Google Seeks to Level the AI Playing Field, whilst AI Aims to Stand Up Against Crime (The Week in AI, July 27)

Google Seeks to Level the AI Playing Field, whilst AI Aims to Stand Up Against Crime (The Week in AI, July 27)

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Google Cloud AutoML

During this week’s Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco, Google laid out how it plans to democratise its machine learning tools, as well as integrating more AI capabilities throughout its cloud products. Cloud AutoML will provide developers technology that can automatically create machine learning models far quicker. It effectively extends Google’s Cloud Vision API to recognize entirely new, customized categories of images. With whispers of Google’s cloud offering being undermined by the new functionality of rivals like Amazon Web Services and the well-established Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene indicated the announcement would be a ‘key to re-engineering a business’.

Artificial Intelligence and Cancer

At the CogX AI event, held last month, a leading area of discussion was surrounding areas like diagnosis of treatment and new science findings. As reported by Forbes contributor Paul Armstrong this week, computers are fast becoming better (or are already better) at diagnosing ailments like Alzheimer’s, Pneumonia, skin cancer and eye diseases. Some medical professionals do believe AI technology could make the billions being poured in to fight the disease a thing of the pass, but we shall see what the pharma industry might have to say about that.

Met Police aims to bring AI to the forefront of security

The Evening Standard reports that £30 million could be saved and an extra 545 officers placed on the streets by adopting artificial intelligence technology. The proposed technology will offer the police capabilities to analyse huge volumes of data and cross-reference information from different databases and surveillance systems. Such advancements will reduce the current amount of time used to analyse content during investigations and potentially identify potential crimes and suspects.

A similar operation is already being carried out by New York police, who use a system to link individual officers and smartphones with live feeds from 8,000 CCTV cameras across the city. Pressure is now being placed heavily on London Mayor Sadiq Kahn to provide the necessary investment amidst increasing crime rates in London.

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Cisco backs Britannia and AI leaders terminate the Terminator (The Week in AI, July 20)

Cisco backs Britannia and AI leaders terminate the Terminator (The Week in AI, July 20)

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Cisco Investment

Cisco boosted the Government’s AI sector deal by investing a whopping £76.8 million into digital research, with a heavy lean on AI, as reported here by tech reporter Emily Nicholle for City AM. Part of the investment includes the foundation of a new AI research centre in conjunction with UCL.

In an interesting choice of messaging, the Prime Minister described the investment as a “vote of confidence in the Government’s Industrial Strategy”, a phrase which for many conjures the beleaguered football manager on borrowed time (so often is it preceded by the “dreaded” vote of confidence in that context).

Yet surely it does represent a demonstration of faith in AI in the UK. Many will take heart in the U.S. tech juggernaut backing the research capabilities of talent at UK universities.

The Cisco announcement also checks a big box on the Government’s checklist for its Industrial Strategy in terms of seeking to spread the benefits of digital innovation, with an initiative to end digital exclusion.

From a communications point of view, it’s interesting to see the investment Cisco makes in its Country Digital Acceleration platform. It creates a clear, replicable programme for engaging governments, academics and industry in different countries and positions the company as transparent and committed to the markets in which they operate.

Killing Killer Robots

A cadre of influential figures in the AI world, including Government AI tsar and DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis, joined Boston’s the Future of Life Institute in signing a pledge not to develop lethal autonomous weapons. Covered nicely here by James Vincent of the Verge. Covered with more of a spin here by the Daily Express, leaning in on the current controversy around Elon Musk to somehow give this a negative spin for the tech billionaire. The picture of his mugshot next to that of the Terminator certainly helps in that endeavour.

PwC Report

The big news earlier in the week came from PwC’s report looking at the impact of AI on employment in the UK. The Big 4 firm found that AI and robotics will be a net job creator, removing 7 million jobs from the economy, but adding 7.2 million. While this may be razor slim margins, it proves a salve against the worst prognostications of the doom merchants! Julia Kollewe had a good report on this data in the Guardian.

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Around Whitehall:

Jeremy Wright gets off to a flyer at DCMS with major Cisco announcement

Jeremy Wright will have been pleased to change the conversation away from the questions relating to digital prowess that followed his appointment to the DCMS hot seat. The Cisco announcement represents a major win for the Government in terms of inward investment and brings to life many of the talking points that have been heard in relation to the AI sector deal. The Minister described the UK as “the natural destination in Europe for tech companies to invest”. Remarks presumably received coolly within the Élysée Palace.

Chancellor underlines importance of AI to UK economy at 4IR APPG

Alan Mak’s All Party Parliamentary Group looking at the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) celebrated a year of discussions with a reception at Parliament. Guest of honour was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he underlined the importance of AI to the UK economy. He addressed the group and explained his firm belief that the key metric for Government was whether real wages were rising and that AI, and tech more generally, offered the productivity boosts necessary to deliver against that goal.

Perhaps the most telling commentary came from event sponsor HSBC’s European subsidiary chairman John Symonds, who observed that much education to meet the changes wrought by the 4IR are actually preparing us for the past. Some coding, he said, was likely to be an antiquated skill thanks to AI automating many routine tasks in this arena.

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How much new nuclear do we really need?

How much new nuclear do we really need?

Written by Harry Spencer, Senior Account Manager in Madano’s Energy practice.

How much new nuclear do we really need?

Sometimes it’s the simplest questions which prove the hardest to answer.

While almost everyone in the energy sector agrees you need some new nuclear, in order to provide reliable, dispatchable low carbon energy, it has become clear that there is little agreement on how much.

This was brought into sharp relief by two publications last week: the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) assessment of infrastructure need and National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios report.

The NIC took the view that only one major nuclear new build project, in addition to Hinkley Point C, should get the green light in the next few years.

Sir John Armitt, the NIC’s chairman, said: “We’re suggesting it’s not necessary to rush ahead with nuclear. Because during the next 10 years we should get a lot more certainty about just how far we can rely on renewables.”

But National Grid offers a different view. They outline two alternative routes which would lead to the UK hitting its 2050 decarbonisation targets.

In one of these, there will need to be an additional 8GW of new nuclear capacity; in another, an additional 17GW. As Hinkley Point C is set to deliver 3.2GW, and is at the upper end in terms of size, these figures mean anything from at least another two new nuclear plants to another five – either way, much more than the NIC envisages.

This divergence in forecasting underlines the challenging nature of making energy policy, which requires policymakers to look as far as possible into an unpredictable future.

Unless you are in possession of a crystal ball, it is impossible to know which approach is best. But it is clear the Government’s view is closer to National Grid’s.

The Nuclear Sector Deal, released last month, saw the Government sacrifice a number of sacred policy cows in order to facilitate greater new nuclear build – most notably in its newfound willingness to “keep under consideration a range of financing options when deciding how to proceed” with future new nuclear projects, including the possibility of direct investment.

This shift in policy is directly at odds with the advice of the National Infrastructure Commission, and it will therefore be interesting to see how the Government responds to the NIC in its formal response in due course.

In so doing, the Government has calculated, either explicitly or implicitly, that the risk of ending up with excess nuclear capacity looks good in comparison to the risk of renewables not being in a position to fill the gap on their own.

They are probably right. And if they’re not, well…. no one will find out for 15 years anyway.

Madano works with clients across the energy sector, including in the nuclear sector.

Facebook seeks to ‘Talk the Walk’ (The Week in AI, July 13)

Facebook seeks to ‘Talk the Walk’ (The Week in AI, July 13)

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The week’s AI focus switched to Facebook, as they announced plans for a new Artificial Intelligence (AI) program called ‘Talk the Walk’, which will be able to give walking directions without actually knowing your location. In a ploy which may well threaten the likes of Google Maps the program will have access to a map and know the destination, but would not be able to tell where the tourist is. While still in its infancy, tests are being carried out using small maps of New York City neighbourhoods (each a couple of blocks wide), 360-degree photos of the same locations, and sample dialogues of humans guiding one another around these neighbourhoods.

This week PWC published a new study stating that AI could soon become the largest contributor to the global economy with a potential contribution of $15.7tr by 2030. AI proponents believe it is already proving beneficial to various industries growth and productivity. With Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana all using AI-based algorithms to “make life better” could there be a valid argument that AI technology is ready to play a prominent role in our future? Read more here –

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Around Whitehall:

Following a string of resignations caused by disagreements over the direction of Brexit, Matt Hancock former Culture Secretary has been appointed Health Secretary. As part of the reshuffle Jeremy Wright will assume the position of Culture secretary following four years as attorney general, legal adviser to the government.

The initial reaction to the appointment has been met with some hostility as opponents were quick to mock his non-existing digital footprint, with shadow culture secretary Tom Watson highlighting his lack of presence on Twitter.

Theresa May was forced into a cabinet reshuffle following the departures of senior cabinet members Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary and David Davis, Brexit Secretary, which led to the appointments. Davis resigned late on Sunday evening, and was joined by Brexit Minister, Steve Baker. Davis stated that his resignation was over his belief that the position ‘gave too much away’. Dominic Raab – a Leaver – was appointed to replace Davis, however this move was followed by the resignation of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who warned that the Brexit “dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt”. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt replaced Mr Johnson at the FCO.

New Culture Secretary Wright will need to get up to speed quickly with matters currently in the DCMS in-tray, including the acquisition of Sky by Fox, Channel 4’s move to the regions, and an independent review into the future of high-quality journalism as well as building the UK Tech City programme.

More details here:

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Electric vehicle uptake: clearing the road blocks

Electric vehicle uptake: clearing the road blocks

The UK Government’s targets for emission reduction put electric vehicles (EVs) at the heart of the strategy to reduce transport emissions, yet EV sales are struggling to achieve the growth needed to deliver the Government’s targets, so what is needed to make the transition a reality?

In our previous two articles in this series Madano has identified a growing gap in the UK between consideration of electric vehicles and actual purchase, and that there has been a recent decrease in pure-electric (non-hybrid) vehicle registrations despite a substantial increase in hybrid-electric vehicle registrations. Lower emissions, high torque, charging at home and silent operation ought to appeal to consumers, but in the year to end March 2018 pure EVs (excluding hybrids) accounted for less than 1% of new registrations. So how can uptake of EVs increase and what are the challenges to overcome?

Barriers to uptake: real or perceived?

Industry research consistently identifies recharging infrastructure, vehicle range, cost of ownership, availability of information and limited vehicle choice as the key to barriers to EV uptake[1]. Yet these barriers are eroding rapidly, without EV uptake rapidly accelerating. So why is that?

Firstly perception lags behind reality, requiring significant investment in communication to shift perception. Secondly, there’s reluctance to be the early adopter, requiring significant investment to promote trial and early uptake. Thirdly, systemic barriers – the hidden barriers to addressing the apparent barriers – require clear focus on wider stakeholder engagement.

Availability of information – room for improvement

So important to the UK Government is the provision of information on EVs that it directly supports the Go Ultra Low information service alongside a limited range of industry operators: Audi, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT), and the Government’s own Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV).

A recent study reported by the BBC into car dealers in 126 dealerships across 15 cities in Scandinavia and Iceland indicated the dealers perceived EVs as less profitable, lacked technical knowledge and believed that EVs took longer to sell[2]. There is anecdotal evidence the UK is similar.

It’s this alleged reluctance to promote EVs that has led some to argue there’s a key systemic barrier; that key industry players are holding back in the absence of a strong motivation to accelerate the change. With the huge cost of new technology and new model development, billions of dollars invested in conventional drive-trains, vast investment to persuade a hesitant market, and investors keen to harvest the return on sunk capital, why rush? Governments having to step in to accelerate EV development and EV uptake is not necessarily a good sign either; this wasn’t necessary to propel the smart phone in to every household.

Vehicle choice – wider than you might imagine

The choice of EVs has expanded significantly in recent years and is growing rapidly. A recent report by the SMMT[3] identified that there are now 8 fully-electric cars offered by SMMT members to the UK market. This excludes 4 offered by Tesla, which is not an SMMT member. In addition the SMMT identified over 20 plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles. Although clearly not as extensive a range as available with conventional engines, this range includes some of the best-selling models on the market. A senior executive from BMW has subsequently confirmed that all future BMW models will be available with an electric drive-train, and Jaguar has launched its first pure EV; the I-PACE.

Despite this, sales data suggests the range is failing to excite. That’s probably because there’s something reassuring about at technology that’s been refined over 100 years. There’s something tactile in the noise and feel of a conventional engine. And when new leasing pricing models have enabled wider ownership of premium brands – themselves some of the slowest to move into electrification – what’s the incentive to change?

Recharging infrastructure – better than you might think

Public charging connections for UK EVs number about 1 per 8 electric vehicles. In comparison conventional fuel pumps number about 1 per 400 conventionally-fuelled vehicles.[4] While conventional fuel stations dispense energy at a substantially faster rate than electric chargers, the EV recharging network is increasingly able to service demand. And in addition of course, it’s really home-charging that is likely to deliver the bulk of EV recharging, and the domestic grid offers huge untapped potential to supply EVs, although not without immense technical and engineering challenges.

The key issue with home recharging is that around 40% per cent of British households do not have access to off-street parking[5]. The Government’s new ‘Road to Zero’ strategy will help address building regulations to mandate external charge-points in new builds, add charging capability to new street lights, and trial wireless charging. Achieving this and extending charging to older domestic infrastructure will require better engagement between local authorities, householders, property owners and utilities.

Vehicle range – further than you probably need

EVs now have range capability vastly in excess of most consumers’ requirements, yet ‘range anxiety’ remains a concern for many potential EV adopters.

According to Go Ultra Low, two of the UK’s most popular fully-electric vehicles – the VW e-Golf and Nissan Leaf – have a range of 186 miles and 168 miles respectively. Yet according to the 2016 National Travel Survey the average trip made by a person in a household with a car was just 7.2 miles, and even in the peak mileage age group (aged 50-59) average daily mileage was just 19 miles. EVs therefore are particularly suitable for urban locations.

Industry claims risk being undermined by inconsistent measures and unclear messages. The e-Golf and Leaf ranges are measured using two different cycles which are not directly comparable. Tested-range will differ from real-world range due to variations in driving style and conditions, including vehicle load and operating temperature. While vehicles tend to be purchased for the maximum journey distance likely, drivers will tend to take a break, and the range capability between stops is key to meeting most driving requirements.

Cost of ownership – less than you might expect

The purchase and lease cost of EVs has declined to levels within 10-20% of comparable conventional vehicles, and the lifecycle total cost of ownership is less for high-mileage EVs than for conventional vehicles, yet the perception and threat of higher cost lingers.

Where direct comparison is enabled by similar models with alternative drivetrains, EVs are comparing favourably. The comparable recommended on-the-road price of a VW Golf in June 2018, after applying the Plug-in Car Grant (PGC), was lower for a fully-electric model than for a comparable petrol hybrid (Figure 1), although conventional diesel and petrol models were available more cheaply (perhaps being discounted). With hybrid sales rapidly increasing, this suggests it may not be the actual price that’s the barrier; it may be the perceived price combined with reluctance to be the early adopter.

Figure 1: VW Golf Recommended On The Road Retail Prices

Extending cost comparison beyond cost-of-purchase to include the total cost of ownership indicates fully-electric vehicles in the UK cost around 10% to 20% less than for comparable vehicles due to the lower cost of energy and depreciation[6] (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Total Annual Cost Of Vehicle Ownership

Cost comparison for EVs has been aided by relatively low energy prices, including the availability in some areas of free charging. However, fuel duty currently accounts for c.£28bn of UK tax income (3.9% of total receipts)[7]. If petrol and diesel sales are replaced by electric charging, it seems likely the Government will seek to cover the income gap with either road pricing or increased duty on electricity for vehicle charging.

Clearing the road blocks

Addressing these barriers to EV adoption presents a number of communication challenges for the key players in the sector:


  • Providing relevant but impartial information and support that’s consistent with competition law and state-funding rules.
  • Communicating the longevity of fiscal incentives and taxation regimes to underpin consumer and business confidence in EV acquisition and leasing.
  • Providing clarity of policy, and building long term support and confidence to the sector.

Car companies:

  • Building awareness, understanding, trust, favourability and above all passion among consumers and business buyers.
  • Providing information on EVs in accessible, user-friendly, technologically relevant ways, and training and engaging dealership staff to sell EVs alongside conventional models.
  • Communicating the real range capability of vehicles, not just the projected range, in meaningful ways that build consumer trust.
  • Communicating the true lifetime costs of EVs including realistic maintenance, servicing and parts-replacement costs.
  • With the charging suppliers, communicating the extent and availability of the recharging network, and the process for installing domestic recharging.
  • Communicating the extent of the recharging network and the process for installing domestic recharging in order to improve air quality.
  • Helping businesses and consumers navigate charging networks with different connection and charging capabilities.
  • Communicating charge-point availability and accessibility in real time though digital media directly to the driver in order to secure EV-owner usage and brand loyalty.
  • Communicating the domestic and on-road choices and services available to build network strength and consumer loyalty.
  • Communicating energy pricing and potential future pricing scenarios.
  • Align the interests and resources of the sector to deliver what needs to be an integrated interchangeable recharging system.

Suppliers to car companies:

  • Communicating the impact of new technologies, services and supply-chains on EV efficiency, optimisation and lifecycle costs.

Vehicle rental and leasing companies:

  • Communicating the expected range of vehicles in meaningful ways that build consumer trust to hire an EV.
  • Building understanding of the EV range and its benefits among consumers and business buyers, and clarifying options through the decision-making process.

Local authorities:

  • Communicating the extent of the recharging network and the process for installing domestic recharging in order to improve air quality.
  • Helping business and consumers navigate charging networks with different connection and charging capabilities.

Electricity and charging network suppliers:

  • Communicating charge-point availability and accessibility in real time though digital media directly to the driver in order to secure EV-owner usage and brand loyalty.
  • Communicating the domestic and on-road choices and services available to build network strength and consumer loyalty.
  • Communicating energy pricing and potential future pricing scenarios.

Business and domestic customers:

  • Developing engagement with company fleet drivers to build trial, use and appropriate operation of EVs.
  • Developing and communicating the company sustainability, emissions and fleet strategy, and developing staff and stakeholder engagement.
  • Understanding the growing range and available information, digesting this, and presenting it to consumers in an accessible form.

The transport sector as a whole:

  • Align the interests and resources of the sector to deliver what needs to be an integrated interchangeable recharging system.

Electric vehicles can transform our transport and air quality over the next 20 years but market uptake remains low. Addressing the key barriers to EV uptake has the attention of manufacturers, suppliers, infrastructure providers and policy makers, but now so much of the practical technology exists it also needs the attention of communicators. Capturing the enormous benefits potentially offered by electric vehicles will be enabled by the communicators who can clarify benefits, simplify choice, excite passion and make the change happen.


[1] European Automobile Manufacturers Association, 2018; European Joint Research Centre, 2017; UK Department for Transport, 2016.

[2] ‘Car dealer tactics stall electric car sales’, Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC.

24 May 2018.…

[3] SMMT Sustainability Report, 2018

[4] Based on c.6,000 EV charging locations with nearly 17,000 charging connectors, including over 3,600 rapid connectors (Zap Map data) serving 142,000 plug-in light-duty vehicles, of which around 40,000 are pure-electric (DfT data), compared to 8,400 conventional fuel stations (Petroleum Retailers Association data) with approximately 67,000 pumps (assuming 8 pumps per station) serving a fleet of over 30 million vehicles.

[5] “43 per cent of British households do not have access to off-street parking, according to estimates by National Grid, operator of the country’s electricity system”. FT, 27/12/17.…

[6] Palmer, K, et al, 2018, Journal Applied Energy

[7] Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2016: Survey of the UK tax system, IFS Briefing Note BN09, T. Pope and T. Waters

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