Science


This here is an interesting campaign and advertising medium being rolled out by an advertising agency in Amsterdam. RAINCAMPAIGN® is an environmentally friendly technique that consists of “pavement adverts” – ultimately the images appear on the pavement only when it rains, disappearing as they dry. A percentage of profits from each project will be donated to an international rainforest project.

In my humble opinion, it’s pretty cool that even in the somewhat money-grubbing world of media; something environmentally friendly and charitable is still possible without being boringly unoriginal. A couple of brands have already used the technique for their own campaigns as well – including Continental Tires

And yes, I have considered that people are more likely to hurry along in the rain rather than mosey about checking out the pavement but sometimes it’s the concept that counts.

@GabiGarb

In 2006, group of academics from the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), announced an ambitious plan to launch a new branch of science – Web Science.

These were no ordinary academics.  Among the elite group were Sir Tim Berners Lee (the creator or the World Wide Web), Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Professor Nigel Shadbolt of ECS.

This group perceived a need to better understand the nature of the Web and to engineer its future and ensure its social benefit.  The rationale was that the Web is a construct unrivaled in human history and the scale of its impact and the rate of its adoption are unparalleled.  

They recognised a great opportunity to study the Web through a new academic discipline, as well as an obligation to do so.

Web Science came into being in October 2006 with the launch of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI), which was later to be renamed the Web Science Trust (WST). Edelman was proud to assist in launch of WSRI, which achieved widespread international media coverage at the time.

Such a huge undertaking as establishing a new branch of science was bound to take some time, but the WST has been hard at work these past few years, putting the concept of Web Science on the academic map, developing curriculum, establishing partnerships, growing a support base and engaging in initial research projects.

Two weeks ago, I attended an event at the Royal Society in London, designed to explain Web Science to prospective students and at an undergraduate level.  It was quite exciting to see just how far Web Science has come in a few short years.  The auditorium was full and it was clear there was a real interest in the subject, with a lively discussion following presentations from academics and industry representatives.

Unlike Computer Science, Web Science will have an interdisciplinary approach.  To this end, participation from students with an interest in humanitarian disciplines such as psychology and anthropology will be as important as more apparently aligned areas such as mathematics and physics. 

Yesterday, the evolution of Web Science took a great leap forward with the formation of the Institute for Web Science, which was announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown during a speech in London. Significantly, it will be backed with £30 million funding from the UK Government.

The Institute for Web Science will be led by Sir Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt and will be jointly run by the University of Southampton and Oxford University.

According to a statement issued by the University of Southampton, the Institute for Web Science will be designed to make the UK the hub of international research into the next generation of web and internet technologies and their commercialisation.

Web innovation is viewed as an important issue by the government at present and they have also been consulting with Sir Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt on the issue of unlocking government data. 

Recently, the government launched a new site called data.gov.uk.  The site is a refuse of government data and seeks to provide access to interested companies, organisations and developers for with the aim of encouraging the development of new businesses.  It is hoped this will generate tax revenue greater than could have been realised by selling that data for commercial use.

In my opinion, both the funding of the Institute for Web Science and the launch of data.gov.uk are outstanding ideas and that could put the UK at the centre of the Web innovation. At a time when government funding cuts are a central theme from both sides of politics, it’s good to see that a long-term view is also being taken.

@andyrobertson

 

A wonderful video by @tomscott is currently doing the rounds following his excellent presentation at Ignite London 2 – follow the link below, it’s about five minutes long so watch while you chow down your lunch as it’s absolutely superb.

Mob (a near-future science fiction story) by Tom Scott from hurryonhome on Vimeo.

Having recently finished reading the mind bendingly brilliant ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ by Neil Postman this seems an aptly Huxleyan sci-fi story, taking much of Postman’s thoughts on the impact of TV and entertainment on society to a new social media level…

A brilliant story – and unerringly feasible too.

@wonky_donky

You may have heard or read about two seemingly rather dull announcements from the UK government relating to Met Office and the Ordnance Survey data in the last day or so. What has actually been announced though is quite interesting – and perhaps even revolutionary.

The government has decided to make data from these organisations (or at least a certain amount of it) freely available to the public. What they are hoping to do is encourage entrepreneurs to develop new businesses through the inventive use of this data. It is hoped this will generate tax revenue greater than could have been realised by selling that data for commercial use.

This is a very interesting move on the part of the government that could result in the creation of a wide range of new businesses.

But surely this is a bit too forward thinking of a government that is most likely approaching the end of its days? Well yes it is. The idea was actually seeded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web, and Professor Nigel Shadbolt from the University of Southampton. Both were recently appointed as government advisers on technology.

For Sir Tim and Professor Shadbolt, the real motivation here will be to encourage the growth of the semantic web, which has been long talked about but painfully slow in realisation.

Essentially, the semantic web is an ongoing effort to make the web more “intelligent” by allowing it to "understand" and satisfy user requests (including requests from machines) to a greater degree. At the heart of the semantic web is linked data and because much of the data held Met Office and Ordinance Survey can be classified as linked, it is essentially semantic web ready, making it ideally suited to the purpose of encouraging the next stage in the Internet’s evolution.

This article from the FT provides more detail on the government’s announcement and is worth reading: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cdcc60a2-e399-11de-9f4f-00144feab49a.html

@AndyRobertson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Star Wars example of how semantic web works – taken from the excellent folk at http://www.howstuffworks.com/semantic-web.htm

I have had a rethink on the idea that there is no such thing as local any more?

It began when contemplating, from a hotel room to the south of Paris, the specific kind of Gallic urban decay that is somehow depressing, artistic and monumental at the same time. This rediscovery of local nuance was exacerbated by a story in the paper this morning titled “‘100% sexy’ Tory Dumped by the Party.” 

In a nutshell a local Councillor was deselected by the Conservative Party because he posted a ‘How Sexy Am I Quiz’ on his Facebook profile. The 64 year old was ranked 93% by his community of friends and then compounded this crime by writing ‘Why are you saying 93 per cent? I demand a recount I want 100%.’ Geoffrey was then deselected by senior members for ‘lack of judgement over inappropriate material placed by you on your social networking site.’ The councilor had served his community for 12 years and no other reason was reported for decision.

Obviously local politics is by definition parochial. Also the case for social networks creating many narrowly focused micro communities with their own values and etiquette that are broken at your peril is well articulated.

But it struck me that here a local issue was being misinterpreted by a broader set of cultural and social media behaviours. As councillor Courtenay said, ‘There was nothing sexual about the post, it is just my sense of humour.’ It was the kind of off hand, ironic or simply odd comment that is a common factor of social media conversation. As evidence I refer to David Cameron’s twitter/twat comment; radio and social media share some traits. It’s part of what makes social media more authentic and neutralizes any overly-sincere tendencies, as content within social media amplifies very quickly.

This authenticity culture, I believe, is international and shared by the broadest social media community, but is likely to fall foul of local nuance when the different worlds mix. So it’s not the end of ‘local’, but rather that social media is mixing local and global in weird ways. Another story this morning made this quite clear: Noel Edmonds launching the Cosmos application on the iPhone. Now nothing is as locally specific as humorous light entertainment: Noel, Brucie and Freddie Starr belong to the UK palate and our palate alone. Before we condemn ourselves, their role exists in light entertainment scheduling the world over, but with crucial nuances or peculiarities that tie them in locally. So it is truly scary that Noel should go not only global but universal. As he explains, “The cosmos exists solely to help those who want to help themselves. It is an incredibly powerful force and a wonderful friend.”

@Naked_Pheasant

For those of us in technology, the word “virus” typically connotes some nefarious little bit of code meant to turn our PCs into a zombies or steal our personal information. But as the world braces for what many predict will be a resurgence of the so-called Swine Flu over the next few months, we’ll all be hearing much more about biological viruses, and much less about the digital variant.

Even so, there are no shortage of links between Swine Flu and Technology. Yesterday, I sat in on a call hosted by colleagues in Edelman Health.  Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and now senior advisor to Edelman, shared her thoughts in advance of the impending flu season. The discussion got me thinking about all the different ways technology companies are playing a role in the prevention of Swine Flu, and in fact how Swine Flu is catalyzing innovation and driving adoption of new technologies. A look across the board:

Social Media

News of the original Swine Flu outbreak spread quickly on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, with plenty of frightening images showing up on Flickr and YouTube. And while spikes in buzz gave authorities important clues that helped track down hotspots, many critics complained that jittery users reporting symptoms in 140 characters or less caused a worldwide networked panic. But these same authorities harnessed the power of social media to distribute updates, dispel rumors and dispense reasonable advice.  Follow @cdcemergency on Twitter or subscribe to their RSS feed for the latest news.

Data Visualization

Google found themselves defending their privacy policies when they introduced Google Flu Trends, a service that aggregates relevant search queries like “fever” to produce some interesting visual analytics. More useful perhaps is Google’s participation in Health Map, a very rich tool that plots data from a variety of credible sources onto Google Maps. (For those of you who prefer a good hearty Excel spreadsheet, Google has you covered as well.)  The New York Times used an Adobe Flash-based graphic to illustrate the speed and severity of the infection. Today, there is news of a location API for Twitter in the works. One wonders what interesting Swine Flu visualizations this will provide.

 High Powered Computing

High Powered Computing clusters worldwide are helping researchers better understand H1N1’s unique properties, predict how it may mutate over time, and importantly model how the little bugger might respond to various vaccines. These HPC clusters are capable of processing exabytes of data in a fraction of the time it would have taken even two years ago. Similarly, researchers are renting processing cycles on Amazon’s powerful cloud computing servers to analyze data. In one instance, a small group of scientists was able to crunch the data they needed in just 6 days, a process that would have taken more than 140 days on a single desktop computer. Technologists have asserted that pandemics are fundamentally complex data problems, so this sort of processing brawn is proving to be an important part of the solution.

 SaaS

Speaking of cloud computing, many companies and governments are revising their continuity plans with teleworking top of mind. For starters, authorities are advocating “social distance” as an effective strategy to slow the spread of Swine Flu. And of course employees showing symptoms are encouraged to stay home. This is welcome news for companies like Citrix, Cisco, VMWare, Microsoft, Juniper Networks and many more who are pushing SaaS offerings ranging from desktop virtualization to web-based collaboration tools. Swine Flu or not, business marches on. Meanwhile, educators and parents shudder at the thought of prolonged school closures.  This concern has created an extremely fast-growing market for companies like SIMtone, who recently launched a new business unit focused on delivering a whole range of cloud-based educational services to students and school districts.

Hardware

Swine Flu has been a boon for companies that make thermal imaging products, as governments around the world rush to equip their ports of entry with H1N1 screening equipment. Market leader Flir Systems was trading at ~$18/share in March.  By mid-May, they were trading above $26/share, a whopping 44% jump. On another front, Sanyo has announced a new electrolyzed water technology they claim kills off Swine Flu virus. Look for commercial deployments in a public restroom near you by the end of this year. 

Software

The development community is doing its part in the fight against Swine Flu, shipping new code to help hospitals better handle an influx of suspected cases. Patient Care Technology Systems – an EMR player – released an enhancement to their emergency room system that helps triage nurses when a patient presents with Swine Flu-like systems. And new apps are being developed atop of Microsoft’s Amalga platform, some in as little as three hours. Software – fast, infinitely flexible and easily deployed – will continue be a powerful tool as the Swine Flu crisis continues.

 Security

Cybercriminals are preying on public fears, with flu-themed spam accounting for four percent of global spam during the height of the initial outbreak, according to an analyst at Cisco’s Ironport messaging security division. Unsuspecting users who click on mails with clever subject lines like “Madonna caught swine flu” end up installing malware on their machines. Companies like Symantec and McAfee will be very busy this fall fighting virus-inspired viruses and trying to thwart the bad guys. I should point out that the impending launch of Windows 7 adds another layer of complexity, as the black hat community loves nothing more than to expose vulnerabilities in any new OS.

Electronic Entertainment

World of Warcraft devotees (you know who you are) will remember “Corrupted Blood”, a virtual plague that in 2005 infected nearly 100% of the online game’s population. While many players were irate, epidemiologists took the opportunity to study the outbreak, work that later informed theories of how Swine Flu and other diseases could spread in the real world. More recently, a group of Dutch researchers unveiled “The Great Flu”, a highly entertaining game that casts players as the head of the fictional World Pandemic Control organization. It’s certainly better than “The Swine Flu Sneeze”, a somewhat bizarre affair funded by the Wellcome Trust to teach players just how dangerous a sneeze can be.

Surely I’ve missed some obvious links between Technology and Swine Flu thus far. But the trend is clear.  In times of public health crisis, technology serves as a potent remedy by speeding communications, accelerating research, and providing employers, educators and public officials with options that simply weren’t possible even a decade ago. That said, there are side-effects that we – and our tech clients – will need to carefully manage.

One last note: if all of this reading about viruses, sneezing, and pandemics has left you feeling a bit squeamish, you might consider running out and getting yourself a self-sanitizing keyboard. This little beauty tops my holiday wish list this year.

Pete Pedersen
Chair, Edelman Technology
@pete_pedersen

Disclosure:  Adobe, Citrix, Microsoft and Symantec are all Edelman clients.

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