Science

Chemical warfare in the First World War

Author: 

Les Hearn

A hundred years ago, on 22 April, poison gas was first used in warfare. Though about 95% of casualties in World War One were caused by explosives, sickness and malnutrition, there is a peculiar horror associated with the use of chemical weapons. It is also true that, apart from isolated examples, World War One was the only instance of the systematic and widespread use of gases in war.

A hundred years ago, poison gas was first used in warfare. Though about 95% of casualties in World War One were caused by explosives, sickness and malnutrition, there is a peculiar horror associated with the use of chemical weapons.

Publications: 

Issues and Campaigns: 

Automation, deskilling and safety

Author: 

Bruce Robinson

Martin Thomas’ criticisms of my review of Nicholas Carr’s book on automation (Solidarity 370) focus on two related issues: the deskilling effects of automation and my rejection of the full automation of safety-critical systems through e.g. driverless cars or pilotless planes. On deskilling, I think there is one misunderstanding and one difference.

Even the most highly automated tasks require scope for human intervention or override.

Publications: 

Issues and Campaigns: 

A workerful world

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Eighty-four years ago, John Maynard Keynes wrote: “The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labour absorption”, and predicted that that generation’s grandchildren (that is, the “baby boom” generation now in their sixties) would work only three hours a day.

Twenty years ago Jeremy Rifkin published a book entitled “The End of Work”, and predicting “a near-workerless world”.

Driverless cars and autopiloted planes are an advance, not a step backwards.

Issues and Campaigns: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

Another automation is possible

A review of The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us by Nicholas Carr.

Automation is everywhere. From robots on production lines to the cockpits of planes; from automated market trading to highly skilled medical diagnosis via a whole range of blue and white collar occupations, few jobs seem to be immune to the replacement of human, living labour by computerised systems.

One report has recently predicted that as much as 47% of US employment is at risk. This is not just futuristic hype: the US has just gone through a “jobless recovery” from the 2008 crisis.

Issues and Campaigns: 

Culture and Reviews: 

Trade Unions: 

Publications: 

A brave new world?

Author: 

John Cunningham

According to the authors we are entering a “second machine age”.

The first came with the invention and development of the steam engine by James Watt and others in 1775 and now “Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power — the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments — what the steam engine did for muscle power. They’re allowing us to blow past previous limitations and taking us into new territory.”

A review of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

Issues and Campaigns: 

Culture and Reviews: 

Publications: 

Chemistry and the First World War

Author: 

Les Hearn

In April 1915, American newspapers reported that the USA faced a “dye famine”, with only two months’ supply left. This was not a minor inconvenience but threatened the livelihoods of two million workers as dyes were essential in the textile, paint, paper, and printing industries, among others. What had happened?

In WWI, chemicals were used to make explosives, fertilisers, medicines and antiseptics, dyes and poison gases.

Issues and Campaigns: 

Marxist Theory and History: 

Publications: 

Is technology to blame?

Author: 

Bruce Robinson

In her claims that exposure to Facebook is the cause of changes to the brain and thus at the root of a range of behavioural and social problems, Susan Greenfield adopts positions that regularly reappear as science and technology develop (discussed in Solidarity 342 and 343).

There is a tendency to blame new technologies for whatever worries happen to be top of the agenda of social conservatives.

Publications: 

Issues and Campaigns: 

Don't panic about computers

Author: 

Les Hearn

In her book Mind Change1 (reviewed by John Cunningham in Solidarity 342), Susan Greenfield says “We may be living in an unprecedented era where an increasing number of people are ... learning a new default mind-set ... one of low grade aggression, short attention span and a reckless obsession with the here and now”. The key word in that statement is “may”!

The dangers of digital technology have become a major theme of Greenfield’s but what is less known is that this is way outside her area of expertise.

The dangers of digital technology have become a major theme of Susan Greenfield’s but what is less known is that this is way outside her area of expertise.

Publications: 

Issues and Campaigns: 

Tribute to Alan Turing

Author: 

Omar Raii

Films about scientists are a rare occurrence and films about mathematicians are even rarer; it’s not hard to see why.

For every Good Will Hunting, there are many more films that are quite unbearable to view, such as the vastly overrated A Beautiful Mind about the life of John Nash. But the Imitation Game is a surprisingly well-made take on the life of the father of computer science, Alan Turing.

A review of The Imitation Game, a new film about Alan Turing.

Issues and Campaigns: 

Culture and Reviews: 

Publications: 

Is Facebook changing our brains?

Author: 

John Cunningham

Susan Greenfield is a leading neuroscientist and her book on how the new electronic media, “cybertechnology”, impacts brain development and human behaviour, makes for fascinating and alarming reading.

A review of Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains, by Susan Greenfield.

Issues and Campaigns: 

Culture and Reviews: 

Publications: 

Pages