It's divorce day — or, at least, the day that divorce proceedings commence as British prime minister Theresa May has signed the letter to start the formal two-year process of her country leaving the European Union. The UK's ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, will deliver the letter to EU president Donald Tusk today. Stepping back for a moment to look coolly at a process that will involve the entire EU, armies of diplomats and corps of bureaucrats, Brexit makes those of us based in Europe acknowledge that even the greatest technological and philosophical advances of our age can't prevent a regression to magical thinking. A stunning amount of people thought that London would 'see sense' and abandon the whole Brexit process. That includes many high-level officials. Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told the BBC that there had been an expectation in some quarters that the whole thing would magically melt away. Mr Muscat said that "up until a few weeks ago, EU officials thought that Britain's government was highly likely to reverse the decision to take the nation out of the EU by triggering Article 50 and therefore starting the formal two-year negotiation process. 'I think that was the widespread impression,' said Muscat on the BBC Today programme."
Malawi's First Merchant Bank is in talks to acquire the Zimbabwe unit of Barclays Bank. "A spokeswoman for Barclays confirmed the bank was in early discussions with a prospective buyer for its stake in the Zimbabwe bank," according to Reuters. "Neither party disclosed a value for the prospective deal. Barclays Bank of Zimbabwe has a market capitalisation of $60 million, according to Thomson Reuters data. Barclays previously said it was looking to sell the stake as part of a broader exit from Africa announced a year ago when chief executive Jes Staley said the lender would instead focus on a transatlantic strategy in the United States and Britain." The Zimbabwe and Egyptian Barclays operations are the only two Africa-based Barclays units that are outside (South Africa-based) Barclays Africa.
China's Tencent group has taken a five percent stake in Tesla, the electric car and solar power business run by Elon Musk. Where to start with this story? Readers will remember that Uber (like Tesla, also eyeing the autonomous future) famously departed China after it failed to understand the power of WeChat and WeChat Pay in the Chinese ecosystem; Tencent also has a $4.5 billion stake in Chinese ridesharing business Didi Chuxing. (Tencent has also invested in US tech businesses Snap and Uber rival Lyft.) "Tencent, best known for its WeChat mobile app, has been investing in a number of sectors, including gaming, entertainment, cloud computing and online financing," the BBC reports. "Tesla said the stake was passive, meaning Tencent would not get a say in how the US firm was run."
Tesla is also making moves in the Middle East, recently making a deal with Dubai authorities to provide 200 self-driving taxis to the Dubai Taxi Corporation, and producing this ad where astonished passengers sit into unmanned Teslas before being sped off to their destinations. It will add to the uncertainty of Dubai taxi drivers who work outside the official fleet and keep two phones, one for Uber and another for local service Careem. But all taxi drivers will be less than thrilled about Tesla's arrival.
The FT's Jonathan Margolis, well known for his love of gadgetry, has gone mad. Home automation, he declares, is a childish misuse of technology, and there's nothing wrong with opening curtains by hand or turning on the light manually using a switch. "Home automation is stress-inducing. At almost every installation I look at, there is to be found a frowning male stabbing at an iPad muttering about why the system is not working — and a female partner rolling her eyes." Listening to a broadcast about home technology recently, Lafferty News was amused to hear a tech journalist for a national newspaper enthuse about the "smart bulbs" she had bought for her house, which allowed her to set the lights to come on at a preprogrammed time. "Marvellous," said the interviewer. "And how much are these smart bulbs?" About forty-five euros, came the reply. Cue the sound of the incredulous interviewer falling out of her chair.
Annoyingly for boosters of Artificial Intelligence, humans seem to keep insisting on interacting with other humans. Following a survey of Singaporean consumers, Accenture discovered that "despite rising adoption of robo-advisors, consumers in Singapore still need human interaction for their more complex needs", reports Fintech News Singapore. "The emerging trend is leaving firms challenged as they must blend a physical presence with an advanced digital user-experience. 'We found strong consumer demand exists today for robo-advice in all areas of financial services — banking, insurance and financial advice,' said Piercarlo Gera, senior managing director at Accenture Financial Services. 'While financial institutions may expect to benefit from internal cost reduction by providing customers with a 'robo' option, our research found that consumers also expect first-class human interaction.'" Mr Gera went on to note that "successful financial services firms" will be those that combine physical and digital capabilities. Or "phygital". Leaving aside for a moment the troubling idea that your bank will now be fidgeting with your money, who thought this was a good idea?
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