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robots

Blue technology revolution

Featured image above: Humanoid robots, like Ocean One, may soon replace human divers in carrying out deep or dangerous ocean research and engineering tasks. Credit: Osada/Seguin/DRASSM

An industrial revolution is unfolding under the seas. Rapid progress in the development of robots, artificial intelligence, low-cost sensors, satellite systems, big data and genetics are opening up whole new sectors of ocean use and research. Some of these disruptive marine technologies could mean a cleaner and safer future for our oceans. Others could themselves represent new challenges for ocean health. The following 12 emerging technologies are changing the way we harvest food, energy, minerals and data from our seas.

1. Autonomous ships

Credit: Rolls-Royce

You’ve heard of driverless cars – soon there may be skipperless ships. Ocean shipping is a $380 billion dollar industry. Like traffic on land, ocean traffic is a major source of pollution, can introduce invasive species, and even causes ocean road-kills. For example, over 200 whales were struck by ships in the past decade. Companies like Rolls Royce envision autonomous shipping as a way to make the future of the industry more efficient, clean and cost-effective. Skipperless cargo ships can increase efficiency and reduce emissions by eliminating the need for accommodation for crew, but will require integration of existing sensor technology with improved decision-making algorithms.

2. SCUBA droids

Credit: Osada/Seguin/DRASSM

SCUBA divers working at extreme depths often have less than 15 minutes to complete complicated tasks, and they submit their bodies to 10 times normal pressure. To overcome these challenges, a Stanford robotics team designed Ocean One: a humanoid underwater robot dexterous enough to handle archaeological artefacts that employs force sensors to replicate a sense of touch for its pilot. Highly skilled humanoid robots may soon replace human divers in carrying out deep or dangerous ocean research and engineering tasks.

3. Underwater augmented reality glasses

Credit: US Navy Photo by Richard Manley

Augmented and virtual reality technologies are becoming mainstream and are poised for enormous growth. The marine sector is no exception. US navy engineers have designed augmented vision displays for their divers – a kind of waterproof, supercharged version of Google Glass. This new tech allows commercial divers and search and rescue teams to complete complex tasks with visibility near zero, and integrates data feeds from sonar sensors and intel from surface support teams.

4. Blue revolution

Credit: InnovaSea

The year 2014 was the first in which the world ate more fish from farms than the wild. Explosive growth in underwater farming has been facilitated by the development of new aquaculture tech. Submerged “aquapod” cages, for example, have been deployed in Hawaii, Mexico, and Panama. Innovations like this have moved aquaculture further offshore, which helps mitigate problems of pollution and disease that can plague coastal fish farms.

5. Undersea cloud computing

Credit: Microsoft

Over 95% of internet traffic is transmitted via undersea cables. Soon, data may not only be sent, but also stored underwater. High energy costs of data centres (up to 3% of global energy use) have driven their relocation to places like Iceland, where cold climates increase cooling efficiency. Meanwhile, about 40% of people on the planet live in coastal cities. To simultaneously cope with high real estate costs in these oceanfront growth centres, reduce latency, and overcome the typically high expense of cooling data centres, Microsoft successfully tested a prototype underwater data centre off the coast of California last year. Next-generation underwater cloud pods may be hybridised with their own ocean energy-generating power plants.

6. New waves of ocean energy

Credit: Carnegie Wave Energy

The ocean is an enormous storehouse of energy. Wave energy alone is estimated to have the technical potential of 11,400 terawatt-hours/year (with sustainable output equivalent to over 400 small nuclear power plants). Technological innovation is opening up new possibilities for plugging into the power of waves and tides. A commercial project in Australia, for example, produces both electricity and zero-emission desalinated water. The next hurdles are scaling up and making ocean energy harvest cost-efficient.

7. Ocean thermal energy

Credit: KRISO (Korea Research Institute of Ships & Ocean engineering)

Ocean thermal energy conversion technology, which exploits the temperature difference between shallow tropical waters and the deep sea to generate electricity, was successfully implemented in Hawaii last year at its largest scale yet. Lockheed Martin is now designing a plant with 100 times greater capacity. Drawing cold water in large volumes up from depths of over 1 kilometre requires large flexible pipelines made with new composite materials and manufacturing techniques.

8. Deep sea mining

Credit: Nautilus Minerals

Portions of the seafloor are rich in rare and precious metals like gold, platinum and cobalt. These marine mineral resources have, up until now, lain mostly out of reach. New 300 tonne waterproof mining machines were recently developed that can now travel to some of the deepest parts of the sea to mine these metals. Over a million square kilometres of ocean have been gazetted as mining claims in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, and an ocean gold rush may open up as early as 2018. Mining the seafloor without destroying the fragile ecosystems and ancient species often co-located with these deep sea mineral resources remains an unsolved challenge.

9. Ocean big data

Credit: Windward

Most large oceangoing ships are required to carry safety sensors that transmit their location through open channels to satellites and other ships. Several emerging firms have developed sophisticated algorithms to process this mass influx of ocean big data into usable patterns that detect illegal fishing, promote maritime security, and help build intelligent zoning plans that better balance the needs of fishermen, marine transport and ocean conservation. In addition, new streams of imagery from nanosatellite constellations can be analysed to monitor habitat changes in near-real time.

10. Medicines from the seas

Credit: PharmaSea

The oceans hold vast promise for novel life-saving medications such as cancer treatments and antibiotics. The search for marine-derived pharmaceuticals is increasing in momentum. The European Union, for example, funded a consortium called PharmaSea to collect and screen biological samples using deep sea sampling equipment, genome scanning, chemical informatics and data-mining.

11. Coastal sensors

Image: Smartfin

The proliferation of low-cost, connected sensors is allowing us to monitor coastlines in ways never possible before. This matters in an ocean that is rapidly warming and becoming more acidic as a result of climate change. Surfboard-embedded sensors could crowd-source data on temperature, salinity and pH similar to the way traffic data is being sourced from drivers’ smartphones. To protect the safety of beachgoers, sonar imaging sensors are being developed in Australia to detect sharks close to shore and push out real-time alerts to mobile devices.

12. Biomimetic robots

Credit: Boston Engineering

The field of ocean robotics has begun borrowing blue prints from the world’s best engineering firm: Mother Nature. Robo-tuna cruise the ocean on surveillance missions; sea snake-inspired marine robots inspect pipes on offshore oil rigs; 1,400 pound crab-like robots collect new data on the seafloor; and robo-jellyfish are under development to carry out environmental monitoring. That ocean species are models for ocean problem-solving is no surprise given that these animals are the result of millions of years of trial and error.

Outlook

Our fate is inextricably linked to the fate of the oceans. Technological innovation on land has helped us immeasurably to clean up polluting industries, promote sustainable economic growth, and intelligently watch over changes in terrestrial ecosystems.

We now need ocean tech to do the same under the sea.

As the marine industrial revolution advances, we will need to lean heavily on innovation, ingenuity and disruptive tech to successfully take more from the ocean while simultaneously damaging them less.

– Douglas McCauley and Nishan Degnarain

This article was first published by World Economic Forum on 16 September 2016. Read the original article here.

maths skills

From maths to Microsoft

When girls start school they are just as interested in maths and science as boys. Yet only one quarter of Australia’s STEM workforce are women. What happens along the way? Why don’t more girls opt for a career that involves science, technology, engineering or maths skills?

I was always encouraged by my family to take on any subject at school, which led to my love of numbers. I think maths has a bit of a reputation for being boring – something that’s only useful if you’re planning to become an academic or actuary. But it’s so much more.

From architecture and film animation to photography and my world of software and business management, maths skills open up a whole world of opportunities. I know my career with Microsoft was fuelled by the problem-solving skills that studying maths helped me develop.

Opening up careers for women in STEM is something I am passionate about. I have seen that professional success in many of the ‘non-traditional’ female roles requires reasonable mathematical ability.

But more than a quarter of girls in Australia do not study maths after Year 10. Girls are also underrepresented in most science classes. Without this preliminary education, it’s not surprising girls are steering clear of STEM courses at university as well.


“Programs like DigiGirlz give girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with women who have STEM-based jobs and participate in fun, hands-on workshops.”


Not only my daughters’, but most of our kids’ working lives, are going to depend on STEM skills. Already 75% of the fastest growing industries in Australia require knowledge in these areas. If we want girls to take their place in the technologically driven world of tomorrow, we need to make some changes. We need to encourage young girls to continue to explore STEM subjects.

At Microsoft, we’re creating spaces where young women and technology can come together. Programs like DigiGirlz give girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with women who have STEM-based jobs and participate in fun, hands-on workshops.

We also need to talk about creativity when we talk about STEM. Behind the best technologies are not only amazing ideas but also creative thinking, yet this magic ingredient is often overlooked.

One way forward is to teach young girls STEM skills that reward their curiosity and creativity by helping them bring their ideas to life. For example, teachers are now helping kids learn coding by playing Minecraft, a computer game that’s popular with both boys and girls, and allows them to create whole worlds only limited by their imagination.

If we want more women to enter careers in STEM, we need to encourage them from day one. Challenging deeply entrenched stereotypes about what girls can and can’t do isn’t going to be easy – but it will be vital for Australia’s future prosperity.

I believe that girls can achieve anything – it’s time they did too.

Pip Marlow

Managing Director, Microsoft Australia

Read next: President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Andrew Holmes AM, describes the evolution of culture and structures that underpin STEM and favour men.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on the value of maths skills using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

chatbots

Chatting with chatbots

Human communication goes beyond words. It is complex, rich in nuances and frequently includes non-verbal signs. Yet despite our technological limitations it is not impossible for some aspects of communication to be emulated by a machine with surprising effect.

This has been part of the challenge in developing Harlie (Human and Robot Language Interaction Experiment), a smartphone chatbot app developed by researchers from the CSIRO’s e-health research program and the University of Queensland.

It’s primarily aimed at people who may have trouble conversing including those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, or even autism.

The following dialog excerpt took place between a human who has autism, let’s call him Chris (pseudonym), and Harlie.

Harlie: Are you part of a community group?

Chris: Um, yes I am.

Harlie: I see. I hear that community groups often offer the opportunity to craft and build things. Is that something you enjoy doing?

Chris: Oh yes I do. This is really exciting.

Harlie: I see. What kind of things do you wish you could make one day?

Chris: Wooden train.

Harlie: That sounds like a great thing to aspire to. What project would recommended to a beginner like me?

Chris: Uh huh a bird feeder.

Harlie: Thanks. I will add that to my list. What supplies would I need to buy for my toolkit?

Chris: Ah hammer, nails, good supply of wood.

But Harlie, like all other artificial intelligent (AI) programs, has no concept of community groups, woodwork or anything else for that matter. That is to say it has no sentience.

And alas, sentient chatbots are seemingly light years beyond our reach. But is sentience needed to convey ideas, feelings and activities?

To some degree, no.

Chatbot programmers, or botmasters, develop and maintain a large repository of responses to the plethora of input statements that could be made by the user.

The way most modern chatbots operate is illustrated in this figure.

image-20160511-18128-mxft6n
The typical chatbot brain is a tree-like structure. Credit: David Ireland

Phrases that could be uttered by a human are grouped together to form branches. At the end of the branch, is the leaf, or a piece of code that is executed by the machine.

This code could simply be “respond with ‘Hi human'” or it could be a machine learning algorithm determining the appropriate response based on current semantics and context.

This is where the exciting research is happening.

New branches are added continuously through conversations and feedback with potential customers, as is the case with Harlie, or through self-learning as was seen in the disastrous example of Microsoft’s social media chatbot Tay, which was shut down within a day of going live earlier this year after declaring, among other controversial tweets, that “Hitler was right”.

A more successful use of AI was revealed earlier this month in the USA. Students studying artificial intelligence at the Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that “Jill”, one of the teaching assistants responding to their emails regarding a course, was actually a computer powered by IBM’s Watson analytics system.

Jill’s responses were simply based on the answers to questions that previous students had asked about the course. As the college points out, students tend to ask the same questions over and over and after some initial tinkering, Jill was able to answer students with about 97% certainty.

The ELIZA effect

Attempts to create a convincing conversation with a machine have been going on for decades.

The first chatbot was called ELIZA. Developed in 1966, the program was created by Joseph Weizenbaum at MIT. This program was unparalleled because for the first time a machine could seemingly converse with a human.

ELIZA emulated a psychotherapist’s responses to would-be patients in replies generated for typed, text-only conversations.

By identifying key words and phrases, ELIZA was able to respond with surprising intelligibility and insight. In fact, it was so highly personified by some users that they would spend hours conversing and refused to share conversation records with researchers.

This phenomenon become known as the ELIZA effect. An excerpt of a famous ELIZA transcript that was published in 1966 between ELIZA and a young woman is given below.

Human: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.

ELIZA: Your boyfriend made you come here?

Human: He says I’m depressed much of the time.

ELIZA: I am sorry to hear you are depressed.

Human: It’s true. I am unhappy.

ELIZA: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?

Human: I need some help, that much seems certain.

ELIZA: What would it mean to you if you got some help?

Human: Perhaps I could learn to get along with my mother.

ELIZA: Tell me more about your family.

Modern day

Since ELIZA, computer power has increased at an exponential rate, but how far have we come towards a next generation of chatbots? Voice recognition is now an accepted part of smartphone technology with Google Now and Apple’s Siri. But what about developments in actual conversations with AI?

An annual AI competition is held where human judges speak to different chatbots whose developers are seeking the coveted Loebner prize and the deadline for entries this year is 1 July. The winner is decided by judges who determine the most human-like chatbot.

A prominent entry and winner in 2013 was the Mitsuku chatbot, which was designed for more general typed conversation.

The Mitsuku website provides a Turing test to gauge humans perceptions of the chatbot.

The human user is either connected to a real human or Mitsuku. Results show that on average, 12% of people thought they were talking to a human when in fact they were talking to a machine.

Here is a dialog excerpt from Mitsuku showing her apparent wit:

Human: What’s the difference between a man and a woman?

Mitsuku: A man – a male human being. A woman is a man built to more complete specifications.

Human: That’s not what I meant.

Mitsuku: Oh sorry, what do you mean?

Human: What does a man have a woman doesn’t?

Mitsuku: A well paid job?

Last year’s winner of the Loebner prize was called Rose and it is possible to have a spoken conversation with the chatbot on some web browsers. She too can be quite witty, and talkative too.

The future

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella said at an event in March that chatbots will have, “as profound an impact as previous shifts we’ve had”. Much like the shift that occurred with the introduction of the graphical user interface, the web browser or touchscreen.

But there are numerous challenges ahead and building a convincing chatbot requires enormous amounts of data and time.

Microsoft’s Tay showed us the dangers of using shortcuts by crowd-sourcing unchecked new branches into Tay’s brain.

In contrast, the Mitsuku developer has taken the long road and constantly refined Mitsuku’s digital brain since 2004.

Nevertheless, the possibility of Harlie helping users who struggle with communication, or of Mitsuku providing a convincing partner, suggests talking machines may go beyond current smartphone use in making hotel bookings and providing directions, and become something much more in the next generation.

– Dr David Ireland, Dr Christina Atay and Dr Jacki Liddle

This article was first published by The Conversation on 18 May 2016. Read the original article here.

student startups

Kick-starting student startups

Gone are the days when students enrol in university with the ultimate aim of being employed by a large company. Today, students are looking for more than just a degree and a set career path to follow. “Forty per cent of our students say that they don’t want jobs,” says Attila Brungs, Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). “They want to create their own career path as entrepreneurs.”

To help kick-start these ambitions, UTS has launched the Hatchery and Hatchery+ pre-incubator and incubator programs. Far from typical classroom learning, the Hatchery programs are open to students from all faculties and offer a cross-disciplinary, hands-on environment to develop startup skills. In addition to classes, workshops and networking events, students are given access to their own co-working space and the support of industry mentors.

The timing could not be better. It is estimated that tech startups could contribute $100 billion to Australia’s gross domestic product by 2030. But according to the recent report Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia commissioned by Australia’s former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb, Australian innovation continues to lag behind countries like South Korea and the United Kingdom. Despite producing around 43,000 STEM publications annually, tech startups currently make up just 0.06% of all Australian businesses.

The report pointed out that universities hold the key to creating fast-growing and globally competitive new businesses. There was an emphasis on making entrepreneurship more accessible to innovation-driven students by fostering industry partnerships, encouraging a stronger startup culture and developing more incubator programs – similar to the Hatchery.

The six-week Hatchery pre-incubator program is aimed at students considering an entrepreneurial career and focuses on the development of innovative business ideas. The program uses a range of practical approaches, such as teaching students how to design prototypes with limited materials and how to pitch ideas to investors. The Hatchery also gives participants the opportunity to connect with industry powerhouses like Microsoft, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Innovation Lab and ABC Innovation.

Annette McClelland is a UTS Master of Business Administration (MBA) student who also manages the teen mental health website biteback.org.au for The Black Dog Institute. She is taking part in the Hatchery to explore how she can use technology to improve children’s education.

“Learning alongside people from such diverse backgrounds is helping me turn my ideas into a business,” she says. “I definitely feel more prepared to collaborate with people from different fields than I did when I graduated with my Arts degree in 2012.”

For standout business ideas, UTS recently launched Hatchery+, a three-month incubator program that supports the growth of early-stage startups founded by UTS students or alumni. Hatchery+ offers its startups free access to their own co-working space, clinics on business topics ranging from IP law to web development, and continual support from mentors. The program also includes some funding towards business development and an introduction to potential investors.

intext_vicky1
At the UTS Hatchery+ launch, program mentor Vicky Lee spoke about her experience as a student founder of the successful online textbook resource, Zookal.

One of the seven startups participating in Hatchery+ is Psykinetic, a social enterprise that produces life-improving technologies for people with severe disabilities like cerebral palsy. Founded by biomedical engineer and futurist presenter Dr Jordan Nguyen, Psykinetic’s products include a thought-controlled wheelchair and eye-tracking software to enable people with disabilities to use keyboards.

After just a few weeks of being involved with Hatchery+, Jordan says that Psykinetic is ready for further investment. He says that the program has enabled him to focus on certain aspects of his startup that had been neglected like accounting and administration. “It’s been a great opportunity to tie up loose ends that we hadn’t yet thought of,” he says. “It’s so exciting to get a clearer idea of how to give your business the best possible start instead of cutting corners down the line without even realising.”

Hatchery+ offers participants the dedicated support of industry mentors like Vicki Lay, a former student founder of the successful online textbook resource Zookal. For UTS MBA student Leah Callon-Butler, the opportunity to discuss ideas with experienced entrepreneurs has been invaluable for the development of her startup NeoWip, a digital hub that aims to help Australian businesses expand across the globe in a fast and cost-effective way.

“Being able to bounce ideas off industry experts who have been-there-done-that allows me to leverage a wealth of validated learning that already exists in the Australian startup community,” she says. “The mentor relationships have really accelerated the growth and development of my company.”

While Australia has been slow to support a startup culture, the Hatchery and Hatchery+ join a growing number of startup facilities provided by Australian universities, such as Western Sydney University’s Launch Pad and the University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate hub. “I’m excited by the impact that these programs are going to have,” says Brungs. “Cross-disciplinary collaboration is key to innovation and advancement.”

– Gemma Conroy

HoloLense

HoloLens to revolutionise training

The Australian arm of global company Saab has partnered with Microsoft to build a range of ground-breaking training, education and other complex 3D Holographic applications for HoloLens.

Worn as goggles by users, Microsoft HoloLens is the first fully untethered, holographic computer, enabling interaction with high‑definition holograms.

Saab Australia, based in the South Australian capital Adelaide, is a defence, security and traffic management solutions provider specialising in computer based command and control systems.

Head of Training and Simulation Inger Lawes said the company had identified three initial markets: its traditional defence and security market, the enterprise market – primarily large corporations wanting bespoke applications to address a specific need – and internal applications for the company’s own development.

“A year or so ago we came across Microsoft’s work with holograms and specifically HoloLens and pretty quickly saw that this was a piece of technology that had the potential to revolutionise the way that training can be delivered but also a whole range of other things we are broadly involved in,” Lawes said.

“We want to produce applications that are at the sophisticated end of what HoloLens can do. For example there are a lot of games on this thing that are a lot of fun but that’s not where we want to be, we want to be at the upper end of what’s possible.”

Lawes said applications could range from training programs for school students and defence company employees to advanced assembly software for high-value manufacturers.

He said the company was initially focusing on internal training applications for HoloLens but would deliver an application for its first external customer in September.

“It’s pretty exciting because there’s nothing better than going from good ideas to actually fielding something in a relatively short time,” he said.

“We want to stay within our business of defence and security but we also want to explore applied markets such as using HoloLens to support sophisticated manufacturing.”

“We’re in such a great position with this technology because we really are in uncharted waters. We really don’t know what’s going to happen – we know it’s going to be fantastic but what direction we go we’ll see.”

Lawes said Microsoft had “gone out of its way” to help Saab establish a HoloLens studio in Adelaide and would provide the necessary hardware.

He said English language skills and an existing relationship with Microsoft made Saab Australia a logical choice.

“Microsoft are interested in helping us because Australia is a close friend of the United States, we speak English – everything that’s deployed on Hololens at the moment is in English – we’re able to work in the defence and security market and have developed a strong working relationship with their opposite numbers at Microsoft,” he said.

“Our plan is to set up globally in Adelaide. Our market then becomes near region but going into Europe on the back of our existing business relationships is also a real possibility.

“So when we are up and running this time next year we’ll be an export business as well as a domestic supplier.

“Every conversation we have with this technology reveals another good idea and for us it’s really exciting to be involved.”

– Andrew Spence

This article was first published by The Lead on 13 April 2016. Read the original article here.

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