UK businesses struggle to keep up with AI

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A new report by Microsoft, published last week, indicates that artificial intelligence (AI) is changing business models so quickly that UK companies are struggling to keep up.

The tech giant surveyed 5,000 plus British business leaders and employees discovered that 41% of British companies surveyed said their business models might cease to exist in the next five years thanks to AI. Or perhaps ‘thanks’ is the wrong word; what they really mean is ‘due to’.

The report also revealed that 51% of the country’s business leaders do not have an AI strategy in place for their organizations, which is a significant proportion. This news comes at a time when British businesses are concerned about the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and could face tough, new challenges in a range of industry sectors.

As Clare Barclay, Microsoft U.K.’s chief operating officer, told CNBC, “Like any change, sometimes it’s easier to do nothing than to do something.”

On the other side of the factory floor, so to speak, employees have their own worries about the use of AI. Microsoft found that 45% of employees are concerned their job could be taken by AI, yet 51% are not being taught the skills to help prepare for changes in the workforce. Of course, this makes sense: if management is unengaged with AI, how can one expect employees to embrace it.

Barclay highlighted the problem as her company sees it, pointing out that AI is more of an opportunity than threat, and suggested UK businesses needed to “focus on this AI to make businesses stronger and, in our opinion, not leaner.”

Indeed the survey results show the benefit of AI. Companies already using AI technology outperformed other businesses in areas like productivity, performance and business outcomes. Moreover, companies that develop strategies around the ethics of AI are even more productive.

Microsoft is making big investments in AI and it also believes that companies like it can take the lead in helping others adopt the technology and develop “safe and ethical AI platforms, for example by ensuring that human bias isn’t built into algorithms.”

What is very clear is that UK businesses need to speed up their pace of adoption of AI and ensure they are equipped to face the future with a stronger technology foundation.

 

Google offers $25 million for AI challenge

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It’s today’s big story: Google is offering $25 million in grants to nonprofits, universities and other organisations working on AI projects that will benefit society,

as part of its AI for Social Good initiative. Google will open the application process this coming Monday and will announce winners next spring at Google’s annual I/O developer conference.

Details of the challenge explain that Google.org is issuing an open call to organizations around the world to submit their ideas for how they could use AI to help address societal challenges. Selected organizations will receive customized support to help bring their ideas to life: coaching from Google’s AI experts, Google.org grant funding from a $25M pool, credit and consulting from Google Cloud, and more.

Google says the programme is meant to help solve the world’s most pressing problems, such as crisis relief, environmental conservation and sex trafficking.

However, it is also clear that this ‘competition’ comes at a time when Google’s own use of artificial intelligence is under increasing scrutiny, including “in controversial military work or reported efforts to build a censored search engine in China,” as CNET says. There has also been Project Maven, a U.S. Defense Department initiative aimed at developing better AI for the military that resulted in a rebellion by Google’s own employees and some 4,000 of them petitioned the executives to stop the project, which the company duly did and promised not to engage in similar projects again.

At the press announcement, Google’s head of AI, Jeff Dean, avoided discussing these issues, although he did mention Google’s ethical principles that outline how it will and will not use the technology.

Yossi Matias, vice president of engineering, said in an interview last week, “The gist of the program is to encourage people to leverage our technology. Google can’t work on everything. There are many problems out there we may not even be aware of.”

It is going to be interesting to see what initiatives come out of this global challenge. Hopefully we will see a diverse range of ideas for AI use that can improve the world when it is so badly in need of repairs in all areas of existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese energy firm partners with Spanish mining outfit

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Chinese media outlet PV Tech announced this week that Risen Energy, a China-based company, is partnering with a Spanish crypto mining farm to develop its capacity to 300 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic power.

CryptoSolarTech is building two farms using energy-efficient technology in the Tech Park of the southern city of Málaga. As CryptoSolarTech says, Spain is one of the best places in Europe to take advantage of clean and environmentally friendly solar energy, and choosing the southern region of Andalucia, which has an average of 320 days of sunshine annually, makes sense. Furthermore, the basic reason why solar energy is profitable in Spain is due to the lower cost of building materials, as well as the improved performance of electrical equipment. Investors are now betting again on solar power generation in Spain, which for a decade was in the doldrums as the country cut subsidies for the clean but expensive source of energy.

The partnership with Risen Energy comes only two months after CryptoSolar announced the new farms. According to the press report, Risen Energy “will develop and take on engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) responsibilities for the projects.”

CryptoSolarTech released its own token via an ICO  in June 2018 to assist with financing its operations, and according to ICO Bench it raised $68.2 million (€60 million) According to its ICO statement, “CryptoSolartech will use the Ethereum Blockchain for the management, income generation and start-up of the physical assets that form this project. The ultimate goal is the creation of a farm for cryptocurrency mining and a photovoltaic plant to generate electricity.”

PV Tech also revealed that “Funding for the project is secured against the launch and sale of the cryptocurrency tokens from the farms and is based on a 15-year power purchase agreement (PPA).”

This news represents a turnaround for CryptoSolarTech, which originally announced at the end of its ICO that it had concluded a power supply contract with Barcelona-based Respira Energia, however, it appears that it has chosen to partner with Risen Energy instead, or work with both, however that is not clear from current news reports.

This news is good for Spain’s blockchain ambitions, which are growing apace, and a strong indication that Spain’s solar energy market is finally gaining ground, as the cost of solar power production plunged 73 percent between 2010 and 2017, and will continue to fall according the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).

 

 

How companies use machine learning

The machine learning market is growing at pace. According to Research and Markets it should reach $40 billion by 2025. Currently it is already over the $1 billion mark, but to reach the estimated value it will have to make a major leap in growth.

What will cause it to grow? Every company will start using it once they have identified a use case, and that is one of the barriers to adoption at the moment, but we can learn from the ways in which major companies are already using machine learning.

Apple

Apple is working on a cross-device personalisation tool and has already applied for the patent. It is rumoured that what this will do is allow your Apple Watch to connect with your iTunes playlist and find a piece of music to match your heart rate.

Twitter

Twitter is working on visibility problems with thumbnail images. It is using neural networks to find a scalable, cost-effective way to crop users’ photos into compelling, low-resolution preview images.

AliBaba

This Chinese retail giant has 500 million customers and each of them uses the store in a distinct way. So Alibaba is using machine learning to track every customer’s journey. Furthermore, all Alibaba’s online storefronts are customised for each shopper and searches will bring customers the products they want to see. There’s also a chatbot who handles most of the spoken and written customer service inquiries. Every element of Alibaba’s business has been built for engagement with the shopper, and every action the shopper takes teaches the machine more about what the shopper wants. It’s extremely effective.

Target

American retailing giant, Target, is using machine learning to reach and respond to its pregnant customers. In fact, Target’s model is so precise that it can reliably guess which trimester a pregnant woman is in based on what she’s bought.

Typically companies have been driven by the seasons, but machine learning can help businesses respond to ‘seasons’ in people’s lives. For example, a person who has just bought a car doesn’t want to see car ads, but motor insurance ads are appropriate. Basically, machine learning can pick up on those rhythms, helping companies recommend their products to customers when the timing is just right.