Thursday, 19 April 2018

In Google we trust

Image result for AI ethics and morality
There is a Tesla Roadster broadcasting David Bowie on repeat while travelling through space. What a time to be alive! And, I’d argue, the perfect time to rethink what it means to be human. But, we need to do it very carefully.
We’re welcoming robots into our homes, cars and workplaces. And they are enabling things that were impossible, or very hard, or very expensive to do. Doesn’t it blow your mind that every day you can use satellites orbiting the planet to find out if there is traffic on your route home?
There is also an understandable moral panic that we are in the process of losing our humanity. This is it: we’ve opened Pandora’s Box and the inevitable result is subjugation by our cyber-overlords. While I agree we’ve reached the point of no return and a digital future is a certainty, I think we should take this chance to re-examine what it means to be human, and code this into the software that is part of our lives. This will, hopefully, ensure technology delivers on its promise to be an equaliser, and not per-petuate the divisions in society.
Unfortunately we’ve already seen a few instances where the latter has happened. Take Google’s facial recognition system that only recognised white faces. Or Google Translate, that translated the gender-neutral pronoun in Turkish in a decidedly 1950s way: ‘He is a doctor, she is a nurse.’ Or LinkedIn, that, when you enter a typically female name, suggests that you might be looking for the male equivalent, but not the other way around.
But this is hardly surprising, as the AI field is new, and we are still learning. On the other hand, it does seem that the less pleasant side of humanity is rising to the surface, thanks to lack of diversity in development and testing teams, and lack of repre-sentative data in samples. Or, as in the case of the Google Translate example, which was based on existing common word combinations, the machines are simply reflecting our shortcomings back at us.
Nevertheless, it is time for some serious thought. Trust, ethics and morality need to be coded into our software now – consider the decisions self-driving cars are going to start making on our behalf. Who will define these rules and algorithms, and what choices will they make? Because at the moment it is corporates that are making them (or not making them), and the last time I checked, increasing profit and shareholder value still ride very high on corporates’ priority list.
In summary
Trust, ethics and morality need to be front of mind as we enter the digital age. This is how we’ll unlock all the benefits of AI and other technologies, and hopefully limit the downsides.
I leave you with the words of Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple: ‘You used to ask a smart person a question. Now, who do you ask? It starts with g-o, and it’s not God …’



Tuesday, 10 April 2018

APIs: enabling best-of-breed solutions for your business


 Image result for what is an API?

Think about your smartphone and the apps you have loaded onto it. Sure, it arrived with some pre-loaded, but most you have probably chosen yourself. In fact, you’ve no doubt swapped a few out as well, say when you discovered a weather app that had better wind information when you took up sailing. Or a news app that that aggregates all your favourite newspapers so you don’t have to clutter up your phone with multiple apps, all sending you duplicate breaking news apps. Or selecting the mail service of your choice, be it Microsoft Outlook, Gmail or Apple Mail, depending on your personal preferences and specific requirements. 

In fact, most of us can barely remember dumb phones. It was exciting enough having the Snake game come pre-loaded on our old Nokia 3310s, and the thought of customising what was on the phone wasn’t even a pipe dream. (OK, maybe we could change the phone’s cover.) And I’m pretty sure that some of the AccountingWEB readers don’t even remember life before smartphones. 

But why is it, that when it comes to something as mission critical as our companies’ enterprise resource programming (ERP) systems, we keep getting sold on a black box approach, akin to those dumb phones from the last century, when this is no longer necessary thanks to the magic of  application program interfaces (APIs) — basically windows and doorways onto software that allows you to tap into their capabilities, typically over the internet. 

Sure, in their day ERP systems made life easier for companies, offering a single platform and database with all business requirements being met from one application. This was revolutionary in its time, avoiding the need for huge effort spent on getting a range of incompatible standalone services to work together. Of course there were niggles: including a lack of flexibility and user-friendliness, plus a one-size-fits-all approach to business requirements. Because, despite what the vendors said about their integrated systems offering all the business applications you might need, it was impossible for all of these applications to be best-of-breed for every unique niche across the broad range of business requirements. 

Instead, it was often a case of jack of all trades, master of none. But still, far better than the myriad of incompatible legacy systems you previously had to navigate. And the reason for the myriad of incompatible legacy systems? There was no effective API environment to knit these disparate systems together. 

Fast forward to today, though, the one-stop-shop myth is even more inappropriate in an API powered world. You don’t need to hack your Nokia 3310 to replace Snake with a game you’d prefer. Which is what is happening to those black box ERP systems in an attempt to help them limp into the future. Their source code is so huge that any upgrade, or integration with new third party capabilities, requires an extensive, expensive and extended re-write. Not to mention that the systems no longer leverage the latest technology, such as in-memory processing, which is an essential part of getting the most out of future technologies.  

Thanks to APIs, today you can build your utopian ERP solution. It should be as easy as selecting your general ledger functionality and then adding to it stock, budgeting, accounts payable, reporting, procurement, and so on. All components can now be best suited to your business requirements and accessed via the cloud if you prefer. This will deliver a best-of-breed solution with no sacrifice of quality, which is so prevalent in a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Thanks to APIs, now prevalent across software applications, this is not only possible but indeed standard, as is having your preferred, best-of-breed software work seamlessly with all the other systems in your business, ensuring optimum effectiveness and efficiency.

As published in AccountinWeb - 4th April 2018.
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/kevin-philips/apis-enabling-best-of-breed-solutions-for-your-business