Juvet and me

Three years ago I woke up in a hotel in the beautiful Norwegian city of Ålesund, gathered my stuff and set off to meet my old friend Andy Budd and a disparate group of thinkers to drive across Norway to Valldal and the  Juvet Landscape Hotel, https://juvet.com/ well known as one of the locations for Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina
It  was to be our home for the next three days to as we tried to figure out some of the  ethical issues raised by AI in an amazing setting, with the best food I’ve ever eaten. It was, as they say, transformative.
I was there with old friends like Dan Hon and Matt Webb, and met a whole group of fascinating people whose thoughts and insights have stayed with me.
Looking back, it’s clear that the three days in Juvet shifted my life. I was about to join BBC Research & Development having spent seven years working to build a model of a  digital public space in the archive development team and as part of the Make it Digital initiative. As a result of the conversations at Juvet I carved out a big chunk of my time to shape the BBC’s approach to AI and ML, and have been running our internal Machine Learning Ethical Design Working Group since.
I want to acknowledge that time, that place, and those people, in these complicated and dangerous days.  I  don’t know when such times will happen again, or how we will decide to live our lives after SARS-COV-2 and wildfires and extremism have burned through the our world. I re-read the Dark Mountain writings https://dark-mountain.net/, I contemplate Dan Hill’s Slowdown papers https://medium.com/@cityofsound, I try to reconcile my concerns about AI/ML with an understanding that the entire edifice that supports these advanced technologies  is fragile beyond our comprehension.
And I live in these two worlds simultaneously, caught between the grim meathook future and a techno-optimist world in which we shape the network for public good.
Hey ho. We persist.
Sitting on the troll bridge

Sitting on the troll bridge (pic James Gilyead)

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It was my sixtieth year to heaven


I’ll be sixty in a couple of weeks. And I always think of this poem as my birthday approaches.

Dylan Thomas started this poem in 1941 for his 27th birthday but it was published in 1944, so the opening line became ‘it was my thirtieth year to heaven’. Some things take a while. Thomas’ birthday is October 27. Mine is October 6 and this year I’ll be sixty

The poem is still in copyright so if the estate asks I’ll take it down, though had copyright terms not been extended from 50 to 70 years in 1996 – despite the fact that dead people can’t be encouraged to write new stuff by giving them more control over their work – it would have been out of copyright in 2003.   So here it is:





Dylan Thomas


        It was my thirtieth year to heaven
     Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
        And the mussel pooled and the heron
                Priested shore
           The morning beckon
     With water praying and call of seagull and rook
     And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
           Myself to set foot
                That second
        In the still sleeping town and set forth.

        My birthday began with the water-
     Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
        Above the farms and the white horses
                And I rose
            In a rainy autumn
     And walked abroad in shower of all my days
     High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
            Over the border
                And the gates
        Of the town closed as the town awoke.

        A springful of larks in a rolling
     Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
        Blackbirds and the sun of October
            On the hill's shoulder,
     Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
     Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
            To the rain wringing
                Wind blow cold
        In the wood faraway under me.

        Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
     And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
        With its horns through mist and the castle
                Brown as owls
             But all the gardens
     Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
     Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
             There could I marvel
                My birthday
        Away but the weather turned around.

        It turned away from the blithe country
     And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.

And I too hope my heart’s truth will still be sung in a year’s turning.

And here’s something as old as me…