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

Friday round-up: A week in tech

Dominoes got hacked_blog.pngThe Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has become wary of this fancy new artificial intelligence (AI) stuff, and is calling on the prime minister to launch a commission to look into it.

With forecasts warning that 20% of UK jobs could be under threat from AI, the CBI wants the troubled Theresa May to start a commission next year – though as the PM can’t even utter anything coherent on the Brexit mess, it seems unlikely they’ll get much sense out of her on the subject of futuristic cognitive systems.

According to the lobby group, 50% of the country’s companies intend to port some of their systems over to AI in the future, so there’s probably plenty to be concerned about.

Proper report with lots of detail here.

***

This is an odd one: Amazon and Microsoft are being sued (not Siouxed) by a Native American tribe.

The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe reacted in the wake of the two big tech firms allegedly infringing patents it holds on various data-processing systems.

Interesting: I didn’t know any Native American Tribes developed data-processing systems.

And it turns out, at least in this case, they don’t. The patents were actually assigned to the tribe by tech firm SRC Labs. So, what’s going on?

Apparently, ‘tribal sovereignty’ of a patent means that the patents in question can’t be scrutinized by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, for some reason.

US officials seem to be waking up to the bizarre scheme. A senator recently drafted a bill after pharmaceutical firm Allergan tried to transfer the patent for a dry-eye medication to the same tribe.

Senator McCaskill said: ‘Congress never imagined tribes would allow themselves to be used by pharmaceutical companies to avoid challenges to patents, and this bill will shut the practice down before others follow suit.’

I could probably make more sense of this with a quick look at Wiki, but, you know, that would be cheating.

***

Vendor of sloppy, low grade, fat-packed slices of “cheese” and various other bits of mush Domino’s has blamed a data breach it has suffered on someone else.

The firm’s Australian division claims that a former supplier somehow leaked a list of their customers’ names and email addresses to spammers.

Customers who started receiving ‘eerie’ personalised emails have slammed the pizza outfit for not informing them about the breach – the standard response by firms who are hacked these days (sssh, they’ll never find out).

Writing on Domino’s Facebook page, former fan Mitchell Dale raged: ‘The decision to try to keep me in the dark and not announce what had happened is why I will not be ordering Dominos again.’

Having turned his back on Domino’s, Mitchell now intends trying something called ‘food’.

Friday round-up: A week in tech

Violence, hate and revenge porn is bad, Twitter realises

Twitter

A mere few years since the problem came to wide public attention, Twitter has decided to do something about some of the desperate horrors that are committed on its network on a second-by-second basis.

The social media giant has announced the introduction of new rules that will apparently combat things like violent organisations, hate symbols, revenge porn and unwanted sexual advances.

A spokesperson earnestly intoned: ‘We hope our approach and upcoming changes, as well as our collaboration with the Trust and Safety Council, show how seriously we are rethinking our rules and how quickly we’re moving to update our policies and how we enforce them.’

I love the ‘how quickly’ bit. It’s been a cesspit of diabolical slime for years!

Anyhow, the changes have followed last week’s #womanboycotttwitter protest, which itself followed the suspension of actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account after she tweeted tweets concerning the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Following this? I’m not sure how tweeting ‘#womenboycotttwitter’ could be effective, because you have to use Twitter to tweet it, don’t you?

But it did seem to work, because in response Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, tweeted: ‘We see voices being silenced on Twitter every day. We’ve been working to counteract this for the past 2 years. We prioritized this in 2016. We updated our policies and increased the size of our teams. It wasn’t enough.’

The new rules will see the responses to revenge porn and unwanted sexual advances beefed-up, while hateful imagery and symbols while be classified as ‘sensitive media’.

Meanwhile ‘organisations that use violence as a means to advance their cause’ will have ‘enforcement action’ taken against them, so I assume the US government’s account is going to be blocked pretty swiftly.

Not everyone’s happy about the move. Tweeting to CEO Dorsey, anti-harassment campaigner Brianna Wu said: ‘Unless you are investing more in personnel and training staff in subjects they may not understand, this isn’t going to solve it.’

So, undoubtedly plenty more twists and turns and tweets to come, then.

Violence, hate and revenge porn is bad, Twitter realises

Spanning the gap: Dutch build world’s first 3D-printed bridge

Bridge.jpg

The bike-loving Dutch have constructed the earth’s first 3D-printed bridge, with cyclists set to be the chief beneficiaries.

The 8m ditch crossing joins two roads in the town of Gamert, south east Holland, and is made from around 800 layers of pre-stressed concrete.

The bridge, which I’m assuming was produced on something a little more significant than the HP Deskjet I have at home, took three months to print and can take a load of up to two tonnes.

In a statement on its website, the Eindhoven University of Technology, which printed the thing, claims that a key advantage of printing concrete is that much less of the stuff is needed than ‘in the conventional technique, in which a mold (formwork) is filled with concrete’.

Handily, the ‘printer deposits only the concrete where it is needed, which decreases the use of cement. This reduces CO2 emissions, as cement production has a very high carbon footprint’.

You can read more about the marvel here.

(N.B. The picture above isn’t the bridge in question. I wasn’t sure of the legality of using the pics available so didn’t use any of them)

Spanning the gap: Dutch build world’s first 3D-printed bridge

Sleep crisis: Tech heads can drop off

Sleep

The UK’s tech directors are struggling to get to sleep at night, research has revealed.

Digital agency Manifesto’s survey found that 41% of the country’s tech directors are suffering when they hit the pillows: 20% because their working days are too jampacked with jobs, and 21% because of complications in their work/life balance.

Meanwhile, 17% said that ‘unrealistic deadlines’ kept them wired at night; 20% reported that unsolved work problems were making them stare wistfully at the moon till 5am; and 13% said that concerns about running their teams are forcing them downstairs to watch ITV3 into the small hours.

Manifesto’s CEO, Jim Bowes, who I hope has a grand sleeplife, said: ‘Our latest research suggests that technology directors often struggle to get the support they need in the workplace. With such a demanding role to fulfil, many technologists seem to be getting caught up in the day-to-day running of the business, rather than focussing on how technology can add real value to the company.

‘Given the vital role that technology plays in modern business, senior management needs to readdress this balance and ensure they are empowering their technology directors to drive innovation and keep the company one step ahead of the competition.’

As for myself, I struggled with insomnia for years. One day I went to the doctor, and she said that I didn’t have insomnia, but amnesia: I’d simply been forgetting that I’d been asleep. Sorry.

Sleep crisis: Tech heads can drop off