New invention cuts the job of sorting AI Tools from 7 years to a month

There are so many AI tools for chemical engineering jobs that it takes years to find the right one. So researchers at North Caroline State University have trained a ‘virtual lab’ to choose the best AI tools for each job. 

Having the right tool for the job makes the job a lot easier, less expensive and faster. 

They simulated 600,000 experiments, assessed 150 AI-guided decision-making strategies and claim to have cut 7.5 years of continuous robotic operation into one month’s work.

Chemical engineering researchers have now developed a virtual laboratory that can be used to determine the artificial intelligence (AI) tools best suited for addressing various chemical synthesis challenges in flow chemistry systems.

Autonomous systems can accelerating chemical R&D and manufacturing, but they are not in widespread use for two reasons. It’s hard to select the right hardware for automated synthesis – and it’s impossible to find AI-guided decision-making algorithm, says Milad Abolhasani, assistant professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University. 

There are three reasons why: One, there’s a huge choice of AI tools available. Two, there’s not information about them – which is add omission for artificial intelligence – so it’s hard to decide which tool is the best for each material synthesis problem. Three, the admin doesn’t stop once you have made your decision because each tool, once selected, still needs to be fine tuned.

“Recently, there has been increased interest in using off-the-shelf AI programs for modelling and optimisation of chemical reactions,” Abolhasani says. “But those off-the-shelf AI techniques are not one-size-fits-all – they’re not all equally good at solving whatever material synthesis problem you want to address.

“Ultimately, we want to find the best AI model architecture for determining the best material formulation that gives you the target properties you are looking for. Not just identifying the best material, but the best way of producing that material so that it has the best possible combination of characteristics. And the best AI model architecture is going to vary depending on the material and the complexity of the challenge.”

So Abolhasani and his collaborators took an AI-driven approach to finding the best AI tool for each material synthesis problem.

“It would be impossible to do the millions of experiments necessary to determine which AI tools do the best job for addressing different kinds of material synthesis problems,” Abolhasani says. “So, we wanted a model that simulates a real-world microfluidic experimental platform to effectively run those millions of experiments for us.”

The researchers ran 1,000 experiments using their automated Artificial Chemist platform and used those experimental data points to train the virtual experimental platform.

The paper, Accelerated AI development for autonomous materials synthesis in flow, is published in the journal Chemical Science

How Sunrise has swiped away the call centre

A mobile phone service in Switzerland has completely done away with call centres and all human customer support – and it’s all that to the introduction of eSIM.

Swiss operator Sunrise UPC (owned by Liberty Global) runs a digitally supported mobile service called swype, which users can connect each new customer’s phones to the network with an electronic version of the SIM card. 

By giving running the subscriber information module (SIM) through software rather than a card, they seduce users into the first step towards automation. Having done away with one manual operation, subscribers become emboldened to take on more. As Confucius said, the hardest part of the 1000 mile journey is the first step. In this case, the eSIM is the first step on the way to automation.

As a new subscriber to swype, once you have downloaded the eSIM from the Apple/Google store, you might feel confident about other forms of self-management. The installation is easy and the flat rate subscription (1.5 swiss francs day) is designed to be simple. The key is to avoid making people fear they are being locked in. In this scheme, the monthly plan can be cancelled at any time.

At first, companies used the vast arsenal of digital weapons to make life really complicated.

You never feel more manipulated than when you’ve tried to claim your ‘reward’ from a Loyalty scheme. That’s when you find out manipulative the marketing was and, as a result, you start to associate deviousness with the company. That’s not brand stigma.

If you don’t want your company to be branded as a cheat, keep your loyalty (i.e. customer service) strategy simple.

For swype subscribers customer service has become 100% digital onboarding. No paperwork, no post and no contact with a call centre, says Christoph Richartz, Chief YOL Officer Sunrise UPC. 

Ideally, I’d like to interview someone from the company about this, but there don’t seem to be any human contacts!

Scientists have created a robotic beetle that gets through the day on alcohol

Methanol-powered artificial muscles have given an AI Beetle Bot its autonomy. Sometimes, alcohol is the answer.

The functioning insect-alcoholic was designed by its creator to have an artificial micro-muscle system that runs on methanol.

By shunning batteries, scientists were able to construct an insect-sized “RoBeetle” robot that can crawl, climb, and carry loads all on its own for extended periods of time.

The creation was a team effort led by doctors Xiufeng Yang and Perez-Arancibia at the University of Southern California.

The autonomous robot is described by its inventors as an 88-milligram insect-scale autonomous crawling robot driven by a catalytic artificial muscle.

It’s the combination of fuel-powered artificial muscles and an easily controlled mechanical system that give the model complete autonomy – something that scientists have long struggled to create. Up until now truly ‘autonomous’ robots have need external controls and bulky components.

Meanwhile, methanol is a fuel that packs more energy per unit volume than batteries. The key is in the actuation – the mechanism by which control is enacted. The actuator needs a control signal to tell it what to do and a source of energy to do it. In old fashioned terms, a steering wheel tells a car what to do the muscle power of the driver moves the steering column!

Few actuation methods can run on liquid fuel and at this tiny scale, batteries store even less energy than normal.

This is why the vast majority of microrobots driven by battery-powered actuators have to rely on external power sources, such as fiddly cables or electromagnetic fields. These are the only way to power the steering for a sustained period.

The doctors set out to empower these tiny robots with autonomy and explored the idea of using methanol as a power source.

They began by engineering fuel-powered artificial muscles. These are wires made of nickel-titanium alloy covered in platinum powder, which acts as a catalyst for the combustion of methanol vapor.

The resulting heat makes the wire contract. But when the fuel is spent, the wire cools down and extends to its original length – resulting in one cycle of actuation.

Integrating these artificial muscles into a controllable mechanical structure enabled the construction of RoBeetle, an autonomous crawling robot weighing a total of 88 milligrams.

Fuelled by methanol, RoBeetle crawls on its own on both flat ground and inclines. It can deal with a variety of surfaces, ranging in roughness and friction from glass, through a firm foam sleeping pad to polyurethane charcoal foam.
The robot can work outdoors and 2.6 times its own body weight.

In future the RoBeetle will move faster, refuel and communicate with the human operator, according to collaborators Ryan Truby and Shuguang Li.

It’s probably best to talk to the Robeetle before it starts drinking though!

How Nvidia’s AI Security system saved supercomputer data centre operator $300,000 an hour and stopped it being hacked by bitcoin desperadoes

Downtime is so expensive to a super computer operator that a network failure can cost it a million dollars in lost productivity in half a day.

So a new level of artificial intelligence, which predicts and prevents operational issues, prevents network failures and catches hackers early, can instantly pay for itself. 

Processing giant Nvidia has unveiled a new artificial intelligence (AI) driven security system, which aims to minimise downtime in InfiniBand data centres using analytics to detect anticipate problems.

The NVIDIA Mellanox UFM has been used to manage InfiniBand systems for a decade. It applies AI to learn a data center’s operational cadence and network workload patterns. Drawing on this knowledge of both real-time and historic telemetry and workload data it can create a baseline of what is normal and acceptable. It then tracks the system’s health and network modifications, and detects performance degradations, usage and profile changes.

In June Nvidia added today a third element to the UFM family, the UFM Telemetry platform. This tool captures real-time network telemetry data, which is streamed to an on-premises or cloud-based database to monitor network performance and validate the network configuration. 

This means the new system can spot abnormal system and application behaviour. It can also predict potential system failures and nip these threats in the bud by taking corrective action. 

Supercomputers are often targets of high value system hacking by sophisticated crooks attempting to host undesired applications, such as cryptocurrency mining. The result is reduced data center downtime — which typically costs more than $300,000 an hour, according to research by ITIC.

The UFM Cyber-AI system allows system administrators to instantly detect and respond to potential security threats and prevent failures. This saves a fortune and provides the continuity of service that keveryone in a job, according to Gilad Shainer, senior vice president of marketing for Mellanox networking at NVIDIA.

‘It determines a data centre’s unique vital signs and uses them to identify performance degradation, component failures and abnormal usage patterns,” said Shainer.

Douglas Johnson, association director of the Ohio Supercomputer Center, has used the UFM platform for years in his employer’s InfiniBand data centres. ‘UFM and the expertise from the Mellanox networking team have been fundamental ingredients in the management of our network and the stability we’ve achieved,’ said Johnson.

The UFM Cyber-AI platform complements the UFM Enterprise platform, which manages networks, performance and security.

D-Link introduces new fever-screener technology to identify over heating staff in the COVID-19 crisis

Camera maker D-Link has launched a new spy-cam which can take the temperature of everyone in the office and report on who looks a bit peaky.

The new Group Temperature Screening Camera, DCS-9500T, is an all-in-one intelligent fever screening kit with a dual-lens thermographic picture taker, blackbody calibrator and management software.

It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse data from the thermographic camera and can raise an alarm automatically if an unusually high body temperature is detected in any of the subjects. 

The system was developed by South Korean vendor D-Link for monitoring large, busy areas and gives fast skin-surface temperature detection for up to 30 people at once with accuracy to the nearest 0.3°C.

D-Link says it is intended for schools, factories, office buildings, airports or hospitals.

The fever screener has a high accuracy camera with a wide-angle thermal lens and an uncooled IRFPA 400×300 microbolometer high-resolution thermal sensor. Together these create razor-sharp thermal images and precise results when identifying those with a temperature. 

A full high definition (HD) optical imaging sensor allows the kit to create high-quality footage that overlays thermal and optical images into one.

Facial recognition technology in the management software means that the kit can identify staff members who are falling ill.

The fever screening system is compatible with open industry forum ONVIF, so it can be integrated into existing systems. 

The management software can manage up to 32 cameras, so up to 900 people could be monitored at once. 

Questions

What made the South Koreans develop this particular application of the technology?

Is it in use already in South Korea?

The technology identifies people who are overheating. How does it raise an alarm to management: through a discrete email to a manager, does it use public shaming methods such as social media or does it employ direct digital intervention such as shutting down the individual’s technology and despatching a Robot to eject them from the premises?

Has anyone raised any queries about the use of this technology?

Apstra’s Artificial Intelligence Beats Avoidable Extravagance

Loitering with Intent, before you start building your data centre, will save you a fortune says Apstra vice president Sean Hafeez

Apstra’s product management VP Sean Hafeez explains how Loitering with Intent can make you an absolute killing on your networking costs.

Like a network engineer about to begin a very expensive operation, we need to define our terms first. What exactly is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how do we use it in Intent based networking?

Everything and noting, by the sounds of it. If my friend Guy Matthews phones an exclusive department store, the switchboard recognises his calling line identity (CLI) and automatically routes the call to an operator on the other side of the world who will be speaking in his second language. That decision is a cognitive function, ergo it is ‘artificial intelligence’.

However, AI is a lot more automated snobbery. It can help companies to save a fortune through planning and avoidance of expensive mistakes. Few people’s mistakes are more expensive than those of a network engineer and, ironically, few mistakes by engineers come under intense scrutiny. 

However, networking company Apstra has created an AI that automatically builds data centres as efficiently as possible. The problem with data centres is that you cannot afford to get them wrong. That would be an even more expensive mistake than asking a $200 per hour engineer to sort out the cable ties!

Aptra builds an operating system that slashes operating costs, prevents outages, speeds up your installations and makes you get your money’s worth of the networking engineers.

It’s used by the biggest networking companies in the world but the economies apply to small companies too.

The operating system (OS) works by working out what you want to do and then calculating the most efficient way to achieve it.

The problem for a data centre builder is that there are all kinds of equipment – servers, switches, cabling ducts – and even more types of software. This presents you with an infinite number of options, which means there are infinity minus one ways of getting it wrong. Even if you did get it right first time hat if, in retrospect, you wanted to take out all the Huawei kit. That would be very tricky to retrospectively audit.

Just on the cabling alone you have a nightmare. Cabling is an uncomfortable job. you’re not sitting comfortably when you make those connections. You’re often distorted into a weird position. It’s uncomfortable in those data centres. They’re dark and gloomy and lonely.

It’s a filthy job, if you’re down among the dead men, crawling around in a cabling duct. Many a cable rat has inadvertently kicked out a lead as they wriggle around in those dreadful cages. I remember running cabling along the corridors of a Hospital when I worked in its networking department. We were forever kicking up dust from the crumbling walls of that ancient institute.

It’s cold in data centres too. Since IT people are all massively over-cautious, the air-conditioning is dialled to the ‘Stun’ setting at all times. There’s a reason why networking companies love printing their logos on fleeces. Network engineers spent all their time shivering. 

For a combination of reasons – such as the strain on your muscles, the chill of the coolers or your revulsion at the dirt – cabling engineers often made hurried decisions when deciding where to plug a cable in. Nobody wants to hang around in those gloomy rooms for long. Many of them are haunted. There are rumours that organised crime has moved into ‘hosting’ because a data centre is the perfect place to hide the body of a cartel rival.

That’s all conjecture of course. What we can say with some certainty is that the data centre industry can be very expensive and needlessly wasteful. Nothing much is done about it as this is one of the great unreported scandals. Nobody knows enough about data centres to care and it’s very hard to get anyone interested. 

Nobody seemed to know what we did in that Hospital IT Department. Which is dangerous because that makes you unaccountable. When a doctor had his laptop stolen, for example, nothing happened. They didn’t even call in the police, which they ought to have done because it would have cleared the air. As it was, we were left with the unhealthy atmosphere of mutual suspicion.

Networking engineers cost an absolute fortune to employ and, since nobody really understands what they do, those costs are not manageable. How could they be when they can’t be measured?

When a network is created there is an incredibly complicated spaghetti of wires, each of which looks identical but plays a unique role and strategically critical role in the functioning of the network. Since the network is the central nervous system and intelligence of the modern enterprise, the consequences of all these misfiring synapses are painfully expensive.

When the chief executives and financial officers discover this, there will be hell to pay to those angry CEOs and furious CFOs.

Apstra’s operating system (AOS 3.2) will keep them at bay.

The problem ‘building at scale’ is that time is of the essence but mistakes are very expensive too. Each connection is vital to the functioning of one part of the network. It could be that a particular app that one set of users is totally reliant on the best connection to patch it directly into the server on which the apposite data and code resides. But that is one of 153,000 cabling options that the poor duct rat had to consider. 

Each server has 48 connections you can make.

Those 48 cables leading out from the server have, in turn, 1600 different end points they can be put into in the hubs and wiring closets. 

With some servers that’s 96 cables on your spine each with 1600 options on each panel. That’s 153,600 variations already. Each optical cable can have a thousand fibres, so consider how complicated it gets when you have a bundle of optical cables.

Every one of these options takes 20 minutes to investigate. So if you get it wrong, that’s many man hours that will be tied up, at $200 an hour, while the networking engineer checks cables.

In carpentry they say measure twice, cut once. Data centre builders say the road to promotion is paved with good Intent.  

Sean Hafeez has spent 20 years in networking, having joined Apstra in 2015 for release 1.0 of AOS.

Before that he was at Big Switch Networks, Arista Networks and Shasta Networks. 

Hafeez was a key figure in Arista’s first customer wins on Wall Street.

More impressively still, one of his ancestors was a signatory to the American Declaration of Independence and an architect of the American Constitution. Now  that is impressive management ancestry! 

Which social distancing app is best for telling intruders they’re getting too close and they better Fur Cough?

A rather disturbing message from the government pinged onto my iPhone on Monday.

It basically sentenced me to solitary confinement.

“Please remain at home for a minimum of 12 weeks. Home is the safest place for you,” says the passive-aggressive Sonority.

“You can open a window but do not leave your home and stay three steps away from others indoors.”

As far as possible, I am going to follow this advice as my immune system has been under attack from both sides. If there’s a white blood cell circulating in my blood, it’s going to be very lonely.

But how do I make sure nobody gets too close on those rare occasions when I do have to go out.

I’m off for a CT scan and a PICC Line flush this afternoon. So I’ve been reviewing the new social distancing apps for the mobile phone. If someone gets too close, the phone somehow detects their presence and tells them to keep their distance.

How effective are they? Here’s my ‘first impressions’ review.

I’ve tried ‘Shoo! Shoo!’  but the voice was way too friendly. It actually entices people to come closer. A typical response is for the safety violator to lean in and ask, “what’s that on your phone?”

It’s not cool, kids, I’m an old man and you’re supposed to stay away from me.

Another application has a much sterner voice. “Dosvidanya!” is a great way of sarcastically saying Goodbye but nobody understands Russian. Sounds typically harsh though.

The same word is used by Poles but most are not deterred by the tone, They are too impressed that you’ve actually learned a phrase in their language. I love the poles by they are way too friendly.

I liked “Oy! Far Cough” but you should only use it when someone is hacking up phlegm without putting their hands over their mouth. Otherwise it’s a bit too rude.

There is an upgrade, which I haven’t downloaded, which starts as “Fair Cough!” and builds up. If it senses that your space invader has not moved, it ups the ante with a stronger warning. “Go on! Fair Cough over there!” 

The final message is the nuclear option. “Fair cough out of it!”

There is an Irish version, in what sounds like a lovely sing song Cork accent: “fair gaff!”. I was particularly impressed by the musicality of the Welsh delivery, “Fur goo!”

There’s another message for those line in the more upmarket shops.

It goes “Fur Queue!”. I like the repeat option it offers for multiple space violators: “And Fur Queue too!”

Again, there is an elevation if the motion sensors in your phone are disappointed with events. “Fur Queue, Fur Queue to Your Chauffeur, take your counterfeit Rolex and Fake Off!”

I think I’m better off in solitary confinement.

Traditional watch maker Marloe quits England for Scotland because of Brexit

Traditional watch maker Marloe has quit Henley in England for Perth, Scotland because the founders want to stay in the EU.

The Marloe Watch Company was launched in 2105 after kindred spirits  Gordon Fraser and Oliver Goffe met on an online watch forum and decided to turn their shared love for heritage timepieces into a business. They discovered their mini renaissance in mechanical watches created huge interest among the public and soon they were catering to growing demand for traditional crafted watches.

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Founders Gordon Fraser and Oliver Goffe wanted to craft traditional mechanical mechanism to lovingly create heritage timepieces

The burgeoning brand received £600,000 in crowdfunding last year and saw profits grow 488 per cent between 2015 and 2018.

The new move away from England is part of a planned expansion strategy was swayed by Scotland’s position on remaining in the EU. The company wanted to get into Scotland before it got too hard, according to co-founder Oliver Goffe. “We want our children to grow up in a global world, not one that’s ring fenced,” said Goffe.

Co-founders of Marloe Watch Company Gordon Fraser and Oliver Goffe right

Though Scotland doesn’t necessarily have a brand image that’s better than England, Goffe said, it does have geographies and locations that resonate with the brand and its direction. “We are all about adventure; seeking it out and enjoying the open world, and through the shared pursuit of adventure connect with people of all backgrounds, origins and mindsets,” said Goffe.

While I’m sure we all wish them well in this venture – they do create beautiful watches – I’m not sure about the parting shots.

At the time of going to press, both Scotland and England were in Europe, no markets were ring fenced and the world remains global. The government has announced no plans to block any backgrounds, origins or mindsets.

Mechanical watch_Marloe Watch Company Coniston watch.jpg