Is a machines ability to understand emotion blocked only by the lack of appropriate data ‘inputs’ to our models?  Or is there an ethereal quality to personality that’s uniquely human?

Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

In the rapidly advancing world of artificial intelligence, one challenge stands tall: the quest for machines to truly understand and express human emotions, and in so doing both read and create personalities – to move from the mimic to the relatable. This challenge – the current lack in depth of interaction between humans and machines – signifies the gap between the currently limited (if impressive) AI, and the ultimate goal of achieving Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Emotion: More Than Just Data One of the primary hurdles for AI in understanding emotions is the intrinsically nuanced nature of emotions themselves. While AI excels at processing vast amounts of data and recognising patterns, emotions are not just data points. They are complex, multidimensional, and deeply intertwined with human experiences, memories, and culture. They often appear fickle on the surface, but really deep underling beliefs. Unlike a mathematical problem, there’s no definitive solution to understanding or expressing an emotion.   It’s an increasingly accepted preemies that the human brain works as a predictive tool, but importantly a tool with the ability to rapidly create new neural pathways when reality doesn’t meet our predictions.  We have the ability not just to predict, but to continually update our model. The prevailing neural network models strive to replicate this prediction approach, but, they overlook one key element: the unique influence of mirror neurones in a humans brain.  It’s mirror neurones that enable us to recognise, and empathise with, a reaction observed in others, by drawing from our past experiences.  This is what makes us human and allows us to form relationship. It build our personalities and is a evolutionary output of our social natures. And importantly it’s far, far more nuanced than current models can replicate, however large they grow. Real-time Interaction: The Empathy Gap When it comes to real-time human interactions, the absence of genuine empathy in AI becomes glaringly evident.  Imagine a doctor, delivering a life altering diagnosis to a patient: In such…

We have the propensity for boredom – the greatest sign of intelligence.

Today Elon Musk unveiled to much fan-fair the latest iteration of Teslas ‘humanoid’ robot, Optimus.  They’ll be mass produced, cost less than $20,000 each and be available in 3 – 5 years.  Not a small feet, and I want one. The rhetoric was nothing outside of the normal: “A future of abundance”, “a fundamental transformation of civilisation as we know it” and “a society in which robots [do] the work and people reaped the benefits “. That robots and AI will become ever more abundant, and will change civilisation as we know it, I think is beyond doubt.  But the important question remains:  Will this be the utopian dream Musk proclaims, or follow the dystopian nightmares beloved by Hollywood? For years there has been much talk about the impact of robots taking jobs. It’s a well trodden debate about skills, training and the ability to lift the repetitive, sometimes lower-skilled, workforce into the service economy.  For me though the question is deeper.  In a world where robots and AI do much of work and we ‘reap the benefits’ will we really be happier?  And will this really level society or does it risk increasing the already gaping divide between the top and the bottom of the economic food chain? Emotions Do you really want to live in a world where machines do all the work? As humans we are driven by the innate and fundamental impulses, baked into our primeval ‘old’ brain – Protection, nutrition, procreation (and as a subset social status).  But what separates us from animals is our ‘new’ brain – the neocortex – our intelligence. It’s this intelligence that created money as a way of measuring worth.  It’s this intelligence that drives our complex hierarchies of social status – measured through social cohesion, original thought, innovation and emotional empathy, with money often used as the proxy measure for these.  Where an animal would fight it out to find who’s top dog, we measure our status with these…

COVID-19 has significantly increased the Digital Divide across the UK. Poor infrastructure is enforcing digital exclusion. Ubiquitous access to fibre networks is urgently needed to reduce the barriers of accessing work and learning, to reduce the cost of technology and to revitalise our economy.

The UK has always had a significant Digital Divide – but COVID-19 has widened it dramatically.  It has increased the pace of an already present trend, further restricted social mobility and reduced fair access to education and learning.  As we’ve been forced to accelerate even faster into a world where digital skills and access determine prospects far more than traditional ‘hard’ skills and where traditional workforce management styles have been foreclosed, fair access to exceptional connectivity has never been more important.  Both employers and employees now expect to work flexibly:  Why live in a crowed city when the office can come to you?  Why spend time on cramped commuter trains when you can spend longer with the kids?  Why maintain expensive offices when you can just equip your workforce with laptops, mobiles and set them going?  But what if you don’t have these skills, can’t access that technology and can’t rely on your internet connection being stable enough to support you, the kids, and your partner all at the same time? Whilst for many the accelerated move to remote, flexible, digital working provides opportunities for a better work-life balance and progression for others it is creating greater inequality and less upward mobility.  The home-working economy is rapidly changing our social fabric. Nowhere is this inequality more apparent, and important to resolve, than with education.  OfCom recently estimated that 9% of households with children don’t have access to a laptop or PC.  51% of household earning £6k – £10k don’t have internet at home, compared to 99% where earnings are over £40k.  Only 25% of children eligible for free school meals or who have been adopted or in care achieved 9-5 grades in GCSE English and Maths in 2019.  Affordability is a big part of this but basic availability of service is the first big hurdle.  Without resolving this we risk allowing digital exclusion to become an intergeneration issue within families…

An actively adopted wholesale market, where providers have clear standards and methodologies to conform to, will deliver 5G networks faster, at a lower cost, and in ways that enable competition.

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

5G Networks are rolling out.  They offer unparalleled opportunities to enhance the connectivity we already rely upon (more so in the wake of COVID-19 than ever before) and to open new avenues in healthcare, distance working, AgriTech and a myriad of as of yet unconsidered opportunities. Reports from 2017 suggest that just a 10% increase in mobile broadband penetration could increase UK GDP by 0.6% – 2.8% and a report from O2 suggest that 5G infrastructure will contribute £7 billion a year in direct measures alone.  The upside potential for UK PLCS is vast, but there are significant barriers to the deployment of 5G networks outside the super urban areas that make the business case harder.  Underlying these problems is the high frequency required for 5G throughput (at least in the mobile, not Fixed Wireless Access deployments most people understand 5G to be).  These high-frequencies have short reach and poor penetration to man-made objects like buildings, and so the density of cell and micro-cell sites will be far greater than that we’ve seen before.  They will be dependant on ‘deep’ fibre connectivity.  To deliver on coverage promises and objectives the deployment of 5G has five primary hurdles it will have to overcome: Connectivity between the millions of new cell sites needed;Ultra-high-resolution mapping data and sophisticated planning tools;Gaining secured access to sites (wayleaves); Spectrum; andDeployment capital. All of the above are capital intensive.  Outside of the super urban areas, where population and demand density (alongside spectrum challenges) skew the economics, the cost of every provider building it’s own 5G network will be unnecessarily high, and in the more rural areas prohibitively so.  Not only will this delay delivery to areas that could benefit from the technology the most, but the extreme capital demands will eliminate the opportunity for further competition in the market space.  Network sharing agreements among the current MNOs will help, but they will lack the agility needed to…

Fear and apathy are the key system 1 responses that we need to overcome. We have to de-risk the process for consumers and in particular, overcome the preconceptions that System 1 decisions are built on.

Photo by Shahadat Rahman on Unsplash

Whether a conscious decision or not, marking tends to focus heavily on System 1 – trying to make people subconsciously elect to engage with and buy/consume a product either (almost) instantaneously or at a friction point.  As such, marketing teams focus on continued exposure to the brand, and too often in this market, on the price above all else.  But broadband truly is a transformative product.  It has a potentially enormous, positive, effect on peoples lives.  Both at work and at play it can make communication, collaboration and interaction with our surroundings effortless, seamless and instantaneous.  The kicker for full fibre broadband is that most people don’t need it right now. System 1 Consumers don’t tend to think about broadband very often, and when they do it tends to be because they have encountered a friction point and are thus not in a positive mindset.  They think through fast heuristic connections that don’t involve checks for accuracy and are often closer to intuition.  It is a mental-set trap –  a state of readiness to see certain things rather consider others. Typically when it comes to considering making a change (and linked, the option of changing provider – the goal we are trying to achieve) the thought process often follows the same question “Is it really worth the effort of changing anything?”.  The answer tends to follow one of three paths: “No, I’ve tried changing in the past and it makes no difference.”;”Your provider says they are ‘Superfast’ and show a bigger number for download speeds”; and, the biggest and most common barrier”Changing is too risky and complicated” And inevitably that leads to a preference for staying with the status quo. Points one and two above overlap and it is only through engaging System 2 that we will have the opportunity to educate the consumer and facilitate customer onboarding, driving past the 30% take-up sticking point.  The challenge in doing so…

Whilst it is a commonly accepted economic principle that in a competitive market prices will drift towards marginal cost, the propensity of the UK consumer not to switch has driven this cost down – and that will change.

The UK is not a ‘switching’ market. On average only around 15% of consumers will switch broadband provider year on year, and it is this security that allows both the service providers (ISPs) and the infrastructure builders to drive prices down. Service Providers rely on the fact that a customer will be likely be with them for a period significantly longer than the initial contract term and the acceptance that a customer will be lost within their contract term is mitigated by this low switch rate. So whilst it is a commonly accepted economic principle that in a competitive market prices will drift towards marginal cost, the propensity of the UK consumer not to switch has driven this cost down – and that will change. The price the consumer pays is made up of a basket of items: the cost of acquiring the customer, the tech needed to deliver the service (and increasingly more of that is needed at customer premises as ubiquitous WiFi coverage is expected), estimated support and operating costs for the customer’s lifetime and both the wholesale buy price and technology to integrate with it. All of these areas look likely to be hit. In particular, the more competitive the market place the higher the cost of acquisition will be as providers have to compete harder to stand out and differentiate themselves on something other than just price. On the infrastructure layer competition may have an even greater inflationary effect which will be reflected in wholesale prices. Whilst interest rates are low it is possible for companies and the investors bankrolling them to accept a slower return, and a lower IRR based on lower weighted costs of capital, but this only holds true when relatively safe, and high levels of take up can be expected over the medium term. If the government elect not to extend the fibre rates relief (or preferably remove fibre tax all together)…

Inefficient and high-cost spectrum licensing is stifling competition, innovation and growth in the UK’s telecommunications market

Image by James Wainscoat, Unsplash

Established by the Office of Communications Act in 2002 Ofcom is, among other things, responsible for issuing, policing and importantly, costing spectrum space in the UK.  It is often accused of being inefficient and overly costly with accusations of a “top heavy salary bill” and “extravagant offices” being levied at it continuously.  More importantly though, it can be argued that it is inefficient and high-cost spectrum licensing is stifling competition, innovation and growth in the UK’s telecommunications market – something that with the impending cloud of Brexit and an increasingly skills-based economy is an even more concerning situation. Ofcom reports that, for the year 2014/15, total spectrum management costs totalled just under £51.5 million, whilst fees totalled just over £267.9 million (Source: Ofcom: Spectrum management costs and fees 2014-15).  Removing the MoD’s contribution from this (as this is essentially just public money moving hands) Ofcom brought in a spectrum licensing surplus of a little over £61.5m.  Two questions arise from this: Firstly, it is hard to see how the costs of managing such a fundamentally intangible asset can be so high.  Spectrum is, after all, not a physical asset that has to be maintained.  Applications for frequency use require a comparatively binary decision as to whether or not the requested assignment is (or should be) available within an area.  Applying for a licence at the moment, however is not a straight-forward process.   Fixed wireless link licence details still largely have to be submitted in paper form (albeit though PDFs) and are manually processed by Ofcom’s spectrum licensing team.  This paper-pushing exercise is slow, ineffective and one directional, often incurring a high opportunity-cost loss to businesses.  A self-administered, truly digital, solution with instant licence approval and payment would be an obvious solution to this problem. Secondly, these surplus generating licence fees are simply a tax on business, equivalent to the rates / “fibre tax” paid on traditional infrastructure.  As with any…

When I first started using AWS ec2 instances to host small sites (where the database and web server where on the same box) i was often surprised by how often MySQL kept falling over – WordPress in particular would show the ‘Error establishing a database connection’ message frequently and the MySQL service would need a kick.  It was particularly odd given that almost identical boxes hosted on Rackspace where coping fine.  After a little rummaging around it became apparent that many EC2 instances don’t come with any swap space by default. Swap space  (or a swap file) is a space on the hard drive that is used as an extension of the RAM assigned to the device.  Essentially when the device runs out of physical RAM it can use the swap space assigned as an extension / overflow.  It’s much slower than physical RAM so is only advisable as an overflow. This means that when the memory reaches capacity, there’s no where to go, and MySQL don’t like that.  The solution is simply to add swap space.   On the default AWS AMI (CentOS) you add swap space as follows (as root or sudo): Where 1024 assigns 1GB of swap space.  Increase that as you please. To make sure this is maintained on reboot too add the following line to your fstab (/etc/fstab): You can check this has worked using the ‘free’ command which should now list swap space below the physical memory Many thanks to all the Stack Overflow posters who jogged my memory on the syntax of this!

Over at The Constant Media we’ve been working on a project that relies on using PHP to connect to a customers SYBASE database. Essentially they have a proprietary system in place that manages many key aspects of their business and their website, as a key sales channel, needs to interact with it. If you are pretty confident with linux and don’t want to work your way though this there is a command list gist here. SYBASE is not something we had come across before, and whilst the actual PHP code it’s self isn’t all that tricky to implement, getting SYBASE and it’s dependencies compiled into PHP can be a little fiddly. Below is a step-by-step of how we did this. It’s based around CentOS (our server OS of choice) but should be fairly transferable. Before I go to far into this i should point out that much of the credit due goes to @andrew_heron, my business partner at The Constant Media, who did much of the hard work and leg work on this project and the initial server builds. I really only got involved when we came to build the production and staging servers and made the server a little more production ready. The first thing to point out is that to do this you need to compile PHP from the source code and cannot (to my knowledge) do this though yum. We are running this on a CentOS 6 box which was vanilla at the point of install. If you have PHP installed at the moment (though rpm’s or yum) scrub it off before wading in. Frist, lets update the box and install a few pre-requisites. Because we are compiling from source we are going to need a few dev libraries too (devels). As root or sudo if you prefer: Installing FreeTDS SYBASE has a dependency on FreeRDS to so we need to start by downloading, configuring and installing…

When hosting websites on EC2 instances it’s pretty common to need to point multiple Elastic IPs to a single EC2 instance, normally to allow the use of multiple SSL certificates.  This is pretty easy to do, but a little confusing at fist if your not used to the sysadmin world. It’s important to understand that each NIC (network interface) can only have a single elastic IP address bound to it.  Most instances are not launched with spare NICs attached and as such you will have to create an attach and additional NIC to which you can associate (point) the additional elastic IP. Note: The number of NIC’s you can attached to an EC2 instance is limited by the size of the instance. For example a micro instance can at the point of writing only support two NICs (there for limiting you to using only two elastic IP’s). You can get around this by using a load balancer. Creating & attaching an additional Network Interface First log into your AWS account and pull up the EC2 Dashboard. From there select ‘Network Interfaces’ under Network & Security tab on the left hand menu and click ‘Create Network Interface’ (the big blue button at the top). A pop up will appear and you can name the new interface something meaningful to you.  Then add it to the subnet that the EC2 server is currently in.  (If your not sure which subnet this is you can find it by looking at the instance details on the ‘Instances’ page). Once you have selected a subnet the security groups available on that subnet will be listed.  Select the groups to all through the traffic you need (you can always add more / change this later if you need too). If you want to manually assign the private IP address you can do so at this stage, but I tend to leave it blank which will auto assign an address for you…