Swinney highlights Scottish digital accelerator

John Swinney

By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine

A digital accelerator is helping Scotland to match public sector problems with entrepreneurial answers, according to deputy first minister John Swinney.

Speaking at Socitm’s President’s Conference in Glasgow on 9 May, Swinney highlighted the CivTech digital accelerator project as a key way Scotland is using technology to improve government.

‘What started as a pilot programme in the Scottish Government has now grown into a flagship innovation programme,’ he told the event. ‘The CivTech model exposes policy-makers to cutting-edge approaches towards innovation and puts young tech entrepreneurs on the public sector’s radar.’

CivTech pays entrepreneurs to pitch solutions to public sector problems, as well as providing access to senior staff and training. Speaking later, CivTech’s head Alexander Holt told the conference that of the nine businesses that took part in the scheme in 2016, eight are still in operation, having created the equivalent of 30 full-time jobs. They have worked with a range of public sector organisations, including Scottish councils.

Holt said that a standard procurement exercise can take 30 months to deliver results, and relies on organisations knowing what to ask for. ‘How can we procure what we don’t know exists?’ he asked, adding that procurement legislation is more flexible than is commonly thought.

Theo Blackwell, London’s chief digital officer, told the event that the UK capital hopes to improve innovation and collaboration through a new Smart London plan, due this summer.

As well as innovation, the conference also examined citizen and community engagement, including a presentation on how Sweden benefits from its high level of trust in government; ethical uses of automation such as artificial intelligence, with Maryvonne Hassall of Aylesbury Vale District Council discussing that council’s work; and cybersecurity, with Professor Bill Buchanan of Edinburgh Napier University discussing how technologies including smart contracts could revolutionise public services.

Swinney highlights Scottish digital accelerator

Friday roundup: A week in tech

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It’s a sad week for Cambridge Analytica enthusiasts: the morally whiffy company has announced it’s shutting down – dissolving phantom-like into the mists of time and hazy legality, if you will.

The firm – which has become a byword for unscrupulous internet mischief following revelations that it reaped the personal data of millions of people with the aim of influencing various elections – has reasoned that it cannot go on, as a consequence of the hated mainstream media and its depraved obsession with printing factual accounts of wrongdoing.

According to this Guardian story from which I’ve harvested many of the details, CA is starting insolvency proceedings, and in a statement said: ‘Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully, the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.’ Ha, right!

But dry those tears, gigantic dodgy data operation fans, for, according to this other story I’ve been harvesting, CA’s sodden phoenix is set to rise from its ignominious heap of binary ashes as new outfit Emerdata.

And we surely have little reason to doubt that the fresh enterprise will take an entirely different approach, employing irreproachably ethical standards and a Windolene-polished transparency in all of its dealings.

According to former CA employee turned grass Christopher Wylie, the data taken from Facebook was used to influence Donald Trump’s election as US president and the outcome of the UK’s European referendum. Hurray for democracy! What a time to be alive!

***

Twitter have advised their 336 million users to shut their accounts and go out into the world and try to enjoy their short lives instead of getting into fiery, pointless arguments with hot-headed strangers on the network.

No, they haven’t. What they’ve actually done is urged everyone to change their passwords, in the wake of a security cockup.

Due to a bug, users’ passwords were stored ‘unmasked in an internal log’ – though, the firm has said, there is no evidence of any breaches.

In a surely unintentionally laughable statement, Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s CTO, said: ‘We are very sorry this happened. We recognise and appreciate the trust you place in us, and are committed to earning that trust every day [my italics].’

By now, you should be able to insert your own jokes here – unless you’re a Russian bot, of course; in which case, just retweet ‘Hillary practices #witchcraft, vote Trump. EU evil, back #Brexit’ and so on.

***

Broadband providers will soon have to take more care in how they advertise their products, after new rules come in later this month.

Using a practice called ‘lying’, ISPs regularly make bold, fabricated claims about the broadband speeds they are able to provide.

However, from 23 May, the Advertising Standards Authority will insist that providers publish the median speed of the connection they are able to provide between 8-10pm, the time of day when most people are using the internet to watch TV, check bank accounts, find love, write complaining emails to their hopeless ISP, etc.

Furthermore, the frankly ridiculous and mendacity-saturated ‘speeds of up to’ line will be forbidden – a solid staple in the deceptive world of broadband advertising.

Should anyone produce an advert containing misleading codswallop, the ASA will now ban it.

Speaking to the BBC, an ASA spokesman said: ‘If a broadband provider is making speed claims in its ads post-23 May, then it will have to hold the evidence to prove the basis on which that claim is made. Numerical speed claims in broadband ads should be based on the download speed available to at least 50% of customers at peak time and described in ads as “average”.’

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Antivirus: NHS staff set for AI and robot training

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Thousands of NHS staff could soon be trained to work with artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, as a review looking into how health professionals can best use new technologies begins.

Alarmists concerned that this news heralds the health service’s first step towards providing MOTs and oil changes for our future cyborg masters can relax – the assessment will actually look at what sorts of skillsets the likes of AI will demand of staff in the future.

A man from America called Dr Eric Topol is leading the review, which is set to start at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, where machine-learning is currently being scrutinised for its usefulness in analysing eye scans.

Dr Topol, a cardiologist, said: ‘While it’s hard to predict the future, we know artificial intelligence, digital medicine, and genomics will have an enormous impact for improving the efficiency and precision in healthcare. Our review will focus on the extraordinary opportunities to leverage these technologies for the healthcare workforce and power a sustainable and vibrant NHS.’

Our currently human yet figuratively robotic health minister Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, outputted the following typically insincere mechanical gibberish: ‘These [technologies] give us a glimpse of what the future of the whole NHS could be, which is why in the year of the NHS’s 70th birthday I want to empower staff to offer patients modern healthcare more widely and more quickly.’

Antivirus: NHS staff set for AI and robot training

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Phone Apps

Mark Zuckerberg, head honcho of inept global disgrace Facebook, is to be issued with a ‘formal summons’ by MPs – though ‘formal summons’ would be more accurately put ‘will be asked’ as they wouldn’t appear to have the power to actually demand his presence.

Earlier this month, Mr Zuckerberg dispatched his sidekick, chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, to assure MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that everything’s ok in Facebook Land, even if it sometimes seems incredibly suspicious.

But, would you believe, after failing to sufficiently fully answer 40 points put to him, the CTO’s display was deemed ‘unsatisfactory’, stirring the committee’s chair, Damian Collins, to the following words: ‘Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand man, whom we were assured could represent his views, today failed to answer many specific and detailed questions about Facebook’s business practices.’ Ha, really?

Despite the panoply of ongoing scandals, the firm – remarkably, astonishingly, unbelievably – announced a massive increase in sales this week, with figures rising by almost 50% in the last quarter to $11.9 billion. What, exactly, does this firm have to do to dent its ability to make lots of money?

 ***

Talking of firms doing well despite experiencing rotten times, it seems that Intel isn’t doing too badly either.

The chipmaker was in disarray at the start of year after it was revealed that its CPUs were vulnerable to the Spectre and Meltdown security flaws.

The company attempted a number of fixes, some of which created even more problems such as impairing CPUs’ performance.

However, everyone, including me, seems to have forgotten about all of that, as Intel has just announced profits of $16.1 billion for 2018’s 1st quarter, up 13% year-on-year.

There seems little else to say but ‘well done for successfully navigating what appeared to be an irredeemable catastrophe’ I suppose.

***

Hotel doors around the world are vulnerable to hacks, researchers have found – so it might be an idea to jam a chair up under the handle before you settle down to sleep in that Travel Lodge outside Yeovil this evening.

Door checkers the F-Secure team found that software used in millions of electronic locks allowed them to forge master keys, which granted them access to hotel rooms without leaving an activity log.

The team was moved to investigate the locks after a colleague’s laptop was swiped from a hotel room with no electronic trace of illicit entry. (Did they interrogate the maid? It’s always the maid.)

Assa Abloy, the Swedish manufacturer of the loose locks, reckons there isn’t much to worry about, claiming that ‘these old locks represent only a small fraction’ of its products, and, besides, hotels began rolling out a fix months ago – so, in summary, keep buying our locks, ok?

F-Secure’s Timo Hirvonen said: ‘We wanted to find out if it’s possible to bypass the electronic lock without leaving a trace. Only after we thoroughly understood how it was designed were we able to identify seemingly innocuous shortcomings and come up with a method for creating master keys.’

As an added layer of terror for those who find hotel rooms spooky anyway, the hack has been called Ghosts In The Lock exploit, so sleep well.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Ticket-buying robots facing ban

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The UK government is drawing up plans to ban robots from buying tickets for concerts and musicals – and, I assume, other things you might need tickets for, such as An Evening With Les Dennis.

Robots buying tickets? What madness is this? Actually, what the authorities want to crack down on is ticket touts swallowing up vast amounts of tickets with automated software – which they then sell on at massively inflated prices to fill their greedy pockets.

The ticket-tackling legislation will be presented to MPs this week, and if passed those who use software in such a covetous manner will ‘face an unlimited fine’.

Back in December, the Telegraph reported that tickets to the hip-hop musical Hamilton were being sold by touts for up to £6,000. Meanwhile, and also in 2017, the inexplicably popular Ed Sheeran was so incensed by the antics of touts that he cancelled 10,000 tickets to some of his shows that were being sold online at ridiculous prices.

Anyway, Margot James, minister for the digital and creative industries, is ‘determined to make sure everyone has the chance to see their favourite stars at a fair price,’ adding bullishly that ‘this week we will reach the final stage in our fight to beat rip-off ticket touts using bots to buy huge numbers of tickets, only to sell them on at massively overinflated prices’.

In a broader sense, is this the start of the surely guaranteed war between the government and the artificial intelligence we are creating to one day replace us? If so, looks like it’s 1-0 to the carbon-based lifeforms.

Ticket-buying robots facing ban

Friday roundup: A week in tech

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If you’re to be jailed at any point in the future, try to get a transfer to an Icelandic prison – because things would appear to be pretty laid back there.

A man suspected of stealing 600 computers as part of a Bitcoin caper climbed out of a window at a low-security prison and then got on a plane to Sweden, which also had the Icelandic prime minister on board, naturally.

Sindri Thor Stefansson’s air ticket had someone else’s name on it, which was clearly enough to fox Iceland’s customs staff.

The PCs – worth a combined £1.45 million – were snatched over a series of raids at data centres in the volcanic country, in an spree apparently masterminded by the Beano-esque Stefansson.

The Icelandic media are calling the antic the ‘Big Bitcoin Heist’, but I can’t work out if the computers were stolen and then used to mine Bitcoins, or were already being used to mine Bitcoin when they were stolen.

Anyway, the prison Stefansson strolled out of is unfenced and guests are allowed phones and internet access. I’m not sure it’s even guarded. I mean, why bother?

An international warrant has been issued but the alleged computer thief is currently still on the run. Perhaps he’ll just make his own way back?

***

Tepid drinkery chain JD Wetherspoon has withdrawn from the universe of social media, choosing to focus instead on delivering its core business: tepid experiences.

Actually, the firm reckons its immediately dumping Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because of the ‘trolling’ of MPs, with chairman Tim Martin adding that society would be a nicer place if people stopped using social media.

However, some sniggering cynics have suggested the move is more likely driven by criticism the pub chain often receives online, plus Chairman Martin’s enthusiasm for Brexit, which has led to a backlash on the ol’ internet. Oh, and the fact that the company only has 44,000 Twitter followers and around 100,000 Facebook fans – pretty small beer, really.

Whatever the reason, will the move see other firms following suit? Chairman Martin certainly hopes not, claiming that ‘we’ve got a massive commercial advantage because everyone else is wasting hours of their time’ – which sounds a little goading, almost trolling, to me, but we’ll see, won’t we.

***

Google, Facebook and Amazon should be broken up, a man has said. Which man? Vince Cable. Who’s he? The leader of the Liberal Democrats. Who are they? (This joke can go on and on.)

Seriously, speaking somewhere in London yesterday, the MP said that scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica debacle meant that tech firms had ‘progressed from heroes to villains very quickly’.

The one-time business secretary under yesteryear’s coalition government added that internet things like YouTube are being used as a ‘conduit for content which society regards as unacceptable’.

He went on: ‘There is a case for splitting Amazon into three separate businesses – one offering cloud computing, one acting as a general retailer and one offering a third-party marketplace. Other examples would be Facebook being forced to divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp as a condition for operating in the EU, creating two new social media networks. Divesting Google of YouTube would be another.’

He doesn’t want much, does he? Smart as his ideas are, there is about as much chance of, for instance, Google being forced to part with YouTube as there is of a UK student believing anything a Liberal Democrat says ever again.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Top ten reasons to attend the Socitm President’s Conference

 

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On 8-9 May 2018, the Socitm President’s Conference will come to Glasgow, providing an in-depth view into the technologies and trends emerging in the public sector today. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about citizen and community engagement, ethical automation, cybersecurity, and the new delivery models and technologies set to transform the sector in the years to come. Here are just a few reasons why we think you should attend this year’s conference.

Learn about digital transformation
Digital transformation has emerged as quite the hot topic over recent years, and the President’s Conference is taking that knowledge in its stride. With first-hand insights into case studies and exclusive information from digital leaders around the world who have already deployed successful digital strategies, you can learn exactly how to make transformation work for you.

World-class speakers
One of the best reasons to visit the President’s Conference is the impeccable collection of more than 20 renowned speakers set to share their knowledge about the IT and digital world. This is a fantastic opportunity for professionals to learn more from the best in the business and listen to the ideas of leaders who have been a part of the growing digital revolution in the public sector for numerous years.

Keynote address by Scotland’s Deputy First Minster
In what promises to be one of the highlights of the conference, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney will share his insights and visions on the future direction of public services.

Network with top IT professionals
The President’s Conference provides a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and chat with other IT professionals about new technology and the latest innovations in the public sector. It’s also a great way to learn about the challenges peers have faced and how they were met and overcome.

Important sector commercial backers
The supplier community have come together to commercially support the conference, too. These sponsors include, at the highest, Presidential, level, Trend Micro and SBL, with a number of other key public sector suppliers set to offer insights at the show, too.

Interactive and engaging panel discussions
We’re making our conference sessions even more interactive and engaging this year by using Poll Everywhere. With Poll Everywhere, we’ll be able to answer questions and run polls during the panel sessions. Responses will be displayed live on screen.

An evening of dinner, drinks and digital delights
The President’s Dinner on 8 May promises to be an exciting and enthralling event with a delicious three-course dinner, a goodie-filled auction and raffle in honour of our incoming President’s chosen charity, Headway, and an opportunity to network then dance the night away with our fantastic members and sponsors.

Learning is fun
Nobody leaves a Socitm event without learning something. On hand at the conference will be QA, the UK’s leading learning and skills development organisation. They’ll be running sessions that’ll equip you with the invaluable knowledge needed to meet the challenges facing the ICT and digital universe.

Your event, our expertise
We’re particularly excited to be producing the entire event in-house this year, and our talented and experienced team has taken exhaustive guidance from our members and commercial partners to design a conference that delivers the engaging and relevant content our members need, whilst offering the genuine engagement opportunities our commercial partners demand.

A vibrant and dynamic destination
As one of Europe’s most vibrant, welcoming and dynamic cities, Glasgow is justifiably renowned throughout the world for the friendliness, warmth and humour of its people whose civic pride lies at the heart of the city’s continuing success. The President’s Conference takes place the day after the Spring bank holiday so why not make a weekend of it and explore what Glasgow has to offer?

In short, the President’s Conference promises to deliver a lot of answers which your peers may not have access to. So take advantage if you can. Or recommend it to a colleague if you can’t make it yourself. To attend the conference click here to register now!

Top ten reasons to attend the Socitm President’s Conference