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Forrester cautions against Blockchain over-exuberance

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While Blockchain technology is worth investigating, CIOs should not be fooled into thinking it is the remedy for all the potential use cases currently under discussion, advises Forrester principal analyst, MARTHA BENNETT.

Stories about digital currencies in general, and Bitcoin in particular, are still filling news feeds. However the industry is now more focused on the underlying technology of the blockchain and the concept of the shared ledger.

This is most clearly evidenced by the raft of startups which have been attracting headlines and investment dollars. A number of established companies are also investing in in-depth research and even proof of concept projects.

Despite what the headlines suggest, all blockchain projects are in the early exploratory phases. It’s not something you can buy and deploy and, what’s easily forgotten in all the euphoria, is that very little has actually been proven yet.

This does not discount the future potential of blockchain technologies. There are many startups with interesting technology approaches and compelling use cases, and some of the world’s best-known technology and consulting firms are working on blockchain projects.

However, it is clear that CIOs should critically assess what their needs are and get a much fuller understanding of their options before jumping on board the blockchain bandwagon.

Many a CIO has asked just how seriously they should be taking blockchain technologies, and when this happens the recommendation is to apply some basic but important reality checks.

At the outset it’s important to define what your understanding is. Like ‘cloud’ or ‘big data’, ‘blockchain’ means different things to different people. It’s important to ascertain what a particular person or company means by the term.

Find out which issues the blockchain technology addresses that aren’t possible to address in any other way and, if it does address these, has this been proven? Similarly, if cost savings are being put forward for using blockchain, has this been proven?

There are many interesting projects in the labs at startups, banks, and consulting firms. Many of these are even functioning prototypes, but it’s already conceded that they won’t scale at enterprise level.

In addition to this, Blockchain is a regulatory quagmire and many development companies fall short by not engaging with regulators before they offer the solution to clients.

Looking past the Bitcoin blockchain and its limitations, one can remain fairly upbeat about some of the alternatives. Ethereum, is of particular interest. With its Turing-complete programming language, it is more suited to complex requirements. But it isn’t the perfect solution either for the types of use cases currently put forward for blockchain solutions in an environment involving trusted parties. Hence the emergence of initiatives such as the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project.

In short, companies should apply a five- to ten-year timeframe and keep asking ‘why?’

Blockchain technology today belongs in the research or innovation lab. For each project, there must be a detailed explanation of why and how blockchain is more efficient, secure, and lower cost than any of the available alternatives, as well as being legally acceptable.

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ConceptD: Creatives get a tech brand of their own

The unveiling of a new brand by Acer recognises the massive computing power needed in creative professions, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It’s a crisp Spring morning in Brooklyn. The regular water taxi from Manhattan pulls up at Duggal Greenhouse on the edge of the East River. It’s a building that symbolises the rejuvenation of Brooklyn as a hub of artistic and creative expression.

Inside the vast structure, global computer brand Acer is about to unveil its own tribute to creativity. Company CEO Jason Chen takes to the stage in faded blue jeans and brown t-shirt, underlining the connection of the event to the informality of the area.

“Brooklyn is become more and more diverse,” he tells a gathering of press from around the world, attending the Next@Acer media event. “It’s an area that is up and coming. It represents new lifestyles. And our theme today is turning a new chapter for creativity.”

Every year, Next@Acer is a parade of the cutting edge in gaming and educational laptops and computers. New devices from sub-brands like Predator, Helios and Nitro have gamers salivating. This year is no different, but there is a surprise in store, hinted in Chen’s introduction.

As a grand finale, he calls on stage Angelica Davila, whose day job is senior marketing manager for Acer Latin America. But she also happens to have a Masters degree in computer and electric engineering. A stint at Intel, where she joined a sales and marketing programme for engineers, set her on a new path.

Angelica Davila, marketing manager for Acer Latin America

For the last few months, she has been helping write Acer’s next chapter. She has shepherded into being nothing less than a new brand: ConceptD.

Click here to read more about ConceptD.

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Which voice assistant wins battle of translators?

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Take the most famous phrase from the Godfather – “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” – or “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” from the inaugural address of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and see just how the virtual assistants do in translating them using their newly introduced Neural Machine Translation (NMT) capabilities. One Hour Translation (OHT), the world’s largest online translation service, conducted a study to find out just how accurate these new services are.

OHT used 60 sentences from movies and famous people ranging from the Godfather and Wizard of Oz to Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, US presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy and historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Aesop. The sentences were translated by Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri from English to French, Spanish, Chinese and German and then given to five professional translators for their assessment on a scale of 1-6. 

Google Assistant scored highest in three of the four languages surveyed – English to French, English to German and English to Spanish and second in English to Chinese.  Amazon’s Alexa, whose translation engine is powered by Microsoft Translator, was tops in the English to Chinese category. Apple’s Siri was second place in English to French and English to Spanish and third place in English to German and English to Chinese.  (See chart). All three virtual assistants are compatible with mobile phones.

“The automated assistants’ translation quality was relatively high, which means that assistants are useful for handling simple translations automatically,” says Yaron Kaufman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of OHT. He predicts that “there is no doubt that the use of assistants is growing rapidly, is becoming a part of our lives and will make a huge contribution to the business world.” 

A lot will depend on further improvements in NMT technology, which has revolutionized the field of translation over the past two years.  All the companies active in the field are investing large sums as part of this effort. “OHT is working with several of the leading NMT providers to improve their engines through the use of its hybrid online translation service that combines NMT and human post-editing,” notes Kaufman. He adds that this will no doubt have a huge impact on the use of assistants for translation purposes.

OHT has made a name for itself in assessing the level of translations by NMT engines.  Its ONEs Evaluation Score is a unique human-based assessment of the leading NMT engines conducted on a quarterly basis and used as an industry standard. 

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