Posts Tagged

future

FIDO Alliance and the future of passwords

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Apple is the latest company to join the FIDO Alliance, an industry standards group committed to finding more secure ways to log in to online accounts and apps. The FIDO Alliance pushes for multi-factor authentication (MFA) deployment, from biometric authentication to physical security keys. Computerworld’s Lucas Mearian joins Ken and Juliet to discuss why Apple joined the FIDO Alliance, how different forms of authentication work and how far away we are from a password-less world.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

8 simple ways to clean data with Excel



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Coronavirus (and 5G) will boost telecommuting, change our tech future

Disclaimer: Most of the vendors mentioned are clients of the author.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) seems to be doing everything it can to keep from naming the coronavirus a pandemic, we are likely already past that point.  The combination of a long gestation period, where people are contagious but not showing symptoms, and a fatality rate that is too low to burn the virus out but too high to treat like a cold, will change behavior.  As I write this, Facebook has canceled F8; this follows the cancellation of Mobile World Congress and increasing speculation that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be cancelled, too. With no immunization process yet available, we’re months away from when this illness will peak, suggesting that companies need to rethink travel, telecommuting, and even how we hold meetings on-site. 

Now is the time to start rethinking how companies provision workers, both to telecommute and to avoid group meetings where viruses could spread. Maybe it is time we started looking at converged communications platforms so that our employees can far more easily collaborate without physically coming into contact with each other. 

Let’s talk about how a pandemic is likely to change what we use for personal technology and how that intersects with work needs.

The evolution of personal tech

PCs and Smartphones evolved very differently.  We started with typewriters, which became electric, then became connected (teletype), then got screens (as terminals), then added computing capabilities (PCs), and finally, became portable. That evolution was tied to advances in technology, not necessarily to productivity or an initially defined human need. For example, had we been more focused on productivity, we would have changed the QWERTY keyboard layout – it arose from a need to keep typewriter keys from getting tangled – and used a more efficient design. 

Smartphones came from wired phones, evolved into wireless phones, then merged with two-way pagers to become smartphones focused on business. Then, thanks to Apple and the iPhone, they made a hard pivot to entertainment. (It’s a pivot that a lot of industries like defense, healthcare and finance would like to see pivot back.)

There was an effort to tie the phone and the computermore closely  together on the desk with the old AT&T/NCR and IBM/ROLM Systems efforts; that largely died out with the PBX market.  Now, the closest thing we have to a unified communications solution is the smartphone.  Both Dell and Microsoft have created applications that better tie the phone and PC together. While both applications are handy, neither effort has yet forced a change in a blended solution. 

The rise of telecommuting

At this point, telecommuting has seen varied acceptance. It generally works well for people who are self-starters and enjoy working alone, who have a job that doesn’t require constant collaboration or physical proximity to some types of work product. (Manufacturing, for instance, would require a lot more robotics and remote viewing capabilities to make telecommuting viable; these options exist, but haven’t been consistently applied to the problem). 

There is a bigger concern with employees: when it comes to raises and promotions, the belief is that remote workers are disadvantaged. A lot of managers and executives still believe that remote workers waste time and don’t focus on work. As a result, some companies will talk up telecommuting when the job market is tight to attract new talent, then curtail it when there is a labor surplus for a perceived gain in productivity. 

Recent studies have shown that there is no career disadvantage to working remotely, particularly when it is common company policy.  It is interesting to note, however, that when telecommuters increased face-to-face contact, either in person or through teleconferencing, they saw faster salary growth. 

5G, the cloud and ‘holoportation’

One of the things Qualcomm demonstrated recently with 5G and the latest Lenovo/Microsoft “Always Connected PC” device – the Yoga 5G – is that portable workstation-class performance is achievable. And with 5G, you get latency and performance capabilities that potentially exceed what’s now available in the office with a hard-wired network connection. 

This cloud capability means you can use relatively inexpensive hardware connected to the cloud to give a remote employee more scalable performance than they’d have in the office, short of their high-end workstation hard-wired into the network. 

Another thing coming with 5G, and this was demonstrated with Facebook’s Oculus effort, is the ability to have an untethered Extended Reality headset and use it for telecommuting. Microsoft has been demonstrating interactive Telepresence (Holoportation) with Hololens. When you realize that even on-site meetings are likely to be a thing of the past shortly, it’s one way to keeping people isolated from each other and slow the progression of illnesses like coronavirus to manageable levels.

When you make an Extended Reality headset part of the solution, you should be able to lose the display on the laptop and smartphone and use only the head-mounted display instead.  The device, if used consistently, can put you in a virtual cubicle, an office – or by a canal in France, depending on where you’d like to be working. 

Wrapping up:  The blended telecommuting solution of the future

The main elements for a not-too-distant telecommuting system include a comfortable Extended Reality headset like the current generation Hololens or Occulus; a computing device that is 5G connected (likely your Smartphone); a keyboard; a portable pointing solution (which could be your finger); and an integrated cloud solution that unifies your communications, blending visual and audio capabilities.

This set-up, coupled with the right software and communications technology, would better integrate a remote worker with his or her  increasingly also remote peers. And it would allow you to work anyplace you wanted with full computing capability – be that in a cubicle, at home, or in a bunker with a 5G signal. 

In the end, I think the coronavirus problem will force us first to reconsider telecommuting and then reconsider how we provision remote workers to take advantage of the technology of today. The days of the wired phone and typewriter are larehly gone. 

I expect most companies will be late to embrace change this time. But recognizing something like coronavirus is likely to happen again, the corporate world will be forced to change to avod damage from our increasingly hostile future. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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How the Xnor.ai purchase opens Apple’s AI future

Apple’s $200 million acquisition of Xnor.ai provides tools for evolution in imaging, edge-based AI, HomeKit and more.

What does Xnor.ai do?

Xnor.ai was spun out of the Allen Institute for AI by Professor Ali Farhadi and Dr. Mohammed Rastegari in 2017. These men were also responsible for YOLO, YOLO9000, Label Refinery and other machine intelligence achievements.

The company developed machine learning and image recognition models that combined accuracy with the ability to work locally on the device, rather than sending those images to a server.

One client, Wyze Labs, used the tech for person detection in CCTV videos, though that feature was withdrawn earlier this month, before news of Apple’s purchase broke.

Xnor.ai was more ambitious than on-device image recognition. Its website states:

“Transform your business with on-device AI.”

On YouTube, a video is still available that explains its aims, including AI on smart home devices, on cameras and on agricultural drones. The intention seems to be to create self-learning AI that works on the device and does so without need of an internet connection.

In other words: no cloud required.

Independent self-learning devices

“We’re building a future where AI is available on almost every device,” The Xnor.ai voice over claims. “We call this AI Everywhere, for Everyone. And it’s the beginning of something truly transformational that will reshape how we work, live and play.”

Within this work, the company developed a solution called AI2GO, a self-serve platform to easily deploy advanced deep learning models onto edge devices.

(You can still watch an interesting account of what this does here.)

It is also important to note that the company has previously demonstrated an AI chip that used so little energy it could run off solar power.

There is an obvious symmetry between the two company’s visions: Xnor.ai’s AI models that can be installed on edge devices and Apple’s strategy to invest its devices with on-board intelligence that don’t need cloud servers.

The notion also fits current trends. Edge-based intelligence is seen as a bastion against the privacy and security risks of cloud-based systems – particularly in industrial deployments.

You’ll already find Apple working with models like this in Photos, which identifies faces, places and things in your images with analysis on your device. It may be possible that Xnor.Ai’s tech may help the company further reduce the quantity of information it needs to gather in order to make services work.

A stepping stone to homeOS?

Where things become more interesting is around smart home devices.

We already know that Apple is looking a little more deeply at HomeKit. It set the scene at WWDC 2019 with HomeKit Secured Routers and support for CCTV systems. It reprised the commitment in 2020 at CES.

The problem with most smart home devices is that they are dumb. They may have sensors, but they are centrally controlled by mobile devices, hubs and the like. They are controlled devices that lack on-board intelligence.

Xnor.ai changes that.

A lot of its work focused on enhancing Raspberry Pi with on-device AI. Huge quantities of processing power aren’t required. This makes it feasible to imagine these technologies being used to help Apple carve out some form of homeOS platform upon which developers can build self-learning (yet still affordable) smart home devices. Or even for industrial IoT deployments.

(While industrial tech has never been a prime market for Apple, things have changed, and its devices are now in use across the enterprise. Why wouldn’t it want strategic positions in some industrial verticals?)

Combine such devices with low power local IP-based networking and you end up with self-learning systems that are smart, but not online. They’re smart, upgradeable and inherently secure because intelligence takes place at the edge.

Don’t get too excited – yet

Apple’s platform-wide implementation of the newly acquired tech will take time. In the near term, it makes sense to see slightly more prosaic improvements, such as easier AI model updates, smarter person and object identification in Photos and smart object recognition in ARKit.

Another place where Apple may be able to make a difference is in CCTV video, improving playback and person recognition systems in these.

Wyze delivered this using Xnor.ai. Apple’s interest in HomeKit Secure Video and its focus on HomeKit, along with its work in video editing, machine intelligence and recognition systems makes this a place in which it could make a difference.

Another possibility is that this tech could make it easier for third-party developers to create, install and upgrade their own AI models on Apple platforms – I can even imagine an AI Playgrounds solution (like Swift Playgrounds) to teach kids the principles of machine intelligence. “I just built a jellybean recognition system for my iPhone…”

But these things take time – Apple is only now rolling out the kind of Maps improvements it began working on in earnest in around 2016.

The road between “could happen” and “did happen” is long and full of stumbling blocks, and the company’s grand plan for the implementation of these technologies is not necessarily linear or obvious. But the implications of the newly-acquired tech could extend across Apple’s product and software lines.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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iPhone apps, blockchain and the future of food

If you could verify how your food was grown, treated and distributed using an iPhone app, blockchain and a packaging code, would you? IBM thinks you might.

From the cradle to the plate

Everyone knows that food standards aren’t equal. Nowhere is this clearer than in the treatment of chickens destined for your plate. Some are reared in conditions considered cruel by many consumers, people who will vote with their wallets for better treatment if they are informed.

It’s not too different when it comes to vegetables, some of which travel enormous distances before reaching your local store.

Modern consumers are more concerned with the environmental impact of these journeys than ever before and want to be able to check this almost as much as they want to verify the safety of pesticides used during the growth cycle.

You don’t usually get access to such information, and if you do it is quite hard to truly verify that the data you are provided with is correct. That’s where blockchain comes into play – as does your iPhone or other mobile devices.

What IBM is doing

IBM at CES 2020 introduced a new app that uses blockchain to link consumers up with the farmers who grow their coffee beans. The idea is that when you are purchasing coffee, you can use the app on your mobile device to check where it comes from, how it’s grown, distributed, shipped, exported, blended and roasted.

The problem with accessing this information across the typical distribution cycle is that different entities are usually responsible for each step of the process. This means that no one group gathers all the data.

Using blockchain

IBM is using blockchain as a permanent and trusted way to track what takes place across the cycle. Each party in the process has an exact copy of the information held on the blockchain, adding their own data during the journey. They don’t need to add other people’s, as that information is already in the chain.

When it comes to coffee purchasers, they get full insight into the journey. All this data is made available using a QR code, your smartphone and the upcoming Thank my Farmer app.

There’s a video here that shows a little of how this works.

The idea is that the app connects consumers to farmers, traders and others, and uses an interactive map to show you what happened to the coffee you buy.

You can learn more about this in the statement, but one point stands out:

“Coffee drinkers today consume more than half a trillion cups per year, and as many as two-thirds of consumers aged 19-24 surveyed say they prefer to buy coffee that is sustainably grown and responsibly sourced.”

In other words, younger consumers are deeply committed to sustainability and responsible business practices.

The new normal?

I think this app represents what will become normalized thought, as this way of looking at consuming is adopted. Consumers will leanr to expect access to this kind of information.

They will expect to be able to verify the life cycle of products they purchase using an app, even while they are in the mall. 

Raj Rao, General Manager of the IBM Food Trust, puts it this way:

“Blockchain is more than aspirational business tech, it is used today to transform how people can build trust in the goods they consume. For business, it can drive greater transparency and efficiency.”

Trust and transparency

IBM supports Farmer Connect, which is part of the partnership behind Thank My Farmer. The organization seeks to use digital technologies to create an ecosystem for small farmers that will drive supply chain efficiency and connect consumers with the people who grow what they eat.

But it’s not just about efficiency. It’s about trust and transparency, and just as blockchain technology enables this in pharmaceuticals, health records, data security and financial affairs, it should also empower consumers with valuable insights that will guide future purchasing decisions in other fields.

It has impact at both ends of the chain, of course: In the case of food supply, making such insights available should benefit small independent concerns who can coalesce their business around the delivery of provably high-quality products.

For example, customers who care might choose to support a small organic farm above a multinational firm that perhaps holds lower standards – particularly when identifying the difference is enabled by a tool you can use just by pointing your iPhone camera at a product label in your local retail store.

Up next

Retailers know consumers already pull out their iPhone to check product prices while they shop. Many now offer to price match if better prices are found online.

IBM’s work places a new string to this bow. Sure, price-conscious buyers will still be led by cost above quality. But blockchain-based cradle-to-plate solutions such as the coffee app mean iPhone users will be better informed on quality, sustainability and environmental responsibility when they shop.

The process closes the circle between growers and consumers, educating all involved with insight into each other, presumably enabling better personalization and enhanced customer satisfaction.

The mobile disruption of every business still continues, 13 years since the introduction of the first iPhone. Perhaps Apple will use similar technologies to answer critics of its own supply chain practices?

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.





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Preparing for the dual/foldable screen step to our AR future

[Disclosure: Most of the vendors mentioned in this article are clients of the author.]

We are about to be up to our necks in dual screen products. We already have several foldable screen smartphones coming to, or already in, market from Samsung and Motorola. We have foldable notebooks coming to market. We have dual screen smartphones (LG) and PCs (Lenovo) in market. And products from Microsoft announced and due next year (the Surface Duo and Neo).

But all of these products are an intermediate step to using mixed reality to better deal with the need for more screen real estate.

Let’s talk about the path and problems to overcome as we move from a single screen world to one where the number of screens you can have up isn’t limited by what you can carry or put on a desk.

Getting dual/foldable screens right

The dual vs. foldable screen battle forces what I call an ugly choice. The foldable screen generally looks better at first because it doesn’t have the gap, but this generally forces a more expensive lower nit (screen brightness solution) technology than a dual-screen solution. Dual screens can use Gorilla Glass rather than plastic, so they’re generally on spec, cheaper, more robust and brighter (better for outdoor use)…but they have a significant gap between the screens that’s very distracting. That’s what I mean by an ugly choice between usability and cost, sturdiness and outdoor capability.

And if you look at the coverage, the foldable Samsung phone seems to be getting more positive reviews and interest than the similar dual-screen LG G8X phone – even though the Samsung phone costs $699 on Amazon (heavily discounted) and the Samsung Galaxy Fold phone is closer to $2,400. Oh, and the LG has the additional utility of being able to detach one screen to reduce the carry weight.

But the Samsung’s ability to become a small tablet appears to overcome the massive price, durability and flexibility of the LG design. For instance, for watching movies, on the Samsung fold, you get a bigger movie; on the LG, you get a smaller screen but are better able to multi-task on the second screen. This contrast showcases a level of preference for a large seamless display that’s pretty amazing, given the price difference between the products. Appearance appears to be significantly outshining value, practicality and flexibility.

A dual-screen phone with no border between the screens would be the ideal solution and it’s one I’ll bet Corning’s Gorilla Glass team is working furiously to address (the foldable screens use plastic and not hardened glass).

But we should remember that this is an intermediate step: The big move will be to mixed reality. And then everything changes.

Mixed reality

With mixed reality, we either place displays in front of the eye obscuring reality (VR) or allow reality to bleed through, allowing you to see around yourself for a less realistic virtual experience. Right now this, too, is an ugly trade-off.

For the best visual experience, you’d want VR. But with VR, since you can’t see the physical world around you, using it as a screen alternative is problematic unless you’re OK with not being able to see your hands and what’s going on around you. Unsurprisingly, most folks are not OK with this. With AR, you can see around you, but the display performance is significantly reduced.

Ideally, there should be an AR solution that more effectively blocks the light coming in from outside, but just where the virtual display exists so that the result performs as a monitor would. There’s one other problem, too: people generally don’t like to wear glasses. That’s a far harder problem to overcome and one the industry appears to be ignoring in the short term.

Recall 3D TVs. The issue wasn’t the experience. The issue was the glasses, and the fact that people don’t like to wear ‘em. It’s a prosthetics problem. And while the industry is working on contact lenses to do the same job, I expect getting people comfortable with putting tech in their eye will initially be problematic.

Progression to progress

We are moving from single-screen mobile products to more flexible, multi-screen solutions, but the evolution is going to go through some interesting hills and valleys. This move to unlimited screens will likely evolve from foldable plastic screens to seamless, foldable glass screens, then to mixed reality glasses that occlude the background, and finally to an embedded solution similar to contact lenses.

The gating factor for this progression will not only be limited by the technology but our willingness to put that technology on, or eventually in, our bodies. It should be an interesting ride, though…and we’ll have the early adopters to thank for finally getting there.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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