Upcoming Webinar!

An Introduction to Identity & Lifecycle Management

Wednesday, May 17th | 2 p.m. ET | Register Now


Identity + Lifecycle Management sound boring and dry but these services and technologies protect your organization and greatly reduce friction when onboarding new talent to drive your business.
The past 18 months have seen a rise in large password databases being stolen, networks compromised, and intellectual property removed from company servers due to poorly implemented identity based policies. Identity + Lifecycle Management products simplify the way people connect to enterprise technology, while increasing efficiency and keeping IT environments secure.

Join Business Tech Talks and CHIPS Technology Group
Wednesday, May 17th @ 2:00pm ET for our next webinar:
An Introduction to Identity & Lifecycle Management

During this webinar we will discuss:
  • What Exactly is Identity and Life Cycle Management (LCM)
  • How implementing LCM can save time and resources
  • The importance of Identity and LCM within your organization
  • What application services can be automated in a LCM

Who Should Attend?
  • Business Owners, HR & System Administrators
  • Decision Makers looking for ways to easily connect to enterprise technology
  • Anyone interested in learning about Lifecycle Management
An Introduction to Identity & Lifecycle Management
Date: Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Time: 2:00 – 3:00 pm (ET)
Registration URL: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3021179058996526082

About the Sponsor:
Business Tech Talks is a webinar series hosted by a group of nationally recognized Managed Service Providers (MSPs). All members provide comprehensive network management and support solutions in different regions across the United States. The goal of Business Tech Talks is to further educate business executives, decision makers, and IT professionals about key topics related to technology, as well as share our industry knowledge and best practices, and promote business innovation, growth and success.

Tracking Microsoft and the Future of Computing

An Article By, David Tan, Chief Technology Officer 

For all the change that has happened in the tech industry in the last few years, there is no denying that Microsoft is still one of the industry leaders and a company that helps set the direction of computing for the broad majority of people and businesses.  In the 3 years since Satya Nadella has taken over as CEO the company has become much more innovative and creative, and returned to its roots as a true pioneer.  That’s why I always think it’s worthwhile to check in on them from time to time and see what some of the products or services they are delivering can tell us about the direction we are headed.  I think some of the things I’ve seen recently speak volumes and are worth talking about.

The Windows operating system still runs billions of personal computers.  Even though it seems like 1 out of every 3 or 4 versions succeeds, we all still rely on it day in and day out.  Windows 7 is still heavily installed, but Windows 10 has been a success by most metrics.  If you’re keeping score, just this week Microsoft killed off all support for Windows Vista and Windows 8 is pretty much an orphan.  Development continues as strong as ever on the Windows 10 front however and Microsoft the software company is actually doing some really creative and innovative things in the hardware arena.

Last week Microsoft released what they are calling the Windows 10 Creators Edition – a free upgrade for all Windows 10 users.  The term creator comes from Microsoft’s assertion that everyone wants to create something great.  This definitely feels a bit like an assault on Apple.  While many of the new features aren’t exactly geared towards enterprise, it’s interesting to see some of the new areas they are focusing on and what they mean for the broader market.  Of course security continues to be a huge focus.  The new version has some enhanced dashboards and reporting around the health and security of your device.  This is a natural evolution for the most secure operating system Microsoft has ever created.  There are also some nice enhancements to Windows Hello.  This is the technology that lets you use your face to unlock your device.  Clearly the future of passwords for access to critical systems is in serious jeopardy and Microsoft seems to be doing their part to help lead the change.

There are 2 other enhancements I’m particularly interested in personally.  There is a huge improvement in support for 3D and a very large bet on the mainstream use and adoption of augmented reality / virtual reality devices.  There is a new application called Paint 3D which allows you to work with and create 3D models.  There is also a built-in viewer for other types of 3D models.  This is a long way from the old versions of Microsoft Paint!  This clearly seems to be tied to the growth in popularity of 3D printers and how increasingly the manufacturing process is changing and moving to the end user.  There is even 3D support in the Edge browser, and you can natively print these 3D models to any 3D printer.  It’s nice to see Microsoft embracing it and putting more power in users’ hands. 

Mixed Reality—which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Holographic computing, according to Microsoft—is another big focus. “Windows Mixed Reality” is the new name for “Windows Holographic”, and it works hand in hand with the 3D support. Microsoft’s own HoloLens headset, for example, is a mixed reality headset. It allows you to see through the headset to the real world, and digital images are superimposed on that image of the real world.  With HoloLens, you’ll be able to download a 3D model from Edge or create one in Paint 3D and virtually place it somewhere in the real world.  This will create some really exciting opportunities in areas like healthcare and education.  Microsoft also announced partnerships with several large hardware manufacturers to create more mainstream mixed reality headsets.  Clearly they see this as a path forward for interacting with your computer systems.

The desktop OS is exciting, but it’s only half the story.  It’s also important to look at the server side of the equation, although really now you’d have to look at server and cloud.  The CTO of Microsoft’s cloud platform (Azure) talked openly recently about how they are making a real push into “serverless” computing.  Despite what the name says, clearly there are still servers involved.  What serverless computing aims to do is abstract the platform from the application.  Today, if an application developer wants to build and run an application in the cloud, they still need to worry about things like spinning up virtual machines, installing applications, patching the machine and so on.  In a serverless world, instead of that whole process, they would simply write an application function and feed it to the platform and all the processing and computing they need would take place.  They would be charged for the resources they consume.  This is a true utility computing model.  Microsoft isn’t alone in this quest.  Companies like Amazon, IBM, and Google offer some of these resources to developers now.  It’s telling however to see a company who built their legacy on servers and server platforms moving in this direction.  It will clearly lead to more powerful, flexible applications that can be developed and scaled at unprecedented speeds.  It’s incredibly exciting.

If you believe my earlier assertion that Microsoft is still one of the tech giants leading the way for our industry, then you can start to get a picture of the future.  Users will get increasingly powerful application and platforms delivered to them at hyper-speeds from an increasingly diverse cloud eco-system.  End users will have the tools they needs to be more productive than ever, and we will interact with computers – and our world – in new and interesting ways.  Technology is always changing and evolving and it’s always exciting to be involved with, but I think we are on the brink of some of the most disruptive changes we have ever seen and I’m looking forward to how it develops.

Technology Spring Cleaning List

An Article By, Stephanie Memos, Marketing Coordinator

Now that Spring has finally arrived, many people believe in the habit of cleaning after the long winter. Often, we find that technology can be an area of spring cleaning that is overlooked. Since we rely so heavily on technology these days, it is essential to take some time in organizing and tiding up the devices we use.

One of the most frequently used aspects of our technology lives. From personal email to business email, it can get overwhelming keeping track of your email addresses and all the mail that you’re receiving. Take some time to clean up your email by deleting any emails that you wish to never have access to again, unsubscribing from junk senders, and creating sub-holders to help you better organize the mail that comes in daily.

Often, many people make a habit of creating a cluttered mess of documents and icons on their desktops. As a result of this, documents become loose and never actually have a permanent file location, while majority of the time, most icons will not even be clicked. To work better, it is recommended to create a simple and effective desktop with a few programs and folders you are frequently using. By creating these folders, you can now give those loose documents a permanent home. As for icons, try condensing down to simply icons you frequently use.

Electronic Files & Folders
Organizing electronic files and folders is essential for productivity. Think about it, who has time to be searching for files and folders while trying to accomplish their daily tasks? Begin by removing un-needed documents, condensing, naming and categorizing files and folders in a way that makes the most sense to you or your team.

Bookmarks are an extremely useful tool when looking to save frequently visited sites, but, bookmarks can quickly become beyond cluttered. Review your bookmarks and prioritize what you need and what you no longer need to remove some of the built up bookmarks.

Monitor, Mouse & Keyboard
This seems to be another key factor we use daily, our Mouse, Keyboard and Monitor. When you think about it, how often are you cleaning them? If you’re thinking not too often I would recommend regularly cleaning from this point forward.

In the event that you have any old hardware that you are no longer using that is laying around, it is time to recycle. Prior to recycling hardware, please be sure any information within the hardware has been properly removed. Finding places that accept recycled hardware can be found online within areas of your community.

Keeping cables organized and neat can be a big problem for most people, and the idea of sorting through these cables doe not sound appealing. If you organize early, keeping up with neat wires will become a habit down the line. To start, we recommend using zip ties to condense long wires.  

So there you have it, our recommendations to tackling your technology spring cleaning this year. Remember, organized and clean technology only improves efficiency and performance in the work space!  

Protecting Against Ransomware with Azure Backups

An Article By, Stephanie Memos, Marketing Coordinator

With ransomware attacks steadily rising in 2017, we cannot stress the importance of protection against infrastructure attacks. According to CRN’s most recent Quarterly Ransomware report, infrastructure attacks have increased 3500% in 2016 and that percentage is predicted to increase for the 2017 year. It is essential for organizations to have a backup of critical business data in case defenses fail during a ransomware attack. With that being said, these backups must be inaccessible to a malicious attacker since ransomware attackers have the experience neutralizing backup applications and operating system features like Volume Shadow Copy.

With attacks continuing to rise, organizations should reassess their backup strategy and policies, as well as the impact on the business if an attack compromises their data. Operations Management Suite (OMS) from Microsoft has continued to show its commitment to offering security capabilities with the release of Azure Backup. Azure Backup is highly equipped to protect businesses on-prem and cloud-backups from these malicious ransomware attacks.

Knowing that bot and malware attacks can leave your business spending time and money on the permanent data lost, Azure Backup gives your business the confidence that your data is being highly secured by providing faster notifications, a more in-depth security scan, and extended recoverability.

For more in depth security, strictly users with valid Azure credentials receive a security PIN from the Azure portal that allows them to backup data. In the event a user attempts to make a critical backup operation, such as removing/deleting a backup, a notification is sent to alert and decrease the effect on the business. Lastly, if an attacker is able to delete a backup, Azure Backup stores the deleted backup data up to 14 days after deletion. Talk about high-end security! 

The Power of Machine Learning

An Article By, David Tan, Chief Technology Officer

If you’ve read any articles or blogs that I’ve written, you’ve probably figured out what a huge fan I am of technology.  From cool new toys and gadgets to software and systems that change the way we live and work, the ever-changing landscape of this industry keeps me energized every day.  Usually when I write about interesting new technology, I’m relating it to things you can do in your business.  Ways to increase profits or productivity, or even new services you can start offering your customers.  This is going to be a little different.  Today I want to talk about how the advances in technology can benefit us in our lives on a daily basis.

One of the themes I’ve talked and written a lot about recently is Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.  People are worried that computers will continue to get smarter and robots will get better and suddenly there will be no jobs left for humans!  Obviously, this isn’t the case.  AI is going to make our world a better place.  Artificial Intelligence isn’t about replacing people, it’s about improving our abilities and finding ways to make us better at what we do.  To show that, I want to talk about an amazing article I read recently.

I’m very fortunate in that I have never been impacted by suicide in my life directly.  I know many people who have and it’s a devastating experience to have someone you care about take their own life.  Nearly 45,000 Americans take their lives every year, 120 a day.  Yet despite the magnitude of this issue, there has been precious little advancement in the study of suicide prevention.  A recent study by a Florida State Psychology Assistant Professor revealed that 50 years of suicide prediction research had not produced any real progress in being able to predict who will try to kill themselves. The traditional risk factors identified over the past half century to predict suicidal behavior — such as depression, stress or substance abuse — could muster an accuracy rate not much better than random guessing.  A coin flip is as accurate on suicide attempts as the brightest suicide experts in the world.

However, there is hope.  Jessica Ribeiro, a psychology researcher at Florida State recently published a paper titled “Predicting Risk of Suicide Attempts over Time through Machine Learning.”  In the paper, it finds that machine learning can predict with 80-90 percent accuracy whether someone will attempt suicide as far off as two years into the future.  The algorithms become even more accurate as a person’s suicide attempt gets closer. For example, the accuracy climbs to 92 percent one week before a suicide attempt when artificial intelligence focuses on general hospital patients.

The data for the research comes from over 2 million anonymous patient electronic health records.  Of the patients, 3200 attempted suicide.  Intelligent machines are able to sort through and understand the data at a rate that is impossible to humans.  Plus, they can pick up the most unperceivable of signals in the data that no person could ever grasp.  Being able to analyze so much data at once allows the computer to create hypotheses.  These are then tested and tweaked and refined over time as more and more data is ingested.  Ultimately, the computer develops a model it can use to compare data in real-time and hopefully, in this case, create some sort of an early warning system for at-risk patients.

You see technology in general and artificial intelligence specifically is not about replacing people.  It’s about finding ways to accomplish things that humans just can’t do on their own.  We have spent decades building better, faster and smarter technology.  It’s wonderful when it can be used to make our world a better place.  We all owe it to ourselves to embrace these advances and find other ways we can use them for good.

Webinar: Solving Security Issues



Upcoming Webinar

Simple Things that Solve Complex Security Issues

Wednesday, March 15th | 1 p.m. CT | Register Now

Getting your basic Endpoint Protection right to fight against some of the more complex security issues.
 This past year we spent an extensive amount of time determining how different vendor’s endpoint protection were standing up to the nearly 500 million new malware samples appearing every year. That’s when we decided to make a change to better protect our client’s environment. Our new and improved Endpoint Security boasts an easy to manage console while also focusing on ensuring our clients have a consistent security protection system in place.

Join Business Tech Talks and Ben Sasser, ProActive Services Team Member from Acropolis Technology Group for a live webinar on Wednesday, March 15th at 1pm.
During this webinar we will be able to answer the following questions:

  • Who has a broad set of security expertise and is passionate about client delivery
  • What does your organization need to worry about more, sophisticated attacks or simple malware campaigns?
  • When technology lifecycle can affect your business’ security health
  • Where to integrate and manage your security infrastructure in a way that supports your goals
  • Why it is imperative to deploy patches to fight malware infections

Who Should Attend?
  • Business Owners & Executives
  • IT Managers and Administrators


Simple Things that Solve Complex Security Issues
Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Time: 1:00 – 2:00 pm (CT)
Registration URL:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6167790021258256899

About the Sponsor:
Business Tech Talks is a webinar series hosted by a group of nationally recognized Managed Service Providers (MSPs). All members provide comprehensive network management and support solutions in different regions across the United States. The goal of Business Tech Talks is to further educate business executives, decision makers, and IT professionals about key topics related to technology, as well as share our industry knowledge and best practices, and promote business innovation, growth and success.

Reasons for Innovation

An Article By: Evan Leonard, President

Many companies talk about innovation and the image that pops into their head is a company with no employees. The word is used frequently, yet used in narrow terms or misunderstood completely. I think of the word as impactful to a company’s long term goals in everything from creating new products or services, to improving process, adding business models, expanding markets and transforming your company entirely. 

I listed some of the top reasons companies look to innovate.  How many of these initiatives are on your list for 2017? 

To talk about innovation is something we all like to do but who is in charge of these initiatives?  Many larger companies have gone so far as to create a new title and position, Chief Innovation Officer.  For most companies, especially in the SMB market, there is no budget or position on your future org chart for someone dedicated to innovation. In order to fulfill the need to innovate, some companies are creating committees, teaming with upper management with creative thinkers and vendor partners to meet regularly to kick-start the process. 

If you look across your market, some of your competitors are “born in the cloud” meaning they never adopted the culture of buying clunky servers and put them in a room somewhere in the office. Instead, they are consuming great point-solutions from vendors who build specialized applications. This is letting them leverage some great applications, methodology and tools to lower their cost or gain a competitive advantage. Innovating and modernizing are becoming part of the culture of many companies, which also serves as a great way to attract top talent. 

How would you rank the list above?  Have you recently looked at your competitors or analyzed your markets position?

When thinking about innovation, you should automatically think of the return. Some of the best returns from innovation are eliminating costs, adding capacity to your staff, reduction of head count and sales growth. These are easy to track and quantify to reach your goal. 

The most important aspect to consider is the future of your company and marketplace. There are new competitors entering your market constantly and we need to be mindful of how they are delivering services, products and customer service. 

Don’t be left behind!

Microsoft shares open source system for training drones, other gadgets to move safely on their own

Used with permission from the Microsoft Next Blog
by Allison Linn

When most people with normal vision walk down the street, they can easily differentiate the things they must avoid – like trees, curbs and glass doors — from the things they don’t, such as shadows, reflections and clouds.

Chances are, most people also can anticipate what obstacles they should expect to encounter next — knowing, for example, that at a street corner they should watch out for cars and prepare to step down off the curb.

The ability to differentiate and anticipate comes easily to humans but it’s still very difficult for artificial intelligence-based systems. That’s one big reason why self-driving cars or autonomous delivery drones are still emerging technologies.

Microsoft researchers are aiming to change that. They are working on a new set of tools that other researchers and developers can use to train and test robots, drones and other gadgets for operating autonomously and safely in the real world. A beta version is available on GitHub via an open source license.

It’s all part of a research project the team dubs Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform. It includes software that allows researchers to quickly write code to control aerial robots and other gadgets and a highly realistic simulator to collect data for training an AI system and testing it in the virtual world before deploying it in the real world.

Ashish Kapoor, a Microsoft researcher who is leading the project, said they hope the tools will spawn major progress in creating artificial intelligence gadgets we can trust to drive our cars, deliver our packages and maybe even do our laundry.

“The aspirational goal is really to build systems that can operate in the real world,” he said.
That’s different from many other artificial intelligence research projects, which have focused on teaching AI systems to be successful in more artificial environments that have well-defined rules, such as playing board games.

Kapoor said this work aims to help researchers develop more practical tools that can safely augment what people are doing in their everyday lives.

“That’s the next leap in AI, really thinking about real-world systems,” Kapoor said.

Simulating the real world Let’s say you want to teach an aerial robot to tell the difference between a wall and a shadow. Chances are, you’d like to test your theories without crashing hundreds of drones into walls.

Until recently, simulators provided some help for this kind of testing, but they weren’t accurate enough to truly reflect the complexities of the real world. That’s key to developing systems that can accurately perceive the world around them in the same way that people do.

Now, thanks to big advances in graphics hardware, computing power and algorithms, Microsoft researchers say they can create simulators that offer a much more realistic view of the environment. Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform’s simulator is built on the latest photorealistic technologies, which can accurately render subtle things, like shadows and reflections, that make a significant difference in computer vision algorithms.
“If you really want to do this high-fidelity perception work, you have to render the scene in very realistic detail – you have sun shining in your eyes, water on the street,” said Shital Shah, a principal research software development engineer who has been a key developer of the simulator.
Because the new simulator is so realistic – but not actually real – researchers can, in turn, use it as a safe, reliable and cheap testing ground for autonomous systems.

That has two advantages: First, it means they can “crash” a costly drone, robot or other gadget an infinite number of times without burning through tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, damaging actual buildings or hurting someone.

Second, it allows researchers to do better AI research faster. That includes gathering training data, which is used to build algorithms that can teach systems to react safely, and conducting the kind of AI research that requires lots of trial and error, such as reinforcement learning.

The researchers say the simulator should help them get to the point more quickly where they can test, or even use, their systems in real-world settings in which there is very little room for error.

Enabling development of intelligent robotic systemsIn addition to the simulator, the Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform includes a library of software that allows developers to quickly write code to control drones built on two of the most popular platforms: DJI and MavLink. Normally, developers would have to spend time learning these separate APIs and write separate code for each platform.

The researchers expect to add more tools to the platform down the road, and in the meantime they hope that the library and simulator will help push the entire field forward.

For example, the tools could help researchers develop better perception abilities, which would help the robot learn to recognize elements of its environment and do things like differentiate between a real obstacle, like a door, and a false one, like a shadow. These perception abilities also would help the robot understand complex concepts like how far away a pedestrian is.

Similarly, the Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform could help developers make advances in planning capabilities, which aim to help the gadgets anticipate what will happen next and how they should respond, much like humans know to anticipate that cars will drive by when we cross a street. That kind of artificial intelligence – which would closely mimic how people navigate the real world – is key to building practical systems for safe everyday use.

The entire platform is designed to work on any type of autonomous system that needs to navigate its environment.

“I can actually use the same code base to fly a glider or drive a car,” Kapoor said.

Democratization of robotics The researchers have been working on the platform for less than a year, but they are drawing on decades of experience in fields including computer vision, robotics, machine learning and planning. Kapoor said they made such quick progress in part because of the unique structure of Microsoft’s research labs, in which it’s easy for researchers with vastly different backgrounds to collaborate.

The researchers decided to make the project open source to further the entire body of research into building artificial intelligence agents that can operate autonomously. Although many people see a future in which drones, robots and cars operate on their own, for now most of these systems are depending on a considerable amount of human direction.

The researchers also note that many robotics and artificial intelligence researchers don’t have the time or resources to develop these tools on their own, or do this kind of testing in the real world. That’s another reason for sharing their work.

“We want a democratization of robotics,” said Debadeepta Dey, a researcher working on the project.
They also are hoping the Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform will help jumpstart efforts to standardize protocols and regulations for how artificial intelligence agents should operate in the real world.

Kapoor notes that everyone who drives a car knows to follow a standard set of protocols about things like which side of the road to drive on, when to stop for pedestrians and how fast to go. Those sorts of standards don’t exist – yet – for artificial intelligence agents.

With a system like this, he said, researchers could develop some best practices that they can apply across the board to improve safety as autonomous systems become more mainstream.

“The whole ecosystem needs to evolve,” Kapoor said.

Digital Disruption Webinar

Upcoming Webinar

Digital Disruption: Who Will be Left Standing?

Wednesday, January 18th | 2 p.m. ET | Register Now

Today, every business is a technology business.  Some will win, some will lose, but digital disruption will affect every business on the planet. Understanding how to harness technology will be the difference, and is the key to both short and long-term success.
During this webinar we’ll look at three levels of digital disruption: global, industry and small business. We’ll discuss the historical significance, how this phenomenon goes as far back to the invention of the TV. We’ll explore different examples of disruption such as Uber vs. taxi cabs, Netflix vs. DVD rentals and AirBnB vs. hotels, and most importantly, we’ll look at how digital disruption of small to mid-sized businesses can help you jump in front of the competition in terms of market research, customer service, product development and launch, manufacturing, finance, security, etc.

Join Business Tech Talks and DynaSis on Wednesday, January 18th @ 2:00pm ET for our next webinar:  Digital Disruption: Who Will be Left Standing?

During this webinar we will discuss:
  • Three levels of digital disruption
  • Both historical and current examples of digital disruption
  • What it means to be a technology business
  • How to succeed in this changing business climate
Who Should Attend?
  • Business Owners & Executives
  • IT Managers and Administrators
Digital Disruption: Who Will be Left Standing?
Date: Wednesday, January 18, 2016
Time: 2:00 – 3:00 pm (ET)
Registration URL: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6844827498980044546

About the Sponsor:
Business Tech Talks is a webinar series hosted by a group of nationally recognized Managed Service Providers (MSPs). All members provide comprehensive network management and support solutions in different regions across the United States. The goal of Business Tech Talks is to further educate business executives, decision makers, and IT professionals about key topics related to technology, as well as share our industry knowledge and best practices, and promote business innovation, growth and success.

Microsoft dataset aims to help researchers create tools to answer questions as well as people

Used with permission from the Microsoft Next Blog
by Allison Linn

Microsoft has released a set of 100,000 questions and answers that artificial intelligence researchers can use in their quest to create systems that can read and answer questions as well as a human.

The dataset is called MS MARCO, which stands for Microsoft MAchine Reading COmprehension, and the team behind it says it’s the most useful dataset of its kind because it is based on anonymized real-world data. By making it broadly available for free to researchers, the team is hoping to spur the kind of breakthroughs in machine reading that are already happening in image and speech recognition.

They also hope to facilitate the kind of advances that could lead to the long-term goal of ‘artificial general intelligence,’ or machines that can think like humans.
“In order to move towards artificial general intelligence, we need to take a step towards being able to read a document and understand it as well as a person,” said Rangan Majumder, a partner group program manager with Microsoft’s Bing search engine division who is leading the effort. “This is a step in that direction.”

Right now, Majumder said, systems to answer sophisticated questions are still in their infancy. Search engines like Bing and virtual assistants like Cortana can answer basic questions, like “What day does Hanukkah start?” or “What’s 2,000 times 43?”

But in many cases, Majumder said search engines and virtual assistants will instead point the user to a set of search engine results. Users can still get the information they need, but it requires culling through the results and finding the answer on the web page.

In order to make automated question-and-answer systems better, researchers need a strong source of what is called training data. These datasets can be used to teach artificial intelligence systems to recognize questions and formulate answers and, eventually, to create systems that can come up with their own answers based on unique questions they haven’t seen before.

Majumder and his team – which includes Microsoft researchers and people working on Microsoft products – say the MS MARCO dataset is particularly useful because the questions are based on real, anonymized queries from Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Cortana virtual assistant. The team chose the anonymized questions based on the queries they thought would be more interesting to researchers. In addition, the answers were written by humans, based on real web pages, and verified for accuracy.

By providing realistic questions and answers, the researchers say they can train systems to better deal with the nuances and complexities of questions regular people actually ask – including those queries that have no clear answer or multiple possible answers.

For example, the dataset contains the question, “What foods did ancient Greeks eat?” To answer the question correctly they culled through snippets of information from multiple documents or pieces of text to come up with foods such as grains, cake, milk, olives, fish, garlic and cabbage.

Li Deng, partner research manager of Microsoft’s Deep Learning Technology Center, said previous datasets were designed with certain limitations, or constraints. That made it easier for researchers to create solutions that could be formulated as what machine learning researchers call “classification problems,” rather than by seeking to understand that actual text of the question.

He said MS MARCO is designed so that researchers can experiment with more advanced deep learning models designed to push artificial intelligence research further forward.
“Our dataset is designed not only using real-world data but also removing such constraints so that the new-generation deep learning models can understand the data first before they answer questions,” he said.

Majumder said the ability for systems to answer complex questions could augment human abilities by helping people get information more efficiently.

Let’s say a Canadian student wants to know if she qualifies for a certain loan program. A search engine might direct that user to a set of websites, where she would have to read through the data and come up with an answer on her own. With better tools, a virtual assistant could scan that information for her and quickly provide a more nuanced and perhaps even personalized answer.

“Given much of the world’s knowledge is found in a written format, if we can get machines to be able to read and understand documents as well as humans, we can unlock all of these kinds of scenarios,” Majumder said.

Long-term goal: ‘Artificial general intelligence’For now at least, researchers are still far from creating systems that can truly understand or comprehend what humans are saying, seeing or writing – what many refer to as “artificial general intelligence.”

But in the last few years, machine learning and artificial intelligence researchers at Microsoft and elsewhere have made great strides in creating systems that can recognize the words in a conversation and correctly identify the elements of an image.

“Microsoft has led the way in speech recognition and image recognition, and now we want to lead the way in reading comprehension,” Majumder said.
But, he noted, this isn’t a problem that any one company can solve alone. Majumder said one reason his team released the dataset is because they want to work with others in the field.

MS MARCO is modeled on similar training sets that were created to help spur breakthroughs in other areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence. That includes the ImageNet database, which is considered to be the premier dataset for testing advances in image recognition. A team at Microsoft used ImageNet to test its first deep residual networks, sparking major leaps in the accuracy of image recognition.

The MS MARCO team also plans to follow ImageNet’s example by creating a leaderboard that shows which teams of researchers are getting the best results. Eventually, they may create a more formal competition along the lines of ImageNet’s annual challenges.

The MS MARCO dataset is available for free to any researcher who wants to download it and use it for non-commercial applications.

Why Seeing Double Is A Good Thing

An Article By, David Tan, Chief Technology Officer

Traditionally we like to write an article at the beginning of the year about upcoming trends and technologies that we expect to see emerge in the next 12 months.  When I started to think about and do that this week, I realized that I had covered most of the topics that were high on my radar in the last few newsletters.  I think I’m just so excited about the emerging trends in technology that I find myself shouting about it from the rooftops whenever I can get someone to listen!  So rather than revamp some of the same ideas, I’m going to talk a bit about something I’ve never mentioned, that in many ways brings it all together.

First, let’s run through some of the things I have been saying will dominate our business technology in the very near future – if they aren’t already.  Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Virtual and Augmented Reality and Internet of Things to name a few.  What do you get when you bring them all together?  You get Digital Twins.  That’s what I want to talk about – Digital Twins and how they will disrupt every industry on the planet and beyond.

First, what is a digital twin?  A textbook definition would be a computerized replication of something in the real world generated by sensor data.  Let me try to explain that in easier to understand terms, using something very large.  Let’s say you operate a huge farm of windmills that harness wind to generate electricity.  These windmills are very maintenance intensive, very expensive to support and probably spread out across large distances.  If you could leverage IoT technology to monitor every aspect of the operation of those windmills, combine the results from all the different windmills and put it into a computer simulation model, you’d have a digital twin.  From here you’d be able to optimize performance, perform preventative maintenance, streamline operations and test theories without having to employ a small army of engineers.

The scope and range of what you can accomplish with digital twins is hard to even comprehend.  The windmills are a great example, but probably outside of the scope of thought for most small business owners.  Same with things like jet turbine engines or industrial manufacturing machinery among just a few of the applications that companies like GE are testing with.  GE happens to be one of the industry leaders in creating and leveraging this technology.  They even created some interactive games you can play on their website to get a better grasp on the power of the technology.  For a minute, let’s think about this in a way that probably talks more to you and your business.

Let’s say you are a company that distributes and manages coffee machines to business offices.  In this scenario you charge monthly for the machine and supplies, and perform all maintenance and replacement on the machines.  By the way, coffee machines could be anything from printers and copiers to telephones, washing machines, or pizza ovens – it really doesn’t matter.  Anyway, you may have hundreds of these machines in the field and you need to employ a fleet of engineers to check, service and replace them, often in a reactive mode.  If you could take all the sensor data generated by those coffee machines and create a digital twin, you’d be able to predict failures before they occur, evaluate what changes in conditions or environment would mean to your business, and even test the performance and profitability of different monthly service plans.  All without leaving the office.  Think of the cost savings and improvement in customer satisfaction this could bring.

The concept of Digital Twins is a little larger and more grand than I typically like to talk about in these columns.  I like to talk about technology that will impact businesses of all shapes and sizes, and on the surface, the things that companies like GE are doing don’t exactly speak to that.  I do believe however that the concepts are important and powerful enough that the impact will be incredibly far-reaching.  Like I said, this has the potential to disrupt every single industry in the world.  Plus, it’s always fun when the different topics and technologies I have been talking about for years come together to form an even greater opportunity.  This is probably not something that will impact your business tomorrow, but as 2017 progresses, this trend will grow and within 3-5 years, hundreds of millions of things will be represented by digital twins.  That’s something that’s worth paying attention to.

Technology Under Your Tree

An Article By: David Tan, Chief Technology Officer

As the year winds down, we like to take a few minutes to look back on the past 12 months, but also take time to enjoy the holidays and time away from the pressures of daily life.  I guess it’s why I do what I do, but I can’t ever seem to get my love of technology out of my mind, so even as I sit here browsing Amazon for some last minute gift ideas, I’m struck how much the advanced technology we talk about every day in the workplace has crossed over into all aspects of our lives.  If you give me a minute to tell Alexa to raise the heat and ask it how many more steps I need today to reach my goal, I’ll tell you why emerging technologies is on my mind this holiday season!

If you read my articles regularly or follow me at all, you’ll know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about emerging trends in technology like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, IoT, wearables, etc.  Most experts have been saying this technology is coming in a big way, and I couldn’t agree more.  It’s a pretty well established pattern that people seem to adapt to and adopt technology more in their personal lives than businesses do – it’s so much easier for 1 person to learn than for a whole company to change.  However, as these technologies become pervasive, we force them into business use by sheer force of will.  The classic example is the iPhone which was always intended to be a consumer electronics device.  People starting bringing them into work and demanding they work with corporate technology, and an entire world of enterprise mobility and device management was born.  This is going to start happening more and more.

Above I joked about some of the technology I use around the house, but really, it’s no joke.  The Amazon Echo is an incredibly powerful device.  It combines the natural language and machine learning power of Artificial Intelligence, with the always-on, always-connected aspects of the Internet of Things.  Of course being connected only matters if there’s something to connect to, and having a thermostat (Nest), lights (Phillips Hue), or even a toothbrush (the Kolibree Smart Toothbrush) around the house makes for a very powerful, very smart home network.  How many of these things are you going to have under the tree this year?

Maybe you’re embracing your new year’s resolution to improve your fitness?  Of course you can’t do that without a wearable, connected fitness devices like the Fitbit.  Or maybe you’ll just integrate health and fitness tracking into your smart watch?  These devices worth with you to monitor your health, habits and patterns, and learn from your past to help recommend changes to your lifestyle going forward.  Sounds a lot like artificial intelligence to me.

The bottom line is this technology is absolutely everywhere, and it has become a very pervasive part of all our lives.  We all have to continue to embrace it, and more importantly, find ways to use it at home and at work.  I think you’ve heard me before say that in today’s world, every company is a technology company.  It doesn’t matter what you do or what business you’re in, you have to be embracing technology to be competitive.  We love helping companies find creative ways to flourish with the use of technology – it’s why I wake up in the morning. 

I guess you could also say that every home is a technology home! So, as you open up your presents this holiday season, and as you make your resolutions for the new year, think about how much the amazing new disruptive technology is changing your lives! Now if you'll excuse me, my Apple watch just told me I have to leave for an appointment that starts in 25 minutes because according to Waze, traffic is heavier than usual. I guess I'll have to reprogram the settings on my refrigerator later tonight. Happy Holidays to all and a Happy New Year! 

2016 Tech Holiday Gift Guide

An Article By: Stephanie Memos, Marketing Coordinator

Shopping for a gadget-obsessed friend or family member can often be troubling, that’s why we’ve put together our 2016 Tech Holiday Gift. We’ve asked our engineers and they gave us their insight on the hottest technology driven gifts sure to impress even them.

Amazon Echo- Amazon’s Alexa-controlled wireless echo speaker uses the sound of your voice to easily interact with your devices. Alexa can instantly, play music, search the web, create shopping lists, shop online, pull up weather reports, call an Uber, and much more. Additionally, Alexa works with a laundry list of Internet of Things (IOT) smart devices found around your home including, the Nest thermostat, Philips Hue lights, and Wemo light switch controls.

Amazon Echo Dot- This is the compact and incredibly small version of Amazon’s Echo, minus the speaker. Echo Dot does just about everything Amazon Echo does for a fraction of the price (just $50.00) and if you have a wireless speaker, Echo Dot can connect.

The Tile – This Bluetooth powered gadget helps you track and find things when they are lost. Simply attach the square tile to an item (keys, phone, tablet, purse, luggage, camera, etc.), click the free app and view a map that shows the location. You also have the option to ring your items when you get closer to them making it way easier to locate.

Nintendo NES Classic Mini- Want to bring back some nostalgic memories from 1985 when you first played Nintendo? Then grab the update version of the classic 1985 Nintendo Entertainment System this holiday season. The updated classic comes with 30 games including, “Donkey Kong”, “The Legend of Zelda” and even “Super Mario Bros.”.

Photive HYDRA Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Speaker- This waterproof, shockproof, dustrproof, portable speaker provides the perfect sound in even the most rugged environments. Send your favorite music wirelessly through Bluetooth to hear all your favorite tunes.

Apple Watch Series 2- The original Apple Watch wowed us with its Siri, health and fitness tracking, notifications, apps, and of course, customizable face watch, but now with series 2, Apple has included, a built in GPS and a dual core processor. The cherry on top? This watch is now waterproof.

Spectacles by Snap- One of the most interesting tech items out there, (good luck trying to get your hands on these) Spectacles by Snap are a pair of glasses that can record 10 seconds of videos but are only being sold in “Snapbots” ( a yellow vending machine that travels around the country). Only 2 Snapbots have appeared in Venice Beach, Cali. And Big Sur. Cali.

HP Sprocket Photo Printer- The Bluetooth printer personally prints 2” x 3” snapshots or stickers with customizable frames, emojis, filters, and more. Simply connect your social media accounts in the HP sprocket app and conveniently print as you post! 

A Thanksgiving Message

A Message from: Evan Leonard, President

I always like to take a positive view of life and reflect at different times of the year.  This year has been very unpredictable.  My wife’s culture believes leap years are always unpredictable.  There seems to be more questions than answers from the election, events from this past year and more.  That is why it is even more important to reflect and make sure we take the time to be thankful. 

I am a huge believer in technology but think there is a time and a place for it.  This weekend is about connecting with humans and putting down the smartphone. 

The latest book I read, The Big Leap, talks about how we can spend more time in our Genus Zone and what are our upper limiting problems.  Upper limits do not pertain to negative thoughts or feelings.  Instead it is invigorating and liberating to think about how we are all limit ourselves sometime from our genus.  This does not just mean our professional life but personal as well.  I have made it a point to share with my family my genus this weekend.  In this book, genus does not mean a high IQ in math or a subject but rather where you are able to make the most impact.

With Thanksgiving approaching, it is time to cherish the good memories, celebrate with those around us, and give countless thanks to all that we have despite what is going on in the world. Try to look for the positive in what is going on, rather than the negative. Take a step back with loved ones and truly appreciate the times that you have together and how we live in a constant transforming, technological world. Happy Thanksgiving to All.

DNS Security Overview

An Article By: Stephanie Memos, Marketing Coordinator, CHIPS Technology Group Inc.

Recently, major websites such as Twitter, Spotify, PayPal and Reddit were inaccessible to millions of users around the country. The attack was first reported on the east coast as it made its way across country. It is believed that an attack by hackers was released to a large portion of DNS hosts causing websites to go down. Throughout the day users experienced continued issues with internet such as query latency and unresponsiveness.

So what is a DDoS Cyber-attack?

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) happens when a hacker targets a website or web service with junk traffic so that it cannot handle the legitimate incoming connections. The server becomes severely overwhelmed causing it to slow down and or shut down the system and the interrupting service. At this point you may be asking yourself, "Is this a new form of attack?" The answer is No, realistically, these attacks actually are quite popular due to the up rise in new technology such as IoT (Internet of Things).

With Dyn offering domain Name System (DNS) services, or as we like to think of it, a one stop shop of all internet addresses, hackers are often elated when targeting this shop since it holds massive information.

During this attack, harmful messages and requests were coming from millions of IP addresses maliciously disrupting systems. Information has shown that the devices attacked were infected with a malware code that was commonly released during the up weeks to this attack. The malware, (Mirai) searches for specific IoT, such as webcams, smart home appliances, DVRs, etc. to take the default log-in credentials (usernames and passwords) and turns them into a host to cyber-attack.

Today, we are still unaware who is responsible for this attack, but it is clear to see that attackers were able to disrupt a major DNS provider used by popular companies across the country. For now, it is keen that we further educate ourselves on how we can secure our personal devices during this era.