Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Rejuvenating the High Street

In the UK the centres of many of our villages, towns and cities are beginning to look derelict as failing retailers close down and the shop windows are boarded up. Presumably it is the same in many other nations.

But does it have to be like this?

The cost structure of business is changing as energy, transport and raw materials become more expensive, and as governments factor in environmental costs previously ignored by accountants. Recycling, repair and upgrading are becoming more viable than planned obsolescence and disposal. The cost of manufacturing in the developing world is increasing while new small-scale manufacturing, such as 3D printing, can now be bought by small businesses. In some cases technology allows a single item to be produced as cheaply in a one off run as in a mass production run, making bespoke production more economically feasible.

Since 2011, when this post was first published, it seems to this author that there has been a growing demand for more personal service and guidance by sellers of goods and services. There is a feeling that human beings are under growing pressure to submerge their humanity in a vast buy/sell machine running on information.
At the same time artificial intelligence and deep learning are making it possible for persons to do more with machines than either
person or machine could previously do alone and perhaps for some tasks even genuine (i.e. not fake) face to face or voice to voice human interaction could become more frequent. 

Here are some possible businesses that could inhabit our High Streets in the future, even the near future:
  • Goods sampling stores. Online advertising could be complemented by local stores for sampling and handling the goods pictured on the web. Sometimes images and text are not enough to warrant a buying decision. E.g. certain expensive craft ware needs to be handled, chairs sat on, tools gripped, fabrics felt. The goods would not  necessarily be sold from these high street emporiums, although terminals for ordering could be available on the premises as an alternative to ordering from home. These sampling places could be set up and run on a national scale, having a High Street presence in much the same way as chain stores do now and with an emphasis on personal interaction. Online sellers would buy space in them to increase their sales and if human intervention could be used to simplify returning of and refunding of unwanted goods this would be a bonus.

  • Cobblers. These would combine bespoke manufacture, crafting and sale of a pair of shoes on the premises. The customer would choose a general design from the web or on the premises, with interpersonal advice if sought,  their feet would be accurately scanned to produce a mould by 3D printing (this technology is already available) and a skilled cobbler would craft a perfectly fitting shoe around this according to the customer’s wishes. The shoe maker would buy in the usual leather, plastic, rubber etc. in bulk. The shoes would be expensive, made to last and able to be repaired or partially recycled in the same business.
  • Tailors. The customer would be greeted by a member of staff, shown a selection of materials to feel and choose from, then enter a booth to be scanned and to view images of herself or himself in various pre-selected outfits. The suit or pullover or dress would be accurately made to measure on site and at lower cost than in the tailors of old, yet the customer would directly interact with a person skilled in giving advice, not a machine interface. The process would not always be fast enough to avoid a second visit to collect the purchase but it would be worth it for those who feel clothes are important.

  • Furniture makers and sellers. A skilled carpenter has at his or her disposal computer-assisted tools and lathes which enable him to quickly construct a whole item of furniture (not just part of it, as on a production line). The customer would specify the size and style from computer images, as well as the type of wood and the finish from actual samples. The furniture would either be delivered in a day or so or it could be collected. Again, human interaction would be an important part of the service.

  • Charity shops with enterprise booths. Oxfam, World Vision, Salvation Army, Christian Aid, Hospice shops etc. are already prominent on our High Streets. This is an obvious trend which small businesses could both help and profit from by having small booths within the shops. Each would benefit from footfall generated by the other and the charity could recoup some of its leasing costs by charging whoever occupied the booth (e.g. someone selling home-baked cakes or local arts and crafts or cutting keys etc.).

  • IT centres for upgrading, recycling and repair. These could be a response to the rapid change in IT plus the need to minimise the fallout of waste as products are discarded with each new generation of mobile phone, tablet computer, touch pad, PC, printer, router, modem etc.  (The beginnings of this kind of enterprise has already become apparent since the original version of this post appeared in 2011.) Customers would have access to on-the-spot expertise and advice as well as able to book home visits or be put in contact with independent local experts. Such centres would be linked into a national recycling and disposal infrastructure. Hopefully future IT will be designed to be more upgradeable and compatible and longer lasting.

  • Training units. As western nations adapt to new kinds of business and technology, and as the median age of populations increases, new skills will have to be taught to young and old alike. A lot of this could be done on a modular basis - partly online from home but also by personal tutoring or face-to-face tuition, individually or in small groups. This will need premises so why not have shop-sized units in the High Street which could be flexibly rented by the training organisations, whether privately or publicly financed?

I am sure there are many examples of how with imagination we could better utilise our town centres. Town councils and churches could play a role. This posting is to stimulate discussion on how to help them thrive and make the High Street an interesting place to walk down. 

John Sears
Author, 2077: Knights of Peace 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Shroud of Turin

Until about 3 years after I submitted to Christ in 2009 I had always treated the Shroud of Turin as some kind of medieval forgery and not the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Circa 1988 it had been announced that the radioactive carbon 14 dating put the origin of the Shroud to around the 14th century and this more less settled it for me.

 Before becoming a Christian I had been skeptical about the reality of the Resurrection. Even after looking at the evidence for the Resurrection, which I found wiped out the objections of the skeptics , and coming to believe in the historical reality of a supernatural Resurrection    (as supernatural as the Big Bang, in which space-time-energy emerged from a fraction of  a pinpoint to give us life, the universe and everything)  I still dismissed the Shroud as a hoax or a confidence trick, as many Christians do today. In fact I was concerned that if it was a fraud it would only help to discredit the overall case for a Resurrection in the public mind, given the natural skepticism of some scientists who tend to be treated as guardians of truth, which they should indeed be as regards the logically accessible aspects of reality.

Recent YouTube presentations by respected scholarly teams (sindonologists) are making it difficult to ignore that this cloth defies natural laws by virtue of the unprecedented and unequalled nature of the image. It is most definitely not a forgery and I even saw a  BBC article by Philip Ball, the ex-editor of Nature, confessing to its extraordinary properties.

I have heard since that all the arguments which try to dismiss the authenticity of the Shroud's image have failed the scholarly peer review process (they nevertheless get picked up by journalists). No scientist has been able to explain the  unique nature of the image despite thousands of research hours and many research papers.

This could be world shattering for many and force those denying the resurrection on the grounds of conspiracy theories - which start from the erroneous assumption that the resurrection could not have happened- to reconsider their position.

see also

The Shroud of Turin, Authenticated Again


The initial carbon dating exercise in the 1980s gave dates around 1400 years after the Crucifixion (33 AD), which led most people to dismiss the Shroud as a medieval fake. The dating had been carried out by a reputable international team; but since then the date has been thrown into doubt because the dating process used a sample containing threads used by medieval nuns to repair the cloth.

In recent years it has been proposed that an earthquake which is fairly reliably known to have taken place in 33 AD, could have generated a neutron flux which would have affected the dating results by increasing the amount of C14 due to neutron bombardment of the C12 nucleus (the more C14 in the sample the younger it would appear to be). The latest date estimate puts the time of the cloth centrally within an error bar of several hundred years spanning the 33 AD date. Pollen analysis also backs this up. By itself this would not prove that the Shroud was the one that en-wrapped Jesus but the date is certainly much earlier than medieval and the Crucifixion date lies well within the error spread.


The trauma caused by the Crucifixion as described in the Gospels would have affected the physical nature of the blood emanating from the wounds caused. This is confirmed by analysis of the blood stains on the cloth. Moreover, the positions of the stains clearly correspond to the Crucifixion accounts. The evidence for this is startling in its detail. E.g. the spear wound indicated on the cloth is in forensic agreement with the John 19:34 account; the bloodstains on the head are clearly from a cap or crown of thorns as described in John 19:2.; 120 scourge marks on the body, front and back indicate about 40 lashes from a three-thronged whip, which was the standard whipping procedure adopted by the Romans at the time.

The colour of the blood stains is red. Normally one would expect it to be black after such a long period but in fact a body having undergone the trauma to which Jesus was subject would have chemically altered blood that would stay red , and containing bilirubin, and this is precisely what  the Shroud stains exhibit. The elevated levels of the bilirubin actually indicate the traumatic process of the Crucifixion as described in the Bible.


Biomechanical science indicates that a body pinned to a cross by nails through the palms could not bear the weight of the body – it must have been through the wrists, which is just what the image shows. The traditional belief was that the nails had been hammered through the palms, so any attempt at forgery would have tried to simulate this. All the iconography of the time indicated nails through the palms.


The image shows marks indicating a blow to the cheek as described in John 18:22: "And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand." As with most of the image features discussed these were invisible before the technology of the 20th century and there is no way anyone would have any motive for forging them, even if someone in medieval Europe had technology more advanced than any known or even envisaged today.


The image was formed by a process which no team of scientists has been able to reproduce over the last several decades, possibly one involving high energy radiation. It was not produced by any kind of pigmentation. One singular characteristic of the image is that it was in the form of  a negative which comes out as a positive on a photographic negative, much to the astonishment of Secundo Pia when he developed his two glass plates in 1898 when the Shroud was first photographed. In fact as photography advanced the image became increasingly clear. Without the invention of photography no one would ever have seen the image at all.

[ In addition to the evidence above there is a close correspondence to the results emerging from an investigation of what is probably the tomb of Christ and the head cloth used after the Crucifixion. New evidence on this subject is available and I hope to insert a link to it later.]

Very advanced technology has been applied to the Shroud, including the VP-8 Image Analyzer which NASA used to construct three dimensional images from ordinary photographs of, for instance, the moon’s surface taken from two different angles. When applied to the Turin Shroud image this has somehow yielded a 3D image of Jesus Christ that does not distort as it rotates. At this time I do not know the physics and mathematics behind this and believe there are aspects to this process which nobody understands.

The information extraction power of the VP-8 enabled experts to interpolate the presence of a lepton, a coin used at the time of Pontius Pilate, placed in each eye socket. It had been customary to do this. Even part of the inscription round the edge of the coin was determined and found to correspond to that used on the lepton at the time of Pilate. 


There is one aspect of the Shroud image which is so enormous in its implication for the human race and the entire universe that I am almost hesitant to mention it for fear that it will immediately label me as a crank in many people's eyes.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the image is that the markings penetrate barely a fibre's thickness down into the cloth, on both sides. Nobody has been able to produce such an image using any technology known to man. For reasons that at this time I do not understand it has been seriously proposed that the only possible explanation of this and other aspects of the image lies in the same theoretical domain as black holes and event horizons. 

The proposal is that information from Christ at the moment of death passed into the entire universe instantaneously and that a new universe and a new humanity is in the process of being created. (NB: modern physics posits that any particle in the universe can instantaneously interact by quantum entanglement with any other particle in the universe, since at the start of the Big Bang every particle was confined to the same quantum space .)

A whole team of scientists is involved at both a theoretical and an experimental level. See this video by a particle physicist Dr Isabel Piczec


How did the Shroud get from Jerusalem to Turin, in Italy? Christian relics were frequently transported for safety because of Islamic and other attacks prior to the Crusades. The Moslem conquerors had reached Spain, having violently subjugated 2/3 of the Christian world (hence the Crusades), by the time of the Shroud’s final resting place in Turin, Italy. Before the Moslems there were still many enemies of Christianity, such as the Romans before Constantine, the non-Messianic Jews and the Vandals. So it is not surprising that the cloth did not begin to be openly talked or written about until it was safe.

I am in no way an expert on all this so let me refer you to some of the sites I came across in putting together the above:

There is also an iPhone app called Shroud 2.0 which pulls together a lot of evidence, as well as innumerable books.

Apart from online sources such as the above I used this book

So what if the shroud is indeed genuine, as looks increasingly likely?

It will add to the already substantial evidence for the reality of the Resurrection event which changed history and the meaning of which is still being hotly discussed and argued about 2000 years later after huge moral, social, artistic, scientific and technological upheavals made in its wake.

There is no doubt in the mind of any genuine believer that the Resurrection is as real as the other supernatural event which came to light only a few decades ago: the creation of space and time from existential nothingness 13.8 billion years ago, from behind an event horizon, i.e. the Big Bang, an occurrence for which the evidence has been steadily mounting since the 1920s.

The argument must at some point shift from whether there was a Resurrection to its deep significance for humanity. Forget religion. The implications could totally shatter our view of reality if the quantum aspects become widely accepted since it casts light on every aspect of life of every person on the planet as well as all of life and every particle in the universe.

So watch this space.


Friday, 2 March 2018

Robotics and AI: more jobs and a more human world?

Much of the western world has operated in a way to saddle itself with large numbers of unemployed people with no prospect of job security or of doing anything that seems really worthwhile. Making money and making sure you enjoy yourself, if possible not at other people's expense, seems to be the ethos of a spiritually arid age.

Whatever our spiritual beliefs or indifference to the spiritual aspect of reality it cannot be denied that meaningful work is essential to the well being and balance of most people. It is an important role of a government to steer the country it governs towards an economic structure which generates meaningful jobs and careers. This means encouraging industries and enterprises, state or private, which create value-added products and services i.e. products and services which bring in the money needed to finance social services and investment for the future, and above all, to provide people with lifelong, meaningful employment, either with one organization or a variety of employers, ensuring that adequate training is available.

Here are some schemes which could employ a huge number of people, paying them good wages to do useful work. All are compatible with or driven by the growth in robotics or artificial intelligence.

  • Robot ships to clear up the oceans (briefly described in my novel 2077:Knights of Peace).This could provide a great opportunity to generate both IT and heavy engineering work, bringing back to life many a derelict shipyard (e.g. like those on the UK’s northern coast – Tyneside etc.) and creating entirely new ones. It could not only provide worthwhile employment and stimulate local economies but solve the burgeoning problem of microscopic, non-digestible plastic particles entering the marine food chain, including sea birds.

  • Roads and pavements, millions of miles of them world-wide, need ripping up and replacing with smooth, high quality surfaces. Consider the market for a robotic machine that stops over a crumbling section of motorway or clearway, say, pulverises the existing material and replaces it with a smooth, tough, durable surface within an hour. The market would be mind boggling and  a boost to the engineering industry, employing humans to design, develop, test, manufacture and market the machines as well as operate and transport them.

  • Laying of new roads and railways. Again, a robotic machine that could lay down strips of finished road by the mile would have a vast market worldwide. Imagine the sales potential of China and India alone as well as  the investment and employment opportunities for western economies.

  • Footpaths and small roads over mountains, rough terrain and marshland are especially useful in rural and tourist areas. Teams of skilled individuals equipped with robot-based systems could lay these down more efficiently than at present. The market would be enormous in the developing world, allowing small remote communities to share in the growing prosperity of the wider world as well as allowing medical aid to reach them more quickly. Hopefully, food aid would be less in demand as the communities prospered.

  • High tension overhead power cables need repairing rapidly so any robotic help could reduce the down-time. As completely new national grids are installed there will also be a big market for technological assistance in doing this rapidly. Again there would be a boost to employment as new infrastructure is manufactured, installed and maintained. As with all infrastructure the more functional and efficient it is the more smoothly the economy runs and the higher will be the quality of life of the people.

  • Robotic repair systems for use on sewage pipes, drains, water supply lines, gas pipes and buried cable conduits, especially in metropolitan areas, are already being used but there is no doubt plenty of scope for innovation. The demand for such technology in the developed and developing worlds should be enormous, with more employment opportunities in both.  Local people would be needed to operate, supervise and complement the robot repair technology and there would be many jobs in design, manufacture, commissioning and installation.

  • Caring for our fellow humans when their physical or mental faculties require this is primarily a personal task, requiring great kindness, skill and dedication by gifted individuals. If robotic devices could be developed to help the carers at a practical level (e.g. fastening buttons or handling soiled clothing) this would allow them to spend more time on personal interaction and transform the nature of care work.                                                                                                                                                                                

  • Drivers displaced by driverless vehicle technology could be trained to help, both practically and at an interpersonal level, infirm or disabled passengers at the start, during and after their journey. Taxi drivers, for instance, often have good interpersonal skills which could be put to good use providing they are not burdened with excessive demands for political correctness or following of petty rules and regulations.                                                                                                                                    
  • Automated telephone menu systems are widely resented when they are inhuman (made more so by pretending to be otherwise), complicated and inflexible. There is a place for these but they need to be kept behind the scenes as well as improved. There will be a need to employ a new version of the switchboard operator able to interpret the customer's needs and match it to the right department and support them if they get disconnected. The operator would in turn need plenty of training and an up-to-date knowledge of the organisation's structure, which in practice changes continually faster than the IT (including telephone menu systems) designed to service it. In large companies or departments the operator would need support staff. Artificial intelligence could possibly be used behind the human front, to assist the operator                                                                                                                             
  • Surgeons could be greatly assisted by automated image recognition of X-rays, tomographs, f-NMR scans etc. to identify or eliminate disorders and diseases. If this approach proved very effective it would increase the turnover and complexity of work by medical secretaries and other ancilliary staff while at the same time dealing more effectively with many more patients. 
  • Medical research and frontier surgery could be greatly assisted by block chain technology. This could, e.g., give simultaneous access to research and pioneering treatments world-wide, before they had been published in academic journals. When a patient's life is at stake he or she may wish to sanction the use of experimental treatment where the risks are higher. Medical technology could advance more rapidly as geographically scattered workers are connected to the same block chain system.
  • Lawyers could be released to make better use of their talents by employing artificial intelligence to scan routine legal documents. This could lead to more secretaries and other posts requiring interpersonal skills.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • Business services could be aided by artificial intelligence, leading to a simpler, faster, less burdensome process of setting up a small company. This could result in a growth in self employment and make possible enterprises driven by creative individuals less hampered by paperwork.                                                                                                                                               
  • High street banks are closing local branches and customer counter positions at an alarming rate as automated menu driven customer stations are brought in. It could be that if small businesses (see above) multiply there will be a greater demand for bank staff able to advise them and connect them to the appropriate sources of finance and expertise.
 Blockchain technology, briefly mentioned above in a medical context, enables people or devices in different departments or areas of work, interrelated in some way (so that each is affected by what is happening elsewhere in the organisation or project or operation, even when spread over different parts of the world) to instantly monitor real-time data anywhere in the system. This  will no doubt lead to new areas of human work not even envisaged today.

If I, a layman, can think up a list like this imagine what a dedicated think tank could come up with. So my hope is that readers may pressurise their MPs, senators, congressmen, local government officials, aid agencies and church leaders to move in this direction. Or plant ideas in the minds of existing and potential entrepreneurs, or, even better, start up their own companies to develop and launch such technology or use existing technology more imaginatively.

Robotics, machine learning and neural networks could be a way to help the developing nations while saving the developed ones from their past sins and improving the quality of life  of their own citizens.

John Sears


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