Google’s top AI researcher Geoffrey Hinton and sometimes colleagues Yoshua Bengio (founder of Element AI) and Yann LeCun (director of AI at Facebook) share the 2019 Turing Award, announced this week by the Association for Computing Machinery.
The trio, oft described as the “Godfathers of AI”, who split the $1 million annual prize, have celebrated the prize as a vindication of their steadfast belief in deep learning neural networks, even through an era when they were unfashionable within computer science.
The media in the UK celebrated British-born Hinton’s achievements as a feather in the cap for Britain. However, it also should shine a light on our academic system given that Hinton left the UK for California and then Canada after struggling to find funding after obtaining his PhD.
AI and Public Standards – Committee announces review
The committee on Public standards in Public Life, has confirmed a review into frameworks and regulations used to ensure that high standards of conduct are upheld as technologically assisted decision-making is adopted. Committee chair Lord Nolan highlighted with the development and use of data-enabled technologies in public services increasing, both ethical and practical challenges this brings must be examined. An element of the review will focus on artificial intelligence and its impact on standards across the public sector.
£9m awarded to breakthrough digital health technologies
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced new funding towards innovative digital technology projects aimed at addressing challenges in healthcare. Projects will involve the use of machine learning and hand-held devices to improve the targeting of clinical interventions.
Highlight of our tech team’s week was attending the Digital Catapult event looking at practical, ethical AI. As well as healthy panel discussion a keynote featuring Lord Clement-Jones, the event also featured great examples of practical AI in action through a series of lightning talks. We were intrigued by the innovation in action at Ellpha, which is seeking to create a gender balanced world more quickly and using AI in that pursuit. CEO Stefanie Creff provided an example of Ellpha’s HR tool that can be used to spot implicit bias in text.
Hazy AI also presented a lightning talk to showcase their synthetic data generation tool that can reduce privacy concerns of AI data analytics conducted in the cloud. It was really fascinating to see the ways in which ethical AI is being moved forward, beyond just the conversation.
Another interesting start-up in attendance at the event was Loomi.ai. Loomi is creating personalised digital assistants that can essentially act as PAs – democratising access to administrative help (not just the CEO anymore!). It’s a fascinating concept and one that ties in neatly with where the future of work is said to be headed – less rote tasks and admin, more time for creative and strategic thinking.
As anticipated the Chancellor did not shy away from Brexit in his Spring Statement yesterday. As the black hole pulling on the economy, how could he not? Yet, he reserved time to signal his intent to make major changes to regulation of technology juggernauts that will cause vigorous debate for the rest of the week (something we’re hardly in short supply of right now!).
The release of a digital competition review headed by Harvard University professor and former Presidential adviser Jason Furman, conducted for the Treasury, was the major talking point outside of Hammond’s pointed Brexit-focused comments. Furman and other leading policy experts, including Cambridge public policy professor Diane Coyle, recommended several important things in the report. For brevity, the highlights were:
Increased competition scrutiny – tightening rules and forming a new digital markets unit to sit within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)
Empowering consumers – the aforementioned (which aforementioned unit?) unit to set rules on open, shared standards that would allow consumers to more easily move their data between different providers
Scaling the Walled Gardens – a recommended CMA inquiry into the online advertising market and Facebook and Google’s dominance.
Many, including techUK, have poured cold water on the utopia of interoperability and portable data sets, pointing to huge privacy concerns. Stuart Lauchlan, editor of Diginomica, seems less fearful of the impact and takes a more cynical bent, expecting a lack of follow through from Government. Others have already argued that mechanisms for ensuring competition do exist and they could point to Spotify’s EU antitrust complaint. So the possibilities range from government doing the right thing badly, doing nothing at all or doing something pointless.
Yet wariness and cynicism need to give way to dialogue. Simon Duke wrote in this morning’s Times that time was running out for governments to tackle big tech. Conversely, perhaps time is running out for tech companies of all stripes to have their say on what regulation should look like!
No (Fur)man is an Island
This is one report and grandstanding speech amid a litany of assaults on the Big 5. When you consider the totality and the rising sentiment, it is surprising that so little active discussion has happened in response.
Just look at what has happened in the last five days alone:
On competition, Presidential-candidate Elizabeth Warren called for the break up of Facebook and other giants last week. Worryingly, Facebook promptly removed her campaign ads from the platform, although they quickly back tracked!
Back in Blighty, Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright met a group of people affected by online harms on Monday and proclaimed that the “era of self-regulation is coming to an end and online platforms will have to do more to keep their users safe” as he drew further attention to the forthcoming DCMS Online Harms White Paper.
On Friday, a House of Lords committee released a report calling for a Super Digital Regulator to help tackle online harm.
While people are right to make a clear distinction between reports, white papers and reviews and actual policy changes, it’s a mistake not to see the writing on the wall. Industries that have risen to power unchecked have often had to manage belated scrutiny. That’s a necessary evolution and things will be no different this time. A reckoning will come.
What’s curious, however, is the apparent silence in the face of these critiques. TechUK will no doubt continue to be the focal point of representing the industry, but that of course is a broad church (900 members – from the behemoths targeted by these moves, to the plucky seed round innovators that can benefit from a leveller playing field).
Now is the time for a full and frank debate about how tech companies should be regulated in the UK. For it to be fair, it will need to be a cacophony of voices, not a single whisper in the ear of Whitehall.
Madano advises clients across the technology industry. Ifyou’re interested in learning more please get in touch here.
MIPIM 2019 invites the property industry to Engage the Future. As well as a nod to innovation its aim is to encourage leaders to communicate with the next gen on how together a more sustainable future can be created.
Electric vehicles (EVs) is one topic that has rapidly become a significant part of the property conversation since the Government launched its Road to Zero Strategy in July 2018. This political throwing down of the gauntlet has initiated debate on the impact that EVs have on the design, development and planning requirements for future builds with some local planning authorities insisting that new residential schemes are developed with EV charging infrastructure.
But how much demand is being driven by today’s customer and what does that trajectory look like over the next five to 10 years and beyond? How can we better identify decisions the next gen will make when planning to move home, irrespective of whether it is to build-to-rent or purchased property?
Industry data reveals that in 12 months, EV registration has increased by 110%. There is a distinct correlation between today’s EV owners and the ability to charge at home – 97% of respondents do so, made possible by on-street capabilities, with 75% of owners living in terrace/semi and detached homes. There is a growing number, however, who are choosing to live in flats. We anticipate that that desire to charge at home will remain the same.
Almost 50% of next gen decision makers would consider buying an EV; 84% of those who own an EV or would consider buying one are concerned about climate change. This disquiet shouldn’t be underestimated. Growing concern for the environment was made apparent when more than 10,000 school children walked out of their classrooms in February to voice their anger over what they see as a lack of action in tackling climate change. We are already starting to see them vote with their feet.
From a communications point of view, it is more important than ever that developers turn their narrative towards this next generation and share with it their commitment to build sustainably. Not just to rent out/sell flats and a lifestyle but because their own brand ethos is to be part of the environmental solution rather than the problem. Supplying EV charging points as part of a residential scheme would not only cater for a growing demand but offer the end user a reassurance that the lifestyle choice of their home is fit for the future.
About our electric vehicle (EV) insight work: Madano’s Insights team can help you to stay on top of the dynamic and complex EV market. We use data science to help you understand what the industry is discussing and who is influencing that debate, as well as primary research to profile potential EV owners and understand how incorporating EV and related infrastructure in your story will influence your reputation. For more information, contact Tara Lohmann ([email protected]) or Gareth Morrell ([email protected]).
How do we enable the next generation of road users to become owners of electric vehicles? See our infographic below.
Providing forward visibility of future Contracts for Difference rounds with support of up to £557 million
Getting the sector to commit to increase UK content in projects to 60 per cent by 2030
Increasing representation of women in the offshore wind workforce to at least a third by 2030
Setting an ambition of increasing exports fivefold to £2.6 billion by 2030
Getting the sector to invest up to £250 million in building a stronger UK supply chain
Who could argue against that?
Isn’t it also great to see the same UK Government that’s been accused by some in the media about being indecisive about energy policy over the past few years (nuclear power anyone?), become suddenly so decisive, and defiantly state that offshore wind is the future and that’s that?
But when we take a look past the headlines – which admittedly are very exciting – there are a few things which ought to give us pause for thought. Primarily, this is an ambition, nothing more.
The wording is actually very careful because there’s no real clarity on how these targets will be met. The targets are dependent on modelling, which shows wind as a much larger potential proportion of capacity than before.
Now, this is not to say that supporting offshore wind is not necessarily a good thing; the UK is a genuine world leader in offshore wind, the sector is a major growth area for the UK, and more wind will ultimately be good for helping tackle climate change.
Yet, there’s a strong argument that Government should not be supporting a proven technology which is very capable of standing on its own two feet already.
Despite being one of the world’s largest markets for offshore wind, the UK has never delivered an offshore wind project subsidy free. But we are getting closer. Therefore, some might suggest that as the industry approaches the era of subsidy free, companies might start to disengage. So to keep them interested, Government has had to act.
Which is why it is making up to £557 million available for offshore wind.
As you read through the Wind Sector Deal, it becomes increasingly clear, that while laudable, the sector deal is largely aspirational, in terms of both targets and levels of support.
Problematically, it could create the impression that the UK Government is throwing its weight behind wind at the expense of other types of energy generation, which could have a negative impact on those other sectors.
So on the one hand, Government keeping a massive industry happy makes sense. This is normal across many sectors.
On the other hand, a merely aspirational deal which identifies wind energy as ‘first among equals’ in the renewable energy space risks alienating less developed industries and technologies as funding might be diverted from supporting new technologies to a proven one.
This doesn’t feel like good policy making when the UK is on the hook to decarbonise as quickly as possible to meet legal commitments to reducing carbon emissions.
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