Tag Archives: world

Meet the 2020 Imagine Cup EMEA Regional Finalists

For young developers with a vision for improving our world with technology, the Imagine Cup is the place to be. Students are challenged to form teams of one to three people and leverage innovative tech, like AI, to develop a project proposal and business idea to make a difference. We are consistently inspired by solutions students create to tackle social good issues, and the collaborative and innovative core of the competition is continuing with the selection of our 2020 Europe, Middle East, and Africa Regional Finalists.

These 10 teams will be traveling to Amsterdam, the Netherlands in March to compete for over USD20,000 total in prizing, Azure credits, plus the top two will win spots to advance to the 2020 Imagine Cup World Championship! During their Regional Final journey, teams will also have the chance to participate in an Entrepreneurship Day from the U.S. Department of Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) to refine their business pitches, receive mentorship from Microsoft experts, and experience cutting-edge technical innovation at Microsoft Ignite the Tour.

Introducing our EMEA finalist teams heading to Amsterdam!

Allez, Ukraine

Allez: Allez support personal development through sports experience. The team’s aim isn’t just to maximize the performance of an athlete, but to help coaches to growth individuals who are mentally ready to fight obstacles.

ALOIS, Sweden

ALOIS: ALOIS aims to revolutionize the treatment of depression worldwide and to free more people from their negative thought patterns. ALOIS is a social bot, which determines the user’s emotional state and finds the actual causes of the depression.

Casie, Switzerland

Casie: The team’s project is aimed at using facial keypoints as a parameter to track the sequence of emotions displayed by user and using an LSTM RNN in order to infer problems with learning.

The Knights, Kenya

WEEDING BOT: Weeding bot is an automated robot that maneuvers between crop rows as it weeds interrow and intra row weeds using artificial intelligence and a camera as a sensor, equipped with a robotic arm coupled with a gripper and plough-like weeding tool.

meCare, Russia 

meCare: The team are developing a solution for primary screening of malignant skin lesions at home.

Monica, Poland

Monica: Monica is a visual assistant for blind people that is integrated into smart glasses and responds to users requests via voice commands.

RedWalls, Tunisia

I-Remember: I-Remember is a two part mobile application designed for the well being of the both the Alzheimer’s patient and their caregivers.

Vhysio, United Kingdom

Vhysio: Vhysio is a machine learning web app utilising tensorflow.js, a cutting edge browser based Machine Learning library, to enable accessible physiotherapy for the Visually Impaired – talking through exercises by responding to users’ postures in real-time.

Team Wild Eye, Kenya

WildEye_KE: Wild Eye_KE seeks to bring technology to the wild to monitor & track animal activities & notify authorities in case animals stray away from the wildlife protected areas (WPAs), reducing poaching & human interaction with wild animals away from WPAs.

Team to be announced, Pakistan

The results of the 2020 Pakistan National Final have not yet been announced.

Congratulations to all finalists! Check out our recently announced Asia Regional Finalists to learn about more innovative projects in this year’s competition and get inspired. Stay tuned for the announcement of our last group of finalist teams from the Americas next month and follow the competition journey on Instagram and Twitter as students head to their in-person regional events to compete!

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Decision-makers may prefer Wi-Fi over 5G in retail networks

While fifth-generation wireless has taken the technology world by storm, many retailers don’t see a need to heed the hype.

Several use cases may glean immediate 5G benefits, yet 5G in retail is superfluous for now. Although 5G can support retail networks that require advanced capabilities, such as virtual reality, the retail world won’t depend on 5G because other wireless technologies are still efficient, according to a recent Forrester Research report. The report “The CIO’s Guide To 5G In The Retail Sector” explored particular retail use cases, and report author and principal analyst Dan Bieler discussed key differences between retail and other 5G use cases.

“Retailers are quite sophisticated in their existing technology understanding,” Bieler said. “They have achieved some great solutions with existing technologies, and they will not risk upsetting everything in the short term where they don’t see a clear [ROI] for making additional network infrastructure investments in 5G.”

Dan BielerDan Bieler

Retailers are interested in 5G for their networks, Bieler said, yet few have implemented or deployed 5G so far. Some retailers may seek out 5G as a replacement for existing MPLS connectivity, but this choice depends on pricing models and business requirements. Overall, IT decision-makers may prefer Wi-Fi over 5G in retail networks because not all retailers require the advanced capabilities 5G networks offer, he added.

5G in retail lacks transformative qualities largely because cellular technologies weren’t developed for indoor network coverage, and physical objects indoors can impede 5G’s millimeter wave frequencies and its line-of-sight travel capabilities.

The advent of Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, may interest retailers more than 5G, as Wi-Fi historically supports more indoor use cases and networks than cellular technologies. Both Wi-Fi 6 and 5G offer similar capabilities, which makes them competitors in some use cases and complementary in others. For exclusively indoor retail environments, IT decision-makers may not see a need for 5G networks, Bieler said.

“[Retailers] can do a lot with the technologies that we have today,” he said. “5G will be a continuum rather than a completely revolutionary new technology for them.”

5G benefits
Aside from 5G in retail, the new generation of cellular technology has several benefits for all types of organizations.

Another issue retailers could face regarding 5G is customer apprehension. Despite 5G’s various new capabilities, customers don’t necessarily care about technological innovations and won’t alter their shopping habits because of 5G. However, customers in younger age groups may be more willing to adapt to the capabilities 5G enables, so organizations should focus more on how to win over older age groups, the report said.

Benefits of 5G in retail use cases, networks

Despite the efficiency of other wireless technologies, the report noted three main areas where 5G in retail can benefit business operations, including the following:

  1. Back-end operations, where organizations can handle work the customers don’t see, such as tracking and monitoring inventory within warehouses.
  2. Front-end operations, which are customer-facing operations and deal with tracking and monitoring products and people within stores.
  3. Finance operations, where the store can remotely track and monitor a customer’s product or service usage and charge them accordingly.

As 5G rolls out throughout the 2020s, more features and potential benefits for organizations will arise, such as network slicing and mobile edge computing. These capabilities can help organizations create experiences tailored specifically to individual customers.

“5G allows the retailer to track many more items and many more sensors in a store than previous cellular technologies, so they can have a much more granular picture of what retail customers are looking at, where they are going and what they are doing with products in the store,” Bieler said.

Other benefits the report cited include cost-efficient store connectivity, enhanced customer insights and improved transparency within supply chains. Organizations won’t glean these benefits for several years, Bieler said, as carriers will deploy new 5G features in stages.

However, decision-makers can prepare to deploy 5G in retail use cases by focusing closely on network design and determining whether 5G is the right choice for their operations. To evaluate this, organizations can assess their indoor connectivity environments and gauge how a 5G deployment could affect the business sectors in which the store or organization requires 5G access.

Overall, 5G has various benefits for retail use cases, the report said, but these benefits are not universal. Businesses need to look closely at their network infrastructures and business requirements to evaluate 5G’s potential effect on their operations. Regardless, Bieler said he was sure deployments of 5G in retail will eventually become common.

“[Retailers] will still adopt it over time because 5G will provide super-fast broadband connectivity,” Bieler said. “It opens up your business model opportunities in an easier way. So, over time, retailers will definitely embrace it, but not tomorrow.”

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AI vendors to watch in 2020 and beyond

There are thousands of AI startups around the world. Many aim to do similar things — create chatbots, develop hardware to better power AI models or sell platforms to automatically transcribe business meetings and phone calls.

These AI vendors, or AI-powered product vendors, have raised billions over the last decade, and will likely raise even more in the coming years. Among the thousands of startups, a few shine a little brighter than others.

To help enterprises keep an eye on some of the most promising AI startups, here is a list of those founded within the past five years. The startups listed are all independent companies, or not a subsidiary of a larger technology vendor. The chosen startups also cater to enterprises rather than consumers, and focus on explainable AI, hardware, transcription and text extraction, or virtual agents.

Explainable AI vendors and AI ethics

As the need for more explainable AI models has skyrocketed over the last couple of years and the debate over ethical AI has reached government levels, the number of vendors developing and selling products to help developers and business users understand AI models has increased dramatically. Two to keep an eye on are DarwinAI and Diveplane.

DarwinAI uses traditional machine learning to probe and understand deep learning neural networks to optimize them to run faster.

Founded in 2017 and based in Waterloo, Ontario, the startup creates mathematical models of the networks, and then uses AI to create a model that infers faster, while claiming to maintain the same general levels of accuracy. While the goal is to optimize the deep learning models, a 2018 update introduced an “explainability toolkit” that offers optimization recommendations for specific tasks. The platform then provides detailed breakdowns on how each task works, and how exactly the optimization will improve them.

Founded in 2017, Diveplane claims to create explainable AI models based on historical data observations. The startup, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., puts its outputs through a conviction metric that ranks how likely new or changed data fits into the model. A low ranking indicates a potential anomaly. A ranking that’s too low indicates that the system is highly surprised, and that the data likely doesn’t belong in a model’s data set.

AI startups, AI vendors
There are thousands of AI startups in the world today, and it looks like there will be many more over the coming years.

In addition to the explainability product, Diveplane also sells a product that creates an anonymized digital twin of a data set. It doesn’t necessarily help with explainability, but it does help with issues around data privacy.

According to Diveplane CEO Mike Capps, Diveplane Geminai takes in data, understands it and then generates new data from it without carrying over personal data. In healthcare, for example, the product can input patient data and scrub personal information like names and locations, while keeping the patterns in the data. The outputs can then be fed into machine learning algorithms.

“It keeps the data anonymous,” Capps said.

AI hardware

To help power increasingly complex AI models, more advanced hardware — or at least hardware designed specifically for AI workloads — is needed. Major companies, including Intel and Nvidia, have quickly stepped up to the challenge, but so, too, have numerous startups. Many are doing great work, but one stands out.

Cerebras Systems, a 2016 startup based in Los Altos, Calif., made headlines around the world in 2019 when it created what it dubbed the world’s largest computer chip designed for AI workloads. The chip, about the size of a dinner plate, has some 400,000 cores and 1.2 trillion transistors. By comparison, the largest GPU has around 21.1 billion transistors.

The company has shipped a limited number of chips so far, but with a valuation expected to be well over $1 billion, Cerebras looks to be going places.

Automatic transcription companies

It’s predicted that more businesses will use natural language processing (NLP) technology in 2020 and that more BI and AI vendors will integrate natural language search functions into their platforms in the coming years.

Numerous startups sell transcription and text capturing platforms, as well as many established companies. It’s hard to judge them, as their platforms and services are generally comparable; however, two companies stand out.

Fireflies.ai sells a transcription platform that syncs with users’ calendars to automatically join and transcribe phone meetings. According to CEO and co-founder Krish Ramineni, the platform can transcribe calls with over 90% accuracy levels after weeks of training.

The startup, founded in 2016, presents transcripts within a searchable and editable platform. The transcription is automatically broken into paragraphs and includes punctuation. Fireflies.ai also automatically extracts and bullets information it deems essential. This feature does “a fairly good job,” one client said earlier this year.

The startup plans to expand that function to automatically label more types of information, including tasks and questions.

Meanwhile, Trint, founded in late 2014 by former broadcast journalist Jeff Kofman, is an automatic transcription platform designed specifically for newsrooms, although it has clients across several verticals.

The platform can connect directly with live video feeds, such as the streaming of important events or live press releases, and automatically transcribe them in real time. Transcriptions are collaborative, as well as searchable and editable, and included embedded time codes to easily go back to the video.

“It’s a software with an emotional response, because people who transcribe generally hate it,” Kofman said.

Bots and virtual agents

As companies look to cut costs and process client requests faster, the use of chatbots and virtual agents has greatly increased across numerous verticals over the last few years. While there are many startups in this field, a couple stand out.

Boost.ai, a Scandinavian startup founded in 2016, sells an advanced conversational agent that it claims is powered by a neural network. Automatic semantic understanding technology sits on top of the network, enabling the agent to read textual input word by word, and then as a whole sentence, to understand user intent.

Agents are pre-trained on one of several verticals before they are trained on the data of a new client, and the Boost.ai platform is quick to set up and has a low count of false positives, according to co-founder Henry Vaage Iversen. It can generally understand the intent of most questions within a few weeks of training, and will find a close alternative if it can’t understand it completely, he said.

The platform supports 25 languages, and pre-trained modules for a number of verticals, including banking, insurance and transportation industries.

Formed in 2018, EyeLevel.ai doesn’t create virtual agents or bots; instead, it has a platform for conversational AI marketing agents. The San Francisco-based startup has more than 1,500 chatbot publishers on its platform, including independent developers and major companies.

Eyelevel.ai is essentially a marketing platform — it advertises for numerous clients through the bots on in its marketplace. Earlier this year, Eyelevel.ai co-founder Ryan Begley offered an example.

An independent developer on its platform created a bot that quizzes users on their Game of Thrones knowledge. The bot operates on social media platforms, and, besides providing a fun game for users, it also collects marketing data on them and advertises products to them. The data it collects is fed back into the Eyelevel platform, which then uses it to promote through its other bots.

By opening the platform to independent developers, it gives individuals a chance to get their bot to a broader audience while making some extra cash. Eyelevel.ai offers tools to help new bot developers get started, too.

“Really, the key goal of the business is help them make money,” Begley said of the developers.

Startup launches continuing to surge

This list of AI-related startups represents only a small percentage of the startups out there. Many offer unique products and services to their clients, and investors have widely picked up on that.

According to the comprehensive AI Index 2019 report, a nearly 300-page report on AI trends complied by the Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence initiative at Stanford University, global private AI investment in startups reached $37 billion in 2019 as of November.

The report notes that since 2010, which saw $1.3 billion raised, investments in AI startups have increased at an average annual growth rate of over 48%.

The report, which considered only AI startups with more than $400,000 in funding, also found that more than 3,000 AI startups received funding in 2018. That number is on the rise, the report notes.

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RSA teams up with Yubico for passwordless authentication

The world might be one step closer to the passwordless future that security enthusiasts dream of.

On Dec. 10, RSA Security announced a strategic partnership with Yubico, the company known for its USB authentication keys, to drive passwordless authentication in the enterprise. The partnership combines Yubico’s YubiKey technology with RSA’s FIDO-powered SecurID authentication to eliminate passwords for enterprise employees, particularly those in use cases where mobile phones may not be appropriate or permitted for authentication. The combined offering, YubiKey for RSA SecurID Access, will launch in March.

Jim DucharmeJim Ducharme

In this Q&A, Jim Ducharme, vice president of identity and fraud and risk intelligence products at RSA, discusses the new Yubico partnership, FIDO as a standard and how close we are to the so-called “death of passwords.”

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me how the Yubico partnership came to be.

Jim Ducharme: I was talking to a customer and they mentioned how customers are struggling with the various use cases out there for people to prove to be who they say they are. A few years ago, I think that everybody thought that the world was just going to be taken over by mobile phone authentication and that’s all they’d ever need and they’d never need anything else. But they’re quickly realizing that they need multiple options to support the various use cases. Mobile authentication is certainly a new modern method that is convenient, given that everybody is walking around with a mobile phone, but there are a number of use cases, like call centers, remote workers and even folks who, believe it or not, don’t have a smartphone, that they still need to care for and make sure that they are who they say they are.

At RSA, we’ve had our SecurID tokens for quite a while now, but there are other use cases that we’ve found. FIDO-compliant devices were looked at as something that customers wanted to deploy. Particularly hardware-based ones like a Yubico security key. And RSA was the founding member of the FIDO subcommittee on enterprise application, but largely the uptick has been on the consumer identity side of it. We wanted to figure out how we can help the enterprise with their employee use cases, leveraging FIDO and these standards, coupled with these other use cases like call centers or areas where there is a particular device that a user needs to use and they need to prove they are who they say they are.

This customer sent me on this sort of tour of asking my customers what they thought about these use cases and I was amazed at how many customers were already looking at this solution yet finding themselves having to purchase Yubico keys from Yubico and purchase RSA from us for the FIDO backend. It’s only natural for us to bring these two strong brands together to give customers what they need sort of all-in-one box, virtually if you will. Now what we offer is more choice in how users authenticate themselves, allowing them to transform as maybe they get more comfortable with adopting mobile authentication. A lot of users don’t want to use their mobile phone for corporate authentication, but that’s slowly increasing. We wanted to make sure we were providing a platform that can allow users that flexibility of choice, but as the same time, allow our customers and the identity teams to have a single structure to support those different use cases and allow that transformation to happen over time, whether it be from hardware devices, hardware tokens, to mobile authenticators to desktop authenticators to new biometrics, et cetera.

How does this partnership with Yubico fit into RSA’s overall strategy?

Ducharme: Obviously things like a Yubico device is just another form of a passwordless authenticator. But there are plenty of passwordless authenticators out there right now — most people have them in their hands now with [Apple] Face ID and Touch ID, but that’s only part of the solution. Our focus is an identity ecosystem that surrounds the end user and their authenticator where passwords still exist. Despite these new passwordless authenticators, we still haven’t managed to get rid of the password. The help desk is still dealing with password resets, and the support costs associated with passwords are actually going up instead of down. If we’re implementing more and more passwordless authentication, why is the burden on the help desk actually going up? The reality is, most of these passwordless authentication methods are actually not passwordless at all. These biometric methods are nothing more than digital facades on top of a password, so the underlying password is still there. They’re allowing a much more passwordless experience, which is great for the end user, but the password is still there. We’re actually finding that in many cases, the help desk calls are going up because you’re not using that password as frequently as you used to, and now once a month or once a week when people have to use it, they are more apt to forget it than the password they use every single day. We’re actually seeing an increase in forgotten passwords because the more we’re taking passwords out of users’ hands, the more they’re actually forgetting it. We really have to go that last mile to truly get rid of the passwords.

Strategically, our goal is not only to have a spectrum of passwordless authentication and experiences for end users, but we also have to look at all of these other places where the password hides and eliminate those [uses]. Until we do, the burden on the help desk, the costs on the IT help desk are not going to go down, and that’s one of the important goals of moving towards the passwordless world, and that’s where our focus is.

Do you think companies are worried about lost keys and having that negatively impact availability?

Ducharme: Yes. As a matter of fact, we had a customer dinner last night and that is probably one of the number one [concerns], the notion of lost keys. The thing that’s nice about the YubiKey devices is that they sit resident within the device so the odds of losing it are less such. But it absolutely is still an issue. Whenever you have anything that you have to have, you could potentially lose it.

We need to make sure they’re easily replaceable, not just easy but cost-wise as well, and couple that with credential enrollment recovery. When they lose those devices, make sure that they still have accessibility to the systems they still need access to. Even if you don’t lose it permanently, you forget it on your desk at home and when you arrive to work, well, you can’t be out of business for the day because you left your key at home. That’s what we’re working on — what do you do when the user doesn’t have their key? We still need to be able to provide them access very securely and while not reverting back to a password. What we’re trying to do is surround these physical devices and mobile phones with these recovery mechanisms when the user doesn’t have access to their authenticator, whatever form it is. 

How much progress do you think FIDO has made in the last couple years?

Ducharme: FIDO has gotten a lot of good brand recognition. We’re seeing some uptick in it, but we think with this announcement we’re hoping to really increase the pace of adoption. The great news is we’re seeing the support in things like the browsers. It was a huge milestone when Microsoft announced its support with Windows Hello. We’re starting to get the plumbing in all the right places so we’re very optimistic about it. But the actual application, it’s still a vast minority of a lot of customers in the enterprise use case, and a lot of that has to do with the technology refresh cycles. Are they getting the browsers on the end users’ laptops? Are they using Hello for business? But honestly, these upgrade cycles to Windows Hello are happening faster than the previous Windows cycles, so I’m optimistic about it. But what we’re encouraged by is the adoption of the technology like FIDO, like Web OPM, within the browsers and the operating systems; the end user adoption, by which I mean the companies deploying these technologies to their end users, isn’t quite there yet. This is what we’re hoping to bring out.

Do you think we’re going to see the death of passwords sometime in the next several years?

Ducharme: I’ve been in the identity space now for about 20 years. During a lot of that, I would say to myself the password will never die. But I actually think we’re on the cusp of really being able to get rid of the password. I’ve seen the market understand what it’s truly going to take to get rid of the password from all facets. We have the technology now that it’s accessible with people every day with their mobile phones, wrist-based technologies and all of that. We have the ability to do so. It’s within reach. The question will be, how do we make this technology successful, and how do we make it a priority? So I really am optimistic. What we’ll have to do is push through people using passwordless experiences to help people understand that we really have to get rid of the underlying passwords. The industry’s going to have to do the work to flush out the password for the last mile. I believe the technologies and the standards exist to do so, but until we start looking at the security implications and the costs associated with those passwords and really take it seriously, we won’t do it. But I do believe we have the best opportunity to do it now.

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World Childhood Foundation marks 20 years with focus on AI and child safety online – Microsoft on the Issues

World Childhood Foundation, launched in 1999 by Queen Silvia of Sweden, recently marked 20 years of child protection with a roundtable on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The day-long event, held last month at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, brought together 60 AI experts, representatives from technology companies, child safety advocates, academics and others to explore new ways to combat the proliferation of child sexual exploitation and abuse imagery (CSEAI) online.

“How can we use AI as a catalyst for child safety online,” asked King Carl XVI Gustaf, who, along with Queen Silvia and other members of Sweden’s royal family, presided over the day’s discussions. “New approaches are needed, so we are bringing together some of the sharpest minds in AI and child protection to share knowledge and experiences.”

The event consisted of a series of presentations, panels and small-group discussions about raising awareness among the broader global population about the “epidemic” that is child sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the misuse of technology to share illegal imagery and enable on-demand abuse of children tens of thousands of miles away. Experts shared experiences, ideas and data, including that reports of child sexual abuse videos to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) had risen 541% in 2018 compared to the prior year. Moreover, children of all ages and backgrounds are susceptible to sexual exploitation with more than 56% of the children in Interpol’s database identified as prepubescent. “Nothing surprises us anymore,” said one law enforcement official.

More, faster needed from all stakeholders

The roundtable concluded with a series of observations and recommendations from a variety of sectors, including law and public policy, technology, and victim advocacy, including that:

  • Governments need to take a more active role in addressing the issue. Indeed, no country or society is immune from child sexual abuse and the vile content that makes its way online. Experts acknowledged the work of some standouts governments like the U.K., Australia and others, but called for more globalization and harmonization
  • Children need to be acknowledged as rights-holders, including their right to privacy, and not just as “objects in need of protection”
  • Speed will continue to present a challenge with technological advancements moving at internet speed; academic research occupying a distant second position; and policy, law and regulation lagging significantly behind
  • Civil society needs to do more and, in particular, victims’ rights groups and other organizations must inject a sense of urgency into the dialogue, and
  • Hope must be offered by believing in the brilliance and power of the human and the machine working together to combat such deep-rooted societal ills

I had the privilege of attending and presenting details on the progress of the development of a new method to detect potential instances of child online grooming for sexual purposes. The technique is the result of a cross-industry hackathon that Microsoft hosted in November 2018. Engineers from Microsoft and three other companies continued to develop the process for 12 months following the hackathon, and we intend to make it freely available in 2020 to enable others to examine historical chat conversations for potential indicia of grooming. (Grooming for sexual purposes takes place when someone befriends a child with the intent of gaining the child’s trust for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.) For more about the technique being developed, see this post.

Queen Silvia builds on Vatican remarks

The week before the Stockholm roundtable, a number of attendees also participated in a conference in Rome, Promoting Digital Child Dignity: From Concept to Action. This event was sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Child Dignity Alliance and the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Queen Silvia was a featured speaker at the Rome conference, noting that when she founded World Childhood Foundation, she hoped she could use her voice to highlight the global problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse. She imagined that the foundation would soon close because it would no longer be needed, as the global scourge that is child sexual abuse would have been eliminated. “To speak about the unspeakable, and to give children back their right to a childhood,” she said. “(Yet,) 20 years later, here we are, with an ever-increasing number of children at risk of abuse and exploitation online.”

Along with several speakers that followed her in Rome, the queen called on all stakeholders to come together and do more: policymakers, technology companies, civil society and faith-based groups. “For the child who has suffered abuse; for the child who is at risk; for the child who carries guilt and shame – for this child, we have to speak with one voice and to act collectively.” (The Queen’s Rome remarks were distributed to participants of the Stockholm roundtable.)

A third landmark event on combating CSEAI will be held later this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union, the WePROTECT Global Alliance and the U.K. Government will sponsor the Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation on December 11 and 12.

Microsoft and the challenge of Online Child Sexual Exploitation  

This increased attention from several corners of the globe and from new and different stakeholder groups is both needed and encouraging. Additional strides will follow only when we embrace a whole-of-society approach and all stakeholders take part in this important fight.

Microsoft has been combating the spread of CSEAI online for nearly two decades. We first became aware of the magnitude of these online horrors in 2003 when a lead detective from the Toronto Police Department sent an email to our then CEO Bill Gates, asking for help using technology to track down purveyors of CSEAI and for assistance with the detective’s goal of rescuing child victims. Microsoft responded with a $1 million investment and the creation of a technology still in use today by some law enforcement agencies to share investigative information.

Our commitment to create technology to help fight CSEAI online continued with the invention of PhotoDNA, PhotoDNA Cloud Service and PhotoDNA for Video. Progress has been made over the last 20 years, but more needs to be done, including raising awareness, educating young people and the wider public, reporting illegal content to technology companies and hotlines, and continuing to create technologies and techniques to assist in online detection and reporting.

Learn more

To learn more about the World Childhood Foundation, visit the organization’s website. To learn what Microsoft is doing to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse online, see this link, and to learn more about digital safety generally, go to www.microsoft.com/saferonline, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Data silos hinder IoT in healthcare; tech giants could help

The Internet of Things in healthcare may not be a new idea, but it’s the key to creating a more connected world within healthcare, according to one analyst.

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the connection of a group of digitized objects that can collect, send and receive data. Digital medical device use was born out of clinical need, often circumventing IT for approval or advice, said Gartner analyst Gregg Pessin. Now healthcare organizations are dealing with silos of IoT devices and data.

Gregg PessinGregg Pessin

“In the past, the CIO or the IT department has had little input into what happens in that acquisition process, so you end up with IoT solutions, many of them from many different companies, that all work in their own little world inside that clinical environment,” Pessin said.

That is changing. Healthcare organizations are beginning to see value in breaking down silos and bringing IoT data together to create a single view of a patient. Tech giants like AWS are pushing into the healthcare market providing platforms to gather and analyze IoT data while making it more accessible.

CIO’s perspective on IoT in healthcare

IoT data silos and the lack of interoperability in healthcare are major challenges, according to Craig Richardville, CIO of SCL Health, based in Broomfield, Colo. They must be overcome for a healthcare organization to make better use of the IoT data it’s collecting.

Craig RichardvilleCraig Richardville

In healthcare, integrating vast amounts of IoT data into provider workflows is a complex, uphill battle, Richardville said. But as the healthcare industry matures, he said, there is growing opportunity to standardize and integrate IoT data back into provider workflows to create a more complete view of a patient.

“That’s really the ecosystem we all want to create,” he said. “The end game is [a system] that is fully connected all the way through, safely and securely, that allows us to consume or digest that information and get that back into someone’s professional workflow so they can take advantage of the information. The outcome of that is we make better decisions.” 

Richardville believes IoT is the future of healthcare, further enabling a healthcare organization’s connection to patients in their homes. IoT in healthcare can grow an organization’s capabilities when it comes to remote patient monitoring, social determinants of health and other areas of healthcare. IoT data can help providers and healthcare leaders “make more precise and intelligent decisions,” he said. 

Richardville said IoT could provide greater connection to patients but that privacy and security should remain top of mind for healthcare CIOs as that connection to patients and data collection grows. It’s also important that a healthcare system has the capability to analyze the data coming from connected devices — an area where tech giants could play a significant role.

Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, all of which continue to push into healthcare, could provide healthcare organizations with IoT data gathering and analytics capabilities, Richardville said. SCL Health has a “strong relationship” with Google, which he sees as an “accelerator” to the digital healthcare work the organization is doing.  

“When you look at the companies, whether it’s Amazon or Google or Microsoft, all getting into this space … it actually allows us to be able to lift our game,” Richardville said. 

When it comes to IoT, Gartner’s Pessin said there is strong motivation in healthcare to move toward platform products, which offer tools to gather and analyze IoT data.  

Tech giants further enable IoT in healthcare

Healthcare organizations are buying more patient data-collecting and IoT-enabled devices, which is creating a “tidal wave of data” healthcare CIOs have to deal with, Pessin said.

The amount of computing and storage power required to process that much data is likely more than an on-premises data center can handle. That’s where external, third-party players like tech giants come in, according to Pessin.

“What are they great at? They’re great at scaling resources and they’re adding all of these great, specific kinds of platform solutions like IoT services that they can sell on the platform,” Pessin said.

AWS, for example, has AWS IoT services that health IT and medical device manufacturer Philips Healthcare is using. Philips created a customer-facing HealthSuite digital platform to provide customers with the capability to “connect devices, collect electronic health data, aggregate and store data securely, analyze data and create solutions on the cloud,” according to the Philips HealthSuite digital platform website.

Dale Wiggins, general manager of the HealthSuite digital platform, said Philips chose AWS to be its cloud provider to store large amounts of data and large X-ray and MRI image files from Philips medical devices. The next step for the Philips HealthSuite platform is to use AWS IoT services for remote support management of Philips devices, Wiggins said.

AWS IoT provides Philips with a more cost-effective way to offer remote support capabilities on Philips devices to healthcare customers, he said.

“We’re looking at using IoT to solve a lot of legacy issues with our existing remote support capabilities with new, cutting-edge, always on, always available services that AWS really supports through what they provide with IoT,” he said.

AWS IoT offers device software, control services and data services, depending on customer needs, according to Dirk Didascalou, vice president of AWS IoT. AWS provides the infrastructure for IoT services and is HIPAA-compliant, but it does not have access to customer data through AWS IoT, Didascalou said.

Partnerships with tech giants and healthcare organizations, medical device manufacturers and even EHRs are becoming the norm, according to Pessin. Healthcare organizations create the data and tech giants can provide tools to collect, analyze and store that data. Pessin said healthcare CIOs have to be ready to develop partnerships between the two.

“The advances in digital care delivery that are coming are going to require massive resources, and it’s those large digital giants that have that available,” Pessin said. 

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Preserving cultural heritage one language at a time – Microsoft on the Issues

There are close to 7,000 languages spoken around the world today. Yet, sadly, every two weeks a language dies with its last speaker, and it is predicted that between 50% and 90% of endangered languages will disappear by next century. When a community loses a language, it loses its connection to the past – and part of its present. It loses a piece of its identity. As we think about protecting this heritage and the importance of preserving language, we believe that new technology can help.

More than many nations, the people of New Zealand are acutely aware of this phenomenon. Centuries ago, the Māori people arrived on the islands to settle in and create a new civilization. Through the centuries and in the isolation of the South Pacific, the Māori developed their own unique culture and language. Today, in New Zealand, 15% of the population is Māori yet only a quarter of the Māori people speak their native language, and only 3% of all people living in New Zealand speak te reo Maori. Statistically, fluency in the language is extremely low.

New Zealand and its institutions have taken notice and are actively taking steps to promote the use of te reo Māori in meaningful ways. More and more schools are teaching te reo Māori, and city councils are revitalizing the country’s indigenous culture by giving new, non-colonial names to sites around their cities. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promoted the learning of te reo Māori, calling for 1 million new speakers by 2040.  In a simple, yet profound, statement Ardern said, “Māori language is a part of who we are.” Despite all these efforts, today the fluency in te reo Māori is low.

For the past 14 years, Microsoft has been collaborating with te reo Māori experts and Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission) to weave te reo Māori into the technology that thousands of Kiwis use every day with the goal of ensuring it remains a living language with a strong future. Our collaboration has already resulted in translations of Minecraft educational resources and we recently commissioned a game immersed entirely in the traditional Māori world, Ngā Motu (The Islands).

To focus only on shaping the future ignores the value of the past, as well as our responsibility to preserve and celebrate te reo Māori heritage. This is why we are proud to announce the inclusion of te reo Māori as a language officially recognized in our free Microsoft Translator app. Microsoft Translator supports more than 60 languages, and this means that the free application can translate te reo Māori text into English text and vice versa. It will also support Māori into and from all other languages supported by Microsoft Translator. This is really all about breaking the language barrier at home, at work, anywhere you need it.

Dr. Te Taka Keegan, senior lecturer of computer science at the University of Waikato and one of the many local experts who have helped guide the project from its inception, says: “The language we speak is the heart of our culture. The development of this Māori language tool would not have been possible without many people working towards a common goal over many years. We hope our work doesn’t simply help revitalize and normalize te reo Māori for future generations of New Zealanders, but enables it to be shared, learned and valued around the world. It’s very important for me that the technology we use reflects and reinforces our cultural heritage, and language is the heart of that.”

Te reo Māori will employ Microsoft’s Neural Machine Translation (NMT) techniques, which can be more accurate than statistical translation models. We recently achieved human parity in translating news from Chinese to English, and the advanced machine learning used for te reo Māori will continue to become better and better as even more documents are used to “teach” it every nuance of the language. This technology will be leveraged across all our M365 products and services.

But while the technology is exciting, it’s not the heart of this story. This is about collaborating to develop the tools that boost our collective well-being. New Zealand’s government is also spearheading a “well-being” framework for measuring a nation’s progress in ways that don’t solely reflect economic growth. We need to look at cultural heritage the same way. Preserving our cultural heritage isn’t just a “nice thing to do” – according to the U.N., it’s vital to our resilience, social cohesion and sense of belonging, celebrating the values and stories we have in common.

I was fortunate to visit New Zealand this year, and it is a country that is genuinely working to achieve a delicate cultural balance, one that keeps in mind growth as well as guardianship, which maintains innovation and a future focus whilst preserving a deep reverence for its past. This kind of balance is something all nations should be striving for.

Globally, as part of our AI for Cultural Heritage program, Microsoft has committed $10 million over five years to support projects dedicated to the preservation and enrichment of cultural heritage that leverage the power of artificial intelligence. The ultimate role of technology is to serve humankind, not to replace it. We can harness the latest tools in ways that support an environment rich in diversity, perspectives and learnings from the past. And when we enable that knowledge and experience to be shared with the rest of the world, every society benefits.

For more information on Microsoft Translator please visit: https://www.microsoft.com/translator

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Kubernetes Helm Tiller is dead, and IT pros rejoice

SAN DIEGO — The death of Kubernetes Helm Tiller in version 3 was the talk of the cloud-native world here at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2019 this week, as the change promises better security and stability for a utility that underpins several other popular microservices management and GitOps tools.

Kubernetes Helm is a package manager used to deploy apps to the container orchestration platform. It’s widely used to deploy enterprise apps to containers through CI/CD pipelines, including GitOps and progressive delivery tools. It’s also a key component for installing and updating the custom resource definitions (CRDs) that underpin the Istio service mesh in upstream environments.

Helm Tiller was a core component of the software in its initial releases, which used a client-server architecture for which Tiller was the server. Helm Tiller acted as an intermediary between users and the Kubernetes API server, and handled role-based access control (RBAC) and the rendering of Helm charts for deployment to the cluster. With the first stable release of Helm version 3 on Nov. 13, however, Tiller was removed entirely, and Helm version 3 now communicates directly with the Kubernetes API Server.

Such was the antipathy for Helm Tiller among users that when maintainers proclaimed the component’s death from the KubeCon keynote stage here this week, it drew enthusiastic cheers.

“At the first Helm Summit in 2018, there was quite a lot of input from the community, especially around, ‘Can we get rid of Tiller?'” said Martin Hickey, a senior software engineer at IBM and a core maintainer of Helm, in a presentation on Helm version 3 here. “[Now there’s] no more Tiller, and the universe is safe again.”

KubeCon Helm keynote
News of Helm Tiller’s demise from the KubeCon keynote stage this week drew cheers from the audience.

Helm Tiller had security and stability issues

IT pros who used previous versions of Helm charts said the client-server setup between Helm clients and Tiller was buggy and unstable, which made it even more difficult to install already complex tools such as Istio service mesh for upstream users.

“Version 3 offers new consistency in the way it handles CRDs, which had weird dependency issues that we ran into with Istio charts,” said Aaron Christensen, principal software engineer at SPS Commerce, a communications network for supply chain and logistics businesses in Minneapolis. “It doesn’t automatically solve the problem, but if the Istio team makes use of version 3, it could really simplify deployments.”

[Now there’s] no more Tiller, and the universe is safe again.
Martin HickeySenior software engineer, IBM and a core maintainer of Helm

Helm Tiller was designed before Kubernetes had its own RBAC features, but once these were added to the core project, Tiller also became a cause for security concerns among enterprises. From a security perspective, Tiller had cluster-wide access and could potentially be used for privilege escalation attacks if not properly secured.

It was possible to lock down Helm Tiller in version 2 — heavily regulated firms such as Fidelity Investments were able to use it in production with a combination of homegrown tools and GitOps utilities from Weaveworks. But the complexity of that task and Helm Tiller stability problems meant some Kubernetes shops stayed away from Helm altogether until now, which led to other problems with rolling out apps on container clusters.

“Helm would issue false errors to our CI/CD pipelines, and say a deployment failed when it didn’t, or it would time out connecting to the Kubernetes API server, which made the deployment pipeline fail,” said Carlos Traitel, senior DevOps engineer at Primerica, a financial services firm in Duluth, Ga.

Primerica tried to substitute kube-deploy, a different open source utility for Helm, but also ran into management complexity with it. Primerica engineers plan to re-evaluate Helm version 3 as soon as possible. The new version uses a three-way merge process for updates, which compares the desired state with the actual state of the cluster along with the changes users want to apply, and could potentially eliminate many common errors during the Helm chart update process.

Despite its difficulties, Helm version 2 was a crucial element of Kubernetes management, SPS’s Christensen said.

“It worked way more [often] than it didn’t — we wouldn’t go back and use something else,” he said. “It helps keep 20-plus resources consistent across our clusters … and we were also able to implement our own automated rollbacks based on Helm.”

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Cisco earnings foreshadow slowdown in tech spending

Cisco blamed political turmoil on the world stage for a slowdown in tech spending that will drive the company’s overall revenue down in the current quarter.

The latest Cisco earnings report, released this week, reflected a “pause” in spending by companies globally, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told financial analysts. The number of product orders in the quarter ended Oct. 26 fell in three customer segments — enterprise, commercial and service provider. Only the government sector showed positive growth.

“It feels like there’s a bit of a pause [in spending],” Robbins said during the company’s quarterly earnings call.

The slowdown led to only a 2% increase in revenue, to $13.2 billion in the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year. Revenue in the previous quarter rose 6% year over year. For the current quarter, Cisco said revenue would drop between 3% and 5%.

Tight control on expenses last quarter drove net income up 5%, to $3.6 billion. Cisco earnings per share rose 12%, to 84 cents.

Global strife causing business jitters

Several events globally were making tech buyers nervous enough to delay spending, Robbins said. They included anti-China protests in Hong Kong, the trade war between China and the United States, England’s messy exit from the European Union, impeachment hearings in the U.S. Congress and political turmoil in Latin America.

It feels like there’s a bit of a pause [in spending].
Chuck RobbinsCEO, Cisco

“Business confidence just suffers when there’s a lack of clarity,” Robbins said.

As a result, a significant number of deals were smaller than expected, some fell through and others were delayed, he said.

Cisco, considered a bellwether of tech spending, reported in August a global weakening in demand. But while spending fell in the service provider customer segment, the rest had positive growth.

Last quarter, Cisco continued to struggle in the Chinese and service provider markets. Revenue in China fell 31%, compared with a 26% drop in the quarter ended July 27, while service provider orders fell 13%.

Service provider spending has fallen for several quarters. However, Cisco has predicted that sales would pick up next year, when it expects carriers to start overhauling their networks to support plans for 5G business services.

Within Cisco, the decrease in service provider sales is reflected in lower enterprise routing revenue. Also, enterprises are spending less on data center routing as they move their business software to public clouds.

“Cisco’s product lines are strong,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said. “But the company’s core market, enterprise routing, isn’t growing a lot.”

Cisco predicts spending recovery

Eventually, several industry trends will force businesses to increase spending, Robbins said. Companies will need new technology to take advantage of carriers’ 5G wireless networks and the higher bandwidth of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. The increase in data traffic from those next-generation technologies would, for example, drive sales of 400 Gigabit switches.

“Technology is so absolutely core to their fundamental strategies that it just seems to me that the time that they’re going to be able to pause will be shorter than what you’ve seen in the past,” Robbins said.

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