Archive for AI

New AI Feature For Microsoft Word Online To Improve Your Writing

The new ‘Ideas’ feature, an AI-powered editor in the cloud for Microsoft Word is intended to provide intelligent suggestions to make your writing more concise, readable, and inclusive.

Ideas

The new ‘Ideas’ feature, which is already being used with PowerPoint and Excel, is likely to be a value-adding improvement on traditional grammar and spelling checks because it is designed to help with the reading and writing of (online) Word documents.

The feature announced at Microsoft 2019 and scheduled for testing in June, will be able to follow along as you write, offer familiar fixes for spelling and grammatical errors, suggest improvements, be able to detect nuances in language and even suggest rewrites for tricky phrases or clunky paragraphs.

The Ideas feature will also be able to help with the reading of Word documents by, for example, providing estimated reading times, extracting key points, and decoding acronyms using data from the Microsoft Graph.

British Company Wins Google Money For AI

It’s not just Microsoft that’s making the news this week for its ongoing pursuit of augmenting its products and services with AI and machine learning.

British fact checking company Full Fact has just been named among the 20 winners of Google’s AI Impact Challenge.  The award will mean that they will receive a share of 19.1 million dollars worth of Google investment as well as consultation help and mentoring from Google.  The AI Impact Challenge from Google asked for organisations to submit ideas on how to use AI to help address societal challenges.  For Full Fact, this involved ideas about how to use AI to combat the kind of misinformation that affects millions of people’s health, safety and ability to participate in society, and is considered by many to be a threat to democracy in many countries.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The addition of an AI-powered, cloud-based enhancement to Microsoft’s online version of Word is considered to be the next, more intelligent step onwards from enhancements like predictive text.  It also offers Microsoft a way to compete with popular grammar programs such as Grammarly, and it will be interesting to see how such companies respond to Microsoft’s ‘Ideas’ feature.

The ‘Ideas’ feature is likely to be particularly good news for journalists and other writers as it will presumably be able to make the low-level composing work a little easier and may be able to save time and add value to their work.  It may even help Microsoft reach its aim of enabling people to design documents for maximum readability, and in doing so, make the workday more productive for many people.

One area where AI is predicted to offer some real promise in the near future is in the (cloud-based) cyber security market.  For example, the Visiongain ‘Artificial Intelligence in Cyber Security Market Report’ for 2019-2029 values the 2019 AI in cyber security market at $4.94bn.  Cloud-based cyber security that incorporates AI could prove to a cost-effective and affordable source of protection for SMEs and large enterprises.

Tech Tip – The JigSpace App

If you’d like to have the ability to instantly see a step-by-step interactive 3D breakdown of a complex idea, product, or phenomenon, so that you can understand exactly how it works, and be able to explain it (e.g. for a work or education project) then the JigSpace app could be for you.

The JigSpace app for iPhone and iPad is a platform to explore and share interactive, 3D ‘knowledge for anything’. When you ask, “How does that work?” the answer is right in front of you in … interactive 3D. The basic JigSpace app is available for free from Apple iTunes.

Tech Tip – Spark E-Mail App

If you’re looking for a well-organised email app for iPhone, iPad, Mac and Android with a clever interface, flexible customisation options, and tools for discussing and collaborating on emails with your team ‘Spark’ may be the app for you.

The Spark email app offers a very tidy email inbox that puts the most important emails first and saves the junk, newsletters, and less important tasks for later.

The app also features a good email search engine, offers the scheduling and snoozing of emails, smart notifications, integrations with other services, and a host of other features.

To find out more visit the Spark website https://sparkmailapp.com/ , or go to iTunes or Google’s Play Store.

Tech Tip – Free, Online AI Business School

If you’d like to get an understanding of what AI is and its implications for business strategy, corporate culture and business ethics, Microsoft, in partnership with global business school INSEAD has established a free, online business school.

The AI course offers a series of 10-minute lecture videos as well as academic lectures, case studies, executive perspective videos and technology talks, which combined provide a grounding in AI and its possible applications in your business.

The online school doesn’t require registration, and the course material can be accessed on demand via mobile devices or the desktop.

Access Microsoft’s AI Business School resources here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/ai/business

AI Used To Tackle Money Laundering

Banks and financial institutions are experimenting with AI technology to tackle the multi-trillion-pound problem of money laundering, thereby hitting the traditional funding sources of major criminal gangs.

Money Laundering

Money laundering is the process of concealing the origins of illegally obtained money by passing it through legitimate business or a sequence of banking transfers.

According to figures from the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, money laundering accounts for up to 5% of global GDP – the equivalent of £1.5 trillion per year.  In the UK, National Crime Agency figures show that financial crime suspicious activity reports increased by 10% in 2018.

Also, in the UK for example, Companies House and estate agents (setting up new companies and investing in property) have been criticised by the government’s Treasury Committee as being key ways in which money laundering can take place in the UK.

The law in the UK (from 2017) relating to trying to tackle money laundering requires those businesses or sole traders who operate as “high-value dealers” i.e. you / your company accepts or makes high-value cash payments of €10,000 or more (or equivalent in any currency) in exchange for goods, must register with HMRC. 

Money Laundering In The News

Some recent high-profile cases of alleged money laundering involving banks include:

  • Swiss bank UBS being fined a staggering £3.2 billion for helping wealthy clients based in France to hide money from tax and launder the proceeds (the bank has lodged an appeal).
  • In September 2018, Dutch bank ING Groep NV being fined €775 million euros after failing to spot that criminals had been money laundering through its accounts.
  • In December 2018, 10 former employees of the local branch of Danske Bank in Estonia being arrested as part of an international investigation into (alleged) money laundering.

How AI Can Help

AI technology is being tested in the fight against money laundering because AI can crunch vast amounts of data (i.e. the data from millions of bank transactions) very quickly and accurately, thereby making it very good at detecting patterns and deviations from patterns.  AI can, therefore, quickly detect patterns of unusual activity e.g. behaviour consistent with money laundering (AI also learns with experience), as well as being able to spot smurfing attempts (breaking down a transaction into smaller transactions to avoid being spotted), accounts that are set up remotely by bots rather than humans, and suspicious behaviour by corrupt insiders (known to be an important element in many successful money laundering operations).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Money laundering is often used to help organised criminals / criminal gangs continue to finance many kinds of other serious crimes which have a negative impact on society and the economy. It is, therefore, good news for businesses (particularly in the financial and property sectors) that an accurate, and reliable technology-based early detection system, that works independently from human influence and error is being set to work to crack an old problem using the very latest means. 

Critics have said, however, that even though AI may be excellent at spotting unusual transaction patterns it will only be as effective as the data it is fed, and banks, financial institutions, governments and law enforcement agencies, therefore, need to share more information to get the best results from AI tools.

Some have also been sceptical of how effective an ‘off-the-shelf’ AI-based money laundering detection tool (of which there are several on the market) could be.

Chatbot Supports Students

Lancaster University has announced that it has launched a chatbot “companion” for students which allows them to ask almost any question about their university experience, from student life, and welfare, to academic studies and more.

Ask L.U.

The chatbot service, called ‘Ask L.U.’, was built on Amazon Web Services (voice) and delivers a voice interface that interacts with users.

The chatbot companion was designed and built by Lancaster University’s Information Systems Services (ISS) and enhances the existing iLancaster mobile app with a range of student-focused voice services.

The chatbot project also includes special facilities for disabled students, developed in conjunction with the University’s Disability Service.

Asked Students

In order to make the chatbot as relevant as possible to students, the University’s developers surveyed Lancaster University students to gauge which questions they were most likely to ask. From this information, they were able to compile a list of more than 300 queries that could be divided into categories such as learning & teaching and campus activities & social.  All of these could then be put to Ask L.U.

Access

The chatbot can be accessed via the iLancaster App on mobile phones and tablets, or by asking “Alexa, Ask L.U.” on any Amazon Echo device.  Amazon Cognito is used to authenticate user data via the Echo providing a completely personalised experience.

Whole Suite of AWS Used

The Chatbot project uses the whole suite of AWS services, including AWS Cloudwatch, AWS Virtual Private Cloud and AWS ElasticSearch.  The natural speech is provided by Amazon Lex and Amazon Alexa.

Fast and Convenient

The chatbot companion is intended to enable students to get information in a fast, easy and convenient way, and delivering information via voice activation fits in well with the packed academic and social lives of students.

Chatbots

Chatbots are now used by many organisations, in conjunction with AI, to help deal with common enquiries, to save costs and resources, to free-up time for human staff to work on other aspects of the business, and to enable businesses to offer 24-hour customer service.

There has been criticism of bots where transparency is lacking and where they may possibly lead users to believe that they are talking to a human.  This is why the state of California passed laws to make AI bots ‘introduce themselves’ (i.e. identify themselves as bots).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many of us are now used to encountering chatbots on websites and voice-activated digital assistants, and this innovative new chatbot from Lancaster University shows how these new technologies can be put together in a value-adding and easy to access way, and in a way that is compatible with its target market.  It may also enable the university to save time and money, and free up valuable resources, and offer 24/7 help to student users.

Bearing in mind that it has been made at a University, it is also a good way of showcasing the technology skills of the university, and the voice activation aspect means that it has been built with an eye on the future.

This kind of chatbot could also have applications in many other businesses, organisations, venues, events, and experiences, and could help improve and support services where there are large numbers of users whose experiences could be enhanced by being able to get on-the-spot spoken answers to popular questions.

Report Says 90% of NHS Jobs Will Need Digital Skills, But AI and Robotics Could Enhance Services

A report, commissioned by health secretary Matt Hancock and led by US academic Eric Topol, has found that even though AI and robotics will enhance healthcare services, 90% of NHS staff will require fresh digital skills within 20-years.

Robotics and AI Enhancements

According to the report, although there has been fear that the implementation of AI and robotics to the NHS could be a step towards replacing human practitioners, they will in fact enhance services.

Smart Speakers Could Help

For example, the use of smart digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri could free-up more time for doctors which could be spent with patients. It is anticipated that smart speakers could reduce time spent on paperwork, possibly saving 5.7 million hours of GPs’ time across the country per year.

Mental Health Triage Bots?  

The suggestion that smart speakers could somehow be used as effective “mental health triage bots” by engaging in conversations while analysing text and audio for any suicidal ideas and emotions has been dismissed by mental health professionals. A smart speaker may be capable of listening and talking but as mental health professionals point out, smart speakers can’t pick up many of the visual cues that a skilled human professional can, they can’t quickly develop a relationship with a patient (as is needed in mental health assessment situations), and they may not be particularly useful in a situation where a patient is disordered.

Patient Records

The report indicates that smart speakers could also enhance the capabilities of NHS workers to update patient records.

Three Main Changes

In the report, Mr Topol predicts how, over the next 20 years there will be three main developments that will change patients lives, and how training should begin now to ensure that NHS staff have the skills to make the most of those changes going forward.  According to Eric Topol, who is a cardiologist, geneticist, and digital medicine researcher, the three main changes will be:

  1. Patients having their genome sequenced.  This can help determine things like a person’s predisposition to certain diseases and how they will respond to medication or treatment.
  2. Patients being able to generate and interpret much more of their own health data at home.
  3. AI helping to exponentially increase the speed, accuracy and scalability of medical data interpretation.

Digital Appointments

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who commissioned the report, has also called on GP practices in the UK to be able to offer digital appointments within five years e.g. using Skype and Google.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

According to this report, AI, robotics and other new technologies could provide enhancements that may enable patients to be ultimately better informed about their own medical position and may help NHS staff to deliver a better quality of service while freeing them from spending too much time on paperwork and spending that time instead with patients.

There is, however, a challenge to be met in terms of making sure that NHS staff receive training that will enable them to make the best use of new digital technologies, and this will need planning and will have cost implications.

It is also important to consider, however, that the amount of data gathered about patients e.g. genomic information could be intrusive and has security and privacy risks.  Also, if AI bots are used to handle some communications with patients, those patients need to be informed that they are communicating with a bot and not a person.  Too much reliance on technological innovation could also bring some inequalities. For example, poorer people and ethnic minorities have been shown to have a lower uptake of things like digital health records.

London Police Facial Recognition Trial

It has been reported that the police are conducting a trial of a facial recognition system in Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square over two days in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to identify people among the Christmas shoppers who are wanted by the police or the courts.

Overt

Far from being used secretly, the Metropolitan Police are reported to be publicly announcing the use of the system using knee-height signs on pavements leading up to the surveillance areas, along with A4 posters on lamp posts and leaflets handed-out to members of the public by uniformed officers.

The actual surveillance using the facial recognition link-up to the police database of wanted offenders is reported to have been carried out (on Monday and Tuesday) by a green van with cameras mounted on the top. It has been also been reported that for this London trial of facial recognition, the Metropolitan Police will have been studying the crowds for 8 hours per day over the two day period, and have been specifically using a target list of 1,600 wanted people in the hope that crime and violence can be more effectively tackled.

Criticism

Criticism from privacy and freedom campaigners such as Big Brother Watch and Liberty has focused on mixed messages from police about how those who turn away from the van because they don’t want to be scanned will be treated.  For example, it has been claimed that some officers have said that this will be treated as a trigger for suspicion, whereas a Metropolitan Police press release has stated that those who decline to be scanned (as is their right) during the deployment will not be viewed as suspicious by police officers.

Concern has also been expressed by Big Brother Watch that, although the police may believe that the deployment of the system is overt and well publicised, the already prevalent signs and advertisements in the busy central London areas where it is being deployed could mean that people may not notice, thereby allowing the police to blur the line between overt and covert policing.  It has also been pointed-out by privacy groups that the deployment involves an unmarked van and plainclothes officers, which are normally associated with covert activity.

Doesn’t Work?

Big Brother Watch and Liberty are currently taking legal action against the use of live facial recognition in South Wales (the site of previous trials) and London, and ICO head Elizabeth Dunham is reported to have launched a formal investigation into how police forces use facial recognition technology (FRT) after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy.

Serious questions have been raised about how effective current facial recognition systems are.  For  example, research by the University of Cardiff, which examined the use of the technology across a number of sporting and entertainment events in Cardiff for over a year, including the UEFA Champion’s League Final and the Autumn Rugby Internationals, found that for 68% of submissions made by police officers in the Identify mode, the image had too low a quality for the system to work. Also, the research found that the locate mode of the FRT system couldn’t correctly identify a person of interest for 76% of the time.

Google Not Convinced

Even Google (Cloud) has announced recently that it won’t be selling general-purpose AI-driven facial recognition technology until it is sure that any concerns over data protection and privacy have been addressed in law, and that the software is accurate.

Fooled With A Printed 3D Head!

The vulnerability of facial recognition software to errors and inaccuracy has been further exposed by a journalist, Thomas Brewster, from Forbes, who claimed that he was able to fool the facial recognition on four Android phones by using a model 3D head with his own face printed on it!

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For the retail businesses in the physical area of the trial, anything that may deter criminal activities like theft and violence and may also catch known criminals is likely to be a good thing.

Most businesses and members of the public would probably agree that CCTV systems have a real value in helping to deter criminal activity, locating and catching perpetrators, and providing evidence for arrests and trials.  There are, however, several concerns, particularly among freedom and privacy groups, about how just how facial recognition systems are being and will be used as part of policing e.g. overt or covert, issues of consent, possible wrongful arrest due to system inaccuracies, and the widening of the scope of its purpose from the police’s stated aims.  Issues of trust where our personal data is concerned are still a problem as are worries about a ‘big brother’ situation for many people, although the police, in this case, have been clear that it is just a limited trial that has been conducted as overtly as possible with the support of literature and posters / literature to make sure the public is informed.

ICO Investigation Into Police Use of Facial Recognition Technology

ICO head Elizabeth Dunham is reported to have launched a formal investigation into how police forces use facial recognition technology (FRT) after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy.

Concerns Expressed In Blog Post In May

In a blog post on the ICO website back in May, Elizabeth Dunham expressed several concerns about how FRT was being operated and managed. For example, although she acknowledged that there may be significant public safety benefits from using FRT, Elizabeth Dunham highlighted concerns about:

  • A possible lack of transparency in FRT’s use by police and how there is a real risk that the public safety benefits derived from the use of FRT will not be gained if public trust is not addressed.
  • The absence of national level co-ordination in assessing the privacy risks and a comprehensive governance framework to oversee FRT deployment.  This has since been addressed to an extent by an oversight panel, and by the appointment of a National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) lead for the governance of the use of FRT technology in public spaces.
  • The use and retaining of images captured using FRT.
  • The need for clear evidence to demonstrate that the use of FRT in public spaces is effective in resolving the problem that it aims to address, and that it is no more intrusive than other methods.

Commissioner Dunham said that that legal action would be taken if the Home Office did not address her concerns.

Notting Hill Carnival & Football Events in South Wales

Back in May 2017, South Wales and Gwent Police forces announced that it would be running a trial of ‘real-time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day in Cardiff. In June, the trial of FRT at the final was criticised for costing £177,000 and yet only resulted in one arrest of a local man whose arrest was unconnected.

Also, after trials of FRT at the 2016 and 2017 Notting Hill Carnivals, Police faced criticism that it was ineffective, racially discriminatory, and confused men with women.

Research

Recent research by the University of Cardiff, which examined the use of the technology across a number of sporting and entertainment events in Cardiff for over a year, including the UEFA Champion’s League Final and the Autumn Rugby Internationals found that for 68% of submissions made by police officers in the Identify mode, the image had too low a quality for the system to work. Also, the research found that the locate mode of the FRT system couldn’t correctly identify a person of interest for 76% of the time.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses use CCTV for monitoring and security purposes, and most businesses are aware of the privacy and legal compliance aspects (GDPR) of using the system and how /where the images are managed and stored.

As a society, we are also used to being under surveillance by CCTV systems, which can have real value in helping to deter criminal activity, locate and catch perpetrators, and provide evidence for arrests and trials. It is also relatively common for CCTV systems to fail to provide good quality images and / or to be ineffective at clearly identifying persons and events.

With the much more advanced facial recognition technology used by police e.g. at public events, there does appear to be some evidence that it has not yet achieved the effectiveness that was hoped for, may not have justified the costs, and that concerns about public privacy may be valid to the point that the ICO deems it necessary to launch a formal and ongoing investigation.

Hard of Hearing? Skype Offers Live Captions And Subtitles

On 3rd December, Skype announced that it was celebrating United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities by launching its new call captioning with live captions and subtitles feature.

Inclusivity & Accessibility

Skype says that this latest feature, which uses AI-driven captions, is part of its on-going work to make Skype more inclusive and make Skype calls more accessible to all.

How Does It Work?

The new live captions and subtitles feature works on a call-by-call basis through the in-call screen or can be set to activate by default under Settings > Calling > Call Subtitles > then toggle ‘Show Subtitles’ for all voice and video calls.

The feature works on the latest version of Skype for one-on-one calls with friends or co-workers, or to any phone number, as well as in group calls with a work team or friend group.

Currently, the captions and subtitles auto-scroll in your call, but Skype says that it will soon enable additional viewing options, including the ability to scroll through them in their own side window.

Skype says that the captions and subtitles will be optimised to be fast, continuous, and contextually updated as people speak.

Translations Into 20 Languages

Skype also says that in the coming weeks, it will be augmenting the live captions and subtitles feature further by releasing translations that support over 20 languages and dialects.

Microsoft – Introducing Captions and Subtitles For PowerPoint Presentations

Microsoft, which owns Skype, announced that as part of the same celebration of the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it is introducing AI-powered captions and subtitles for presentations in real-time for PowerPoint.

Many Languages Too

Microsoft also announced at the launch, that the live captions and subtitles for PowerPoint will support 12 spoken languages and display on-screen captions or subtitles in one of 60+ languages.

Features

Live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint will use AI, automatically adaptive speech recognition based on the presented content for more accurate recognition of names and specialised terminology, and the ability for presenters to easily customise the size, position, and appearance of subtitles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI is the technology at the heart of these new features, and Microsoft is finding ways to utilise the technology to create many different value-adding and differentiating benefits to its services.

Accessibility is an important consideration and point of compliance for businesses, and these new AI-powered features can help businesses to communicate and present information in a more inclusive, accessible and engaging way.

Microsoft has emphasised that the new captions and subtitles feature joins many other accessibility features that it has introduced to Office 365, such as automatic suggestions for alt-text in Word and PowerPoint, expanded availability of automatic closed captions and searchable transcripts for videos in Microsoft Stream, plus enhancements to the Office 365 Accessibility Checker.