Microsoft: The UK can lead in AI, but the ‘window of opportunity’ is closing

Chris Bishop, Lab Director at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, has voiced his excitement and concern about the AI industry in the UK.

The UK has a long heritage in artificial intelligence and that history is helping establish it as a leader. A new AI startup is founded every week and Silicon Valley giants like Google are paying out large amounts of cash for the likes of DeepMind (acquired for £400m).

Microsoft Research in Cambridge has been researching AI, machine learning, and deep learning for around 20 years. Their work has found its way into various products and services including, recently, the ‘Seeing AI’ app which is a groundbreaking talking camera app for individuals with visual impairments.

While everything looks great on the surface, there’s a potential roadblock coming up.

The shortage of AI talent is well documented. I’ve reported about companies stealing talent from academia, and the huge salaries being given to people with the right knowledge — which are higher than most startups and universities can afford to match.

Bishop is also concerned about how this will impact future generations.

In a blog post, he wrote: “AI is fast becoming a battle for supremacy and the UK must compete for the best talent, or we risk losing out on a game-changing generation that will drive innovation in healthcare, manufacturing, finance and many other industries.”

The UK government is aware of the importance of AI and defined it as being one of the ‘industries of the future’. In the last three years, the number of AI jobs in Britain has soared by 485%

In the budget announced last month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated £75 million for AI research and development.

“While we welcome last month’s Budget announcement that the government is to significantly increase funding for AI, we need initiatives that go further to increase the number of computer science students in every school in the country, and that will double the number of PhD students, if we are to capitalise on this window of opportunity,” comments Bishop.

Microsoft, for its part, is partnering with universities and other teaching institutions to ensure it doesn’t poach talent and increase the current skill gap problem. Some of the company’s researchers even continue roles in universities.

Further helping to ensure sustainability, Microsoft also funds some PhD scholarships, sends researchers to co-supervise students in universities, and offers paid internships to work alongside teams at Microsoft on projects.

The stance Microsoft is taking should be commended and we hope other companies follow to ensure the UK continues to produce world-class talent and remains a leader in AI. If not, the government may need to provide more than just funding and seek legislative methods of ensuring the long-term health of the industry.

What are your thoughts on the AI industry in the UK? Let us know in the comments.

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Mojio secures $30m to speed up its connected car solution

Canadian connected vehicle startup Mojio has managed to secure a total of $ 30 million in Series B funding round led by Kensington Capital.

Mojio, whose connected-vehicle solution helps transform any car into a connected one, plans to utilise the funding to speed up the automotive solution and expand globally. The Mojio device supported by seven wireless carriers operates in five nations at present.

According to company CEO Kenny Hawk, thus far Mojio has transformed 500,000 vehicles into connected vehicles globally.

"People don’t want to wait for their next vehicle to access valuable safety and security features, let alone another 10 to 15 years for the promise of self-driving cars," says Hawk.

"But they are willing to spend $ 10 to $ 15 per month to access actionable, real-world data that empowers smarter decision making around family safety, driving behaviour, vehicle maintenance, and that offers a hassle-free Wi-Fi hotspot that doesn’t drain your smartphone.”

Mojio is the only firm to have receive an investment from the $ 100 million BC Tech Fund, launched in 2016 and managed by Kensington Capital. The funding amount, however, remains undisclosed.

You can find out more about Mojio here.

What are your thoughts on Mojio's strategy? Let us know in the comments.

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Apple launches Heart Study to detect problems earlier

Apple and Stanford have teamed up to launch a dedicated app called Heart Study which aims to research and detect potential issues.

The study was first announced back in September but is being rolled out to interested participants today. Using the Apple Watch for heart rate data, all irregularities will be noted and users will be notified of potential issues.

Using this data, the researchers can improve their detection of problems earlier to help prevent serious damage or even death.

In a release, Apple wrote: “AFib (atrial fibrillation), the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalisations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.”

Anyone in the United States who is at least 22 years old, with an Apple Watch Series 1 or later, can join the study. Unfortunately, the first generation Watch is not supported.

Apple is leading the way in proving smartwatches can make a real impact to people’s lives and health

To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist.

If an irregular heart rhythm is observed, the app will set up a consultation with a Heart Study doctor. This consultation will be used to ensure there are no issues which need resolving and determine why a problem was flagged. Over time, software algorithms will be optimised to reduce false alerts and cause unnecessary concern.

With this study and features like GymKit, Apple is leading the way in proving smartwatches can make a real impact to people’s lives and health rather than just a place to relay users’ notifications.

You can download Heart Study on iOS here.

What are your thoughts on Apple’s heart study? Let us know in the comments.

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Baidu and Xiaomi partner to use combined powers of AI and IoT to offer smart user experience

Chinese web services company Baidu has partnered with Chinese electronics and software company Xiaomi to establish in-depth cooperation that will amplify their strengths and capabilities in artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). The partnership will bring to table a more compelling user experience in consumer electronics and smart devices.

Lei Jun, founder, chairman and CEO of Xiaomi, said: "Xiaomi has achieved significant breakthroughs in core artificial intelligence technologies and products, and Baidu has deep experience in artificial intelligence technologies, including solid capabilities in voice, images, natural language processing and deep learning. We are delighted to reach a strategic partnership in artificial intelligence with Baidu. This powerful collaboration between the two companies will enable more people to experience the excitement of using AI technologies."

Qi Lu, Baidu vice chairman, group president and COO, said: "The two companies have joined forces in forming a strong partnership to make users' experience more compelling, moving on to the next stage in AI development. Xiaomi has accumulated solid experience in smart hardware, big data and established a smart device ecosystem. It is the world's leading company in the IoT industry. Baidu has strong technological fundamentals in AI, and with Baidu's conversational AI system DuerOS, we are using our world-leading AI technologies and information ecosystems to support the development of the IoT industry.”

The duo will start in-depth cooperation in voice, computer vision, natural language processing, knowledge graph, deep learning, augmented reality and virtual reality. In the future, the two companies seek to offer an enhanced experience to users by gaining a better understanding of real scenarios, users and their needs by integrating AI with IoT.

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Botnet Wars: Return of the Mirai

Chinese security firm Qihoo 360 Netlab have discovered a new variant of the Mirai botnet which caused havoc last year.

The original Mirai botnet was so destructive that it made national headlines last year in many countries around the world. Internet users found many of their favourite services were inaccessible after hackers used the botnet to DDoS companies such as Dyn, a company that controls much of the internet’s DNS infrastructure.

In that attack, over 100,000 compromised devices flooded Dyn with a record-breaking amount of traffic — reportedly in the region of 1.2Tbps.

Whenever there’s mention of Mirai, it’s bound to cause some amount of panic. Variants discovered since last year’s attack haven’t caused anywhere near as much chaos, but it could be they’re waiting for the right time.

This latest variant was discovered by the researchers last week after noticing an increase in traffic scanning ports 2323 and 23. Small increases wouldn’t be of concern, but hundreds of thousands of unique IP addresses originating from Argentina  in less than a day  caught their attention.

After investigation, the researchers found the devices were scanning the ports looking for vulnerable devices manufactured by ZyXEL Communications. They were using two default telnet credential combinations, admin/CentryL1nk and admin/QwestM0dem, to gain root privileges on the targeted devices.

It’s expected this Mirai variant was upgraded to exploit the vulnerability in ZyXEL PK5001Z modems identified as CVE-2016-10401.

"ZyXEL PK5001Z devices have zyad5001 as the su (superuser) password, which makes it easier for remote attackers to obtain root access if a non-root account password is known (or a non-root default account exists within an ISP’s deployment of these devices)," the vulnerability description reads.

You can read my feature on botnets on page 20 of our ‘IoT News’ magazine. A free online copy is available here.

Are you concerned by Mirai variants and the growth of IoT botnets? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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