AI, ML & ‘Robot’ Business Spending Will Hit $232bn by 2025 Says Report

A recent KPMG reports claims that whereas business spending on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning(ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies is $12.4bn this year, it will increase to $232bn in 2025.

Ready, Set, Fail?

The report, entitled “Ready, set, fail? Avoiding setbacks in the intelligent automation race” highlights how the potential of AI technology is already being examined by 37% of enterprises, and how its uptake is expected to accelerate over the next three years, with all enterprises using the technology to some extent, 49% of enterprises using it at scale, and 29% using it selectively. Currently, 13% of enterprises are missing out altogether on the opportunity of using AI to add value to their business.

Can’t All Be Like Leading ‘Digital First’ Companies

The report accepts that while most businesses can’t realistically expect to be leading ‘digital first’ companies, such as Amazon with its one-click experience linked to a complex back-end and digital supply chain, they can make good ground from now on by acting quickly, understanding the need for urgency, and defining and executing a comprehensive AI strategy.

What Is Digital First?

A ‘digital first’ / digital by default approach involves giving priority to new media channels and technologies to improve the business by bringing it into line with the needs and behaviours of today’s consumers. It involves adopting a whole new way of looking at the business in order to add the skills, and to change to culture and mindset in order to make it more effective.

What Is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

While many of us are now familiar with the terms artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), the report also focuses on ‘robotic process automation’ (RPA). This refers to an emerging form of business process automation technology that uses software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.

Instead of software developers producing a list of actions to automate a task and interface to the back-end system using internal application programming interfaces (APIs) or dedicated scripting language, RPA systems develop the action list by watching the user perform that task in the application’s graphical user interface (GUI), and then they perform the automation by repeating those tasks directly in the GUI.

Expectations High But Readiness Low

The KMPG report shows that even though managers’ expectations are high for AI use in their company in the coming years, the readiness to implement AI is low. The reasons for this include the fact that two-thirds of enterprises lack the in-house talent, and half of businesses are still struggling to define goals and objectives for AI.

Also, the 33% of respondents in KPMG’s study said that management are lacking readiness to implement AI because of a concern over AI’s impact on employees.

Investment Available

According to the report, even though readiness is low, the investment needed for intelligent automation is available, and is expected to increase over the next 3 years, with 32% of organisations having approved more funding for robotic process automation, and 40% saying that they will increase spending on artificial intelligence by at least 20% over the next three years.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Artificial Intelligence holds many opportunities for businesses, and those businesses that have moved successfully to a digital first approach appear to be reaping the benefits in terms of competitive advantage and profitability in the modern marketplace.

There are many ways in which businesses can meet high marketplace expectations for AI. These include:

– Long-term planning with a sequence of steps, beginning with prioritised projects that can realise scale in one or two years, with the help of C-level buy-in and sponsorship. This can lead to a successful transformation built on new blueprints and architectures for operating models and business models.
– Taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to automating the service delivery model.
– Taking another look at the whole operating model and how AI can be best adopted and applied to the core business. This involves looking at the operational and technology infrastructure, organisational structure and governance, and people culture. This can be supported by measurement and incentive systems, and implemented in a way that causes minimum disruption to existing business processes.

Tech Tip – Bypass Your Recycle Bin

If, in Windows, you want to stop your Recycle Bin from taking up storage on your drive, or stop anyone from recovering your erased data, there is a fast and easy way to bypass your Recycle Bin and go straight to permanent delete with unwanted files / folders. Here’s how:

– Click on the file / folder you want to delete.
– Hold down Shift before you hit the Delete key.
– Hit Delete.
– You will still get the confirmation question.

‘SiliconX’ Next-Generation Battery Material Discovered

Norwegian scientists at IFE claim to have discovered a new wonder-material for future battery production that they have dubbed ‘SiliconX’.

Years Of Research

The new material, discovered by scientists at Norway’s Department of Energy Technology (IFE) reportedly offers a way to stabilise silicon anodes for Li-ion batteries. This is an aim that years of targeted research and experimental trials with nano-particles has been intended to achieve.

The Challenge

The challenge has been that silicon anodes can far-exceed the lithium ion storage capacity of carbon anodes, and the change in size as they absorb the ions causes a physical swelling and shrinking that can destroy the structure of a Si-Li-ion battery.

The Solution – SiliconX

The solution that the Norwegian scientists claim to have found is to use nano-particles in a finely divided mixture of silicon and another material that the scientists have called ‘the matrix’. It is this matrix that helps the silicon to withstand the big volume changes, and thereby solve the bulging / shrinking problem that would normally wreck the battery.

Much Greater Charge Capacity

The end result has been, as well as the stability, that the new SiliconX battery is reported to have three to five times the charge capacity of the negative electrode compared to common graphite technology.

Freedom From Daily Phone Charging

In short, if your smartphone battery was made from SiliconX that behaves the way that the Norwegian scientists claim, you would not need to charge that smartphone every day.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Problems with phone batteries have damaged the performance of many phones, and tarnished the reputation of their manufacturers e.g. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 batteries catching fire.

The obvious benefits of a SiliconX battery for business users are the convenience of not having to keep charging your phone, and the elimination of the worry that a lack of sufficient battery charge will leave you incommunicado when you’re not near a charging socket / in the middle of nowhere, and / or in the middle of / needing to make calls that are vital to the business.

The fact that the battery materials are more stable may also eliminate some of the safety worries about batteries that have been in the back of many users’ minds since the Galaxy Note 7 fire incidents.

Facebook Favours Free Speech Over Fake News Removal

In a recent Facebook media presentation in Manhattan, and despite the threat of social media regulation e.g. from Ofcom, Facebook said that removing fabricated posts would be “contrary to the basic principles of free speech”.

Fake News

The term ‘fake news’ has become synonymous with the 2016 US general election and accusations that Facebook was a platform for fake political news to be spread e.g. by Russia. Also, fake news is a term that has become synonymous with President Trump, who frequently uses the term, often (some would say) to act as a catch-all term to discredit/counter critical stories in the media.

In essence, fake news refers to deliberate misinformation or hoaxes, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention, and it is spread mainly by social media. Facebook has tried to be seen to flag up and clean up obvious fake news ever since its reputation was tarnished by the election news scandals.

What About InfoWars?

The point was made to Facebook at the media presentation by a CNN reporter that the fact that InfoWars, a site having been known to have published false information and conspiracy theories, has been allowed to remain on the platform may be evidence that Facebook is not tackling fake news as well as it could.

A Matter of Perspective

To counter this and other similar accusations, Facebook has stated that it sees pages on both the left and the right side of politics distributing what they consider to be opinion or analysis but what others, from a different perspective, may call fake news.

Facebook also tweeted that banning those kinds of pages e.g. InfoWars, would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.

A Matter of Trust

Ofcom research has suggested that people have relatively little trust in what they read in social media content anyway. The research showed that only 39% consider social media to be a trustworthy news source, compared to 63% for newspapers and 70% for TV.

Age Plays A Part

Other research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, involving more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students in 12 US states focused on their ability to assess information sources. The results showed a shocking lack of ability to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles. When you consider that many young people get their news from social media, this shows that they may be more vulnerable and receptive to fake stories, and their wide networks of friends could mean that fake stories could be quickly and widely spread among other potentially vulnerable recipients.

Although Facebook is known to have an older demographic now, many young people still use it, Facebook has tried to launch a kind of Facebook for children to attract more young users, and Facebook owns Instagram, partly as a means to try and mop up young users who leave Facebook. It could be argued, therefore, that Facebook, and other social media platforms have a responsibility to regulate some content in order to protect users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Fake news stories are not exclusive to social media platforms as the number of retractions and apologies in newspapers over the years are a testament. The real concern has arisen about social media, and Facebook particularly, because of what appears (allegedly) to have been the ability of actors from a foreign power being able to use fake news on Facebook to actually influence the election of a President. Which party and President is in power in the US can, in turn, have a dramatic effect on businesses and markets around the world, and the opportunities that other foreign powers think they have.

Facebook is also busy fighting another crisis in trust that has arisen from news of its sharing of users’ personal data with Cambridge Analytica, and the company is focusing much of its PR effort not on talking specifically about fake news, but about how Facebook has changed, why we should trust it again, and how much it cares about our privacy.

Meanwhile in the UK, Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, has clearly stated that she believes that media platforms need to be “more accountable” in their policing of content. While this may be understandable, many rights and privacy campaigners would not like the idea that free speech could be influenced and curbed by governments, perhaps to suit their own agenda. The arguments continue.

First Blockchain ‘Cryptocurrency’ Smartphone

Taiwanese electronics company Huawei Technologies Ltd. (HTC), and Swiss-based Sirin Labs are both introducing blockchain smartphones.

HTC

HTC’s Exodus blockchain smartphone, which it is believed will be priced at around $1,000, and is reported to have “tens of thousands” of reservations globally. The smartphone, from the world’s third largest phone manufacturer, will be released this year, will come with a built-in (offline) wallet for storing cryptocurrencies, and will act as a computer node in a blockchain network.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”. Blockchain is the technology at the heart of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is open-source, and free.

Why A Blockchain Phone?

Giving a phone a blockchain element means that it has access to blockchain applications such as a crypto wallet, secure exchange access, encrypted communications and a P2P resource sharing ecosystems for payment and apps. It can also be used for cryptocurrency mining.

The built-in wallet for the HTC phone for example, will enable it to store bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital tokens.

Sirin Labs – The Finney Phone

The other blockchain smartphone, which is likely to be launched after HTC’s, is the ‘Finney’, named after the late bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney.

This smartphone, which also has a $1,000 price tag, has been described as an “ultra-secure blockchain smartphone”, and has been specifically designed to get around what Sirin Labs believe to be 2 main obstacles to mass market acceptance – security and user experience.

Sirin Labs even launched an initial coin offering / ICO (crowd funding from early backers of tokens for a new cryptocurrency) to fund the Finney. This resulted in over $157 million being raised.

The Big Advantage – The OS

Sirin claims that its big advantage with the Finney is not so much the phone, but more the Operating System (OS) that it claims, thanks to partnerships it is making, will soon be included in phones by other top OEM phone developers.

Security

In terms of how secure the phones are, the main question will be how both companies will keep sensitive cryptocurrency data secure. For example, unless a phone is in flight mode, there’s always a connection of some kind, and that offers a lot more attack surfaces than something like a USB stick that’s only occasionally connected.

Niche Product For Rich Enthusiasts?

Some critics have said that a blockchain smartphone is too much of a niche product that may just appeal to enthusiasts and speculators rather than a mass market, and that most people may struggle to understand what blockchain is and how / why they should use cryptocurrencies.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For HTC, many see this as being a way for the company to find a way back into the smartphone market, where it’s been struggling in recent times, but this time with a differentiated product that is a market first, ahead of competitors.

For Sirin Labs, it could also be a way to get into a new section of the market ahead of the competition, but many are sceptical as to whether the Finney will get the mass market acceptance that Sirin Labs hopes.

Most business people in the UK, for example, may be unlikely to see why they would need a blockchain phone with a crypto-currency wallet as part of their daily working life. If they’re going to spend £1,000+, they may be more likely to opt for new models of more familiar phones with more standard features e.g. iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.

Windows 10: Fuelling PC Sales Recovery?

Reports by IDC and Gartner that shows PC sales registering their first quarterly rise in six years have led to some speculation that Windows 10 may be fuelling a Business PC sales recovery.

Over 62 Million Q2 Shipments

According to Q2 figures compared to 2017, market analyst firms IDC and Gartner have both noted 62 million+ PC shipments.

Gartner’s figure of 62.1 million PC shipments represents a 1.4 % rise on last year, while IDC’s figure of 62.3 million PCs shipped represents a 2.7% rise on last year.

Either way, it looks like a small recovery in one segment of a market that many believed had been sent into decline by mobile device use.

Businesses Buying Windows 10 PCs

Most analysts agree that although the consumer side of the PC market has been negatively affected by people turning to their smartphones for even more daily tasks, this latest rise in PC sales is being fuelled by businesses.

Tech and business commentators appear to agree that the rise in PC sales is mainly due to businesses accepting that they need to make the switch to Windows 10, and buying the next office PC with Windows 10 already on it.

Big Brands

Not surprisingly, the manufacturers that are selling the most units are the big names i.e. Lenovo and HP, both with around 22% of the market, followed by Dell, Apple, then Acer in fifth place.

Supply Chain Problems Solved

Market analysts also believe that the solving of some of the supply chain problems that held back PC sales this time last year is contributing to the recent rise in sales.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While individuals in businesses have their own smartphones, and while some smartphones may be used for business and personal use e.g. in SME’s, many UK businesses still have PCs / desktops in the office that are used purely for business. Since support has stopped for many older versions of Windows, many people have experience of using Windows10, and Microsoft is essentially forcing PC users down the Windows 10 and SaaS route, it is not surprising that many businesses have simply ordered fully equipped Windows 10 PCs as part of the office upgrade.

Although these sales figures do show a small recovery of sorts, the prevailing direction of travel for computing tasks for the future is still in the mobile direction.

Google Chrome’s New ‘Site Location’ Security Feature Activated

The new ‘Site Isolation’ security feature for Google’s Chrome browser has been switched on, and could protect users from log-in credentials theft.

Decade-Long History

The newly switched-on feature actually has a decade-long history in the making. It has been reported that Google invested those engineer-years, mostly in the last 6 years, and a lot of money in producing a DiD (defence-in-depth) feature, and what is a now essential defence against a prolific class of attack.

What Does Site Isolation Do?

It has recently been discovered that all modern chips / processors have security vulnerabilities in them that can contribute to the success of ‘data leakage’ attacks. These vulnerabilities, dubbed Spectre and Meltdown (Meltdown only on Intel chips), can be used by hackers to steal passwords or other confidential data from computers and mobile devices through popular web browsers like Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari for Macs or iOS.

With Site Isolation enabled, each renderer process contains documents from a maximum of one site which means that all navigations to cross-site documents cause a switch in processes, and all cross-site iframes are put into a different process than their parent frame. This ‘isolation’ of the processes provides effective detection against data leakage attacks like Spectre, which means that the vast majority of Chrome users are now theoretically safer from this one kind of attack. It has also been reported that work is underway to protect against attacks from compromised renderers.

It Does Sap Some Memory

One of the trade-offs that Google has had to make to in order to make this feature effective is greater resource consumption. With Site Isolation on, there is a 10-13% total memory overhead in real workloads due to the larger number of processes. Google is reported to be working on trying to reduce the memory burden.

Even 10-13% is good compared to the 20% memory overhead that was being used when Chrome 63 debuted with Site Isolation.

Not Android Yet – But Soon

Site Isolation is scheduled to be included in Chrome 68 for Android but reports indicate that Google is still working on resource consumption issues before that can be rolled out.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The switching on of this feature is, of course, good news for businesses, as it is an additional, free way to strengthen cyber resilience against a popular kind of attack that could have serious consequences. This is of particular importance when businesses are trying to do everything possible to achieve and maintain compliance with GDPR.

Up until now, all businesses have heard is that all modern processors have security flaws in them, and that software patching is the only real answer. Back in May, another 8 flaws, in addition to Spectre and Meltdown, were discovered in processors, dubbed Spectre Next Generation (Spectre NB). At least the switching-on of this Chrome feature is one tangible step in the journey to patch these vulnerabilities before cyber-criminals manage to exploit them all. Hopefully, more, similar features will be introduced across other browsers in the near future.

Tech Tip – Arrange Multiple File Explorer Windows Easily

If you have multiple File Explorer windows on your screen, the clutter and confusion can get in the way of the task at hand. Here’s the fast and easy way to re-arrange them:

– Right-click the taskbar.
– Choose Show windows stacked or Show windows side by side.
– That’s it!

Microsoft Launches Free Version of Collaborative Chat App ‘Teams’

Microsoft has announced the launch of a free version of its collaborative chat app ‘Teams’ which doesn’t require an Office 365 subscription.

What Is Teams?

Introduced back in November 2016, ‘Teams’ (as the name suggests) is a platform designed to help collaborative working, and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite, and Teams is widely considered to be Microsoft’s answer to ‘Slack’.

Slack is a popular, multi-channel collaborative working hub that offers chat channels with companies and businesses you regularly work with, direct voice or video calls and screen-sharing, integrated drag-and-drop file sharing, and an App Directory with over 1,500 apps that can be integrated into Slack.

Teams is now believed to be used by around 200,000 organizations.

Free Version

The free version of Teams, which does not require an Office 365 account, offers the same basic features as regular Teams to anyone who wants to try it out. The hope is, of course, that this will increase user numbers, and tempt users away from Slack. Microsoft is also extending 365 cloud suite with the free version of Teams to try and bridge Microsoft 365 with Office 365.

Space and Features

The free version of Teams offers 10GB of team storage plus an additional 2GB for each user, with up to 300 people supported. Also, users have unlimited messages and search, there is guest access, as well as audio and video calls and screen sharing.

Within the Teams app, users can collaborate with colleagues on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

What’s Missing?

Even though the free version offers quite a lot of storage space, the full version would offer users a massive 1TB. Also, unlike the full version, the free version doesn’t come with Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and OneDrive, plus the free version lacks some of the security features of the full version. This could make it less attractive to enterprises that are also looking to maximise compliance.

Warning To Help With Team Etiquette

One interesting aspect of Microsoft’s approach to the collaborative working platform is to build-on features that warn a user when they are doing something that goes against good practice and etiquette within teams. One key example of this is, with MyAnalytics, which works as an intelligent collaboration assistant in Outlook, is where users are warned / alerted if they are sending emails to co-workers outside their normal working hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

One good way to increase user numbers quickly, gain some ground in a battle with competitors, and to entice people to try and perhaps switch to a new service is to offer a good, usable, value-adding version of that service for free. That’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with its version of Teams.

Although larger enterprises may already be a long way down the road with their chosen collaborative working platform, and might be a bit put off by the idea of using a free version of a platform that is not quite on a par with the full version in terms of security features, a free version of Teams may be very attractive to SMEs looking to move into collaborative working with a low risk, trusted, scalable solution.

NHS … Still Reliant On Fax Machines

A Poll by the Royal College of Surgeons using freedom of information requests has revealed that 8,946 fax machines are still in use in NHS Trusts in England.

World’s Largest Purchaser of Fax Machines

The poll was carried out after a report last year by DeepMind Health revealed that the NHS was the world’s largest purchaser of fax machines.

The new RCS poll revealed that the NHS Trust with the most fax machines still in use is Newcastle upon Tyne NHS with 603. Barts Health NHS Trust still uses 369 fax machines.

Labour Party Says There Are More

In June this year, the Labour Party reported that it believed that there were at least 11,620 fax machines still in use across the NHS in England, costing £137,000 a year to maintain.

Fax Machines

What is considered to be the first commercial version of a modern fax machine (short for facsimile) was introduced (and patented) by Xerox Corporation in 1964. Fax machines, however, reached the peak of their popularity in the late 1980s.

NHS Also Largest User of Pagers

A report by telecoms consultancy CommonTime from last year showed that the NHS is the largest user of pagers, with 130,000 of them still in use in the NHS, mainly in acute hospitals. Pagers reached their peak of popularity back in 1994 (61 million in use), and it is believed that there are now only 1 million users worldwide. The NHS, however, spends £6.6m on them each year.

The reason for their continued popularity in the NHS is thought to be their simplicity, their use of radio frequencies rather than their reliance on Internet connections, their resilience, the fact that there’s an audit trail, they’re easy to carry, and they have a long battery life.

The CommonTime report suggests that the NHS could save up to £2,718,009 per year / over £10m across four years by simply replacing pagers with smartphone-based applications.

Hopes For Greater Move To Digital

These reports and polls appear to show that the NHS is lagging behind in the digital revolution and clinging to obsolete technology where its internal communications are concerned.

The last Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had wanted a paperless NHS by this year, and the new Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, is known to be a supporter of technology and digitisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Those in the NHS have pointed out that years of austerity, cuts, lack of funds, and the need to pare back spending on facilities and technology in order to keep the service going are the reasons why the NHS still uses outdated communications technology like fax machines.

The natural substitute and successor to fax machines appears to be apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp. In fact, during the WannaCry cyber attack that brought down NHS computer systems, many NHS staff used WhatsApp to communicate, with an estimated 500 patients a day being diagnosed from X-ray images sent on the app.

Clearly, there is a need for an affordable, reliable, fast and easy to use day-to-day communications platform for NHS Trust staff to use that could help them to save the Trusts money, save themselves time, and add value to the provision of services. Continuing to rely on fax machines will probably only lead to stealth IT anyway. Apps appear to be the natural way forward, provided they offer the right level of security for patient data, but the NHS also has an internal email system called NHSmail that is not being used widely enough.