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3-4 June

Behind the headlines

Could AI wipe out humanity?

This week, more than 350 artificial intelligence experts signed a 22-word statement warning that humanity faces “extinction” unless the risks of the technology are properly mitigated. The big danger, says the so-called “godfather of AI” Geoffrey Hinton on The Daily, is that these machines will stop at nothing to achieve what we ask them to do. Say you tasked an advanced AI with making money for you: it would happily break into an online banking system and steal funds, or buy oil futures and foment a revolution in Central Africa to boost prices. These machines are essentially “psychopaths”, devoid of any moral compass.


I miss the days when writers behaved badly

There was something nostalgic about the obituaries of Martin Amis, says Martha Gill in The Observer. Specifically, the “semi-tolerant fascination” with his personal life. It was a throwback to when people were more relaxed about the proclivities of writers: “their outrageous love affairs, their bad political opinions”. Back then, a flawed personality was “part of the package” for the likes of Amis (“lothario”), Christopher Hitchens (“drunken raconteur”) and Philip Larkin (“recluse”). Readers enjoyed speculating over where “fact met fiction”; over which characters were based on whom. No longer. Today, few novelists with “messy lives or offbeat opinions” top the bestseller lists. Sally Rooney lives a quiet life in Ireland; “there are no Ernest Hemingways or Ted Hugheses”. For writers, painters, musicians and the rest, “personality is out of fashion”.

Inside politics

Few British politicians “embody the capitalist spirit” more than Rishi Sunak, says Kate Andrews in The Spectator. He’s a graduate of Stanford business school, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and the richest prime minister in history. As chancellor, he was a “fiscal hawk” perpetually trying to rein in Boris Johnson’s spendthrift instincts. But now he is in No 10, he is residing over a state twice as big as that of the 1970s, and the highest tax burden of Britain’s postwar history. “These are government interventions that Tories would have once mocked” – indeed, even Labour has derided the recent proposal for “voluntary” supermarket price caps. The PM likes to make big speeches criticising the “ever-expanding state” and praising free enterprise. “But governments are judged by what they do, not what they say.” And the more he steals Labour’s economic playbook, the more “leeway” he gives the opposition to go even further once they get back into power.


Succession has become an obsession of the chattering classes, says Ed Cumming in The Daily Telegraph. The Guardian compared it to Shakespeare; The Independent called it “the best television series ever made”. On-screen choices of “costume, wine and swear words” were pored over for evidence of character, as if these figures were “inscrutable world leaders” rather than fictional brats. “Look, I liked it too.” But something about Succession has provoked a “complete loss of perspective”. Outside the media bubble, people barely watch it. In America, the final episode was watched by 2.9 million people. For comparison, 76 million tuned in for the Seinfeld finale, and Friends got 52 million. In the UK, fewer than 600,000 people saw the climax of the show – a quarter of the number that watched Jeremy Paxman’s final outing on University Challenge.


quoted Welles 3.2.23

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

Orson Welles

Desert Island Discs

“The devil has the best tunes”

When Brian Cox was younger, he tells Lauren Laverne on a 2020 episode of Desert Island Discs, he worried about why he was always cast as “nasty” characters. But after bagging the part of billionaire patriarch Logan Roy in Succession, he has learned to embrace it. After all, “the devil has the best tunes”. Logan and I “both have one thing in common”, Cox says. “We find the human experiment rather disappointing.” His only gripe with the role is that whenever he goes out, he is mobbed by fans asking if they can video him “telling them to f*** off”.

Staying young

John D Rockefeller lived to 97. His doctor once revealed his simple secrets: “First, he avoids all worry. Second, he takes plenty of exercise in the open air. Third, he gets up from the table a little hungry.”


The barn

This spacious three-bedroom barn conversion has stunning views across the Somerset countryside. The property has wooden beams, high ceilings and French doors, but is otherwise empty, offering an exciting renovation project for prospective buyers. Bristol and Bath are both less than an hour’s drive. £400,000.

The pile

Otterburn Castle in Northumberland dates to the reign of William the Conqueror. It retains many of its historic fittings, from stone-mullioned windows and a huge oak-panelled dining room to a carved staircase and an ornate Florentine marble fireplace. There are 18 bedrooms, including two in the castle’s tower, and the 32 acres of gardens include ancient woodlands and a small lake. The nearby town of Bellingham has several pubs and restaurants, and good public transport links across the north. £3m.



quoted Auden 4.6.23

“A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.”

WH Auden