The picture appears bleak for the Future of Work. That’s the impression taken away from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ai. The session involved legislators hearing evidence on the impact of Ai on workers. Protecting worker rights while not stifling innovation is a priority. With an increasingly global workforce from which employers can choose, it is a complex balancing act.


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ai brings together world leaders & global decision-makers. Its remit is to address the economic, social and ethical implications of developing and implementing Artificial Intelligence. (including machine learning, natural language understanding, automated reasoning, autonomous systems etc.).

Ai will impact every aspect of work in some form. One area that is causing great concern is the gig economy.

Gig Economy

The gig economy is where workers are paid for each individual “gig” they accomplish. A gig can range from food delivery to driving a vehicle to typing some code. Workers are paid by the job rather than by day or by the hour.

4.4m people work in the gig economy in some form in the UK, according to the Trade Union Congress. The gig economy is growing fast, with new online platforms bringing more services to market that require gig hirelings.

Gigification of work

Prof. Ashley Braganza (Brunel) sees a world moving increasingly towards the ‘gigification’ of work. He assesses that online platforms are taking a Taylorism approach. Jobs are being salami sliced into smaller components so they can then be automated or reduced to simple menial tasks. The salami slicing does not reduce the workload, only makes the role more defined.  

Why is the gig economy different to temping or fruit picking?

The difference between gig workers of the past and now is the facelessness of the employer. The employee rarely meets the employer. The industry is a Wild West, says Anna Thomas, Co-Founder & Director of the Institute for the Future of Work. Pay is low, with 2 in 3 earning less than £4ph. Time spent on a platform chasing new work is not included when calculating the average pay. Too many of the jobs the platforms provide are repetitive. Unpaid tasks run at 30%. Communicating with clients is not the only issue. Meeting other workers is equally difficult, if not impossible.

Charles Barry. British architect best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster. Architecture is one industry seeing a rapid rise in the use of gig workers for more mundane tasks.

Microwork and Piece wage task work 

Microwork is a series of many small tasks which together comprise a large unified project, and it is completed by many people over the Internet.  [1][2] Microwork is considered the smallest unit of work in a virtual assembly line. It is most often used to describe tasks for which no efficient algorithm has been devised, and requires human intelligence to complete reliably. Wikipedia

‘Piece work is any type of employment in which a worker is paid a fixed piece rate for each unit produced or action performed, regardless of time.’  Wikipedia

How is AI impacting the real economy?

Workers have lost control of the hours they work. Social inequality is being exacerbated, particularly among women. Opaque policies of the online platforms make it difficult for workers and regulators to ensure fair practice.

Further reading…


What happened when humans stopped managing social media content 


EU to propose reclassifying some gig workers as employees

What can policymakers do?

There is a tricky balance for policymakers. Without an international agreement, legislators are limited in what regulations they can implement. If regulations become too stringent, citizens in that country may find certain jobs that will not be available to them.

Immediate Actions

  • Standard definitions for gig workers/gig work.  
  • Organisation change their processes to smooth income understanding 
  • Micro Workers should be paid minimum wage 
  • Finder’s fee paid
  • Pre-tasked tests should be paid for.

Cori Crider, Co-Founder, of Foxglove says to ‘make algorithms fair and take legal action when they are not. There is real-world hurt to individual workers.’

A new type of work and social space is emerging that is both local and virtually global. Fourth Portal is at the forefront in developing these spaces with a live test site in the Norfolk seaside town of Great Yarmouth.


We are in the ‘Amazonia Era’. The instinct would be to look back to the legislative response to Taylorism. The difference is that Ai is not a man in a white coat doing the monitoring; it is a machine. It could be regarded as the ultimate Fordarism – there is almost no escape.

And it’s not only in the gig economy. Close monitoring occurs in 8 of 10 large companies in the US, where boss work-watching technology has been implemented. On the present trajectory, job engagement is likely to fall.

New York Times

How My Boss Monitors Me While I Work From Home


Legislators will remain behind the curve when it comes to the gig economy. The pace of technological change and the demands of businesses and consumers will drive further platform innovation. With innovation will come new types of gig employment.

In response, a new type of work and social spaces will emerge that will exist locally and globally in the virtual world. These new spaces will seek to accommodate the change in how people wish to work, particularly since the pandemic. In turn, they will force other areas of legislation to catch up, with tax and finance being a priority.

Fourth Portal is at the forefront of creating such hybrid spaces where people can flip between different work roles, social interaction and retail experiences. The APPGai panel made clear the world of work faces major challenges from the growing gig economy. On the flip side, there are also incredible opportunities; especially for those who want to change the direction of their life and achieve a balanced work, social and family.

John M


The Future of Work APPGas took place on Monday 18 October 2022 at the Houses of Parliament, London.


  • Gita Shivarattan, Head of Data Protection Law Services, EY UK
  • Cori Crider, co-Founder, Foxglove
  • Anna Thomas, co-Founder & Director, Institute for the Future of Work
  • Prof. Ashley Braganza, Professor of Business Transformation, Brunel University London
  • Neil Ross, Associate Director – Policy, TechUK

About APPGai and secretariat

The APPG AI was set up in January 2017 to address ethical issues and new industry norms for applying Artificial Intelligence (AI), including machine learning, decision making, natural language understanding, automated reasoning and autonomous systems.

Without being too technical, we will try to understand how AI will impact the lives of UK citizens and organisations, and subsequently, how should it be regulated? How will health, energy, insurance, consulting, financial, legal and knowledge-intensive business services be traded? How should the new business models be regulated, and what about the data? There is a lot to explore and evidence is key for regulation and policy. The APPG AI is co-chaired by Stephen Metcalfe MP (Conservative) and Lord Clement-Jones CBE (Liberal Democrat). The Group Officers are Chris Green MP, The Right Reverend Doctor Steven Croft, Baroness Kramer, Lord Janvrin, Lord Broers, Mark Hendrick MP and Carol Monaghan MP. Big Innovation Centre was appointed as the APPG AI Secretariat.

All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are informal, cross-party groups formed by MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a common interest in a particular policy area, region or country. APPGs have no official status within Parliament.


It is three years since the outbreak of COVID-19. Discussions have turned to what the post-pandemic world may look like. Technology is at the forefront. Lost within the debates has been the importance of public space. As the world goes virtual, real-world gathering places will become the hot issue.

The Internet

The internet will be 40 years old on 1 January 2023. It allows the creation of a virtual world almost unimaginable 50 years ago. The World Wide Web (www.) became available 10-years later. How much harder would the pandemic have been without the web?

The internet has become an extension of everyday life. It allows mass connectivity. People communicate through an array of online mediums. Social media chat has overtaken voice calls as the communication tool of choice for the young. WhatsApp and Signal have relegated the use of email in business. The email itself replaced the printed document, the business mainstay for centuries. [1]

Business meetings

Business meetings seemed unaffected by the internet. People in business still preferred to meet in person and sit around tables. The pandemic called a halt to these face to face meetings, except in specific circumstances. The rise of Zoom and other video technologies began in earnest. Ways of doing business changed and will not be returning to how it was.

The loss of workplace meetings has caused a widespread disruption within firms. Work meetings are now more likely online than one-to-one. It cuts off a source for meeting new people, social interaction and serendipity. For some working people, it has also reduced personal contact more generally.

These changes are not only taking place in offices. Automatic checkout in supermarkets removes this most mundane of interactions. Maybe not something missed for those with busy lives. For those alone, the shop cashier may be the only human interaction that day. [2]

The pandemic has sped up the automation of everyday life. 

Doctors appointments by video link are becoming a norm. Banks close down branches, forcing people online. Buying insurance, holiday or toothpaste from an algorithm is as likely as a person.

Even in construction, the rise of efficient technologies, such as 3D printing, will reduce the requirements for human teams.


There are fewer reasons to meet in person for a non-social purpose.

Despite global connectivity, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Workplace reliance on providing social interaction has diminished. Workers are finding difficulty transitioning to a virtual world. Online activities only please certain aspects of emotional fulfilment. Humans are social creatures, by and large, and demand social contact.


The workplace for the majority will not be returning to how it was pre-pandemic. The impact will go beyond how people work each day. Social interaction at work will become unrecognisable from previous decades. New ways of working are emerging. However, new forms of social contact have not yet materialised.

Public Space

Public spaces will need to adapt to fill the social void left by virtual working. Some parts will be picked up by the private sector. Work hubs, cafes and a redefined retail sector will fulfil some needs for people who can pay. The rest will require open, free to access public gathering spaces, like the old town square. [3]

Two-tier England

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the two-tier society existing in England. As financial disparity widens, so does access to the internet and public space.  

Without paying for broadband, fast access to knowledge, easily accessible to others, is denied. Only those who can afford monthly contracts have access to unlimited mobile data.

The same is happening in public spaces. Even when public facilities with cafes are accessible, the inability to buy coffee can still create a barrier.

England requires a bridge between commercialised and non-income generating public spaces.

Extremes of English public spaces: Granary Square, London Kings Cross and a public square in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk


In England, it’s the market that has presided over the public sphere through recent generations. The High Street is the most obvious. Privatisation of squares and whole streets is not a new phenomenon in England. The pace of privatisation is the real cause for concern.

Privatised space often comes with restrictions on who can use it. The right of all citizens to assemble regardless of wealth or age has become more restrictive. Public places not reliant on enterprise are often left neglected. The online world is seeing similar barriers. Barriers risk alienating people and furthering polarisation.

Public space has to be redefined in England. Urban design should follow the templates of European neighbours like Spain, where people are the starting point, not commerce. [3] [4]

With workplace socialisation in decline, a rethinking of public spaces has become essential.

John M

[1] also see Censorship

[2] see AI Supermarkets

[3] see Town Square

[4] see Eivissa (Ibiza Town Pt.1)


Seeing Kamala Harris huge happy smile brings me back to what I wrote exactly 4 years ago, as Donald Trump was confirmed US President.  Vice-President Harris represents ‘the first flower open[ing] through a crack on the rocky path where only the ignored moss seemingly existed.’ 

Listening to the Vice-President’s humble speech acknowledging ‘the strength of vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been, and I stand on their shoulders’, recognises that positive change is a fluid process, built over time, and by many who had to sacrifice themselves to the cause.

For me, Trump’s arrival signified the ‘Last Throes Of Capitalism’; he has represented, and continues to be, the personification of capitalism in its most grotesque form.  

As the new world begins to emerge, it is essential that there is not a seeking of retribution or punishment for the white man, whose hands continue to drip with the blood of the earth.  Our new world has to begin as it means to go on, taking the hand of the scared, confused, frustrated and angry and show them how beautiful the world really is, and the size of the universe and the joy ahead.  

Like providing experiences for a child who has never experienced joy, the challenge now is to embrace and lead not through punishment but through love, and then we can really begin to create a new world that lives with our mother earth, not against her.

Trump | Last Throes Of Capitalism

John McKiernan | Nov 9, 2016 | 1 min read

There is an observation of the death throes of the capital system, beached as it is on the shifting sands. The huge tail swings wildly as it gasps for air. The white man keeper is becoming desperate as he watches the enormous beast slowly dying, and with it his power. He knows the game is up. He looks around observing the emptiness, it was all an illusion, nothing actually ever existed in his world besides the youthful conjuring trick. 

Suicide beckons as fear engulfs the scarred mind of deluded dominance. Now alone, watching the only thing he ever truly loved, flailing in front of his own eyes, he scans the horizon for whom in which to blame. He sees no one. There is nothing left. He will need to sleep soon as he is hungry and weak. In his angry daze, full of confusion, contorted by hate, he stumbles inadvertently under the last great flap of the monstrous tail. There is silence. Serenity returns. The first flower opens through a crack on the rocky path where only the ignored moss seemingly existed. The sun begins to shine brightly again.

Read the original blog post here

Headline Photo: New York Times

Sunset on Capitalism | John McKiernan

John M


Post-Lockdown Pub Opening | Soho 04 July 2020 | Credit: Daily Mirror

UK Prime Minister Johnson ululates ‘return to normality’ as pubs in England reopen post lockdown, however things are not returning to pre-2020 normalcy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is only going to further accelerate the process of fundamental change to the way we live.

Cover Photo: Soho Frith Street, 04 July 2020 Post-Lockdown | Daily Mirror

Pubs and Restaurants Reopen

Yesterday, 4th July 2020 pubs in England could reopen after almost 4-months of Covid-19 lockdown. There was excitement in some quarters, yet within the industry there is some trepidation, with many smaller operators delaying opening for a few weeks to watch what happens. Viewing Twitter, it was a mixed bag, some places very busy, others empty. Great Yarmouth at 7.00pm was pretty quiet with seats to be had in all pubs and bars that were open.

Fourth Portal is opening in a traditional English pub so is subject to the same rules and regulations as all licensed premises. The plan opening is for the middle of July 2020 and then only on reduced hours. My barometer has been to watch Texas and Florida in the US, where there was a gun-ho approach fuelled by rising populism that saw pubs and bars open within a few weeks of initial lockdown. Now Texas hospitals are on alert for a patient ‘tsunami’ as cases rocket upwards.

John Hopkins University Texas Cases | Source: Sky News

See Sky News report Friday 3 July 2020 23:38, UK (click)

Race to Normalcy

Commentators early on in the pandemic were already predicting politicians, big business, and many institutions would attempt to return things to normal – however unlikely! Screenwriter Julio Vincent Gambuto predicted an onslaught of marketing to return a sense of normalcy ;

Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. (That never happened. What are you talking about?) Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms: a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy. In truth, you want the feeling of normalcy, and we all want it. We want desperately to feel good again, to get back to the routines of life, to not lie in bed at night wondering how we’re going to afford our rent and bills, to not wake to an endless scroll of human tragedy on our phones, to have a cup of perfectly brewed coffee and simply leave the house for work. The need for comfort will be real, and it will be strong. And every brand in America will come to your rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.

Julio Vincent Gambuto

Allowing pubs and cafes to open is the UK government’s attempt at returning to that ‘normalcy’ and encouraging silly hashtags like #supersaturday to build expectation, as if it is a big international football tournament.

4IR Concertina

The World was on the cusp of dramatic change even before the Covid-19 pandemic as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) began to emerge, in essence the virus has just hastened that change. Zoom meetings, online shopping, in-store shopping apps, sharing technologies have all boomed during the pandemic. Even grandma learned pretty quickly how to use Apple FaceTime once she became cut off from visitors. The health sector, from care homes to Intensive Care Units (ICU) has had to embrace advanced technologies at speed to cope. Technologies that were predicted to take a good number of years to become everyday, have literally been adopted overnight, with the adopter curve virtually losing all meaning.

There are many benefits to this sudden shift, however there could be significant downsides in the short-to-medium term as the economy struggles to readjust and adapt, as my post on AI Supermarkets (Dec19) discusses;

“How much are the authorities and government preparing for the potential tsunami of job losses that may incur because of this technology and changing consumer behaviour? What new skills do people need to learn to still be economically active in the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?”

AI Supermarkets, Haphazard.Business, 18 Dec 2019

The AI Supermarkets blog post surmises a 3-to-5 year timeline for governments to build training programmes and prepare. Now with Coronavirus still raging that timeline will be concertinaed into 6-to-12 months!

Leadership Failure

Much of the horrific slaughter of the early battles in World War One (WWI) came about because ageing generals applied Napoleonic War tactics in a time of mechanical technological change. Almost incredulous to a modern observer, when looking through the lens of hindsight, men on horses were sent to cavalry charge tanks and machine guns. There is reasonable evidence already available that when historians look back at the Covid-19 outbreak it will be noted that it was not that the technology to limit the devastating impact did not exist; it was an old mindset, incapable of adapting strategy and using new tools available that led to such devastation of lives and livelihoods.

The UK Track and Trace system is a shambles and does not work. Tens of thousands of people have been employed to use pencil and paper to phone people when many other more efficient methods could be implemented and to great effect. The whole concept is a car-crash of old and new cultural thinking about security, data, privacy and greater societal good. Meanwhile large technology firms have had a boom period, with a large proportion of the global population forced to stay at home with nothing but the internet and phone to communicate with the outside world.

Big Tech’s billionaire class will have more power after the crisis than they had before, argues Sally Hubbard of the Open Market Institute. Brick-and-mortar retail is hemorrhaging jobs at a time when Amazon is adding hundreds of thousands of their own. Google is gaining even more of a foothold in the home as educators across the country deploy Google Classroom to teach students remotely — whether you want your family to use it or not. 

Vox| Recode

With populism ravaging the Western democracies and authoritarian regimes cracking down hard on dissent, it is difficult to predict how the power of these giant private enterprises will be curbed. Regardless how disinterested an individual may be towards these issues will not indemnify that person from being buffeted by the consequences. A key objective of the Fourth Portal, and these Haphazard blog posts, is to raise the awareness of these competing forces and assist people in negotiating the rapid changes we are all undergoing.

Near Future

Once/if a vaccine is secured, or enough people are immune to this strand of Coronavirus, the planes will begin flying again to a schedule and the pandemic will seem like a vivid abstract distraction, distant and almost unbelievable. Of course, this will only be for those unaffected or uninvolved. For those who lived through it on the frontline, whether in health, care home, bus driving and many other risky roles, and for the survivors and those who have lost loved-ones, the pain, and maybe terror, will live on, possibly indefinitely. For the rest, the world will have changed dramatically and the years ahead will continue to change dramatically as technology and new systems infiltrate every single aspect of daily life.

John M


Julio Vincent Gambuto, 10 April 2019 · 9 min read, Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting* | You are not crazy, my friends, Forge. Online 13April2020 https://forge.medium.com/prepare-for-the-ultimate-gaslighting-6a8ce3f0a0e0

Theodore Schleifer@teddyschleifer ( Apr 7, 2020, 6:00pm EDT), These are the trade-offs we make when we depend on billionaires to save us | Now more than ever, the coronavirus crisis has Americans living in tech billionaires’ world. Vox. Online 14April2020. https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/4/7/21203179/coronavirus-billionaires-philanthropy-bill-gates-larry-ellison-mark-zuckerberg-jack-dorsey


The methods used in curating long-term art interventions in public spaces over the past decade is proving useful grounding for developing new economic spaces for these challenging Covid times.

Previous interventions

I founded the Platform-7 network out of the creative customer base of my Moonbow Jakes coffee bars and theatre in 2009. Beginning with one-off large scaled events, I curated my first 3-month intervention in 2011, in Margate, Kent, which followed the impact of the Turner Contemporary art gallery on the nearby deprived area of Cliftonville. I have curated several more since then of various lengths, including 3-months in a riot-abandoned Blockbusters video in Catford, discussing impact of technology, and 4-months in a disused HMV record store in the City of London discussing consumption and wastefulness.

Intervention methodologies

Interventionist methodologies go back centuries in various forms and in more recent times generally tied to philosophy and resistance. To the modern viewer, interventionism can seem a little too abstract to understand as the process trumps the goal. In modern capitalist business thinking, there must be a strategic aim, objective and final goal, usually meaning a profitable financial transaction. Interventionism borrows heavily from the arts, where often the process is the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect. Interventions still have strategic goals, for example to influence people to reconsider why they have the opinions they do on subjects as diverse as war, environment or art. However, they do not seek to lead but to engage on an equal footing, which allows the intervention to adapt, evolve and transmogrify as more people add their input.

End product

Moonbow Margate (2011) | From this (L) to this (R) in 6 weeks

My interventions have attracted thousands of people, the majority arriving close to the end, when the space is alive, buzzing and full of interesting art, people and discussion. Yet for those who wander in near the outset there is usually a more mixed reaction. Many will just see an empty room. Artists will see a gallery space. And then there are those who are seeking to pivot their own life.

Waste Agency (2014-15) | From this (L) to this (R) in 4 weeks

Interventionist journey

For those in the midst of personal change, the road can seem lonely. Our Western conditioning tends to focus on practical solutions to these periods of life; a change of job or relationship, go travelling, buy a new car. Too often these answers are only short-lived, with the urge, itch, unhappiness soon returning and sometimes leading to anxiety and other negative impacts. The blank canvas that the interventionist approach offers can represent, in physical form, the anxiety that discarding convention causes; and this becomes attractive to those seeking a break from personal conformity.

“Anxiety levels were highest among an estimated 8.6 million people whose income fell, according to the weekly survey on the impact of coronavirus.”

BBC, Money worries in pandemic drive surge in anxiety, 4 May 2020

Tapescape Catford (2012) | From this (L) to this (R) in 2 weeks

Post-covid anxiety

One of the major issues becoming apparent from this pandemic across the Western world is the increasing level of anxiety. The disruption to ‘normality’ through lockdown has forced many to reassess the way they have lived life up to this point. Whether or not people keep or lose their jobs, some will be considering how they lived before the lockdown is really how they will want to live and spend their time post this period.

Fourth Portal

“Covid-19 will only increase automation anxiety”   

FT Headline, Opinion | Artificial Intelligence, 21 April 2020

Fourth Portal will be a commercial led intervention, and the conclusion to this first part of the Haphazard Business journey, creating an innovation hub. Using the interventionist methods touched on above, these new Fourth Portals will be technology led retail-esque cum gallery spaces, exploring what the world may look-like post Covid-19. The spaces will evolve over the summer of 2020, encouraging people to share their thoughts and add their input, creating some completely unique spaces in Great Yarmouth, fit for the coming 4IR.

John M


With Covid-19 ravaging populations and the World trying to come to terms with lockdown, it seems an appropriate moment to reactivate this Platform-7 project from 2013 exploring the trauma that follows on from a sudden shocking change in circumstance.



Silent Cacophony took place in a multitude of locations simultaneously on Remembrance Day 2013 exploring the abstract nature of events like we are presently experiencing with Covid-19. The disease is inflicting mass death, suffering and forcing populations to adapt behaviour, and it can be assumed, leading many people to reassess what being human means.

Meaning of event

Increasingly over the past century the word ‘event’ has become associated with some form of performance, whether pop festival or football match. However, ‘event’ is really a moment in time when something extraordinary happens, which can be bad like a car crash or great, as when a healthy child is born. Daily life is full of small personal events that make up an individuals’ personality and worldview, then occasionally these small events are overtaken by a major personal event, as in being diagnosed with cancer or winning the jackpot on the lottery.

Recreating the feelings, emotions and empathy an individual feels at the moment of experiencing a major event is very difficult to recreate outside the bubble of that actual moment. The pain of hearing of death of one that is dearly loved or joy of first-love are very personal and acute sensations. In my view, only art can offer a close proximity to such emotions, by twanging the atoms deep within that foist upon humans the extreme emotional response that only appear in times of rare circumstance.

Silent Cacophony

Silent Cacophony inception came from reading personal diaries of people living through the two World Wars, particularly those who were exposed to sudden explosion, whether a bomb landing on their house or a bombardment from artillery while in a trench. A pattern began to emerge where people would describe life before a particularly incident in rosier terms and the time afterwards using deeply disturbing language. Similar accounts can be found when reading witness statements from victims of terrorist atrocities and major accidents. Terms like ‘it was so peaceful you could only hear the birds sing’, ‘life was all so perfect before…’ or ‘not a sound could be heard before the first explosion’ proliferate such writing. What I found fascinating was whether there was any reality to these accounts, the ‘before the explosion’ moment where they claim to be actually aware of the world surrounding them. My challenge was fairly mundane, people notice silence when they go on holiday to the country from the city or find themselves on a deserted beach, however in the general hubbub of daily life the sounds of aeroplanes, the worry about going into overdraft and picking up the kids from school fills the conscious mind. For soldiers during war, concerns about mother’s health at home or finding some extra rations become the daily normal. Basically it is rare for people to note such change in their daily life except in exceptional circumstances, like going on holiday, going to war or, as in now the present case, a global pandemic.

A mother’s cry

Silent Cacophony sought to try and mimic the experience of sudden change. Anyone who has listened to the wailing of a mother on hearing of her child’s death will often say it is one of the most harrowing sounds that can be heard. Such a sound, which can only be truly created by such grief penetrates the consciousness as no other. The loud bang of an explosion, or the internal crunch of bones one hears when in an accident, offer very precise moments in time, an event few ever forget. These moments are so abstract to daily existence that it becomes a struggle to interpret, both internally within the mind and externally when explaining to others. The philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote of the silence of those who returned from the trenches of the First World War, they would not discuss the horrors, and took the experiences to their graves without ever sharing. The silence hides the trauma, almost a cacophony of competing thoughts, processes and arguments going on within the mind. Self-challenges, ‘could I have done more’, self-loathing, self-doubt and many other competing internal discussions churn over and over, days, weeks, years and too often for lifetimes.

‘Was it not noticeable at the end of the [First World] war that men returning from the battlefield grown silent – not richer, but poorer in the communicable experience?’ (Benjamin, 1990, 84)

Covid-19 abstraction

The world is now sharing a worldwide abstract experience, as if it is a global abstract art intervention in which everyone is a participant. In the UK at least, there is a resounding Silent Cacophony dichotomy. Street of cities and towns are in the most part silent, beyond birds and occasional distant vehicle, yet it can only be guessed at by us on the outside of hospitals the noise, bustle and horror that is occurring within those buildings.

As with war diaries, and with accounts of those who have experienced terrorist attacks, there is likelihood of some rearranging the pre-Covid-19 memories; money was not such an issue, there was enough food, actually the relation with father was OK. A gloss will be painted over the top of peeling flakes in hope it will deceive the eyes to the reality of these events, it will be the only way for people to restart their daily lives. However on a wider scale, a collective change is in motion and only time will be able to reveal what it will look like.


For me, I suppose, is that following this crisis more people will be willing (or able) to appreciate the importance of abstract art and performance, and the unique role it plays in preparing everyone for the unknown. Abstract art intervention events like Silent Cacophony seeks to safely challenge people to consider beyond the hamster wheel that we are all collectively engaged in turning, while rushing about in living daily life. Life will return ‘to normal’, however the normal will not be as it was. Only through reading, watching and listening to our words and actions pre-Coronavirus that we might be able to understand who we were then, as our own minds will distort the past, no matter how hard we try.

Coming of sound

My one forecast beyond this period will be the increase in those interested in sound, soundscapes, soundart and concepts of noise. When the planes begin flying again, people will notice the noise, it disruption to sleep, to conversation and to life – and this will lead to a fundamental revaluation. 

John M – 11th April 2020, Easter Saturday


Benjamin, Walter. (1990/1955) Illuminations, Ed. Hannah Arendt, Translated by Harry Zorn, London, Pimlico  


Does the name Haphazard Business seem less abstract than two weeks ago? The haphazard response to the Covid-19 epidemic around the world provides a stark reminder how quickly situations can change and the importance of being open and nimble when faced with sudden disruption.

Photo: Changing The Lightbulb | Four White House staffers huddle together pre-President Trump’s press briefing announcing paramount importance in observing social distancing. (Screenshot from YouTube, 27March2020, by John McKiernan)

What’s in a name?

The name Haphazard Business took several months to decide upon. It was essential to convey the precarious nature of all plans; no matter how well laid out they may be on paper. Planning is very important in creating any business or pursuing an idea, however it is also equally important to create contingency throughout, and be ready to abandon previously hard held views.

On setting out on this journey to create a hub, few understood why I chose this name, it made no sense as it is not selling anything and is abstract. Yet today, with the Coronavirus keeping more than half the World’s population on lockdown, does Haphazard Business seem less abstract?

Changing Tack

The Washington Post in mid-March ran a headline combining ‘haphazard’ and ‘helter-skelter’ when describing the White House early response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Helter-skelter is not in the Haphazard Business Glossary, although soon to be added, and refers as much to the rollercoaster ride we are all embarking upon as to the more recongnised meaning; “in disorderly haste or confusion.” (Google)

Jared Kushner’s ‘haphazard and helter-skelter’ coronavirus response revealed by The Washington Post (Raw Story)

Kushner entered into a crisis management process that, despite the triumphant and self-congratulatory tone of public briefings, was as haphazard and helter-skelter as the chaotic early days of Trump’s presidency — turning into something of a family-and-friends pandemic response operation.

The administration’s struggle to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak has been marked by infighting and blame-shifting, misinformation and missteps, and a slow recognition of the danger. Warring factions have wrestled for control internally and for approval from a president who has been preoccupied with the beating his image is taking.

Washington Post

Although the businessman within President Donald Trump has been pivoting wildly in the last few days of March 2020, as the full scale of the crisis and the impact on the US has become apparent, it was by all measures a slow response. His unwillingness to listen to the professional advice being offered may prove his downfall. His fixed mindset refused to acknowledge wider factors beyond his own experience, and can be a lesson everyone can learn from.

Post Covid-19 World

At time of writing, no one knows how this global crisis will play out. What is fairly clear already is that individuals, communities, business and the global economy are going to stumble out of this into a new World. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken dramatically, and business as usual cannot resume.

Haphazard Business was not a prophesy of impending crisis, it was and remains a blog to demonstrate the need for flexibility and to encourage expanding the nuance within an idea or project being pursued; the importance of being open, adaptable and accepting of change and challenge. Creative collaboration trumps the lone scientist (pun intended), as Walter Isaacson points out masterfully in his book The Innovators.

Going Forward

It might be difficult today to believe, as the death toll mounts, that we will come out the other side of this pandemic. It is imperative that those in a position of power, wealth and stability, as well as the visionaries, now step up to the plate with urgency and begin to shape the post Covid-19 World into something that is more equitable and empathetic than our recent past.

I have already set in motion the speeding up of my plans and these will be revealed over coming blog posts. Please feel free to comment below.

John M


Brigham, Bob. 14 March 2020, Jared Kushner’s ‘haphazard and helter-skelter’ coronavirus response revealed by The Washington Post, Raw Story, Washington, Online. https://www.rawstory.com/2020/03/jared-kushners-haphazard-and-helter-skelter-coronavirus-response-revealed-by-the-washington-post/

Washington Post, 14 March 2020, Infighting, missteps and a son-in-law hungry for action: Inside the Trump administration’s troubled coronavirus response, The Washington Post, Washington. Online.https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/infighting-missteps-and-a-son-in-law-hungry-for-action-inside-the-trump-administrations-troubled-coronavirus-response/2020/03/14/530c28b4-6559-11ea-b3fc-7841686c5c57_story.html?arc404=true


In this FT podcast, the director of UCL’s new AI institute, Prof. David Barber discusses the importance of interdisciplinarity, need for innovation and having a wider public conversation about AI and potential impact, as this technology begins touching all our lives. 

FT Podcast

AI Research and Big Tech, 19th December 2019

John Thornhill talks to David Barber, director of the UCL Centre for Artificial Intelligence in London, about how academic researchers can work with business and the wider community to create the best outcomes for society. (FT)

Key points from the podcast in relation to creating an innovation hub…

AI Engineering

AI is now touching on all our lives.

We still don’t know how to solve AI, we are in the early years, no one really knows how it will play out, the key reason why there is need for interdisciplinarity in this area.

Bias, fairness, ethics are not mathematical questions, engineers are not the arbiters of AI, they will do what ‘society’ requires.

AI community is very pragmatic and will go with whatever works.  

Some old techniques, like semantic understanding and symbolic knowledge will re-emerge.


The major innovations we are likely to see in the nearer future include the self-driving car, automation in agriculture with intensive farming coming closer to city centres or/and having close connection to supermarkets.

Drones or robots will increasingly carry out delivery of goods and products, although this will still be difficult to achieve.

Academic Funding

The academic funding model is broken.

We will see increasing partnering with tech firms or private companies.  

Universities remain highly relevant, although scattered public funding can make research very challenging.

Many academics are straddling working for tech giants while keeping a university post.  

There is a real danger more academics and university projects will just be scooped up by tech giants.  

This poses a risk, as most of the key developments should not be in the hands of big firms, they need to be shared.  

Global View

The East has a more collective view to the world, working for society as a whole compared to the West’s more individualist outlook, and protection of rights and freedoms.  

These freedoms could come at the cost of advancement.

Because of this, China is leading world in application of AI.

For example payment systems in Europe; there are still many people suspicious of paying with a credit card, or insist on cash only, where as in China many citizens pay with their phones, and could soon be paying with just their face.

A big cultural distinction is that China’s population is more receptive to new technologies, whereas in the West it is more difficult, and this makes access to the data in Europe more difficult.

Knowledge Quarters

Kings Cross knowledge quarter is developing, creating a concentration of knowledge and diversity, although there needs to be more on the innovation rather just focusing on the corporate sector.  

We need more innovation from the start-up level across the UK, which can scale and grow to significant size, rather than just being gobbled up by tech giants.

There is no scale-up infrastructure in UK.

Need for Interdisciplinary within AI 

There is need for wider and more inspiring conversations around AI.

The AI for People and Planet institute will be holding events on how AI and Art can play an interesting role and create synergies.

AI research and big tech (FT)

A weekly conversation that looks at the way technology is changing our economies, societies and daily lives. Hosted by John Thornhill, innovation editor at the Financial Times.



More than a century before Elon Musk released Tesla’s first car, a small factory in Suffolk was already producing a range of electric vehicles and transforming factory production methods.  

Yet being ahead of the curve was not enough to save the company from decline, as the combustion engine became the preferred standard over cleaner electric powered vehicles. 

Richard Garrett and Sons were at the forefront of electric vehicle development; their ‘first foray into the market was with a 3½ ton battery-powered vehicle, intended for local deliveries’ (Wikipedia). How different the world might be today if the company had won through with their electric vehicles?

Short Film commissioned by Richard Garrett and Sons for potential customers of their single and double-decker electric trolley buses, produced near the end of the 1920s. (The Long Shop Museum website) [1]

The Long Shop Museum

The Long Shop is a lovingly restored museum sitting at the heart of Leiston, a small Suffolk town with 6,000 residents. Housed on the former Richard Garrett and Sons factory site, the museum charts the company’s history of innovation and odd inventions while illustrating some of the difficulties when a business is too far ahead of the curve.

Images: 1 The Long Shop building, 2. Production assembly line building, 3, Assembly line skylight

Early Production Line Assembly

Believed to have developed one the World’s first production assembly lines, Richard Garrett & Sons manufactured agricultural machinery, steam engines and trolleybuses from 1782 until 1932, when the company was acquired. The factory eventually closed in 1981 with 577 job loses (source, museum volunteer). The first half of the 19th century was the company’s golden period, with rapid growth, generous profits and reaching a global market.


The museum exhibits many of the ingenious ways Richard Garrett and Sons were willing to adapt to changing needs, tastes and innovations. Over the course of 160 years they made everything from tractors to fire hose nozzles. Sometimes the company was late to the party, with the market already carved up, whereas in good periods they were among global leaders. The story provides a good illustration of the wider factors when developing successful business ideas.

L to R: 1. Tractor wheel tracks, 2. World War Two air raid warning klaxon

Riding The Wave

For a business idea to become reality, a new product to succeed, and a company to grow and survive, requires some favourable factors. In its early decades, Richard Garrett and Sons benefited hugely from Britain leading an industrial revolution. Downstream suppliers were inventing breakthrough methods and machines that the company could apply and use in their own production. Upstream there was increasing demand from clients for steam engines, locomotives and heavy machinery. It was perfect conditions for any business.

Later, the electric vehicle foray damaged the company, as oil interests teamed up with diesel and petrol vehicle manufacturers to monopolise transportation. The company was on the right side of history, as we are seeing today, electric should have been the way to go, but global forces went against them, and subsequently killed off the business.

Breaking With Convention

Conventions exist when those involved in creating a policy, technology or method agree to general terms of use and adopting certain ways of working before eventual codification leads to a standard. This standard then becomes the convention or norm. Standards have speeded human progress, however, they have also close down further innovation, competition and, as I argue on Standardising Life, create political crisis.

L to R: 1. Princess Marina steam engine, 2. Original Steam Roller, 3. Work spanners, 4. Early steam vehicle, 5. Long Shop clock and window

Resistant Places

Richard Garrett and Sons contributed to creating standards yet they were also real innovators, and prepared to take risks and challenge convention. As with other entrepreneurs, challenging convention was not limited to business; it also seems the family were at the forefront of social change and produced several of the most remarkable women of the age: Agnes Garrett, the first woman to set up an interior design company, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, a prominent suffragist and her mother Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Britain’s first female doctor, whom I write more about here.

The town of Leiston gave me a sense of resistance to convention. The museum was restored by a local group, who fought hard to stop a developer turning it all into flats, a triumph in delivering such an interesting and informative place to visit. The town is full of signs resisting a range of things which local people disagree, see Leiston and Sizewell. Despite it small population, if you spend a day in Leiston you know you have been there, it stands out and makes a mark.


In relation to creating an Innovation Hub, The Long Shop Museum is a good reminder of the many broader considerations required to grow a commercial idea, and serves as a warning that being ahead of the curve does not always mean a successful business.

Other related blog posts include Leiston and Sizewell, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Innovation Hub and Standardising Life.


If you are enjoying this Haphazard journey then please think of donating, this is presently a self-funded project. Thanks, John M


John M

Images of exhibits at The Long Shop Museum | John McKiernan

  1. The Long Shop Museum website, Garrett’s Electric Trolley Buses, online { http://www.longshopmuseum.co.uk/garretts-electric-trolleys/ }


The Fourth Industrial Revolution may offer a way back for men who are no longer rooted to a job, religion or partner and, in attempting to give-back to the community, sometimes find themselves spiralling into counter-productive tendencies, which American scientists have termed the ‘Haphazard Self’.

Many of the motivations and thought processes identified in America were also present during the Platform-7 Art Interventions over the last decade.

In line with these observations, part of the Innovation Hub remit will be to demonstrate how art and creative practices can assist men (and women) seeking to move beyond the rigid behavioural norms and strictures that the legacy of an outmoded industrial economy still imposes. By creating a Hub where people are able to express themselves freely will provide the right ambience to explore alternative models of self-reliance and lead to new businesses being created and individuals’ pursuing new career opportunities.

A short summary of the research The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men (Edin, et al 2019) can be found below, plus excerpt from a New York Times article discussing the research, where referenced.

The Haphazard Self

[The Haphazard Self refers to] men whose vocational aspirations usually remain nebulous and tentative, rarely taking the form of an explicit strategy. In the meantime, career trajectories are often replaced by a string of random jobs. […]

These men’s desire for autonomy in jobs seems rooted in their rejection of the monotony and limited autonomy that their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the workplace. […]

Comparing Standards Of Living

The researchers conducted 107 in-depth interviews with working-class men. Many told them that the economy doesn’t allow them to provide the same standard of living that their fathers could provide. (NYT, 2019)

Fathers and grandfathers of today’s young working-class men provided a standard of living that many of their adult sons cannot match today. This is particularly true for the whites, who when they look back can remember fathers and grandfathers who were sustained by the booming industrial economy of post- World War II America. African-Americans, however, did not get a fair share of the blue-collar prosperity of the post-World War II period. As a result, they may look back to a time when discrimination deprived their parents of such opportunities. Many Hispanics may look back to the lower standard of living their parents experienced in their countries of origin. Thus, whites are more likely to compare themselves to a reference group that makes them feel worse off, while blacks and Hispanics compare themselves to reference groups that may make them feel better off. […]

Need For Creativity And Self Expression

Most of the interviewees spoke of a need for ‘creativity and self-expression’ and pivoting this to create a business.

This is reflected in the entrepreneurial nature of many of the side bets, [or side jobs] ranging from petty drug dealing to cash-in-hand plumbing, and the emphasis on the creative and performing arts. […]

Generative Selves: Give Back

As the stories illustrate, a desire for generative work—jobs that allow men to “give back” to their communities—is most often voiced when they are asked about the jobs to which they aspire. […]

Rather, they are attempting to renegotiate their relationships to these institutions [partner/wife, job/career, religion/church] by attempting to construct autonomous, generative selves. For example, these men’s desire for autonomy in jobs seems rooted in their rejection of the monotony and limited autonomy that their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the workplace, along with a new ethos of self-expression (Cherlin 2014). […]

Our interviews strongly suggest that the autonomous, generative self that many men described is also a haphazard self. […]

Yet our analysis of men’s life narratives suggests that many are also focused on rescuing themselves or those they see as younger versions of themselves. […]

Cultural Forces

Cultural forces have also played a role, namely the emphasis on autonomy — being your own person, focusing on your own personal growth, shucking off any constraints. This ethos, at least in the cities where the interviews happened, has replaced the older working-class ethos, based on self-discipline, the dignity of manual labor and being a good provider, they conclude. […]

In short, at the very moment information-age capitalism detaches many working-class men from stable careers, the autonomy ethos teaches that it’s right to be semidetached, that the best life is one lived in perpetual flux, with your options perpetually open. (NYT, 2019)

Changing Father Relationship

One might question whether the emphasis on nurture and warmth has supplanted men’s sense of duty to provide financially. […] Though men did not explicitly say so, the fact that they placed more emphasis on their emotional than their financial role may have weakened their motivation to work. […]

The form of fatherhood these men wish to enact is not modelled on what they observed among their own fathers and grandfathers, who—in their view—were inadequate. Rather, this generation places strong emphasis on nurture and warmth (see also Edin and Nelson 2013). Many derided their own fathers if they “merely” provided financially for the family but didn’t provide emotional support. […]

For their fathers and grandfathers, work, family, and religion created the attachments, investments, involvements, and beliefs (Hirschi 1969) that guided and gave meaning to human activity in specific social domains. In addition, this pattern was broadly shared within the community and successfully reproduced over time (Friedland and Alford 1991). These institutions not only organized social activity into common patterns of behaviour, but supplied norms, beliefs, and rituals that legitimated such patterns. If traditional social roles in these domains are now only tenuously embraced, a few may craft lives that are more rewarding than those of prior generations, but the majority will struggle. […]

Yet through their attempts to renegotiate work, family, and religious roles, working-class men, whose fathers’ and grandfathers’ lives were often marked by limited autonomy in the workplace, gender-segregated roles within their family, and religious structures that dictated a set of rigid behavioural norms—these men are showing signs of moving beyond such strictures. Many will likely falter. Yet they are laying claim to a measure of autonomy and generativity in these spheres that were less often available in prior generations. […]


This brings us back to the question of why labour force detachment is becoming more common among men with a high school diploma but no four-year college degree, especially when the official unemployment rate is so low. It is tempting to look for a single explanation for this increase. Although only a starting point, our findings suggest that these changes may be driven by the fact that the workplace, the family, and religion have all been transformed, along with men’s sense of what constitutes fulfilment in all these domains. In addition, the salience of manual labour in identity formation seems to have weakened, compared to prior generations. If significant changes in any one of those arenas can be life-altering, the combined effect of all these changes will be quite unpredictable and will vary with the temperamental differences of the men who confront them. […]

Though our analysis should sound an alarm for the near term, we believe it is too soon to predict how these changes will play out over time as society adjusts to them.

Image: Damon Winter | The New York Times (13 May 2019)

Linked Posts: Innovation Hub, Standardising Life, Art Interventions and Abundant Choice

Edin, Kathryn, Timothy Nelson, Andrew Cherlin, and Robert Francis. 2019. “The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33 (2): 211-28. Online 19 April 2019 {https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.33.2.211}

Brook, David. 13 May 2019, “The Rise of the Haphazard Self: How working-class men detach from work, family and church”, New York Times, Opinion. Online 29 May 2019 {https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/13/opinion/working-class-men.html?em_pos=small&ref=headline&nl_art=2&te=1&nl=opinion-today&emc=edit_ty_2019051}