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How 2015 predictions ended – and what to do about it

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At the beginning of 2015 some major predictions where made. DAN MATTHEWS & MARTIN GUNNARSSON of IFS look at these and comment on whether they will still hold water in 2016.

At the beginning of 2015 we saw some attention-grabbing predictions that suggested major changes were afoot in the IT industry. There have been some notable developments over the course of the year, but it will be interesting to see whether all of the predictions still hold water as the days grow shorter and we begin to look at what 2016 and onwards may hold in store.

We took some of the key predictions made at the start of the year and looked at them under the microscope to see whether the developments they suggest are likely to come true.

“Hybrid cloud is the future”

From tools to enable group decision on where to place the coffee machine in an office, all the way up to using Office 365 exchange and enterprise CRM systems, cloud services are being used today in a vast array of ways across different environments.

However, very few organisations have adopted full cloud services. Usually only very small and/or new start-ups that don’t have a legacy setups or the funds to purchase infrastructures will go fully into the cloud. Most will operate using a hybrid cloud model because they already have existing business critical infrastructure in place, and this architecture is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

As cloud continues to play a bit-part role, many predict the hybrid setup will become an ever greater part of the ecosystem. Gartner, for example, believes that hybrid enterprise resource planning (ERP) environments will be the norm within five years, and it looks like this will be the case as businesses look to mix third party solutions with their in-house cloud architectures.

Trust in cloud services is growing as more people begin using it in their personal and professional lives. And this isn’t just happening in the general public cloud, the so-called ‘mega cloud’ environments are becoming more trustworthy too, as the likes of Amazon and IBM have developed services that can match the needs of large enterprises. This is leading to this architectural evolution.

Over time, onsite services require replacement or updating. When this happens it’s time for organisations to consider whether to invest in their own services, and the competence requirements that go with it, or to buy that solution as a service within the cloud. As companies often have hundreds of different solutions used by different people, cloud can be a more effective way of delivering business critical services.

A hybrid infrastructure enables an organisation to try things out in pockets, ring-fencing a particular development to test it first before instigating a full rollout. The ability to test updates and solutions within a small environment before full implementation can make the end result more effective and less susceptible to bugs that may only be spotted within a live environment.

So if you’re planning updates, what should you do? There are three key things to think about:

1)    Maintain a continuous inventory on what cloud services your people are using – try and catch up with people and what they’re doing to try to pre-empt them. For example, if they’re using Google Docs a lot, make it an official service to use, then you can manage it more effectively

2)    As you’re updating, renovating, replacing legacy systems – consider whether to instead use the cloud – carry out a full cost/benefit analysis of every service

3)    Go and use the big public cloud services where possible as they have solutions around the world, and the best communications backbone to support them

“Mobility is the new normal”

The growth of hybrid cloud solutions is also helping to create a new normal for a mobile workforce, where business smartphones are a core part of business implementation and delivery. At the start of the year some predicted mobility would become a much more dominant factor within the business landscape. While it is true that enterprise mobility is on the rise, we should not lose sight of the fact most of what we do and achieve is done at a desk.

The fact is that mobility really means more than just the device that fits in your pocket. Technology development means that bulky laptops are being replaced by powerful tablets. The Microsoft Surface Pro, for example, has the power of a laptop but the mobility of a tablet that enables an interface where the user can work anywhere in the same way that they would in a traditional office environment.

What does this mean for companies? It means that when selecting software, flexibility is key. It simply has to work across a wide range of devices. This is particularly important when you consider that there are three main groups of users; casual, professional and general.

Casual users are driven by what works best for them, and will choose devices to match this wish. This is where you will find the widest array of devices and platforms. Professional users, such as a mobile workforce, are usually more open to being supplied with a certain device to fit with their needs, but remember they also double up as casual users too as they will want to do simple tasks like checking email. General office users are those based in the office with little mobile movement.

When considering an organisation’s mobility policy businesses need to:

1)    Decide whether to try and control the devices and apps people use, or let people choose for themselves? But bear in mind not everyone will agree with your policy (particularly if it impinges on their freedom) and may opt to use their own devices

2)    Be platform agnostic, especially if you choose not to control the devices people choose. Services need to operate across all three major mobile operating systems, because people will choose what works best for them, not necessarily what works best for you.

“Underwhelming wearables”

A major buzzword in mobility is wearables. It’s an area where there has been disappointment in 2015 as it hasn’t come true in the way many had hoped it would – Google Glass was arguably one of the highest profile wearable flops on the consumer market. While it’s still a very interesting avenue the scale simply hasn’t happened in 2015. What’s interesting is that others are now looking at this differently. Sony, for example, is designing smart glasses that will be used by professionals, not consumers as Glass originally was due to be.

So what should the IT department do when considering a wearable policy?

1)    Wait. Watch the market and monitor for interesting innovations but don’t necessarily invest yet, there’s probably still more to come

2)    Don’t think that they will necessarily replace established methods. Using a warehouse as an example, many already have audio instructions delivered by an earpiece and workers use finger-mounted barcode scanners. Make sure you’re thinking through the real difference wearable technology will make, and the value it will add

“Internet of Things will become about software not hardware, platforms not devices”

The Internet of Things (IoT) has spawned a wide variety of quirky ideas, from smart fridges that can tell you when you need more milk to smart homes that ‘know’ you’re home and can control the heating accordingly. In truth though we’re some way from seeing IoT in the mainstream.

Industrial examples of IoT do crop up, though they are hardly commonplace – it’s a slower game. This is largely because examples of IoT in the field tend to be unique solutions to a given challenge, and so standardisation is limited. The benefits and techniques of IoT are not commonly understood and it is a broadly unproven technology, so it takes a far-sighted business to see how it could best use IoT. Then, from a practical standpoint, that business would need to investigate and install the various components required to make a solution work, and it would have to learn how to go about doing business in a way that takes advantage of the technology and either reduces costs or drives revenue growth.

With that in mind it’s important to consider the following when debating whether to roll out IoT:

1)    Do you have the money to invest in it now and will it actually deliver a return on your investment?

2)    Start at the end. Think about what your end goal will be before you think about whether it’s worth that initial investment

“Investment in Software-as-a-Service will grow”

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is now a commonly used phrase, with many predicting a rapid uptake by business. PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), for example, has predicted $78 billion will be invested by 2016.

There are a range of options when purchasing SaaS solutions. The cheaper and potentially easier – at the start – is buying a solution off the shelf that someone else controls. While this may be useful in some situations, in a context where a degree of control is required this can cause pain for the organisation – having an update forced upon your team when they’re in the middle of a big project isn’t going to help the company. In some instances, you will require more control over the solution, and need to be able to make special requests and time updates to fit with the company demands.

This is, of course, in contrast to the growth of a hybrid cloud infrastructure, because the SaaS model often relies on third party architecture. Deploying software platforms into the cloud can be fast, secure and cost-effective, but only if it fits with the company. SaaS won’t work for every business, because every business is different. If, for example, you’re a startup that doesn’t want to or isn’t able to build out its IT team, a SaaS model makes sense. But if your company is security heavy with multiple firewalls and restrictions, it may be that a private cloud infrastructure without SaaS is a better direction – it really depends on the context as to whether this is a good model and will help to decide if this growth really will continue at this level.

There are two alternatives to this model that organisations could implement. Multitenant and single tenant. Multitenant works where you have lots of companies operating within the same database system, for example a large multinational with many brands with the parent company, and this can work for them. However, it does mean you are restricted as to what type customisations and configurations you can make.

The other primary alternative is single tenant, which can be much more effective. Organisations pay on a subscription basis with access to a hybrid cloud solution that incorporates a degree of SaaS and security through the private cloud partition. This enables the individual business to choose what it wants according to its needs, without constraints, and is much more secure.

Choosing a SaaS model to fit your organisation’s needs therefore requires thought and you should consider the following before diving in:

1)    Think about the level of control you need. If you’re running a mail server then you won’t need much, but if you’re developing a business critical solution you need as much control as possible, and this affects the investment decision

2)    Seriously consider the single tenant option, as it can create a more secure environment that is able to adapt to the needs of the business

There’s no doubting we’re on course for more impressive developments within IT, and the next few years will be an exciting time to work in the industry. What will be interesting to see is what the ‘next big thing’ is and if, under scrutiny, predictions around it are actually likely to come true.

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Why your first self-driving car ride will be in a robotaxi

Autonomous driving will take longer than we expect, and involve less ownership than the industry would like, writes Intel’s AMNON SHASHUA

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As we all watch automakers and autonomous tech companies team up in various alliances, it’s natural to wonder about their significance and what the future will bring. Are we realizing that autonomous driving technology and its acceptance by society could take longer than expected? Is the cost of investing in such technology proving more than any single organization can sustain? Are these alliances driven by a need for regulation that will be accepted by governments and the public or for developing standards on which manufacturers can agree?

The answers are likely a bit of each, which makes it a timely opportunity to review the big picture and share our view of where Intel and Mobileye stand in this landscape.

Three Aspects to Auto-Tech-AI

There are three aspects to automotive-technology-artificial intelligence (auto-tech-AI) that are unfolding:

  1. Advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS)
  2. Robotaxi ride-hailing as the future of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS)
  3. Series-production passenger car autonomy

With ADAS technologies, the driver remains in control while the system intervenes when necessary to prevent accidents. This is especially important as distracted driving grows unabated. Known as Levels 0-2 as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), ADAS promises to reduce the probability of an accident to infinitesimal levels. This critical phase of auto-tech-AI is well underway, with today’s penetration around 22%, a number expected to climb sharply to 75% by 2025.1

Meanwhile, the autonomous driving aspect of auto-tech-AI is coming in two phases: robotaxi MaaS and series-production passenger car autonomy. What has changed in the mindset of many companies, including much of the auto industry, is the realization that those two phases cannot proceed in parallel.

Series-production passenger car autonomy (SAE Levels 4-5) must wait until the robotaxi industry deploys and matures. This is due to three factors: cost, regulation and geographic scale. Getting all factors optimized simultaneously has proven too difficult to achieve in a single leap, and it is why many in the industry are contemplating the best path to achieve volume production. Many industry leaders are realizing it is possible to stagger the challenges if the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) aims first at the robotaxi opportunity.

Cost: The cost of a self-driving system (SDS) with its cameras, radars, lidars and high-performance computing is in the tens of thousands of dollars and will remain so for the foreseeable future. This cost level is acceptable for a driverless ride-hailing service, but is simply too expensive for series-production passenger cars. The cost of SDS should be no more than a few thousand dollars – an order of magnitude lower than today’s costs – before such capability can find its way to series-production passenger cars.

Regulation: Regulation is an area that receives too little attention. Companies deep in the making of SDSs know that it is the stickiest issue. Beside the fact that laws for granting a license to drive are geared toward human drivers, there is the serious issue of how to balance safety and usefulness in a manner that is acceptable to society.

It will be easier to develop laws and regulations governing a fleet of robotaxis than for privately-owned vehicles. A fleet operator will receive a limited license per use case and per geographic region and will be subject to extensive reporting and back-office remote operation. In contrast, licensing such cars to private citizens will require a complete overhaul of the complex laws and regulations that currently govern vehicles and drivers.

The auto industry is gradually realising that autonomy must wait until regulation and technology reach equilibrium, and the best place to get this done is through the robotaxi phase.

Scale: The third factor, geographic scale, is mostly a challenge of creating high-definition maps with great detail and accuracy, and of keeping those maps continuously updated. The geographic scale is crucial for series-production driverless cars because they must necessarily operate “everywhere” to fulfil the promise of the self-driving revolution. Robotaxis can be confined to geofenced areas, which makes it possible to postpone the issue of scale until the maturity of the robotaxi industry.

When the factors of cost, regulation and scale are taken together, it is understandable why series-production passenger cars will not become possible until after the robotaxi phase.

As is increasingly apparent, the auto industry is gravitating towards greater emphasis on their Level 2 offerings. Enhanced ADAS – with drivers still in charge of the vehicle at all times – helps achieve many of the expected safety benefits of AVs without bumping into the regulatory, cost and scale challenges.

At the same time, automakers are solving for the regulatory, cost and scale challenges by embracing the emerging robotaxi MaaS industry. Once MaaS via robotaxi achieves traction and maturity, automakers will be ready for the next (and most transformative) phase of passenger car autonomy.

The Strategy for Autonomy

With all of this in mind, Intel and Mobileye are focused on the most efficient path to reach passenger car autonomy. It requires long-term planning, and for those who can sustain the large investments ahead, the rewards will be great. Our path forward relies on four focus areas:

  • Continue at the forefront of ADAS development. Beyond the fact that ADAS is the core of life-saving technology, it allows us to validate the technological building blocks of autonomous vehicles via tens of new production programs a year with automakers that submit our technology to the most stringent safety testing. Our ADAS programs – more than 34 million vehicles on roads today – provide the financial “fuel” to sustain autonomous development activity for the long run.
  • Design an SDS with a backbone of a camera-centric configuration. Building a robust system that can drive solely based on cameras allows us to pinpoint the critical safety segments for which we truly need redundancy from radars and lidars. This effort to avoid unnecessary over-engineering or “sensor overload” is key to keeping the cost low.
  • Build on our Road Experience Management (REM)™ crowdsourced automatic high-definition map-making to address the scale issue. Through existing contracts with automakers, we at Mobileye expect to have more than 25 million cars sending road data by 2022.
  • Tackle the regulatory issue through our Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) formal model of safe driving, which balances the usefulness and agility of the robotic driver with a safety model that complies with societal norms of careful driving.

At Intel and Mobileye, we are all-in on the global robotaxi opportunity. We are developing technology for the entire robotaxi experience – from hailing the ride on your phone, through powering the vehicle and monitoring the fleet. Our hands-on approach with as much of the process as possible enables us to maximize learnings from the robotaxi phase and be ready with the right solutions for automakers when the time is right for series-production passenger cars.

On the way, we will help our partners deliver on the life-saving safety revolution of ADAS. We are convinced this will be a powerful and historic example of the greatest value being realized on the journey.

Professor Amnon Shashua is senior vice president at Intel Corporation and president and chief executive officer of Mobileye, an Intel company.

1Wolfe Research 2019.

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Sea of Solitude represents mental health issues through gaming

It’s a game that provides a tasteful visual representation of mental health issues. BRYAN TURNER dives into the Sea of Solitude.

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Disclaimer: This review is based on four hours of gameplay.

Sea of Solitude, the latest adventure game by Jo-Mei Games and EA Games, takes a sobering look at loneliness. It represents this loneliness visually, using light and dark environmental changes, as well as creatures players must encounter. The main character, Kay, must make it through the sea without finding herself trapped in a sea of loneliness. She meets fantastical creatures along her journey, and she must help them solve their challenges while keeping herself in a sane environment.

The game is systematic in the way it represents its important aspects. It starts with a striking visual art style and a soft storyline, which gives characters a chance to absorb the beauty of the game. As one gets a hang of the controls and used to the art style, the story kicks it up a few notches to reveal the harrowing backstories of the creatures that reside in the sea Kay must travel.

In particular, it features a creature that keeps flying away from Kay. This was frustrating because the previous chapter of the game presents a backstory for the creature that was not only devastating to the main character, but also to the player. Once Kay meets this creature, players must be ready to cry. It’s a brilliantly crafted story and hats off to Jo-Mei Games for being great storytellers.

Cornelia Geppert, CEO of Jo-Mei Games, told EA: “Sea of Solitude centres on the essence of loneliness and tugs on the heartstrings of its players by mirroring their own reality. It’s by far the most artistic and personal project I’ve ever created, written during a very emotional time in my life. Designing characters based on emotions was a deeply personal achievement for our team and we’re so excited for players to soon experience Kay’s powerful story of self-discovery and healing.”

Generally, I steer clear of games that are metaphors about mental health issues because they tend to be crass in how they address mental health. Sea of Solitude is quite different because of its level of relatability. Other games about mental health tend to be about a specific disorder that not many people experience, while loneliness is something that so many of us experience. Additionally, the representation of how loneliness affects Kay in the real world is sharp but tasteful. The combination of relatability and respectful representation is what makes the game’s story so brilliant.

Another great aspect of this game is the music scoring. It uses sound and the absence of sound very carefully to invoke the right feelings expected from players. The game wouldn’t be as good with the sound off and subtitles on, so future players are recommended to turn up the volume or put on headphones.

The game is long for an indie game, at around three or four hours of gameplay until the end is reached. Several sources say there is a hidden ending, so players can look out for that in a second playthrough.

The game’s story isn’t perfect, though. The eventual sameness of creature encounters is a little disappointing. This may be down to the expectation of being extremely devastated by all the stories of the creatures, especially when one is less than devastated by the subsequent stories. One of the most affecting creature stories was also presented at the beginning of the game, which set the bar very high for the rest of the creatures.

One creature, in particular, tries very hard to have the greatest emotional impact, but this comes across as blunt and dampens the meaning of what it was supposed to represent.

While I didn’t mind sharp representation, the perception of themes like bullying, estrangement, and suicidal thoughts may vary in appropriateness from player to player. Prospective players with existing painful mental health issues should consult gameplay videos, like the one below, before purchasing the game, to gauge appropriateness.

Overall, the game is incredible at connecting with what it is to be human and what it means to be lonely. Dealing with issues as physical creatures is a great touch, as the main character tends to resolve the problems of the creature by understanding what the problems mean.

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