As the cold weather and dark nights draw in, it’s time to pull up to the roaring log fire for the pre-holidays issue of Sparks & Kindling
We did it, so you don’t have to. Web Summit 2017 Lisbon, Portugal: a 3-day festival of technology bringing together 20 conferences and over 60,000 people plus a host of speakers. Inevitably, interesting data science geek stuff (like unpicking the info buried deep within the Paradise Papers and mapping the history of the world) rubbed shoulders with stuff which appeared to have more to do with headlining grabbing than progress (let us never talk of sex robots and the rather odd guys who build them ever again). Also, predictably, you couldn’t walk anywhere without tripping over a self-driving car and as sacrilegious as it sounds, seen one, seen them all. But for us, much more interesting were the numerous real world examples of enabling tech built to make the world a better place. These are three of the best.
Sharks vs people is the stuff of nightmares which is why this example of AI outside the realm of huge server farms and grand, mind-bending tasks is so inspirational. In Australia AI is being deployed on board a drone, in a small, low-powered device the size of a USB stick with the simple task of spotting sharks and warning swimmers and surfers nearby. If required it can deploy a buoyancy aid for swimmers to use to get out the way of the shark. And because the AI is on-board the drone, there is no need for the connectivity to the cloud which can be so unreliable. Simple, clever and protects sharks and humans alike.
Ok so when anyone starts talking about cutting edge innovation, a big box DIY store like Lowes US isn’t likely to even be on the long list. But their innovation labs and their partnership with the Google Tango team is changing all that. Through Tango enabled Augmented Reality, Lowes now offer two features to make the choosing and purchasing of home furnishings and electrical goods much more frictionless. Firstly, to help those of us who aren’t great at imagining what a piece of furniture or decor accessory might look like in our home, you can now just drop the item into the rendering you have made of your room and check: is it the right size, the right colour, is there room for the dog to jump up on to it? Then, when you have made up your mind, the app can lead you round the store, turn by turn if necessary, to get you to the shelf and item you need by the most efficient route and with the minimum of stress. For us it's a refreshingly relevant use of new tech to make the day to day easier
Distributing food vouchers to the half million Syrian refugees in Jordan, in some of the largest refugee camps in the world, has been the impetus for the World Food Programme to build an ethereum blockchain based payments system. The Building Blocks programme utilises the practical benefits of blockchain to ensure more of the food payments get directly into the hands of those who need them, removing the charges that every transaction was otherwise costing. With over $1.4million dollars of aid already paid out, the inclusion of iris scanning to verify the recipients (which is much easier to deploy in field than handling cash) has also removed any fraud or unusual disbursements within the system. And if they can do it there, you do wonder why we're still using chip and pin in the high street...
Walking away from Web Summit, this article really struck a chord. Despite the huge number of delegates, and an apparent push for more women to be involved, the level of diversity was, if we’re honest depressingly, low. So, if we are serious about creating the conditions for innovation within our organisations, we need to get much, much better at understanding the diversity of skill sets and attitudes we need to make it happen. This just published empirical research into who innovates, identifies a significant under-utilisation of the possible talent pool for innovators. The conclusion we think is obvious. Businesses (and governments) need to stop talking about it and get on with actually reaching into the untapped pools of talent already out there. The article does point to some ways to make this happen so we can truly get on with changing the world for the better
If you’re in London over the next few months, take an hour to pop into The Royal Academy to have a look at the new From Life exhibition, particularly the collision of cutting edge technology with portraiture. This quick article has Jonathan Yeo talk about how he’s been exploring and using it