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Griffin on Tech: Tech innovation and tragedy in the US

Peter Griffin, Editor. 27 May 2022, 1:41 pm

It has been an immensely enjoyable week travelling abroad for the first time in over two years and reconnecting with the world beyond our borders.

I've spent most of the week visiting IBM's research labs at Yorktown Heights and Poughkeepsie, catching up on the latest developments in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, cloud computing and mainframes (yes, there's plenty of life left in the mainframe market!)

Just the act of sitting in a dark dive bar in the delightful Tarrytown an hour or so north of Manhattan, nursing a beer, felt luxurious after years of covid-imposed exile. I watched on from my hotel room as Jacinda Ardern, who was also in New York this week, appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The Prime Minister did us proud, discussing the horrific massacre of school children that took place in Texas this week, with the wisdom and compassion of someone who has more experience than most of this kind of tragedy.

"When we saw something like that happen, everyone said never again, and so it was incumbent on us as politicians to respond to that," she said of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

"Now, we have legitimate needs for guns in our country, for things like pest control and to protect our biodiversity - but you don't need a military-style semi-automatic to do that."

Screenshot 2022-05-26 at 1.42.54 PM.png

Peter Griffin exploring the world of quantum computing

American cable news channels have been full of debate this week about what needs to be done to stop the senseless killings that all too frequently remind America of its problematic relationship with guns.

It seems so obvious to many - a version of what we did in the wake of the Christchurch attacks to limit the purchase of semi-automatic weapons. But even the introduction of more rigorous background checks for gun owners faces stiff resistance from the gun lobby and the politicians who are either in their pocket, or who deeply believe that any gun law reform represents an assault on the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms.

As I wandered the hallowed halls of IBM Research, which counts six Nobel laureates among its alumni, I found it hard to reconcile the progressive, innovative nature of the United States on one hand, with the stubborn refusal to unite to bring around change for the greater good, on the other. 

Still, what made America great is its diversity - of people, of cultures and of thought. That country has again filled me with inspiration and ideas, though hopefully not Covid - fingered crossed for my requisite RATS test prior to departure on Sunday.

The PM moved on from New York with her trade delegation to hit the West Coast and meetings with Twitter, Microsoft, AWS and others. With the latter two companies investing billions between them in New Zealand in hyperscale data centres, the trade relationship between the US and NZ seems to be stronger than ever - particularly when it comes to tech. The incredible innovation in cloud and AI I saw firsthand this week suggests there's still plenty we can learn from America to scale up our digital economy.

But, as the PM showed this week, there are also a few things it can learn from little old New Zealand.


Comments

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Gary Benner 30 May 2022, 3:41 pm

Some comments upon Peter's post:

I don't know if it is the air or the water in the beltway here or overseas, but I am somewhat underwhelmed by the fanboy reporting by Peter on his trip with the Prime Minister to the USA.

1. "I found it hard to reconcile the progressive, innovative nature of the United States on one hand, with the stubborn refusal to unite to bring around change for the greater good, on the other."

The USA is not a single "country" as we know it here in New Zealand. It is a federation of states, with personalities as diverse as Europe. And as physically separate as Europe. Therefore it is not unexpected that within that nation there will be widely differing cultures. Also the historical events over the last 300 years have placed different demands on each state, and so some are far more basic in perspective than the one's with a large urban population. From my experience, New York and LA as as far different from Colorado and Texas as the UK is from Turkey.

2. "It seems so obvious to many - a version of what we did in the wake of the Christchurch attacks to limit the purchase of semi-automatic weapons."

What the Labour government did in response to the Christchurch massacre in terms of gun control has made not a single positive iota of difference to us here. Quite the opposite. In recent decades there have been few registered gun owners (with all types of guns) that have caused an issue. (Tarrant was one - but the police messed up giving him his licence)

What we have seen though is a huge rise in gun related incidences from unregistered gun users - ie. the gangs. And rather than crack down on them and their activities, the government has instead taken a "cuddly" approach, with the result that gun incidents, mainly due to gangs, has risen.

3. "The Prime Minister did us proud, discussing the horrific massacre of school children that took place in Texas this week, with the wisdom and compassion of someone who has more experience than most of this kind of tragedy."

Apart from feel good interviews and photo opportunities (all self promoting) - including this trip to the USA - she has done nothing to address the root causes for the still increasing gun violence in New Zealand.

Getting the up to date statistics is very difficult (a typical ploy for Governments when they don't support current policies), but this 2020 article gives you an idea, and supports my statements above.

www.rnz.co.nz/news/national...

My viewpoint:

1. The people committing the atrocities are the real issue. Even if all the assault weapons were removed from New Zealand, gangs included, then those of a mind to commit an atrocity, whether that be a large massacre at a school or church, or mall, or to take out a individual who has aggrieved them, will find a way. Cars, trucks, aircraft, knives, improvised bombs (the formula for which is easily googled), even their hands, are all methods to achieve their goal.

So what is the real target? In my view it is:

(a) mental health, and the solution, increased services to support those who are in distress. So many times you hear of a family totally at their wits end because one of their members cannot access mental health support, and who go on to either kill someone else, or themselves.

(b) the criminal activities of the gangs. And that I'll leave up to you to decide how you want to sort them out.

Summary:

Ranting on about gun control is an easy plank for politicians, but it does not, and never will address the root cause. The real reasons are hard to solve, and all government in New Zealand over the last few decades have let this one get away on us.

As to the Christchurch massacre, the one party that got off lightly was the police gun licencing personnel. They did not do the proper due diligence on Brenton Tarrant, and allowed him to get a specific type of gun licence and ammunition without doing the proper background checks. Seems everyone has gone silent on that one. Including our "revered" Prime Minister.

So tours to promote her "caring and kind" façade may well come back to bite her in the proverbial, when the real assessment of her and her government's performance is delivered at the next election.


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