Tech man says other tech man shouldn’t build god

Prayer

If you think back a few weeks you may recall the story about a man who’s trying to build an artificial intelligence (AI) god.

For reasons known only to himself (though I suspect some kind of cash-generating angle is involved) former Google employee Anthony Levandowski has declared his intentions to build an AI deity for folk to worship, and, who knows, perhaps throw money at.

So far, so silly, and American, but now committed tweeter Elon Musk has got involved, tweeting that Levandowski should be ‘On the list of people who should absolutely *not* be allowed to develop digital superintelligence’.

Excellent, some plot-thickening: seems these two have some history.

In 2015, Levandowski set up, or registered, or whatever you have to do to create a new dogma, a religion called Way of the Future. After leaving Google, the would-be god-birther created a driverless lorry firm, Otto, which was later bought by Uber – which later sacked Levandowski after allegations he stole some of his self-driving ideas from Google.

Musk, who believes we live in a simulated universe so one wonders why he cares about anything, has invested heavily in self-driving vehicle technology himself, so perhaps that’s the source of his animosity towards poor old Mr Levandowski, who, after all, merely wants to build a spiritual robot that will control humanity.

Things get dafter every day, don’t they? And that’s fine with me.

Anyhow, here’s The Way of the Future’s not-at-all-creepy mission statement: ‘To develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.’

 

Tech man says other tech man shouldn’t build god

Warren Peace: New ransomware strikes

Rabbit

After a quiet couple of months on the ransomware front, a new strain has reared its head.

‘Bad Rabbit’ has struck systems in Ukraine and Russia, and is apparently very similar to the previous catastrophe, WannaCry – which isn’t very surprising as they’re both ransomware.

The menacing annoyance has already hit a railway and an airport in Ukraine – and three websites in Russia, which sounds a little underwhelming to be honest but we should be grateful for small mercies.

IIya Sachkov, top dog at a Russian cyber-security firm, said: ‘In some of the companies, the work has been completely paralysed – servers and workstations are encrypted.’

Ransomware locks computers and then demands payments from users if they wish to ever access their files again. Bad Rabbit demands 0.05 bitcoins, about £213, to relinquish control of a system, which, though still outrageous, sounds kind of reasonable.

According to security company Eset, the iniquitous software has been spread in a fake Adobe Flash update. I gave up updating Adobe products in 2003 so who knows what depths of evil I have waiting for me when I finally give in and click ‘ok’.

Over in the US of A, officials have confirmed that they’ve ‘received multiple reports of Bad Rabbit ransomware infections in many countries around the world’.

Cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab has also chimed in, but as its reputation is currently in tatters following allegations it helped the Russian government spy on people, it’s up to you if you want to pay any attention. Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky said: ‘According to our data, most of the victims targeted by these attacks are located in Russia.’

Warren Peace: New ransomware strikes

UK has new top smart city

Smart city

I didn’t know it was but I now know that it isn’t – once the UK’s leading smart city, London is no more (the UK’s leading smart city, that is – it hasn’t been blown up).

Millions of Londoners took to the streets early this morning, their tears soaking the pavements as they mourned the news. They didn’t really, of course, but which modern metropolis has stolen the smart city crown from the formidable capital? Will I ever tell you, or just keep churning out endless paragraphs that tease and frustrate?

Before I tell you, let’s look at what a smart city actually is. Stuff like 5G, the internet of things, driverless vehicles, and strategies that try to improve air quality, healthcare and renewable energy qualify as smart city paraphernalia.

Thus, according to phone-maker Huawei’s annual Smart Cities Index, I can reveal that Bristol is the new prince of all things smart city.

The index praised the south west city for the ‘significant strides’ it’s taken by making innovation an element of its strategy. It has also opened a smart city operations centre and created connectivity testbeds, which sound very nice.

Sir Andrew Cahn, a Huawei UK board member, commented: ‘The successful cities of the future are going to be smart cities. It’s clear from this report that cities across the UK have made considerable progress over the last year, developing and implementing strategies to improve the delivery of public services and the urban environment.’

London, you must double your efforts.

Do you live in Bristol? Did you wake up this morning sensing that your surroundings were somehow ‘smarter’? Please let us know.

UK has new top smart city

Surprise headline: Lots of UK broadband users being ripped off

Telegraph poleOver half of the UK’s broadband (BB) consumers are suffering poor service, a survey has found.

Which? discovered that 53% of the country’s households have faced struggles with their connection to the wonderful wild world of the world wide web.

ISPs TalkTalk, Sky, Virgin Media and, wouldn’t you know, BT have been revealed as the BB firms causing the greatest aggravation to users, who often just want to check some emails and watch a YouTube vid of a cat jumping into a box.

According to Which? only 10% of customers get the connection speeds that were promised to them in glossy, slick adverts. Meanwhile, 17% complained that connection drop-outs regularly destroyed their browsing enjoyment, and 8% said that they sometimes suffer hours or days without any internet being pumped into their homes at all.

Landline rental charges are also a bane to the UK’s long-suffering BB customers. In January, good old BT brought in its third line rental price rise in 18 months (providing a substandard service isn’t cheap, obviously), while 38% of Virgin Media customers are livid about their provider’s price hikes.

Commenting on the outrage, Which? said: ‘Far too many people get a poor deal from their broadband provider, with problems ranging from very slow speeds to going days without any connection at all, which just isn’t good enough.’

BB regulator Ofcom, which recently started a consultation looking at allowing people to dump their BB supplier without an exit charge if the service is rubbish, completely agrees that ISPs must improve, saying ‘we completely agree’.

Surprise headline: Lots of UK broadband users being ripped off

Socitm Welsh Conference 2017: How I learned to stop worrying and love the cloud

Old computer

Well. This was a presentation I won’t forget in a hurry. SBL Director Colin Williams’ stunning 45 minutes of…I’m not sure what…blazed through a succession of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them slides that seemed to cover all human history up to this point.

I paraphrase slightly, but Colin started with something along the lines of: ‘I bring you tidings of great peril. Everything you cherish and hold dear is near the end. These machines are the work of Satan. The dark web is shrouding your every move. There are attacks everywhere. Shadowy figures everywhere. It’s cybergeddon.’

Wow. I considered smashing my phone to bits on the spot and swallowing the pieces. Yet I held on.

Colin’s theatrically-driven, expertly delivered tirade led him to one Vannevar Bush – one of those characters from history I’ve never heard of but who seems to have invented everything – and paraphrased one of his quotes: ‘Unless we change our relationship with information, we’re screwed.’

I couldn’t quite make out when Colin was being ironic and when he was being serious – or if he was ever being ironic or serious at all. It was baffling and foreboding fun.

Another powerful thinker I’d never heard of was introduced: J.C.R Licklider, a man who also invented everything. ‘You encounter his creations every single day,’ said Colin. Among many other things, Licklider apparently anticipated Facebook – yet he did nothing to stop it!

I gave up trying to make notes; it was all too fast and dazzling. You just had to sit back and enjoy the show.

Colin concluded (I think): ‘We need microsensors fitted in all devices that use electricity. Everything needs to talk to everything else.’ Our fridges, our cars, our toilets. Yes, our toilets. Finally, the electric toilet.

If you get a chance to see this man in action, take it – but perhaps have a couple of drinks first.

 

 

 

 

 

Socitm Welsh Conference 2017: How I learned to stop worrying and love the cloud

Digital cities? You have been challenged!

Digital City

Earlier this month, a thing called the ‘Digital Cities Challenge’ was brought into the world – and if you keep reading, I’ll try to tell you what it is.

Launched during the European Week of Regions and Cities, the contest, if that’s the right word, invites Europe’s cities to ‘improve the life of their citizens through the development and implementation of digital policies’.

The challenge’s instigators are aiming to select 15 of the continent’s cities (I’m not sure if towns are allowed) that have both a ‘strong will to change’ and ‘unreleased potential which will receive support from high-level experts with local and international experience in designing and implementing digital transformation strategies, free of charge and in their local language for 14-18 months to achieve their goals for improving citizens’ lives’.

Here’s a list of things that your city might consider if it fancies having a pop at the challenge: equipping local talent with digital skills; building a ‘collaborative economy’ that’ll help create social cohesion; starting a smart parking policy to reduce emissions; drilling to the earth’s core in the search for precious metals (I made this one up).

All the important details are here on this curiously written press release – composed, I suspect, by someone who speaks/writes English as a second language.

Digital cities? You have been challenged!

Socitm Welsh Conference 2017: AI in Enfield

LB Pic 2

Cymru 2017: a day packed with tiptop speakers, covering a myriad of cutting-edge subjects. Also, the surrounding hills were very lush.

One of the sessions I attended was Nadira Hussain’s, Head of ICT at the London Borough of Enfield, who presented delegates with an overview of the council’s artificial intelligence (AI) journey.

Enfield is one of 33 London boroughs, said Nadira, and one of the bigger ones, with around 350,000 residents – a number that is due to increase by around 10,000 every year.

The ICT head explained how the council is looking at building on the ‘digitally inclusive way of doing things’ aligned with its customer service strategy, which is in the process of being refreshed.

With the borough receiving more than 55,000 calls a month and its website taking 35,000 hits a day, Nadira and her team looked to automation and self-service to ‘plug the gap’ – presenting an opportunity to allow the majority of the public to contact the council using on-line services, whilst it focuses its efforts on the members of the community that can’t.

This is how the AI system ‘Amelia’ came about. Developed with cognitive systems firm IPsoft, Amelia has been integrated with Enfield’s digital platform and will be used to respond to enquiries from the public.

Nadira said: ‘It’s been 18 months of dedication and hard work. Our own internal teams, including the business have worked in partnership with IPsoft to refine the product so that now Amelia will use script and voice to respond to queries. The next step is to enable Amelia to be talked to – which isn’t very far away’. Amelia is due to go-live by the end of the year.

Indeed, things are starting to pay off. The team focussed Amelia on planning permission enquiries – of which there are 32 different processes, such as seeking permission to build patios, windows and doors, extensions, drop kerbs and fuel tanks.

Nadira explained: ‘Enfield is very ethnically diverse so we’ve had to factor in different languages and accents. The idea is the more she does, the more she learns.

‘It’s all very exciting. The question is: where can we go next with it? Council tax? Housing? We could even farm Amelia out to help ease the strain on our own back-office systems.’

Anyway, here’s a video that Enfield have made about Amelia that Nadira showed during her presentation, which is sure to do a better job of explaining what’s actually going on than my crummy write-up. Enjoy:

 

Socitm Welsh Conference 2017: AI in Enfield