Don’t drop bombs, drop schools and hospitals

20.18, Wednesday 15 Apr 2020

Videos consultations with doctors turn out to work pretty well. How about this: we get shipping containers and we fit them out as remote-first family practices. Consult doctors over Zoom. Also with Amazon lockers filled with aspirin, common medicines, etc, remote unlocked by giving out a code.

Initially drop the shipping containers here in the UK, in communities where it’s hard for people to travel due to the lockdown. Then kit out the containers with satellite internet, and use the airdropped health centre as part of international aid: doctors here in the UK taking shifts; patients wherever they live. (To support a team of people who are actually on the ground doing the leg-work, of course.)

Assume all that works… then I would suggest researching robot surgeons and tele-operated operations.

Next: schools.

It turns out remote education works pretty well too. Fit out shipping containers as supplementary classrooms so teachers on the ground can rotate kids through additional lessons. Allow for self-directed learning for adults too. Put a big screen on the outside and run English language courses. Teaching assistants based here in the UK, of couse.

Look: the NHS Nightingale Hospital London got going after 9 days starting from the government’s request for assistance. It’s an exhibition centre turned into a temporary hospital with a 4,000 bed capacity; it launched with 500. Here’s the story from the architects BDP, including the instruction manual.

This is going to sound like a tangent but it’s not. And it’s going to lead to a place which you might find uncomfortable, because it’s about war, and I apologise in advance:

I went to a last-minute protest on Whitehall a bunch of years back, and somehow in the midst of all the crowds and chants, I ran into a friend. And he was meeting one of his friends, and they were going to the pub to meet some folks from a military think tank. So I tagged along.

I ended up sitting next to a researcher and having a long conversation about propaganda and Russian Twitter bots, and all of that is a topic for another time, but the reveal was that this guy’s business card revealed that his specialism was non-kinetic effects.

That is, the kind of war you can do without chucking stuff at people.

I think there are a bunch of situations now where bombs don’t help. Bombing doesn’t help in Syria. Bombs don’t help when young white men are being radicalised into domestic terrorism.

I’m not a pacifist. I probably lean towards being an interventionist. But I don’t feel that bombs and shooting people have proven themselves particularly effective.

So after that conversation in the pub, I started thinking about what I’d drop instead of bombs. Schools and hospitals. Well, why not? In the 1950s and 1960s, it was jazz:

Founded in 1950 and secretly funded by the CIA, Radio Free Europe (RFE) began broadcasting from Munich to Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia in 1951. … Soon RFE was broadcasting to Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.


Western music, and jazz in particular, became a popular form of resistance against the Communist regimes, especially in Eastern Europe.

Things we are good at in the UK:

  • health – the NHS should be seen as an asset to scale up; dividing it up and selling bits off is a lack of imagination
  • education – it’s already a massive export
  • call centres
  • tech startups
  • speaking English, which happens to be a global language (for some pretty unpleasant reasons)
  • military spending.

If I was in charge of the UK’s industrial policy, in addition to betting on distributed supply chains beating China, I’d also be betting that “distribution” (how value moves from producers to consumers) is going to make a massive shift too, because of telepresence and tele-operation. I would be funding research bringing together the above, creating schools and health centres, remote operated and packaged into shipping containers; designed, built and staffed in the UK.

Then I’d use these for better serving communities at home, profit (this is a way of taking the UK’s strengths to bigger markets), for international aid, and (um) for non-kinetic effects.

I suppose my meta-point is that we’re moving to a world where services that can be delivered remotely will be delivered remotely – but that doesn’t mean that both sides need to be speaking at a tiny moving image on a phone. There are more imaginative ways to skin the cat.

Hey so then what else?

English common law is widely respected. Stuff the shipping containers with terminals to speak with lawyers to draw up commercial agreements, and arbitration suites with UK-trained judges. All remote.

Next: discos, probably. Music is massive UK export. Eurovision aside we’re really good at it. Drop nightclubs in shipping containers, stream in all the good stuff. Good sound system, good lights. Hearts, minds, and banging techno.

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