Saturday, November 28, 2015

Predictive and Real-Time Analytics

I shall be chairing the @UNICOMSeminars Data Analytics conference next week. Exploring the Business Value of Predictive and Real-Time Analytics (London, 2 December 2015)

A lot of the obvious applications of real-time analytics are in fraud detection and predictive maintenance. I shall be talking about some of the things I’ve been doing recently in the retail and consumer sector, using rich consumer data to drive real-time personalized engagement with the consumer across multiple touchpoints. We have been exploring ways to combine real-time analysis of the consumer’s current state (e.g. current location, what products they are currently looking at, readiness to buy, etc.) with a rich understanding of what one might call the consumer’s “purchasing genes” – for example, do they like to spend a long time reviewing alternative products before purchasing, do they like to wait for a special offer or voucher before buying, or on the other hand do they like to be the first in their social network to have a given product. This is a lot more complex than simply putting them into a fixed number of “consumer segments”.

Based on this analysis, it is possible to select an appropriate “next action” – for example, selecting the appropriate banner to display to the consumer when visiting the website, or the right topic of conversation for a human customer services agent.

Thus predictive analytics are helping retail as it moves from omnichannel commerce (which joins up the buying transaction between the online and the physical world) to omnichannel engagement (which joins up all aspect of the relationship with the consumer).

Omnichannel Commerce
(Systems of Record)

joins up the buying transaction between the online and the physical world
Omnichannel Marketing
(Systems of Engagement)

joins up all aspects of the relationship with the consumer

Given the large volumes of data involved, and the reliance on legacy systems to produce and process the data, we are not yet seeing this analysis being completely done in real-time. However, there are some critical factors that have to be done in real-time. For example, as soon as the consumer buys something, our clients want to stop trying to sell it, and move to a post-sales scenario. (In comparison, even the great Google is still showing me advertisements based on what I was browsing three weeks ago. Fail!)

Over the next couple of years, as the technology gets better, the data scientists get even smarter, and the marketing people get more sophisticated, we may expect an increasing proportion of the analysis to be done in real-time, using machine learning as well as more sophisticated analytics tools.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Towards the Internet of Underthings

#WearableTech #InternetOfThings Once upon a time, the wires in an undergarment merely provided structural support. Now, people may have all sorts of wires and wireless devices hidden under their clothing. Here are some interesting examples.

  • The Foxleaf Bra delivers cancer-fighting drugs through the wearer's skin.
  • The @tweetingbra reminds women to examine themselves. (?)
  • The Lumo Lift helps improve posture through app-enabled coaching.
  • Various manufacturers (including Clothing+, OMsignal and SmartLife) produce health vests and sportswear packed with monitors to track your heart rate, breathing rate and the amount of calories you've burnt.

We are now encouraged to account for everything we do: footsteps, heartbeats, posture. Until recently this kind of micro-attention to oneself was regarded as slightly obsessional, nowadays it seems to be perfectly normal. And of course these data are collected, and sent to the cloud, and turned into someone else's big data. (Good luck with those privacy settings, by the way.)

If a device is classed as a medical device, it will be subject to various forms of accreditation and regulation. For this reason, many device makers will be careful to avoid any specific medical claims, but devices that offer some health advice are considered a borderline area.

Another borderline area is hi-tech underpants that protect men from the evil rays allegedly produced by all those wireless devices. Especially the radiation from mobile phones. (Including the Bluetooth that links your underwear to your smartphone.) One brand of underpants that claims to use a mesh of pure silver to create a Faraday cage around the genitals has been banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority from making any medical claims.

Or maybe you could just switch the whole lot off.

The Wearable Medical Device in Your Future…Is Now! (Marketing Research Association, 28 April 2015)
Jennie Agg, The hi-tech bra that helps you beat breast cancer - and other clothes that can treat or prevent illness (Daily Mail, 10 March 2015)

Sarah Blackman, Student designs cancer-fighting bra (Lingerie Insight, 10 Feb 2015) 

Britta O'Boyle, SmartLife clothing claims to make sure you never miss a beat (Pocket-Lint, 12 March 2015) 

Rob Crilly, Hi-tech pants "protect sperm from phone waves" (Telegraph 22 October 2014)

Julie Papanek, How Wearable Startups Can Win Big In The Medical Industry (TechCrunch, 19 Feb 2015)

Hannah Jane Parkinson, Lumo Lift review: posture-tracking gadget is a straight shooter (Guardian, 14 November 2014) 

Helen Popkin, Tweeting bra exposed: Genuine support or publicity lift? (NBC News 25 October 2013)

Meera Senthilingam, How a high-tech bra could be your next doctor (CNN, 11 May 2015)

Brendan Seibel, High-Tech Underwear for Adventurous Geeks (21 April 2010)

Mark Sweney, Hi-tech underwear advert banned (Guardian 13 August 2014)

Dan Sung, World Cancer Day - The Real Wonderbra (Wearable, 14 Feb 2015)  

Related Posts Have you got big data in your underwear (December 2014)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Weaving in three dimensions

A garment is essentially a three-dimensional object. And yet the most common way of producing garments is from flat sheets of material - for example cloth or leather - that can be cut into pieces and then sewn into items of clothing. So we have a complex interaction between two patterns - the weaving pattern on the cloth and the cutting pattern for the tailor.

Some clothing designers have started to experiment with 3D printers, producing amazing fashion dresses and accessories.

Designer: Danit Peleg
Designers: Francis Bitonti and Michael Schmidt

For more examples, check out designers like Continuum Fashion.

But these costumes are mostly monochrome, and made from artificial materials such as nylon. Great for catwalk or party, or even a fashionable beach, but not exactly everyday wear. So instead of 3D printing, what about 3D weaving, using traditional materials? Here's something in linen.

Designer: Chen-Hsiang Hu

The industrial designer Oluwaseyi Sosanya has developed a new 3D weaving method, which allows not only the exact shape and size of the garment to be varied to the exact requirements of the wearer, but also the qualities of the woven fabric. He has been experimenting with footwear, where the density of the sole can vary from one part of the foot to another.
"With this [weaving system] you can pre-programme the density. At the ball of your foot, you may want a denser material. Right at the arch of your foot, you might want a softer material. At the heel, you might want a denser material. You can have that in one go."

Furthermore, Sosanya's system allows the footwear to be customized to the wearer's requirements, from sports to orthopaedics.
"Your foot is completely different to my foot,” said Sosanya. “We walk different, our cadence is different. All of these things are factors which play into the performance of our footwear. Now with 3D printing, you can scan your foot and you can scan an insole or even a whole sole or the whole shoe at some point. The designer and the chiropodist can say that you need to remove some material here and you can correct your walking. You have all of these opportunities now where you can do customisation around footwear." 

Of course, there is some history here. According to Wikipedia, perforated paper tapes were first used to control looms around 1725, but this technology did not become widespread until Jacquard switched to punched cards around 1801.

Source: Wikipedia

And according to the New Testament, Jesus wore a seamless robe for his crucifixion. One source (repeated around the internet, and now here) argues that this indicates an early Palestinian form of 3D weaving.
"Completely seamless garments, like the one Jesus wore, were unique to Palestine. They were woven on upright looms that used two sets of vertical warp threads, one at the front and one at the back of a crossbar. The weaver would alternate his shuttle, which carried the horizontal weft thread, from the front part of the web to the back, 'thus creating a cylindric piece of fabric,' says one reference work. A seamless tunic would likely have been a rare possession, and the soldiers considered it a desirable one." (Watchtower, 1 July 2009 p22)

If we combine these ancient and modern innovations, we can conceive of a very sophisticated form of personalization, in which the pattern on the cloth can be perfectly aligned with the cut of the garment, regardless of the size and shape of the wearer, without wasting material. And the material can be reinforced at elbows and shoulders. And the whole garment can be woven while you wait. No more child tailors in Far Eastern sweatshops then.

Wikipedia: Jacquard loom, Punched card, Seamless robe of Jesus

3D-woven fabric creates organically shaped lamps that glow in the dark
(de zeen, 11 April 2014)

Oluwaseyi Sosanya invents 3D weaving machine (de zeen, 23 June 2014)

Alec Buren, Danit Peleg 3D prints entire ready-to-wear fashion collection at home (3Ders, 24 July 2015)

Simon Cosimo, Electroloom - the world's first 3D fabric printer - launches on Kickstarter (3Ders, 16 May 2015)

Simon Cosimo, Fashion designer adds a third dimension to apparel design with '3D weaving' (3Ders, 31 July 31) 

Shane Hickey, The innovators: the 3D weaving machine putting new heart into soles (Guardian 3 May 2015)

Tanya Lewis, 3D Printing Weaves Its Way into Fashion (LiveScience, 7 August 2013)

Robert Sullivan, Envisioning the Future of 3-D Fashion: Welcome to the Virtual Dressing Room (Vogue, 3 September 2014)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

How Soon Might Humans Be Replaced At Work?

#CIPAai An interesting debate on Artificial Intelligence at the Science Museum took place this week, sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents. When will humans be replaced by computers in any given job?

As this was the professional body for Patent Agents, they decided to pick an example close to their hearts. The specific motion being debated was that a patent would be filed and granted without human intervention within the next 25 years. The motion was passed roughly 80-60.

At first sight, this debate appeared to be an exercise in technological forecasting. When would AI be capable of creating new inventions and correctly drafting the patent application? And when would AI be capable of evaluating a patent application, carrying out the necessary searches, and granting a patent. Is this the kind of thing we should expect when the much vaunted Singularity (predicted from around 2040 onwards) occurs?

Speaking for the motion, Calum Chase and Chrissie Lightfoot were enthusiastic about the technological opportunities of AI. They pointed out the incredible feats that were already achieved as a result of machine learning, including some surprisingly creative solutions to technical problems.

Speaking against the motion, Nigel Hanley and Ilya Kazi acknowledged the great contribution of computer intelligence to support the patent agent and patent examiner, but were sceptical that anyone would trust a computer with such an important task as filing and granting patents. Nigel Hanley pointed out the limitations of internet search, which is of course designed to find things that other people have already found. (As A.A. Milne put it, Thinking With The Majority.)

The motion only required that a single patent be filed and granted without human intervention. It didn't need to be a particularly complicated one. But even to grant a single patent without human intervention would require a change in the law, presumably agreed internationally. (As it happens, my late father Kenneth Veryard was involved in the development of European Patent Law around 25 years ago, so I am aware of the time and painstaking effort required to achieve such international agreements.)

But this reframes the debate: from a technological one about the future capability of computers, to a sociopolitical one about the possibility of institutional change. Even if some algorithm were good enough to compete with humans, at least for some routine patent matters, the question is whether politicians would be willing to entrust these matters to an algorithm.

There are also strange questions of ownership and rights. Examples of computer intelligence always seem to come back to the usual suspects - Google, IBM Watson, and their ilk. If the creativity comes from the large computer networks run by these companies, then the patents will belong to these corporations. When Thomas Watson said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers", he wasn't talking about billions of laptops or trillions of internet-enabled things, but the very much smaller number of major computer networks capable of controlling everything else.

Can we realistically expect AI to take over one small area of patent law without taking over the much larger challenge of cleaning up legislation? After all, a genuine superintelligence might well come up with a much better basis for promoting innovation and protecting the interests of inventors than a few ancient principles of patent law.

But perhaps here's the killer argument. As the volume of patent applications increases, the cost of processing them all by hand becomes prohibitive. So governments could be tempted by the cost-savings offered by a clever algorithm. Even though governments have a very bad track record at realising cost savings from IT projects, politicians can often be persuaded to think it will be different this time.

So even if AI patent activity turns out not to be as good as when humans do it, and even if it subsequently results in a lot of seriously expensive litigation, it could seem a lot cheaper in the short-term.


Steven Johnson, Superintelligence Now (How We Get To Next, 28 October 2015)

James Nurton, Could a computer do your job (Managing IP, 3 November 2015)

Wikipedia: Technological Singularity

Related Posts

The End of Google (June 2006)


For the potential ramifications of robotic legal assistants, see Remus, Dana and Levy, Frank S., Can Robots Be Lawyers? Computers, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law (December 30, 2015). Available at SSRN: or Reported by Aviva Rutkin, Artificial intelligence could make lawyers more risk averse (New Scientist 27 January 2016).

updated 28 January 2016

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Defeating the Device Paradigm

Until recently, many people were unfamiliar with the term "defeat device". Following the public disgrace of Volkswagen, it is now believed that a wide range of cars, flat screen TVs and goodness knows what other consumer devices may have been programmed to alter their performance when they detect an official test.

There is a fundamental problem with the regulation of embedded software, which can be captured by a maxim from Arthur Weasley (in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).

"Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain." 

As fans of J.K. Rowling will know, Arthur Weasley is a fictional regulator, working for the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office at the Ministry of Magic. (Rowling's portrayal of bureaucrats and regulators often verges on the satirical.) Several writers had cited the Weasley maxim in discussions of the Internet of Things even before the Volkswagen story broke - for example Richard Brooker and Kieron O'Hara. As Brooker asks
"How do we make an informed assessment of trust and risk when using a device or service, but with little insight or even awareness of the smart, connected actions that it’s performing in the background, and the information it’s sensing from our interaction and where that information is being sent or used?"

Many people think that regulating the Internet of Things is merely about regulating the devices (the "Things").

But this neglects the importance role of background processes and systems. The Things that make up the Internet of Things are connected to a network, which may be run by a commercial organization for its own commercial purposes.

Take for example a telemonitoring device in a car, which sends location data to a central controller - perhaps controlled by the car company, or an insurance company, or a contractor working for the prison service. This might be part of a car maintenance scheme or a PayAsYouDrive insurance scheme, or a prisoner release system, or perhaps all of the above, but you can't tell this just from inspecting the monitoring device. You have to look at the central controller (the "Brain"), because this is where the the signals from the device are processed.

But how should a regulator approach the challenge of testing and monitoring the central processing unit (the "Brain")? Which (for all we know) may be able to detect whether it is being tested, and repurpose the local devices accordingly.

Some writers have argued that Open Source provides the only way to be confident that software is cheat-free. However, two months before the Volkswagen story broke, the US Environment Protection Agency explicitly invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to ban independent experts from testing engine software. As far as I can see, this would prevent the kind of compromise proposed by Kuntal Sampat, which would involve inspecting the interfaces and service calls, as well as full-blown Open Source.

The Internet of Things is not a random collection of devices. It is a safety-critical system of systems, and must be understood (and regulated) as such. But it often suits certain commercial interests to focus our attention on the devices and away from the rest of the system. This is related to what Borgmann calls the Device Paradigm.

Ryan Beene, VW emissions ‘defeat device’ isn’t the first (MarketWatch 25 Sept 2015)

Richard Brooker, Can we trust the Internet of (Unsecure) Things? (BT, 7 October 2014)

Alex Davies, The EPA opposes rules that could've exposed VW's cheating (Wired 18 September 2015)

Terry Fagen, Why Defeat Software Will Never be Used in Medical Devices (Linked-In, 24 September 2015)

James Grimmelmann, Harry Potter and the Mysterious Defeat Device (Slate 22 September 2015)

Russell Hotten, Volkswagen: The scandal explained (BBC News 25 September 2015)

Leo Kelion, VW: Calls to let car software be examined by experts (BBC News 23 September 2015)

Arthur Neslen, Samsung TVs appear less energy efficient in real life than in tests (Guardian 1 October 2015)

Kieron O’Hara, The Fridge’s Brain Sure Ain’t the Icebox (IEEE Internet Computing, Nov/Dec 2014)

Kuntal Sampat, Defeat Device and Open Source (Blogspot 23 September 2015)

Kit Walsh, Researchers Could Have Uncovered Volkswagen’s Emissions Cheat If Not Hindered by the DMCA (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 21 September 2015)

When Code can Kill or Cure (Economist 2 June 2012)

Wikipedia: Defeat Device, Device Paradigm, Life-Critical System

Friday, August 21, 2015

Technology Hype Curve 4

@dgwbirch applies the Gartner Hype Curve (it's not a cycle) to itself.

Obviously I don't speak for Gartner, but I imagine they might be puzzled at Dave's extension of the notion of technology to something that is essentially a conceptual tool. So where are the limits of the tool, and is Dave just being mischievous?

In any case, perhaps different stakeholders are at different stages of the curve. Gartner itself has always been in the Slope of Enlightenment, deploying the Hype Curve for an ever-increasing number of instances of how the tool can benefit Gartner and its clients.

Meanwhile, if some people have become disillusioned with the Hype Curve, as Dave claims, there will always be a new generation of CIOs with inflated expectations. So that's alright then.

See previous posts

Technology Hype Curve 1 (September 2005)
Technology Hype Curve 2 (July 2009)
Technology Hype Curve 3 (August 2009)
Category: Hype

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Understanding the Value Chain of the Internet of Things

#InternetOfThings Unfortunately, I shall be unable to use my ticket for the Unicom conference in London next week. (Any reasonable offer considered.) So here are some thoughts in absentia.

Many of the popular examples of IoT suggest a fairly conventional data collection and monitoring process, in which internet-enabled "things" send signals to a central point, from where an intelligent response can be mobilized.

For example, a car manufacturer installs devices to monitor car performance. Or a warehouse installs temperature monitoring and control devices into every fridge. Or a healthcare provider implants a device to monitor's the patient's blood sugar.

In some cases, the devices may be programmed to perform certain actions automatically - for example, to adjust the fuel mix or temperature, or administer a dose of insulin - but these actions are ultimately the responsibility of the provider of the device.

Who is the "owner" of this device? Although the driver or the patient may have paid for the device and will want some benefit in return, the device is also serving the purpose of the organization that provided it, which should have a clear business case and cost justification to cover all the direct and indirect costs incurred.

Some marketing experts are seeing the Internet of Things as a way of reasserting control over the consumer. J Walker Smith talks enthusiastically about what he calls the Pivot to Passive.

"The pivot to passive automates activities that consumers used to do themselves, from monitoring, to researching, to reporting, to deciding. The fundamental nature of this pivot is a shift from screens to sensors. Consumers are better able to tailor their experiences, but they do so through less, not more control, relinquishing influence and authority to technologies. In turn, these are the very same technologies with which marketers are regaining control in the marketplace."
J Walker Smith, The Pivot to Passive (pdf) (Market Leader Q3, June 2014) 

More complex situations may introduce greater multi-sidedness. For example, the monitoring devices in the car may also be sending signals to an insurance company, as part of a Pay-As-You-Drive policy.

Here's the challenge. In a multi-sided situation, the business case may only turn positive when you aggregate the benefits across multiple purposes. So the innovation requires a new business model to orchestrate the costs and benefits (and risks) between all the stakeholders. A new business model introduces changes to the value network, and typically involves the creation of some kind of commercial platform.

Many of the most interesting innovations of recent years have been characterized by radical disruption to the value network. If the Internet of Things proves to be as disruptive as many people expect, I expect it to be the network where the most fundamental disruption will take place.
"In our time, things are not even regarded as objects, because their only important quality has become their readiness for use. Today all things are being swept together into a vast network in which their only meaning lies in their being available to serve some end that will itself also be directed towards getting everything under control." 
Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

Understanding the Value Chain of the Internet of Things will be at the London Kensington Hilton on Thursday July 2nd.