the growth of all things digital and to keep digital technology at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Already life is adjusting to this brave new world.

Co-working space

This is a growing phenomenon throughout Ireland. Typical is an area in Danska Bank in the middle of Belfast offering shared facilities for individuals – a desk, phone, and power point and a meeting place, self-employed people or staff no longer tied to one address.

Suddenly digital technology is all around us. Young people have grown with it but the slightly older generation are having to learn a completely new skill. Smart phones, iPads, computers, obviously, but, for instance, even signing in at the doctor's can involve hitting a screen when it shows a group of years and you have to touch your year of birth and hit ‘checkin’ before the whole thing disappears.

The bank, if you still have one, requires all sorts of technical knowledge and drones are replacing people power, albeit with some problems. Apparently the United Nations is complaining that the virtual assistant ‘Alexa’ encourages gender bias, reinforcing the idea that women are subservient and eager to please – and what about hands-off vacuum cleaners?

Question is, will the rise of artificial intelligence eventually do away with us all? Talk to a 20-year-old and it’s scary.

“Cyber terrorism is the danger,” he told me. “Could shut us all down. Think of it – no TV, no street lights, forget your phone, planes couldn’t operate, nor would your car, all records held digitally would be lost. Specialists couldn’t continue intricate life-saving operations. It’s a fragile situation.”

Therefore it’s important we have experts to prevent this happening and keep us safe and secure in this world of artificial intelligence and the world wide web.

John Browne, author of Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the Future of Civilisation, says you can’t stop progress, that by and large it’s successful, but he acknowledges good things can be used badly by bad people. Thankfully, he reckons, artificial intelligence will never replace the brain: “One single human brain has more connections than all the computers in the entire world added up.”

It’s brain power that has developed high tech – but can it control it?

:: Details of Digital DNA St George’s Market event, June 18 and 19, at

On Your Bike

IN A world of high tech, what better way to clear your head than to get on your bike and enjoy the highways and byways – if you can avoid the potholes.

I remember my first bike, a black Raleigh. Richard Bradley remembers his: it was a smart BMX delivered by Father Christmas. There was great excitement and today he is offering that excitement to others through his shop in Queen Street, Belfast.

City Centre Cycles is a special place – bikes of all shapes and sizes for sale, for hire with free deals for disabled cyclists.

The BBC film of tandem riders in Victoria Park that comes between programmes, has been seen round the world, with Richard giving the orders dressed in blue – look out for him.

The back-seat drivers are all blind, with pilots in front. In fact Richard is looking for volunteers to accompany disabled cyclists either on a tandem or a three-saddle triple Phron model.

Interesting that the original cargo bike sitting in front of the shop came from the Netherlands where these are still working bikes for traders to deliver their goods.

Before opening his cycle shop Richard worked in the Blind Centre’s audio department where he recorded talking newspapers. Now at the back of the shop he has a small studio to continue this valuable service; as a member of the Association of Talking Newspapers he produces three publications a week and three monthly papers.

Wheels For All

Interesting that many of his clients are visitors to Belfast from other parts of the world, some who have seen him on BBC, and many students are using bikes to get around more efficiently and cheaply.

The council bikes are proving popular too, with new stations appearing, but vandalism is still a problem. There are no taxes or MOT required for bikes, no harmful emissions either so if you’re a careful rider you are on a winner and Richard’s joy is that his four-year-old son recently rode his bike – no stabilisers – along the coastal path in Whitehead.

City Centre Cycles sells reconditioned bikes for £100 or less and any donations unsuitable for reselling are fixed up and given to charity. Bikes for sale come with a three-month guarantee and an antitheft sticker under the Bike Register scheme, making them easier to trace.

The freedom of cycling the countryside is something very special – why not give it a go this summer?

:: More at City Centre Cycles, 028 90806655

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