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AI for Earth: Helping save the planet with data science – Asia News Center

Wee Hyong Tok is a data scientist. He has a passion for numbers, a faith in technology – and a mission that might make a superhero think twice.

“I want to save the Earth,” he says matter-of-factly. “That seems like a very bold statement. But, I strongly believe that artificial intelligence (AI) can play an important role in monitoring the health of our planet.”

Singapore-born and educated, Wee Hyong has been a data guy and techie all his working life – first in academia, and later with Microsoft in China and the United States where he helped create ground-breaking products in the cloud.

For more than a year now, he has been leading an elite global research team for AI for Earth – a five-year, US$50 million Microsoft initiative that supports, and partners with, environmental groups and researchers. They are tackling some of the world’s most intractable problems by marshaling the immense power of AI, machine learning (ML), and the cloud.

Wee Hyong Tok, Principal Data Science Manager, AI & Research.

In a recent interview during a quick visit back to Singapore, Wee Hyong summed up the challenge: We live on planet Earth, and yet we know very little about it.

We have limited time to learn how to conserve its resources. Fresh water supplies are being dangerously overexploited. Land is being exhausted and degraded to produce more food for more people in ever-growing cities. Thousands of species are fading fast into extinction as their habitats disappear in a whirl of industrialization and a haze of pollution. The oceans are choking on plastics and the carbon-charged climate is changing. Precious things that are vital to our existence are under threat and, if lost, might never come back.

I strongly believe that AI can play an important role in monitoring the health of our planet.

When we hear such things, most of us tend to shrug helplessly. Such problems just seem too big, too hard, and too scary to fix. But Wee Hyong and his colleagues at AI for Earth and Microsoft Research are convinced that solutions can come in our time – if data, technology, and imagination are put to work.

“I am an optimist,” he says before describing the technical complexities surrounding his team’s quest. “We can learn how to leverage AI to solve some of the sustainability challenges facing humanity today.”

Asia’s elusive and endangered Snow Leopard. Photo: Peter Bolliger.

Boiled down, AI for Earth aims to create sustainable solutions across four areas that are key to the health of the planet and the future of humankind: agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change.

Wee Hyong proudly points to some early breakthroughs. The Farm Beats project is pioneering new data-driven agriculture to guide farmers in India and the United States on where and when to plant crops for the greatest yield.

Equally impressive are the strides being made in land cover mapping – traditionally a time-consuming, expensive tool that is essential for environmental management and precision conservation. Recently, the entire United States was mapped by machine-learning algorithms that processed nearly 200 million aerial images in just over 10 minutes. Done the usual way, such a project would have taken many months and cost a fortune. Deployed globally and locally, this new way of mapping could revolutionize how we mitigate the effects of urbanization, pollution, deforestation, and even natural disasters.

Endangered species are also being given new hope. Traditionally, analysts pore over of thousands of images taken from satellites, drones or camera traps in the wild to study the range, populations, and behaviors of animals otherwise rarely seen by humans. It’s laborious work that takes time, skill, and concentration. “Try spotting a herd of zebra on the African savannah from a satellite image,” Wee Hyong says. “it’s not easy.”

High resolution imagery of zebra on the African savannah. Photo: Courtesy of Save The Elephants

Now computers can take on this role thanks to deep learning techniques that enable them to make sense of the thousands of pixels in an image. This is freeing up the expert time of scientists to do and study more. It’s already adding invaluable knowledge about elusive snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and dwindling elephant populations in Congo in Africa where AI is also being used to in the fight against the twin scourges of poaching and the ivory trade.

Project Premonition uses insects as de facto “field biologists”. The project uses AI to analyze blood that mosquitoes take from animals across an  an ecosystem to glean valuable data. To achieve this, AI for Earth is developing drones that autonomously locate mosquito hotspots, robotic traps to collect specimens, and cloud-scale genomics and machine learning algorithms to identify each animal bitten.

The rise of the intelligent cloud and the ability to deploy machine learning models to the intelligent edge is accelerating and enabling new exciting possibilities to study and save wildlife from the remotest corners of the Earth to suburban backyards.

African bush elephants with Mount Kilmanjaro in the background. Picture: Courtesy of Save the Elephants

It goes beyond just technology, right? They want to tell their kids they are trying to save the Earth.

Pursuing research is worthy in itself, but real value comes when a solution is launched into action in the real world. It is here that Wee Hyong’s motivation shines through: He wants to leave the world in better shape for his two children – and for all children in the world.

The same goes for his team of data scientists and software engineers who left exciting and satisfying roles in commercial product development to join AI for Earth.

“Every single person who came for a job interview said they wanted to be able to tell their kids and families that they were serving a higher purpose. It goes beyond just technology, right? It goes beyond just new deep learning techniques and approaches, or whatever. They want to tell their kids they are trying to save the Earth.”

Free Kubernetes security tools broaden enterprise choices

Kubernetes security tools have proliferated in 2018, and their growing numbers reflect increased maturity around container security among enterprise IT shops.

The latest additions to this tool category include a feature in Google Kubernetes Engine called Binary Authorization, which can create whitelists of container images and code that are authorized to run on GKE clusters. All other attempts to launch unauthorized apps will fail, and the GKE feature will document them.

Binary Authorization is in public beta. Google will also make the feature available for on-premises deployments through updates to Kritis, an open source project focused on deployment-time policy enforcement.

Aqua Security also added to the arsenal of Kubernetes security tools at IT pros’ disposal with an open source utility, called kube-hunter, which can be used for penetration testing of Kubernetes clusters. The tool performs passive scans of Kubernetes clusters to look for common vulnerabilities, such as dashboard and management server ports that were left open. These seemingly obvious errors have taken down high-profile companies, such as Tesla, Aviva and Gemalto.

Users can also perform active penetration tests with kube-hunter. In this scenario, the tool attempts to exploit the vulnerabilities it finds as if an attacker has gained access to Kubernetes cluster servers, which may highlight additional vulnerabilities in the environment.

Fernando Montenegro, analyst, 451 ResearchFernando Montenegro

These tools join several other Kubernetes security offerings introduced in 2018 — from Docker Enterprise Edition‘s encryption and secure container registry features for the container orchestration platform to Kubernetes support in tools from Qualys and Alert Logic. The growth of Kubernetes security tools indicates the container security conversation has shifted away from ways to secure individual container images and hosts to security at the level of the application and Kubernetes cluster.

“Containers are not foolproof, but container security is good enough for most users at this point,” said Fernando Montenegro, analyst with 451 Research. “The interest in the industry shifts now to how to do security at the orchestration layer and secure broader container deployments.”

GKE throws down the gauntlet for third-party container orchestration tools

The question for users, as cloud providers add these features, is, why go for a third-party tool when the cloud provider does this kind of thing themselves?
Fernando Montenegroanalyst, 451 Research

Google’s Binary Authorization feature isn’t unique; other on-premises and hybrid cloud Kubernetes tools, such as Docker Enterprise Edition, Mesosphere DC/OS and Red Hat OpenShift, offer similar capabilities to prevent unauthorized container launches on Kubernetes clusters.

However, third-party vendors once again find themselves challenged by a free and open source alternative from Google. Just as Kubernetes supplanted other container orchestration utilities, these additional Kubernetes management features further reduce third-party tools’ competitiveness.

GKE Binary Authorization is one of the first instances of a major cloud provider adding such a feature natively in its Kubernetes service, Montenegro said.

“[A gatekeeper for Kubernetes] is not something nobody’s thought of before, but I haven’t seen much done by other cloud providers on this front yet,” Montenegro said. AWS and Microsoft Azure will almost certainly follow suit.

“The question for users, as cloud providers add these features, is, why go for a third-party tool when the cloud provider does this kind of thing themselves?” Montenegro said.

Aqua Security’s penetration testing tool is unlikely to unseat full-fledged penetration testing tools enterprises use, such as Nmap and Burp Suite, but its focus on Kubernetes vulnerabilities specifically with a free offering will attract some users, Montenegro said.

Aqua Security and its main competitor, Twistlock, also must stay ahead of Kubernetes security features as they’re incorporated into broader enterprise platforms from Google, Cisco and others, Montenegro said.

For Sale – 3 x 2U X-Case Server cases

Hi.

Having a clear out of my server gear and have 3 x 2u cases. There are no make/model numbers on the case but I’m sure they are “x-case”.

They are 2u, standard 19” wide and 21.5” deep. They take normal atx power supplies which makes these cases ideal for building budget servers.

They are in decent condition, some scratches etc due to use and being stored in my garage.

Collection preferred due to size of these but if no one local bites, I may post these if I can find packaging.

£20 each or all 3 for £50

COLLECTION FROM NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Price and currency: 20 each.
Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
Payment method: BT, cash, ppg, magic beans.
Location: Newcastle upon tyne
Advertised elsewhere?: Not advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

______________________________________________________
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Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
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DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

For Sale – 3 x 2U X-Case Server cases

Hi.

Having a clear out of my server gear and have 3 x 2u cases. There are no make/model numbers on the case but I’m sure they are “x-case”.

They are 2u, standard 19” wide and 21.5” deep. They take normal atx power supplies which makes these cases ideal for building budget servers.

They are in decent condition, some scratches etc due to use and being stored in my garage.

Collection preferred due to size of these but if no one local bites, I may post these if I can find packaging.

£20 each or all 3 for £50

COLLECTION FROM NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Price and currency: 20 each.
Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
Payment method: BT, cash, ppg, magic beans.
Location: Newcastle upon tyne
Advertised elsewhere?: Not advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

______________________________________________________
This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
  • Valid e-mail address

DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

For Sale – 3 x 2U X-Case Server cases

Hi.

Having a clear out of my server gear and have 3 x 2u cases. There are no make/model numbers on the case but I’m sure they are “x-case”.

They are 2u, standard 19” wide and 21.5” deep. They take normal atx power supplies which makes these cases ideal for building budget servers.

They are in decent condition, some scratches etc due to use and being stored in my garage.

Collection preferred due to size of these but if no one local bites, I may post these if I can find packaging.

£20 each or all 3 for £50

COLLECTION FROM NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Price and currency: 20 each.
Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
Payment method: BT, cash, ppg, magic beans.
Location: Newcastle upon tyne
Advertised elsewhere?: Not advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

______________________________________________________
This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
  • Valid e-mail address

DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

For Sale – 3 x 2U X-Case Server cases

Hi.

Having a clear out of my server gear and have 3 x 2u cases. There are no make/model numbers on the case but I’m sure they are “x-case”.

They are 2u, standard 19” wide and 21.5” deep. They take normal atx power supplies which makes these cases ideal for building budget servers.

They are in decent condition, some scratches etc due to use and being stored in my garage.

Collection preferred due to size of these but if no one local bites, I may post these if I can find packaging.

£20 each or all 3 for £50

COLLECTION FROM NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Price and currency: 20 each.
Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
Payment method: BT, cash, ppg, magic beans.
Location: Newcastle upon tyne
Advertised elsewhere?: Not advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

______________________________________________________
This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
  • Valid e-mail address

DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

For Sale – 3 x 2U X-Case Server cases

Hi.

Having a clear out of my server gear and have 3 x 2u cases. There are no make/model numbers on the case but I’m sure they are “x-case”.

They are 2u, standard 19” wide and 21.5” deep. They take normal atx power supplies which makes these cases ideal for building budget servers.

They are in decent condition, some scratches etc due to use and being stored in my garage.

Collection preferred due to size of these but if no one local bites, I may post these if I can find packaging.

£20 each or all 3 for £50

COLLECTION FROM NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

Price and currency: 20 each.
Delivery: Delivery cost is not included
Payment method: BT, cash, ppg, magic beans.
Location: Newcastle upon tyne
Advertised elsewhere?: Not advertised elsewhere
Prefer goods collected?: I prefer the goods to be collected

______________________________________________________
This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
  • Valid e-mail address

DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

How to know if, when and how to pursue blockchain projects

BOSTON — There is no shortage of blockchain platforms out there; the numbers now run in the dozens. As for enumerating potential blockchain projects, it may be easier to list the blockchain use cases companies are currently not exploring. Moreover, although blockchain’s approach to verifying and sharing data is novel, many of the technologies used in blockchain projects have been around for a long time, said Martha Bennett, a CIO analyst at Forrester Research who’s been researching blockchain since 2014.

Even the language around blockchain is settling down. Bennett said she uses the terms blockchain and distributed ledger technology interchangeably.

But the growth and interest in blockchain projects doesn’t mean the technology is mature or that we know where it is headed, Bennett told an audience of IT executives at the Forrester New Tech & Innovation 2018 Forum. Just as in the early days of the internet when few anticipated how radically a network of networks would alter the status quo, today we don’t know how blockchain will play out.

“It is still a little bit of a Wild West. I should clarify that and say, it is the Wild West,” she said. Additionally, no matter how revolutionary distributed ledger technology may prove to be, Bennett said “nothing is being revolutionized today from an enterprise perspective,” because distributed ledger technology is not yet being deployed at scale.

Dirty hands

Indeed, IT leaders have their work cut out for them just figuring out how these nascent distributed ledger platforms perform at enterprise scale, and where they would be of use in the businesses they serve.

“At this stage, you really need to open up the covers and understand what a platform offers and what is in there. You have to get your hands dirty,” she said.

Blockchain projects today are about “thinking really big but starting small,” she said. If what gets accomplished is “inventing a faster horse” — that is, taking an existing process and making it a bit better — the endeavor will help IT leaders learn about how blockchain architectures work. That’s important because it’s hard “to catch up on innovation,” she said. “If you wait until things are settled it may be too late.” 

While CIOs get up to speed, they also need to think about using blockchain to reinvent how their companies function internally and how they do business. “That is the big bang,” she said, but added it may take decades for blockchain to give birth to a new order.

Martha Bennett, analyst at Forrester, on blockchain at the Forrester New Tech & Innovation 2018 Forum.
Forrester analyst Martha Bennett presents on blockchain at the Forrester New Tech & Innovation 2018 Forum.

In a 90-minute session that included a talk by the IT director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston about how the Fed is approaching blockchain (blogged about here), Bennett ticked through:

  • Forrester’s definition of blockchain and why the wording merited close attention;
  • why blockchain projects remain in pilot phase;
  • a checklist to assess if you have a viable blockchain use case; and
  • situations when blockchain can help.

Here are some of the salient pointers for CIOs:

What is blockchain?

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, as defined by Forrester, “is a software architecture that supports collaborative processes around trusted data that is shared across organizational and potentially national boundaries.”

The wording is important. Architecture, because blockchain is a technology principle and not about any one platform. Collaborative, because blockchain is a “team sport, not something you do for yourself,” Bennett said, requiring anywhere between three and 10 partners. (Under three will not provide the diversity of views blockchain projects need, while more than 10 is “like herding cats.”) Blockchain requires data you can “trust to the highest degree,” she said, and it is about sharing. In many cases, CIOs will find they can deliver the service in question “better, faster, cheaper with existing technologies,” she said. “But what you don’t get is that collaborative aspect, extending processes across organizational boundaries.”

What factors hold back enterprise-scale deployment?

Companies are exploring a plethora of blockchain projects, from car sharing and tracking digital assets to securities lending, corporate loans and data integrity. Full deployment can’t happen until experimenters figure out if the software can scale; if it needs to integrate with existing systems and if so, how to do that; what regulatory and compliance requirements must be met; and what business process changes are required both internally and at partner organizations in the blockchain, among other hurdles.

“We are seeing projects transition beyond the POC [proof of concept] and pilot phase, but that is not the same as full-scale rollout,” Bennett said.

How to decide whether to take on a blockchain use case

“If you don’t have a use case, don’t even start,” Bennett said. A company can come to Forrester and ask for examples of good use cases, she said, but ultimately only the company knows its organization and industry well enough to be able to pinpoint how blockchain might make the process better. She suggested asking these questions to help clarify the use case:

  • What problem are you trying to solve with blockchain?
  • Do other ecosystem participants have the same or related issues?
  • What opportunity are you trying to capture?
  • Do you have your ecosystem (which can comprise competitors) on board?

On the last question, Bennett explained that even rich industries like investment banking need to address process efficiency. “Everybody needs to worry about how much it costs to run IT operations,” she said. If competitors have common processes that are costly and cumbersome, why not consider sharing them using blockchain?

How to know when blockchain helps

Here is Bennett’s checklist for identifying when blockchain can be of use:

  • Are there multiple parties that need access to the same data store?
  • Does everybody need assurance that the data is valid and hasn’t been tampered with?
  • What are the conditions of the current system — is it error-prone, incredibly complex, unreliable, filled with friction?
  • Are there good reasons not to have a single, centralized system? Distributed ledger technology introduces complexity and risk precisely for reasons listed above. In addition to making the technology scale, adopters still are wrestling with how to balance transparency and privacy, and how to handle exceptions.

Avoid preserving ‘garbage in a more persistent way’

Distributed ledger technology, Bennett stressed, also cannot fix problems with the data. “If your data is bad to start with, it will still be bad. You’re just preserving garbage in a more persistent way,” she said. A lot of blockchain projects target tracking and provenance of goods to take cost out of the supply chain and reduce fraud. Those are “great use cases,” she said. But if the object being tracked has been tampered with — even if you have established an unbreakable link between the physical object and the data on the blockchain — “the representation on the blockchain is a problem because suddenly you are tracking a fake item,” she said. Physical fraud issues need to be fixed for the blockchain to be of value.

The 80/20 rule

The digitization of paper processes has been the “real breakthrough,” but blockchain cannot “turn paper into anything digital,” Bennett said. If processes haven’t been digitized yet, CIOs need to get their enterprises to ask themselves why because that is the starting point.

Finally, CIOs must understand that technology problems notwithstanding, blockchain projects are 80% about the business and 20% about technology. 

“Technology problems have a habit of being addressed and of being resolved,” Bennett said. Business issues — digitizing, dismantling internal silos, redesigning processes — can take far longer.”