Making emotional predictions

“Forecasts are always wrong,” said Robert Chote, chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, this week (having said similar things in the past). This is a brave line to take when your organisation produces the economic forecasts used by the government, but it is also true.

In anything that involves human behaviour, the best a forecaster can do is assess the situation in the recent past and at present, note the rates of change, then take a view on whether things will continue to change at those rates or if there are good reasons otherwise. It makes sense to say how confident you are in the prediction or provide a range of possibilities. Continue reading

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Where autonomous vehicles are already motoring

The media focus on autonomous vehicles has been on whether they can take over from human drivers on public roads. It’s the thing that would touch most people and catches the imagination, but as I discovered writing about the subject for Computer Weekly, it’s going to take a lot of work.

However, autonomous vehicles are already being successfully used off-road, in places such as mines, distribution centres and fields. Volvo Group has put a driverless truck down a Swedish mine and put its chief technology officer in front of the truck, fortunately without messy results. Continue reading

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Free training: using data to make more money from freelancing

I am running a new training course, Using data to make more money from freelancing, on Thursday 1 December at Equity’s offices on Upper St Martin’s Lane in London. It is free for freelance members of the following unions: Equity, the Musicians’ Union, the National Union of Journalists and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.

As someone who has used and written about data in journalism for many years, in this course I will explore ways in which data can be used in freelance businesses to increase profitability. I will be covering techniques including risk assessment, budgeting, making best use of your time, estimating and negotiating jobs, when to sack a client and how spot trends and benefit from them.

I will be aiming to make everyone attending £100,000 richer (warning: the value of this pledge may fall as well as rise). There will be laughs, possibly tears and certainly spreadsheets.

The course, organised by the Federation of Entertainment Unions, has limited places available. Apply here by 22 November.

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IT should focus on productivity not eliminating people

Earlier this month I took part in the Milton Keynes self-driving car trial, for a forthcoming article for Computer Weekly. Sitting in a car that steers its own wheel was enormous fun. However, it was striking that those I spoke to for the article thought that fully driverless cars on public roads are a long way off. Such technology is generally better-suited to making operators more productive rather than replacing them.

There is something of an obsession within tech for eliminating people completely, whether drivers or customer service staff. But with the latter, where the process has gone a lot further, the result is often frustrated rather than delighted customers, and the same is likely to be true of any process that involves human users – which is most of them. As Izabella Kaminska argues in the FT’s Alphaville blog, among many other drawbacks, properly driverless taxis would quickly end up twice as filthy as night buses at dawn with no-one to supervise them. Continue reading

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The north-west’s suburban good food desert

In the first series of The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon visited Good Food Guide-recommended restaurants in the north of England. More specifically, they visited restaurants in the rural north of England, avoiding cities.

They needn’t have done. Based on the 2017 edition of the guide, there is no problem finding good places to eat in Manchester and Liverpool – but it is much harder in suburbia, particularly in the hinterland between the two city centres. Continue reading

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