What if our photographs and social media updates could be turned into memories we – or our children – could later access just by asking a virtual assistant, like Amazon’s Alexa? That’s the premise behind a new startup called Mylestone, which is experimenting with turning our digital footprints into narratives that help us recall highlights from our lives, as well as those of our family members and other loved ones.
The idea seems a little far out there, but it’s an area where a number of companies today are competing – whether that’s bots that will remember the minutia of our day-to-day lives, or even tools to augment our human intelligence with computing power.
Mylestone approaches this space a bit differently. Instead of focusing on more utilitarian functions, the startup is developing a highly personal service for capturing and recalling memories.
To use the Alexa app it has created, you first upload a series of photos, videos or audio files to the service. These are then analyzed by a combination of data science – meaning A.I. and machine learning – along with people who help the process along.
So, for example, if you upload a photo of your parents on a vacation, Mylestone’s system can extract certain data automatically. Using metadata from the photo, it can determine things like the date, time or location where the photo was taken. It can also identify certain things in the photo – like a recognizable landmark (think: the Eiffel Tower, e.g.) to make other determinations about what’s in the photograph.
On the human-assisted side of things, people can help connect the other dots to make the sort of leaps that computers cannot (yet). A photo of two elderly people might be your grandparents, for example, the people working with your digital collection could guess. Or maybe the photo is of a restaurant menu – and since other metadata indicates the city where it was shot – people could search until they found the restaurant in question, then manually confirm the related details.
In other words, people can do the sort of advanced cyber stalking you does on ahead of your Tinder dates, but for the purpose of saving life’s precious memories, not digging up dirt.
A future version of the service will also be able to scan your Facebook profile, Instagram, and other social media accounts in order to automatically create these memories for you, without the manual uploads. While that would give Mylestone more access to your personal data, it wouldn’t require any of it to then reside on its servers, as with the file uploads supported today.
“Our intent is to create narratives for you, not to host your content,” explains Mylestone founder and CEO Dave Balter.
Balter previously founded BzzAgent, acquired by Tesco in 2011, and Smarterer, acquired by Pluralsight in 2014. Mylestone’s team includes Head of Engineering Jim Myers who worked with Balter at Smarterer, and Head of Advocacy Jon O’Toole, who co-founded BzzAgent.
A serial entrepreneur and frequent traveler, Balter began thinking about memorials after seeing an empty cemetery when looking out the window of his flight to Laguardia.
After 20 or so trips where he would glance down the graveyard and always find it vacant, a question began to tickle in his mind. Why don’t people go to graveyards anymore?
“But what started becoming obvious was that there was something bigger happening. Social [media] had transformed the way we talk about deceased loved ones…it’s fully acceptable to talk about death,” says Balter, noting how we tend to just post on Facebook. “We have other ways to memorialize,” he adds.
But Facebook may not be the best way to do this. And with the rise of voice-based computing, Balter began to think of different ways we could use computers to recall memories. Maybe we could just ask Alexa, he thought.
The Alexa skill lets you say things like: “tell me a story about mom,” or “have grandma say the prayer,” for example. It’s a way of remembering loved ones in a very real, interactive way.
The startup already has its tendrils in tools for memory collection. It acquired the photo-scanning app Heirloom in April, 2016, for example. And it’s working on other ways to make it easier for families to collect their histories – like tools for collecting grandpa’s war stories, for example – instead of relying only on file uploads.
I tried the service for myself, and found it intriguing. I uploaded a handful of scanned photos from a vacation I took as a child, and Alexa told me a story about my summer on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, visiting the historic and tiny Salvo Post Office, splashing in the ocean, and picking flowers for mom. (Nah, I picked them for me.)
But as a proof-of-concept, it’s not bad. With more data pouring in from Facebook and your social media accounts, and flashing up related imagery on your TV through Alexa’s Fire TV connection (well…one day), Mylestone could be even better.
“This is one of those swing-for-the-fences type of ideas,” said David Frankel, Partner at Founder Collective. “Mylestone is tapping into the mainstreaming of voice activated assistants to put tech-enabled human connection and memory at the center of consumer experience.”
The startup has time to experiment, thanks to a new $2.5 million round of funding led by True Ventures, a prior investor in Smarterer. Also participating are Founder Collective, Boston Seed Capital, Converge Ventures, and Mergelane. To date, Mylestone has raised $4.5 million.
You can try it for yourself here.
By: TechCrunch, USA
Source: techcrunch.comRead More
Jobs in poor countries may be especially vulnerable to automation
BILL BURR, an American entertainer, was dismayed when he first came across an automated checkout. “I thought I was a comedian; evidently I also work in a grocery store,” he complained. “I can’t believe I forgot my apron.” Those whose jobs are at risk of being displaced by machines are no less grumpy. A study published in 2013 by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University stoked anxieties when it found that 47% of jobs in America were vulnerable to automation. Machines are mastering ever more intricate tasks, such as translating texts or diagnosing illnesses. Robots are also becoming capable of manual labour that hitherto could be carried out only by dexterous humans.
Yet America is the high ground when it comes to automation, according to a new report* from the same pair along with other authors. The proportion of threatened jobs is much greater in poorer countries: 69% in India, 77% in China and as high as 85% in Ethiopia. There are two reasons. First, jobs in such places are generally less skilled. Second, there is less capital tied up in old ways of doing things. Driverless taxis might take off more quickly in a new city in China, for instance, than in an old one in Europe.
Attracting investment in labour-intensive manufacturing has been a route to riches for many developing countries, including China. But having a surplus of cheap labour is becoming less of a lure to manufacturers. An investment in industrial robots can be repaid in less than two years. This is a particular worry for the poor and underemployed in Africa and India, where industrialisation has stalled at low levels of income—a phenomenon dubbed “premature deindustrialisation” by Dani Rodrik of Harvard University.
Rich countries have more of the sorts of jobs that are harder for machines to replicate—those that require original ideas (creating advertising), or complex social interactions (arguing a case in court), or a blend of analysis and dexterity (open-heart surgery). But poorer countries are not powerless. Just because a job is deemed at risk from automation, it does not necessarily mean it will be replaced soon, notes Mr Frey.
The cheapness of labour in relation to capital affects the rate of automation. Passing laws that make it less costly to hire and fire workers is likely to slow its advance. Scale also matters: farms in many poor countries are often too small to benefit from machines that have been around for decades. Consumer preferences are a third barrier. Mr Burr is hardly alone in hating automated checkouts, which explains why 3m cashiers are still employed in America.
By: The Economist, UK
Source: www.economist.comRead More
Food waste is a trillion dollar problem around the world but Denmark has managed to cut the amount of food it throws away by a quarter. Here’s how it did it.
On a chilly summer’s night in the centre of Copenhagen, a crowd gathers around the entrance of a restaurant called Dalle Valle. It’s 22:30 and the dinner buffet is winding up and the kitchens are about to close. But these people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, are here for the food that the diners inside didn’t want.
Dalle Valle is one of hundreds of restaurants and cafes listed in an app called Too Good To Go, which lets you order takeaway food that would otherwise be thrown away, for knock-down prices. It’s an example of many social initiatives set up in the last few years to address the growing problem of food waste. And in Denmark, they are leading the world.
Like many countries, Denmark has a problem with food waste. A 2014 government survey estimated that each household in the country throws away 105kg of food each year on average. Worth around 3,000 kroner (£350), that’s more than a month’s worth of food for most families. Shops will also discard food with minor cosmetic flaws. It is common for bakery staff to throw away rolls or loaves of bread that come out of the oven the wrong size or shape, for example.
Across Europe, 100m tonnes of food a year ends up in landfills. As the food decomposes, it produces an estimated 227 tonnes of CO2 equivalent gases – roughly as much as the total fossil-fuel emissions of Spain.
And it’s not just a problem in rich countries. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that roughly the same amount of food goes to waste in developing nations as industrialised ones: around 630 and 670m tonnes respectively. In all, a third of the food produced for human consumption each year – a trillion dollar’s worth – goes in the bin.
A third of the food produced each year – a trillion dollar’s worth – goes in the bin
Now Denmark is showing other countries what can be done. It has reduced its food waste by 25% in the last five years, according to a study by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. Its success is largely down to changing shoppers’ habits. Last year two branches of a supermarket called WeFood opened in Copenhagen. The shops only sell food that has passed its sell-by date.
The UK comes in second. Between 2008 and 2013, it reduced its waste by 21%. And the Real Junk Food Project opened the UK’s first surplus-food store in Leeds in September.
Yet Denmark now has more initiatives tackling food waste than any other country in the world. And most of this activity can be traced back to Selina Juul, a Russian graphic designer turned food activist, who started a movement called Stop Spild Af Mad (“Stop Wasting Food”) eight years ago.
When Juul moved to Denmark in the 1990s to study, she was delighted to see an abundance of food. “I came from Moscow where communism had just collapsed and supermarket shelves were constantly empty,” she says. “Food was an often unmet necessity.” But working part-time in a supermarket bakery, she was also shocked to see bread being discarded every day simply because it did not look right.
In 2008 Juul started a Facebook page urging Danes to stop wasting food. The page became so popular that she found herself discussing the issue on national television less than two weeks later. Juul was then contacted by REMA 1000, Denmark’s major discount supermarket chain, which wanted her to help find ways to curb food waste in their stores.
Around 29,000 tonnes of bread and cakes are discarded every year in Denmark, mainly because it is sold in portions larger than people need, says John Rosenlowe, a marketing manager at REMA 1000. To address the problem, the company reduced the size of its own-brand bread by 40-50%, dropping the price accordingly. As well as giving people less food to throw away at home, Rosenlowe says that the change has reduced food waste by stores and suppliers, which now discard fewer items for being too small.
To cut down on wasted food, one Danish supermarket halved the size of its bread
More businesses followed. Retailers such as Lidl and Coop Danmark, a large supermarket conglomerate, joined REMA 1000 in a drive to cut food waste. Lidl stopped offering discounts that encouraged people to buy more than they needed. Unilever sponsored free doggy bags in restaurants across Denmark to encourage people to take home their leftovers. And restaurants started selling leftover food via apps like Too Good To Go. Businesses that adopt practices to cut down waste are certified by an organisation called ReFood.
Non-profits also signed up. Ida Merethe Jorgensen, chairman of Danske Handicaporganisationer, a charity based in Kolding, works with a group of volunteers to collect unsold food and distribute it to low-income families, for example.
In most countries, including Denmark, there are no laws against selling or distributing food past its expiration date. But sell-by and use-by dates have conditioned people to think all food becomes inedible as soon as those dates pass. That’s changing, however. “I have learned that it will be cheaper for me to buy foods that are close to their expiry date,” says Aslan Husnu, a researcher at Aarhus University who hunts for discounted items in supermarkets. “To stop the waste all I need to do is buy small portions, buy frequently, and not fill my basket with only perfectly shaped food.”
Others are now following Denmark’s lead. France and Italy recently introduced laws that make it easier for businesses – including farmers – to donate leftover food to charities, for example. And smartphone apps that direct hungry people to surplus food have been set up in several countries. “An increasing number of social enterprises are popping up all over Europe,” says Tania Burnham at Too Good To Go. “With the average mobile phone user checking their phone every six seconds, it’s never been easier to interact with their target market.”
But Denmark’s example may not be easy to replicate everywhere. “Denmark is a small, relatively homogenous, social-democratic country that is used to making some decisions based on the common good and constraining individual choice,” says food sociologist Krishnendu Ray at New York University. That kind of policy does not go down so well in places like the United States, he says.
Food waste is by far the lowest hanging fruit from an environmental perspective
For Madeline Holtzman, reducing the amount of food we throw away should be a no-brainer, however. “One of the biggest contributors to methane emissions, food waste is by far the lowest hanging fruit from an environmental perspective and arguably the least polarising or politicised environmental hazards,” she says.
A postgraduate student at New York University, Holtzman thinks it is partly a matter of raising awareness so that people can make their own choices. She is working to help launch Toast Ale in the US – a British craft beer made from surplus bread. This spring she also plans to spend a month dumpster diving – living off food she finds in bins outside shops and restaurants – with a colleague from Toast Ale, documenting the experience.
Back in Denmark, Juul thinks that public awareness has spiked – so much so that there is now a deficit of surplus produce. She says that WeFood is struggling to stock its shelves because businesses that contribute unsold food to the supermarket find they have less to give away. And apps like Too Good To Go have become so popular that restaurants are having to turn people away.
So the next time you see a crowd queuing outside a restaurant, they might not be there for the main menu – they’d rather have the food headed for the bin.
By: BBC Future, UK
Plans for voting via ATM machines to massively boost turnout
Portugal has announced the world’s first participatory budget on a national scale. The project will let people submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on which ideas are adopted.
Although participatory budgeting has become increasingly popular around the world in the past few years, it has so far been confined to cities and regions, and no country that we know of has attempted it nationwide. To reach as many people as possible, Portugal is also examining another innovation: letting people cast their votes via ATM machines.
‘It’s about quality of life, it’s about the quality of public space, it’s about the quality of life for your children, it’s about your life, OK?’ Graça Fonseca, the minister responsible, told Apolitical. ‘And you have a huge deficit of trust between people and the institutions of democracy. That’s the point we’re starting from and, if you look around, Portugal is not an exception in that among Western societies. We need to build that trust and, in my opinion, it’s urgent. If you don’t do anything, in ten, twenty years you’ll have serious problems.’
Although the official window for proposals begins in January, some have already been submitted to the project’s website. One suggests equipping kindergartens with technology to teach children about robotics. Using the open-source platform Arduino, the plan is to let children play with the tech and so foster scientific understanding from the earliest age.
Proposals can be made in the areas of science, culture, agriculture and lifelong learning, and there will be more than forty events in the new year for people to present and discuss their ideas.
The organisers hope that it will go some way to restoring closer contact between government and its citizens. Previous projects have shown that people who don’t vote in general elections often do cast their ballot on the specific proposals that participatory budgeting entails. Moreover, those who make the proposals often become passionate about them, campaigning for votes, flyering, making YouTube videos, going door-to-door and so fuelling a public discussion that involves ever more people in the process.
On the other side, it can bring public servants nearer to their fellow citizens by sharpening their understanding of what people want and what their priorities are. It can also raise the quality of public services by directing them more precisely to where they’re needed as well as by tapping the collective intelligence and imagination of thousands of participants.
The model began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, and has become popular around the world in recent years, with more than 1,500 places estimated to have adopted some variation. The largest by funding is in Paris. In 2016, only its third year, the scheme disbursed €100million (some $110million) and it plans to have spent €500million ($550million) by 2020.
Although Portugal has allocated only €3million for this first year, the fact that it is operating nationwide has given rise to some special characteristics. For one thing, Portugal has ten million inhabitants, compared with some two and a quarter million Parisians, of whom 158,000 voted. For another, while one pot of money has been allocated to specific regional projects, the proposals drawing on the national pot must improve the links between different parts of the country by working across them.
‘Portugal is well-established in terms of its territory, borders, population, and has a cohesive identity,’ said Fonseca. ‘But we need to be able to better connect the interior and the littoral, urban and rural areas, and we have a chance to do it because we are a medium-sized country that is very coherent.’
Nevertheless, it is difficult to reach people in the poorest and most rural areas, and one of the perennial problems with participatory budgeting is that people who are already marginalised often fail to assert their agenda. This is where the ATM idea comes in.
Although it will not be used this year, because the project is still very much in the trial phase, the use of ATMs is potentially revolutionary. As Fonseca puts it, ‘In every remote part of the country, you might have nothing else, but you have an ATM.’ Moreover, an ATM could display proposals and allow people to vote directly, not least because it already contains a secure way of verifying their identity. At the moment, for comparison, people can vote by text or online, sending in the number from their ID card, which is checked against a database.
For now, Fonseca and her colleagues are concentrating on making this trial run smoothly. Before taking this job, she ran Lisbon’s participatory budget for six years, developing it in discussion with colleagues from Paris, New York and Brazil, and she believes that it will take at least five years for the nationwide program to become known and recognised.
‘I’ve been in this process for so many years now and I always have the same feeling,’ she said. ‘In these times of so much information, you’re so surrounded by content and social networks that it’s difficult to get to people and say: this is happening. We’ll probably get a lot of people voting if we have a good lot of proposals. If people see proposals that they relate to, that they see will be good for their regions, for their cities, for their neighbourhoods, then people will campaign and they will vote.’
By: apolitical, UK
Source: apolitical.coRead More