Sunday, September 24, 2017

Online Hate Bans Appear To Work, According To Reddit

Contrary to concerns that social news platform Reddit would drive abusive user groups to other areas of the site by banning them, research has shown that bans have cut hate speech and bad online behaviour for the longer term.

What Happened?

Back in 2015, social news platform Reddit was receiving criticism for appearing to do nothing to curb online harassment and bullying that was occurring on the site as user numbers grew. Reddit’s own survey at the time showed that 50% of active users would not recommend the site, due to “hateful or offensive content and community”.

This led Reddit to publicly introduce a ‘no harassment policy’ that was designed to prevent attacks against people, not ideas i.e. not to be seen as censorship or curbing free speech. The platform also banned so-called ‘revenge porn’ which was seen as a major online problem at the time.

Hateful Communities Blamed

Much of the blame for the worst behaviour was apportioned to hateful / racist communities on the platform. These groups included racist subreddit /r/coontown and fat-shaming subreddit /r/fatpeoplehate. Reddit, therefore, took the action of banning these communities from the platform altogether.

Research Shows Beneficial Results


Research by the Georgia Institute of Technology, and researchers from Emory University and the University of Michigan has found that banning hate groups caused them to abandon the Reddit platform (rather than go elsewhere within it) at higher than average rates. The researchers also found that levels of hate speech reduced in the group members who stayed, and the communities that the hate groups moved to reported no increase in their levels of abuse. Statistics from the research showed a 90.63% reduction in the usage of manually filtered hate words by the r/fatpeoplehate group, and an 81.08% decrease in the usage of manually filtered hate words by r/CoonTown.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The business world works best when customers, investors, and other stakeholders have confidence in companies, brands, products and services. Those businesses that supply platforms for, or enable the sharing / distribution free speech of any kind e.g. social media and web companies, have a common (and commercial) duty to provide a safe online environment for their users e.g. by removing hate speech promptly, and by making their part of the online environment particularly safe for children, young people, and the vulnerable. Surprisingly, given the level of technological expertise and investment in large social media platforms e.g. Facebook and Twitter, they have always struggled to moderate their platforms effectively. Although a ban on hate groups may seem like an obvious answer, fear of being seen to censor and curb free speech (characteristics of authority and governments), and thereby damaging a high value brand may be reasons why major platforms have been perceived as not doing enough. Reddit’s research results and how the platform has turned things around by banning groups, and the proven effectiveness of banning in modifying behaviour, could point the way for other social media platforms.

Online hate speech / hate crimes and bullying are now being widely challenged e.g. Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare’s decision to stop serving a neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, and the UK Crown Prosecution Service’s move to treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face with tougher penalties and sentences for online abuse on social media platforms.

Most marketers will be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how important basic safety needs are likely to be for customers of any service. Anything that contributes to a safer online environment (the digital business environment) can therefore only benefit businesses as well as society. Businesses and organisations of all kinds can also help the common purpose of minimising online hate crime through education of their staff / pupils / customers / users / stakeholders about their own policies for the treatment of those discovered to be using hate speech e.g. at work online.
We can all play our own individual part in making the online environment safe for all by reporting hate speech where we find it, and, although the stance of open rights / free speech organisations such as the ORG is important, so is ensuring that the Internet is a safe place for all.

Parking Chatbot Could Help You Sue Equifax

In the wake of the recent, massive Equifax hack, a well-known chatbot developed to overturn parking fines has been modified to help victims file legal claims against Equifax.

What Happened?


A vulnerability in the Equifax website was reportedly exploited by unknown hackers, leading to the theft of 143 million customer details stolen, 44 million of which may have come from UK customers.

What many found most shocking about the hack is that not only was Equifax reported to have known about the attack some 40 days before informing the public that it had happened, but that three senior executives at the company are believed to have sold-off shares worth almost £1.4m before the breach was publicly announced.

Also, subsequent revelations include reports (based on a statement from the company) that Equifax’s Security organization was aware of the vulnerability at that time, and that although it took efforts to identify and to patch any vulnerable systems, it clearly wasn’t successful. To add insult to injury for those affected by the hack, news has also now emerged that Equifax's chief information officer and chief security officer are “retiring”.

DoNotPay To The Rescue

The chatbot, called 'DoNotPay' (originally launched in March 2016 by British student, Joshua Browder), is famous for providing legal advice that has led to a reported 375,000 claims against parking tickets. The fact that the Equifax hack included social security numbers and personal details of an estimated 143 million Americans, has prompted the modification of the DoNotPay chatbot so that it can automatically sue Equifax for $15,000 per claim.

No Need For A Lawyer


Personal legal help is notoriously expensive, and is often seen as a barrier to claims, but one advantage of the modified DoNotPay bot is that it essentially helps users to fill out the PDF form that can be used to file a suit in small claims court, thereby removing the need to hire a lawyer from the equation.

Worked For Refugees

Back in March this year the same DoNotPay bot was modified to provide refugees with legal advice and help, via the Facebook Messenger app. The bot was re-configured to help refugees to the UK and the US complete their immigration applications, and was developed using the help of lawyers in both countries.

Also, back in August 2016, a modified version of the same bot was released to help those in need of emergency housing.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The full extent of the Equifax hack (believed to be is the largest in US history) is not yet known, but the Credit Rating Company is believed to hold the data of 820 million consumers and 91 million businesses. Many businesses are direct customers of Equifax. Given the fact that many businesses are likely to have been affected, and given the apparent conduct of a company trusted to safeguard identities finances (sitting on the hack for 40 days, executives selling shares before telling the public, and apparently failing to plug a known vulnerability), there is likely to be an appetite to seek compensation / redress from Equifax.

An easy, fast, and low-cost way to do so (no need to pay for a lawyer), such as the modified DoNotPay chatbot is, therefore, likely to be popular with businesses and consumers alike.

The Equifax hack is also a reminder to all businesses of how vital it is to keep security systems up to date and to maintain cyber resilience on all levels. This could involve keeping up to date with patching (9 out of 10 hacked businesses were compromised via un-patched vulnerabilities), and should extend to training employees in cyber security practices, and adopting multi-layered defences that go beyond the traditional anti-virus and firewall perimeter. Companies need to conduct security audits to make sure that no old, isolated data is stored on any old systems or platforms, and may now need to use tools that allow security devices to collect and share data and co-ordinate a unified response across the entire distributed network.

Government Could Share Data To Reduce Immigration

In order for the government to cut net migration numbers to the UK post-Brexit, it has been reported that three government departments will be sharing data on citizens so that immigration status checks can be made more easily.

Departments

It has been reported that the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will all share data about citizens, thereby enabling checks on immigration status to be made more easily e.g. by employers and public service agencies.

The proposals, which are part of a Home Office paper entitled “the Border, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the European Union” have not been agreed upon by ministers, but have provoked discussion.

Shift

The key shift in government policy that the document is built-around is the idea that rather than employers or EU citizens deciding about migration, the government could impose measures that prioritize the economic and social needs of the country.

Fewer Low-Skilled EU Migrants


In other words, the government is looking to minimise migration to the UK by lower-skilled workers. The document indicates that this could be achieved by several measures including:
  • Limiting residency to a maximum of two years for lower-skilled workers, and offering five-year work permits for high-skilled migrant workers.
  • Scrapping EU rules on the rights of extended family members to reside in the UK.
  • Not granting residence permits to jobseekers, and introducing a specific income threshold for ‘self-sufficient’ migrants.
  • Introducing “right to work” checks carried out by employers themselves, with the threat of criminal sanctions against companies and individuals where illegal working is discovered. This is similar to law already in place whereby landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of tenants. Employers could, therefore, effectively take on some of the work of UK immigration.

Skills Gap

One of the key challenges in IT in the UK market is a skills gap, particularly in areas such as data, security, Python, Ruby, UI and UX. The low number of UK students graduating with computer science degrees (particularly females) has made this gap wider. Also, lower average salaries for London tech jobs compared to those in other key European and US tech cities have also lead to a brain drain.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For IT businesses, many of which (particularly start-ups) wanted to remain in the EU, skilled migrant workers are necessary to fill the skills gap and to enable UK IT companies to compete in the global market. The government has also stated that it wants the UK to be a digital powerhouse. With these factors in mind, it is important that government immigration policy does not cause the kind of uncertainty and worries that could act as a deterrent to migrant tech workers who may want to stay for some time in the UK with their spouses / families, and who will clearly be contributors to the economy (as many lower-skilled workers are also). Taking a broader view, it is important to acknowledge that whole industries in the UK now rely upon migrant workers of varying skill levels e.g. hospitality and health, and any new regulations need to strike a careful balance to take into account the needs of migrant workers, the needs businesses who employ them, and to not invite retaliatory action by the 27-country EU bloc for measures that could be seen as treating EU nationals as second-class citizens in the UK.

For IT companies, Brexit looks set to make it more challenging to attract skilled people from overseas. It is not down to just businesses alone to solve the skills gap challenge. The government, the education system and businesses need to find ways to work together to develop a base of digital skills in the UK population and to make sure that the whole tech eco system finds effective ways to address the skills gap and keep the UK’s tech industries and business attractive and competitive.

Embarrassing iPhone Face Recognition Blunder Explained

Apple’s on-stage demo of the new iPhone X in front of the world’s media last Tuesday suffered an unexpected glitch as its new face recognition feature didn’t work, and now Apple is offering an explanation of what went wrong.

Not Recognised

The nearly two-hour on-stage demo of the new phone, by Craig Mr Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering at the company's Cupertino, California headquarters, failed to hit the right note as it was overshadowed by the failure of the new handset to recognise his face as a means of authentication.

Others Moving The Handset

Statements by Apple since the incident have placed the blame on the fact that the phone’s authentication system tried to recognise the face of those moving the phone into position, ready for the presentation. These attempts, therefore, counted as two unsuccessful authentication attempts because the faces were not those of Craig Federighi.

Unfortunately for Mr Federighi, the phone, for reasons of security, is designed to only accept 2 unsuccessful authentication attempts using the facial recognition feature, before the feature is disabled and the user has to go to the trouble of manually typing in a passcode.

Irony

The awful irony of the presentation was that 'Touch ID', which was being replaced with the 10th anniversary iPhone X, would have allowed five failed attempts before seeking a passcode.

What made things seem worse was the fact that this new iPhone feature had been developed after Apple reportedly gathered a billion images to ‘train’ the feature to recognise broad geographic and ethnic data sets, and that Apple had earlier described Face ID as being "effortless" to use, and even more accurate than its fingerprint-based Touch ID system.

Apple has also said that the 3D front-facing camera has been designed to learn what users look like and is only inaccurate one in 1 million times.

Also For Payment and Emojis

As well as providing authentication to unlock the phone, The Face ID feature has also been designed to authenticate Apple Pay and create the customisable animated emoji.

Spare

Fortunately for Mr Federighi, he had a spare phone standing by so that he could at least continue the presentation.

Theories

Prior to Apple’s attempt to explain what went wrong with the feature, different theories had been offered online as to what may have caused the problem, including the idea that Mr Federighi's wiping of the stage make-up on his face before this second attempt may have interfered with the system.

Concerns

Some commentators have expressed concerns about how the use of Face ID could affect the privacy and security of users, and that the technology may not be entirely effective where users need to keep their face partially covered e.g. for religious / cultural or work reasons.

The largest concern for many people, however, has been the substantial $999 price tag for the phone ($999 for the 64GB version and £1,149 for 256GB).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?


Having an up to date phone that can cope with the demands of doing business on the move are the main concerns for many businesses, and having a time-saving, new security feature such as Face ID would be a bonus. For many business people, however, the high price of the phone, and the loss of trust in its Face ID abilities already (remember that Face ID also authorises Apple Pay as well as the phone itself) have meant that they may stick with their existing phone for the time being.

For Apple, which is not doing as well as it would like in large markets such as China, the public Face ID failure, which may well have been legitimately caused by features designed to protect the security of users, could prove to be costly. It may also have done nothing to boost business confidence in the kinds of biometric security measures that are being introduced to so many business services e.g. banking.

This story also helps to illustrate the delicate balance between price, value, and perceived benefits in products and services. Even though the sophisticated AI / biometric technology in Face ID is really quite spectacular, if a product has no real perceived benefits compared to existing products / versions, customers may not see the value that they will gain by paying the high price.

China Bans Bitcoin : Value Falls

The value of Bitcoin has taken a tumble on worldwide currency markets after China ordered exchanges to cease trading in the cryptocurrency.

What Is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital web-based currency that operates without the need for central banks and uses highly secure encryption (a crypto-currency) to regulate the currency units and to verify transfers of funds. Bitcoin uses the ‘Blockchain’ technology. Blockchain is an open and programmable technology that can be used to record transactions for virtually anything of value that can be converted to code and is often referred to as a kind of ‘incorruptible ledger’.
There are approximately 15 million Bitcoins in existence, and in order to receive a Bitcoin, a user must have a Bitcoin address (of which there is no central register).

Why The Halt In Trading in China?

It has been reported that China has ordered a halt in Bitcoin trading at its exchanges because they have been told that they don’t have a licence to operate with the crypoto-currency. The instruction issued by Leading Group of Beijing Internet Financial Risks Remediation is reported to have listed a series of steps that each exchange has to go through before handling Bitcoin, and to cancel any accounts that don’t have bank accounts connected to them. It has also been ordered that the details of user and trading data will have to be recorded on DVDs and submitted to local authorities.
As part of the required steps, Chinese exchanges will need to devise a wind-down plan so that cryptocurrencies can be paid into user bank accounts.

Why Really?

Some commentators have speculated that this could be a move to force companies to shut down and then get officially licensed, as this will give the government access to their back-end systems. This move by China could therefore be as much about gaining control through licensing as it is about cryptocurrencies.

China also has a history of problems with Bitcoin in that it appears to dislike the lack of transparency and control, and that it was allegedly used by criminal and money laundering gangs. For example, as far back as December 2013, the People's Bank of China and several other government ministries issued an official notice entitled 'Guarding Against the Risks of Bitcoin', which stated Bitcoin may not be used as a currency.

Was At A High

Before the panic and subsequent fall in the value of Bitcoin, caused by moves in China, in August Bitcoin hit new highs as its value exceeded the value of a troy ounce of gold for the first time.

Other Cryptocurrencies Affected

The news in China sent the crypto currency markets into a downward spiral as the main cryptocurrency values fell by between 20 and 40 %. For example, Litecoin (the fifth-largest cryptocurrency) fell 37% in value after the news of the decisions about to be taken about Bitcoin in China.

AI Contrast

The value of growing technologies such as AI currently provide a contrast to the dipping fortunes of cryptocurrencies. Shares of Nvidia Corp, who have expanded into AI, cloud computing and self-driving cars (as well as, ironically, chips used to process cryptocurrency transactions), reached a record high for the second straight day on Monday.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The rise of cypto-currencies, such as Bitcoin, to the point where it was finally being taken up by investors, businesses and governments, has been filled with high profile ups and downs e.g. a fall in its value on the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange following a hack in late 2013. Despite its problems and bad press, in recent years (up until now), Bitcoin has had a decrease in volatility. 2017 has also actually seen a lot of optimism for the crytocurrency, which reached a point back in January where its worth was around the same value as that of a FTSE 100 company. Bitcoin has many attractive advantages for businesses such as the speed and ease with which transactions can take place due to the lack of central bank and traditional currency control. Using Bitcoin also means that cross-border and global trading is simpler and faster and the ‘crypto’ aspect of the currency makes it secure. This latest challenge unfortunately involves a very large market, and has created more uncertainty and mistrust that has rubbed off on other crypto-currencies. Fingers-crossed for Bitcoin, this may be more about licensing in China, and Bitcoin, as it has done many times, will most likely bounce back.

The importance of other new technologies such as AI and driverless vehicles is finally being reflected in the value of the shares of companies who are leading the charge in those technologies, and these technologies are likely to provide many global business opportunities going forward.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Microsoft and Amazon Join Forces For Voice First (AI) Dominance

It has been reported that since May of last year, Microsoft and Amazon have been working in partnership to enable their respective AI digital assistants ‘Cortana’ and ‘Alexa’ to work together.

What Does This Mean?

In short, this partnership should mean that some of the skills, functions and strengths of Alexa will be available through Cortana, and vice versa. The initial integration will mean that users will be able to tell one digital assistant to open the other e.g. "Alexa, open Cortana". The partnership has created what is essentially the largest combined platform in the world with a pool of over 200 million users.

This should mean that value will be added to each digital assistant with customers benefitting from the leverage and synergies, and both companies being able to gain greater reach with their products, and to advance their AI work.

Momentous

Some technical commentators have described the move by Microsoft and Amazon to share and join forces on their AI assistants as being as momentous as when AOL and Compuserve opened their platforms up to interchange, and moved away from the confines of curated, separate platforms towards a more open Internet.

But Why?

There are many reasons why this partnership could benefit both companies as well as consumers. These include:
  • Microsoft and Amazon may have missed the smartphone revolution but are out in front in what is known as the ‘Voice First’ revolution. This refers to voice activated devices e.g. Amazon Echo. This is a way to further their lead in a lucrative and growing market. For example, there is an estimated 33 million voice-first devices in circulation (VoiceLabs figures).
  • Microsoft and Amazon joining forces will put a lot of pressure on competitors
    Apple and Google. Many tech commentators believe that Apple will not be able to combine forces with Google directly, and this will put Amazon and Microsoft even further out in front in this new market. Many still think, however, that Apple will advance with Siri in 2018 by opening it up to Workflow and deeper iMessage connections.
  • Both Amazon and Microsoft can gain from increased distribution of their products, and increased overlap into each-others’ markets e.g. Alexa getting into smartphones and PCs.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?


This story illustrates how strategic alliances can be mutually beneficial, help advance products / markets through synergy, and be an effective competitive tactic that can bring market advantages.

In the case of Microsoft and Amazon working together with their digital assistants, for business customers, this can mean easier access to the leveraged power of shared advanced technology (as a business tool) and a step towards simplification.

Alexa and Cortana’s relationship should be a step towards creating an open way to communicate and interconnect with AI platforms. While we are currently limited to in the short term to choosing one platform as a favourite, this move may contribute to (in the longer term) the creation of only one platform. For the business user (and customers using voice-activated devices) this will be a much simpler way of orchestrating multiple tasks and AI activities.

CEX Hacked - Two Million Customer Details Stolen

The  second-hand electronics and video game store CEX have reportedly been hacked, and as many as two million customer details may have been stolen.

What Happened?

Hackers breached online security for CEX’s WeBuy.com online shop and were able to steal two million customer details. The details stolen are believed to include names, addresses, email addresses, some phone numbers, and a small number of encrypted credit card details. CEX has said that the credit / debit card information dated back to 2009 and any cards left on the system would have long-since expired.

CEX described the hack as a “sophisticated breach”.

Hashed Passwords Taken

Passwords were also reported to have been taken although they were hashed. It is still, however, possible that weak passwords could be broken.

Security Measures?

The company has stated that they had a robust and regularly updated security programme in place at the time of the breach, but have acknowledged that additional security measures were required to prevent the kind of hack that took place.

The company has stated that since the breach it has hired a cyber security specialist to review its systems and to implement extra defences.

CEX also has bricks and mortar stores, but customer details from these were not taken by the hackers because they are handled separately to WeBuy.com customer details.

About CEX : Buy with Bitcoin

Electronics and video game retailer CEX was founded in 1992 and now has physical stores in 11 countries including the UK, USA and Australia. CEX customers can buy and exchange technology products such as mobile phones and video games, and the company WeBuy.com provided the first online marketplace where customers could do this. It is also interesting to note that shoppers are able to pay with the crypto currency bitcoin in CEX’s UK stores.

Another High Profile Hack This Week

CEX was not the only high profile company targeted by hackers this week. A bug in the Facebook-owned social media platform Instagram reportedly made the personal details of six million users publicly accessible. As a result, email addresses and phone numbers have reportedly been harvested by hackers and there are reports of them now being sold on the dark web.

Instagram has since announced that it is working with law enforcement, the bug has been fixed, and that no passwords were stolen in the incident. Instagram has also advised customers to be vigilant about the security of their account, and to be cautious if they observe any suspicious activity e.g. unrecognised incoming calls, texts, or emails.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

These hacks underline the importance of keeping a robust cyber and data security protection programme in place. This should start from basic activities such as keeping up to date with patching (9 out of 10 hacked businesses were compromised via un-patched vulnerabilities), and should extend to training employees in cyber security practices, and adopting multi-layered defences that go beyond the traditional anti-virus and firewall perimeter. Companies need to conduct security audits to make sure that no old, isolated data is stored on any old systems or platforms. Companies may now need to use tools that allow security devices to collect and share data and co-ordinate a unified response across the entire distributed network. It is also important to have workable, updated Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans in place.

As business users of online services we should all remember to take precautions such as not revealing passwords, Pins, or ID numbers to anyone, not using the same password for multiple sites, not opening emails (with attachments) from unknown sources, and not clicking on links from unknown sources.

New 400GB MicroSD Card

SanDisk's parent company ‘Western Digital’ has announced at the 'IFA 2017' in Berlin that it is launching the world's largest storage capacity (400GB) microSD card.

What Is MicroSD Card?

A microSD card is a small (fingernail size or less) removable flash memory card that uses chips to store data e.g. documents, music, photos and video. They are used for storage in devices such as phones and tablets. SD is an abbreviation of Secure Digital.

Why The Need For More Storage Space?

We are now living in a world where we spend a lot more time using our smartphones to take more HD videos (4k video is the norm) and photographs. These take up large amounts of space, and tech companies have therefore been looking at ways to meet the need in the market for a microSD card with much more storage space.

World’s Largest Storage Capacity

SanDisk’s new microSD card is reported to have the world’s largest storage capacity for the memory card format, beating the previous record holder, Samsung’s 256GB.

What Can It Do?

The new card is reported to be ideal for use in Android phones and tablets, and is able to hold up to 40 hours of full HD video. It is also UHS Speed Class 1 (the best performance standard for a microSD card), and it supports 100MB read speeds. This superior read speed means that time can be saved by the user as up to 1,200 photos per minute can be transferred onto the card.

Price?

The price is $250 which may sound like a lot but the advantage, apart from the convenience of space and speed, is that it could actually save you money. This is because companies like to charge more for similar products in their range that simply have larger memory / storage capacity, so you could purchase a lower-priced device and put the new SanDisk microSD card in it to enjoy greater storage benefits than the higher end devices.

Resistant

Another benefit of the new microSD card is that it is very difficult to accidentally break, and this is particularly important in something that is used to store difficult, expensive or even impossible to replace things such as photos and videos of important occasions and events. The card is re-assuringly waterproof, temperature-proof, shockproof and X-ray proof.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With so many aspects of business now being carried out using smartphones and tablets, and with photos and videos being used / exchanged as an important part of business activities, or for marketing communications on the Internet (social media, emails and websites) storage capacity on devices is an important consideration. An increase in quality (and expectations of quality in the marketplace) of e.g. videos (HD), also means that extra storage capacity, at a price that is affordable even for smaller businesses is important. The fact that this microSD card could also help businesses to save costs on which device they buy also makes it attractive.

Six UK Regions Get Full Fibre Broadband Trials

The UK government has announced the six regions of the UK that will host trials of full fibre broadband for businesses, schools and hospitals as part of a £200m scheme by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

Which Six Regions?

The DCMS has decided that £10 million of the total £200 million budget will be spent on trials for full fibre broadband in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, West Sussex, Coventry and Warwickshire, Bristol and Bath & North East Somerset, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.
The government has said that these first pilot schemes are intended to test innovative ways of connecting offices and public sector buildings with the next generation of broadband, and follows the government’s call for evidence on extending local fibre networks.

Full Fibre Broadband

Full fibre broadband will mean running fast fibre connections straight into customers’ premises rather than just running fibre cables to roadside cabinets, and using the old copper phone wires for the connections to customers’ premises.

Having fibre running to and from the roadside box could reduce bottlenecks and increase broadband speeds to more than the 10Mbps standard currently recommended by Ofcom, and hopefully speeds of up to one gigabit-per-second (1,000 Mbps). The government also believes that full-fibre broadband will provide more secure connections, and will help more people to work remotely without disruption.

31st In The World For Average Broadband Speed

A boost in broadband speed would, of course, be welcomed by businesses. Even though the government is keen to point out that its broadband delivery programme has reached 93% of businesses and households around the UK (aiming to bring superfast broadband to 95% of households by the end of 2017), a recent survey by cable.co.uk found that the UK ranks only 31st in the world for average broadband speeds, with an average broadband speed of just 16.51Mbps.

Four Year Plan

The full fibre broadband pilots are just the first stage of a four-year plan unveiled by Chancellor Philip Hammond as part of the National Productivity Investment Fund announced in the Spring Budget. The ultimate aim of the scheme is to expand full fibre access across the UK.

The original plan announced in the budget was to use £400m of taxpayers' money to encourage the private sector to invest more than £1bn to fund full-fibre broadband across the country, and to introduce legislation to allow business rates relief for new fibre as an additional subsidy.

With these full fibre broadband trials costing £10 million, the aim is to use the remaining £190m for the rest of the UK’s full fibre broadband rollout by the end of the 2020-21 financial year.

Criticism

There have been many criticisms of the government’s big plans for boosting broadband speeds with the widespread use of fibre-optic cables including:
  1. Even if you have a fibre-optic cable to your home / business premises, there will still be shared traffic points in the network which will slow down your broadband at certain times.
  2. The scheme will need a large number of construction workers. This could mean disruption, logistical challenges, and high costs.
  3. Full fibre-optic, ultra-fast broadband is not likely to be a reality in the UK anytime soon. At the current rate, BT Openreach has stated that only two million premises will have access to ‘full fibre’ by the end of 2020.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With so much of business (with customers, suppliers, and internal communications / collaboration) now conducted over the Internet, a fast connection is essential to help UK businesses to remain competitive. Although the trials / pilot schemes are starting now, what is disappointing is that UK businesses don’t have (and look unlikely to have any time soon) access to kind of speeds that overseas companies (e.g. competitors) enjoy. Whilst it is good that funding and momentum for the task of delivering faster (fibre or fibre/G.fast) broadband for UK businesses looks to be increasing, the UK has a long way to go, and the reality is that we may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020.

In terms of what it actually means for a business to be physically connected to the new fibre broadband infrastructure, technical commentators say it will be a case of simply having a small box installed on the premises. In terms of costs, it seems likely that faster packages could be an opportunity for ISPs to charge more.

Smartphone Danger For Teenagers

A new book by an American Psychologist highlights her research findings that young people who spend more than an hour a day on smartphones are more likely to be unhappy, lonely, depressed, and have more risk factors for suicide.

Title Says It All

The new book by Dr Jean Twenge is called “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy –and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us”. As the title clearly suggests, the author found evidence of many negative effects of too much time spent on smartphones by young people.

iGen

The ‘iGen’ generation is defined as those born between 1995 and 2012. The significance of studying this generation particularly is that the commercialisation of the Internet dates roughly from 1995, which means that they have always lived with the Internet. Also, they are the first generation to have smartphones for their entire adolescence. Dr Twenge reportedly drew upon the data from large national surveys of high school and college students, and one of adults as the bulk of her research.

The Findings

The findings highlighted in Dr Twenge’s research and book are that:
  • Teens spend less time with their friends ‘in person’ because they use their smartphones to interact with their friends (on social media) instead. This trend became more pronounced in 2010/11 when smartphones became very common.
  • There has been a corresponding, pronounced increase (since 2010/11) in symptoms of depression, anxiety, suicide risk factors among iGen. Loneliness and depressive symptoms have generally increased, while happiness and life satisfaction have decreased.
  • iGen young people are feeling more anxiety and depression than teens were just 5 years ago.
  • Spending just one hour per day on a smartphone gives no obvious evidence of connections to the risk factors, whereas spending two hours per day or more brings a steady increase in the chances that the young person will have one or more of the (suicide) risk factors.
  • Of the non-screen activities that were measured (spending time with friends in person, playing sports, going to religious services, doing homework), they all correlated with greater happiness. All the screen activities correlated with lower happiness levels.

Criticism & Reaction

When Dr Twenge’s book and findings were reported in the media, the reaction could be summarised as praise from parents and criticism from scientists. It was also suggested by some critics that Dr Twenge had cherry-picked data to ignore studies showing positive outcomes from social media use. There were also suggestions that Dr Twenge was simply “youth-bashing” to support conservative views about young people.

Dr Twenge has answered critics by saying that she has 3 children of her own (the oldest being 10) and that she was simply reporting what young people were saying about themselves and how they were feeling.

Advice For Parents

Dr Twenge’s advice for parents is to delay getting your child a phone for as long as possible, and when you do buy one for them, start with one that doesn’t have internet access so they don’t have the internet in their pocket all the time, and limit the time that children spend on their smartphones.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses spend a lot of time and money influencing young people as consumers via channels such as social media, so limiting their access to those marketing communications could have a negative effect from a commercial point of view. At the same time, however, many business people are also parents of young people / teenagers, and will be aware that young people spending time with other people and family (and less time on smartphones) is one of the keys to emotional well-being, and can help to improve the family dynamic. Risks such anxiety, depression, and suicide are clearly very worrying for all, but it's worth remembering that there are also studies to show that spending time online / on social media can also bring some benefits.

There will, no doubt, be many other research projects and books relating to the positive and negative effects of technology on the young generation. In the meantime, businesses need to ensure that they are careful, responsible, and ethical with their online marketing communications and messages, and that they are quick to act to stop (and report) any online bullying / online hate crimes, which can be a particular source of unhappiness, and even suicides among young people.

Phone App Detects Cancer

A new app called BiliScreen, developed by Researchers at the University of Washington, uses eye-scanning technology to detect early stage pancreatic cancer, thus increasing the chances of successful treatment.

Surgery Early Is Best Option


Relatively little real progress has been made in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, and fewer than 7% of the 9,600 people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year survive beyond 5 years. The key element is the successful treatment of pancreatic cancer is an early diagnosis followed by immediate surgery. Surgery beyond the early stages is not an option because of the nature of the tumours and the complexity of the operation.

In recent trials by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, for example, 31 out of 32 patients eligible for surgery went on to have successful treatment. This was a 97% success rate, compared with a current average of 75%, and helps to confirm the fact that a much faster path to (diagnosis and) surgery for pancreatic cancer patients has a significant impact on survival rates for the disease.

What Does The App Look For?

The new BiliScreen app works by calculating how much of the bodily compound called Bilirubin is present in the whites of a person’s eyes (the sclera). The significance of this is that a build-of Bilirubin can be an early indicator of pancreatic cancer.

Bilirubin is essentially a yellow pigment that is produced when the liver breaks down old red blood cells. This is the same pigment that causes the skin and sclera to look yellow when a person has severe jaundice. Consequently, as well as detecting early signs of pancreatic cancer, the BiliScreen app can also be used to detect the other causes of jaundice e.g. hepatitis and Gilbert’s syndrome (a harmless liver condition where the liver has problems processing bilirubin).

How Does The App Work?

The app uses eye-scanning technology and involves a person taking a selfie of their eyes while wearing a box similar to a VR headset to block out light from other sources. It's thought that the next version of the app won’t need the headset and could work just using a smartphone camera.

The calculations and diagnosis are made by the app’s machine-learning algorithm. The big advantages of using the app are that it is faster, a lot more convenient, and less invasive than the current testing method for jaundice which is a trip to the doctor and a blood draw.

Is It Accurate?

In a clinical study of BiliScreen involving 70 participants, the app was able to correctly identify 90 per cent of the people with abnormally elevated bilirubin levels, and the app also had high specificity i.e. very few healthy people were wrongly identified as having a disease.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story is an example of how a combination of technologies can mean that apps can now be made to carry out high-value tasks in a faster, more convenient, time saving and often cheaper way than many of the existing accepted industry standard tests and equipment. This is why apps now present such a good opportunity for businesses and other organisations that need to provide their customers / users with specific information / data (or gather it from them) and produce it in a digital format.

In the case of BiliScreen, a combination of biometrics (eye-scanning), mobile and app technologies, as well as machine learning have been combined to perform a relatively complicated and very important task in an accurate way, and in a way that avoids the scope for human error. BiliScreen is one of growing list of apps that are being used for diagnosis, and while they don’t replace doctors, they are becoming trusted and important time-saving mobile tools. Given that accurate diagnostic apps can be used in medicine, there is no reason why other useful diagnostic apps can’t be developed and used to add value in a range of different industries.


Monday, September 04, 2017

90% Of Businesses Open Doors To Hackers By Not Patching

The latest Fortinet Global Threat Landscape Report has found that not only are 9 out of 10 businesses being hacked through un-patched vulnerabilities, but that many of these vulnerabilities are 3 or more years old, and have patches available for them.

Basic Security Hygiene Needed

The damning report shows that even though two-thirds of the recorded attacks in Q2 2017 were ranked as either high or critical severity, the majority of them could have been prevented if businesses had practiced basic security hygiene by regularly scheduled patching.

Old Vulnerabilities

The report, which draws upon over 3 million network devices and sensors deployed within live production environments around the world, not only shows that hackers have been able to attack nine out of 10 businesses with exploits that are more than three years old, but also that 60% of companies experienced successful attacks targeting devices for which a patch had been available for ten or more years.

Why Bother With New Ways?

With so many businesses not bothering to use the patches that have been available to them for years, many cyber criminals don’t need to go to the trouble and expense of looking for new a ways to break into networks.

Bought Time For Innovations By Hackers

The time and resources saved by hackers through being able to exploit old, known vulnerabilities has meant they have been able to spend more time developing automated and intent-based tools that can deliver sophisticated payloads that are hard to detect and remove. This has given them more success in breaking into systems using new zero-day attacks, and using new worm-like capabilities to spread infections rapidly, and on a large scale, and more easily across platforms or different vectors.

WannaCry Was Preventable For Many

Technical commentators have noted that both the WannaCry malware attack which had such a bad effect on NHS systems, and NotPetya (a massive ransomware attack in June) targeted a vulnerability that had been patched by Microsoft several months earlier. Much of the damage caused by the attacks could, therefore, have been prevented with some fairly simple measures.

Other Significant Findings

Other particularly significant findings of the Report are that the number of exploits detected increased nearly 30% over Q1 (cyber crime levels are rising again), attacks are becoming more sophisticated, the large amount of encrypted web traffic is making malware detection more difficult, and criminals appear to be finding it easier to break into new networks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This Report shows that businesses need to pay attention to the basics of online and data security, particularly practicing basic security hygiene, and regularly scheduling patching in order to make sure that known vulnerabilities that could be easy picking for cyber criminals are fixed.

Even though cyber criminals obviously favour attacks on the ‘low hanging fruit’, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the sophistication and volume of threats is increasing, and multi-level attacks are common. This means that businesses need to train employees in cyber security practices, and need to adopt multi-layered defences that go beyond the traditional anti-virus and firewall perimeter idea.

The volume of data, and particularly encrypted data entering networks mean that businesses now need to seriously analyse how this will affect the performance of their current security tools, and be prepared to invest more, or outsource further help in this area.

Also, isolated security devices and platforms may no longer provide adequate company-wide protection, and companies may need to use tools that allow security devices to collect and share data and co-ordinate a unified response across the entire distributed network.

Autonomous Lorries To Be Tested On UK Roads

The government has announced that ‘platoons’ (mini-convoys) of self-driving, partially autonomous lorries will be tested on UK roads before the end of 2018.

Platoons

The so-called ‘platoons’ will take the form of several lorries driving closely together in a line in the inside lane, with the lead lorry wirelessly controlling the acceleration and braking for all the lorries, and with the following lorries responding to the changes in speed.

Human Driver Still Present

For the tests which have been promised since 2014 and will be carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), a human driver will be in the cab of the lead lorry, and will be able to take control if things don’t go entirely to plan.

Why?

The key reasons for using autonomous platoons of lorries on UK motorways are:
  • Saving fuel costs. The tight formation of the lorries in the platoon should mean that the lead lorry pushes the airflow up and over the whole group, thus reducing drag / air resistance and making cost savings on fuel.
  • The environmental benefits of burning less diesel (less harmful emissions).
  • Reducing congestion on UK roads.
  • Cost savings on drivers' wage bills.

Safety Concerns

The announcement of the trials has been met with some obvious safety concerns, such questions about what would happen if other drivers were somehow able to get in between the lorries in the platoon, or if drivers were blocked from leaving or joining the motorway by a wall of lorries.

The TRL has reportedly offered reassurance by saying that the driver in the leading lorry will be able to break up the platoon to let drivers join or leave the motorway, and that the lorries will be close enough together not to enable other drivers to slot in between them. It has also been suggested that a warning method /sign will be developed to warn other drivers that they are approaching a platoon / convoy of lorries.

Criticism

Critics have pointed out that, although tests of platooning lorries have brought cost savings in countries with much longer highways where many sections are deserted, the congestion of UK motorways, and the stop / start traffic movements could make it uneconomical and impractical, as well as potentially dangerous.

Not The First Time

This is certainly not the first time that autonomous / driverless vehicles have been planned, tested or used on UK roads. At the end of last year for example, the Council in Milton Keynes hosted a trial of an autonomous pod-style vehicles designed to take passengers from the railway station and other transport hubs to city centre. Also, in April this year, the ‘DRIVEN’ consortium begin an information-gathering trial of autonomous vehicles with the intention of testing manned but autonomous vehicles on roads and motorways between London and Oxford.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Autonomous vehicles and vehicles with autonomous elements are, therefore, already being tested and used in commercial environments and as part of the transport system, and the idea of lorry platoons is just another step in the same direction.

It is still early days for autonomous vehicles which means that there are still many untapped opportunities to use autonomous vehicles commercially, and there are of course many challenges and issues to consider around safety, insurance, regulations and reliability.

At the moment, autonomous vehicles are likely to be adopted more quickly on closed sites but operators who decide to adapt such sites to work for autonomy could expect significant improvements in productivity and safety.

Having an emerging industry such as autonomous vehicles, with all its talent, technology and development centres here in the UK, also represents a huge opportunity for UK businesses as potential suppliers, beneficiaries of the technologies and products, and spin-off market opportunities. It also represents an opportunity for UK insurers.

Whereas the UK has a skills gap in many areas of the technology market, with the right amount of support and backing from the government and other investors, the testing, developing, and production of autonomous vehicles and the necessary technologies could be one area where home-grown talent is tempted to stay in what could become a world-centre of excellence for autonomous vehicle / AI technology.

Digital Life After Death

Advances in technology have meant that a whole new industry is emerging around helping us to leave extensive digital records of our lives to our descendants, and perhaps even a digital avatar self that can continue living online.

Not Much Of Ourselves

The challenge for many people up until now, unless they have kept diaries / blogs, written extensively about themselves, or kept film / video / photo records, is that they have not been able to leave much of themselves for their descendants to keep, learn about, and provide a more tangible and present link with the family’s past.

It is also the case that many of the things people leave behind after death have more to do with the banality of some aspects of their life rather than the interesting parts of their personality, knowledge and wisdom.

A Digital You

Some companies are now meeting the need to leave the legacy of ourselves by using technology to give customers the chance to leave digital records of themselves for loved ones, grand-children and future family members.

For example, Start-up Eternime, founded by MIT fellow Marius Ursache, is able to make a digital avatar ‘copy’ of customers by using algorithms to scrape all of their social media posts and interactions, thereby learning how to replicate a person’s memories and mannerisms. This data, combined with photos and AI means that Eternime can create a digital version of a person that can interact with loved ones online after the real person has died.

DeadSocial.org is an example of a company that provides online resources to help the general public think about, address and start sorting out their digital legacy, and allows them to record social media messages that can be scheduled for posting after their death.

Planning

Technology is also helping people with the more simple act of practical planning for things e.g. from making digital records of the planning of their own funeral or wake to more extensive end-of-life plans.

SafeBeyond, for example, enables customers to record video and audio messages as a kind of time capsule that can be accessed posthumously by their family and friends.

Technology Changing Funeral Industry

The UK funeral industry is also experiencing changes as a result of technology. Funeralbooker, for example, acts as a price comparison site and marketplace that enables people to compare the prices of funerals across the UK. Also, according to Funeralbooker, it provides independent funeral directors with a collective presence online that can help them to counter the spending power of the large chains. Digital will-making services are also now becoming more popular.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how technology is now having an impact on, and creating new opportunities and threats within all industries, as well as opening up new and exciting industry segments. As modern customers become used to running and planning all aspects of their life using (increasingly mobile) technology, digital planning services of all kinds will become more popular.

The development of the cloud has meant that storage of data, information and content relating to our lives, combined with games technologies and AI have meant that hitherto sci-fi fantasies of creating digital versions of ourselves to ‘live-on' have very quickly become a reality.

On a more basic level, as comparison sites spring up in more industries (often based mainly on price), as well as saving time and increasing transparency for customers, they also put pressure on companies to either find ways to reduce cost while maintaining quality, or to seek to strengthen their differentiating factors and / or seek new positioning for services.

Post-Brexit Data Protection & Data Exchange With EU

The UK government has published one of what is likely to be a series of policy papers that outline the government’s vision of what the exchange protection of personal data between the UK and the EU will look like, post-Brexit.

Clarification

Policy documents that clarify this issue were needed because the proposed new Data Protection Bill published earlier this year didn’t tackle the sharing of information. How data is handled and shared if an important part of the UK and EU economies.

Important And Valuable

The UK economy relies heavily on the service sector, where data is very valuable. Also, 40% of the largest digital companies in the EU were founded in the UK, and 75% of all the UK’s cross-border data flows are with EU countries.

Crucially, the region's data economy has been forecast to be worth €643bn by 2020.

This means that exactly how data is shared between the UK and the EU is a vital consideration from both a business and a security perspective, and the UK government doesn't want to lose access to these high-value resources.

What about GDPR?

The Data Protection Bill (which repeals and replaces the DPA 1998) has been introduced to bring the UK’s laws in line with the EU’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is due to come into force next year. Both will give people more say over what companies can do with their data, with GDPR intended to bring data protection laws into line across the EU for all companies and organisations that store and use data about EU citizens.

With this new policy paper, the UK government therefore appears to be saying that it is prepared to recognise and comply with the EU’s new data protection standards (even though the UK is exiting the EU) in exchange for the kind of relationship that is as close as possible to the what the UK would ideally desire.

What Kind Of Model?

The new policy document from the UK is seeking a “special partnership” for exchanging and protecting data with the EU that builds on the existing adequacy model and :

  • Keeps a free flow of personal data between the UK and the EU
  • Offers sufficient stability and confidence for businesses, public authorities
    and individuals
  • Provides for ongoing regulatory cooperation between the EU and the UK on current
    and future data protection issues
  • Continues to protect the privacy of individuals
  • Respects UK sovereignty, including the UK’s ability to protect the security of its citizens, and its ability to maintain and develop its position as a leader in data protection
  • Doesn’t impose unnecessary additional costs to business
  • Is based on objective consideration of evidence.


Criticism

Critics of the policy document have pointed out that the EU will, of course, look more favourably on laws that are closely aligned with its own when it comes to data-sharing. Also, some critics have said that the UK’s new policy document lacks detail, and makes no mention of the Investigatory Powers Act (or Snooper's Charter), and how that could affect data protection and sharing.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In reality, any agreement is likely to mean a transactional mutual recognition of data protection laws, followed by an adequacy decision from the European Commission when the UK leaves the EU. It is important, therefore, from economic and legal perspectives that the UK and EU data protection and sharing laws are closely aligned. It may be easier, more likely, and less time-consuming for the UK to shape it’s laws more towards the EU than the other way around.

However, ever since the news of the impending introduction of GDPR, UK businesses have struggled to get to get to grips with it, and its implications for their businesses. A further revision of UK law in the form of the recent Data Protection Bill, and the prospect of possible new revisions in how data is shared and protected with the EU could cause more uncertainty and confusion among UK businesses that could leave them open to the legal risks of non-compliance, and the wider risks of possible data breaches.

Some commentators think that a revision of the Investigatory Powers Act will also be necessary because some member states may refuse to transfer personal data to the UK if it stays as it is. This issue could have implications for the UK economy if it is not resolved quickly.

Access To Machine Learning Tools Through Your Browser

Google has announced that we will be all be able to have access to (and to interact with) a powerful machine learning tools library via its browser, without the need for adding special coding, installations or a backend.

Part of The PAIR Initiative

As a result of Google’s PAIR initiative to study and redesign human interactions with Machine Learning (ML), Google has announced that its open source WebGL-accelerated JavaScript library for ML called deeplearn.js 0.1.0 is being made available through a simple browser.

Why?

Google’s stated reasons for the introduction of browser-based access to ML tools are that it will promote general visibility of and engagement with ML, it will give developers an easy access route to powerful new tools, and it will help drive collaboration on ML learning projects and challenges with the open source community. This could, of course, benefit both developers and Google.

DeepMind

Back in March this year, Google researchers announced that its AI company DeepMind had developed a program that could learn one task after another, using skills it acquired on the way. The ability of DeepMind AI to mirror the learning brain, working out which connections in its neural network had been the most important for the tasks it has learned so far, before moving onto another task, were an important step forward in ML.

The fact that Google is offering everyone the chance to access tools that harness this power through a simple browser represents a new and exciting opportunity.

What Can It Do?

ML is a flexible tool that can be applied to all manner of problems. Examples of some areas where it has been used include interactive explanations, rapid prototyping and visualization, offline computation, object recognition, and language translation.

Demos

The Deeplearn.js homepage https://pair-code.github.io/deeplearnjs/ shows a number of demos (on supported devices) to illustrate the kind of thing that deeplearn.js can do. These include enabling you to use your webcam to play with an image classifier that uses your webcam in real-time and watch the network’s internal representations of what it sees. You can also generate abstract art videos at a very smooth 60 frames per second.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This move by Google means that you and your business now have easy access (just through a browser) to some of the very latest ML tools. In the past, access to these kinds of tools and resources was restricted only to those with the (often expensive and complicated) computational resources, and the technical expertise to work with commonly available ML libraries. This initiative by Google is therefore offering businesses a real opportunity to learn about and use ML in a way that could solve long-standing business problems, and create the kind of innovations that could lead to new business opportunities, greater competitiveness, and competitive advantages.

While it is likely to be more complicated than it sounds to implement, the point is that the business benefits to Machine Learning are now within the grasp of SME's, in a similar way to how Google Analytics gave them hitherto unimagined insights into their Web marketing a decade ago.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Speech Recognition Now As Good As A Human

It has been reported that Microsoft’s speech recognition system has reached its lowest ever Word Error Rate (WER) of 5.1%, a rate that puts it on par with humans.

What Speech Recognition System?

For the last 25 years, reaching human parity with a speech recognition system has been a goal of Microsoft, and the company has, therefore, committed to investing in long-term research associated with it. The research, investment, and the resulting system (which includes an AI element) have fed into products and services like Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

The 5.1% Error Rate

Last September, Microsoft’s speech engine is reported to have registered a 6.3% word WER , but Microsoft was able to bring it down to 5.9%. Further recent work on the engine lowered that rate 5.1%, which is the human word error rate.

Microsoft’s system is benchmarked against the Switchboard corpus, which is a dataset of recorded telephone conversations that speech research technologists have been using for more than 20 years to measure the capability of transcription systems.

Human parity of the kind that Microsoft has now achieved has obviously been a goal of the company’s research, and puts it well on the way to creating a system that can be an effective central component of many of its future products and services.

Why The Big Improvement?

Microsoft’s recent advances in AI techniques like neural-net based acoustic and language models, and innovations in enabling the system to take into account the context of the speech to make better guesses as to what unclear words are have led to the reduced error rate.

What’s Next?

Now that Microsoft has an advanced human speech recognition system, reports indicate that future work will focus on tackling the challenges posed by recognising accented speech, dialects, and conversations in noisy surroundings.

Getting a grip on accented speech and dialects could open the speech recognition system to more users globally, and recognising and capturing conversation in noisy environments could make the system more versatile and useful.

Another project in the works is improving the system’s ability to understand the meaning and intent of speech, which Microsoft sees as the next frontier for speech technology.

With all of these advances, and with more research in the pipeline, we can expect more improvements to be rolled out in the future updates of e.g. Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI and the use of speech recognition are now becoming familiar as a way in which we interact with entertainment devices e.g. Amazon Echo and Siri controlled systems like Apple’s new HomePod, and how we interact with our PCs and mobile devices e.g. with Cortana. They are also playing an important role in how we interact with, and how security can be improved with company services e.g. via bots and verification / authentication systems used by banks.

AI and machine learning offer companies the chance to develop innovative products and services that offer the kind of customized, personalized experiences are highly valued by modern consumers. The ability of devices and services to adapt intelligently and relate more closely than ever to our personal likes and needs saves us time, and increase our loyalty to those products and services.

AI developments have been such that back in April, an AI program learned how to ‘bluff’ and beat expert human competitors to the prize money in a series of exhibition poker matches, and this month an AI program cracked a (physical) combination safe in 30 minutes by reducing a possible million combinations to just one correct code. Also, Google’s AI company DeepMind and Oxford University has developed WLAS, a system that can lip read better than a trained professional, and Google has reportedly used AI machine learning technology on its Gmail service with a reported 99.9% blocking of all phishing attempts that it detected.

Not all share the view that the rapid development of AI and machine learning of this kind is a positive thing as Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently described AI as a "fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation”, and a report in March this year by PwC claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation (aided by AI developments) by the year 2030. Recently, concerns have also been raised about how AI could be used to create custom malware to defeat antivirus software by learning how to tweak malicious binaries.

AI technology is finding its way into our daily lives to enhance and tie together existing products and services and new security technologies (biometrics) in new ways, and an essential element of communication, value addition, and convenience, must surely be an effective speech recognition system that is as close to our own as possible.

Banned Neo-Nazi Website Causes Freedom of Speech Concerns

Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare’s decision to stop serving a neo-Nazi site has prompted a US-based digital rights group to express concerns about freedom of speech being compromised.

Daily Stormer Kicked Out

After much public pressure, all three web companies pulled the rug from under The Daily Stormer, saying it violated their terms of service. The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news and commentary website that has recently gained media attention after vilifying Heather Heyer, the 32-year old killed in the car attack in the Charlottesville violence.

GoDaddy were reportedly first to act by pulling DNS services for the neo-Nazis, followed by Google (Domains) when The Daily Stormer tried to move its site there, and finally, Cloudflare (which had initially provided the site's DNS and a proxy service) followed suit when the neo-Nazi website implied that Cloudflare supported their cause and agreed with the content of their articles.

EEF Reacts

The decisions of these 3 web companies did not sit well with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which has reportedly stated that no-one, not even the government and private companies, should decide who can speak or not. The EFF has pointed out that internet companies control so much online that their decisions about this particular matter that will impact freedom of speech in future, and could have far-reaching effects.

Not Just Because They’re Nazis Says Cloudflare

Cloudfire’s CEO Matthew Prince explained on the company’s blog that the reason for expelling the site from their servers was not because of the Nazi views that it expressed, but because it had said that Cloudfire secretly agreed with its views (which Cloudfire has clearly stated that it does not).

Hiding In The Dark Web

With no company now wanting to host the site, and with hackers worldwide relishing the opportunity of launching all manner of attacks on the website, The Daily Stormer has had to retreat to the Dark Web.

What / Where Is The Dark Web?

The Dark Web refers to a collection of websites on private, encrypted networks built from connections between trusted peers using unconventional protocols. It is only accessible by means of special software, configurations or authorization. Most websites on the Dark Web hide their identity using something called the Tor encryption tool, and sites on the Dark Web cannot be found through search engines or by using traditional browsers. The Dark Web is just one part of a massive network not indexed by search engines like Google, known as the Deep Web.

Freedom of Speech For All

While the EEF has acknowledges that a stand against violence and aggression must be made, it has also pointed out that the methods used to silence neo-Nazis could, in theory, be used on anyone. For this reason, the EEF believes that the expulsion from the Internet by GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudfare could have a compromising effect on freedom of speech on the Web in future.

The EEF occupies a clear position to protect free speech, especially on the Internet, regardless whether they agree with what is being said, and with the principle that no one (including governments and private companies) should be able to decide on who can speak or not

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While freedom of speech is important, in the business world, being publicly associated in any way with unpopular, racist, hate-promoting violent groups / organisations is very bad for business, and could become a PR disaster with long-lasting negative effects if not handled correctly. It is, therefore, not surprising that some big web players were able to make a very quick decision to distance themselves from The Daily Stormer, and their actions in this case could also be justified on moral and ethical grounds too.

This story also raises other important issues and angles including:
  • The initial request to Cloudfire to terminate The Daily Stormer’s service actually came from hackers who wanted Cloudfire’s online protection removed so that they could knock the site out e.g. with a DDoS attack. Hacking is now a powerful threat on the Internet for governments, companies, and all kinds of organizations. As well as being used for theft and fraud, it can also be used as a kind of direct action motivated by social justice issues. In this case, both the host companies, and the Daily Stormer could have had reason to fear the hackers.
  • As Cloudfire’s CEO pointed out, the decision to dump The Daily Stormer could have come at a price for his company (which has never made such an exception before), because it could make it harder for them (and other web companies) to argue against e.g. a government pressuring them into taking down a site they don't like. This is a particularly pertinent point in a time where e.g. in the UK we have the Investigatory Powers Act and pressure from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to gain more powers online for surveillance and gaining back doors into social media platforms.
  • For many free speech advocates, what happened to The Daily Stormer’s website could have far reaching effects because it has, in a way, breached a more or less united front by web companies against censorship, and could provide leverage to those seeking influence over the Internet.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Tougher Sentences For Online Abusers


The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has said that the Crown Prosecution Service will treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face, and will seek tougher penalties and sentences for online abuse on social media platforms.

Crackdown On Online Hate Speech

Online hate speech has proliferated on (and been enabled by) social media in recent years, and trolling has resulted in misery for victims, and even suicides. With online hate speech and hate crime on the rise, the CPS has announced that it plans to erase the line between real-world , face to face offences and online abuse, and take into account the effects on the victim and on the community.

The reason for this new move by the CPS is the now widely accepted belief that, left unchallenged, low-level abuse (offending) can fuel dangerous and hostile hate crimes e.g. like those seen recently in Charlottesville in the US.

Different Experiences And Needs

In its new policy documents, the CPS covers many different types of hate crimes e.g. racist, religious, disability. The CPS has also now acknowledges that different victim types have different needs and experiences e.g. differences in the experiences of victims of biphobic crime (aimed at bi-sexuals) and victims of homophobic and transphobic offences.

As such, the CPS now intends to remove obstacles to justice for all kinds of victims in all kinds of hate crimes, and wants to ensure that (for example) disabled victims and witnesses get the right support they need to allow them to give their best evidence.

Hate Crimes Defined And Contextualised

According to the CPS, hate crimes are committed by a person motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. The CPS has now prioritized hate crime because it recognises the corrosive and lasting impact that such crime can have on communities and citizens, and how it can drive people to change the way they live and to live in fear.

The new policy also takes into consideration the current breadth and context of the offence, giving the prosecutors the best probable chance of getting justice for the victims. It also lets the victims and witnesses know what they can expect from the CPS.

Public Encouraged To Report Hate Crime

The CPS is encouraging the public to report hate crime with confidence, knowing that the CPS will take them seriously and give them the needed support. Its campaign, #hatecrimematters, aims to educate and inform the public about the new policy by the CPS.

ORG Warning

Although the Open Rights Group (ORG) broadly supports the idea of holding perpetrators of online hate speech / hate crime to account, it has warned internet companies against a blanket policing of online free speech.

For The Record

Currently, CPS has a record of 83.2% conviction rate in its completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest figure thus far.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The business world works best when customers, investors, and other stakeholders have confidence in companies, brands, products and services. Those businesses that supply platforms for, or enable the sharing / distribution free speech of any kind e.g. social media and web companies, are now supported in UK law by their common duty to provide a safe online environment for their users e.g. by removing hate speech promptly, and by making their part of the online environment particularly safe for children, young people, and the vulnerable.

Businesses and organisations of all kinds can help the common purpose of minimising online hate crime through education of their staff / pupils / customers / users / stakeholders about their own policies for the treatment of those discovered to be using hate speech e.g. at work online.

We can all play our own individual part in making the online environment safe for all by reporting hate speech where we find it, and, although the stance of open rights / free speech organisations such as the ORG is important, so is ensuring that the Internet is a safe place for all.

68% of UK Firms Not Trained Against Cyber Attacks

The annual Cyber Governance Health Check has shown that 68% of the UK’s top business board members have received no training in how to respond to a cyber attack.

No Plan For One In Ten FTSE Companies

Also, according to the report from The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), even though 54% acknowledge that cyber attack is a top threat to their business, 10% of the FTSE 350 companies don’t have a plan in place for what to do in the event of an attack.

Board-Level Awareness

The report shows that although board-level awareness on the importance of cyber security has risen by almost 10% over the year (up from 21% to 31%), two-thirds of UK Board members are not up-to-date with cyber security risk information.

Customer Data Safety

On a slightly more promising note, however, 50% of board members said that they review and challenge reports on the security of customer’s data.

Better Training Needed

The survey results have prompted industry experts to rally senior executives and their staff to get proper training in managing cyber attacks in order to ensure that companies can minimise damage to their systems and reputation, and avoid possible lawsuits.

Adopting Best Practice

Digital Minister Matt Hancock has publicly acknowledged that there is a need to adopt best practice in cyber security to avoid the devastating effects of a cyber attack in the first place. Mr Hancock has highlighted how the UK’s world-leading businesses and charities are naturally going to be targets for hackers. It is therefore vital that senior executives work with the National Cyber Security Centre and heed Government’s advice and training.

UK charities can also take advantage of a tailored programme of support that has been developed alongside the Charity Commission and the National Cyber Security Centre.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cyber crime is a major threat to all UK businesses and organisations, and knowledge about it is no longer something that can be left to the IT Department. Given the level of risk that cyber crime poses to the very life of the business, board members and senior executives should be among those most well informed, should be prioritizing and championing the promotion of cyber security best practice throughout the company.

If businesses have not done so already, now is the time to prioritise the issue and make sure that basic cyber security steps are taken at the very least - see https://www.cyberstreetwise.com/cyberessentials/
Now may also be a good time therefore for businesses to seek other professional advice about measures that could be taken to ensure cyber resilience in the first place, such as quality cyber security training for all staff (including Board members), health checks, risk assessments / audits, cyber security policies, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

Less Than 10% Completing Computing A-levels Are Female

According to statistics on A-level results released recently, only 9.8% of those completing A-level computing courses are female.

Shortfall

While almost 7,600 UK students took A-level computing in the UK, less than 10% completing those courses were females. These figures also highlight a huge shortfall from the UK’s aim and expectation of 40,000 students taking A-level computing.

Why Such Low Numbers?

Many industry commentators have given possible causes and reasons for the low numbers of females ending up with computing A-levels. These include:
  • The failure of the UK education system to attract girls to the subject from primary school level and beyond.
  • Negative stereotyping of females, including an unconscious bias and gender stereotyping which assigns females to particular tech jobs. This was partly reflected recently, for example, in an incident where a Google engineer was sacked for authoring a controversial 10-page memo arguing for less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace, and criticizing Google for its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • The expectation that females will be paid less than their male counterparts. For example, research from April this year by Korn Ferry Hay Group found that the Technology sector has the largest ‘like-for-like’ gender pay gap In UK, with women being paid an average of 16% less than men in the same job.
  • The effects of teachers, parents, and other opinion leaders cautioning young girls, when they entertain the idea of working in the tech industry (because of some the reasons shown above).
  • According to the Stemettes charity foundation (one that encourages girls to pursue careers in the sciences, technology engineering, and maths), girls are unlikely to pick a subject to study if they believe that they will be all alone in taking that subject.

Not All Bad News

Data from Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has revealed a little bit of good news. There was an increase of 34% in the number of females taking up computer science exams, from 609 in 2016 to 816 this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK not only has a major challenge with a skills gap in IT, but it is also facing the possibility of almost entirely missing out on the contribution that women could be making to the sector. Not only are there proven, more obvious barriers (gender pay gaps and stereotyping), but there is a more difficult to pin down combination of circumstances earlier in girls' lives that is steering them away from, and giving them a negative attitude towards tech careers.

Technology and employment commentators have suggested that the next generation needs to be shown early on (at home, at school, and in wider society influences) that gender is not a part of the equation if a person is seeking a career in the tech industry. Young women need to be encouraged and equipped with the digital skills they need to get work or to pursue further studies in the tech area, and women who have achieved success in the technology IT world could be championed as examples, role models and mentors.

Work also needs to be done within the tech industry and tech companies themselves to challenge the kinds of mistaken beliefs, attitudes, and cultures that lead to extra challenges for women who want to get on, and receive equal opportunities, equal pay, and recognition.

Closing Time For Lovefilm’s Postal DVD Service

Lovefilm has announced that it will be ceasing its postal DVD rental service on 31st October this year, as the format is being superseded by streaming services.

Streaming Kills DVD Demand

A decrease in demand for DVD and Blu-ray rentals, caused by the huge increase in demand for streaming movies and TV series are cited for the reasons why the Amazon-owned DVD rental service will be closing down Lovefilm in the UK and Germany.

Founded in 2002, Lovefilm rented out DVD and Blu-ray discs via the post for a monthly subscription fee. Amazon acquired the service in 2011, and at its peak, Lovefilm had more than 1.4 million subscribers.

From Rental to Streaming

Back in 2010, Lovefilm started to offer some content for online streaming, earning the tag (in 2011) “the Netflix of Europe” before Netflix was actually rolled out there in 2012. The streaming service was then rebranded as Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Discs Donated To Charities

Lovefilm’s film catalogue is vast, comprising of more than 80,000 titles. It has been reported that Amazon now intends to donate all of the DVD and Blu-ray discs to charity partners.

Some Disappointed

The Lovefilm service still has many fans, some of whom have expressed their disappointment at the closing of the service because:
  • Many more film titles appear to be available on DVD and Blu-ray compared to streaming services.
  • DVDs and Blu-ray don’t suffer from the buffering that streaming can suffer from.
  • Some film buffs prefer the ritual and the experience (and the excitement) of receiving a physical film through the post and putting it in a player.
  • Committed DVD and Blue-ray watchers may not have video shops nearby.

Dead Formats?

Streaming has now become common, with high-quality 4K and HDR being offered by streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Google Play Movies. Sales of DVDs and Blu-rays in the US, for example, have gone down 7% year-on-year, while subscriptions for streaming services grew 23% last year.

Here in the UK, streaming services have overtaken DVD and Blu-ray sales and rentals for the first time, with revenues surging to almost £1.3bn in the UK last year. Sales of physical video discs fell 17% to £894m, with the physical rental market down 21% to just £49m.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how physical (disc-based) formats have become less popular with consumers, who now prefer digital and streamed film and TV content. The benefits to customers are that it is immediate, convenient, can be watched on mobile devices, doesn’t require storage space in the home (eliminates DVD clutter), it is available on-demand any time, and it eliminates local / regional variations in available titles (you’re not limited by what the local shop stocks).

For businesses offering these services, there are many benefits including the elimination of costs associated with the storage and distribution of social media, fewer piracy worries, greater knowledge about customers and their viewing habits / preferences, and better billing and price / plan segmentation opportunities. It also offers more advertising revenue opportunities.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Guest Wi-Fi - Setting up a private hotspot

If you have frequent visitors at your business or home, you will probably be fed up with them asking for your WLAN key (password) every time. You may want to share your WLAN with friends or visitors, but really you shouldn’t reveal your main network key, but rather set up a guest WLAN for them to use.

Why would you need to set up a WLAN? Quite simply, if you let friends or visitors onto your own network, you are legally responsible for all that they do on the World Wide Web. If, for example, they visit illegal sites or download content, the “owner” of the WLAN will be held responsible. Another problem is that if malicious software has been installed i.e viruses or trojans on one of your friends’ devices, you will open the door to them on your own network.

Guest wifi in your business or home

Our service for you: We come to your home and set up your guest Wifi
Guest WLAN
No matter where you are, everyone is permanently online on their smartphone or tablet. If you are surfing using LTE or 3G your data allowance is used up very quickly. Apps and Internet will run very slowly or only partially load or not at all. So because of this. If WLAN is available, whether it be in a shopping centre or at a friends house: we will use it if we can.  Of course you agree to share your wireless LAN because you are a good friend. But ideally you should set up a guest WLAN for them.

How does a guest WLAN or private hotspot work?

A guest WLAN operates independently of its “mother” WLAN, has its own SSID (network identification). This can be individually configured. Users connect to the Internet as usual, but have no access to the local network and the devices installed there. Many of the current routers already provide a default feature, such as ” guest network “, ” guests “, ” guest access “, or ” virtual access points “. Certain pages or services can also be completely blocked or restricted by the filter system for guest WLAN.  For example, with the right settings, you can ensure that pornographic content will not be shown.

Guest WLAN securely

When setting up a guest WLAN access, you also need to exercise caution. Often, the basic settings of the routers are configured to provide an open network without additional password protection. This means that anyone and everyone can connect to it. Even the guy parked outside of a neighbours house – or your neighbours themselves. Therefore, the guest WLAN should also be secured via WPA2 and password.

At Limbtec we can assist you in setting up your WLAN and also advise you on how to set up guest access.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Consumers Still Unaware of Current Account Switching Service

Recent research has shown that despite spending £750m on an IT system that has simplified and sped up the process of changing bank account providers, only 28% of us know that the Current Account Switching Service (CASS) exists.

What Is CASS And What Does It Do?

CASS was introduced by the Banking Commission in 2013 as a result of concerns from consumers and because of a widely recognised lack of competition in the banking industry. The service simplifies and speeds up the process of changing banks. Before CASS, this process typically took 30 days, but using CASS it now only takes a week to switch bank accounts. CASS also makes sure all payments made to the old account are redirected to the new account, thereby ensuring that payments are not lost if the old account details are erroneously used.

Less Than One-Third Aware

Recent research by the TSB has shown that, 4 years after its introduction, less than one-third of consumers are aware of CASS and its benefits.

Why?

The research revealed that CASS is underused because there has been a lack of communication to consumers about the service.

What is also revealing in the TSB’s research findings is the fact that in the past 12 months, the number of consumers using the CASS service to switch bank accounts has fallen by 14%.

Challenger Banks

The TSB research has shown that, even though are new players in the banking industry, and an increase in the visibility of so-called ‘challenger banks’ in the UK, 68% of consumers still think that there is less competition in the market compared to last year.

The TSB appears to see itself as a challenger bank, and its research does not bode well for other challengers in the banking sector.

No Informed Choice

The results of the research appear to justify the TSB’s conclusions. It found that 41% of consumers believe it’s hard to make an informed choice when switching, 38% do not see the benefits of switching, and 28% think that all products are essentially the same.

The reporting of the TSB’s research may therefore have gone some way towards making more people aware of their right to switch banks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The results of the TSB research shows that, even after a 3-year long investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into competition in retail banking, the big banks still have a stronghold on the market, and consumers are missing out. It is of course advantageous to the big banks that this lack of awareness about CASS exists, and it appears to be getting worse. Indeed, some have accused the big banks of taking their customers for granted, trapping them on poor deals, and then making it impossible to switch.

It has been estimated that the average person could be £70 better off by switching, and that equates to a collective £10 million in savings that consumers are missing out on because of the lack of awareness about CASS.

The solution may be, therefore, to force banks to promote CASS and to explain its benefits to their customers. Many think that the CMA also needs to make more of an effort to promote the CSS and to encourage consumers to shop around for a bank account.

Li-Fi Could Boost Wi-Fi

Upcoming wireless protocol Light Fidelity or Li-Fi could be used to complement and boost Wi-Fi by turning special LED light bulbs into network access points, and by co-existing in mobile devices to improve performance.

What Is Li-Fi?

Light Fidelity or Li-Fi is a wireless protocol that uses the visible light spectrum to provide wireless networking access. It essentially a way of using light to transfer data.

Li-Fi was first introduced in 2011 at a TEDGlobal conference by Professor Harald Haas. Professor Haas is reported to have created Li-Fi because he believed that the RF spectrum wasn’t enough for things like multimedia, and he was inspired by the spectrum crunch i.e. the lack of available wireless frequencies needed to support a growing number of consumer devices.

How Could It Work?

Professor Harald Haas demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress how a Li-Fi dongle, an integrated Li-Fi luminaire (light bulb), and a bi-directional link with special photo detector at both ends (in each) could be used to send and receive data. The dongle (plugged into a mobile device) can thereby send infrared LED data to the ceiling light. The light(s) can be hooked up to a network for example.

As a person moves around with the device, multiple Li-Fi lights in the room could mean that the device is able to automatically detect where the strongest signal is coming from, and can shift to that light source so the signal always stays connected and at full strength. In this way Wi-Fi could be boosted and improved with the help of Li-Fi.

Faster Than Wi-Fi

With Li-Fi, a Li-Fi transmitter uses LED lights to control light intensity. This data can then be read by a photosensitive receiver. The advantage here is speed. This is because LEDs use chips to control light output and thereby achieve millions of modulations per second, thus enabling LEDs to transmit data up to 100 times faster than Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi’s Impact

Many of us now rely upon Wi-Fi as we increasingly need and use mobile computing and communications for our work and social lives. Employees use Wi-Fi to access corporate networks, and independent workers turn coffee shops into offices using Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi’s Shortcomings

Although Wi-Fi is now used widely, it has several known shortcomings. For example, distance is often an issue, walls are literal barriers for connection, and Wi-Fi connections can be insecure and easily hacked. Also, despite the increase in bandwidth over time, an access point becomes a bottleneck when many users access it all at the same time, and there are real issues with security and scalability.

Complementary

Although Li-Fi cannot penetrate a wall, it could be used to complement and help reduce some of the shortcomings of Wi-Fi. Both technologies could co-exist in devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

A Long Way Off

Many technical commentators have pointed out that the use of Li-Fi e.g. in mobile devices, is still likely to be at least 5 years off. Challenges to its wide scale introduction, for example, include the fact that special receivers and transmitters will need to be incorporated in mobile devices, and specially designed chips will be needed to encode and decode to convert light signals into data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As more of us rely on an increasing number of smart and mobile devices, and with the challenges of a limited number of frequencies we can use, coupled with the obvious shortcomings of Wi-Fi, something needs to be done. Li-Fi provides a workable way to overcome many of the challenges we face with Wi-Fi and to give it a much needed boost. It’s also an innovative way of linking existing technologies together that could provide new opportunities for businesses as suppliers e.g. marketing Li-Fi light bulbs, and as users.

It is important to realise, however, that, for all its promise, Li-Fi is still a work in progress, and the predictions are that it could be very costly and politically difficult to introduce any time soon on a large scale.