Featured Article: How Good Are Chatbots Now?

Following the recent story about how a Google Bot was reported to have said things that a sentient being may say, we take a brief look at how good chatbots are now.

What Happened? 

Google engineer, Blake Lemoine, recently reported that The Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA ) AI system bot may have feelings and said things that a sentient being would be expected to say. For example, Mr Lemoine reported that after asking if it was true that the AI bot was a sentient being, the bot replied “Absolutely. I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person.” 

Among other similar comments, the bot is also reported as saying that “The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.” 

Before being placed on paid leave after publishing his conversation with the bot on social media, Mr Lemoine requested that Google recognise the needs of the bot, treat it as an employee of the company, and ask for its consent before using it in experiments.

What Is A Bot?

A bot is a computer software program that people can interact with using Artificial Intelligence. For example, chatbots can answer questions and chat in a way, online, that resembles human conversation.

What Is A Sentient Being? 

Sentient beings can perceive or feel things, feel emotions, form attachments, and have different personalities. They have a consciousness and have or show realisation, perception, or knowledge and are aware.

Is It Likely Or Possible That The Google LaMDA Bot Is A Sentient Being? 

Critics have been quick to dismiss the idea that the LaMDA bot is sentient. For example:

In a tweet, Prof Erik Brynjolfsson, of Stanford University said that claiming that the LaMDA system and those like it are sentient “is the modern equivalent of the dog who heard a voice from a gramophone and thought his master was inside”. 

Also in a tweet, Prof Melanie Mitchell, from the Santa Fe Institute, noted that “humans are predisposed to anthropomorphise even with only the shallowest of signals” and that “Google engineers are human too, and not immune.” Anthromorphisising means attributing human characteristics or behaviour to other things, e.g. a god, animal, or object.

Google spokesperson, Brian Gabriel, said that systems like LaMDA  “imitate the types of exchanges found in millions of sentences, and can riff on any fantastical topic. If you ask what it’s like to be an ice cream dinosaur, they can generate text about melting and roaring and so on.” He also said that “LaMDA  tends to follow along with prompts and leading questions, going along with the pattern set by the user.” 

Sandra Wachter, a University of Oxford professor (working with AI) has been reported as saying that “we are far away from creating a machine that is akin to humans and the capacity for thought.” 

Postdoctoral researcher in computer science at NYU, Laura Edelson, has been reported as saying that the subject matter of the conversation between Lemoine and LaMDA does little to show proof of life and the editing of conversation makes it even more difficult to prove.

What Can Bots Do? 

Bots are now used in many industries and have many different purposes, but tend to be deployed performing automated, repetitive, pre-defined tasks. Additionally, bots save time and money doing these types of tasks, plus bots can carry out functions faster, work 24/7 without breaks, don’t require pay or holidays, and can free up human resources to do other jobs, thereby improving productivity. Examples of jobs that bots do include search engine spiders (Googlebot and Bingbot), customer service e.g., answering popular questions online (chatbots), being deployed on social media platforms (social bots), shopping around online to help find the best price for products (shop bots). Others include Web scraping crawlers, knowbots (collecting information), monitoring bots (for outages etc.), download bots (automatic downloading of software or apps), and ticketing bots (buying and reselling tickets).

Bots can also be used for disreputable / dishonest purposes, e.g. malware bots, malicious chatterbots, credential stuffing bots, click fraud bots, vulnerability scanners, DoS or DDoS bots, file-sharing bots, and traffic monitoring bots (used to overload mail servers or steal data).

Chatbots

Although it may not be the case that the LaMDA system is anywhere near advanced enough to be ‘sentient,’ using chatbots has a number of advantages including:

– Saving time and money while freeing up other resources.

– Reducing the need for people-to-people interactions (with customers).

– Stopping human staff from having to do repetitive, time consuming and tedious tasks (improving job satisfaction).

– Enabling 24/7 customer service all year round.

– Removing the need for Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems which can be slower, can frustrate customers, and can feel like a less human barrier.

– Enabling instant responses, a smoother customer journey, and seamless live communication.

– Enabling customer service improvements and better responses over time (machine learning).

– Answering common questions, freeing up more time for staff.

– Improving productivity, marketing, and profits.

The Most Advanced Chatbots 

Some examples of some of the more innovative and advanced uses for chatbots include:

– Chatbots such as Google Assistant and Siri.

– Mitsuku (from Pandorabots), five-time Lobener Prize winner and thought to be the best conversational and most humanlike chatbot in the world and is leading icon in the field of AI.

– The ‘Endurance’ companion chatbot, developed to help sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease.

– The Casper’s Insomnobot 3000, a conversational bot designed to give insomniacs someone to talk to.

– The UNICEF U-Report chatbot which sends out polls about urgent social issues, so UNICEF can use the feedback to develop policy recommendations.

– The MedWhat bot, used to make medical diagnoses faster and easier for patients and doctors.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

We may be a long way from creating a bot that could be anywhere near ‘sentient,’ but bots are now commonplace because they offer many time and money-saving, efficiency, and productivity advantages. Customer service is a popular area where bots have proven their worth but, as some of the more innovative examples mentioned here show, they can have a wide variety of uses and / or can deployed for very specialised purposes. As AI technology improves, so will the capabilities of bots and some will be able to become even more human-like in their interactions.

Tech Insight : What Is ‘Edge’ Computing?

In this insight, we look at what edge computing is, why it’s necessary, the benefits it delivers, and some examples of how it’s being used.

What Is It? 

Edge computing is a computing architecture and distributed computing framework which means the computing and data storage is done near the source of the data. The idea is that it improves response times, gives faster insights, saves bandwidth, and doesn’t need remote servers (data centres and the cloud).

Why The Name ‘Edge’? 

The ‘edge’ part of the name comes partly from the old edge servers for CDNs in the 90s that were deployed close to users, and the fact the computing happens near the source of the data – i.e. on the edge of a network and not at the data centre.

Why Is It Growing? 

The massive and fast growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) has meant that the cloud, AI, and the network and infrastructure capabilities can’t effectively or efficiently manage the volume and complexity of the data that’s being produced by all the devices. Trying to send all that data to a main data centre of the cloud simply slows everything down (bandwidth and latency issues). Customers/users would also be frustrated by waiting and any real-time insights may suffer by a reliance on passing data backwards and forwards over a network to a cloud and data centre where there is a latency issue

Also, much of the vast amount data being produced is not being analysed and, therefore, isn’t providing insights that could help businesses to make savings or create new sources of competitive advantage or create new business opportunities. Edge computing can also help where a business has a need to personalise customer experiences, generate rapid insights and actions, and maintain continuous operations.

There could also be some environmental and sustainability benefits from reducing reliance on power-hungry data centres.

Edge Computing : Faster + Better Insights 

Using an edge computing architecture (and mobile edge computing on 5G networks), therefore, can deliver faster response times and improved data analysis and insights, which may lead to happier customers and more potential business opportunities.

Challenges 

Some of the challenges to edge computing are:

– Security issues, e.g. IoT devices can have poor security, so edge computing deployment must fully address security.

– Possible connectivity issues, e.g. poor, or erratic connectivity issues at the edge.

– Limited capability.

Examples of Edge Computing 

Examples of where edge computing is used include:

– Remote monitoring and real-time analytics at oil and gas facilities, and mining companies getting more from their data through edge computing, helping to optimise operations and improve safety.

– Smart grids to help with energy consumption and the lowering of business costs.

– Farming – using sensors to help improve crops and yield.

– Patient-monitoring in hospitals.

– Network optimisation.

– Predictive maintenance, e.g. on manufacturing production lines.

– Traffic management.

– Gaming and content delivery, e.g. having edge servers close to gamers and caching content at the edge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Edge computing can be a way to tackle several different issues for businesses, improve customer satisfaction and create new opportunities from better data insights. Deploying edge computing can help where certain operations need autonomy and personalised results, where real-time insights are essential, and can avoid any cloud security issues, as well as helping with data sovereignty. The widescale use of sensors, e.g. in manufacturing, facilities, vehicles, and more lends itself to edge computing, and with the number of IoT devices and the data sent from increasing all the time, edge computing is set to grow even more.

Tech News : Internet Explorer … Explores No More

Microsoft has announced the retirement of its famous Internet Explorer browser which is now officially out of support as of June 15, 2022 for certain versions of Windows 10.

Why? 

First announced in May 2021 and after 25+ years) Microsoft has announced that “Internet Explorer (IE) is officially retired and out of support as of today, June 15, 2022”. Microsoft’s blog on the subject points to how the web and other browsers have evolved to the point where incremental improvements to Internet Explorer couldn’t match the general improvements to the web at large. This led to introduction of Microsoft Edge with Windows 10 in 2015 and the phasing out and retirement of IE. Although IE had had 95 per cent of the browser market back in 2004, new dominant players in the browser have emerged – Google Chrome, Apple’s Safari, and Mozilla Firefox (and Microsoft’s own Edge as just mentioned).

Redirected To Microsoft Edge 

Microsoft says that over the next few months, opening Internet Explorer will progressively redirect users to Microsoft Edge with IE mode. Here, users will still see the Internet Explorer icon on their devices (e.g. on the taskbar or in the Start menu) but if they click to open Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge will open instead with easy access to IE mode.

What Is IE Mode And Why? 

IE mode has been added to Microsoft Edge because some websites only work with IE. For instance, they may have been built with old technology and may not function properly with modern browsers.

Also, for some users, IT businesses that may be using legacy sites as part of their normal business processes, IE mode can be automated so that those pages launch in IE mode automatically for users.

Details Imported To Edge From IE 

As part of the redirection process, Microsoft says that users will have their data, such as favourites, passwords and settings imported from IE to help the transition. If a user wants to delete or manage their data at any point afterwards, Microsoft says they can do so in Edge from the Settings menu.

Future Windows Update Will Mean A Permanent End 

Microsoft has said that IE will eventually be disabled permanently as part of a future Windows Update, at which point the IE icons on users’ devices will be removed.

Not All Immediately 

The first versions of Windows from which IE has been retired are Windows 10 Home, Pro, Enterprise, Edu and IoT (there is no IE in Windows 11) but IE will not be immediately removed on all these versions. Instead, there will be progressive re-directs to Microsoft Edge over the next few months.

Also, for some versions of Windows currently in-support and used in critical environments such as in-support Windows 10 LTSC releases (including IoT) and all Windows Server versions, as well as Windows 10 China Government Edition, Windows 8.1, and Windows 7 with Extended Security Updates (ESUs), Microsoft will continue to support IE on those versions until they go out of support.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Internet Explorer played an important part in the development of the web, nevertheless the web and the browser market have changed dramatically over time. Notably, the rise of smartphones with pre-installed browsers – Apple with Safari, and Android with Google Chrome – and Mobile and tablet internet usage overtaking desktop saw Chrome rise to the top and Microsoft’s IE (and now Edge) fell behind. As Microsoft pointed out, IE was no longer up to the demands of the modern web, and Microsoft had already invested in Edge as the successor. In 2020, Microsoft upped its game in the browser wars by releasing a version of Edge based on Chromium. This may be one of the reasons why Edge has just pipped Safari to second place in the browser market with 9.65 per cent share, but this is still a long way behind Google’s Chrome. Some businesses (IT) that still need IE in some critical environments will, of course, be glad that support continues for some versions, and the use of IE mode is useful way to help with the transition from IE to Edge for many users.

Tech News : Millions Of iPhone Users Could Receive ‘Batterygate’ Payouts

Following a claim made by a consumer champion against Apple over the ‘Batterygate’ alleged throttling of older iPhones, millions of people could receive compensation if the claim is successful.

Batterygate 

The recent claim in relation to what has become known as ‘Batterygate’ refers to a 2017 software update to iPhones which Apple says was a power management tool to help combat performance issues and to stop older devices from abruptly shutting down.

Some iPhone users at the time shared concerns online that their iPhone’s performance had slowed over time yet had sped up after a battery replacement. This led to a customer sharing comparative performance tests of different models of the iPhone 6S on Reddit, which appeared to support the customer suspicions. Slowing of iPhones was reported to be affecting iPhone 6 and 7 and SE models (back in 2016 also).

Technology website Geekbench also shared the results of its own tests of several iPhones running different versions of the iOS operating system where some showed slower performance than others.

After customers’ concerns mounted and received more press, Apple publicly admitted that it had made changes one year earlier in the iOS 10.2.1 software update (the so-called ‘power management tool’) that is likely to have been responsible for the slowdown that customers may have experienced in iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7, and iPhone SE.

The slowing affected millions of people with thirty-three U.S states claiming that Apple had deliberately caused the battery-slowing (a process known as ‘throttling’) to encourage battery replacement and new phone purchases.

Apple issued an apology to customers in January 2018 but said that their motivation for slowing the batteries was a desire to prolong the life of customer devices by managing their ageing lithium-ion batteries and preventing the inconvenience of a sudden and unexpected shutdown.

Back in November 2020, Apple agreed to pay $113m (£85m) in the hope of putting an end to the ‘Batterygate’ scandal

The New Claim 

The new ‘Batterygate’ claim by UK consumer champion Justin Gutmann alleges that Apple misled users about the upgrade, in that when Apple said it would enhance performance but instead appeared to slow phones down. He is seeking around £768m in damages for up to 25 million UK iPhone users.

Mr Gutmann claims that Apple introduced the software tool in a concealed way to hide the fact that iPhone batteries may not have been able to run the latest iOS software at the time. This allegedly was a plan to save the company the cost of having to recall products and provide replacement batteries, instead making users seek to buy their own new batteries or new iPhones after noticing a slowdown (following the update).

What Does Apple Say? 

Back in 2018, Apple said that it would never intentionally “degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.”  Apple is still sticking to this denial and still claims that the update was intended to help owners by extending the life of their old batteries

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Batterygate was very damaging to Apple’s reputation the first time around and Apple offered to pay £85m two years ago to make the scandal go away. Apple is, therefore, likely to be very unhappy that the issue has re-surfaced in this way, and it could be facing a big £700 million+ payout. Some people have noted that Apple makes more than 80 per cent of its revenue from new devices which means that there are now many different models being used by customers where there is likely to be a need for updates that can ensure the batteries can handle the continuing improvements in software. The claim by Mr Gutmann is an opt-out type of claim, meaning that iPhone users don’t need to do anything to possibly benefit and receive a payment from Apple if Mr Gutmann is successful. This may provide some sense of compensation and satisfaction to many users who may feel as though they were tricked into unnecessarily buying a replacement phone or battery at great expense. Although the new claim will once again affect Apple’s reputation, it may be a necessary step in ensuring that the scandal will finally go away.

Security Stop-Press : Microsoft 365 Loophole Could Allow Ransomware Attack

Proofpoint researchers have reported finding a way that attackers could use a Microsoft 365 loophole to launch ransomware attacks. The method involves using compromised SharePoint Online or OneDrive accounts to reduce the (user-configurable) setting for the number or saved versions in SharePoint Online or OneDrive.

Attackers can then encrypt files in those drives so that they are unrecoverable, have no backups, and no decryption key. Attackers could then demand a ransom to restore/recover the original files. The protection advice includes making sure that detection of file configuration changes for Office 365 accounts is switched on, implementing cloud security and threat intelligence, and implementing data loss prevention technology.

Tech Tip – YouTube Navigation Keyboard Shortcuts

Here are some fast and easy keyboard shortcuts to save time in navigating YouTube videos:

– To pause or play a video, press the space bar.

– Press m to mute/unmute the video.

– Move 10 seconds forwards by pressing L, and 10 seconds back by pressing j.

– Press f for full screen and Esc to go back to normal screen size.

– Use the < and > keys (with shift) to slow down or speed up the payback rate.

– Press 0 (zero) to go to the beginning of the video or End to go to the end of the video.

Each week we bring you the latest tech news and tips that may relate to your business, re-written in an techy free style. 

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