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Monday, February 27, 2017

Mobile-First? Don't Write Off The Tablet | EuroMail

Photo: Sean Hargrave
Sean Hargrave, MediaPost's London Editor argues, "Research shows tablets are as prominent in opening emails as the desktop. The two channels are very much alike, questioning our assumption that it's overwhelmingly a mobile-first market."

We have all talked about a mobile-first world for a good couple of years. It has always seemed like an observation that splits the market into smartphones and desktop. There's a timely reminder today that this isn't totally accurate.

While the majority of emails in the UK and US are opened on smartphones (51% and 58%), the rest of the market is not desktop-only. There is our old friend, the tablet. 

It's quite a surprise that the latest Movable Ink research shows far more emails are being opened on tablets in the UK than in the US. In fact, a massive one in four emails are being opened on British tablets, compared to 15% in the US. 

If nothing else, then, the research works as a reminder that the power of the tablet should never be forgotten, particularly as it is a slightly bigger sector of the UK market than desktop -- 25% compared to 24%. So if we accept that as many opens happen on tablets as desktop, what does this mean for marketers?

The big difference between each email marketing channel is usually location. The desktop will typically be at work or in the study, perhaps on the laptop on a sofa, but this market is clearly being overtaken by the tablet. Or is it? Perhaps it's the same market? Just the device has changed. I agree with eConsultancy that although people often think about tablets as mobile devices, they're usually anything but. They're effectively slimmed-down laptops that are used on the sofa or dining room table, in the same way as a laptop used to be.
Read more... 

Recommended Reading
Follow on Twitter as @LaurieSullivan
Smartphones Cannibalize Web Site Visits From Other Devices by

Source: MediaPost Communications

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Scientist speaks to ASU students and staff about how math can save species | The State Press

"“I have translated human’s hopes, dreams and fears into algebra,” Conservancy Scientist talks about using math to preserve more endangered species." summarizes Nathan J Fish, The State Press.

Hugh Possingham, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, speaks to an audience about how math can help save species in the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, Arizon. 
 Photo: Nathan J Fish | The State Press
Saving one endangered species over another may come down to math. 

Hugh Possingham, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, spoke to ASU students and staff on

Monday at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix about his experiences with mathematics and how efficiently allocated funds can be used to benefit nature conservancy.

“I have translated human’s hopes, dreams and fears into algebra,” said Possingham. “If you want to go do something, go save a plant … or you can make up a formula and save 250 species.”

Possingham said there is a finite amount of time, money and recourses that play a factor in choosing which endangered species receives needed funds.

“Everyone has allocation problems … you can never avoid prioritizing things,” he said.

Possingham said one of his systematic designs for conservation planning is to “build a compact and connected system of protected areas that equitably represent all habitats and species while annoying as few other people as possible.”

Possingham said prioritizing which species to focus on saving isn't necessarily a negative thing.

“When I talk about this people say, ‘oh, you’re letting species go, this is triage, you’re giving up on species.’ In a sense it’s not triage, all we can do as environmental scientists and mathematicians is give (governments) a list,” he said. “We don’t triage, we prioritize.”

Possingham said his philosophy is to use math to help conservation efforts of endangered species.

“In conservation, it’s relatively recent that we’ve started to use math. In some cases, people are still a little suspicious of math,” he said, “But let’s face it, who runs the planet? It’s mathematicians.”

“The most important aspect (of my work) is delivering better outcomes for less dollars. It’s all about efficiency and cost effectiveness,” he said.

As chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest nongovernmental environmental organization, Possingham said he has worked all over the world using applied mathematics to economics to solve conservation problems.

Hugh Possingham - Decision science for marine conservation: planning and monitoring


Source: The State Press  

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Top 3 gadgets for music lovers of 2017 | ABC2 News

If you've ever wanted to learn an instrument, but thought it would be too time consuming, hard or expensive to learn then this is the story for you. There are new products that will teach you those skills without having to pay a tutor. Donna Ruko has the top three you should check out.

Watch the Video
1.  The ONE Smart Piano 
This piano is so smart that it teaches you without sheet music. You just need and iPad and it shows you what notes to hit. Their app has thousands of songs and games to choose from to make learning fun. There's even a grand piano version with 88 keys and foot pedals. Pick one up for around $300.
Introducing The ONE Smart Piano that teaches you to play

Source: ABC2 News and The ONE Smart Piano Channel (YouTube)

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How music benefits children | The Conversation UK

Photo: Dawn Rose
"Turns out learning a musical instrument really could benefit your child, in more ways than you might think." according to Dawn Rose, Researcher in the Psychology of Music and Dance, University of Hertfordshire

Popular ideas, such as the “Mozart effect” – the idea that listening to classical music improves intelligence – has encouraged the belief that “music makes you smarter”.
This interest in the relationship between musical aptitude on ability and intelligence has been around for some time. But despite these beliefs being pretty widespread, there is still no conclusive evidence to actually prove that listening to certain types of music really can improve your intelligence.

In 1974, music researchers Desmond Sergeant and Gillian Thatcher said that:
All highly intelligent people are not necessarily musical, but all highly musical people are apparently highly intelligent.
And “apparently” is the key word here, because the evidence regarding musical listening in itself is mixed. Research has shown that listening to music shows an improvement in certain kinds of mental tasks. But these are specifically short-term improvements involving “spatial-temporal reasoning” skills – puzzle solving type tasks.

Listening vs playing 
But while listening to music is all well and good, what about actually playing it? Research that focuses on how or if playing a musical instrument can impact on intelligence, often looks at how learning in one area can lead to improvements in other areas – an idea known as “transfer effects”.

This is the idea that learning to play the violin, or the drums, could help children to do better in their spellings or a science project. And this is in part the reason why some parents naturally encourage their children to learn an instrument – because of a belief that it will in some way make them more intelligent.

While some studies have shown how musical training can shape brain development. And that improvements in small motor skills and general intelligence have been linked to musical training. A recent review suggests that actual evidence supporting this idea of “transfer effects” is limited at present.

But despite these finds, there is still a wealth of evidence suggesting musical learning is beneficial. And with this in mind, drawing from my experience as a professional musician (drummer), music teacher and performing artist, I decided to investigate the effects of individual musical instrument learning on aspects of cognitive and behavioural development.

I also looked at the impact on “socio-emotional” development, which includes the child’s experience, expression, and management of emotions, as well as the ability to establish positive and rewarding relationships with others. 

All the children who took part in the study had typical school group music lessons, but half of them had also chosen to learn an instrument individually for the first time that year.

The results showed that children who had started individual music lessons developed a better awareness of their “aim” and “force” in relation to their own motor skills as well as improving their “fluid intelligence” – which is the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns.

This suggests that musical instrument learning encourages the development of a physical sense of self in relation to the how we use objects in the world around us, as well as developing a specific kind of intelligence that is used in problem solving. 

Source: The Conversation UK

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Luther Burbank Center for the Arts on how children benefit from music and theater | North Bay Business Journal

"Did you or someone you love play music or perform in theater as a child?" continues North Bay Business Journal.

Photo: Will Bucquoy

If so, you know first hand about how music and the performing arts enrich the lives of children. It helps with their education and builds self-esteem.

However, some students, schools and families don’t have the means to participate in high-quality arts programs. For students and teachers in this situation, there are programs in the community that are here to help.

Before we discuss the programs offered, here are just a few of the things we know about the positive impacts of art and music in the classroom. Music, performing arts and visual arts can:
  • Contribute to higher test scores. Researchers are now linking involvement in the arts to better child development and higher student achievement.
  • Help build self-esteem. Participation in the arts allows them to grow their self-confidence, developing poise and learning to overcome anxieties.
  • Help children understand the multicultural world.
  • Help teach self-reliance and collaboration with others in order to reach a goal.
Art in the classroom is of huge importance in a child’s life, and Luther Burbank Center for the Arts is here for the North Bay community to provide all of the resources a school could need to achieve this.

The center’s Education Through the Arts programs are committed to offering teachers and students a variety of programs that support Common Core standards using the arts. The LBC uses the arts to teach core subject matter and enhance understanding and learning. It provides learning experiences that lead to greater academic achievement and the development of self-assurance, creativity and communication skills.

Education Through the Arts provides accessibility for all children, with more than half the students coming from low-to-moderate income families. This program serves Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Marin and Napa counties.

Studies show the arts encourage creativity, build community, and improve test scores. LBC’s distinguished education programs serve each and every grade level, while tying into curriculum and meeting Common Core Standards.

Source: North Bay Business Journal

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Listening to or learning to play music improves thinking skills | Tyler Morning Telegraph

Photo: Patrice Dunagin
Patrice Dunagin, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service says, "Music is powerful. It can change the way we feel. It can even change the way we think. Babies are born with billions of brain cells. In the first three years, brain cells connect with other brain cells. These connections form pathways in the brain. Children who grow up listening to music have strong music pathways."

Some of these pathways can change the way we think. Listening to classical music can improve some thinking skills for a short time. Learning to play music improves those thinking skills for even longer.

Music gets our brains ready for certain kinds of thinking. Adults who listen to classical music solve some problems faster, like putting together puzzles. Listening to classical music gets certain brain cells “turned on” and ready to work. This makes it easier to work a puzzle quickly. But our brain pathways do not stay “turned on” for very long - only about an hour.

Learning to play music also helps “turn on” some brain pathways. Children who take music lessons for at least six months can work puzzles more quickly. Music lessons help the brain 
cells make new connections. This helps the brain work better.

Classical music is not the same as other kinds of music. It is more complex. Even three-month-old babies can tell the difference between classical music and other kinds. Classical music helps the brain work faster and think well. It helps the brain solve problems quickly. But other types of music are not bad. Music makes us feel good. And that can make learning easier. 
Read more... 

Source: Tyler Morning Telegraph

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Mathematics supports a new way to classify viruses based on structure | Science Daily and The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

Photo: The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

"Professor Robert Sinclair at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Professor Dennis Bamford and Dr. Janne Ravantti from the University of Helsinki have found new evidence to support a classification system for viruses based on viral structure." reports ScienceDaily.

Professor Robert Sinclair,
head of OIST’s Mathematical Biology Unit,
holds a model of a Zika virus.
(from left)
Professor Dennis Bamford and
Dr. Janne Ravantti of the
University of Helsinki

The team developed a new highly-sensitive computational prototype tool, and used it to detect similarities in the genetic code of viruses with similar outer structures, that conventional tools have failed to detect, suggesting that they share a common ancestor. This is not what would have been expected if similarities in the structure of viruses were due to similar environmental pressures -- a phenomenon known as convergence.

The results, published in the Journal of Virology, suggest that viral structure could provide a means of categorizing viruses with their close relatives -- a potentially superior approach to current classification systems. Application of this new structure-based classification system could make it easier to identify and treat newly emerging viruses that cannot easily be classified with existing classification systems.

Viruses are notoriously difficult to classify due to their enormous diversity, high rates of change and tendency to exchange genetic material. They challenge the very concept of a clear distinction between the living and the dead, with many characteristics resembling those of living things, but lacking the ability to reproduce themselves, without the help of a host cell. As such, they do not fit neatly into the established biological classification system for cellular organisms.

Existing classification systems are imperfect and often lead to very similar viruses being categorized as entirely different entities. These systems are also unable to account for the fact that viruses are constantly changing.

If scientists could identify something that viruses are unable to change, it could provide a basis for a more meaningful approach to classification and enable the scientific community to tackle emerging viruses, such as HIV, SARS coronavirus and Zika virus, more easily.

Previously observed similarities between the protein shell, or 'capsid', of viruses -- that encloses and protects the genetic material -- provide a basis for a classification system based on capsid structure, as previously proposed by Prof. Bamford. The few ways in which viruses package themselves are very similar, even between viruses that are likely to have had their common relative more than a billion years ago. Whether this conservation is due to convergence or common descent has been disputed.

For a classification system based on virus capsid structure to be meaningful, the amino acids that provide the building blocks of the capsid proteins should be similar in related viruses. A seeming lack of sufficient amino acid sequence similarity picked up by conventional sequence analysis tools previously undermined capsid structure as a viable way to classify viruses.

Using ideas from mathematics and computer science, Professor Sinclair from OIST's Mathematical Biology Unit worked with scientists at the University of Helsinki to reinvestigate whether the structure-based classification for viral capsids is in fact supported by previously undetected sequence similarity.
"The conventional tools for detecting sequence similarity are very fast but they can miss things," says Professor Sinclair. "We used a more classical approach that takes longer but is much more sensitive."

Additional resources
Journal Reference:

1. Robert M. Sinclair, Janne J. Ravantti, Dennis H. Bamford. Nucleic and amino acid sequences support structure-based viral classification. Journal of Virology, 2017; JVI.02275-16 DOI: 10.1128/JVI.02275-16 

Mathematics Supports a New Way to Classify Viruses Based on Structure - The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology
New research supports a structure-based classification system for viruses which could help in the identification and treatment of emerging viruses.

Source: ScienceDaily and The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

‘Citizen science’ is the way to encourage critical thinking | Irish Times

Photo: Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain
"Meaningful dialogue about the nature and importance of science and research has already begun." summarizes Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, assistant professor in the UCD school of mathematics and statistics.

Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique: members of the public use webcams to detail the wildlife captured throughout the park.
Photo: Getty Images
In an age where information is readily available at one’s fingertips, it can be difficult to interpret what material is trustworthy and what facts may be distorted. Peer-reviewed research, and the quality thereof, has become increasingly important and a healthy criticality is required in reading news about research and statistics related to our everyday lives. It is one of the aims of the EU to increase the scientific literacy of citizens in order to support each person in making informed decisions about changes in, for example, society, politics, environment and education. Our new Junior Cycle science curriculum has paralleled this goal in aiming to support students “to make informed decisions about many of the local, national and global challenges and opportunities they will be presented with”.

An important part of scientific literacy is a familiarity with the nature of science – appreciating how scientists work and how scientific ideas are modified over time. In finding out what constituted the smallest building blocks of nature, JJ Thomson had proposed the pudding model of the atom and it was not until 1911 that Rutherford established that the atom was, in fact, mostly empty space. From the 17th century, Newton’s laws of gravity were upheld as fundamental laws of nature until Einstein’s theory of relativity demonstrated their limitations. Contrary to commonly-held views on science, science is not a pre-ordained structure of ready-made facts but rather a collective body of knowledge which is constantly being refined and reviewed. One way of developing an understanding of the nature of science is through participation in “citizen science”.

Source: Irish Times

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Wichita State hosting ‘Math Circle’ sessions for fifth- through eighth-graders | Wichita Eagle

Follow on Twitter as @SuzanneTobias
"Wichita State University is offering free math, statistics and physics lectures for fifth- through eighth-graders most Sundays through April. Each “Math Circle” lecture, discussion or activity is led by a WSU professor. They are 2 to 3 p.m. Sundays through April 30 in 372 Jabara Hall." inform Suzanne Perez Tobias, Education reporter for The Wichita Eagle and @kansasdotcom.

Photo: Brian Corn

WSU’s Math Circle gives students the chance to meet with math professionals in an informal setting to work on interesting problems or topics in mathematics, university officials said. The goal is to get students excited and passionate about math.

For more information or to register, visit or e-mail

Source: Wichita Eagle

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“God’s Number”: The Origins of One | Ancient Origins

Photo: Luis Teia
"According to Plotinus (Greek philosopher of the 3rd century AC), ‘One’ is the ultimate reality and source of all existence (Yael, 2006). Philo of Alexandria (Jewish-Egyptian philosopher born during the 1st century BC) regarded the number one as God's number, and the basis for all numbers ("De Allegoriis Legum," ii.12 [i.66])." inform Luis Teia, author of the book " X3+Y3=Z3: The Proof " - a book that presents the mathematical and geometrical proof of the Pythagoras' theorem in 3D. He is a passionate scientist, mathematician, writer and free-thinker. 

Mathematical symbols - Representational image only (public domain)

Like all truths, the fundamental nature of One is recurrent in time. An example is the evolution of the written sign 1. As the picture below shows, it started with a horizontal line used by the Indians, and mutated and evolved until it recurred again as a line, this time vertical. The quest for the meaning of One is ongoing still today. For example, in the beginning of last century, the mystic mathematical genius Ramanujan believed that all units emerge from a product between zero and infinity (Saymal and Ravi, 2016). And in this matter, who are we to question the man who knew infinity.

The Beginning
The more one wonders about something, the more one tends to question the foundations of knowledge. Our limitation is first and foremost our foundations. How did the ancients define One? How does a child acquire the concept of unity? These questions are not dissimilar. The concept of one or unit emerges from repetition. Without a recurring pattern, there could be no unit. If the universe was never repetitive, patterns would not exist, and neither would our ability to categorize and analyse our surroundings. There is an underlying universal gear that drives all creation. From reality, an entity emerges when our brain acknowledges both the existence of a pattern, and its disappearance. For example, the pattern of an apple repeats itself in the next apple. Conversely, it disappears in the space surrounding the apples. That is to say, our mind creates an invisible border that delimits an inside (the pattern, the apple, which typically is red or green with a round type of shape, and a little branch exiting from the top) from an outside (the “not” pattern, “not” apple which is for instance the tree, or the ground where the apple fell). This notion of separation between what “is” gave birth to the number 1, and the interaction of different “1”s gave birth to geometry and mathematics.

Life of Fermat 
Fermat was a rogue philosopher and mathematician of the 17th century. His interest was not in publishing articles, as indeed, he published none. It was his son that made his work known after he passed away. His interest was to discover the unknown. And to that end, he was quite successful. His famous Last Theorem was first discovered in the margin of his copy of an edition of Diophantus, and included the statement that the margin was too small to include the proof (Singh, 2002). No written account was found of this proof. The apparent simplicity of the proof (as suggested by Fermat’s statement) eluded mathematicians for centuries, including great names in mathematics such as Gauss. His sole interest in integers makes one wonder how deep did he go to search for answers. Did he go deep enough to question the meaning of an integer? Did he search for its meaning only with mathematics, or did he expand into geometry? Alas, did a mathematical-geometrical perspective of the meaning of an integer provided him with the tools to solve his (Fermat) last theorem?

Photo: Pierre de Fermat (public domain)

The answer to all things is at the beginning, after all, an entire tree always starts with a tiny seed of knowledge. An example of this is the ternary tree of primitive Pythagorean triples that Dr. Teia showed to be a tree born from the triple (3,4,5) and growing always with the same fundamental movement (Teia, 2016).

Source: Ancient Origins

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World’s Smartest Active Virtual Meeting Assistant | Ricoh

"Our Ricoh Cognitive Whiteboard transforms your meetings and actively supports your people by using IBM’s new advanced cognitive and speech recognition technology. IBM Watson responds to voice commands, manages your agenda, takes notes and actions, and even translates into other languages." says Ricoh.

The Ricoh Cognitive Whiteboard featuring IBM Watson technology

Run Meetings More Effectively with the Ricoh Cognitive Whiteboard

Collaborative workforces are at the heart of any successful business. But as business grow and teams become separated, remote meetings become ever harder to manage. Poor phone connections, language barriers, and not being able to easily visualise new concepts can all ruin a pitch or an evolving idea.

Imagine being able to build ideas together in the same virtual meeting by talking, drawing and annotating ideas even if you don’t speak the same language.

Ricoh’s new Cognitive Whiteboards will transform your virtual meeting, connecting remote devices, supporting employees with seamless integration whilst IBM’s ground breaking artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology translates so that everyone can understand the meeting, wherever they are...

Harriet Green, GM, Watson Internet of Things, Commerce & Education and Mona Abutaleb, SVP of Services, Ricoh Americas with the cognitive-enabled interactive whiteboard.

Ricoh has partnered with IBM to create a Cognitive Whiteboard that won’t be just a screen, but an active meeting participant. This new technology has a capability for learning that will enable a range of more complex smart meeting support features in the future.  

Key features & benefits
  • Easy-to-join meetings: With the swipe of a badge the Intelligent Workplace Solution can log attendance and track key agenda items to ensure all key topics are discussed
  • Simple, global voice control of meetings: Once a meeting begins, any employee, whether in-person or located remotely in another country, can easily control what’s on the screen, including advancing slides, all through simple voice commands
  • Ability to capture side discussions: During a meeting, team members can also hold side conversations that are displayed on the same Ricoh interactive whiteboard
  • Translation of the meeting into another language: The Cognitive Whiteboard can translate speakers’ words into several other languages and display them on screen or in transcript
Read more... 

Source: Ricoh and ricoheurope Channel (youTube)

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2017 Predictions: 3 Technologies That Will Put Your New Year On The Right Track | Forbes

This story was originally published on CenturyLink Bright Ideas

Photo: Vernon Irvin
"If you’ve been following any of the latest business and technology headlines, you’ve no doubt heard how 2017 will be the year that ground-breaking technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence will create new paradigms in our healthcare systems, schools, universities, and enterprises." insist Vernon Irvin, Senior Vice President-Sales and Marketing for CenturyLink’s Enterprise Business Sales organization.

Even small and mid-sized businesses (SMB) stand to gain immeasurable benefits from these technological advancements, helping managers to understand, manage and measure businesses operations and customer interactions in ways that were never possible before. We’ll have the opportunity to become more efficient, innovate faster and ultimately, make better decisions as long as we have the network foundation required to sustain this innovation.

Here’s a look at three types of technology that can help you establish the groundwork required to get ahead in 2017:

Fiber Optics: 
Fiber is the foundation of any business technology stack with its inherent speed and scalability. With fiber, you’re driving on a supersonic raceway; without it, your business will operate like the digital equivalent of driving on a dirt road. Fiber has the speed needed to enable complex technologies where every nanosecond counts. Fiber networks provide uncompromised performance and distinct uptime advantages with split-second data processing and the ability to upload and download files at the same fast pace. As the technology landscape becomes more complex and our patience for “load times” diminishes, it’s extremely important that businesses have a network that can run everything from basic business functions like conferencing and cloud uploads to some of the more powerful applications, like data mining and artificial intelligence. I’ve seen plenty of retail establishments leverage fiber and it’s fast, dependable connectivity as a competitive advantage to attract customers into their business. But if they wanted to go a step further, the store or restaurant could leverage fiber to access cloud-based business intelligence applications and better understand their customers’ preferences and buying habits.

Similarly, I’ve consulted with larger companies who also leverage fiber for cloud-based applications, but in addition to business intelligence, they also rely on it for instantaneous access to cloud-based procurement, sales and customer service applications, data backup and server processing environments. Many of these companies also have dispersed workers and need fiber to power online collaboration and video conferencing solutions. Fiber provides the gateway into an incredible set of IT services that enables businesses to delegate their IT challenges over to a trusted provider whether for business intelligence, email and security services or simply removing plain old phone systems off desks and putting in new IP telephony devices with advanced features. In my experience, fiber lays the groundwork for business growth and advancement while helping a business achieve maximum savings and efficiency.
Read more... 

Source: Forbes

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Higher education in 2017 | ITWeb Virtualisation

Photo: Jami Morshed
From embedded CRM to virtual personal assistants for students, higher education has the potential for great digital advancements, says Jami Morshed, VP of global higher education at Unit4

We have seen a lot of focus on digital transformation initiatives in the learning technology space over the past few years. Now we see institutions focusing their attention on the modernisation of their main administrative systems on campus, which are at the heart of their operations and central to the student experience, says Jami Morshed, vice-president of global higher education at Unit4.

There are a lot of business drivers that have accelerated this trend, whether it be the growth of non-traditional academic models, increased competition for students, or the need to run more efficiently with the pressure of declining budgets and inability to increase tuition. Universities have under-invested in their backbone systems, in some cases over decades, but the great story is that there is technology available today for them to leapfrog other industries and be a beacon for innovation again to support our new industries and economies of the future.

From embedded CRM to virtual personal assistants for students, higher education has the potential for more digital advancement to better serve their constituents than any other industry in 2017 and beyond. Below, I highlight the five key trends I believe will drive technology decisions in education in 2017.

1. Predictive analytics as a key component to improve student success and retention
Higher education leaders are starting to realise what this technology can do for an institution. From determining which students are most at risk of dropping out, to supporting retention strategies to persist toward degree completion, it also has the ability to improve operational efficiency and identify opportunities for growth.


Source: ITWeb

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Moving pictures | William & Mary News

The following story originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of the W&M Alumni Magazine - Ed.

"Caitlin Lewis Smallwood ’88 is vice president of science and algorithms at the world’s leading “internet television network.” From her office in Los Gatos, Calif., she oversees the numbers that help Netflix learn what you like to watch, predict what you might want to watch next, and decide what to purchase and produce in the future." says Ben Kennedy '05, University Advancement.

Number cruncher:  Caitlin Lewis Smallwood ’88 directs a team of around 50 data scientists, engineers and mathematicians at Netflix in Los Gatos, California. 
Photo by Timothy Archibald

She can also see cranes, dump trucks and construction workers building Netflix’s brand-new corporate headquarters on the south end of Silicon Valley. She’s a leader in a growing field within an influential company during a historic moment: data science is helping Netflix take off.

“It’s incredibly inspiring to me to be involved in this company when we’re at a point where we’ve launched mostly globally,” Smallwood says. “It’s an amazing opportunity to really help cultures learn about one another in an innocuous, non-threatening fashion.” 

Taste clusters
There is a dizzying number of conference rooms at Netflix headquarters, and they’re not even finished building it yet. Each one is a little different and named after a famous movie (usually one that is available to stream via the service). Many feature a glass wall, frosted with the image of a notable scene or actor.

And then there are the Emmys.

The lobby of Smallwood’s building is full of movie- and TV-based touches: art books about film on reclaimed wood tables, a constant stream of Netflix products on a giant screen (in this case, “The Crown”), and two softly lit columns displaying Netflix’s Emmy awards. Emmys aren’t common in Silicon Valley, but they’re testaments to the company’s smarts and strategy.

Then there’s the data.

When a user logs into the Netflix service and begins browsing, they see rows of categories. While you browse, Netflix logs what you watch, how you found it, how long you watched it, and the device you watched it on, among other things. As Netflix learns more about your viewing habits, it gets better at predicting what you like. This works no matter where you are in the world.

“One thing we’ve learned that holds true — so far, anyhow — is that when you try to get an understanding of people’s tastes, the kinds of ‘clusters of taste’ that people have are pretty similar around the world,” says Smallwood. “The size of the audience for these different kinds of tastes can differ quite a bit from region to region, but the actual kernels of what those tastes are, are not dramatically different.”

On Netflix, tastes are displayed as rows of categorized content. Usually, the rows are the typical fare from the old Blockbuster shelves: drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, romance and so on. But as you move further into Netflix’s database of over 50,000 row titles, things get really specific — “Strong Female Lead,” “Raunchy Cult Late-Night Comedies,” “Quirky Romances,” “Supernatural Horror Movies” and so on. There are a number of websites dedicated to chronicling the most obscure categories delivered to Netflix subscribers all over the world — like “Gritty British Prison Movies.”

“Although our internal job is harder,” she says, “the output to our customers is actually a little bit better because you can discover nuanced pockets of taste because of other regions that then help you serve members in a different region even more effectively. That part’s exciting, too.”

Smallwood is in charge of more than 50 engineers, data scientists and mathematicians who are working to distill the viewing habits of over 86 million Netflix subscribers and make the product better. Algorithms orchestrate the viewer experience, and they’ve responded: to the tune of 125 million hours watched per day. That’s like watching “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” more than a million times daily, or that one episode of “Murder, She Wrote” nearly 2.7 million times. It’s a colossal amount of data, and it’s up to Smallwood to make sense of it.
Read more... 

Additional resources
Download a PDF of this issue, Volume 82, No. 2
Source: William & Mary News

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China’s first ‘deep learning lab’ intensifies challenge to US in artificial intelligence race | South China Morning Post

"Search giant Baidu to head up research platform to develop technology that mimics human thought." reports Meng Jing.

Deep learning involves feeding data through computer-generated neural networks designed to mimic the human decision-making process.
Photo: Simon Song
Beijing has given the green light for the creation of China’s very first ‘national laboratory for deep learning’, in a move that could help the country to surpass the United States in developing artificial intelligence (AI).

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently approved the plan to set up a national engineering ‘lab’ for researching and implementing deep learning technologies. The lab will not have a physical presence, instead taking the form of a research network predominantly based online.

Regarded as one of the most exciting and fastest-growing areas of AI, deep learning - a subdivision of machine learning - involves feeding data through virtual neural networks designed to mimic the human brain’s decision-making process, in order to solve problems and recognise images and sounds.

It is seen by many as the key to elevating AI to something approximating human intelligence, and is already credited with major breakthroughs in technologies such as voice recognition in smartphones.

The NDRC has commissioned Baidu, operator of the country’s biggest online search engine, to lead the charge in creating the lab, working in partnership with China’s elite Tsinghua and Beihang universities, as well as other Chinese research institutes.
Beijing-based Baidu confirmed on its official WeChat account on Monday that the lab will focus on seven areas of research including machine learning-based visual recognition, voice recognition, new types of human machine interaction and deep learning intellectual property. The overarching goal, it stated, is to “boost China’s overall competence in artificial intelligence”.

Baidu did not reveal the size of the investment involved nor the likely scale of the lab, which will be headed by the company’s deep-learning institute chief Lin Yuanqing and scientist Xu Wei, as well as Zhang Bo and Li Wei, academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The lab is expected to help China make bigger waves in the competitive field of AI, a technology often regarded as a holy grail of the digital era and a key area in which Chinese researchers and enterprises are rapidly closing the gap on their western counterparts.

In October, the Obama administration released a “strategic plan” for AI research, which noted that China had overtaken the US, leading the world in journal articles on deep learning, a sub-discipline of AI research.

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