• Phil

From Caludon's past to Technology,Work and the Future

Last Saturday I gave a guided walk around Caludon Castle Park. The site has a rich and varied history as a home for nobility, workplace for local people and centre of culture across almost one thousand years.

The heyday of Caludon Castle was at the time of the renaissance. Under the aristorcratic Berkeley family during Tudor times (Henry Berkeley was godson to Henry VIII) Caludon hosted performances by famed and traveled lutenist John Dowland (performer to Royalty across Europe), theatrical performances and lavish entertainments. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is said to have been commissioned for a Berkeley family wedding and Caludon is also mentioned in his Richard II history. Science also featured prominently on the site with Lady Katherine Berkeley taking interest in earth sciences and astronomy (and owned an early globe of the earth). At this time up to 150 servants were employed on the site together with workers at the site’s home farm, mills and brew houses.

Whilst researching the Castle’s history it occurred to me that today’s technology has “democratised” culture. On the morning of my walk I was able to listen to Dowland’s music via youtube (his son transcribed his music in the 1600s) and get an idea of the sounds which would have graced Caludon centuries ago. Performances of Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are also at hand. This immediate access from home is something that has not been available to previous generations.

The internet as a research tool can be less than perfect however – my searches for details on the history of Caludon quickly threw up a Wikipedia entry seemingly full of inaccuracies when compared to some trusted sources. The article suggested that Caludon was ruined as a result of repercussions under Charles II in the aftermath of the English Civil War. Charles did give the orders for the destruction of Coventry’s city wall but there is absolutely no record to suggest that Caludon fell into ruin for the same reason. That process was more gradual after the Berkeleys had to sell off Caludon as a result of their extravagant (and philanthropic – regularly feeding the poor of the area) lifestyle. The Castle and associated buildings moved into the stewardship of tenant farmers of subsequent owners and fell into a state of disrepair eventually being used as building materials on the site for farm buildings.

Evolving technologies are also a double edged sword in the wider world of work. Having previously worked in areas dealing with the upcoming “Internet of Everything” it seems to me that we are moving into an era unlike any other.

It is true that in the past “new” jobs have eventually replaced “old”. In Coventry textiles and watchmaking gave way to cycle production and the motor industry (now a small fraction of what it once was). The older industries have given way to services. Although there is (and will continue to be) a need for skills in servicing the services (e.g network maintenance and cybersecurity) there are not many job roles which are not at least partially at risk through the use of automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems and techniques.

Visits to banks and supermarkets give evidence of front line staff being rapidly replaced with access to web based services and digital assistants. Even the “newer” sectors such as call centres are moving towards replacing human workers with AI alternatives.

In an earlier post I have introduced my lifestyle describing how I have cut outgoings to the bone and looked for alternative ways to sustain myself. I have concluded that barring unexpected expenses I could live an enjoyable but frugal lifestyle if I could raise the equivalent of about £60 per week. My “on foot” services – guided walks, leaflet deliveries, dog walking do not regualrly yet reach that and I have been looking at any methods to make up my income where possible.

Included in my outgoings are internet and web hosting costs which are offset by small payments for on-line tasks including surveys, web testing. These do not tend to be particularly lucrative but do help to get towards my target (e.g. I spent about three hours from 7.30 am this morning to earn £3.27 from on-line surveys – a seemingly awful rate but much more than many of the world’s workers who don’t have the luxury of listening to Planet Rock from an armchair as they work!). My morning routine also includes a visit to the Coventry Freegle (Freecycle) website. Another part of my “sustainable” strategy is to keep outgoings to a minimum and supporting groups that reduce waste is a key part of that. Looking around my house I can not find a piece of furniture or appliance bought as new choosing instead to recycle through groups like freegle,emmaus and charity shops. You tube also helps in tips for home maintenance!

On-line tasks that I have carried out have included listening to call centre recording and classifying various aspects of particular conversations and sessions. This analysis would include identifying background noise, commenting on appropriateness of responses and recognising behavioural traits in the customer. The point of all of this analysis is to train AI systems to recognise and react appropriately to human behaviour as well as being able to carry out human like conversations. This technology is moving rapidly and being introduced in customer service across all industries. In a similar way to industrial jobs being replaced by automation service jobs are beginning to be increasingly replaced by AI systems. This is developing alongside a casualisation of the workforce with the trend being towards agency working and the “gig economy”.

As in research, these leaps in technology provide a double edged sword in employment and working practices.I have referred to technology as being a “democratising” influence where culture is concerned. A “democratisation” of working practices could continue to see the trend of job sharing and the reduction of drudgery in the workplace giving a living wage to more people for fewer hours (in turn allowing more leisure time to access the “democratisation” of culture). However the downside could be that rather than a democratisation happening that the ownership and benefits of the latest technological revolution could continue to be concentrated into the hands of a relative few. The biggest danger could be of an economy geared towards the requirements and luxuries of those few without the need of the labour of the mass of the population and the spectre of these two groups not seeing the need for the other group.

As I continue my ramble I shall be expanding on what these developments could mean in Coventry look at how shifts in industrial development and world markets have affected the City’s past.........

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