Colour blind tech

The issues around the higher arrest or stop and search figures for people of colour, both here and in the US, has put technology under the spotlight.

Surveillance systems are being produced and sold to councils, police and shops but serious flaws have been revealed that may produce biased results.   Trials of face scan tech and training data is reputedly tested on photos of mostly white, male faces.  As a result, the data becomes a little less reliable when it is presented with a woman or anyone with darker skin.

Amazon’s facial recognition software Rekognitions was less reliable when it came to identifying gender if the person was darker skinned or female.  Self-driving cars, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology found, were better at detecting light skinned people, which led to accidents when the cars failed to identify black people.

In 2018, MIT found that face recognition systems were wrong in a third of all cases involving black women but were almost 100% accurate when it came to the identification of white males.  Again, this was attributed to trials being conducted on pictures of white men.  OK tech can’t change the world but SURELY it can fix this?

Green shoots of recovery?

Brexit is believed to be putting Britain at a disadvantage in terms of green tech, particularly hydrogen projects, despite being the first country to set a net zero carbon emission target.  The government has provided £70m to two small hydrogen projects, in comparison with Germany, Portugal, China, Japan and the United States who have all invested heavily. The global hydrogen market is believed to be growing to $1tn over the next 30 years.

If we leave the EU on a no-deal, however, as a nation we will miss out on the chance to be involved in the European Union’s Green New Deal, which aims for zero emissions by 2050.  Ballou works with Ecosia, the search engine that uses profits to plant trees, (the organisation had planted 60m trees by 2019) and we’re always delighted to work with green tech companies.   The prospect of the UK falling behind in the development of eco technology is a depressing one and on a personal level for Ballou, it would be deeply sad for us as an organisation not to be able to continue to work with other pioneers in such a vital and worthwhile sector.

The problem with quirkiness

We’ve had Elon Musk with his space rockets, his online feuds and his child, who has apparently been named after what happens when your cat gets on the keyboard.  We’ve had Jeff Abramovich and his yacht with its own missile defence system.  Now the new eccentric entrepreneur on the block is Rony Abovitz who claimed that Magic Leap, his AI start up built around digital content via a headset, was worked by “squirrels and sea monkeys”.  Cue PR person with head in their hands, rocking gently.

Mr Abovitz however may not be on the block for long, as his first prototype was the size of a washing machine and the accompanying promotional video was revealed to owe a little more to CGI than was preferable.  Merger partners faded away and Mr Abovitz is now licking his wounds.

Perhaps, just perhaps, being facetious to a tech journalist about how your product works is only a successful strategy if people have experienced it…um…working.  Just a thought.

The Commons enters the virtual real world

Like the rest of us, the House of Commons will be embracing technology and holding sittings and meetings over Zoom.    A rapt nation awaits – who will be the one appearing in front of a backdrop of a Tahitian island with no knowledge of how to change it, whose cat will curvet about in front of the screen , who’ll be interrupted by a family member asking where the remote is and who will be told sternly “Will the Right Honourable Member please unmute himself at once?”

To Ballou PR this is welcome. A British institution taking its first tentative steps into the world the rest of us have been operating in happily for a decade.  First we’ve had an MP (Stella Creasy) with maternity cover being sworn in with her daughter swaddled to her, and now Zoom.  Whatever next?  Fingers crossed, it could even be a coherent communication strategy…..

Yawning through the data wars

Frontiers in Physics is not our regular reading, but it could well be now it’s given us the amusing information that the only things bots can’t imitate in their quest to convince us they are human is our lack of effort.

Bots are just too…enthusiastic.  Our energy runs out by the end of the day and that is even apparent in our electronic exchanges.   Our replies become shorter, our language lazier and our lack of oomph evident.

It’s actually a useful characteristic of ours as it’s helping information scientists work out ways to identify bots on fake accounts.  So don’t be ashamed of the mid-afternoon slump, rejoice in it.  You’re actually contributing to the war against fraud.

Yeah.  Whatevs.

We’ve done it! Twice!

Ballou PR is one of the top 150 PR agencies in the UK, according to PR Week and not only that, we’re delighted to have come in the PRovoke (formerly Holmes Report) Global Top 250 PR Agency Ranking for 2020.

We’ve been in the Tech PR ranking before but to be in the top 150 across the board is really exciting for us, and all credit must go to our amazing team that works so hard to provide our clients with the best possible service and achieve the coverage that keeps them coming back.  We’re so proud of the Ballou family.

https://www.provokemedia.com/ranking-and-data/global-pr-agency-rankings/2020-pr-agency-rankings/top-250

https://www.prweek.com/article/1681006/prweek-reveals-top-150-uk-pr-consultancies-2020

Budget 2018: Slaying the Giants or killing the Golden Goose?

HMRC has finally had enough, it seems. After much talk of taking on the tech giants over the issue of tax payments (or rather the lack of) in the UK, Chancellor Philip Hammond used this week’s budget to announce the introduction of his “Digital Services Tax”.

From April 2020, the Government will introduce a new two per cent Digital Services Tax on the revenues of certain digital businesses to ensure that the amount of tax paid in the UK is reflective of the value they derive from their UK users. In other words, Google et al will be taxed on revenues generated here, rather than on profits.

But what does this move mean for the wider technology industry? And will it, as some commentators have warned, stifle innovation at a very uncertain time for the UK economy and business growth?

The chancellor insists not. Only “established tech giants” will be targeted he says, not start-ups.

Others don’t agree. In his response to the announcement, techUK CEO Julian David pointed out that the £500 million threshold the Chancellor proposed is too low and risks capturing much smaller companies than anticipated. He also questioned the logic of implementing a tax that seeks to target businesses simply because they are digital.

And this is perhaps at the heart of the matter for the industry. Everyone agrees that major corporations should pay fair taxes, but the issue is a complex one and an overly simplistic solution risks doing more harm than good. Just Eat is the first tech company to complain about being disproportionally affected by the tax this week but expect many more to follow.

Set this against the major surge in firms going insolvent and you have a perfect storm of economic slowdown, more assertive banks, and restrictive tax regimes on a sector normally relied on to generate growth in such conditions.

The tech industry needs to pull together to navigate the choppy waters ahead.

What brands can learn from the tech stock fall

As news of the sharpest fall in global tech stocks in seven years broke on Thursday morning, commentators weren’t short of potential reasons why. Leading the charge, the Financial Times summarised it as a Wall Street reaction, dumping stock over fears concerning the US-China trade war and lack of cheap money.  Tech stocks led this selling frenzy.

At the time of writing there are already signs that markets are correcting and this may just be a cyclical blip. Indeed, the FT and others have pointed out that investors had been paying a premium for certain stocks, so the sell-off itself may have been part of that correction.

But equally, there could be something else going on. There were some high-profile casualties – Amazon’s stock dropped 6.2% and Netflix’s fell 8.4%. Not all of this can be put down to market jitters.  Twitter and Intel both posted disappointing earnings and there are signs that the technology industry may have an image problem.

A series of recent high-profile hacks and data misuse scandals have rocked consumer confidence in technology companies. This was bound to have a knock-on effect somewhere. This coupled with the previously warned about over-valuation of certain stocks, particularly the group known as FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple Netflix and Google), has created a perfect storm.

The extent to which concerns over data privacy and security have contributed to the latest fall in share prices may be debatable. These signs, however, should not be ignored. Increased public awareness of privacy and security issues after major scandals such as the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica one is not going unnoticed by shareholders and should act as a wake-up call to the industry.

Silicon Valley is notoriously resilient and while this may well be business as usual on the stock exchanges, brands can still learn the lessons from it. Companies making mistakes with data and who fail to deal with the PR fallout quickly and efficiently will be punished by their customers and shareholders. Markets may recover quickly; brands and reputations are not so easily fixed.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in PR & business – friend or foe?

[:en]By Maria Loupa, Account Director Ballou PR; MCIPR; # AIinPR panel 

With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, there is no doubt that AI will create significant business opportunities and will have a tremendous societal and economic impact on our lives. However, ethical dilemmas keep being raised by new advancements in the field – from IBM’s Watson AI to Google’s new Duplex system or its AI programme AlphaGo, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

Gaining traction 

In April 2018, the European Commission called for an increase of at least €20 billion for investments in AI research and innovation in the EU, highlighting the potential opportunities but also the measures that need to be considered ahead of widespread adoption. According to the European Commission, ‘Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to systems that show intelligent behaviour: by analysing their environment they can perform various tasks with some degree of autonomy to achieve specific goals.’

Essentially, we already use AI, even if we don’t fully realise it. The technology is being implemented across our mobile phones and e-commerce tools to customise the consumer’s experience via leveraging data insights from a range of platforms – be that chatbots, virtual personal assistants like Siri or Cortana, or smart home devices. 

AI applications 

AI’s outcomes are as diverse as the potential applications – it is already being used to prevent cyber-security attacks, across banking for fraud checks, retail for customer support, marketing and advertising for effective targeting; it’s being used to transform public transport and urban mobility, as well as healthcare.

As Theresa May highlighted this week, AI can revolutionise the NHS, by preventing over 20,000 cancer-related deaths each year by 2033. And this scenario is not that far out – according to ‘The Future of the Professions’ by Richard and Daniel Susskind, IBM’s separate project with the Baylor College of Medicine has developed a system that scans existing literature to generate new hypotheses for particular research problems. Interestingly, this scanning process would take a researcher up to 38 years to digest 70,000 medical articles.

In recent years we have also witnessed gradual AI implementation across the media spectrum. From Reuter’s News Tracer, using AI to determine whether trending topics are newsworthy and truthful to their launch of launch of Lynx Insight, a tool capable of writing sentences and pitching stories, to similar attempts from The Washington Post and the Press Association, among others.

Across the board, it seems that AI is primarily being used to optimise processes and facilitate workflows, while human input remains the most valuable asset in the news process.

AI in PR: CIPR leading the way

Similarly, in PR we have seen attempts towards AI implementation, but these have been sparse with no concrete outputs. A deeper analysis of AI’s impact on our profession has not been examined on a large scale; with this in mind, the CIPR’s Artificial Intelligence panel was formed. In fact, we have published today a new research revealing the impact of technology, and specifically AI, on the public relations practice. The pioneering research – led by Jean Valin Hon FCIPR – is the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of AI on public relations skills now and in five years.

The discussion paper uses a simplified version of the Global Alliance Global Body of Knowledge (GBOK) framework, which describes more than 50 capabilities in public relations, to visually represent the skills that AI is most likely to replace. Tools were benchmarked against the GBOK framework by an international group of practitioners.

The report found that 12% of a public relations practitioner’s total skills could be complemented or replaced by AI today, with a prediction that this could climb to 38% within five years. According to the findings, fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour and relationship building can’t be automated. However, technology is impacting other areas of practice including the simplification of tasks; listening and monitoring; and automation.

Nature vs nurture

Although the level of sophistication is evolving quite rapidly, with a number of tasks being automated or assisted by AI across PR and other professions, humans are still needed. Soft skills like adaptivity, creativity, emotional intelligence and relationship-building will become increasingly desirable. By shifting our workforce towards a mentality of life-long learning and using technology to tackle mundane tasks, we will all be hopefully able to carry out more meaningful forms of work and achieve superior life quality.

Over time, this new focus may impact how we define professions within our societies as a whole, but in the meantime, we need to ensure we are preparing for socioeconomic changes by setting an appropriate ethical and legal framework.

While at this stage AI is focused primarily around driving efficiencies – quantitative not qualitative – and help us deal with the upscaling of online communications we have been experiencing over the past decade, it is bound to evolve further. We need to set aside our existential fears and survival instincts against upcoming changes, keeping in mind that technology itself isn’t inherently bad or good; its applications are merely a reflection of our morals. With proper regulation, gradual implementation and training, we can reach humanity’s full potential – these are the main aspects we need to be focusing on right now.

You can join the conversation about AI in PR via the #AIinPR hashtag on Twitter.

Image courtesy of maxpixel

*Blog first published on CIPR’s Influence magazine here.[:]

NIU Technologies partners with Ballou PR France & Germany to announce its entry into Europe

NIU Technologies, the world number one in „smart scooter“ manufacturing, has chosen Ballou PR France and Germany for its corporate and consumer communications in both markets to support the company as it enters the European market.

Since March, Ballou PR has worked with NIU on a structured consumer and corporate PR campaign, which has led to strong coverage results in national, tech, lifestyle, business and automotive media. Within the first 12 weeks of the collaboration, Ballou PR secured 64 pieces of coverage and organised 20 test drives. Coverage appeared in publications such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bild Zeitung, Forbes, FrenchWeb and WIRED.

NIU is the world’s leading „smart scooter“ brand with more than 240,000 vehicles sold since its launch in June 2015. The Chinese manufacturer partners with leading brands like Bosch, LG, Panasonic and Samsung.