Thursday. 13/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Programming language

A few years ago, Pip Jamieson, founder of creative-industry network The Dots, told me that she had been voraciously reading books about the automation of work and what it might mean for the future of employment. At the time, I remember thinking, smugly, that I’d chosen the right career path for withstanding the rise of the robots. Surely writing, a subjective creative skill, would be one of the last crafts to fall to the machines?

It turns out that I was (at least partly) wrong. Recently, my social-media feeds have been flooded with targeted advertising for Jarvis, a copywriting tool powered by artificial intelligence. The idea is that by scanning pre-existing texts online, Jarvis will be able to automatically “generate content” out of simple prompts, penning everything from social-media posts to marketing blurbs and longer articles. Does the idea make me shudder because I feel threatened? Maybe. I should have known that I was becoming redundant when Gmail offered to finish my emails for me. But I simply cannot accept the idea of a pixelated, snot-nosed Jarvis pushing me off the keyboard.

Anyone who has written promotional sales copy will know that there are handy recurring sentence structures that work better than others. As a non-native English speaker, I have often approached writing less as an art and more of a craft that can be learnt. But it doesn’t mean that we should get rid of the artisan. At a time when most brands are keen on exuding “authenticity”, this seems like a counterproductive new service. And I bet young Jarvis is not the kind of assistant who appreciates the art of conversation either.

Image: Getty Images

Space / China

Liquid asset

A sample collected by China’s Chang’e-5 space rover has revealed the first physical evidence of water on the moon. Scientists found that most of the soil had a water concentration of less than 120 parts per million – that’s 100 times drier than the Sahara desert – but its presence potentially has massive implications for the future of space travel. Reducing the amount of water required on spacecraft could result in huge weight savings and Earth’s satellite could even be used as a stop on longer missions. Scientists had assumed that the moon was completely dry until 2018, when Nasa images from an infrared telescope suggested otherwise. Though the US is generally still the global leader in space exploration, China has made huge strides in recent years and, with its Tiangong space station due in 2022 and joint ventures with Russia in progress, it won’t slow down any time soon. The real moonshot is the hope that the US and its perennial rivals might pool their resources for a collaborative agenda. Watch this space.

Image: Shutterstock

Health / Canada

Cough up

Though Omicron appears to be far milder than other variants of coronavirus, the data on hospitalisation is conclusive: as with every other variant, unvaccinated people are far more likely to become seriously ill with it. That’s why the Canadian province of Québec has pledged to impose a “significant” tax on people who refuse to be inoculated.

Premier François Legault (pictured) says that half of admissions to intensive-care units in the province are from the 10 per cent of adults who have yet to receive their shot. “It’s normal that the majority of the population are asking that there be a consequence,” said Legault, after his government’s new restrictions prompted a backlash. However, if there is one universal truth, it’s that people are quick to act when there’s a potential hit to their wallet.

Image: Getty Images

Infrastructure / South Korea & Cambodia

Span plan

South Korea is aiming to firm up its relationship with Cambodia by funding the construction of a new bridge across the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, which will connect the Cambodian capital with rural areas to its east. New details of the so-called Friendship Bridge, which has been on the cards since 2020, were announced by South Korean ambassador Park Heung-kyeong, after his government commissioned a feasibility study for the structure. The bridge is expected to solve traffic issues in Phnom Penh, attract tourists and serve as a physical symbol of the budding relationship between the two countries, which signed a free-trade agreement last year. Despite these increasing economic ties, South Korea is playing catch-up with other countries in the region; Cambodia has already built similar structures paid for by China and Japan, which funded the Chroy Changvar bridge (pictured). To really get ahead, South Korea might want to consider building a Best Friend Freeway in Phnom Penh too.

Image: Narita City

Retail / Japan

Tempting freight

Narita, a city on the eastern outskirts of Tokyo whose airport serves the capital, is opening a new wholesale market (pictured) on 20 January. Situated close to the international airport in Chiba prefecture, the hub is designed to offer a variety of commercial and administrative services. These will include processing goods, offering plant quarantine, arranging customs clearance, shipping overseas and sourcing produce and seafood from across the country. Though the airport functions as a domestic-distribution hub, global reach is key and by offering such a variety of supply-chain procedures under one roof, it’ll be possible to deliver produce more quickly abroad. Narita International Airport has routes to 81 cities in 30 countries around the world and the city’s mayor Kazunari Koizumi is eyeing expansion to more EU, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian locales. By 2027, Koizumi aims to increase revenue from food exports to ¥8.8bn (€67m), almost 40 times what it is today. In years to come, the new venture could be exporting not only vegetables but also Japan’s soft power.

Image: Félicie Krikler

M24 / Monocle On Design

Fashion news, ceramics and beauty

We preview a busy year ahead for the fashion industry and visit a ceramics studio that’s a hit with chefs and restaurants in Athens. Plus: architect Félicie Krikler (pictured) discusses a new UK policy that aims to promote beauty in buildings.

Monocle Films / London

All around the table

Hanna Geller and Jeremy Coleman of Building Feasts take us on a tour around their favourite London food shops and pick up supplies on the way to put their effortless hosting skills into practice.

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