Cycling, Crisp Research, Dimension Data, and a touch of Neuromorphic computing.

Stefan Reid of Crisp Research invited me up to Frankfurt today, to attend their conference.  I’ve known Stefan for a while,  while he was at Forrester and I was at Gartner, we frequented the same taxi queues and analyst dinners at vendor conferences.

I learnt a good deal about the practical state of ML, IoT, cloud etc in Germany.  Strong presentations from the analysts,  customer panels, and case studies. Osram’s massive transformation into an IoT platform player. Continental’s data lake and mobility services strategy, including live demo. neat.  Continental is a lot more than tyres.

I also learnt a new word during Carlo Velten’s keynote, Neuromorphic computing. Apparently  lots going on at Heidelberg University on this, funding in part by the Klaus Tshira Stiftung.

Beate Spiegel, Managing Director of the Klaus Tschira Foundation
“Klaus Tschira was very interested in the investigation and development of new computer architectures that are modelled on the human brain. Beyond his personal interest, he was keen to support the ongoing development of information science for the benefit of humankind. That is why he agreed as early as three years ago to become a sponsor of the European Institute for Neuromorphic Computing through his foundation. We are very happy that with construction of the new facility now under way, the University is taking the first visible step toward new and exciting research findings.”

I glanced at the agenda yesterday, and I was thrilled to see Rob Webster, who runs the sports practice at Dimension Data, on the agenda.

I’ve been very impressed how the South African/global tech company, Dimension Data, has developed its brand recognition through its sponsorship with  Tour de France / ASO, and its pro-cycling team.

The philanthropic dimension of their engagement is particularly compelling, enabling kids in Africa to receive bicycles of their own. Check out Qhubeka. While for some of us cycling is the new golf,  and we argue about SRAM v Shimano, at a more existential  level, owning a bicycle might be the difference between getting to school or not.

Often the link between sport sponsorship and the core business is a tenuous one, but in the case of Dimension Data, there is a technology play with both the TdF and the DD team.  Anyone who rides a bit will know that the last decade has seen an explosion in measurement and data in cycling, even for back of the field weekend riders like myself.  With powermeters, GPS, Heart rate monitors, go pros,  Strava, Zwift, cycling is a rather interesting coalescence of IoT, Social, Big Data, and even Virtual Reality.  Fertile ground then.

IoT, Social media, predictive analytics, machine learning all got a mention,  each with a cycling proof point.  He discussed the impact (pun intended) that the real time data about a major crash had on the TDF’s social engagement levels, and being able to actually prove how fast the pros actually descend. Apparently Cavendish isn’t especially speedy up the hills, but he is pretty nifty on the way down.

“The purpose of IoT  in cycling is not for technology’s sake, but it is to deepen our and the fans’ understanding of the sport.”  Rob, you nailed it.

Thanks to the folks at Crisp Research for having me along.

Disclosure:  We are Dimension Data fans IMG_4062

 

 

 

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Of Cobblestones, Solomon, Paula, Gunter, Joseph and the GDPR.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of software vendor marketing and press from around the world about the GDPR. It seems to me that a lot of it misses the point. GDPR is seen as a compliance burden, an unwelcome dose of EU bureaucracy or at best a useful opportunity sell security software.  It is perhaps useful to reflect on why the GDPR and its predecessors in data protection legislation came into being.

I was walking to the train station in the rain this morning, and I paused for a moment by the pair of  Stolpersteine (tripping stones) on the corner of the street where we live. I’m not sure why I took the picture today,  perhaps they glistened from the drizzle.  I  wondered what Salomon and Paula were like, what were their hobbies and their foibles, did they watch football or play tennis together, what jobs did they do, was she left handed, who were their friends, what colour was his favourite tie,  did he make puns that made her smile, did she play Chopin on piano so that the notes drifted down the street on the breeze, did they hold hands as they walked beside the Neckar on that summer’s evening for the last time?

stolperstein image. two next to each other. Deutsch family.

Gunter Demnig began this art project in 1992. The first stone was laid in Salzburg, Austria, and now there are over 27,000  plaques across  22 countries, and growing.  Think of it as a distributed  museum.   They all follow the same format, size and font.  In situ, on the doorsteps of houses, for me they are more powerful and poignant than any centralised memorial or museum. They bring an uncomfortable intimacy and they force me to think about  how easily such an evil could come into being.  (check out more about the stones  here).

The GDPR exists to protect our data (and our person)  from abuse.

This Regulation protects fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons and in particular their right to the protection of personal data. (Article 1 (2) GPDR) 

Software has the potential for enabling goodness, yet it can also empower evil. Software can encourage democracy, but it can undermine it too. Software can level the playing field, or it can entrench privilege.   The power of software to find, sort and group people is both awesome and awful.  It is a mighty thing that we wield.

As an industry we need to see people’s data as something to treat with care and respect. The GPDR is a long overdue firm nudge for us to remember that.

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence,  Joseph Weizenbaum, fled Berlin for the US as a child in the 1930’s.  I suspect there is a stoplerstein for his family on a street in Berlin. His book, Computer Power and Human Reason, should be required reading for all those building software.

““The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

We proclaim gleefully that software is eating the world, and data is more valuable than oil, so it is high time the software industry took its human rights responsibilities more seriously.

I, for one, welcome the GDPR.