Cerebral Security & Big Big Data

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Not a day goes by without news of a compromised website, a leakage of passwords, a loss of credit-card data, or a concern that someone has taken control of an online account. Cyber security and the associated issue of personal privacy are a scourge of modern times brought on by us humans relying on the connected world to live our lives; whether that’s to manage our finances, do the shopping, communicate with friends, or grow a business. Pretty much everything we do, and even more so for the younger generation, involves digital data that can be leaked, eaves-dropped, harvested, or sold.

I suspect, however, things may be about to get a whole lot worse over the next decade! At the moment our brains are off-limits; they host our private memories, thoughts and intentions without others being able to interfere. The only clues are what we display with our emotions and choose to disseminate with our words and actions. And within each of our brains is a lot of data; this is big big data, typically a memory of about a million gigabytes each!

How different the world will be when we can interface directly with our brain, controlling things telepathically by merely thinking of the action. As with all innovations, there will be plenty of benefits; people with disabilities and illness will gain more control over their lives and daily tasks could be completed hands-free and efficiently from a distance. There is plenty of research going on at the moment to this end; already it is possible to control external objects with brainwaves, its just that that the range of commands is rather limited and requires a fair bit of training and concentration to do repeatedly and accurately.

This will change, and one day it will be possible to download memories as both stills (like photographs) and sequences (like videos). It will be possible to back-up our personal memory bank so that learned facts, figures and insights are not forgotten over time, and then eventually it will be possible to upload data to augment your memory with new catalogues of information.

Soon we’ll be into the realms of cerebral security. People around you may try to access your brain to see what you are really thinking about them, the police and security services will want to monitor your past actions and future intentions, criminals will want to know things with which to blackmail you or second-guess you, and terrorists may try to gain control of you so that you can perform actions on their behalf. Suddenly, the brain will be susceptible to new forms of viruses; hybrids of the biological and the computational.

Somehow we’ll have to rush to develop the equivalent of passwords, firewalls and anti-virus scans for our brain. There will be a need for memory back-up and data recovery (read personality recovery). This will be a whole new and exciting industry bridging the gap between biochemistry, neurology and the IT industry.

The difference between a neurone and a silicon transistor will be greyed, the keyboard and mouse will be no more, and things like smart phones, monitors and televisions will be replaced by direct interfaces to the retinal receptors of our brains.  You will be both a source and a sink for direct data transfer. Google will collect street views from your own eyes, Amazon will ship on one-blink orders, and Facebook will become Brainbook as your timeline is thought-after-thought-after thought…

Deep breath.

On Friday 9th October 2015 we discuss cyber security and big data at the Malvern Festival of Innovation. Will we be considering cerebral security and big big data at the same Festival in October 2025? Probably, and there will be no need for you to attend; we’ll just beam it all straight to you whilst you are sleeping and extract a quick user survey to see what you thought of it all afterwards!

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

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Social Media or Social Tedia?

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As we race towards the next edition of the Malvern Festival of Innovation, we are stepping up our social media engagement to help market the event as widely as possible. Today this activity is a necessary part any campaign, and as all business owners will know, the spectrum of platforms available is daunting. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogger, What’s App, Instagram, Flickr, MailChimp, to name but a few of the more well known ones.  Each has its nuances, each its own demographic, and each its own acceptable (n)etiquette.

Moreover, campaigns are no longer the monologue of a billboard or flier. They are two-way conversations in which the target audience responds, interacts and engages.  This is a 24-7 activity requiring the stamina of a marathon runner to stay the course, the agility of a sprinter to respond quickly, and frankly the skills of a decathlete to navigate across all the platforms.

Just last week Facebook reported that it had over 1 billion users on line in a single day.  That’s a significant proportion of the world’s population; especially when you remember that the global population must include some people who are very young, some who are very old, and some who are living in really quite remote and undeveloped areas of our planet.

Is it therefore all getting too much? Has innovation in this space finally surpassed the human brain’s ability to cope with all this activity? And as was indicated in a BBC news piece this week, its not so much that we are just overloaded, but rather that we are addicted to all the stimulation and won’t switch off.

The good news is that at some point someone will come up with a new idea that eases the situation again for us all. Until that happens, your sanity may only be saved by pressing the off button and relishing the short-lived silence before switching it all back on again so you don’t miss something important.

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

Innovation can sometimes cause a stir…

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The last few weeks have seen residents of Malvern, the home of the Festival of Innovation, gripped by a divisive proposal; that of building a cable car from the town of Great Malvern up the steep slopes of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the highest point in Worcestershire.

Those for the scheme cite the economic benefits that such an infrastructure project would bring to the town. It might provide a new activity for tourists, it would facilitate access for all onto the Hills, and it would create jobs and spin-off opportunities. Those against fear a ruining of unspoilt vistas, damage to wildlife and the creep of other buildings onto the Hills, an area protected by a unique historic Act of the UK Parliament.

Not to be drawn one way or another, this debate highlights one key aspect of innovation: that of change. Change is always met with resistance as it upsets the status quo. People have things to gain and to lose; the balance of power shifts, and the real outcome is generally unpredictable. Disruptive innovation, be it an idea, a concept, a device or a process, creates antagonism and concern. It also creates opportunities.

Sometimes, proposed solutions to problems can lead to other more compelling ideas.  To me the idea of a cable car per se is not particularly creative, as it has been done before in many places, and the aerial structures they require can be rather ugly. As an example, one alternative suggestion has been made from residents to reintroduce donkey rides up the Hills; these are a green form of transport and have a quirkiness about them that sits well in the town!  A bit retrograde, however.

So I think we can do better still. What about trialling a fleet of green all-electric (or hydrogen fuel cell) autonomous vehicle that does not require a cable in the first place? Despite the wilderness, the Malvern Hills are unusual because there is actually a narrow tarmac track via a shallower inclined route to the summit. It would make a great rural testbed for the technology that is now being trialled in some of our major cities.

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

BBC reports the plans for a cable car in Malvern, and then shortly afterwards their dismissal!

The batch of one

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Branded fashion survives on exclusivity; limiting the supply and making something desirable and aspirational. Original paintings fetch more than the prints, and limiting the prints pushes up the value of both. But now more and more commoditised consumer products offer customisation, and customers have got used to demanding it: for example cars come with a multitude of options from added equipment through to colour and upholstery.

Manufacturers achieve this range of choice by completing the production process after selling the concept. Just in time manufacturing becomes just-after-the-sale manufacturing. This has the advantage of reducing stock and wastage, but creates a headache for supply chain logistics which needs to ensure all the specific parts are available at that time.

The logical conclusion for this type of manufacturing is the batch of one, where each version of the product is unique and bespoke. Common components, but potentially no two creations the same. 3D Printing is an enabler for this type of production, because the process can be produced on demand and with the necessary variations.

The idea of batches of one is not new. Anything handmade, hand painted, or hand crafted is arguably a batch of one, but often these are created from a plan or template, so things are not so different overall. The trend, however, is for complex physical production processes to become more and more individual so as to specify the colour, shape, weight, functionality, and so on.

But is manufacturing the only place we are seeing the batch of one concept applied? Actually not. Medicine is heading that way too. In the future, as genome mapping and genetic engineering becomes prevalent, so too will treatments that are tailored to the individual. Already medicine is becoming personalised, with various cocktails of pharmaceuticals being prescribed on a case-by-case basis. However, the natural endpoint for this is for the actual drug molecules to be dispensed into a carrier pill, the carrier serum or directly into the body just when needed. Each concoction uniquely tailored to the genetic make-up and current metabolic state of the specific human body.

Then comes education. Whilst attending the NEF Innovisions 2014 conference in London last week, much emphasis was placed on the changes ahead in teaching and training. How education is delivered is changing with the advent of digital content. But soon, the course, the exercises, the references and even the final examination and qualification could be delivered as a batch of one. A specific set of materials presented in a way that the particular student will most efficiently adsorb, retain and learn from, so as to provide an optimised set of skills for a very specific job or task.

This could go full circle of course – the uniquely trained human being becoming capable to develop unique products many times over, helped by medical treatments that keep him or her not just healthy, but specifically adapted to the task; be it with provision of training, nutrition, or medicine.

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

Smart Cities: Smart States: Smart Nations

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Innovating Together for the 21st Century was the subject of a UK / Singapore event today in Central London, and despite the rhetoric and back-patting from both sides about past creativity and success, this is actually likely to be a programme that will yield good results in the future.

And the reason is that Singapore is a very technologically progressive nation; and one for which I have strong affinity and a high regard. I lived and worked there for five years and was able to start, grow and exit a high technology company within that timeframe. My microcosm of activity stress-tested its research and development capability, its start-up mentality, its business support infrastructure, its logistics, its connectivity, and its resilience to global issues (SARS and economic meltdown in the western world, to name but two). And it all worked well for me. Of course there were frustrations, but there were also great rewards realised and strong friendships created.

That experience happened between 2002 and 2007, and although the term hadn’t really been coined, Singapore was a pretty smart city even back then. I travelled with an RFID card (like London’s Oyster card of today) seamlessly on both buses and the underground, traffic lights were fitted with LEDs to reduce energy consumption, the electronic road pricing (ERP) system reduced city centre traffic jams, wi-fi was free (and fast) at Changi airport, libraries and many fast food outlets, and taxis had seat-back displays giving you information as you travelled. And when SARS struck, free digital thermometers were distributed widely and body temperature was recorded and uploaded across the island.

But interestingly at the event today, a major panel discussion centred on smart cities and Singapore’s aspiration to be not just a smart city, but a smart nation; and probably the first. Of course, this is semantics, because Singapore is a city state, so by definition if its city is smart, so is its nation.

But actually there is a real challenge in this ambition, because being a smart nation needs to embrace more than just the city infrastructure. It needs to include national policy, diverse public services, education, employment, entertainment, tourism, retirement, and healthcare across the country.

And although being contained in a city has its advantages, it is also a great opportunity to reap the benefits. Today, being smart involves much more than I witnessed a decade ago. It needs energy supply, water supply, air quality, movement of people, movement of vehicles, supply of food, deployment of security, scheduling of entertainment and so on to be monitored, controlled and optimised in real-time against data models and in-field feedback.

Steve Leonard of Singapore’s Infocomm Development Agency (IDA) summed it up well: connecting everything and everyone all the time! The ramifications are enormous. Huge data, huge insights, huge efficiencies and a huge competitive edge.

And in Singapore where everyone lives on top of each other and there has arguably been a kind of “benevolent dictatorship”, privacy is not seen as such a big deal as it is to us in the west. Whether this is morally right of wrong is another debate, but the point is that culturally Singapore is primed to embrace being a truly smart nation and many of the barriers we see in the UK are not so high in Singapore. As Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise explained in her talk: Singaporeans are a very pragmatic people.

So the UK would do well to collaborate on this ambition with Singapore as it could learn a lot, test a lot, and probably bring its own cities up to speed in smartness more quickly than it would in isolation.

The challenge for the UK is actually the part of being a smart nation. Firstly, there is more to the UK than London. Secondly, there is more to the UK than a dozen or so large cities. We have huge swathes of rural countryside with small towns and villages where even broadband is absent. Living in Malvern, I know all to well how being rural can put the brakes on growth and development. But significant things do happen in Malvern and we need to be part of the smart infrastructure too. Moreover, there are lots of other rural spaces like us where tourism, agriculture, education, energy production, niche commerce, etc. are contributing to the nation and can be done better in a smart integrated way.

So my view is that in this partnership, Singapore should focus on becoming the model smart city state, and the UK should focus on becoming the model smart nation beyond cities. What we learn from Singapore can be applied to our great cities, and what we learn from the rural challenge can be exported via Singapore to its Asian neighbours where indeed rural jungles, isolated islands, and lesser-developed suburbs proliferate.

Meanwhile, we are ready here in Malvern to be the test-bed for the smart exo-city.

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder

Postscript: As a case in point, this article would have been published more quickly had the wi-fi been working on my train home to the rural hinterland of our yet-to-be smart nation.

The Biggest Big Data

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At the risk of sounding like a technical dinosaur, I still have neatly filed away some 3.5” floppy discs. Their capacity a tiny 1.44Mb. I remember well the days that I used to pop them in and out of my Mac and other devices at the time thinking that I would never need any more storage than that. Of course I was wrong, by a long way. Megabytes, became Gigabytes, Gigabytes have become Terabytes and today, whilst listening to Pete Rose from HP talk at the Malvern Festival Of Innovation about Big Data, I heard for the first time about Brontobytes – yep, ‘brontobytes’, like that huge dinosaur! This is a huge, huge number, this is almost the biggest of big data.

Just to bring you up to speed sequentially we have a gigabyte, then add three more zeros to get a terabyte, add 3 more zeros to get a petabyte, then you go exabyte, zettabyte, yottabyte and then the aforementioned brontobyte. This is 10 to the power 27, or more zeros than you can comfortably write down or even quantify. Just to put this into context 10 to the power 24, the yottabyte, is the total strange capability of 250 trillion DVDs. So a brontobyte is 1000 yottabytes, in other words – massive!

These are immense numbers and in order to access (never mind find!) data that will be stored in this quantity, new computing methods will be required. HP Labs are already innovating, developing and researching into photonics to replace the copper connections within todays computers, servers, and tablets with optical connections – the much heralded computing at the speed of light, literally. In order to do this they have a research project called ‘The Machine’ to make computing more efficient by removing the 80% of time that computers spend on managing their environment – as in moving data from one place to another – and getting it to perform the task at hand. The technology and the new thinking (the innovation) needed to do this is immense, but with HP behind it and their enviable track record in innovation, it will no doubt come to market.

So will ‘The Machine’ be able to crunch through brontobytes at the speed of light? That’s the aim, that’s the dream, in fact that’s the future market need.

Oh and just in case you were wondering, the brontobyte will go the way of it’s dinosaur namesake, as the ‘geopbyte’ – that’s 10 to the power 30, is already in HP’s sights. Big Data will continue to get bigger!

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Read more about ‘The Machine’ here : http://h30507.www3.hp.com/t5/Cloud-Source-Blog/The-Machine-a-view-of-the-future-of-computing/ba-p/164568#.VCv1ab4rjdk

Stuart Wilkes, Guest Blogger

So What Is Innovation?

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The Malvern Festival Of Innovation has kicked off, for the next 4 days in the beautiful hillside town of Malvern. There is a range of exciting speakers talking on everything from Cyber Security and the Internet Of Things, through to manufacturing and bootstrapping. These are complemented with a diverse range of exhibitors such as Aston Martin and Lockheed Martin to small startups and entrepreneurs.

Everybody will talk ‘innovation’! But hang on, exactly what is innovation? I’m sure if you ask half a dozen engineers, you will get half a dozen answers – it’s the new, it’s a device, it’s a process, it’s an application, it’s a better solution…it’s all of these and more.

Being innovative, being an innovator is seen as a very good thing. These are the people who break new ground, rip up the rules and try something new. Not encumbered by the past, but excited by the future. Convinced that things, no matter what they are can be better. The human race can be moved forward by innovation in whatever form it comes and in whatever subject it occurs. Innovators will fall, but they pick themselves up, dust themselves down and keep pushing forward, enthused by the fact that one day they will ‘crack it’.

Innovators have given us smart phones, heart monitors, cars and planes; microwave ovens and digital cameras; They have delivered flat screens, HD, WiFi and more – and they are not done yet. With the world now more connected than ever innovators around the world can share and collaborate, they attack the big problems facing humanity as a collective.

It appears to me that innovation is not one thing, in fact innovation is a state of mind, and many of those minds are gathering for the next few days here in Malvern…

Stuart Wilkes, Guest Blogger