Week 49

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In Search of a European Google

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Recent evidence clearly points to Europe sliding into ‘digital recession’ relative to the US and Asia. Echoing the concern over falling behind, this Guardian post explores a variety of reasons why the chances of Europe creating a technology platform company to rival the giants of Silicon Valley like Facebook and Google are arguably slim to none:

The combined value of the top three internet companies in the Americas – so, basically, in America – is around $0.75tn (£0.5tn). In Asia, it’s around $0.5tn. In Africa, it’s $50bn. And in Europe, it’s just $25bn. … when you look at the top of the tech market, the very top, Europe is lagging a long way behind.

The reason the topic is important is because the large platform players like the GAFA quartet will increasingly become the gatekeepers of future tech power and scale employment prospects:

“This is as big a deal as the industrial revolution. You’re moving from the agrarian to the industrial to the digital age, and you’re seeing the digitisation of everything. Industries which weren’t considered to be digital are being transformed by some of the methodologies and the processes of the digital age. Take Tesla – we think of Tesla as being a ‘startup’, but it’s the same size as Audi.” Both companies are valued at around $30bn. …

If you’re engaged on any aspect of software technology in the UK within a wider global supply chain (which is pretty much everything), the visceral sense of being overtaken is something you are likely to have experienced at first hand in the work environment. It’s a dramatic volte face from as little as ten years ago when Nokia and Symbian were in their pomp and the US seemed a distant second in mobile technology terms.  Ten years on mobile now looks like a closed book – a digital Mount Rushmore with the 4 presidents replaced by Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.  Perhaps the Internet of Things will offer a chance for Europe to strike back.

Manufacturers and Devices


The biggest problem for the operating system was a lack of developer support. Faced with having to develop for a third (or fourth if Windows Mobile was on the cards too) operating system didn’t appeal to most time-strapped developers, and the range of apps out there was tiny in comparison to the competition.

Apps and Services

The app ecosystem has an extremely harsh power law where app adoption and monetization are heavily skewed towards the top few apps. It’s nowhere near 80/20. In fact, it appears to be more like 99% of the value is centralized to the top 0.01%. Let’s call it the app store 99/0.01 rule.

The amazing ways WeChat is used in China

  • And yet still they come, the would-be app contenders.  One startup seeking to help them get off the ground even more easily and disintermediate developers altogether is AI-app proposition Gigster who just received $10m in funding from Andreesen Horowitz.   They look well worth keeping an eye on:

The company finds top-notch freelance developers, designers, and project managers with pedigrees from MIT, CalTech, Google, and Stripe, and only accepts 5% of applicants. A sales engineer discusses proposals with clients, and using the AI engine, comes back with a price quote and production schedule in about 10 minutes. Then Gigster manages the entire development process through delivery of the fully-functional app.


For this “visual perceptive media” project, the BBC developed a mobile app that analyzes music listening habits and asks questions about users’ personalities. Paired with age and gender info, the resulting personal profile automatically tailors the short film to the perceived preferences of the viewer.

Digital Disruption and Cloud

  • It’s been covered before but the smartphone really is eating television and the trend is even more pronounced with millennials and tweens:

Nielsen media study 2


Big Data


researchers say that they discovered that the app contained a number of security problems, including that digital certificates, which are supposed to confirm the legitimacy of the connection between the doll and the app, used a “hardcoded” password. Every app used the same password as part of this verification process

What do we mean by 'Penetration Test'?

  • Meanwhile this InfoQ presentation outlines what AI-based security attacks are and why they represent the “new frontline”.  Botnets are a particular focus:


The Internet of Things and Wearables

  • The IoT TechExpo taking place in London Olympia over two days in Feb 2016 looks interesting if you’re into this area.

“an additional Blockchain component, for irrefutable trust and ID management, might provide equivalent DRM-like governance for IoT, and I see this as a natural evolution of DRM (or whatever you want to call it) for both ‘things’ and content.”

As IoT develops, SaaS will play an increasing role. Currently things like email, remote or virtual desktops, and CRM type tools occupy this category.  Think Salesforce* or Google* apps and you have the right idea for SaaS.  If you are looking for special functionality outside of your physical hardware, look to a SaaS type solution to fill this type of gap.

  • CNN ask whether smart guns are an answer to the mass shooting epidemic given the US doesn’t seem likely to reform gun law any time soon.

it just takes one look at the Carrera Connected to see how it is different than a Motorola or Samsung or Apple or what have you. It, well, looks like a watch. Specifically, it looks like a Tag Heuer watch, with its imposing size, angular edges, and bezel full of numeric markings.

Retailers and various other resellers have requested a total of 100,000 units of the watch, which is way more than what the company expected upon announcement

Tag Heuer Connected

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

  • Google has launched its Cloud Vision API as a limited beta building upon the release of its TensorFlow Machine Learning platform.  It comes with a neat Raspberry Pi based technology demonstrator:

To show a simple example of the Vision API, we have built a fun Raspberry Pi based platform with just a few hundreds of lines of Python code, calling the Vision API. Our demo robot can roam and identify objects, including smiling faces. This is just one simple example of what can be done with Cloud Vision API

  • Long Atlantic piece on driverless cars and why they are shaping up to be the early 21st century equivalent of the 1960’s Space Race with Google, Apple, Uber and Tesla duking it out for supremacy in a multi-way high stakes shootout with Detroit-based car giants:

If fully self-driving cars reach the market, it’ll be in the world that smartphones made possible; a world of GPS-enabled maps, voice-controlled robot assistants, constant connectivity, and everything on-demand. And the leading players—Apple, Google, and Uber—are all vying for leadership in a new sector of this world, which they created. They know what it’s like to demolish the incumbent in an industry because they’ve all done it before.

  • First in a fascinating 4-part series of posts from Bob L. Sturm on the use of Recurrent Neural Network (RNN) based Deep Learning to “assist the process of music creation“.  His posts explore the results gained from a model trained on 23,000 Irish folk tunes.  Bob will be playing the music live tonight at Dorkbot in East London.


Innovation and Trends

  • As we approach year end, posts offering free predictions for 2016 inevitably appear on the horizon.  This HBR post predicts that “Algorithmic personality detection” and “bots” like Xiaolce will both be big.

Microsoft’s experimental Mandarin-language bot, Xiaolce, is akin to Samantha in Her. She lives inside a smartphone and has intimate conversations with her users, because the program is able to remember details from previous conversations. She also mines the Chinese internet for human conversations in order to synthesize chat sessions.

Companies are increasingly looking for new, dynamic ways to create and deliver corporate presentations, and PowerPoint just isn’t cutting it in the business world, says Pearson. Dynamic presentations with superior graphics and animation and the ability to be interactive is all the rage.

Software Engineering

  • IBM meanwhile have:

‘launched a Web-based Swift sandbox where you can write code and execute it in a Linux server environment. It lets you view your source code and results side-by-side, along with error messages in the output area.

You can now try Swift online without having to install anything

Work and Management

“new research suggests that if we’re not careful, making people aware of bias can backfire, leading them to discriminate more rather than less.”

Remember that creative problems are supposed to feel difficult. Most involve setbacks, failures, and that “stuck” feeling. It’s part of the process. Suppress your instinct to interpret these feelings as a signal that you just aren’t creative or that you’ve run out of good ideas. Reaching your creative potential often takes time, and persistence is critical for seeing a challenge through to the end.

Culture and Society


One could say that the mechanism of metamorphosis is the only element of life that never changes. The journey of every individual, every country, every historical epoch—of the entire universe and all it contains—is nothing but a series of changes, at times subtle, at times deep, without which we would stand still. The moments of transition, in which something changes, constitute the backbone of all of us. Whether they are a salvation or a loss, they are moments that we tend to remember. They give a structure to our existence. Almost all the rest is oblivion.

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