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Daily Archives: March 23, 2020
Posted: March 23, 2020 at 11:46 am
For a child prodigy, learning didnt always come easily to Derek Haoyang Li. When he was three, his father a famous educator and author became so frustrated with his progress in Chinese that he vowed never to teach him again. He kicked me from here to here, Li told me, moving his arms wide.
Yet when Li began school, aged five, things began to click. Five years later, he was selected as one of only 10 students in his home province of Henan to learn to code. At 16, Li beat 15 million kids to first prize in the Chinese Mathematical Olympiad. Among the offers that came in from the countrys elite institutions, he decided on an experimental fast-track degree at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. It would enable him to study maths, while also covering computer science, physics and psychology.
In his first year at university, Li was extremely shy. He came up with a personal algorithm for making friends in the canteen, weighing data on group size and conversation topic to optimise the chances of a positive encounter. The method helped him to make friends, so he developed others: how to master English, how to interpret dreams, how to find a girlfriend. While other students spent the long nights studying, Li started to think about how he could apply his algorithmic approach to business. When he graduated at the turn of the millennium, he decided that he would make his fortune in the field he knew best: education.
In person, Li, who is now 42, displays none of the awkwardness of his university days. A successful entrepreneur who helped create a billion-dollar tutoring company, Only Education, he is charismatic, and given to making bombastic statements. Education is one of the industries that Chinese people can do much better than western people, he told me when we met last year. The reason, he explained, is that Chinese people are more sophisticated, because they are raised in a society in which people rarely say what they mean.
Li is the founder of Squirrel AI, an education company that offers tutoring delivered in part by humans, but mostly by smart machines, which he says will transform education as we know it. All over the world, entrepreneurs are making similarly extravagant claims about the power of online learning and more and more money is flowing their way. In Silicon Valley, companies like Knewton and Alt School have attempted to personalise learning via tablet computers. In India, Byjus, a learning app valued at $6 billion, has secured backing from Facebook and the Chinese internet behemoth Tencent, and now sponsors the countrys cricket team. In Europe, the British company Century Tech has signed a deal to roll out an intelligent teaching and learning platform in 700 Belgian schools, and dozens more across the UK. Their promises are being put to the test by the coronavirus pandemic with 849 million children worldwide, as of March 2020, shut out of school, were in the midst of an unprecedented experiment in the effectiveness of online learning.
But its in China, where President Xi Jinping has called for the nation to lead the world in AI innovation by 2030, that the fastest progress is being made. In 2018 alone, Li told me, 60 new AI companies entered Chinas private education market. Squirrel AI is part of this new generation of education start-ups. The company has already enrolled 2 million student users, opened 2,600 learning centres in 700 cities across China, and raised $150m from investors. The companys chief AI officer is Tom Mitchell, the former dean of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, and its payroll also includes a roster of top Chinese talent, including dozens of super-teachers an official designation given to the most expert teachers in the country. In January, during the worst of the outbreak, it partnered with the Shanghai education bureau to provide free products to students throughout the city.
Though the most ambitious features have yet to be built into Squirrel AIs system, the company already claims to have achieved impressive results. At its HQ in Shanghai, I saw footage of downcast human teachers who had been defeated by computers in televised contests to see who could teach a class of students more maths in a single week. Experiments on the effectiveness of different types of teaching videos with test audiences have revealed that students learn more proficiently from a video presented by a good-looking young presenter than from an older expert teacher.
When we met, Li rhapsodised about a future in which technology will enable children to learn 10 or even 100 times more than they do today. Wild claims like these, typical of the hyperactive education technology sector, tend to prompt two different reactions. The first is: bullshit teaching and learning is too complex, too human a craft to be taken over by robots. The second reaction is the one I had when I first met Li in London a year ago: oh no, the robot teachers are coming for education as we know it. There is some truth to both reactions, but the real story of AI education, it turns out, is a whole lot more complicated.
At a Squirrel AI learning centre high in an office building in Hangzhou, a city 70 miles west of Shanghai, a cursor jerked tentatively over the words Modern technology has opened our eyes to many things. Slouched at a hexagonal table in one of the centres dozen or so small classrooms, Huang Zerong, 14, was halfway through a 90-minute English tutoring session. As he worked through activities on his MacBook, a young woman with the kindly manner of an older sister sat next to him, observing his progress. Below, the trees of Xixi National Wetland Park barely stirred in the afternoon heat.
A question popped up on Huangs screen, on which a virtual dashboard showed his current English level, unit score and learning focus along with the sleek squirrel icon of Squirrel AI.
India is famous for ________ industry.
Huang read through the three possible answers, choosing to ignore treasure and typical and type t-e-c-h-n-o-l-o-g-y into the box.
T____ is changing fast, came the next prompt.
Huang looked towards the young woman, then he punched out e-c-h-n-o-l-o-g-y from memory. She clapped her hands together. Good! she said, as another prompt flashed up.
Huang had begun his English course, which would last for one term, a few months earlier with a diagnostic test. He had logged into the Squirrel AI platform on his laptop and answered a series of questions designed to evaluate his mastery of more than 10,000 knowledge points (such as the distinction between belong to and belong in). Based on his answers, Squirrel AIs software had generated a precise learning map for him, which would determine which texts he would read, which videos he would see, which tests he would take.
As he worked his way through the course with the occasional support of the human tutor by his side, or one of the hundreds accessible via video link from Squirrel AIs headquarters in Shanghai its contents were automatically updated, as the system perceived that Huang had mastered new knowledge.
Huang said he was less distracted at the learning centre than he was in school, and felt at home with the technology. Its fun, he told me after class, eyes fixed on his lap. Its much easier to concentrate on the system because its a device. His scores in English also seemed to be improving, which is why his mother had just paid the centre a further 91,000 RMB (about 11,000) for another year of sessions: two semesters and two holiday courses in each of four subjects, adding up to around 400 hours in total.
Anyone can learn, Li explained to me a few days later over dinner in Beijing. You just needed the right environment and the right method, he said.
The idea for Squirrel AI had come to him five years earlier. A decade at his tutoring company, Only Education, had left him frustrated. He had found that if you really wanted to improve a students progress, by far the best way was to find them a good teacher. But good teachers were rare, and turnover was high, with the best much in demand. Having to find and train 8,000 new teachers each year was limiting the amount students learned and the growth of his business.
The answer, Li decided, was adaptive learning, where an intelligent computer-based system adjusts itself automatically to the best method for an individual learner. The idea of adaptive learning was not new, but Li was confident that developments in AI research meant that huge advances were now within reach. Rather than seeking to recreate the general intelligence of a human mind, researchers were getting impressive results by putting AI to work on specialised tasks. AI doctors are now equal to or better than humans at analysing X-rays for certain pathologies, while AI lawyers are carrying out legal research that would once have been done by clerks.
Following such breakthroughs, Li resolved to augment the efforts of his human teachers with a tireless, perfectly replicable virtual teacher. Imagine a tutor who knows everything, he told me, and who knows everything about you.
In Hangzhou, Huang was struggling with the word hurry. On his screen, a video appeared of a neatly groomed young teacher presenting a three-minute masterclass about how to use the word hurry and related phrases (in a hurry etc). Huang watched along.
Moments like these, where a short teaching input results in a small learning output, are known as nuggets. Lis dream, which is the dream of adaptive education in general, is that AI will one day provide the perfect learning experience by ensuring that each of us get just the right chunk of content, delivered in the right way, at the right moment for our individual needs.
One way in which Squirrel AI improves its results is by constantly hoovering up data about its users. During Huangs lesson, the system continuously tracked and recorded every one of his key strokes, cursor movements, right or wrong answers, texts read and videos watched. This data was time-stamped, to show where Huang had skipped over or lingered on a particular task. Each nugget (the video to watch or text to read) was then recommended to him based on an analysis of his data, accrued over hundreds of hours of work on Squirrels platform, and the data of 2 million other students. Computer tutors can collect more teaching experience than a human would ever be able to collect, even in a hundred years of teaching, Tom Mitchell, Squirrel AIs chief AI officer, told me over the phone a few weeks later.
The speed and accuracy of Squirrel AIs platform will depend, above all, on the number of student users it manages to sign up. More students equals more data. As each student works their way through a set of knowledge points, they leave a rich trail of information behind them. This data is then used to train the algorithms of the thinking part of the Squirrel AI system.
This is one reason why Squirrel AI has integrated its online business with bricks-and-mortar learning centres. Most children in China do not have access to laptops and high-speed internet. The learning centres mean the company can reach kids they otherwise would not be able to. One of the reasons Mitchell says he is glad to be working with Squirrel AI is the sheer volume of data that the company is gathering. Were going to have millions of natural examples, he told me with excitement.
The dream of a perfect education delivered by machine is not new. For at least a century, generations of visionaries have predicted that the latest inventions will transform learning. Motion pictures, wrote the American inventor Thomas Edison in 1922, are destined to revolutionise our schools. The immersive power of movies would supposedly turbo-charge the learning process. Others made similar predictions for radio, television, computers and the internet. But despite small successes the Open University, TV universities in China in the 1980s, or Khan Academy today, which reaches millions of students with its YouTube lessons teachers have continued to teach, and learners to learn, in much the same way as before.
There are two reasons why todays techno-evangelists are confident that AI can succeed where other technologies failed. First, they view AI not as a simple innovation but as a general purpose technology that is, an epochal invention, like the printing press, which will fundamentally change the way we learn. Second, they believe its powers will shed new light on the working of the human brain how repetitive practice grows expertise, for instance, or how interleaving (leaving gaps between learning different bits of material) can help us achieve mastery. As a result, we will be able to design adaptive algorithms to optimise the learning process.
UCL Institute of Education professor and machine learning expert Rose Luckin believes that one day we might see an AI-enabled Fitbit for the mind that would allow us to perceive in real-time what an individual knows, and how fast they are learning. The device would use sensors to gather data that forms a precise and ever-evolving map of a persons abilities, which could be cross-referenced with insights into their motivational and nutritional state, say. This information would then be relayed to our minds, in real time, via a computer-brain interface. Facebook is already carrying out research in this field. Other firms are trialling eye tracking and helmets that monitor kids brainwaves.
The supposed AI education revolution is not here yet, and it is likely that the majority of projects will collapse under the weight of their own hype. IBMs adaptive tutor Knewton was pulled from US schools under pressure from parents concerned about their kids privacy, while Silicon Valleys Alt School, launched to much fanfare in 2015 by a former Google executive, has burned through $174m of funding without landing on a workable business model. But global school closures owing to coronavirus may yet relax public attitudes to online learning many online education companies are offering their products for free to all children out of school.
Daisy Christodoulou, a London-based education expert, suggests that too much time is spent speculating on what AI might one day do, rather than focusing on what it already can. Its estimated that there are 900 million young people around the world today who arent currently on track to learn what they need to thrive. To help those kids, AI education doesnt have to be perfect it just needs to slightly improve on what they currently have.
In their book The Future of the Professions, Richard and Daniel Susskind argue that we tend to conceive of occupations as embodied in a person a butcher or baker, doctor or teacher. As a result, we think of them as too human to be taken over by machines. But to an algorithm, or someone designing one, a profession appears as something else: a long list of individual tasks, many of which may be mechanised. In education, that might be marking or motivating, lecturing or lesson planning. The Susskinds believe that where a machine can do any one of these tasks better and more cheaply than the average human, automation of that bit of the job is inevitable.
The point, in short, is that AI doesnt have to match the general intelligence of humans to be useful or indeed powerful. This is both the promise of AI, and the danger it poses. Peoples behaviour is already being manipulated, Luckin cautioned. Devices that might one day enhance our minds are already proving useful in shaping them.
In May 2018, a group of students at Hangzhous Middle School No 11 returned to their classroom to find three cameras newly installed above the blackboard; they would now be under full-time surveillance in their lessons. Previously when I had classes that I didnt like very much, I would be lazy and maybe take naps, a student told the local news, but I dont dare be distracted after the cameras were installed. The head teacher explained that the system could read seven states of emotion on students faces: neutral, disgust, surprise, anger, fear, happiness and sadness. If the kids slacked, the teacher was alerted. Its like a pair of mystery eyes are constantly watching me, the student told reporters.
The previous year, Chinas state council had launched a plan for the role AI could play in the future of the country. Underpinning it were a set of beliefs: that AI can harmonise Chinese society; that for it to do so, the government should store data on every citizen; that companies, not the state, were best positioned to innovate; that no company should refuse access to the government to its data. In education, the paper called for new adaptive online learning systems powered by big data, and all-encompassing ubiquitous intelligent environments or smart schools.
At AIAED, a conference in Beijing hosted by Squirrel AI, which I attended in May 2019, classroom surveillance was one of the most discussed topics but the speakers tended to be more concerned about the technical question of how to optimise the effectiveness of facial and bodily monitoring technologies in the classroom, rather than the darker implications of collecting unprecedented amounts of data about children. These ethical questions are becoming increasingly important, with schools from India to the US currently trialling facial monitoring. In the UK, AI is being used today for things like monitoring student wellbeing, automating assessment and even in inspecting schools. Ben Williamson of the Centre for Research in Digital Education explains that this risks encoding biases or errors into the system and raises obvious privacy issues. Now the school and university might be said to be studying their students too, he told me.
While cameras in the classroom might outrage many parents in the UK or US, Lenora Chu, author of an influential book about the Chinese education system, argues that in China anything that improves a childs learning tends to be viewed positively by parents. Squirrel AI even offers them the chance to watch footage of their childs tutoring sessions. Theres not that idea here that technology is bad, said Chu, who moved from the US to Shanghai 10 years ago.
Rose Luckin suggested to me that a platform like Squirrel AIs could one day mean an end to Chinas notoriously punishing gaokao college entrance exam, which takes place for two days every June and largely determines a students education and employment prospects. If technology tracked a student throughout their school days, logging every keystroke, knowledge point and facial twitch, then the perfect record of their abilities on file could make such testing obsolete. Yet a system like this could also furnish the Chinese state or a US tech company with an eternal ledger of every step in a childs development. It is not hard to imagine the grim uses to which this information could be put for instance, if your behaviour in school was used to judge, or predict, your trustworthiness as an adult.
On the one hand, said Chu, the CCP wants to use AI to better prepare young people for the future economy, and to close the achievement gap between rural and urban schools. To this end, companies like Squirrel AI receive government support, such as access to prime office space in top business districts. At the same time, the CCP, as the state council put it, sees AI as opportunity of the millennium for social construction. That is, social control. The ability of AI to grasp group cognition and psychological changes in a timely manner through the surveillance of peoples movements, spending and other behaviours means it can play an irreplaceable role in effectively maintaining social stability.
The surveillance state is already penetrating deep into peoples lives. In 2019, there was a significant spike in China in the registration of patents for facial recognition and surveillance technology. All new mobile phones in China must now be registered via a facial scan. At the hotels I stayed in, Chinese citizens handed over their ID cards and checked in using face scanners. On the high-speed train to Beijing, the announcer repeatedly warned travellers to abide by the rules in order to maintain their personal credit. The notorious social credit system, which has been under trial in a handful of Chinese cities ahead of an expected nationwide roll out this year, awards or detracts points from an individuals trustworthiness score, which affects their ability to travel and borrow money, among other things.
The result, explained Chu, is that all these interventions exert a subtle control over what people think and say. You sense how the wind is blowing, she told me. For the 12 million Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, however, that control is anything but subtle. Police checkpoints, complete with facial scanners, are ubiquitous. All mobile phones must have Jingwang (clean net) app installed, allowing the government to monitor your movements and browsing. Iris and fingerprint scans are required to access health services. As many as 1.5 million Uighurs, including children, have been interned at some point in a re-education camp in the interests of harmony.
As we shape the use of AI in education, its likely that AI will shape us too. Jiang Xueqin, an education researcher from Chengdu, is sceptical that it will be as revolutionary as proponents claim. Parents are paying for a drug, he told me over the phone. He thought tutoring companies such as New Oriental, TAL and Squirrel AI were simply preying on parents anxieties about their kids performance in exams, and only succeeding because test preparation was the easiest element of education to automate a closed system with limited variables that allowed for optimisation. Jiang wasnt impressed with the progress made, or the way that it engaged every child in a desperate race to conform to the measures of success imposed by the system.
One student I met at the learning centre in Hangzhou, Zhang Hen, seemed to have a deep desire to learn about the world she told me how she loved Qu Yuan, a Tang dynasty romantic poet, and how she was a fan of Harry Potter but that wasnt the reason she was here. Her goal was much simpler: she had come to the centre to boost her test scores. That may seem disappointing to idealists who want education to offer so much more, but Zhang was realistic about the demands of the Chinese education system. She had tough exams that she needed to pass. A scripted system that helped her efficiently master the content of the high school entrance exam was exactly what she wanted.
On stage at AIAED, Tom Mitchell had presented a more ambitious vision for adaptive learning that went far beyond helping students cram for mindless tests. Much of what he was most excited by was possible only in theory, but his enthusiasm was palpable. As appealing as his optimism was, though, I felt unconvinced. It was clear that adaptive technologies might improve certain types of learning, but it was equally obvious that they might narrow the aims of education and provide new tools to restrict our freedom.
Li insists that one day his system will help all young people to flourish creatively. Though he allows that for now an expert human teacher still holds an edge over a robot, he is confident that AI will soon be good enough to evaluate and reply to students oral responses. In less than five years, Li imagines training Squirrel AIs platform with a list of every conceivable question and every possible response, weighting an algorithm to favour those labelled creative. That thing is very easy to do, he said, like tagging cats.
For Li, learning has always been like that like tagging cats. But theres a growing consensus that our brains dont work like computers. Whereas a machine must crunch through millions of images to be able to identify a cat as the collection of features that are present only in those images labelled cat (two triangular ears, four legs, two eyes, fur, etc), a human child can grasp the concept of cat from just a few real life examples, thanks to our innate ability to understand things symbolically. Where machines cant compute meaning, our minds thrive on it. The adaptive advantage of our brains is that they learn continually through all of our senses by interacting with the environment, our culture and, above all, other people.
Li told me that even if AI fulfilled all of its promise, human teachers would still play a crucial role helping kids learn social skills. At Squirrel AIs HQ, which occupies three floors of a gleaming tower next door to Microsoft and Mobike in Shanghai, I met some of the companys young teachers. Each sat at a work console in a vast office space, headphones on, eyes focused on a laptop screen, their desks decorated with plastic pot plants and waving cats. As they monitored the dashboards of up to six students simultaneously, the face of a young learner would appear on the screen, asking for help, either via a chat box or through a video link. The teachers reminded me of workers in the gig economy, the Uber drivers of education. When I logged on to try out a Squirrel English lesson for myself, the experience was good, but my tutor seemed to be teaching to a script.
Squirrel AIs head of communications, Joleen Liang, showed me photos from a recent trip she had taken to the remote mountains of Henan, to deliver laptops to disadvantaged students. Without access to the adaptive technology, their education would be a little worse. It was a reminder that Squirrel AIs platform, like those of its competitors worldwide, doesnt have to be better than the best human teachers to improve peoples lives, it just needs to be good enough, at the right price, to supplement what weve got. The problem is that it is hard to see technology companies stopping there. For better and worse, their ambitions are bigger. We could make a lot of geniuses, Li told me.
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Posted: at 11:46 am
In the Budget 2020 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a welcome announcement for Indian science over the next five years she proposed spending 8,000 crore (~ $1.2 billion) on a National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications. This promises to catapult India into the midst of the second quantum revolution, a major scientific effort that is being pursued by the United States, Europe, China and others. In this article we describe the scientific seeds of this mission, the promise of quantum technology and some critical constraints on its success that can be lifted with some imagination on the part of Indian scientific institutions and, crucially, some strategic support from Indian industry and philanthropy.
Quantum mechanics was developed in the early 20th century to describe nature in the small at the scale of atoms and elementary particles. For over a century it has provided the foundations of our understanding of the physical world, including the interaction of light and matter, and led to ubiquitous inventions such as lasers and semiconductor transistors. Despite a century of research, the quantum world still remains mysterious and far removed from our experiences based on everyday life. A second revolution is currently under way with the goal of putting our growing understanding of these mysteries to use by actually controlling nature and harnessing the benefits of the weird and wondrous properties of quantum mechanics. One of the most striking of these is the tremendous computing power of quantum computers, whose actual experimental realisation is one of the great challenges of our times. The announcement by Google, in October 2019, where they claimed to have demonstrated the so-called quantum supremacy, is one of the first steps towards this goal.
Besides computing, exploring the quantum world promises other dramatic applications including the creation of novel materials, enhanced metrology, secure communication, to name just a few. Some of these are already around the corner. For example, China recently demonstrated secure quantum communication links between terrestrial stations and satellites. And computer scientists are working towards deploying schemes for post-quantum cryptography clever schemes by which existing computers can keep communication secure even against quantum computers of the future. Beyond these applications, some of the deepest foundational questions in physics and computer science are being driven by quantum information science. This includes subjects such as quantum gravity and black holes.
Pursuing these challenges will require an unprecedented collaboration between physicists (both experimentalists and theorists), computer scientists, material scientists and engineers. On the experimental front, the challenge lies in harnessing the weird and wonderful properties of quantum superposition and entanglement in a highly controlled manner by building a system composed of carefully designed building blocks called quantum bits or qubits. These qubits tend to be very fragile and lose their quantumness if not controlled properly, and a careful choice of materials, design and engineering is required to get them to work. On the theoretical front lies the challenge of creating the algorithms and applications for quantum computers. These projects will also place new demands on classical control hardware as well as software platforms.
Globally, research in this area is about two decades old, but in India, serious experimental work has been under way for only about five years, and in a handful of locations. What are the constraints on Indian progress in this field? So far we have been plagued by a lack of sufficient resources, high quality manpower, timeliness and flexibility. The new announcement in the Budget would greatly help fix the resource problem but high quality manpower is in global demand. In a fast moving field like this, timeliness is everything delayed funding by even one year is an enormous hit.
A previous programme called Quantum Enabled Science and Technology has just been fully rolled out, more than two years after the call for proposals. Nevertheless, one has to laud the governments announcement of this new mission on a massive scale and on a par with similar programmes announced recently by the United States and Europe. This is indeed unprecedented, and for the most part it is now up to the government, its partner institutions and the scientific community to work out details of the mission and roll it out quickly.
But there are some limits that come from how the government must do business with public funds. Here, private funding, both via industry and philanthropy, can play an outsized role even with much smaller amounts. For example, unrestricted funds that can be used to attract and retain high quality manpower and to build international networks all at short notice can and will make an enormous difference to the success of this enterprise. This is the most effective way (as China and Singapore discovered) to catch up scientifically with the international community, while quickly creating a vibrant intellectual environment to help attract top researchers.
Further, connections with Indian industry from the start would also help quantum technologies become commercialised successfully, allowing Indian industry to benefit from the quantum revolution. We must encourage industrial houses and strategic philanthropists to take an interest and reach out to Indian institutions with an existing presence in this emerging field. As two of us can personally attest, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), home to Indias first superconducting quantum computing lab, would be delighted to engage.
R. Vijayaraghavan is Associate Professor of Physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and leads its experimental quantum computing effort; Shivaji Sondhi is Professor of Physics at Princeton University and has briefed the PM-STIAC on the challenges of quantum science and technology development; Sandip Trivedi, a Theoretical Physicist, is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research; Umesh Vazirani is Professor of Computer Science and Director, Berkeley Quantum Information and Computation Center and has briefed the PM-STIAC on the challenges of quantum science and technology development
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iSIGN Media Contributes its Safety Alert Messaging (SAM) Technology Solution to Provide the Public with Instant Mobile Alerts for COVID-19 at No…
Posted: at 11:46 am
TORONTO, March 23, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- iSIGN Media Solutions Inc. (iSIGN or Company) (TSX-V: ISD) (OTC: ISDSF), a leading provider of interactive mobile proximity marketing and public security alert solutions, today announced the offer of free use of its Safety Alert Messaging (SAM) solution to all levels of medical, health and emergency responders across Canada for the next six months.
SAM is a technology based mobile messaging system that enables the controlled broadcast of critical information to registered recipients. Registered recipients can be as broad as the general public, or as narrow as salaried and contract employees and can be assigned into various sub-groups, allowing for messages to be directed only to specific groups or to everyone, depending on needs. Due to SAMs message received alert function, SAM messages are more obvious to recipients when they are received than texts and email.
As an example, should a hospital administrator want to message individual groups of workers, such as doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, etc., iSIGNs backend dashboard can be used to assign all registrants into their respective groups. Then the administrator would simply select who they wished the message to be sent to one group, multiple groups or all groups.
As SAM supports iOS and Android in-app messaging, the SAM app is available in both the Google Play and Apple app stores. Broadcasters log into the SAM dashboard via their web browser, create and then send messages to their registered recipients in a matter of minutes. Sent messages are stored within the dashboard for later reference as required until the sender deletes them.
iSIGN is pleased to announce that the Abington Court Retirement Residence, located in Hamilton has accepted our offer for no charge SAM messaging.
iSIGN has been requested to contact a major health facility located in iSIGNs home city of Richmond Hill, Ontario, who recently honoured iSIGN as one of the Citys four recipients of the 2019 Innovators of the Year.
iSIGN has made the same no charge offer to Hi-Tek Media and its sister company Omni Veil Inc., located in Las Vegas, Nevada, who has gladly accepted. They will be reaching out to their various contacts to extend the same offer.
The goal of iSIGN and Hi-Tek Media/Omni Veil Inc. is to help our respective medical services, governments, schools and communities combat the spread of COVID-19 and aid in the return of normalcy to everyday life.
About iSIGN MediaiSIGN, a Canadian company based in Toronto (Richmond Hill), Ontario is a data-focused, software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that is a pioneering leader in the areas of location-based security alert messaging and proximity marketing utilizing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity in complete privacy. Creators of the Smart suite of products, a patented interactive proximity marketing technology, iSIGN enables the delivery of messages to mobile devices in proximity, with real-time reporting and analytics on a variety of metrics. 2019 winner of Richmond Hills Innovator of the Year award. Partners include IBM, Keyser Retail Solutions, Baylor University, Verizon Wireless, TELUS and Mtrex Network Solutions. http://www.isignmedia.com
About Hi-Tek MediaHi-Tek Media is a full-service digital advertising and marketing company with 21 years of experience in marketing. Hi-Tek is uniquely positioned to provide cutting edge marketing, digital production and media management Hi-Tek is certified with Google and Facebook and the expansion of our Omni Veil Digital Platform will set us apart from our competitors. http://www.Hi-TekMedia.com
About Omni Veil Inc.The Omni Veil is a 24/7 Digital Network based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Network sends out instant traffic notifications, safety messages and branded content for all mobile users. The revolution of the mobile machines Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Application technologies was developed to keep the public notified, consider first responders safety and modernize the way businesses advertise in real time. http://www.theomniveil.com
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In the black: startup pushing ahead commercialising waste-to-activated-carbon technology – @AuManufacturing
Posted: at 11:46 am
Environmental technology company Bygen is taking technology out of University of Adelaide labs and using it to give agricultural waste a higher purpose. Brent Balinski spoke to co-founder and CEO Dr Lewis Dunnigan about using almond shells and other ingredients to supply the growing activated carbon market.
It is hard to find a business with plans unaffected by the unfolding COVID-19 crisis. Startup technology companies, which face a generally complicated life, are seeing things become more complicated still.
But the show, as they say, must go on.
This is the case for Bygen, a University of Adelaide spin-out that recently went through the Startmate accelerators climate cohort. (It is the case for Startmate, too, which is preparing to host its demo day by live stream next month.)
Bygen is commercialising chemical engineering work spun out of the University of Adelaide. This promises a process for low-cost activated carbon out of agricultural waste, following pyrolysis.
According to one market research firm, the global market for activated carbon was $US 4.7 billion in 2015, and will grow 9.4 per cent annually to reach $US 8.1 billion in 2021, or 5,400 kilotons by volume. It is widely used in filtration in the food and beverage industry, in metal extraction, sewage treatment, cleaning up industrial gas produced and many other applications. Prices are roughly $2,000 a tonne currently.
Bygen believes theres a niche in there for a bespoke product, and are targeting an unmet demand for purpose-specific products, where their process allows for the control of pore size.
Bygen has completed an initial $300,000 seed funding round, and is in the middle of a $600,000 second seed round to fund a first full-scale plant. Further, in November last year they announced they had seen early success adapting their process to plastics, turning these into activated carbon and possibly one much-needed answer to Australias acknowledged plastics crisis. It is seeking industrial partners to take this work further.
Late last week @AuManufacturing spoke to CEO Dr Lewis Dunnigan, who founded the company in 2018 with CTO Ben Morton and chemistry senior lecturer Dr Philip Kwong.
@AuManufacturing: Whats the businesss origin story?
Lewis Dunnigan: Im originally from Scotland. I did my chemical engineering degree at the University of Edinburgh. And I came over to Adelaide for six months during my masters degree. Essentially after I finished my masters degree I was offered a scholarship to come do a PhD at the university of Adelaide. So I did that. Six months before I finished my PhD, we actually started the company. As soon as I finished my PhD, I went straight into full-time work. Which was good. We managed to raise some money in between starting the company and me becoming a full time staff member. Ive been in Australia ever since.
@AuManufacturing: Whats the secret sauce that allows you to turn ag waste, and more recently, plastic into activated carbon?
Lewis Dunnigan: Our technology allows us to avoid the hugely energy-intensive nature of conventional means to make activated carbons. So theres two main ways to do it, currently. You either do something called physical activation, which requires temperatures around 1000 degrees, or you have another option which is called chemical activation and involves the use of really strong acids or bases. Both have their negatives. And what we are focused on is the physical activation. What weve developed is an alternative to those extremely high-temperature methods of making activated carbon. Our methods can operate at much lower temperatures. We can use cheaper gas mixtures. Our reaction times are quicker and also because of our lower temperatures we also have a reduction in the capital costs as well, because we dont need to use the same types of steel that conventional producers need to use.
@AuManufacturing: Roughly speaking, is the Bygen process building on your PhD work or related to it?
Lewis Dunnigan: Basically myself and my co-founder, Ben Morton, we were both PhD students in the same group at Adelaide Uni. And we basically felt like we had two complimentary research projects that we were doing. And if we combine them together we had quite a promising technology for the activated carbon market, which we knew at the time was a large market and the technology has potential commercial implications.
So basically the way the company was founded was while Ben and I were talking about starting a company, independently of that our supervisor actually got us into a waste and recycling accelerator run by Innovyz down at Tonsley and we basically just took off from there.
@AuManufacturing: Tell us about inputs and outputs. I read that youre producing activated carbon from agricultural waste at about 10 kilograms per hour. You might have scaled up since that article. What goes in and what comes out?
Lewis Dunnigan: The first pilot plant we built, like you said, can produce 10 kilograms an hour. We are just finishing off a new machine that can do about four times that, about 40 kilograms an hour. Our ultimate intention is to produce about 500 kilograms an hour or more. The first plant was very much about proving the technology could work. This one is about getting to that first level of commercialisation.
Essentially for every tonne you put in of weight agricultural waste, you get about 200 to 250 kilograms an hour out. So its about 20 to 25 per cent yield.
@AuManufacturing: And the rest escapes as gas slash heat?
Lewis Dunnigan: Yes, correct. We produce quite a lot of heat as a byproduct. The rest comes out and is turned into a gas that we can burn and we can re-circulate that gas internally for heating.
@AuManufacturing: How have you found the transition from engineer and scientist to entrepreneur? Has it been enjoyable or a headache? Do you miss the lab at all?
Lewis Dunnigan: Ive enjoyed it a lot and Ben has enjoyed it a lot. We have had to learn very, very quickly. But I think that the skills you learn when youre doing a PhD [are useful] in terms of having to be inquisitive about things, having to be really strict in how you use your time and your resources to achieve what you want to achieve. I think that mindset has helped us.
The other stuff that comes with running a company in terms of talking to customers, strategy, marketing, and all those other things weve had to learn really quickly. And our policy has always been that we need to surround ourselves with people with experience and skillsets that we dont have.
@AuManufacturing: Is grape marc a focus as an ag waste feedstock? Youve got plenty of it around Adelaide and its a waste stream in need of higher-value purposes.
Lewis Dunnigan: Thats one of them for sure. We also deal a lot with nutshells, specifically almond shells in the Riverland, as well as with people who produce large quantities of waste wood as well. Each feedstock stock makes a product that has slightly different properties, and therefore is suitable for different activated carbon markets. It really comes down to, whats our first target, and which feedstock should we use for that first market segment that were trying to get into.
@AuManufacturing: I see. I saw more recently that you started looking at plastics. Was there a Eureka moment? How does your process lend itself to processing various types of plastics?
Lewis Dunnigan: This was kind of around the time there were a lot of issues coming up with Australias ability to handle its own recycling, around the time when some countries stopped taking waste from us. And we felt like there was an abundance of plastics without the processing capabilities internally to deal with all that waste. We felt like theoretically we should be able to achieve a good quality activated carbon with some of the plastics that are available. We literally took some waste PET and applied some pre-processing to it, ran it through our process. Obviously there was a bit of optimisation involved in that. There were a few trials. But we managed to prove we could make high-quality activated carbon from it. We produce a lot of heat at the same time, so the plastics [application is] has the potential to have co-generation of activated carbon and electricity. And the good thing about our process is its durable enough to actually take mixed plastics as well. Although theres different qualities of activated carbon from different types of plastics, PET being the best that we found, it can certainly handle mixtures as well.
@AuManufacturing: Thats very handy, as sorting is a massive headache for plastics recycling, and a stray plastic bag in the mix can be a major issue.
Lewis Dunnigan: Yes, absolutely.
@AuManufacturing: What about the mass processed versus activated carbon coming out? Is it a similar sort of situation to wood waste or almond shells?
Lewis Dunnigan: It varies widely across different plastics. For some plastics you can have much more heat and less carbon coming out. Some are okay, PET for example is comparable yield-wise to the agricultural waste that we use. But some plastics give much lower yields of solids than PET does. At the same time theres some plastics that get slightly higher yields than PET. It varies widely and compared to agricultural waste. Generally theyre quite similar, but theres a much wider range.
Our current attitude with the plastics is were very much on the lookout for a partner who can bring the resources to actually commercialise this successfully. Our top priority right now is agricultural, because weve built up a lot of market knowledge around product quality, whereas with the plastics we have less experience with that. So its very much a case of we want to find the right partner to work with us and then use the technology to, to actually get into the markets.
@AuManufacturing: How is the second seed funding round progressing? Obviously there are some complications out there right now.
Lewis Dunnigan: Obviously we are trying to keep on top of the current situation. At the moment it seems to be okay. Were not raising any red red flags right now. Like for most companies, most startups, its a pretty tricky time. We are considering raising a bit more money than we initially planned to give us that security, longer term. But thats just a discussion that we are having with investors right now. But touch wood, it seems to be going quite well right now.
On the technical side there are two things that maybe I could mention please. When I was talking about the technology that we developed, in terms of lower energy, lower cost, um, theres a couple of other things I just wanted to add.
The companys reactor.
The first one is what weve found from doing analysis of the activated carbon on the market as well as market research and talking to customers one of the problems that we found is that the activated carbon thats available is almost like a one-size-fits-all approach. Theres little variation between products, despite their very wide range of applications that activated carbon is used in. What often happens is that customers have to buy different types of carbon, blend it together, do their own in-house R&D and figure out what the right ratio of different products is. Thats not great. What weve moved towards quite lately with our technology is becoming what we term a bespoke activated carbon producer. If you look at environmental remediation, which is probably the area we focus most heavily on, the pollutants that are out there vary widely in terms of their size, their chemistry, their structure. And we can design carbons that are tailored for these differences.
Usually what people look at is the surface area. Theres sort of the attitude that if you have a higher surface area, then that is better. And thats not necessarily always the case.
For PFAS, the firefighting foam, activated carbon is used for that. For remediating it from soil and water. PFAS is actually a very large chemical. Its a family of chemicals. But theyre generally quite large. And with the activated carbon thats out there, most of the pores which are the small holes that give the surface area to the carbon are actually not suited to PFAS in terms of their size and the structure. What we are doing right now is developing something that takes those unique properties of PFS into account, and this is something that were really excited about. Because that same model can be used for essentially any pollutant or any kind of water treatment process, and thats something that I think were very interested in. And weve kind of made it our mission now to become the bespoke activated carbon producer in the world.
And the other thing is, and which is why we got into [accelerator program] Startmate, is by using agricultural waste, our process is actually carbon negative, and that actually results in a net reduction of carbon.
The ag waste would become methane, a really bad green greenhouse gas, as it decomposes.
Absolutely. So either the agricultural waste would decompose into methane and CO2. We stop them from doing that. The other advantage is that the majority of the worlds activated carbon is made from coal. So that is certainly not a carbon negative process. Its about us finding a sustainable and climate-friendly alternative to coal-based activated carbon. To us, that sustainability, low-cost and tailoring approach is what we sell as our unique unique point.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
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PTAB Strategies and Insights – March 2020: Another Patent Ineligible Technology – Adding to the Growing List – JD Supra
Posted: at 11:46 am
Updated: May 25, 2018:
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Brave Enough to Tolerate Failure: China Realigns Research Incentives In Pursuit of Technological Supremacy – Council on Foreign Relations
Posted: at 11:46 am
Lauren Dudley is a research associate in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
China has worked aggressively in recent years to upgrade its domestic innovation system as technology plays an increasingly significant role in great power competition. These measures, including a range of industrial policies to develop industries like artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology, high-end manufacturing, new-energy vehicles, and 5G, seek to establish China as the global technological superpower by 2049. But while China is beginning to lead in some of these industries, misguided research incentives in Chinas innovation ecosystem have limited its innovation potential to date. Quantity crowds out quality.
Technology and Innovation
The Chinese innovation ecosystem suffers from its quantity-based evaluation system, which informs how research grants, promotions, bonuses, and other professional awards are distributed. Researchers are judged on the quantity of papers they publish, SCI credits and impact factors (which measure the impact of scientific work based on the number of citations) they receive, and patents theyre awarded. These are imperfect measures of creativity and originality, and the focus on output consequently discourages researchers from taking on risky projects that are more likely to lead to significant technological breakthroughs.
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A bimonthly newsletter featuring expert commentary from the Digital and Cyberspace Policy program on cybersecurity, digital trade, internet governance, and online privacy.
Chinese patent application data clearly represents this phenomenon. Because Chinas evaluation system rewards researchers who have the most patents, researchers are incentivized to submit patent applications for slightly modified versions of existing technologies or processes, known in China as utility patents. These modifications often only reflect small changes in the product but take less time, have a faster patent application processing time, and are more likely to receive a patent than more innovativeand time-consumingresearch projects. Domestic patent data for basic electric elements, processes that involve a single technical step like drying or coating, reflects this. In 2018, 79 percent of scientists who applied for a utility patent in basic electric elements received a patent. On the other hand, only 30 percent of applicants received invention patents in the same category.
Quantity-over-quality research incentives also explains why China lacks strong results in basic researchthe pursuit of discoveries that radically change our understanding of existing scientific conceptsdespite the Chinese governments recognition that basic research has become central to international competition, opened new fields, and led to many new innovations. Researchers who must publish or perish are unlikely to take on high risk, high reward basic research projects. As a result, only 5 percent of Chinas R&D funds are spent on basic research.
The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and Ministry of Education (MOE) have found that in part as a result of these incentives in Chinas research system, there is a lower level of innovation in China than in other countries. This presents a major problem for China as it seeks technological supremacy in strategic industries. In response, the MOST, MOE, and other science-related Chinese government offices have released a series of policies in the past two months to realign research incentives and improve Chinas innovation ecosystem.
In February, the Chinese government published a plan to begin a one-year trial to improve the science and technology research evaluation system. This policy aims to shift the emphasis away from the quantity of researchers achievements and reorient it towards the quality, contribution, and impact of their findings. It will also reward researchers who contribute to Chinas strategic goals. While the policys language is broad and its proposed system unclear, it states that evaluation systems should be adjusted so that projects with important applications gain 10 percent relative to other projects, projects with strong academic impact gain 30 percent, and projects that make important contributions to Chinas economic and social development or national security gain 50 percent. And if universities do not reverse their tendency to focus on essays, job titles, academic qualifications, and awards when evaluating people and teams, the Chinese government threatens to suspend their access to national science and technology project funds.
Technology and Innovation
Authorities also laid out similar changes to the patent evaluation system. Noting the tendency of Chinese researchers to submit many patent applications for insignificant changes to existing technologies or processes, the Chinese government has instructed universities to continually evaluate projects throughout their lifecycle so that their results are oriented towards outstanding transformations and changing capabilities.
Finally, for researchers to achieve these outstanding results, the Chinese government has called on universities to better encourage basic research. A work plan released by a group of Chinese government departments calls on universities to increase their support of scientists that have the courage to challenge the most cutting-edge scientific problems [and] come up with their own unique innovations. Beyond promoting basic research, the policy also calls on universities to encourage free exploration, give researchers more academic autonomy, and create a research environment that is brave enough to tolerate failure. With this mantra in mind, the Chinese government will expand financial support for research in basic disciplines such as mathematics and physics and strategic technologies including AI and smart manufacturing.
In effect, the Chinese government is realigning incentives so that more researchers will contribute to Chinas plan to develop core technologies, meet national strategic needs, and form first-mover advantage in emerging industries. If implemented as planned, China will be a step closer to becoming the global leader in emerging technologies, posing a significant challenge to the United States continued commercial success and national security.
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Posted: at 11:46 am
Her message is clear: We are not alone. Its important to social distance, but that doesnt mean were isolated and alone. God is with us, and God has not abandoned us, just as we havent abandoned each other, she said.
At First Congregational Church in Waterloo, the Rev. Scott Spence said Sunday services are being streamed online and posted on Facebook. On Wednesdays, a live streaming prayer service takes place. For most pastors Ive talked to, were all learning as we go and trying to figure it out day by day and using all the different social media platforms. With nursing homes and hospitals restricting access, were also checking in with folks on the phone.
Equally as important, Spence said, is reminding church members that while our buildings are beautiful and beloved, and we take a lot of pride and joy in being there, church is not just the building. The congregation extends beyond the walls and into the community.
The Rev. John Fuller, pastor at Prairie Lakes Church in Cedar Falls, said the church has been streaming sermons and conducting online services, as well as texting and using Facebook for a number of years. Employees use Zoom remote conferencing services so theyre all on the same page, but not in the same room.
We want to keep our focus on how we can serve others during this season. So many vulnerable people need our help, and were texting and Facebooking each of our local partners House of Hope, the Northeast Iowa Food Bank to find out their specific needs and where we can help. We have a hotline so if someone has a need, we will help if we can, Fuller said.
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Posted: at 11:46 am
A particular neuronal circuit in the brains of bats controls their vocalisations. This was recently discovered by biologists at Goethe University Frankfurt. Based on the rhythm with which the circuit oscillated, the Frankfurt researchers were able to predict the kind of sounds the bats were about to make. These research results could contribute to a better understanding of human diseases in which language is impaired such as Parkinsons or Tourette syndrome.
Bats are famous for their sonar-based navigation. They use their extremely sensitive hearing for orientation, emitting ultrasound noises and receiving an image of their surroundings based on the echo. Sebas short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata), for example, finds the fruits that are its preferred food using this echolocation system. At the same time, bats also use their voices in a somewhat deeper frequency range to communicate with other members of their species. Sebas short-tailed bats employ a vocal range for this purpose that is otherwise only found among songbirds and humans. Like humans, they produce sound through the larynx.
Together with his team, neuroscientist Julio C. Hechavarria from the Institute for Cell Biology and Neuroscience at Goethe University investigated brain activity preceding vocalisation in Sebas short-tailed bats. The scientists were able to identify a group of nerve cells that create a circuitry from the frontal lobe to the corpus striatum in the interior of the brain. When this neural circuit fires off rhythmic signals, the bat emits a vocalisation about half a second later. The type of rhythm seemed to determine whether the bats were about to utter echolocation or communication vocalisations.
Since it is nearly impossible to make a prediction within half a second, the Frankfurt researchers trained a computer to test their hypothesis: The computer analysed the recorded sounds and the neural rhythm separately and attempted to make prognoses using the various rhythms. The result: in its predictions of echolocation versus communication vocalisations, the computer was correct about 80 percent of the time. Predictions were particularly accurate when considering signals from the frontal lobe, an area that in humans has been linked to action planning, among other functions.
The Frankfurt scientists argue that the rhythms they observed in the bat brain are similar to neural rhythms often recorded from the human scalp, and concluded that brain rhythms could be linked to sound production in mammals in general.
Julio Hechavarria: For over 50 years, bats have served as an animal model for studying how the brain processes auditory stimuli and how human language develops. For the first time, we were able to show how distant brain regions in bats communicate with each other during vocalization. At the same time, we know that the corresponding brain networks are impaired in individuals who, for example, stutter as a result of Parkinsons disease or emit involuntary noises due to Tourette syndrome. We therefore hope that by continuing to study vocal behaviour in bats, we can contribute to a better understanding of these human diseases.
Kristin Weineck, Francisco Garca-Rosales, Julio C. Hechavarra. Neural oscillations in the fronto-striatal network predict vocal output in bats. PLOS Biology, 2020; 18 (3): e3000658 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000658
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Pond Technologies Holdings Inc :. enters into non-exclusive Technology Licence Agreement with UK-based Remediiate, providing Pond with minimum payment…
Posted: at 11:46 am
MARKHAM, ON, March 23, 2020 /CNW/ - Pond Technologies Holdings Inc. (the "Corporation" or "Pond")(TSX.V: POND), (OTCQB: PNDHF) an ESG company addressing global sustainability challenges of climate change and nutrition, announces that it has, through its subsidiary, Pond Technologies Inc., signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement with London based Remediiate (UK) Ltd. (https://www.remediiate.com/) who intends to develop projects and sell solutions and algae in the UK and Europe focused on the animal feed and aquaculture markets.
Under the terms of the licensing agreement, Remediiate will have the non-exclusive right to use Pond's patents and know-how related to the growth of microalgae and cyanobacteria and related biomass in connection with the development, manufacture, promotion, marketing, advertisement, sale and distribution of certain licensed products of Pond, including its gas management skid, dosing/harvesting/conditioning skid and PLC programming, in the countries and principalities of continental Europe as well as the United Kingdom. Remediiate will also have the right to provide consultancy, installation and support services in respect of such licensed products in such jurisdictions. In addition, Remediiate has the exclusive right in such jurisdictions to sell or otherwise supply the licensed products to certain identified companies.
The term of the license is 5 years (or upon the earlier expiration of all the patents and where there is no possibility of any applications in the patents proceeding to grant) and is automatically renewable thereafter for an additional 5 years provided Remediiate is in material compliance with the agreement at that time.
As consideration for granting the license, Pond shall be paid a fee to be agreed upon, on a case by case basis, related to the separate agreements to be entered into between Remediiate and the end users. Such fees will be based upon, among other things, an hourly rate for Pond's consulting, installation and servicing fees, a percentage of the licensing fee charged to the end user, and Pond's standard list price for its licensed products. In no event will the fee be less than $500,000 per annum, payable quarterly, until December 31, 2021, and thereafter not less than $2,000,000 per annum.
Steve Martin, Pond's CEO, commented, "Europe is a key market for Pond with its forward-looking industrial emitters, tightening regulations and large players in the protein markets. We are delighted to be working with the team at Remediiate who share our belief in the value of algae to profitably utilize carbon emissions while simultaneously dealing with issues of climate change and sustainable food security."
Carlos de Pommes, Remediiate's CEO added "Partnering with an established technology provider has been critical to us in convincing European greenhouse gas emitters and feed providers that algae-based alternative protein has come of age. We can now cost-effectively deploy technology at scale. We are delighted to be working with PondTech who share our values."
About Remediiate (UK) Ltd.Founded in 2017, Remediiate's mission is: Clean the Planet | Feed the World. Remediiate is a UK-based, European-focussed CO2 abatement firm leveraging the power of nature's rock stars - algae - to solve simultaneously two of the world's greatest challenges; carbon emissions from major industrial emitters and the supply of alternative protein for the feed industry. Remediiate's leadership in lighting technology and algae biology enables us to produce on an industrial scale.
About Pond Technologies Holdings Inc.:Located in Markham, Ontario, Pond is a technology company that provides profitable solutions to the global health and wellness challenges of climate change and nutrition. Pond's proprietary growth platform, including patented advanced photonics, optimizes key growth inputs in order to provide a controlled environment that maximizes the growth of algae and other organisms. This enables industrial emitters to generate new revenue streams from the transformation of underutilized CO2 to valuable algae-based products, such as protein for animal feed and nutraceutical products like Chlorella, Spirulina, and Astaxanthin for human consumption. For more information visit https://www.pondtech.com/.
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SOURCE Pond Technologies Holdings Inc.
Canada Newswire, source Canada Newswire English
Business in the time of Corona: Technologies that organisations can leverage to enable a remote working environment – Moneycontrol
Posted: at 11:46 am
As the novel Coronavirus becomes a global pandemic, organisations across the globe have been looking at innovative techniques to keep business going while ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees. Remote working, social distancing, and work from home have emerged as the new buzzwords that everyone is talking of and relying on for seamless operations in these distressing times.
Technology and creative tech products are actually making these concepts a reality by allowing employees to perform their daily duties from the safety of their homes. Heres a quick look at the technologies that are enabling remote working while we wait for the situation to mitigate.
Technology to the rescue: How Cloud-enabled tools can drive remote working
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the tech-driven paradigm shift towards new-age business communication models beyond email, calls, and text messaging were already in full swing. According to market research, with the emergence of Cloud-enabled and mobile-optimized communication tools, the global percentage of people preferring to work from a remote working environment is expected to rise by 38 percent.
Despite the advent of advanced cloud-based enterprise tools, a majority of organisations are still using generic voice-centric implements (such as premise-based PBXs) to enable easy interaction within their company. Hence, to effectively drive greater business communication experience, enterprises need to leverage the power of collaborative, mobile-first Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS)-based tools. Such tools can empower businesses to shift the telecommute traffic entirely to the digital realm, enabling them to provide their employees with a safe and secure working facility that is free from location constraints.
Such an approach can make a huge difference during times of crisis such as the current Coronavirus pandemic when practicing social distancing ought to be everybodys utmost priority. As organisations are rapidly taking cognisance of this fact, the following are some of the tech-enabled strategies that they can utilise to activate a seamless remote working environment for the benefit and safety of their employees and society at large:
Video conferencing as compared to in-person interactions
When people are being advised to go into self-quarantine to avoid getting infected or further spreading the virus the option to attend in-person meetings naturally goes out of the window. One option that professionals then have is to conduct meetings over call or text messages. However, this method too can be easily snubbed in favor of video conferencing which undeniably offers a more immersive experience than a simple phone-centric interaction.
Facilitating mobile PBX connection
Leading market players can enable an organisation to begin their journey towards the Cloud destination. One of the salient features of such a transformation is the virtual phone system that is seamlessly integrated with the existing PBX phone system in an organisation. Such a tool can empower employees to communicate with each other via the PBX system but by using their own mobile phones, irrespective of where they are located.
Integrating customised interactive voice response (IVR) system
Using this feature, organisations can customize an appropriate voice response greeting for any incoming calls that they receive. Besides, tech-enabled supplements can even facilitate the option of capturing the number and voice mails of a caller in case the user is unable to respond. This frees a professional working from home from the unnecessary hassle and compulsion of answering every incoming call under duress.
Although the pandemic threat has caused the global economy to be in free fall, it doesnt mean that organisations have to pause their operations and wait for the storm to let up before businesses can get back on track. Thanks to the intervention of Cloud-based tech tools, professionals no longer need to visit their offices to engage in business transactions.
By adopting the aforementioned strategies, organisations can now enable their workforce to do it from a remote working environment, including their homes. And this, now more than before, has emerged as the most appropriate option available to business leaders to ensure the safety of their employees in the face of the unfortunate disruption while keeping their business processes in a sustained motion.
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