“Let’s have some tea and continue to talk about happy things!”

It’s hard to imagine that the humble biscuit could be of been an intrinsic part of our nation’s imperialist past but, in fact, the 19th-century expansion of the British Empire owes much to Huntley & Palmers’ Ginger Nuts and Bath Olivers. Many famous expeditions were fuelled by such delicacies: Henry Stanley set off in search of Dr. Livingstone with supplies of them, and Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island still contains tins of Huntley & Palmers biscuits, specially developed for the expedition, that were left there in 1911.

‘Fancy’ biscuits, as opposed to those eaten for health purposes, were first produced commercially in Britain in the early 19th century. Peek Frean, McVitie’s and Jacob’s all became household names but, certainly in terms of collecting, it is Huntley & Palmers that stands out today.

I was an incredible proud grandson, my Grandfather started his working life in industry with Huntley and Palmers. He came to be liked by Lord Palmer and his family, in running the UK operations, before being sent to Paris to set-up and manage the firm’s first French biscuit factory, located near Paris. Grandfather always amused me as a child informing me around the challenges of managing and running a biscuit operation in France that was to educate the French in English biscuits. He always amused me with his stories and wisdom, and this was always shared over tea and of course with a Huntley and Palmer biscuit, Grandfather said ‘there was always a new biscuit for every occasion’, we always shared biscuits which sparked new conversations, incredibly precious moments.

Huntley and Palmer’s had quite a success story in their day, the company was opened by a Quaker, Joseph Huntley, in London Street, Reading, in 1822. As the business expanded, he was joined by his cousin, George Palmer, in 1841. The firm acquired a site on King’s Road in Reading five years later and by 1860 had expanded into the biggest biscuit and cake manufacturer in the world, turning out 3,200 tons of biscuits a year. By 1900, there were so many Macaroons, Pic Nics and Osbornes (named after Queen Victoria’s favourite palace) being made, that there were over 5,000 employees and Reading was known as ‘Biscuit Town’. Thanks to some superb marketing, the export trade was enormous too, with biscuits distributed across the globe. Ten per cent of total production went to India alone, presumably so that the Governor of Bengal and his chums could enjoy a good Thin Abernethy (‘made from the Choicest Materials’) with their tea.

The story of Huntley and Palmers

Huntley & Palmers was very much in Palmer control for the foreseeable future. By their combination of managerial and entrepreneurial talent the company flourished.

The eating habits of the middle classes were changing, and by the late 1860s it was fashionable to take afternoon tea. This provided the perfect market for biscuits, by which time Huntley & Palmers were producing about one hundred varieties, of which the Ginger Nut, Gem and Nic Nac were especially popular.

So, what happened to tea and biscuits, our afternoon tea, and our meaningful conversations with family and friends?

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner.

The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
Traditional afternoon tea consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches (including of course thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches), scones served with clotted cream and preserves. Cakes and pastries are also served. Tea grown in India or Ceylon is poured from silver tea pots into delicate bone china cups.

Nowadays however, in the average suburban home, afternoon tea is rare; likely to be just a biscuit or small cake and a mug of tea, usually produced using a teabag.

Has tea, family and friend’s discussions, meaningful conversations with others, just disappeared in the face of a busy life, technology overload and ‘do we just not have time?’

Once upon a time the biggest technological nuisance for the family was the phone ringing during dinner time. It is now common to see our loved ones hunched over their phones or tablets as they take one distracted bite of their food after another.

Once the plates are cleared the family might move to the living room for some television, but while the family may have once watched the program together, the new normal is to envelop yourself in a technological cocoon for the night.

Each person may catch the occasional glimpse of the show, but their attention is now being split between chatting with friends on the phone, watching YouTube clips and answering work emails.

Our fixation with technology has created new routines that are very different from traditional notions of family time.
The increasing ways we are using technology in isolation from one another is reflected by the latest figures from Britain’s communications regulator, Ofcom. A recent study found that for the first-time children aged between 12 and 15 are spending as much time online as they are watching television, about 17 hours a week for each.

Many of these children are now not even bothering to sit in the lounge room with the family when they are online, with 20 per cent of five-year-olds now more likely to be alone in their bedroom when online.

Even special family occasions are now infiltrated by mobile technologies.

The home is where children learn their values, specifically what is important in family life. Building a warm and cohesive connections are crucial not only for our own family, but for society as a whole.

The internet has irrevocably blurred the boundaries between work and home, meaning many parents are still working in one form or another when they are at home with their family. What message does a child receive when he or she is telling a story about something important that happened at school and mum stops listening to reply to an urgent message from the office?

Technology is now an integral part of our lives, the impact of culture in technology on children relationships is more noticeable than in families. This divide has grown due to the increased use of technology among children in several ways. First, children’s absorption in technology, from texting to playing video games, does by their very nature limit their availability to communicate with their parents.

Times have changed. New technology offers children independence from their parents’ involvement in their social lives, with the use of mobile phones, instant messaging, and social networking sites. Of course, children see this technological divide between themselves and their parents as freedom from over-involvement and intrusion on the part of their parents in their lives. Parents, in turn, see it as a loss of connection to their children and an inability to maintain reasonable oversight, for the sake of safety and over-all health, of their children’s lives. At the same time, perhaps a bit cynically, children’s time-consuming immersion in technology may also mean that parents don’t have to bother with entertaining their children, leaving them more time to themselves.

There is little doubt that technology is affecting family relationships on a day-to-day level. Children are instant messaging constantly, checking their social media, listening to music, surfing their favorite web sites, and watching television or movies. Because of the emergence of mobile technology, these practices are no longer limited to the home, but rather can occur in cars, at restaurants, in fact, anywhere there’s a mobile phone signal.

The fact is that family life has changed in the last generation quite apart from the rise of technology. Add technology to the mix and it only gets worse. It’s gotten to the point where it seems like parents and children are emailing and texting each other more than they’re talking even when they’re at home together!

The ramifications of this distancing are profound. Less connection — the real kind — means that families aren’t able to build relationships as strong as they could be nor are they able to maintain them as well. As a result, children will feel less familiarity, comfort, trust, security, and, most importantly, love from their parents.

So, what is the answer? Change and transformation is always challenging in any environment and sometimes faced with strong reluctance, some of the best moments of my life have been spent with my grandparents in cheer and of course with tea and Huntley and Palmer biscuits.

Pope Francis recently addressed some participants, reminding them of the pre-eminence of love. “The life of a family is filled with beautiful moments: rest, meals together, walks in the park or the countryside, visits to grandparents or to a sick person… But if love is missing, joy is missing, nothing is fun. Jesus always gives us that love: he is its endless source.” He also exhorted people to learn from the wisdom of grandparents: “[A person or] people that does not listen to grandparents is one that dies! Listen to your grandparents.”

While your children and parenting will have many influences on their moral development, you always play the biggest role. You are their first teacher and role model. They look to you to learn how to act in the world.

While your words are important, it will be your actions that will teach them the most. How are your actions guiding your children in living up to your highest values?

There is a big difference between knowing about values and actually trying to adopt the traits. Often standing up for your values takes courage and strength, grandparents can be a huge help and influence on your children’s life in this chaotic, overcrowded, technological world that we all live in.

As my grandparents would always say to me and as this quote states from Chaim Potok:

“Come, let us have some tea and continue to talk about happy things.”

Can you really fall in love with a Robot?

Our company has just started to work with a new client who has developed a humanised robot, which they describe as a ‘social robot’. It is clear by my work to date with this company that advances in robotics and AI are starting to gain some real momentum. In the coming decades, scientists predict robots will take over more and more jobs including white collar ones, and gain ubiquity in the home, school, and work spheres.

Due to this, roboticists and AI experts, social scientists, psychologists, and others are speculating what impact it will have on us and our world. Google and Oxford have teamed up to make a kill switch should AI initiate a robot apocalypse.

One way to overcome this is to imbue AI with emotions and empathy, to make them as human-like as possible, so much so that it may become difficult to tell robots and real people apart. In this vein, scientists have wondered if it might be possible for a human to fall in love with a robot, considering we are moving toward fashioning them after our own image. Spike Jonze’s Her and the movie Ex Machina touch on this.

Can you fall in love with a robot?
http://edition.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2017/04/10/can-you-all-in-love-with-a-robot.cnn

Interesting enough both the film ‘Ex Machina’, in which a computer programmer falls in love with a droid, may not be as far-fetched as you think.

A new study has found that humans have the potential to emphasise with robots, even while knowing they do not have feelings.
It follows previous warnings from experts that humans could develop unhealthy relationships with robots, and even fall in love with them.

The discovery was made after researchers asked people to view images of human and humanoid robotic hands in painful situations, such as being cut by a knife. After studying their electrical brain signals, they found humans responded with similar immediate levels of empathy to both humans and robots.

After studying their electrical brain signals, they found humans responded with similar immediate levels of empathy to both humans and robots.

But the beginning phase of the so-called ‘top-down’ process of empathy was weaker toward robots.

The study was carried out by researchers at Toyohashi University of Technology and Kyoto University in Japan, and provides the first neurophysiological evidence of humans’ ability to empathise with robots.

These results suggest that we empathise with humanoid robots in a similar way to how we empathise with other humans.
Last month, a robot ethicist warned that AI sex dolls could ‘contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women’

Scientists suggest that we’re unable to fully take the perspective of robots because their body and mind – if it exists – are very different from ours.

‘I think a future society including humans and robots should be good if humans and robots are prosocial,’ study co-author Michiteru Kitazaki told Inverse.

‘Empathy with robots as well as other humans may facilitate prosocial behaviors. Robots that help us or interact with us should be empathised by humans.’

Experts are already worried about the implication of humans developing feelings for robots.

The question we all need to ask is ‘do we fear a future of love with a real human to be a happy to substitute to a robot’ the idea that a real, living, breathing human could be replaced by something that is almost, but not exactly, the same thing, well, actually a robot.

By now you’ve probably heard the story of Tay, Microsoft’s social AI experiment that went from “friendly millennial girl” to genocidal misogynist in less than a day. At first, Tay’s story seems like a fun one for anyone who’s interested in cautionary sci-fi. What does it mean for the future of artificial intelligence if a bot can embody the worst aspects of digital culture after just 16 hours online?

If any AI is given the vastness of human creation to study at lightning speed, will it inevitably turn evil?

Will the future be a content creation battle for their souls?

Society is now driven by the social connections you hold, the likes and your preferences of relevancy, the movie Her is described with a complex nature, a man who is inconsolable since he and his wife separated. Theodore is a lonely man in the final stages of his divorce. When he’s not working as a letter writer, his down time is spent playing video games and occasionally hanging out with friends. He decides to purchase the new OS1, which is advertised as the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system, “It’s not just an operating system, it’s a consciousness,” the ad states. Theodore quickly finds himself drawn in with Samantha, the voice behind his OS1. As they start spending time together they grow closer and closer and eventually find themselves in love. Having fallen in love with his OS, Theodore finds himself dealing with feelings of both great joy and doubt. As an OS, Samantha has powerful intelligence that she uses to help Theodore in ways others hadn’t, but how does she help him deal with his inner conflict of being in love with an OS?

Though technically unfeasible by today’s AI standards, the broad premise of the movie is more realistic than most people may think. Indeed, in the past 10 years our lives have been transformed by technology and love is no exception. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, there’s no better time to examine some of the recent developments in this area.

Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, offers virtual girlfriends and boyfriends for around $2 (£1.20) per day. These are real humans, but they only relate with their paying customers via the phone – calls or text – in order to perform fairly unromantic tasks such as wake up calls, good night calls, and (perhaps the most useful service) “sympathetically listen to clients’ complaints”. If this is all you expect from a relationship, it at least comes at a cheap price.

Similar services already exist in India, where biwihotohaisi.com helps bachelors “practice” for married life with a virtual wife, and Japan, where “romance simulation games” are popular with men and women, even when they feature animated avatars rather than human partners.

In many of today’s most fascinating visions of future love, the body itself seems like a relic of the past. In Her, for example, we encounter a social landscape where love between humans and machines doesn’t require a physical body at all. Instead we watch as Theo shares his most personal moments with an AI who he never actually touches, but who conveys intimacy through talking, sharing messages, drawings, ideas and sexual fantasies. In our current social climate, where dating often means scrolling through photos and written bios rather than interacting with people in person, the idea that you could fall in love with your computer doesn’t seem so far-fetched. After all, we are already used to more disembodied forms of communication, and, as many older generations continue to lament, many young people today are more likely to text or sext than actually establish in-person kinds of intimacy.

AI is the perfect sounding board for these modern anxieties about human connection, and 20th- and 21st-century films are filled with dystopian landscapes that showcase the loneliness of a world where intimacy is something you can buy. In many of these films, from classics such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to more modern movies like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, the creators and consumers of AI are male, while the AI themselves are female. The patriarchal underpinning of this is vividly explored in sci-fi such as The Stepford Wives and Cherry 2000, where we are ushered into worlds where compliant and submissive female robots are idealized by their male creators as the epitome of perfection, and always exist completely under their thumb. The female robots we meet in these films cook, clean, are unfailingly supportive and are always sexually available, in addition to being exceptionally beautiful. These sex-bots have also become both a mainstay of humor, from the sexy goofiness of 80s films such as Weird Science and Galaxina, to the cheeky and slightly more socially aware comedies in the 90s, with the frilly, busty fembots of Austen Powers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s charmingly dippy “Buffy-bot”

Serge Tisseron, a French Psychiatrist who studies the relationships between youth, the media and images and the effect of information and communication technology on young people, reminds that, despite signs of attachments from the robot, the relation can and will always be one way.

Serge insists on the importance of a reflection around the ethical issues to avoid the destruction of human relations. Because of their interactions with efficient, high-performing and helpful robots, humans could end up being disappointed with other humans altogether, especially on a professional level. Or, we could eventually abandon our responsibilities completely and rely solely on robots to take care of our loved ones. In the end, this could result in a serious withdrawal from the human world and could affect our ability to live in society.

A final thought is that no one knows what the future holds, if robots will manage to develop their conscience and emotions but in any case, there needs to be enough preparations for their development and integration to society.

A great quote by Colin Angle:

“In the smart home of the future, there should be a robot designed to talk to you. With enough display technology, connectivity, and voice recognition, this human-interface robot or head-of-household robot will serve as a portal to the digital domain. It becomes your interface to your robot-enabled home.”

Do we marry just people or real connections?

Some of you will remember a blog that I wrote in July 2015 called ‘Can Love Last Forever’ – this was written just before another interesting blog ‘Can Love Conquer All or is Love a Myth?’. I have often written on the subject of love and relationships and recently reminisced on the subject ‘Do we marry just people in our life, or do we marry real connections?’

Or as William Shakesphere once said in his play is ‘The World Just a Stage?

The meaning of this phrase is that this world is like a stage and all human beings are merely actors – Oscar Wilde has put his spin on this phrase, declaring that, “The world is a stage, and the play is badly cast.” Allan Moore in his novel, V for Vendetta, has taken it to a completely new level by saying that, “All the world’s a stage, and everything else is vaudeville.” Now notice how people love to quote this phrase, because it sounds very clever, and they believe that this line has something that still resonates today.

With the world stage aside the facts are instead of strong, meaningful conversations and relationships, we struggle through long series of bad dates and so called hook-ups. Instead of meeting people in real life, we are constantly swiping and messaging somebody new. Instead of telling people how we feel, we do not text back. We no longer have people cancel, we get flaked on, and then we flake on other people. We no longer date or commit, we “see” and “hang out” with each other. We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy. I believe and evidence certainly supports this, that we have become a generation afraid of being in love.

One could say “We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy”.

I read a recent article from UCLA called ‘What does being committed to your marriage really mean?’ UCLA psychologists answered this question in a new study based on their analysis of 172 married couples over the first 11 years of marriage.

“When people say, ‘I’m committed to my relationship,’ they can mean two things,” said study co-author Benjamin Karney, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. “One thing they can mean is, ‘I really like this relationship and want it to continue.’ However, commitment is more than just that.”

The psychologists’ report demonstrated that a deeper level of commitment, is a much better predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.

Of the 172 married couples in the study, 78.5 percent were still married after 11 years, and 21.5 percent were divorced. The couples in which both people were willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages, according to Bradbury, Karney and lead study author Dominik Schoebi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who is currently at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg.

So, do we marry a ‘soul mate’ or a ‘life partner’?

Soul Mate:
Someone who is aligned with your soul and is sent to challenge, awaken and stir different parts of you in order for your soul to transcend to a higher level of consciousness and awareness. Once the lesson has been learnt, physical separation usually occurs.

Life Partner:
A companion, a friend, a stable and secure individual who you can lean on, trust and depend on to help you through life. There is a mutual feeling of love and respect and you are both in sync with each others needs and wants.

At different times of our lives we will need and want different types of relationships. Neither is better or worse than the other, it is all a personal decision and one that you will feel guided to as long as you are following your heart.

In summary, our childhoods taught us to value love; but our institutions, cities, and technology have taught us to fear commitment and put choice first. We are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of emotional distance with each other. Most of us really want love at some point, but our actions are at war with this desire. We maintain emotional distance because we fear commitment and rejection, not because that is our true self. We replace the feeling of true intimacy with short term flings, long term noncommittal hook-ups, and sex. We comfort ourselves knowing at least we’re not feeling the stinging pain of a broken heart, at least we don’t have to deal with real emotions. My belief is that we have trapped ourselves in a cycle that we are all complicit within.

This cycle is detrimental to us all. Happiness means different things to different people. For some, it is marriage and kids, for others it is traveling the world, and for others it is a rainy day with a good book. One thing that we all share, however, is that having strong, positive relationships in our life is one of the keys to happiness and fulfillment. Even anecdotally, we know this to be true.

When we keep emotional distance because of the fear of rejection, we lose out on one of the most important aspects of being human. Deep inside, we know we are unfulfilled but we do not know how to fix ourselves. So, we play the game where there are no winners. We must break free from this culture that damages us all and learn to love again.

For most of us, improving our relationships is one of the best things we can do in our lives. For me, with this realisation and my committed effort to being more open, honest, and straightforward, I have been able to not only improve how I treat other people, but also the quality of my relationships with my circle of wonderful friends.

Maybe, this is the answer to a happier and more fulfilling life, maybe it will just make me a better person, and maybe it has lead me to finding love, my true love and soul mate. I just know I do not want to be complicit in modern dating culture anymore. I am happy when building real emotional connections in business and in life, and I guess, that is what we all want in the end,  to be happy and in love with real connections, real people, real life – not a world stage.

One of my favourite quotes by Oscar Wilde:

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”