New book by David Worlock. Pre-order now at Marble Hill Publishers or Amazon.

A small Cotswold farm is the setting for a classic struggle of wills. Robert Worlock, eccentric and demanding, resolutely maintains the old ways, determined above all to make his son into a farmer fit to take over the family acres. His son, David, is equally determined not to be bullied into something he neither wants nor likes. His childhood becomes a battleground: can he find a way to make his father love him without denying his right to determine his own life?

 

The announcement yesterday, by Tim Cook,, of the Apple Intelligence initiative may mark a really important point in the development of machine intelligent solutions. Commentary upon it has taken several different directions, which may mean that the pundits and the journalists do not know quite what to concentrate upon.Is this Apple joining the AI battle really for the first time, while trying to sharply differentiate itself from its Big Tech rivals? Is this Apple being forced to do something with AI by virtue of the fact that its asset value has sunk below that of Microsoft? Or is this Apple, aware that it is lagging behind in the AI  PR wars, playinig catch up while not deploying its own technology but using Open AI instead?.

It may be one of these things, or it may be all three of them at once. What Big Tech companies say is very much about markets and valuations: what these companies do is very much more about easing customers along the line of upgrade to the next price point. I see nothing much in the Apple announcement that departs from this settled formula. But there is one important difference that does mean a lot. In order to develop its Apple Intelligence program, Apple is going to have to, on a massive scale, acquire, learn from and reuse its own customers data. In the past Apple has set its face against storing and reusing and resellingcustomer data. In fact, it has rather positioned itself as the company of data privacy and the protector of user rights and privileges. Despite protestations that nothing will change this surely has to change if Apple is going to be storing and reusing data about customer preferences, modes of usage, workflow and leisure habits in order  to provide more intelligent solutions for the users themselves. The early announcements indicate that there will be “personal“ storage and security. The early announcements do not say that Apple is now abandoning its earlier position as the protector of  privacy for its users.

Does this matter? If we all get smart services. which integrate apps and create real speed, time saving and value for us, will we care at all? Possibly many of us will not, and it is indicative that Apple Intelligence is being rolled out in the USA before it moves to Europe. In Europe it will face more difficult challenges, in a way that takes me back to Luxembourg in the mid 1980s when the first debates on European data  privacy were getting underway. I think of it as a time when a European dream was confronting an American economic reality. And, as a member of the EU Legal Observatory of DG XIII, I was privileged to watch. My fellow UK delegate, Charles Clark (the U.K.’s leading copyright authority) and I sat through lengthy and impassioned statements of the droit morale principles which covered the inalienable rights of each individual  to the ownership of every item of data created by that individual or spun out from his activities as an individual or as a participant in society. It might be said that in the European copyright legislation of those years,  the French view,  lost the battle, but they got their revenge with the introduction of data privacy law, and it’s dissemination in such a way that it in effect became global despite its European origins.

The part of the world which has seen information and data protection in terms of economic rights, but not in terms of personal privacy, has also been the part of the world mostly concerned with the development of commercial AI. Open AI has in particular gained the reputation of being scraper in chief and re-user in general of everything which can be obtained without payment. Whether that reputation is fair or not, it is certainly true that the torrent of lawsuits is forcing AI developers to look more carefully at the status of the date that they use. And since Apple will be using the personal data of its own users to create services which, while highly beneficial, it will monetise to the fullest extent possible, we may expect to see Apple Intelligence launched on a string of revised terms and conditions, in which users surrender entirely even those minimal rights that they thought they might have had.

Back in Luxembourg all those years ago, the Europeans had a dream. They imagined that if each and every one of us was in control of their own data, then part of the New World might be selling back that data to the developers who were going to use it. Selling it to get lower prices, or premium treatment. A bit like selling the excess power generated by your solar panels back to the electricity company. Selling your data in this way would keep the technology companies honest, it was argued. They would then have to tell you  how your data had been reused and who had bought it. They could be audited, and steps could be taken to ensure that the provenance of data was checked, and misinformation in the network was better controlled. Naturally, they were dismissed as fantasists!

My own hope is that Apple today will set it sights higher then improving my holiday travel booking process and getting the erratic predicted text punctuation out of my dictation, and embark on a program of user undertakings that includes prohibiting the sale of my data to anyone who, in any circumstances, will use it against my interests.

This week Marble Hill publishers have published my first attempt at writing fiction – a story of murder and detection inspired by an experience that I had as a Publisher many years ago in Nigeria. The book has taken three years to right hand has been written three times in the process, but now we merges in book form at last! Here is what my patient and understanding publisher has written about it:

About the Book: No Telephone THeaven by David Worlock  

One of the pleasures of being a publisher is that you never know what your authors will do next. I was both surprised – and not surprised – when David Worlock told me he had written a detective story. I had loved his touching, amusing and truthful account of his troubled relationship with his father, so well described in Facing Up To Father. A murder mystery set in Nigeria in 1977 seemed a long way (in every sense) from the Cotswolds in the 50s and 60s. As I read the manuscript and was immersed in this extraordinary and haunting story, I had endless questions. Was the story based on fact? How did David know so much about Nigeria? And of course – who did it?  

So I asked him to tell me how he came to write the book.

“The young man’s death has puzzled me for almost 50 years. He was a young accountant in a Nigerian publishing company. I was a visiting English publishing Director from the group that owned his company. The slaying was brutal, unprovoked, and had no logical explanation. The police were indifferent: unexplained murder was commonplace. His colleagues were saddened and grief stricken, but then had to gather themselves for daily survival in a world where sudden death was not unfamiliar.

I loved the country and I loved the people, then as now. So much was going on in that year – Africa’s greatest arts and culture festival ever; free education, for the first time for all Nigerian children, and the emergence of a nation from the shadows of a terrible Civil War, which had killed 3 million people. I cannot forget the excitement of those times, yet the unexplained death of a young man continued to rankle over the years. Finally, I concluded that if no story existed, which would explain what had happened then perhaps I had to create one.

A common slogan on the back of Lagos buses in 1977 was the claim “God’s judgement – no appeal“ . Below these words, on the bumper bar, appeared the statement “ no telephone to heaven.“ I acknowledge that I cannot make a call to find out what happened to the young accountant, but given that robbery, international espionage, communal violence, gun, running, and antiquities smuggling are all part of the story that I have emerged with, there seem to be plenty of answers here on Earth.”

At the heart of his passion for a country he knew well lies a mystery – why was Marcus Diello, an innocent young man, so brutally murdered?  The mystery persists to this day. This is David Worlock’s answer – is it purely fiction? Or is it based on fact?

Like all good mysteries, readers will have to make up their own minds.

Francis Bennett


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