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Deep Learning for Deeper Understanding
Posted by S2C Staff on 06 April 2018 11:12 AM

What's New in Technology

April 2018

Deep Learning for Deeper Understanding

Deep Learning for Deeper UnderstandingWe all learn in different ways. Some people are book smart, meaning they glean knowledge from reading books. Others learn better through classroom or one-on-one instruction. Still others learn by doing – maybe jumping into an assembly project without reading the instructions.

And then there are those that are more visual – they can better comprehend information when they see examples of it through pictures, videos and other types of images. This is the genesis of what is called deep learning. Deep learning is a subcategory in the study of artificial intelligence (AI), which is simply the practice of machines – typically computers – learning to mimic the thought processes of humans.

Deep learning is focused on learning through visuals, and it has a near-infinite capacity for both learning and applications. In fact, it is based on downloading vast stores of imaged data. The machine can then scan through this colossal amount of information and identify solutions. In this way, it actually mimics the human brain’s ability to identify collected knowledge and memories and evaluate what is relevant and useful for the current query. The difference is that the human brain has only so much capacity to upload and process information; a lone computer has near infinite capacity.

This concept of deep learning is best conveyed with examples, and there are plenty of potential applications. Let’s start with healthcare. A patient presents with multiple symptoms, which could point to any number of medical conditions. His physician could rely on a variety of screens to make a diagnosis, including lab tests, X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasound, physical exam, his formal education, his personal experience with previous patients, and consultation with any number of other physicians, radiologists and specialists. The sum total of this knowledge base then comes up with a diagnosis, but it might not be accurate. As we’ve observed on television shows such as House, it often becomes a process of trial and error to make an accurate diagnosis.

Deep learning, though, can exponentially improve both the speed and accuracy of this process. Imagine that every physician across the globe uploads his patient files, images, observations, etc. into a centralized database. When a doctor needs to make a diagnosis, he can enter specific personal information and text results about his patient. The machine then scans its vast universe of data to identify the most relevant cases, information and images that match this individual patient’s symptoms. In short, because a machine with deep learning capabilities can store, assess and identify a massive number of variables, it might be able to diagnose patient conditions quickly and more accurately – saving crucial treatment time, money and the discomfort of ineffective trial and error treatments.

Deep learning basically follows the human process of assimilating information to learn by example, only it has the capacity to sort through so many more real-world examples than any one human brain can compile, let alone assess.

The following instances are just the tip of the iceberg of the many ways that deep learning can be applied to help various professions become vastly more efficient.

  • Driverless Cars - automatically detect objects such as stop signs, traffic lights, and even pedestrians to help make driving safer and decrease accidents.
  • New smart technology machines such as Alexa and Siri are used by companies to help customers access information or decide what to purchase or watch on television.
  • Farmers are able to take photos of ailing crops via smartphone and scan the visuals to a deep learning machine that can pinpoint the disease.
  • In the construction industry, project managers can track the most egregious potential malfunctions based on plan specifications, phase timing and severity to help keep projects on time, on budget and prevent safety hazards.
  • In the retail industry, companies can upload scores of data regarding customer buying habits, enabling frontline retail clerks to make immediate recommendations based on what customers who bought the same or similar items purchased in the past.
  • In the aerospace and defense industry, deep learning can identify objects in satellite images to help identify safe or unsafe zones for troops.

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Blockchain Technology - Beyond Bitcoin
Posted by S2C Staff on 01 March 2018 11:33 AM

What's New in Technology March 2018

Blockchain Technology - Beyond Bitcoin

Blockchain TechnologyTo many people, Bitcoin and blockchain technology are the same thing. Bitcoin might be the best-known example of a successful application of blockchain technology, but as soon as business leaders understood the power and advantages of the Bitcoin model, various industries, institutions and humanitarian organizations leapt on the technology as a solution to a variety of issues and challenges.

Most of us have some idea of how Bitcoin works. The concept was unveiled via a whitepaper in 2008 by a Japanese businessman whose real identity still is not known. “Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System” showed how a crypto-currency system could provide its users with a decentralized, time-stamped bookkeeping platform, or ledger, that was incorruptible, transparent and public, yet impervious to corruption or interference. It has also been described as an encrypted database of agreements – which means when the parties involved have made a deal, neither can go back and revise the terms. Smart Contracts is a blockchain-based contract system that requires all parties to fulfill their contractual obligations before the terms of the contract can be completed.

Hailed as a major innovation, blockchain technology – in the form of Bitcoin – made its entrance into the financial sector in January, 2009. Some nine years later, the technology is being used in many different ways – from aiding humanitarian relief efforts to improving the efficiency of government departments through the authentication, confidentiality and improved management of medical and benefits records. To help consumers understand how it works, some commentators have said that blockchain is to Bitcoin what the internet is to email. In other words, it is an electronic system. Application designers build programs to tap into its international reach. Bitcoin – a crypto-currency – is just one type of application.

Here are some of the other ways that blockchain applications are being used to address global issues here and in some of the poorest areas of the world:

  • Voter fraud and cybersecurity are hot issues worldwide. In the past decade, voter legitimacy has surfaced as a serious issue in major U.S. elections. Blockchain technology offers governments a way to provide its citizens with secure (unhackable) electronic vote-counting systems. Blockchain technology can provide a permanent and public ledger for voter registration; handle voter identification; and track voting to ensure there is no tampering at a later date.
  • In 2017, the United Nations faced “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era” in Syria. One of the most successful efforts to assist those most affected involved a blockchain platform developed by the crypto-currency Ether, Datarella and Parity Technologies. This partnership bypassed the bureaucracy, inefficiency and corruption that frequently hobble international aid efforts by giving refugees direct access to financial donations to buy food and essential supplies.
  • Blockchain technology can work like a bank for impoverished people who do not have bank accounts. Unlike traditional financial institutions, blockchain crypto-currencies don’t levy hefty fees to transfer money across international borders. These traditional bank charges can inhibit business transactions in developing nations and impose financial burdens on individuals sending money to support their families overseas. BitPesa is a blockchain platform that can send and collect crypto-payments between Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. Africa is one of the costliest regions in terms of financial transfers. BitPesa users need only have access to a smartphone to use the crypto-currency platform. The BitPesa success story has made money transfer fast, affordable and reliable for migrants, immigrants and refugees – people hit hardest by poverty and displacement.

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Can the World Economic Forum Tackle Cybercrime?
Posted by S2C Staff on 01 February 2018 06:13 PM

What's New in Technology for February 2018

Can the World Economic Forum Tackle Cybercrime?

World Economic Forum, Davos

The Wannacry cyberattack in May 2017 highlighted the major problems that bedevil the various nations affected by devastating ransomware crime. Namely, that targeted nations are often slow to track down the source of such cyberattacks – and once they have done so, they also lack any effective means to punish the perpetrators. Technology experts quickly determined the Wannacry source – almost certainly North Korea – but the British and American governments took five to six months to come to the same conclusion. As for penalties for those responsible, neither country was able to effectively force the North Korean government to change their tactics.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that The World Economic Forum, which recently took place in Davos, Switzerland, announced the formation of a new group, The Global Centre for Cybersecurity. This is an effort to tackle cybercrime through faster, more effective information sharing between nations and private technology companies. Expected to be fully operational in March, the organization, which seeks voluntary participation, has already gained the support of BT Group (a major British telecommunications company); U.S. microchip maker Qualcomm; the Russian financial institution, Sberbank; and Interpol, an international crime fighting organization.

Few would argue with the idea that a truly collaborative effort based on common standards is needed to successfully counter organized digital crime. What remains to be seen is how this will work in a global community that lacks consensus on the following key issues:

  • Putting Rules in Place

    Cybercrime is the cheapest way for nations to undercut and disrupt other countries they deem adversaries. President Obama called cyberspace the “Wild, Wild West,” an accurate comparison considering the lack of accountability, lawlessness and anarchy that presides. To date, the nations of the world have yet to agree about what should be off-limits, and what should be allowed. If that sounds strange, consider this. The United States and European nations raised the alarm when they found foreign “implants” in their networks (e.g., tampering with last year’s elections) but they don’t want to see rules imposed that might limit their own espionage efforts. It is no secret that the Obama and Bush administrations both infiltrated Iran’s nuclear network with the so-called Stuxnet code. It remains to be seen how the new Global Centre for Cybersecurity plans to address this double-standard.
  • The Role of Technology Companies in Monitoring Content

    British Prime Minister Theresa May took technology leaders to task in Davos, accusing them of not doing enough to collaborate with world governments to police social networks. Ms. May decried social networks for failing to police their platforms for content that supports terrorism and child abuse (pornography). She urged investors to pressure entities like Facebook and Twitter to use their significant resources to better monitor for fake news, hate speech and other forms of abuse. While this might appear to be a reasonable goal, giving governments the right to step in to determine what “fake news” is has obvious dangers. Likewise, the call for social networks to reveal real identities on the internet might be abused by authoritarian governments wishing to crack down on dissent and free speech.

    The new global initiative is a step in the right direction. However, an effective cure for cybercrime has been elusive to date and may prove a significant challenge to this new international agency.

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Net Neutrality - What's All the Fuss About?
Posted by S2C Staff on 02 January 2018 05:55 PM

What's New in Technology

Net Neutrality - What's All the Fuss About?

Net NeutralityAccording to the pundits, the Dec. 14 move by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to repeal existing net neutrality rules is either a major blow to free communication or a storm in a teacup. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these polarizing viewpoints.

It appears that those who supported dismantling the rules put in place to ensure equal access to the Internet (a concept usually known as “net neutrality”) and those who wished them to remain want the same things. Both sides say they are opposed to Internet Service Providers putting discriminatory practices in place to slow down or block certain content, and neither wants ISPs to charge users more to see certain websites. The disagreement appears to center on how fair play on the Internet should be enforced and who exactly does the enforcing. Not surprisingly, President Trump’s appointee to the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai, believes less government regulation will be more beneficial, and that broadband should not be regulated as if it were a utility.

Most software companies disliked the FCC’s recent repeal of the Obama era regulations. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs also voiced their opposition to the repeal, fearing that the big ISPs will take advantage of their “gatekeeper” role. On the other hand, telecommunications companies were glad to see them repealed. The naysayers believe there are clear dangers in allowing market players to also be guardians of net neutrality. They argue that big telecom companies are already dabbling in preferential Internet usage practices to steer consumers to their sister companies and that Pai’s repeal opens the door for more ploys of this nature.

Here’s some of the history behind the headlines and some of the key issues to ponder:

  • Before 2015, Internet Service Providers were governed by general laws regarding anti-competitive policies and consumer protection. In 2015, under President Obama, ISPs were classified as utilities and so-called net neutrality rules were put in place to stop ISPs from slowing down service, blocking access or requiring payment to favor certain content providers.
  • When Ajit Pai, who had voted against the 2015 reclassification in his role as an FCC Commissioner, was nominated by President Trump to take over the top job, industry observers knew a reversal was on the horizon. Pai contends that heavy-handed government regulation inhibits innovation and investment.
  • Net neutrality existed prior to launch of the 2015 regulations. It might be argued that now, in 2017, we are back to pre-2015 conditions and that there is no call for the alarmist clamor.
  • On the other hand, Pai’s critics note that a neutral Internet is not guaranteed to last. Major companies already are deploying preferential usage patterns to boost sales – for example, AT&T customers who access DIRECTV Now (which AT&T owns) are able to do so without that access counting as part of their data package. AT&T competitors like T-Mobile and Verizon also have similar setups. This practice – zero rating – was scrutinized by the FCC under the Obama era regulations but, following Pai’s repeal, it isn’t any longer. Vertical integration by major ISPs is on the increase, and there could be a strong incentive for these industry leaders to favor their own content over all-comers.

Lawmakers have the power to overturn this recent decision, and to propose their own laws to provide some stability to the regulatory environment. Small business owners who want to see a fair and level playing field will want to continue to monitor this situation.

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What's New in Technology
Posted by S2C Staff on 04 December 2017 03:01 PM

Are Cyber Attacks Acts of War?

Are Cyber Attacks Acts of War, European Union Community, HackingLast month, the European Union Community made headlines with their release of a diplomatic document that, for the first time, defines cyber-terrorism by a foreign power as an act of war. The EU document is expected to say that member states may respond to online espionage or cyber-attacks against their infrastructure or political processes with conventional weaponry in “the gravest of circumstances.” Coming at a time when we have seen months of media coverage worldwide of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election, as well as concerns in France and Germany regarding similar sabotage of their recent democratic processes, this move is regarded as an important step in redefining what nations regard as hostile to their sovereignty.

The issue is not new. News reports back in 2011 outlined the Pentagon’s warnings about the danger that cyber-terrorism posed to national security, and began the debate regarding when cyber-attacks may be considered to be acts of war.

By developing a diplomatic document that begins to clarify this issue, the European Union member nations are bringing it into the spotlight, and setting up a process that is expected to produce a similar response in the United States. This initiative aligns the EU community with NATO’s decision to regard cyber-attacks on one member as legitimate NATO business – or in other words, it means a serious online attack mounted against one nation could trigger NATO’s involvement through existing treaties that involve Europe’s collective defense.

Security experts in the cyber-crime community are not surprised by this move. They see how public outrage has been building. Ransomware attacks – many of which were paid off by large companies without any publicity – suddenly hit the big time when WannaCry ransomware attacks sabotaged the National Health Service in the U.K., forcing operating rooms to close and locking patients and their doctors out of the system. U.K. government minister Ben Wallace has gone on record saying his government is as “sure as possible” that North Korea was behind the WannaCry attack. This North Korean cyber group known as Dragonfly and believed to be state-sponsored, is also suspected of recently trying to hijack U.S. energy facilities.

In recent months, French and German government officials have alleged that North Korean and/or Russian hackers made attacks on their respective electoral processes in 2017. Russia, in particular, has been identified as the home of cyber-attackers who use social media and phishing platforms to try to affect election outcomes.

Digital attacks do not have laws and norms surrounding them like traditional acts of war. Nations have a long history of guidelines that define what constitutes hostile force – inflicted by one nation on another – but we don’t have similar metrics for online attacks. The recent European initiative is an attempt to address this. It will not be an easy matter. We may be able to form a consensus on what defines a cyber-attack used for espionage or to seriously disrupt a nation’s political or economic infrastructure, but it could prove more difficult to show that the attack is linked to an official government organization. 

One thing is clear. Cyber-attacks will remain a major source of concern for world leaders in 2018.

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