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Britain’s front line heads to the picket line - via the food bank

Planet Business: San Francisco reverses plan for killer robots, ChatGPT introduces itself and Meta gets it in the neck from just about everyone

Image of the week: No smoke

From rolling chaos to rolling strikes in the UK, where rail employees, ambulance workers, highway workers, teachers, “posties”, airport Border Force staff and – for the first time in Britain – nurses are scheduled to go on strike on multiple days between now and the new year, bar any late interventions, in what is set to be the biggest wave of industrial unrest since the 1980s.

Firefighters may soon join them: after rejecting a pay offer that is less than half the current rate of inflation and reporting that some “desperate” members are now using food banks to survive, the Fire Brigades Union staged a rally in central London on Tuesday to mark the start of a ballot for strikes. It doesn’t close until the end of January, but members were encouraged to return them straight away to avoid the impact of strikes at Royal Mail.

While firefighters and control staff are seeking “fair pay for the front line”, back-room civil servants are not much happier, with a key civil servants’ union winning a mandate for strikes at departments including the British Museum and the UK Space Agency.

When even the space scientists are disillusioned…


In numbers: Killer robot backlash


Week between police supervisors in San Francisco giving city police approval to use potentially lethal, remote-controlled robots to attack suspects and the withdrawal of that permission, pending further discussion.


The San Francisco police department has in its arsenal this many robots, which to date it has used for bomb disposal and surveillance, rather than attacking anyone. Only 12 are said to be fully functional.


The original vote by the San Francisco board of supervisors split this way in favour of using “killer robots”, prompting protests from civil liberties groups and anyone familiar with the basic tenets of dystopia. “We all saw that movie,” read one banner. It seems at least eight people didn’t.

Getting to know: ChatGPT

ChatGPT, the latest artificial intelligence-based chatbot, is revolutionising the way people communicate. Developed by the tech company OpenAI, ChatGPT is an interactive chatbot that uses natural language processing to engage with users in a variety of ways. Unlike traditional chatbots, ChatGPT is designed to respond to a user’s input in a more human-like manner. The possibilities for ChatGPT are endless.

Wait, did ChatGPT write this?

Um, yes, it did, courtesy of its free research preview, with the AI tool asked to write about itself in the style of The Irish Times. It didn’t get the memo on not using American spelling, but never mind. How about the style of Jane Austen then?

“In many ways, ChatGPT reminds me of the most accomplished members of society, with their quick wit and clever repartee. And yet, there is a certain detachment to ChatGPT’s manner, a sense that it is not quite of this world. But perhaps that is what makes it all the more intriguing.”

Hmm. Vaguely? Please don’t take our jobs.

The list: Meta’s woes

The fortunes of Meta, the company previously known as Facebook, have seemed as droopy as its logo of late, with the tech giant currently getting it from all sides. So where are its pressure points exactly?

1. Meta-what-now: Mark Zuckerberg’s obsession with the metaverse has garnered much internal dissent, with one employee calling themselves a senior software developer posting on anonymous forum Blind that “the metaverse will be our slow death”.

2. Smarter rivals: Over the past two years, the Meta founder has learned what Elon Musk has more lately come to realise: that Apple boss Tim Cook, with his “ask app not to track” privacy crackdown, has the power to soften coughs everywhere.

3. Share price plummet: Meta has lost two-thirds of its market value in 2022, with shares falling again this week amid expectations that the European Data Protection Board, Europe’s overarching privacy body, will tell Meta it can’t force European users to accept personalised ads based on what they tap and watch within its apps.

4. News clashes: In a sequel to similar threats in Europe and a high-profile skirmish in Australia (which it ultimately lost), Meta this week threatened to remove news content from its US platforms after reports that Washington would give media outlets there the power to bargain collectively for a larger share of ad revenues.

5. Advertising retreat: Meta’s revenues dropped in the second and third quarter of 2022, with advertisers pulling back on spending faster than you can say global macroeconomic challenge.