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Diane Phillips: The Grinches Who Stole Christmas

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Diane Phillips

TODAY is Christmas Eve. At least technically it is Christmas Eve. For all those who had plans to gather with family tonight or tomorrow and had to cancel those plans, thanks to the grinches who stole Christmas, it doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve.

It’s just December 24, another day in the calendar.

Okay, maybe that is a little harsh. Let me be a little gentler.

For those who mark Christmas as a religious holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus, everything is as it should be. The church congregation may be a bit smaller than in normal years, though you can probably watch it streaming live on Facebook on your phone or other device. The service may be televised. The grinches hovered, but they did not steal your holiday. Truthfully, praying and reflecting are best done alone so for many, tomorrow will be fine.

For those among us to whom the holiday is a time of sheer celebration, of laughter, hugs and kisses, to gather with loved ones, to embrace people you are happy to see, to exchange gifts, share ideas, dissect the news, the sweet potato casserole and the dessert, 2021 is a holiday sliced to the bone.

What happened to our expectations of just a few months ago? Hotels were reopening, cruise ships lined the port and passengers filled the streets. Tours, dormant during the year of COVID-induced economic drought, started operating again. Taxi drivers had fares. Restaurants that got creative with outdoor seating were allowed to let restricted numbers of vaccinated guests back inside for indoor dining. Shops, gyms, barber shops and spas were slowly coming back to life.

We felt buoyant. We had survived the worst of the pandemic and The Bahamas had made out better, in some ways, than most places, fewer cases of hospitalization per thousand, lower percentage of deaths and as for real estate, it was a boom like many brokers and agents had never seen before. The move to relocate had driven northerners to the south and Florida and The Bahamas were the two highest per capita beneficiaries of that relocation, 400,000 moving to Florida in a year, and in The Bahamas, inventory was so scarce that sales agents and brokers went searching for something to list.

If everything was going so well, what went so wrong?

We celebrated the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel too soon. The virus had another trick up its genetics, a particularly tough one called Delta, and while we were still reeling from that, it threw another one at us, one called Omicron. It came so fast it went unnamed for the first several days, like an unexpected child.

Delta and Omicron, the grinches duet who stole your Christmas.

It wasn’t just that we celebrated too early. It’s how we celebrated and what we forgot to take to the party.

We could have marked the relief from the first two waves by going out to dinner or gathering with six friends. No, we had to gather with 60 or 600 or 6000 (unless those photos we are seeing on social media and on the front page are fakes).

Then we forgot certain ingredients we needed to take to the party, not just our vaccine, but our masks, our commitment to social distancing, our constant handwashing and sanitizing.

It’s as if we got our discharge papers from the pandemic and went right out and pulled the biggest, stupidest drunken celebration humanly possible and woke up in a stupor wondering where we were and how we got here.

Sad as it is, if you, like we do, have to miss the holiday family gathering this year to keep someone who is vulnerable safe, it is better to skip a day than to risk losing or altering a life.

It’s December 24, another day in the calendar, the day before the feast and family or a quiet stay-at-home 24-hour period to plan and anticipate the year ahead-

Beachbot – Responsible AI at work

From time to time, the screen that appears when you open your computer to Windows, actually has something that you can’t resist clicking on and following and apparently, a whole lot of us did in the last week. It was the story of an invention by two men who were stunned to discover cigarette butts in the sand of one of the world’s most sacred beaches along the Dutch coast and set out to solve the problem. The real problem was how to detect the butts under the surface of the sand and then rid the beach of the detritus.

They turned to a research division of Microsoft, actually a Microsoft garage project, to develop the means of detection. That meant teaching a robot to identify a cigarette butt, dig down, get it and be done with it in a responsible disposal manner.

Developing the robot was not the issue, the machine is called the Beachbot. Teaching Beachbot took more patience than starting a new subject in a Senior class a day before graduation. It was a goal worth pursuing, according to the story that got such wide exposure. Some “4.5 trillion cigarette buttes end up in the environment every year, poisoning sea turtles, birds, fish, snails and other creatures.” Fragments can take up to 14 years to disintegrate.

Responsible AI has its place. Beachbot, buddy, you have a great future ahead of you. My concern is what happens when emotional AI attracts the same kind of fervour for its development?

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