What Jeff Bezos Hopes to Show the World With His 10,000-Year Clock

Jeff Bezos may have his hands full finding a location for Amazon's second headquarters, but he's also making time to work on a longer-term project.

The Amazon founder tweeted video footage of a massive 10,000-year clock that's being built inside a West Texas mountain. The 500-foot tall clock, which runs on the world's thermal cycles, has been in production for the last 30 years, Bezos wrote in a blog post. It ticks once a year and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium.

"It's a special Clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking," Bezos said in the blog post. "As I see it, humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilization-scale problems."

Engineer and inventor Danny Hillis originally conceptualized the project in 1989, and Bezos said he's been assisting for the last six years.

AI and Background Checks in 2018 by @YoavVilner

The rise of AI & machine learning have deeply impacted the way we conduct global business and operations.

Industries from HR to medical imaging to delivery services are leveraging the technologies to improve efficiencies and their respective bottom lines. We are now beginning to see the impact that these technologies can have on the background check industry, creating a wave of change in a traditionally conservative sector.

Over the last 50 years, background checks haven't changed much, still using significant numbers of employees to manually comb through an individual's background. The traditional players have typically been investigative firms with large budgets and wide scope.

However, gone are the days in which investigation companies have to go through phone records or paper court documents. Large amounts of information today are digitized, with the amount of digital information increasing tenfold every five years. According to Cisco, internet traffic is estimated to reach 278 exabytes (EB) per month by 2021, 1 Exabyte is the equivalent of 10 billion copies of The Economist.

The traditional background check companies are not equipped to cope with the new reality presented by the digitization of large amounts of information, which allows for new methods of research and investigation.

Only through technological innovation will companies have the ability to capture all this data. Old processes will need to be automated in order to optimize data collection, analysis and workflow to handle the overload of data.

What we are starting to see is the adaptation of background checks to the digital world, especially in the financial, employment and corporate worlds. Ranging from pre-hiring checks to pre-investment due diligence - where the stakes are high and consequences of corruption and falsehood could result in court dates. AI and machine learning are changing the way background checks are conducted.

These five "21st Century" data-focused background check companies are poised to make a huge impact in 2018.

Checkr

In the pre-hiring world - a $3B and growing market -  Checkr is one of the leading firms implementing technology into its background check solution. Pre-hiring background checks come with significant regulatory red-strings attached, which become a burden to all companies large and small.

Through the use of AI to improve how records are categorized, the company currently works with a range of well-known companies - including Uber - and recently announced a partnership with ClearCompany, a leading talent management software firm. 

Intelligo Group

The company's online platform, Intelligo-Clarity, utilizes AI & machine learning technology that can conduct comprehensive background checks on people and companies in minutes.

Intelligo makes the background check process more efficient and user-friendly, eliminating turnover times and manual compilation of reports. The company's platform provides coverage of more than one million data points, letting clients form an understanding of research subjects better than traditional due diligence services.

Sterling Talent Solutions

Sterling is a well established player in the pre-hiring world and offers a comprehensive set of services, including background checks, I-9, drug screening and new hire smart-form solutions.

On the back-end, Sterling's cloud-based platform enables customers to place orders, manage tasks and monitor results in one place. Recently, the Merchant Banking Division of Goldman Sachs ("Goldman Sachs") and La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec ("CDPQ") agreed to acquire a majority interest in the company.

Exiger

Exiger is a global regulatory and financial crime, risk and compliance company. In 2017 Exiger acquired OutsideIQ, the company that developed the cognitive computing and intelligent search platform DDIQ, which allows enterprises to leverage the power of machine-learning to accelerate and enhance critical due diligence related to third-party and counterparty risk.

Through the deployment of DDIQ, Exiger enables compliance teams to mitigate risks and meet demands of regulators by screening all available public data about a subject, and then producing auditable reports.

Onfido

Onfido is a verification engine for enterprises with more than 1,500 customers, that allows fast, simple and easy ID Record Check and Document Checks. In September 2017, the company closed a $30 million financing round for its AI-based identity verification technology. 

2018 is going to be an exciting year for background checks. "Check back" with me next year to see how accurate I was in identifying the industry's rising stars, or which ones I overlooked.

Bombing the Cloud: Why an Attack on Amazon, Microsoft, or Google Cloud Could Lead to ‘Cybergeddon’

Scenarios about the strategic importance of knocking out a rival nation's critical infrastructure in the early phases of any all-out cyber war have been widely discussed.

Now comes a report from insurance underwriting giant Lloyd's of London and risk modeling consultancy Air Worldwide that introduces some fresh granularity to what some call cybergeddon. The upshot is that Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure may need to be included on the list of critical infrastructure targets, which includes utilities, transportation systems, financial markets and most recently election systems.

The Lloyd's/Air Worldwide study concludes that the complete failure of a top cloud services provider that extends for at least three days would cost the U.S. economy $15 billion. Small- and mid-sized businesses that have come to rely on cloud services would be hit more heavily than Fortune 1000 companies; SMBs would sustain some two-thirds of the economic losses, the report says.

Manufacturing companies would lose $8.6 billion, wholesaler and retailers $3.6 billion, finance and insurance firms $447 million and transportation and warehousing sectors $439 millions.

Cloud complexities

Cyberattack damage projections have become so common they're almost cliché. However, this one warrants a closer look. As a leading property insurer and reinsurer, Lloyd's has responded to countless business disruption events over decades and is in possession of rich historical data to support their assumptions.

Meanwhile, AIR Worldwide has been modeling damage losses from cyber and other events for many years.

"Any report  that includes Lloyd's experience and AIR's modeling is a powerful combination that should be taken seriously,"  observes Inga Goddijn, executive vice president at Risk Based Security Inc., a Richmond, Virginia-based supplier of risk management services.

The potential for a devastating cloud outage is high because cloud computing has become so popular. Relieved of having to purchase, run and maintain data-centers, companies--especially smaller ones--now routinely tap AWS, Azure and Google Cloud for data storage and mission critical processing power.

However, making cloud computing as secure as it needs to be has turned out to be more complex and cumbersome than anyone anticipated. And the popularity of AWS, Azure and Google Cloud has made them prime targets.

"Major (cloud) infrastructure service providers are now also critical points for systemic failure, and  any data breach or significant downtime can have a cascading effect impacting thousands of businesses, with a great potential for economic impacts," Goddjin observes.

Navigating risks

Credit goes to Microsoft, Amazon and Google for acknowledging that this looming exposure needs to be proactively addressed. The Big Three have begun to take pronounced steps to weave security components deeper into the fabric of their respective cloud services. The problem is, they've been doing so rather quietly.  

A clarion call is in order. Company leaders need to disabuse themselves of the fallacy that subscribing to a cloud service equates to outsourcing security for that part of the business. Smaller organizations, in particular, can ill afford to assume this.

 "As the saying goes, the cloud is just another word for someone else's computer." Goddjin says. "If you're entrusting critical business operations and sensitive data to these companies, it's important to include security in the evaluation process and fully understand what sort of recourse is available should the service fail."

The same principles holds true for large organizations, tenfold, she says. From a high level, it has become pivotal for all company leaders to continually educate themselves. Business networks are complex and continually changing. Cloud computing weaves together four fundamental layers around which data flows: the Internet cloud, web browsers, business applications and data bases.

"Most security issues happen because we are not continuously validating that these layers --  and the security around them  -- are working as they should,"  says Brian Contos, Chief Information Security Officer at Verodin, a supplier of security instrumentation systems.

Something to think about - and study. Any company leader who wants to help his or her organization navigate the clear and present risks of cloud computing should strive to get a working understanding of these matters.

5 Indispensable Travel Gadgets to Help You Stay Productive on a Flight

One of the strangest things about flying for me is that it is the perfect time to work. I grab a nice set of earbuds, a laptop, and for about three or four hours on a trip to Vegas or Dallas I'm in the zone, cranking on my email or chatting away on Slack.

Except for one problem. The guy next to me is invading my space with his elbows. Or a coffee cup--which is pretty much a required accoutrement in my daily routine at this point--slides around like a fish bowl on a yacht. Frustrations abound.

Fortunately, I've found a few handy accessories that have helped me stay productive and finish my projects on a flight. They are a little unusual, but that's also what makes them helpful. If you try any of these, write me back with your full report.

1. Vector Cup Holder ($50)

Yes, it's a cup holder for your fold-back tray. Since it is so thin and light, you can fit it into a sleeve on your laptop bag. A hinge twists into place, and you pull back on a lever and clip the holder into place. It's a little spendy at $50, but it's a coffee savior.

2. Omnicharge Omni 20 ($299)

The problem with most portable chargers is that they don't really last long enough or power up your gadgets long enough. The Omni 20 has a built-in normal AC power outlet, so it works with any laptop. At 1.4 pounds, it's a tad heavy for your laptop bag. You can charge your iPhone or Samsung phone about 5-9 times, or the MacBook Air to 100%.

3. Chipolo Classic ($75 for four)

I recommend these small plastic trackers for any flight. Add one to your laptop bag, slip one in your wallet, and keep one in your coat. Then, stay focused on your work. An alarm sounds if anyone steals your gear. You can get an alert if you leave anything behind. The chip connects to a phone, and the small plastic clips are easy to lose if you relocate them. 

4. Dell Latitude 5290 2-in-1 ($899)

You may have picked up on a theme here. I like to keep devices charged up. The Dell Latitude 5290 2-in-1 is a handy Windows tablet and laptop in one, and has an automatic flip-out kickstand (set it on the tray and the stand pops out). The wall charger doubles as a portable charger. Minor gripe? It's not an iPad, and Windows is not a great tablet OS.

5. Sennheiser HD 1 Free ($200)

These high-quality earbuds, which I've been testing for a few weeks, sound incredible with everything from pop to country. The strap goes around the back of your neck so you don't have to deal with cords. At the airport, the built-in mic means you can make phone calls. The HD 1 Free requires a charge-up, though, that lasts six hours.

Will South Korea Become The Juggernaut That Brings Smart Living to You?

Clearly, artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning technologies are finding their way into most everything that we touch and use in everyday life, including consumer products, financial services and healthcare delivery.   This is indicative of significant inroads made in IT services, communication services, electronics, mechanical equipment and biomedical products, which serve as foundation stones for the evolution of AI applications.

According to a recent Hyundai Research Institute report, quoted here, South Korea lags behind the U.S., Japan and the EU in AI preparedness. However, quick looks at the country's leading manufacturers suggest that its marquee companies are going to do something about that fact. 

Consider these recent examples:

  • LG Electronics announced, at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, that it is developing a proprietary deep learning-based artificial intelligence technology called DeepThinQ 1.0. 

 LG States:

"Products developed on the DeepThinQ platform educate themselves using cloud servers to become smarter over time. This learning feature is at the heart of DeepThinQ, allowing LG AI products to understand not only their external environments but also the behavioral patterns of their customers. For example, LG ThinQ air conditioner learns customers' living patterns over time and cools the room automatically to the temperature preferred by the occupant. In the car, LG's cabin monitoring technology learns the driver's facial expressions and gestures and recognizes the moment the driver starts to get drowsy. Eventually, ThinQ will be able to automatically adjust the music, lighting or climate inside the car by learning about the passengers who most often occupy the car."

  • Hyundai Motor announced its plans to invest widely in leading Israeli start-ups to fast-track the manufacturer's future advanced automotive technologies developments. 

According to a recent Hyundai Motor Group press release, Dr. Young Cho Chi, Executive Vice President of Strategy & Technology Division and Chief Innovation Officer detailed:

"Hyundai Motor is very interested in Israel's ecosystem of technology innovation, especially in the sector of transportation. This is why we recently signed an MOU with Technion, one of the world's top science and technology research universities (in Israel)...Our new investment center (here) will allow us to work more closely with the most innovative new businesses and lead the industry in new and creative smart mobility."

"...a bold reinvention of its intelligent interface that's even more ubiquitous, open and personal. Powered by the Samsung Connect, Bixby will act as the controlling platform of your connected device ecosystem, including mobile phones, TVs and even home appliances to make the smart home experience even smarter...In fact, we are adding Bixby Voice to our Family Hub refrigerator. Now, you will be able to check the weather, build shopping lists and order groceries with the power of your voice. So, for example, if you were running low on milk, you would just say, "Hi Bixby, order milk."

To close, it's my bet that South Korea can become the juggernaut that brings smart living to the world.  As long as its leading export manufacturers, like the ones celebrated above, continue to maintain their deep and rich commitment to R&D.  If they do, they will continue to drive and design innovation into their products and set the high bar for their competitors, (which, in itself, will drive further innovation).   

Reach out to me here, if you would like to discuss how your company can build a culture of innovation - one that embraces AI and deep learning technologies.  

The 1 Thing Tech Moguls Are Terrified Other Parents Will Learn

For years we've heard how necessary tech is to education, work, and life. The U.S. is losing its innovative edge. Your startup needs the right tech. Want your kids to be successful in the tech field? Let them grow up around tech innovators.

But even as tech companies design software and hardware to be addictive, top executives are putting limits on their children's use of the very technology that made the parents' fortunes. Even as they want other families to indulge in the frequent use of their products, they are wary of the effect of the hardware and software on their own kin.

That raises two questions. One is what they might know about technology that many people outside the industry should. The other is why people would promote products and services that they know or even suspect cause problems, particularly for children.

Tech luminaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have publicly said in the past that they limited the amount of technology their kids could use.

For example, Nick Bilton at the New York Times was surprised when Jobs, at the time the iPad was still news, said, "We limit how much technology our kids use at home." They had never touched the then-new device.

Over the last few years, more stories about tech professionals limiting screen time for their kids have come out, like the one that came out Sunday at Business Insider.

A 2017 survey conducted by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation found among 907 Silicon Valley parents that despite high confidence in technology's benefits, many parents now have serious concerns about tech's impact on kids' psychological and social development.

"You can't put your face in a device and expect to develop a long-term attention span," Taewoo Kim, chief AI engineer at the machine-learning startup One Smart Lab, told Business Insider.

When you're really deep in technology, you begin to realize how much of it is an intellectual construct that you express in different ways, whether on a computer or even a pad of paper and pencil. The computer doesn't make the software engineer. It's the engineer who makes it possible for computers to do something useful.

Technologies realize this. If you're interviewed at a top tech firm, chances are you'll need to demonstrate reasoning and technology knowledge -- with a white board and marker, not a computer. Not screens. They're secondary, and if you can't direct your mind to a problem, you won't succeed.

The industry has targeted children for decades with educational discounts. The intent was to seed the future market, getting young people in high school and college accustomed to specific brands. The bet was that eventually the future adults would order products and tend toward the familiar.

The practices have gone far beyond familiarity into creating a form of addiction as business models have moved increasingly toward advertising and service delivery on mobile devices. When you depend on the money that comes only when people pay attention to their devices, you need to keep people using those products.

Former Apple executive Tony Fadell was involved with the original design of the iPhone and iPad and the founding of Nest, which Google acquired. He has begun warning of the dangers of the design tricks companies use to keep people coming back over and over.

As former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris says people at companies like his former employer "through their choices will steer what a billion people are thinking today." That definitely means kids.

Companies dissemble but the clear evidence continues to mount. In 2015, Google released YouTube Kids, an app to create a family-friendly version of YouTube for children. Facebook Messenger Kids reportedly targets kids as young as 6.

Addictive design practices also target adults.

It isn't a first for companies to do things that they know may be a problem. Look at the history of the tobacco industry. Business goals become all consuming and executives march ahead to succeed, no matter what the ultimate cost could be.

The direction is not ethically or even practically sustainable. If the focus is on maintaining attention and not necessarily delivering value for time, eventually a company starts losing audience. In the fourth quarter of 2017, Facebook saw a drop in daily North American audience and an overall decrease in time spent on the platform.

Perhaps the answer is to turn away from growth as an end in itself and instead find ways to develop a sustainable business. See what you would need to keep a regular flow of revenue that would be profitable and keep things moving. Consider the value you'd need to deliver to be of constant interest to customers. If things are slowing, as they will periodically in any business, look at new areas and services that you might address rather than finding "tricks" to keep people involved. Always remember that you still go home and look at friends and loved ones at the end of the day. Make sure you can do it with your head high and a clear conscience.

Why Big Tech Firms Are Ignoring Blockchain (For Now)

If blockchain was truly revolutionary, why wouldn't top tech firms like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple be doing more with it? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Gaurav Mokhasi, Tech Product Management at Visa, on Quora:

This is a quasi-acid test that blockchain fails, at least so far.

At the NASSCOM Product Conclave in Bangalore recently, Future Group CEO Kishore Biyani was asked what the one thing is that keeps him up at night. He responded that it was "the fear of missing a trend." I suspect the leadership at great technology companies are similarly vigilant; the last thing they want is some new kid on the block disrupting their business models.

In the last 20 years, it's hard to think of a single revolutionary technology that Amazon, Google, Apple, or Facebook did not experiment with. Cloud technology, artificial intelligence, big data, voice assistants, augmented reality, self driving cars, machine/deep learning ... all of these have been embraced (even pioneered) by these companies. But when it comes to blockchain, these firms don't seem fazed by (or bothered with) it.

I don't buy the argument that blockchain is just not relevant to these firms, because it's not difficult to imagine scenarios where it could affect these companies. This article cites a few examples.

"Yes, I could absolutely imagine a decentralized Amazon," Lubin replied. "We've seen the pieces. They're not all connected to one another. They're not all but out or remotely mature, but I could imagine an open platform of many different actors with different roles."

The same could be done with Facebook, said Lubin, who is also founder of ConsenSys, a Brooklyn-based studio that develops Ethereum-based projects. "We could stand up a decentralized platform that offers same services."

The silence of these companies with respect to blockchain is therefore conspicuous for sure.

The esoteric nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology makes it difficult for regular people to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook have consistently attracted the best engineering talent and researchers from the top universities in the world. These folks understand Computer Science better than most, and if blockchain did in fact have the technical merits that people claim it does, it's unlikely that the technologists at these companies would seemingly care so little about it.

If you look back at the last five years, you can classify most people promulgating the values of blockchain technology into two buckets:

  1. People with vested interests -- those who are running or are invested in related startups, offering ICOs, etc... This group is typically experimenting with public blockchains.
  2. Big financial institutions -- theirs was an understandable reactionary measure to check whether their business was under threat, and to ensure that they don't look like luddites. This group championed something called private or federated blockchains.

If you look closely at what private blockchains are, it's not apparent what's technically novel about them. Princeton University's Professor Arvind Narayanan, who offers what is perhaps the only reliable MOOC in this space, published a blog post that goes as far as saying that "Private blockchain" is just a confusing name for a shared database.

Even the decentralization promised by public blockchains, while utopian in theory, is not without its fair share of problems. Firstly, there's the issue of performance. Bitcoin, which uses blockchain in its pure form, has an abysmal throughput of 3-7 transactions per second. Compare this to a traditional system like Visa which can easily process over 25000 transactions per second [1]. Secondly, blockchain is still a solution in search of a problem. It doesn't have a single application so far that's either gone past the proof-of-concept phase or where it's been definitively proven that the proposed blockchain-based solution performs better than the incumbent technology.

Therefore, given that companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple are not doing much with blockchain, even in the face of ever-increasing frenzy surrounding this technology, one could not be blamed for doubting blockchain's potential as a game-changing paradigm.

Disclaimer: I make the statements above in a personal capacity. They should not be seen as a reflection of my employer's view on the topic.

Footnotes

[1] Bitcoin and Ethereum vs Visa and PayPal - Transactions per second - Altcoin Today

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