Somewhere on Earth: The Global Tech Podcast

Rare earth element boom poisoning Myanmar

June 11, 2024 Somewhere on Earth Episode 36
Rare earth element boom poisoning Myanmar
Somewhere on Earth: The Global Tech Podcast
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Somewhere on Earth: The Global Tech Podcast
Rare earth element boom poisoning Myanmar
Jun 11, 2024 Episode 36
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Rare earth element boom poisoning Myanmar
Growing demand for electric vehicles and wind turbines might look good for emissions, but there’s an environmental cost too. Regions, habitats and livelihoods in Myanmar are facing significant damage because the surge in demand for permanent magnets is driving up mining for rare earth elements according to a report from Global Witness.  CEO Mike Davies tells us more.

SOEPSUDS and your comments and questions
We catch up with our SOEPSUDS numbers and update the database.  We’re also checking out your comments and thoughts – do keep us posted on our socials and WhatsApp:
WhatsApp: +44 7846 329 484

The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell and the studio expert is Peter Guest.

More on this week's stories
Rare earth boom poisoning Myanmar

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Editor: Ania Lichtarowicz
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Rare earth element boom poisoning Myanmar
Growing demand for electric vehicles and wind turbines might look good for emissions, but there’s an environmental cost too. Regions, habitats and livelihoods in Myanmar are facing significant damage because the surge in demand for permanent magnets is driving up mining for rare earth elements according to a report from Global Witness.  CEO Mike Davies tells us more.

SOEPSUDS and your comments and questions
We catch up with our SOEPSUDS numbers and update the database.  We’re also checking out your comments and thoughts – do keep us posted on our socials and WhatsApp:
WhatsApp: +44 7846 329 484

The programme is presented by Gareth Mitchell and the studio expert is Peter Guest.

More on this week's stories
Rare earth boom poisoning Myanmar

Everyday AI: Your daily guide to grown with Generative AI
Can't keep up with AI? We've got you. Everyday AI helps you keep up and get ahead.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Support the Show.

Editor: Ania Lichtarowicz
Production Manager: Liz Tuohy
Recording and audio editing : Lansons | Team Farner

For new episodes, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or via this link:

Follow us on all the socials:

If you like Somewhere on Earth, please rate and review it on Apple Podcasts

Contact us by email:
Send us a voice note
: via WhatsApp: +44 7486 329 484

Find a Story + Make it News = Change the World

00:00:00 Gareth Mitchell 

Hello everybody, I'm Gareth. Welcome along to the Somewhere on Earth podcast, and it's Tuesday the 11th of June 2024, where we are in our studio here in London. 

00:00:22 Gareth Mitchell 

And with us is journalist Pete Guest again two weeks running. Hello, Pete. Are you still well after last time? 

00:00:29 Peter Guest 

I'm still well, it's. It's always nice to to be in a bunker with you underground. 

00:00:32 Gareth Mitchell 

Yes, here we are in our our Tuesday date in an in a little bunker somewhere. Now, just before we get into the main part of the programme, I found something interesting this week. Found out something interesting, right? You look intrigued. So this is when it comes to mis and dis-information, 

00:00:49 Gareth Mitchell 

who the big super spreaders of this stuff are. You know what kind of demographic, male versus female, and so on. Do you know what I found? 

00:00:57 Peter Guest 

Is it pensioners? 

00:00:57 Gareth Mitchell 

You got it. Do you know what kind of pensioner? What sex? 

00:01:03 Peter Guest 

So I seem to remember working on stuff in Southeast and South and Southeast Asia a couple of years ago that it was, it was kind of late, late middle-aged and pension age women mostly spreading this stuff. 

00:01:13 Gareth Mitchell 

You got it. You you turn out to be right. Yeah, there we are. I, which was news to me because I might have thought it would be more like your younger kind of teenage bloke possibly.  it shows that I was wrong because Roger Rowe has picked this up, by the way, he's read it in an Ars Technica article and  

00:01:33 Gareth Mitchell 

yeah, this is about who the spread super spreaders really are when it comes to false information. This is researchers who've been studying the most misinformation filled social media networks and who the most prolific sharers are. They looked at a whole lot of Twitter accounts 

00:01:47 Gareth Mitchell 

associated with US based voters and in their sample, just 0.3% of accounts we're responsible for sharing 80% of the links to fake news. And yeah, it turned out to be older female users who are rather prone to clicking the retweet button on false information. Pete would have known that already, but it surprised me. 

00:02:08 Gareth Mitchell 

There we are. It may have surprised you, dear listener, but if you're in that demographic, tell us what you think if you want. Should we be blaming grandma for misinformation? Might seem a bit harsh mightn’t it. Love to hear what you have to say. Here we go. 

00:02:29 Gareth Mitchell 

And also coming up today. 

00:02:32 Gareth Mitchell 

We focus our technology lens on the environment in the top half of this podcast. Specifically how you might think, things that you might think are eco beneficial might not necessarily be because me Myanmar is paying a rather high environmental cost for the surging global uptake of electric vehicles and other supposedly low or no-carbon emitting technologies.  

00:02:56 Gareth Mitchell 

And in other news we'll hear from you in, including lots of your thoughts and comments. We may even have some subscriber numbers to dish out as well. So we might find out why Steffano cares so much about the number 1999. It's all right here on the Somewhere on Earth podcast. 

00:03:22 Gareth Mitchell 

First, though, growing demand for electric vehicles and wind turbines might be good for emissions. But there is an environmental cost as well. Regions, habitats and livelihoods in Myanmar are facing significant damage because the surge in demand for permanent magnets is driving up mining for rare earth materials and elements. 

00:03:42 Gareth Mitchell 

A report just out from Global Witness has been painting this worrying picture. Well, with us now is Mike Davis, Global Witness’s CEO. Thanks for coming in, Mike. 

00:03:52 Mike Davis 

Thanks for having me, hello. 

00:03:53 Gareth Mitchell 

And this follows on from previous work in 2022. It's like an ongoing investigation, isn't it? 

00:03:59 Mike Davis 

Yeah, this is our second report on the rare earths, mining in this conflict affected corner of Northern Myanmar. We've actually been reporting on illicit economies in that region for about 20 years, but it's the second one on the explosion and the mining of these heavy rare earths. 

00:04:13 Gareth Mitchell 

And when we talk about these heavy rare earths, we're talking about them  

00:04:17 Gareth Mitchell 

going into permanent magnets being a big basis for the manufacture of those. So before we find out about the environmental problem, let's just find out about the materials themselves, say rare earth elements and permanent magnets. 

00:04:29 Mike Davis 

Yeah, so heavy rare earth elements, as they're known, include these types of metals called terbium and dysprosium, which are much sought after for use in permanent magnets, which are a very strong kind of magnet which are used in all kinds of devices, but they're particularly crucial to the manufacture of EVs and also wind turbines. 

00:04:53 Mike Davis 

They are largely made over 90% of them are made in China and there is a a concentration of the production of these permanent magnets in the hands of just a couple of firms, which then in turn supply all kinds of quite well known international manufacturers of electric vehicles, 

00:05:13 Mike Davis 

and and also wind turbines. We're talking major car manufacturers of the sort of Tesla, Volkswagen variety, major manufacturers of wind turbines, like Siemens Camisa, for instance. 

00:05:23 Gareth Mitchell 

So people who are driving an electric vehicle, there's a reasonable chance that they, they'll, they'll certainly have some of these materials in the car, but a reasonable chance that they may have originated from Myanmar. 

00:05:34 Mike Davis 

Yes, at the moment there's a very high probability that if you're driving an electric vehicle recently manufactured, it will contain these heavy rare earths that come from Myanmar. 

00:05:42 Gareth Mitchell 

And let's go to the region that you've been working in and investigating. This is Kachin State, isn't it? So it's near the border with China. 

00:05:50 Mike Davis 

Yes, Kachin State is a state which borders China. It's up in the north of Myanmar. It's very rich in different natural resources. Jade is a huge source of revenue, which mostly goes to the wrong people. There's also amber and timber as well,  

00:06:04 Mike Davis 

and it's the scene of one of the longest running conflicts in Myanmar. There's been an insurgency against central government control since the early 1960s. And in fact, one of the main protagonists in the rare earth mining boom has been around for as long as there's been that conflict. 

00:06:19 Gareth Mitchell 

And the mines themselves then, you've been identifying them and I guess giving a sense of the the the extent of their production. For one thing, how have you been finding them? Bbecause this is a very difficult region to operate in? So are you relying on satellite imagery mainly? 

00:06:36 Mike Davis 

Yes to to do this investigation, we're using a combination of satellite imagery and doing very detailed analysis on that to such a fine grained degree that we can identify these particular collection pools which are actually quite small. 

00:06:51 Mike Davis 

Where the the residue from the the drilling and leaching operation collects and is then transformed into these rare earths. We also use some on the ground undercover investigation with partners and we crunch a lot of trade data as well. 

00:07:05 Gareth Mitchell 

Do you have access to local people in the region? You mentioned you have people working undercover so that is part of their work, meeting up with people and communities, maybe even mine workers themselves, and hearing from them. 

00:07:17 Mike Davis 

Yeah, we think it's really important that we get the perspective and and the aspirations, the agenda of local people across in our reporting. So a big part of what we're doing is is trying to get that human story over and that does indeed include testimony from people. 

00:07:32 Mike Davis 

who, by force of circumstance, have to work in these mines to earn a living, and they are particularly exposed to the polluting effects of using these rather toxic chemicals with minimal protection. 

00:07:43 Gareth Mitchell 

So what have you found then? 

00:07:44 Mike Davis 

What we found is that there's been this explosion in the mining of these particular heavy rare earth elements in a really small area. It's about the size of Singapore, where most of it goes on. It's an area which is controlled by a warlord who is aligned with the military junta which staged a coup in 2021, and this warlord controls the territory through revenues from activities like the heavy rare earth mining. The mining is entirely illegal, it's not licensed properly. The warlords regime, if you can call it that, has no regulatory oversight. 

00:08:22 Mike Davis 

And what it involves is the drilling of bore shafts into hills and small mountains. These are then pumped with chemicals, ammonium sulphate. And after that there's this rather crude process whereby the effluent which comes back out of the the drill shaft is then collected in these rather crude ponds and the separation process of getting out the heavy rare earths involves using an acid called oxalic acid. 

00:08:52 Mike Davis 

And what we've found is that the proliferation of these mining sites has got to an extent that it's gone up by about 40% just in the past two years. This corner of Myanmar is now the world's leading exporter of these heavy rare earth elements. And the trade last year was worth about $1.4 billion and by our calculations about 41,700 tons of heavy rare earth elements were taken from Myanmar and shipped into China. 

00:09:19 Gareth Mitchell 

Good grief. Well, let's get some reaction from Pete Guest, who's been listening to this. And you've been reading these findings as well, haven't you, Pete? 

00:09:26 Peter Guest 

Yeah, no, absolutely. And you know, I've spent a fair amount of my life looking down supply chains and I guess to break the fourth wall a bit and and and think about the impact of the work that that we tend to do as journalists. One of the biggest problems that we have tracking this kind of story, particularly where it goes across borders, is figuring out who knows what and where and how to trace this back to a decision that feels impactful to a consumer. 

00:09:49 Peter Guest 

And I think it's interesting, you know, you're name naming EV companies and saying that it's quite likely, there's a high probability. But the reality, the mineral supply chain feels really opaque, right, particularly where it leads into China. There's middle men, there's aggregators, there's launderers. It feels like a black box. And all of this material goes in. It's legitimate. It's criminal. It's associated with human rights abuses. 

00:10:10 Peter Guest 

Environmental destruction. It comes out the other side. It's not quite laundered, but it's beige enough that you can get away with it. And as a journalist, you can't then go and knock on the door of Volkswagen or Tesla or a Japanese car maker and say, look, you're buying from this mine. So you're responsible for this. 

00:10:25 Peter Guest 

It's much more nebulous than that. So. So I guess my question is, how do you get around that plausible deniability side of it? And how do you create that sense of accountability for a company to say, well, you, you own this supply chain?  

00:10:33 Mike Davis 

Yeah. Well, you're right about the challenges, but we don't actually think there's a lot of scope for plausible deniability here. Because in contrast with some of the other illicit trades which go on along that border 

00:10:46 Mike Davis 

this one is really concentrated once you get just a little way down the supply chain in a very small number of pairs of hands, in the risk of stretching the metaphor. Because you've got there just two Chinese rare earth mining company groups, which are now permitted by the Chinese government to extract and process this heavy rare earths. 

00:11:06 Mike Davis 

Now they of course, having processed these materials, go on to sell them to a wide variety of customers. But there is this particular demand from the manufacturers of the the permanent magnets that we were talking about earlier, these these components for EVs and wind turbines. And there you've got two huge Chinese companies which are producing them and they are pretty much the only game in town. So you can, you can go through their  

00:11:34 Mike Davis 

company reports,their proper companies, they publish these things and you can pick out lists of their buyers from there, and you can also, as we've done, track shipments from, for instance, JMAG to Tesla sites in in California. So we we have to be careful. We are mostly based in the UK, which is a splendid jurisdiction for suing people, for defamation. 

00:11:55 Mike Davis 

So we always write what we call opportunity to comment letters to these companies before we publish, and we're careful about how we present our findings. But yeah, from what we can tell, there is an overwhelming likelihood that, for instance, a Tesla car that was manufactured last year would contain permanent magnets, which are very, very, very likely to contain heavy rare earth elements from this corner of Kachin State. 

00:12:20 Mike Davis 

And I mentioned we have contacts with the companies that actually includes the the Chinese ones and we were actually quite encouraged that we did at least get a response from one of them, the China Heavy Rare Earths group,  

00:12:31 Mike Davis 

which said a bunch of things which may turn out to be, you know, lacking in any sort of real sincerity or commitment. But they did make some of the right noises about taking this seriously, investigating their supply chains. And one thing that helps us here a little bit is that Chinese companies and 

00:12:51 Mike Davis 

Chinese regulators know what this problem looks like because China itself used to be the epicenter of the mining of these heavy rare earth elements, and they experienced first hand what a hideously polluting, contaminating business it is. 

00:13:06 Mike Davis 

You might say. Ohh well, come on, it's China. I mean, the Chinese authorities wouldn't, wouldn't take action on that, would they? But actually in the end they did.  This mining was largely concentrated in Jiangxi province till around 10 years ago and it was so polluting and the costs of the clear up were so massive that the Chinese authorities basically said that's enough. You're not doing that anymore. 

00:13:27 Mike Davis 

What happened next, which no doubt was not not their intention, was that the Chinese rare   earth processing firms effectively offshored the industry and said, Oh well, I've got a bright idea. There's a similar geological  

00:13:40 Mike Davis 

profile to some of this terrain in this lawless area of Northern Myanmar, so we'll just send a load of Chinese technicians and workers illegally over the border and they can do it there instead. And that's what happened. 

00:13:51 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah. And that's what we're seeing. And we should say those companies that you named, they're not here to give their side of the story. And as you say, you've approached some of them and they are giving the, in inverted commas, right noises and their concerns about the environment and the, you know the, the, the harms and what have you. 

00:14:05 Gareth Mitchell 

But I was interested in the supply chain aspect because I'm quite struck in your report about how much detail you go into about the supply chain, which I mean breaking it down very basically is the mining is going on in Myanmar. But the processing is still going on in China isn’t it? 

00:14:20 Mike Davis 

Yes, the the processing is all in China and then the next stage of the supply chain and manufacture of these magnets is also entirely in China. Of course. One of the things that's changing is that while at the moment 

00:14:31 Mike Davis 

it makes sense for for us, and you know, journalists like like Pete, to concentrate on your Teslas and Volkswagens and Fords and Nissans and Toyotas, is that China itself is a massive manufacturer of EV's. And so actually, from the point of view of bringing about a long term change, we all need to work really hard to engage with decision makers in China as well which is not easy, but but neither is it impossible, and that's a big part of our strategy as an organization. 

00:14:57 Gareth Mitchell 

All right. Well, we'll leave it there for now. We're going to hang on. We'll get you back in for the podcast extra subscription version if you're happy to Mike, but for now, Mike Davis, thank you very much. 

00:15:08 Gareth Mitchell 

You alright now for something entirely different? Let us run the bath and see those soap suds foaming on the bath. Yes, indeed, dear listener. It is time. Finally, we've been promising for ages, we haven't got round to it. Here we are. Here goes. It is finally an opportunity to grant you some subscriber numbers. So you suggest a number and we ascribe it to you.  

00:15:35 Gareth Mitchell 

I put it in my blockchain enabled database, which is actually a shared spreadsheet on a drive, but never mind all that. Before we hear that, I'm going to keep the suspense going just for a little bit longer, cause before we hear the listeners subscriber numbers, I think it's only polite seeing as Mike’s in the studio. He's come all the way, giving up quite a chunk of a Tuesday evening when you could be doing something I'm sure far more leisurely and enjoyable. 

00:15:56 Gareth Mitchell 

And you're here with us. We would, if you would like to partake of, we would like to offer you a number. Would you do you have a number in mind, Mike? That means something to you? 

00:16:04 Mike Davis 

Yes, I'm going to go for 24. 

00:16:07 Gareth Mitchell 

Ohh, right. OK and why? 

00:16:09 Mike Davis 

That's because I was 24 when I met my wife and her birthday is also on the 24th of August. 

00:16:17 Gareth Mitchell 

Oh, that's nice. Yeah, lots of. And it's just a good number all round, isn't it, really, you know. It's just. 

00:16:22 Mike Davis 

It's not too long. It’s easy to remember. 

00:16:24 Gareth Mitchell 

Exactly. It's quite catchy. If you find numbers catchy necessarily, which people don't. So let's just see, I'm just going to double check on the database here that we don't already have that number ascribed. So we've already approved the number 1024 but I can't see the 24 on here. Nope. It's, so from that point of view we can go ahead, but only if we get approval from Ania and Pete. 

00:16:51 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Yeah, I'm good with that. Yeah, I'm looking over your shoulder Gareth just to make sure we don't. We don't have any mistakes like we've had before. 

00:16:52 Gareth Mitchell 


00:16:55 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah, you might just want a little look there. Yeah, OK. 

00:16:59 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Yeah. Yeah. No, no, no, that looks. 

00:17:00 Gareth Mitchell 

Good. What about you, Pete? Can we go for that? 

00:17:02 Peter Guest 

Yeah, it seems good to me. I've right. I've not been keeping track. 

00:17:04 Gareth Mitchell 

Mike Davis is subscriber #24 and this really means a lot to to Pete, I can tell. He's he's he's all over this. 

00:17:13 Gareth Mitchell 

Might we do another seeing as this is incredibly good fun? Do you want me to do another one Ania or do you have one there? 

00:17:18 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Well, I have Steve Clark here. Who? No, actually, you're gonna do that one. 

00:17:24 Gareth Mitchell 

Ohh yeah, I'd. I'd like to cause Steve's a a good mate. That's not just why we're giving him a number by the way but it’s 

00:17:30 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Well, listen I've got a few here and I'll just run through them because we have got quite a few. David Sayed. I would quite fancy 255 as I am an 8 bit sort of person in favour ‘0’ base indexing. Tim Harrison I request 13. The shirt number of Wayne Pierce, the captain of Balmain Tigers in 1989. 

00:17:43 Gareth Mitchell 


00:17:49 Ania Lichtarowicz 

And also the shirt number of GB hockey gold medalist Sean Kerly. 

00:17:54 Gareth Mitchell 

Clearly a sports fan. 

00:17:55 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Indeed. And Brian Reed, if available, could I lay claim to #903 because many years ago I learned to code on an Elliot 903 in Royal Liberty School under the awesome tutelage of Bill Broderick. 

00:18:08 Gareth Mitchell 

Well, do I get, seeing as you read those out? Do I get a chance to give any votes on these?  Remember, they have to be approved. 

00:18:13 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Of course. No question. 

00:18:15 Gareth Mitchell 

I'm just going to say yes to all of those. 

00:18:17 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Good. Do it. Do Mike and Pete agree. I can see Pete's completely glazed over. 

00:18:21 Peter Guest 

Big rubber stamp yep, yes to everything. 

00:18:23 Gareth Mitchell 

Good. OK, here comes Steve Clark. He says I'd like number 65535, which is also 2 to the power of 16-,1 and Steve wants his number cause he said it limited a lot of his early computing efforts. And just for a bit of context on this cos  

00:18:43 Gareth Mitchell 

this is a particularly, I suppose, maths nerd or computing nerd number, which is personally why I love it so much. But this number 65535 occurs frequently in the field of computing because 2 to the power of 16 -, 1, which is the highest number that can be represented, as we all know by an unsigned 16 bit binary number. Thanks, Wikipedia. Can we offer that one to Steve? 

00:19:09 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Yep. That sounds good to me. 

00:19:09 Gareth Mitchell 

Great. OK, lovely. So Steve has that one. Who wants to go next? 

00:19:14 Peter Guest 

So we have subscriber, Steffano Ghazzali.  I hope I'm saying that right, says how about 1999? My reasoning being that as a kid, I really liked Prince and this is a reference to his famous song. But also 1999 was the year the Millennium bug was supposed to kick in and apparently wreck computers around the world. It's nice, I miss the Millennium bug. It's a more innocent era of Apocalypse. 

00:19:34 Ania Lichtarowicz 

We're we're definitely a bit older than Pete, aren't we, Gareth? 

00:19:36 Gareth Mitchell 

Yes, but the Millennium bug was the biggest thing we had to worry about. Those were the days. 

00:19:39 Ania Lichtarowicz 

I remember there were people sleeping overnight in the BBC Radio science unit offices on that evening, just in case the whole of The Newsroom went down. 

00:19:51 Gareth Mitchell 

Whoa. And they slept in the science, but why the science unit? They could have slept anywhere in the building. 

00:19:55 Ania Lichtarowicz 

They probably could, but I I believe they were in the Science Unit, yes. 

00:19:57 Gareth Mitchell 

No, that's, I never knew that. That's good BBC gossip. Thank you for that.  

00:20:00 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Yes it is. It is. 

00:20:04 Gareth Mitchell 

So it's. Yeah. Kind of  um. Yeah. Interesting memories from there. Mike. You look far too young, but do you have any memories of the Millennium bug and that build up to it in 1999? And we heard, I mean, these ridiculous reports that aeroplanes would fall out of the sky. And stuff like that. 

00:20:19 Mike Davis 

Yeah, I do. And I must have been so sort of paralytic with terror that I can't actually remember what my coping strategy was, but I think, like many people, I have a sort of sense of fizzle after all the hype. 

00:20:32 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah. So probably just to very calmly, just check whichever computer you're working on to see if it just stored the year in a four digit form and you thought good it does. No worries, probably. 

00:20:41 Mike Davis 

Or maybe I hadn't discovered computers yet in 1999. 

00:20:44 Gareth Mitchell 

Fair play. Let's see this one from Simon who’s a loyal listener to Digital planet, which is the forerunner to this podcast, apparently since 2008. And and he's very happy that we've returned to the pod waves with Somewhere on Earth, would like to request the listener number 323. 

00:21:02 Gareth Mitchell 

Simon says this is what I believe the estimated average CO2 level was in parts per million when I was born in 1968. This is Simon speaking not me, by the way. He says it's forecasted to be over 420 this year, which is a scary increase of 30% in just 56 years. And I hear the rate is accelerating continues Simon. It is, I'm afraid.  

00:21:26 Gareth Mitchell 

And he also says that it was only 370 in the day when Go Digital/Digital Planet was born. That would have been in 2001. So if anyone's losing track of the numbers, so 323. So that was the average parts per million CO2 in 1968. By 2001 it was 370 and forecast to be over 420 this year. 

00:21:47 Gareth Mitchell 

And Simon credits the website for that information. Simon, that was a particularly serious request, which makes me want to grant it immediately. But how about Ania and Pete? 

00:21:58 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Indeed, indeed, indeed, very sobering. 

00:22:01 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah. OK. Simon gets that one as well. Thank you, Simon for that. Any more for any more. 

00:22:06 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Well, should we move on to some listener comments and then we can come back to the subscriber numbers in another episode? Can’t we? 

00:22:12 Gareth Mitchell 

Sure. Yep. You're the producer/editor. So basically, you're the boss. So we'll do it your way. 

00:22:16 Ania Lichtarowicz 

And we have that on tape. 

00:22:18 Gareth Mitchell 

You do. That's going to be your ringtone now. 

00:22:21 Ania Lichtarowicz 

It is. Now Sam Quinn in Australia. Sam is such an writer, emailer contactor. Thank you very much, Sam for all your questions and comments. He said. Brilliant episode. Best yet, in my opinion about the Indian election. Production quality also very good. So thank you for that. He says the discussion and analysis of the use of AI for voice replication in different languages in the Indian election was superb. I actually saw huge benefits for communicating in different languages rather than just the negatives. 

00:22:51 Ania Lichtarowicz 

It's a complex topic and the show covered it brilliantly. One thought though, Gareth, you're no longer at the BBC, so we'd love to hear more of your opinions. 

00:22:59 Gareth Mitchell 

My opinions, like anybody cares what I think. I did have thoughts on it. 

00:23:04 Ania Lichtarowicz 

I do have to say that Sam did message today. Well, he posted on Facebook as well. He said you went on a bit about forms in last week's show or the week before’s. Yeah. 

00:23:10 Gareth Mitchell 

Oh, really? Oh. Well, Sam, Sam is entitled to his opinion. 

00:23:14 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Sam has an opinion. I like Sam's opinion, good or bad. We want to hear from you. Whatever you want, whatever you say. 

00:23:17 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah indeed. In fact, I don't take it as a criticism against me. It's just it could have been better edited by you Ania. So if you'd thinned it down a bit, then he wouldn't be complaining. I think you would say if I hadn't rambled on in the first place and we wouldn't have an issue. This is how we roll on this podcast. So what do I think about the Indian elections? Well, you, you know, I suppose what struck me is that the politicians found there to be some benefit from these voice clone fakes. 

00:23:41 Gareth Mitchell 

That you may have thought that politicians would be horrified, that people are going out there cloning their voices in lots of different ways. But of course, if the message that had been cloned happens to be useful to or sympathetic to a candidate, they were going, yeah, never mind. That wasn't my real voice. But if it gets me more votes, who cares? I think if I can sum up what the sentiments were there. And I just thought that was very interesting. And yeah. 

00:24:05 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Peter’s ominously quiet. 

00:24:06 Peter Guest 

Well we've already discussed libel laws in this in this podcast, so it's probably best I am isn't it? 

00:24:09 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah, exactly. 

00:24:12 Gareth Mitchell 

And if you want my opinion on something else, I think that anybody who plays anything through the speaker on their phone, on the train, whether it's a conversation listening to a podcast or music, should be arrested immediately. There you go. You wanted an opinion. It's what I think, it's tech related. You may not like it very much, but it makes me cross. 

00:24:29 Ania Lichtarowicz 

I actually agree with you on that one. 

00:24:30 Gareth Mitchell 

Agreements breaking out. My goodness. I wonder what the listeners think. 

00:24:33 Ania Lichtarowicz 

And there is one more, one more comment I would like to to to mention and and this is a bit of an off the record e-mail that we got from again a regular subscriber. 

00:24:42 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Whenever AI technologies are mentioned in the podcast, whether it's ChatGPT, Midjourney, Open Source software, or medical systems, I would deeply appreciate SOEP clarifying where the system's training data came from and whether it was consentually obtained and appropriately licensed, and if that information isn't available, or if there are credible allegations about its provenance, listeners should be reminded of that. Please continue championing algorithmic justice and equity. 

00:25:09 Gareth Mitchell 

Good point. 

00:25:10 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Very good point actually. And if we don't do it, please, please remind us. But we should be doing that. We should be finding out where the AI source is coming from. 

00:25:18 Gareth Mitchell 

Yeah, exactly. Because it's the kind of thing that we would want to hold somebody to account over if we were interviewing them. So it's only fair that we apply those standards to ourselves. 

00:25:26 Ania Lichtarowicz 


00:25:26 Gareth Mitchell 

And I was only joking about your editing. Sorry for rambling on about forms last week. Everybody including Ania and I'm sorry by the way, Steffano, that we made you wait absolutely ages for your listener number. But thanks for the polite reminder. Good. There we are. Have we got any more for any more or is that pretty much it for now. 

00:25:43 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Oh, I don't know. I've got. I've got sheets here. Hang on a minute. 

00:25:47 Ania Lichtarowicz 

Richard, by the way, I would like to claim 4 Pi please to match my number in that previous life. The unit of solid angle and spheres or something. Shall we just give him? Yes. 

00:25:57 Gareth Mitchell 

I think yes, a quick yes. 

00:25:59 Ania Lichtarowicz 

And Michael Lundgren, this is the final one. I would like to request the number 28 as it is my birthday date, which also happens to be a perfect number. 

00:26:07 Ania Lichtarowicz 

That is 28 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14, which are the proper factors excluding 28 itself. There you go, a perfect SOEP SUD number. 

00:26:17 Gareth Mitchell 

Ohh that's really nice and I did like Richard’s as well. Four Pi. I think it references 4 Pi steradian, which is a, bizarrely was a recurring theme back in the Digital Planet days. Oh, the fun we had. 

00:26:28 Ania Lichtarowicz 

I think it's time we went. 

00:26:29 Gareth Mitchell 

I wonder why they cancelled it. OK, here we go. It's time we went, isn't it? So here come the credits. Ania is the producer and editor of this podcast. She's right here. Pete is our excellent expert contributor today. And of course, we've heard from Mike in the studio with us as well. Who's going to be with us in a few moments for the podcast Extra. Dylan has been doing the sound for us today. Here at Lansons Team Farner and our production coordinator is Liz Tuohy. I'm Gareth. Thanks for listening. Bye bye.