Featured Article : Risks or Benefits of Charging Devices Overnight?

Many of us charge phones and laptops overnight but is this good for the battery and is it potentially dangerous, and how can we safely get the most from our device batteries?

Batteries

Smartphone and laptop batteries are Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion). These batteries have high energy density so they can be made small, while their rate of self-discharge is much lower than alternatives (like Ni-Cad for example) which means less charging, they have a high cell voltage, they don’t require priming (for a first charge), and there’s little or no maintenance required.  All these characteristics make them ideal as the power component in our essential, portable electric items.

That said, lithium batteries contain a flammable electrolyte which could be risky in some circumstances (remember the famous Samsung Galaxy Note 7 fires back in 2017?), they need protection (circuitry and special chips) to prevent them from being over-charged and discharged too far, they age (whether in use or not) so require replacing, and they are relatively expensive.

Likes and Dislikes

Knowing how to protect and get the best from the battery in your phone or laptop requires knowing a few basic conditions that batteries like and dislike.  For example:

Your battery generally likes:

– Partial charges that keep the battery between 20 and 80 percent.  This is because a battery degrades at its fastest rate if it is regularly charged past 80 per cent or when it drops below 20 percent. Devices seem to operate best when batteries are around the 50 per cent charge mark.

Your battery generally dislikes:

– Extremes.  This can be extremes of temperature below 32 Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and above 158 Fahrenheit (70 Celsius) which can degrade the battery, let alone having an adverse effect on the device that the battery may be inside at the time.  This means avoiding leaving phones in warm sunlight (e.g. while sunbathing or sitting outdoors, or leaving the phone in a hot or cold car, perhaps overnight). Avoid the practice of putting phone batteries in fridges or freezers to ‘revive’ them.  Although there are positive accounts of this, it can result in degrading the battery. Charging devices in extreme temperature environments should also be avoided – room temperature is best.

– Being kept at 100 percent charge for long periods of time e.g., if charging at night.  This is when a battery can degrade the fastest.

– Apps being used while your device is charging. Using apps on your phone, for example, while the phone is still connected to the charger can heat and damage the battery and damage the device.

Overnight Charging

Overnight charging of phones and laptops frequently raises questions about efficiency, and safety.

Efficiency

Overnight is often a very convenient time to charge a phone or laptop but, since it only takes around an hour to charge a device, leaving it connected for 6 or 7 hours is not efficient. This is because phone or laptop batteries degrade fastest if left at 100 per cent for long periods of time (i.e. overnight), and a small ‘trickle charge’ is produced to compensate for any energy lost by the device.  This means that the battery is being unnecessarily used/over-used and switching to the mains power via the cable (when the battery is fully charged), could mean unnecessarily using electricity.

Safety

Although there are plenty of horror stories of phones catching fire while charging overnight, many of these appear to be where a phone has been left in a situation where there has been a lack of airflow and where it has been overheated (e.g. by being left under pillows or clothes). Generally, although not good for devices, overnight charging is relatively safe. Tips for making overnight charging as safe as possible include:

– Placing the device on protective/non-flammable surface, e.g. on a plate/saucer rather than on or under books, clothes, or on sofas.

– If possible and practical, take a phone out of the case when charging overnight.

– If you wake up in the night, unplug the devices to prevent constant trickle-charging or use a smart plug that’s on a schedule to turn off at a certain time when you’re sure the battery will have been charged.

Cables

Using high quality (preferably genuine and device compatible) chargers and cables which have correct safety marks (CE safety mark and output voltage that’s compatible with the device) can reduce the risk of fire and/or damage to the device and battery.

Replacement Batteries

Having a replacement battery fitted by a professional, as is often necessary with many new device models, is another way to avoid operational and safety problems.

Other Ways To Treat Device Batteries Well

– Other ways to maximise battery life, device efficiency and maintain safety include:

– Turn off unnecessary services on the device and use battery savers (often suggested by an on-screen prompt) to make the most of each charge.

– If a laptop must be left on overnight, remove the battery and use the adapter to power the laptop. This will put less of a burden on the battery by sending power directly to the laptop.

– Fully charge laptop batteries at least once a month to help the laptop to calibrate its estimator, i.e. to help it to accurately know how long the battery will last.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Mobile devices such as smartphones and laptops are now essential business tools. Although they tend to be regularly replaced, some knowledge of how batteries (and devices) perform best and getting into good habits as regards battery care can prevent batteries failing at important times, can improve safety, reduce costs (replacement batteries and electricity), and extend their life. Mobile and remote working has become essential for many businesses over the last year and with a surge in demand for laptops and phones fuelled by the pandemic, it is more important than ever that knowledge of how to maintain the batteries and devices is made available to improve efficiency and to keep remote workers safe as well as productive.

Tech Insight – The Global Microchip Shortage

With the world facing a considerable semiconductor microchip shortage, we take a look at the causes and effects of the shortage plus some potential solutions.

Why Is This Important?

Microchips are now included in virtually everything from watches to white goods and crucially in larger, high demand, big industry items such as cars.  Many products have more than one chip and as the IoT market expands, so does demand for more microchips.

Why The Global Shortage?

The global shortage of semiconductor microchips has been caused by a ‘perfect storm’ of many factors.  These include:

– Car companies slimming down manufacturing following a 50 percent slum in car sales, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Microchip producers switching to smartphone, laptop, and tablet chips in response to a surge in demand due to remote working because of the pandemic, thereby disrupting chip markets.

– Manufacturers of semiconductor microchips, which require huge investment in plants over many years, tend to operate with low stock levels to minimise costs. The surge in demand for chips (particularly for cars) following the first lockdowns therefore meant there were no backup supplies, chip manufacturers would need time to adapt to switch back to car chips, and manufacturers could not meet demand.

– With most chips being manufactured in Taiwan, the US trade war with China during the Trump administration caused supply problems due to sanctions (e.g. US chip firm Xilinx having to stop supplying to China, and Huawei being put on a trade blacklist).

– Under-investment in 8-inch chip manufacturing plants owned by Asian companies. Also, most of the production in Asia is concentrated into mainly the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) and Samsung, who manufacture on behalf of hundreds of other different chip companies.

– Weather and other events disrupting supply and worsening the global shortage of semiconductor microchip (e.g. droughts in Taiwan as water is needed in chip production), winter storms in February shutting-down the NXP semiconductor plant in Texas, and a fire at the AKM semiconductor plant in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan last October 20. The AKM factory (owned by Renesas Electronics Corp), for example, accounts for a massive 30 per cent of the global market for the microcontroller units used in cars.

The Impact

Examples of some of the main impacts caused by the global shortage are:

– Massive disruption, damage to profits, and potential job losses in the car industry and in car supply chain businesses.  For example, Ford, Toyota, and VW are partially mothballing factories. Car manufacturers are also producing fewer of their less profitable vehicles.

– Phone manufacturers delaying model releases (e.g. Samsung considering delaying the launch of the latest Galaxy Note).  This, of course, will affect the phone company’s profits and competitiveness and will have a knock-on effect towards phone retail businesses.

– Games console shortages (also compounded by an increase in demand over lockdown).  For example, Microsoft has been facing production challenges with Xbox Series X/S. This may have knock-on effects for games console retailers.

– Knock-on effects into the development of 5G networks (e.g. in the UK and US).

Possible Solutions

The main solution to tackling the global shortage has been for countries implementing the costly and time-consuming measures of setting up their own semiconductor microchip factories to try and guarantee at least some increased level of supply, and to reduce reliance upon countries between whom there may be a difficult relationship. For example, U.S. President Joe Biden is looking for $37 billion for legislation to boost chip manufacturing in the U.S. with a view to setting up four new factories in Arizona and Texas. Also, US sanctions have forced China to start investing heavily in its local tech companies such as Zhaoxin, Huawei, and SMIC to help deal with the shortage.

These developments will take time, and with the majority of 2021’s output already sold, it is anticipated that the shortage and many of its effects may carry on for another year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For any businesses that require semiconductor microchips for manufacturing, or for business that supply and sell goods and devices that include these chips, the near future may hold uncertainty and potentially damaging disruption and shortages which could impact upon operational decision-making, hit profits, and have a negative impact across supply chains.

Tech News : New Amazon AI Tool Monitors Your Business KPIs

In a move to provide more business intelligence, Amazon is launching a new tool that monitors key performance indicators (KPIs) to detect ‘anomalies’ so it can alert the business to potential problems.

Lookout For Metrics

‘Lookout For Metrics’ is the name of the new service from Amazon Web Services (AWS) which uses machine learning for business analytics to monitor KPI’s such as web page views, mobile app downloads, numbers of active users, and income to detect any anomalies and to inform the business/organisation about those anomalies.

Anomalies

The kinds of anomalies / outliers from the norm in business and operational data that AWS is referring to are spikes, dips, and other unusual patterns detected within the analytics that are outside of normal bounds across business functions.

Automated Alerts

Amazon says that that the Lookout for Metrics tool can be easily connected with event and notification services such as Amazon Simple Notification Service and AWS Lambda to created automated and customised alerts and actions when anomalies are detected, such as filing a trouble ticket.

Why?

AWS says that this kind of monitoring can help businesses to better understand customer issues (e.g. churn rates) and take action to improve customer experiences, optimise digital ad-campaigns and prevent overspends, and take action to optimise user engagement by understanding changes in metrics such as new users, app installs, in-app purchases, or retention rates.  The Lookout For Metrics Tool can, therefore, give businesses critical insights to help them make better decisions and create a more productive and efficient organisation, giving them another way to analyse how to keep up with their competitors, and grow revenues. 

AWS also points out that using this tool is a faster and more accurate way than traditional methods for anomaly detection, thereby minimising damage by saving time in finding the root cause of anomalies.  Also, the tool gives businesses a prioritised list of issues, ranked by severity, so that any business can clearly see which issues need immediate attention and which can wait.

Easy To Set Up

Lookout For Metrics requires no specialist machine learning training to start using it and Amazon says that it “connects seamlessly” to popular AWS databases and has pre-built connectors to third-party SaaS applications, thereby enabling the monitoring of metrics and anomaly detection to begin with just a few clicks.

Type of Metrics

The types of popular datasets that Lookout For Metrics can be connected to include Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and third-party SaaS applications, such as Salesforce, ServiceNow, Zendesk, and Marketo.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having access to accurate and timely business intelligence can help businesses to optimise their marketing, make better decisions, and make a business more competitive. Being able to easily set up an automated tool that’s compatible with popular datasets makes this a convenient and fast way for businesses to get a better understanding of where faults lie and where value-adding improvements can be made, and which areas to tackle first. This gives many businesses access to the kind of expert insights that would be more difficult, time consuming and costly to obtain by traditional methods.  For AWS, this provides a way to show themselves as a provider of Business Intelligence (BI) as well as many other services.

Android Stack Scanner Can Organise Your Documents

Google is launching its ‘Stack’ app for Android, an AI-based scanner that also names and categorises the documents it scans.

The Technology

The Stack app is a result of collaborative work between Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator and the DocAI team in Google Cloud, and the technologies from Google’s acquisition of the education start up ‘Socratic’.

How It Works

When users take a photo of a document, the Stack app scans it, automatically names it, and suggests the right category or “stack,” to store it in.

Stack is also able to identify important information in documents (e.g. the “due date” or “total amount due”) and pull that out to make the document easier to find and access, plus users can search through the full text of documents (not just the title) to quickly find what is needed.

When it comes to (secure) storage, Stack uses advanced security and sign-in technology to protect the documents in the app and a face or fingerprint scan can be added as an extra layer to unlock the app.  Copies of documents can also be automatically saved to Google Drive which means that they are still accessible should a user decide to stop using Stack.

Benefits

The benefits of using Stack are that it provides a fast, easy, handy, intelligent, and searchable way to organise all important work documents such as invoices and receipts. The fact that important details in the document (e.g. due date) can be recognised by the app can make it easier to pay bills on time and can provide different (fast) ways to search for documents.  Also, the app’s ability to categorise and store a document accordingly in effect provides an instant time and space-saving filing system that is also secure and always available from anywhere using a smartphone.

Just The U.S. For Now

Unfortunately, Stack is only currently available in the U.S. via Google Play Store.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When Stack does become available in the UK, this could be a very useful digital filing system for businesses which is fully portable (a phone app), searchable, secure, and provides a backup on Google Drive if the user decides to stop using Stack at any point.  This app sounds like a handy way to finally organise any piles of paper and any disparate pdfs into one central, easily accessible system.  For Google, this has been a productive way to use technology that it gained through an acquisition to add value to its services, and it is another good example of how AI can be put to practical use to tackle real-life daily challenges. There are many other mobile scanner apps available (Adobe Scan, Clear Scanner, Office Lens, Tiny Scanner), but the advantages of this one are the recognising/categorising and searching elements provided by AI plus the fact that it’s from Google and backs up to Google Drive for futureproofing.

Tech Tip – How To Speed Up Your Phone Charging

If you are finding that your phone is getting slow at charging, here are some of the possible causes and solutions:

– Incompatible or faulty accessories, such as power brick, USB cable, or charging pad/mat (for wireless charging). Choosing a charger or brick with higher amperage e.g., a power brick with 2 to 3 amps could help speed up charging, as could making sure that you are using an authentic charging (USB) cable that is in good condition. Using a different USB cable and power adapter could be a good first try at solving the problem.

– Wireless charging slowing things down. Wireless charging tends to be slower than cable charging, so consider switching back to traditional adapter & USB cable charging (bearing in mind the point made above).

– Damage to or dirt in the charger port on the phone (where the cable plugs in). If there’s dirt, use a wooden toothpick or a soft brush to clean it out. If it is broken, a technician, perhaps recommended by your local phone shop can fix it for you.

– Background apps using power. To stop this happening (Android), use Settings > Battery> Battery Usage to find the apps and disable their background battery usage. Select the app and tap Background restriction. For iPhones or iPads, go to Settings > Battery and tap Show Activity.

– An old or defective battery. To check an iPhone or iPad’s battery capacity, use Settings > Battery > Battery Health and if the Maximum Capacity is 80 per cent or lower, this may be a sign that the battery needs replacing.

– Using the phone while charging. This should be avoided because it causes the phone to charge more slowly, raises battery temperature, and increases the chances of fraying the charging cable.

Featured Article : Art, Cars, Carbon & Crazy Numbers

With news of a booming NFT market and the acceptance of Bitcoin as payment for Tesla cars, we look at the environmental impact of these and how the technology needs to be improved to be made more sustainable.

Robot Painting Collaboration

This week there was news that an artwork co-created by a robot called Sophia fetched $7,000,000 dollars. The artwork, which consisted of a 12-second MP4 file showing how the work evolved and a ‘self-portrait’ painted with a robot arm, was not just an example of the advancements of robotics and AI, or the incredible collaboration between a human and a robot to create an artwork but is also an example of how the market for ‘NFT’ art is growing.

NFT

Blockchain is at the incorruptible ledger, a bit like a secure spreadsheet that no-one can alter, that is the technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Ethereum or Bitcoin.  A non-fungible token (NFT) is the term for any unit of data on that blockchain / digital ledger. A unit could be any digital file such as digital artwork files, audio, videos, and more.  Each NFT represents a unique, non-interchangeable, exclusive digital item/asset, and is recorded in the blockchain ‘ledger’ as a cryptographic “hash”.

NFT Artwork

The market for NFT artworks is growing and more examples of digital NFT artworks fetching high prices are making the news more often as they break new boundaries. For example, this month, an artist known as Beeple sold a photo collage artwork (of 5000 images) at Christies called ‘Everydays — The First 5000 Days’, for a staggering $70 million. This makes it the third most expensive sale ever of a living artist, only beaten by the price fetched for works by David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

Another Price – Carbon

Many environmental and tech commentators are, however, concerned about the environmental impact of transactions involving the use of Blockchain and the cryptocurrencies that it powers. 

Mining

Much of the concern focuses on how energy-hungry the process of adding data to the blockchain, known as ‘mining ’, is. Crypto mining, uses software to explore millions of cryptographic checksums to find one that has the right number combination to “mint” a transaction and to try computations on the next block to be added to the blockchain.  Unfortunately, solving this complex puzzle involves using a large amount of electricity, the production of which produces carbon dioxide. The obvious conclusion for some tech and art commentators is, therefore, that NFTs may be making a negative contribution to climate change.

Debate

Turkish artist Memo Akten recently posted details online of “The Unreasonable Ecological Cost of #CryptoArt”.  Akten highlighted how “a single Ethereum (ETH) transaction is estimated to have a footprint on average of around 35 kWh. This in itself, is ludicrously high. To put that into perspective, this is roughly equivalent to an EU resident’s electric power consumption for 4 days.”  

The artist also compared how a single ETH transaction mouse click can set off a chain reaction to mining farms that ultimately delivers a footprint of 35 kWh for an ‘average’ transaction, and emissions of close to 20 KgCO2.  For perspective, the artist compares the impact of this one single mouse click to an average email being estimated to have a footprint of a few grams of CO2 or watching one whole hour of Netflix being estimated at resulting in the production of around 36 grams CO2.

Akten argues that just one NFT can involve many transactions including minting, bidding, cancelling, sales, and transfer of ownership which creates a footprint of a single NFT of hundreds of kWh, and hundreds of KgCO2 emissions.  Akten says that a single NFT footprint works out to be the “equivalent to an EU resident’s total electric power consumption for more than a month, with emissions equivalent to driving for 1000Km, or flying for 2 hours.”

Other commentators, such as Kelsie Nabben, a researcher at the RMIT University Blockchain Innovation Hub, believe that NFTs may be no more environmentally damaging than other ways of trading art e.g., transporting them around the world and storing them in temperature-controlled environments, all of which uses a lot or energy.

More Efficient In Time

Many agree, however that NFT technology is still relatively new and that it could be made more energy efficient as it advances, thereby reducing its environmental cost.

Buying Tesla In Bitcoins Cancels Environmental Benefits

The recent announcement that Tesla Inc customers can now buy its electric vehicles with Bitcoin, and how this could be a big step forward for the cryptocurrency’s use in commerce has been met by counter-argument that focuses on the potential environmental cost.  A medium.com article pointed to how, ironically, the cost of buying an energy-saving, environmentally friendly electric-powered Tesla car in Bitcoins could equate to cancelling one third of the CO2 savings for its whole lifetime.

Cambridge Bitcoin Energy Research

NFTs and buying Tesla vehicles with Bitcoins essentially highlight how the whole interaction between blockchain and cryptocurrencies has some way to go to reduce its energy-consumption.  Recent figures from Cambridge Researchers recently highlighted how power-hungry “mining” for Bitcoin consumes 21.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year meaning that if Bitcoin were a country, its energy (electricity) consumption it would be ranked above Argentina and the energy could power all the kettles in the UK for 27 years. Although this sounds shocking when framed this way, it should be remembered that the amount of electricity consumed each year by home devices in the US alone that are always-on but not active could power the entire Bitcoin network for a year, thereby highlighting other important areas for improvement in terms of widespread environmental impact.

Looking Ahead

There has been an explosive rise in NFTs and in only three months, the combined market cap of major NFT projects has increased by a massive 1,785 per cent. Although this has created booming NFT, high valuations of NFT-related tokens and the accompanying new market and investment opportunities, the environmental cost appears to be growing at the same time.

Calls for a carbon tax on cryptocurrencies to help balance out some of the negative consumption, carbon offsetting, and offering prizes (Elon Musk) for new Carbon Capture Systems are all very well but may not be tackling the problem itself. Developing a more energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable way of managing how crypto-currencies work and how they interact with Blockchain may be the way forward in solving some of the environmental problems created by the increased use of cryptocurrencies and the growth of the NFT market. This could involve several steps such as using different, low-energy consensus algorithms, building more energy-efficient blockchains and creating more sustainable mining solutions, and is something that must be addressed soon in order to ensure that Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, which have many benefits, can grow in a way whereby those benefits aren’t outweighed by the environmental cost.

Tech Insight – What Are Zero-Click SERPs?

In this article, we look at what a zero-click searches (SERPs) are, how this has impacted SEO, and what measures can be taken to increase the likelihood of your pages achieving featured snippets.

Zero-Click SERPs

A zero-click search describes when the search engine query is answered by a snippet of text at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).  This means that the searcher has no need to scroll down or click on any of the other search engine results for the query because it has been answered at the top without any clicks. Google introduced the feature to enable users to get instant answers to queries.

Position One Degraded

In terms of natural, organic search engine results, the introduction of a zero-click search (featured snippets) has been another step in the degradation of what would have been position one, following the introduction of pay-per-click ads, Google local listings, maps, and more.

Types of Snippets

Google doesn’t just provide short paragraph snippets for zero-click searches.  It can also answer a question by providing (for example) a bullet point list, an answer involving a conversion (dollars to pounds / kilometres to miles) where the conversion engine calculation has already been done, and more.  Zero-click search snippets can, therefore, be displayed in several formats including a paragraph, a list, a table, or even a video. The “people also ask” (PAA) boxes i.e., the section of questions with dropdown boxes just below the featured snippet also provides ranking opportunities for snippets.

Google Decides

Google’s algorithms/automated system decides which (featured) snippet, taken from its web search listings, and is displayed as a zero-click result at the top of the SERPs.

Fewer Clicks

Displaying an instant, definitive, featured snippet answer at the top of the search results page may be very good news for the page that the snippet comes from but is likely to result in significantly fewer clicks for the other pages returned as results for that key phrase. For example, Wikipedia was reported to have lost more than 20 percent of its traffic after the launch of zero-click searches and SparkToro research from 2019 showed that half of all searches are zero-click searches.

Takes Clicks From #One

Research by Ahrefs shows that the zero-click featured snippet also appears to take clicks from the #1 ranking result. 

What Are The Implications For SEO

Having a definitive answer appear at the top of the search engine results means that searchers are less likely to scroll down and click on any other links.  This makes SEO more difficult, potentially less effective for most pages, and even more competitive.  This could also mean that businesses are more likely to opt for pay-per-click to at least feature prominently on the search page and perhaps be more inclined to make more use of Google’s other suite of tools (e.g. Google My Business).

Hrefs research (based on 112 million keywords) shows that 12.29 percent of search queries have featured snippets in their search results.

What To Do

Google’s featured snippets/zero-click search results come from pages that already rank in the top10 and are mostly triggered by long-tail keywords (i.e. more specific keywords and phrases). Google’s featured snippets are also governed by a set of policies which do not necessarily apply to normal web search listings.  These policies govern things like dangerous, harmful, or hateful content or content that contradicts consensus on public interest topics. With these points in mind, increasing the chances of getting a web page featured as a possible zero-click search result means:

– Use keyword research to target question-type searches, long-tail keywords and higher CTR opportunity keywords.

– Use high-quality information-rich content that is written to be informative for people and not just written for search engine appeal.

– Make sure that pages include relevant facts and stats as these may be given greater relevance by Google.

– Use heading tags and structure the content into concise paragraphs of the kind that could be returned as a featured snippet.

– Include an FAQ section to pick up on question keywords in snippets.

– Include plenty of relevant, high-quality images with relevant text in the alt tags.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The degradation of what used to be the number one position in the search engines has posed challenges to businesses and has created the need to employ multiple means to get noticed and get clicks. This means having to use SEO alongside PPC, social media, Google Tools and more which all adds up to time, effort, and costs.  For a business to get a zero-click search placing (a featured snippet), involves creating high-ranking pages anyway, and paying particular attention to publishing high-quality content that is based on research into real queries and questions, and incorporate stats and information that are of real value and interest.

Tech News: Notable Notes About … The New £50 Note

Bletchley Park code-breaking hero and wronged computer pioneer Alan Turing is to feature on the UK £50 note from 23rd June.

Alan Turing

Despite breaking WWII Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine code, allowing enemy messages to be read and thereby shortening World War II and saving countless lives, Alan Turing’s genius and heroism was overshadowed by a conviction in 1952 for gross indecency relating to Turing’s homosexuality.  The conviction, for having an affair with a 19-year-old Manchester man, led very sadly to Turing being forced to opt for a ‘chemical castration’ (being given female hormones) as the only alternative to imprisonment, which led to Turing committing suicide aged only 41. The UK mathematician, developmental biologist and computer science pioneer was finally granted a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.

Father of Computer Science

After studying at King’s College Cambridge, in 1936 Turing published his paper “On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem”, with which Turing proved that his “universal computing machine” could perform any mathematical computation if it were representable as an algorithm. This, plus his work developed at Bletchley Park is why Turing is widely thought of as the father of modern computer science. Turing was also the co-creator of the first computer chess programme.

Biologist

Alan Turing was also a pioneer of morphogenesis, and used mathematics to understand how natural patterns, such as the spiral formation of the seeds in a sunflower head and the arrangement of spots on a leopard can form.

Features of the £50 Note

The new £50 with Alan Turing’s face on it (the last of the Bank of England’s collection to switch from paper to polymer) will feature :

– A photo of Turing taken in 1951, and a table and mathematical formulae from Turing’s seminal 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem”.

-The Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) Pilot Machine, which was one of the first electronic stored-program digital computers.

– Technical drawings for the British Bombe, the machine specified by Turing and one of the primary tools used to break Enigma-enciphered messages during WWII.

– A quote from Alan Turing, given in an interview to The Times newspaper on 11 June 1949: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.

– A copy of Turing’s signature.

– Ticker tape depicting Alan Turing’s birth date (23 June 1912) in binary code.

– Two key security features: a metallic hologram which changes between the words ‘Fifty’ and ‘Pounds’ when the note is tilted and a large see-through window with a gold and green foil on the front depicting a finely-detailed metallic microchip image.

– A silver foil patch with a 3D image of the coronation crown.

– The Queen’s portrait in the see-through window with ‘£50 Bank of England’ printed twice around the edge. (The small clover shapes on the outside of the window are based on architectural features at Bletchley Park.)

– A smaller see-through window in the bottom corner of the note, the shape of which is based on architectural features at Bletchley Park.

– A red foil patch containing the letters ‘AT’ is based on the image of a sunflower head linked to Turing’s morphogenetic work in later life.

Landmark Moment In Our History

Director of GCHQ Jeremy Fleming said: “Alan Turing’s appearance on the £50 note is a landmark moment in our history. Not only is it a celebration of his scientific genius which helped to shorten the war and influence the technology we still use today, it also confirms his status as one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world. Turing was embraced for his brilliance and persecuted for being gay. His legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive.”

Questions

Questions have, however, been asked about why £50 notes don’t appear to have diverse ethnic minorities represented on them and, apart from the Queen and Jane Austin (who are both white), there are no other women featured on banknotes currently.

The Turing Pattern Project

To mark the launch of the new £50 note, the Bank of England and Sheffield University are running ‘The Turing Pattern Project’ with UK primary schools.  This project shows children how to use Alan Turing’s biological mathematical algorithm, acting as computers would, to create the pattern of a giant puffer-fish.

Twelve Puzzles

To celebrate Alan Turing’s image being featured on the new £50, GCHQ has created its “hardest puzzle ever”, the #TuringChallenge. The online puzzle, which anyone can attempt, requires a string of puzzles which get increasingly difficult to be solved.  If the first 11 puzzles are answered correctly, the answers should take the form of 11 single words or names which the Enigma simulator will be needed to decode. See details here: https://www.gchq.gov.uk/information/turing-challenge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Alan Turing’s incredible mind, aptitude for maths and science, and his work in cracking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park resulted in millions of lives being saved through the shortening of the war in Europe, and in the rapid evolution of computer science that has fed directly into the digital world and workplace that we know today. Despite being a national hero, how Turing was treated is widely regarded as shameful, and the posthumous pardon and apology, along with being honoured on a banknote have been ways in which the UK has been able, in some small but public ways, to right some the wrongs of the past, honour a truly great scientist, and contribute to a greater understanding and acceptance of sexual differences and diversity.

Tech News: Live: Teams Transcriptions

Microsoft has announced the launch of an AI-powered live transcription tool for Teams which provides a written record of the spoken text that occurs during a meeting.

How It Works

The live transcription tool identifies each speaker and automatically captures in real-time what is said by each speaker and makes the transcript available during and after the meeting. It uses AI-based Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology to identify and transcribe what is being said by meeting participants. The technology is able to use a meeting’s invitation, participant names, attachments, and more to improve its accuracy and recognise meeting-specific jargon for each transcript automatically, without any human involvement.

Using Live Transcription

To use the tool, the tenant admin must turn on the ‘Allow Transcription’ policy to enable the meeting organizer/presenter to start a meeting transcription. Participants are notified that live transcription is on and can choose to hide it from their meeting view with a click. If attendees choose not to be identified, they can also turn off speaker attribution in their profile settings. The transcripts are shown to meeting participants in a column down one side of the screen.

Accuracy

Whilst Microsoft is clearly proud of the development of the live transcription tool, the company does point out that it is not guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate and “should not be relied upon in life-altering situation”.

Storage

After each meeting, the saved transcript is made available for reference and download in Teams for desktop and web, in the meeting event in Teams calendar, and through the transcript tile in the chat. The live transcription files are stored in the meeting organizer’s Exchange Online account and only the organiser and tenant admin have permissions to delete it.

Privacy and Security

Microsoft says that no-one at Microsoft can see a meeting’s content, the models are automatically deleted immediately after each meeting, and Microsoft doesn’t use or store this data for improving its own AI.

Availability

The live transcription with speaker attribution tool is available for scheduled Microsoft Teams meetings (in U.S. English) to public cloud customers with licenses for Microsoft 365 E3, Microsoft 365 E5, Microsoft 365 Business Standard, and Microsoft 365 Business Premium SKUs.

Zoom

Microsoft’s announcement follows Zoom’s announcement in February that it is “working towards making automatic closed captioning —what we refer to as “Live Transcription”— available to all of our users in the fall of 2021”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The introduction of this tool is another move in the market battle between the big remote, collaborative working platform competitors Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.  In this case, although Zoom beat Microsoft with the announcement of a live transcript feature, Microsoft has beat Zoom in actually delivering the feature to users.  The live transcript tool is likely to deliver value to business users in terms of helping users to either follow meetings more easily, catch up on meeting content (e.g. if late for the meeting or double-booked), helping multi-tasking (and enabling ‘zoning out’), as well as being an extra accessibility feature.

Tech Tip – Adjust The Sound For Specific Apps

If you would like to have better control of the volume levels of individual apps that you have open on Windows 10 this can easily be done via the settings (Sound) section and the hidden ‘Volume Mixer’. Here’s how:

Using (Sound) Settings

– Click on the Start button and select ‘Settings’ or type settings into the search field next to the Start button.

– Select ‘Settings’ > ‘System’ > ‘Sound’.

– Scroll down (right-hand pane) to ‘Advanced sound options’ and select ‘App Volume and device preferences. Here you can adjust the master volume and the volume of the apps that you have open and systems sounds as a percentage of the master volume.

Using The volume Mixer

– Right-mouse click over the sound symbol (speaker) on the taskbar.

– Select ‘Open Volume Mixer’. Any apps that are open and are making a sound will be visible in the volume mixer.

– Slide the volume sliders to adjust the volume output, or you can choose to mute apps completely.