You now have access to a treasure trove of government info through your smart speaker if you live in the UK. The British government has made over 12,000 pieces of Gov.uk information available through Alexa and Google Assistant, saving you the trouble of wading through official pages. Some of them are simple questions like the next bank holiday, while others are more involved questions such as obtaining a passport. Not everything is available, so you can't completely depend on a voice assistant just yet. However, there are promises of expansion.
Many are concerned about the amount of time we – and our children – spend on devices. Soon to be a father, Prince Harry recently suggested "social media is more addictive than drugs and alcohol, yet it's more dangerous because it's normalised and there are no restrictions to it". But worries are not just limited to personal use. Many schools and workplaces are increasingly delivering content digitally, and even using game-playing elements like point scoring and competition with others in non-game contexts to drive better performance. This "always on" lifestyle means many can't just "switch off".
There has, for years, been one thing that just about all of the tech industry agrees on: regulation is coming. Recently, they have even realised that it's necessary. But if there is one thing that has split tech behemoths, politicians and the public apart more than perhaps any other issue, it's what that regulation should look like. Now the UK government thinks it has alighted on an answer, offering perhaps the first comprehensive attempt to limit the harm that technology companies are doing to the people – in particular the children – who use them. For the most part, the solution they have chosen focuses on shifting the responsibility for content that appears on the site onto the people who run them.
Britain's leading position in developing self-driving cars could produce a £62bn economic boost by 2030, the car industry claimed – but warned that such potential could be jeopardised by a no-deal Brexit. A report published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said the UK has significant advantages over other countries in pushing connected and autonomous vehicles, including forward-looking legislation allowing autonomous cars to be insured and driven on a greater proportion of roads than elsewhere. Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, said more than £500m had been invested in research and development by industry and government, and another £740m in communications infrastructure to enable autonomous cars to work. He said: "The opportunities are dramatic – new jobs, economic growth and improvements across society. The UK's potential is clear. We are ahead of many rival nations but to realise these benefits we must move fast."
Scientists have created an infrared body-scanner to help tackle surging violent crime rates. It combines a standard camera with infra-red technology to detect concealed blades from up to 20ft (6 metres) away and works through heavy clothing and even belts. The potentially life-saving technology's developers in the UK say it could one day be fitted to handheld cameras and even mobile phones. If it proves to be a viable option to law enforcement, it may be expanded to include other'geometrically similar' objects with a similar heat signature, such as stowed handguns. A proof of concept is expected in six months and if it is successful, has the potential to be implemented across the UK and around the world.
Broadband customers who are having internet problems are about to start getting refunds – without even having to ask. At the moment, only about one in seven people who have internet or landline problems such as repairs, installations or missed engineer appointments are given any kind of compensation from the companies responsible, according to regulator Ofcom. Even if they do, the amounts are usually small. But now customers will find themselves being given those refunds automatically, for any kind of broadband problems, Ofcom said. We'll tell you what's true.
In medicine, diseases can be detected at a much earlier stage, and we can support the elderly to live a more independent life, simply by identifying deviations from their usual behaviour and body movements. The UK Government recently announced that AI could help the National Health Service predict those in an early stage of cancer, to ultimately prevent thousands of cancer-related deaths by 2033. The algorithms will examine medical records, habits and genetic information pooled from health charities, the NHS and AI. Virtual nurses could transform patient care, being available round the clock to answer questions, monitor patients and provide quick answers. Beyond healthcare, AI could inform a better allocation of resources in energy, logistics and transport, as well as support the digital advertising industry with more efficient marketing.
The UK's National Health Service continues to suffer the longest funding squeeze since it was established 71 years ago. That financial pressure has resulted in the service missing targets for how soon cancer patients should be referred for treatment for the past three years and waiting times in Accident and Emergency departments being at record levels. Such is the financial and staffing pressure on the service, that talking about how recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) could be applied to the NHS might seem fanciful. Yet Professor Tony Young, national clinical director for innovation at NHS England, believes healthcare is at an inflection point, where machine-learning technology could fuel huge advances in what's possible. "I think that healthcare is heading for one of those giant-leap moments in the next five to 10 years and AI is going to be a key tool in enabling us to take that giant leap," he said, speaking at an event in London organized by The King's Fund and IBM Watson Health.
To assess the financial benefits of such a forward-thinking scheme, researchers at Aalto University's HEMA Institute (the Institute of Healthcare Engineering, Management and Architecture) in Helsinki, Finland, studied whether there is a link between the treatment costs of patients and the use of an AI-based healthcare system that directs patients to the correct care. The study examined the Klinik Pro service during its first five months of use at the Myyrmäki Health Center in Vantaa and the result was that the tool brought a 14% saving in the average service costs per patient, translating to a €31 cost reduction per patient during the period of study.
When Wales takes on Ireland in the Six Nations rugby championship Saturday, Big Brother will be watching. Fans filing into the stadium in Cardiff will be scanned with facial recognition software as part of a police trial of the technology. Should any of their faces match a database of potential suspects, officers will be standing by, ready to swoop. It's the kind of indiscriminate mass surveillance that would be expected, in ordinary times, to be the subject of fierce debate in the U.K., as journalists and politicians fought over the proper balance between privacy and security. Instead, trial runs like the one in South Wales are taking place largely unchallenged by parliament.