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Moving past mobile — why innovation must happen beyond smartphones

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TV screen, grocery store, or virtual party zone: these days, our smartphones are whatever we want them to be. Smartphone usage skyrocketed during the pandemic, proving it to be both a necessity and comfort for many at this time. But could our fascination with smartphones hold the key to a connected future beyond our 3-inch screens?

The idea of a connected future is nothing new. Beyond fringe sci-fi predictions of decades past, we live in a world where connected devices have entered the mainstream consciousness. Despite our smartphone connections to voice assistants and fitness wearables, something is missing. 

The problem is that our devices do not work well together. Rival brands may host apps on different platforms, but cohesive connections between their connected devices are limited.  The reality is consumers are not beholden to one brand or type of device. Unless you dedicate yourself to one brand and buy into their walled garden of devices, your connected life is very disconnected.

We spoke with Andrew Garrihy, Huawei’s Global Chief Brand Officer, about his TNW2020 keynote on how Huawei’s Seamless AI Life strategy is working to change this very problem.

The promise of connected living has fallen short 

The promise of connected living has fallen short for several reasons, and technology is not to blame. Huawei’s mission is to break the mold of the brand-specific connected ecosystems we’ve been sold. The company’s Global Chief Brand Officer, Andrew Garrihy, says brands have lacked the will to bridge connected devices together. 

“Companies haven’t been open and collaborative enough with the systems and consumers probably haven’t been demanding enough. But I think both of those things are changing,” Garrihy told TNW.

Frictionless connectivity is a necessity for connected living. Cumbersome and awkward configurations make connected living more of a hazard than help, but Huawei is convinced better awaits because they’re building it through their Seamless AI Life Strategy. 

Huawei aims to create ubiquitous connections between different devices, irrespective of the manufacturer. With their HiLink system, users can connect to printers, speakers, kettles, treadmills, or any other kind of household electrical item. Huawei has partnered with 800 companies to bring these integrations to life. Want to lock your Samsonite suitcase? Keys are a thing of the past. Tap your phone on your Samsonite smart lock.

A connected future

In Huawei’s vision of a connected future, the smartphone functions as a super-connector of connected devices. The technology exists today but lacks seamless integration.

Take, for instance, family video calls, which have become a lockdown staple. In his TNW2020 keynote, Garrihy spoke about Huawei’s connected version of events, in which the family no longer has to crowd behind the laptop hoping to appear in the call. Instead, the lounge will also function as a family video conferencing room thanks to connections with smart speakers and a smart TV. Every family member will show on the call because Huawei’s 360-degree camera will pivot to the speaker.

Cohesively connected tech is the aim, which is why the smartphone isn’t the sole consideration for Huawei. The company knows the value of a good smartphone, but mobile devices are not the only option for connecting with the world around us. 

Our technology should fit around our lives, not the other way around. We cannot escape the ubiquity of smartphones, so Huawei wants to leverage them to build innovative solutions with other technologies. Beyond our smartphones, a truly connected world lays at our fingertips.

In his keynote, Garrihy shares his personal experiences which highlighted the radical possibilities of Huawei’s Seamless AI Life strategy. He recounted a pre-lockdown trip where he was racing to catch his flight. Upon his return weeks later, he had forgotten where he parked his car at the airport. Instead of spending forty-five minutes searching for his vehicle, Huawei’s HiCar system could have prompted his car to send a picture of its location. Convenience and context are king in Huawei’s Seamless AI Life Strategy, but this is just the beginning. In the future, cars fitted with the HiCar system could do much more. 

“There’s no reason why it couldn’t remind me as soon as I get off the plane and pay for my parking,” says Garrihy.

A seamless remote workspace

We’ve already experienced massive changes in the workspace this year, and Huawei’s Seamless AI Life wants to make it better. Remote work has blurred the boundaries between work and home life. Connected living can help draw those distinctions by increasing personal productivity. With collaborative platforms like Huawei Share, users can transfer files wirelessly between devices with a single tap of their phones.  Huawei speakers and televisions can automatically transfer audio and video calls from the phone, resulting in an engaging work experience that propels productivity.

Remote learning is also getting a connected living makeover, beyond the typical laptop or smartphone setup. Huawei’s multiscreen collaboration equips students with the ability to watch lectures on the TV while taking notes with a tablet, instead of cramming both activities on a laptop or smartphone device. These technologies could prove especially useful for school-aged children who are learning from home and need minimal distraction to engage with their lessons. 

Privacy concerns

A connected world sounds exciting, but these innovations present new privacy and security vulnerabilities. As Garrihy notes, the tide has turned now that more consumers are reckoning with the cost of privacy. 

“We’ve gone through a period where giving all our data away, we become the products. Now we’re starting to see a global awakening of, ‘Am I happy to be the product anymore?’ and we’re seeing people willing to pay a premium,” he tells TNW.

Huawei’s privacy measures are three-fold. For apps like TomTom Navigation, users can pay to use the app instead of granting data for advertising purposes. Huawei’s laptops also include an opt-in camera, and their devices employ facial recognition to permit users to view their messages. 

Beyond these measures, the connected security ecosystem employs Huawei’s Harmony OS microkernel trusted execution environment, which splinters the various device logins as a safety measure. This limits the severity of a possible hack and ensures the security of the connected ecosystem is not compromised. Consumer privacy is and will continue to be a hot-button topic so Huawei’s multifaceted approach puts the user in control of their privacy, however they see fit.

Speaking on the misconceptions about connected living, Garrihy agrees that its future is in the hands of the consumer. “The reality is you will still firmly be in charge,” Garrihy tells TNW. 

“If you look at the nirvana that’s been painted, we breeze through this world effortlessly, where the machine does everything. I don’t think that’s going to be the reality for a long time, but I think between integrating our hardware and software and employing AI, it will start to predict but we’ll still be firmly in charge of what happens.”

Huawei’s Seamless AI Life: More time for the things you love

Huawei’s Seamless AI Life is all about making better connections with technology and offers a glimpse into the future. When we are no longer distracted with piecing together fragmented technologies or trying to live with incompatible devices, we are free to focus on what’s most important. For Garrihy, our new technologies afford us a connection that’s as old as time – personal growth: “I’ve got more time for the things I enjoy and the things I’m interested in.” 

As we transition to a connected present, our emerging technologies offer us the opportunity to thrive in our daily activities. So, what will it take for connected living to become an everyday occurrence – simply living? 

“For everyone that’s involved in technology, we truly want to deliver to the world the benefits of technology,” Garrihy states. “We all have to be open to greater collaboration and greater openness, then seamless connectivity will be a reality, and I can’t wait for that.”

This article is brought to you by Huawei.

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Here’s our first look at Huawei’s Mate 40 Pro

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Huawei announced the Mate 40 Pro yesterday, and now we have one in hand. It might not be easy to recommend Huawei phones outside of China, since the Trump administration’s targeted sanctions have prevented it working with US companies like Google, but devices like the P40 Pro Plus and last year’s Mate 30 Pro have had hardware as impressive as anything else on the global smartphone market.

The situation shouldn’t be any different with the new Mate 40 Pro. It’s likely to be Huawei’s most advanced device yet — even if there are still questions over the extent to which the company is actually able to manufacture it.

I thought the Mate 30 Pro was the best-looking phone released in 2019, and the Mate 40 Pro builds on that design. The unit I have is in the “Mystic Silver” colorway, which Huawei is promoting the most heavily. It’s a lot more unusual than the name makes it sound — the back is frosted glass, but there’s a kaleidoscopic effect where the phone shimmers different colors depending on the light. It looks great.

The camera module is circular, as it was last year, but this time the lenses are arranged in a ring around the Leica logo. I think I preferred the Mate 30 Pro’s two-tone glossy effect a little better, but Huawei says this year’s model was inspired by a black hole, so make of that what you will. This is still an attractive device from behind.

Around the front, the notch has been jettisoned in favor of a double-wide hole punch cutout for the dual selfie cameras. The OLED display is a little bigger this year at 6.76 inches, and it still has the 88-degree “waterfall” curves on the edges, which Huawei calls a “horizon” display.

These edges mean the power button on the side is still pushed back further to the rear than on most other phones. Unlike the Mate 30 Pro, however, Huawei has found space for physical volume buttons this time, which should be an improvement in usability.

Overall the Mate 40 Pro is looking like another physically and technically impressive Huawei flagship phone, and I’m looking forward to finding out what the company has managed to achieve — particularly with the camera and the new Kirin 9000 processor. The software, of course, will be another matter entirely. Stay tuned for a full review.

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This Dutch startup sells microdosing kits to boost productivity — so I did magic truffles for a month

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The idea of microdosing hallucinogenic drugs to boost productivity has always fascinated me. I’m easily distracted and quite chaotic, so taking tiny amounts of recreational drugs to help me address that sounds like a good time to me.

Microdosing for productivity is nothing new, of course. Silicon Valley nerds have been raving about taking tiny doses of drugs for ages and this TNW2017 talk from Paul Austin has always been one of the most popular ones on our YouTube channel:

[embedded content]

The idea of microdosing sparked real interest at TNW and we even set up a dedicated Slack channel for it and even had some offers to do a microdosing trial as a whole company. Despite loving his talk though, my colleagues and I didn’t dare to take the plunge and the idea just fizzled out… until I found Earth Resonance.

The magical moment

I my microdosing dreams were sparked again this year when a developer friend of mine wouldn’t shut up about how his productivity and problem-solving skills had improved after he started microdosing LSD. He made it sound like “NZT” — the wonder drug in that movie Limitless starring Bradley Cooper.

So I decided to take the plunge. I read some guides, got a tab of LSD, put it in some vodka, let it sit for a couple of days, and started doing tiny doses.

At first, I felt nothing, so I upped my dosage, until I noticed something. The feeling I got wasn’t like the Limitless productivity boost I was promised, I just felt antsy and restless instead. It was like a more uncomfortable version of the feeling you get when you drink too much coffee.

Slightly disillusioned, I dropped the idea of microdosing again and moved on with my life, until I stumbled across an Instagram ad from a company called Earth Resonance — an Amsterdam-based startup that sells microdosing packages from their webshop. It seemed I had finally found the streamlined (and legal) microdosing experience I had been looking for.

So how does it work?

As the name implies, they don’t sell LSD, but psilocybin truffles (commonly known as magic truffles). The concept is the same; you take a tiny dose of truffles (~1 gram) every other day and you get a very slight buzz – if you can even call it that – that helps you focus, organize, and work.

Credit: Reddit

Being the cheap writer that I am, I contacted them for an interview and asked them if I could try their product. After a good chat with their two founders I got a month’s worth of truffles, a tiny scale, and a document they call the Protocol.

The Protocol is an extensive guide that helps you with the process, determine your ideal dose, set your goal, and gives you some tips on stuff like meditation.

You start with a relatively small dosage every other day, and increase it until you hit your sweet spot, which turned out to be 1.2 grams for me. This is all dependent on body weight, health, et cetera, but you can easily figure out what works best for you by slightly increasing your dose every other day.

If you want to follow the Protocol the way it’s intended you’ll have to stop drinking coffee and alcohol, stop smoking, keep track of your daily progress and meditate every day.

I did this for the first week until I realized it wasn’t doing much for me. The reason I started microdosing was for productivity, not for personal growth. After spending a week at my mom’s cabin without microdosing (I didn’t want to tell her), I decided I would finish the month but not do all the Protocol-stuff. It turned out to be a great decision.

In the stressful months leading up to our flagship conference, I did a dose every time I had a busy day ahead of me. It noticeably improved my productivity, especially in the first half of the day.

It’s hard to describe the effects of a microdose accurately without sounding like an ad. You know how sometimes you have a really productive day, for no discernible reason? Microdosing gives a similar feeling. Tasks get easier to tackle, you feel more creative, and distractions are easier to ignore.

It’s important to note though that it’s a relatively minor effect — so I suggest you set you expectations accordingly — but it’s a powerful tool once you get used to it. The effect is subdued, you might even barely notice it, but the results I saw in my work were far from it.

Credit: Wikimedia

Earth Resonance is on a mission to give everyone a chance to see what it’s like to microdose psilocybin truffles — in a legal manner.

Lucky for me, a recent change in the Dutch tax code has that made possible here in the Netherlands. When magic truffles became a ‘luxury good’ (at 19% VAT), it got the legal status that allowed companies like Earth Resonance to start selling truffles online without having to worry about repercussions.

Earth Resonance’s founder, Robert Nass, told me people have opened up to microdosing since coronavirus lockdowns started. Orders have gone up as people start to seek new experimental ways to deal with these extremely weird conditions.

Credit: Earth Resonance

Of course experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs is daunting, and definitely not for everyone. That’s why Earth Resonance offers online consultancy (€89,00 for 1 hour) to help people prepare for their microdosing month. I didn’t get to try this aspect, but the thought of there being experts on staff to guide people gives you an idea of how serious this company is about normalizing microdosing.

The future of microdosing

The answer Nass gave when I asked him about the future of his company really stuck with me. I expected a stock answer about international expansion, but if it was up to Nass, his product would be part of the Dutch healthcare package. Seeing how birth control medication isn’t even part of our healthcare package, I wouldn’t hold my breath, but I admire his ambition and would love it if it came to fruition.

For now, the Netherlands is the only country that allows over-the-counter sales of psilocybin truffles. According to Nass, Canada is up next. He told me the pandemic delayed things, but he expects Canada to legalize it within the next three years. I really hope they do.

If you’ve been curious about microdosing (and live in the Netherlands), I can recommend you give it a go. We’re all working from home anyway, so why not experiment with small amounts of drugs while you’re there? It’s been a great experience for me and I’m confident more people can benefit from giving it a go.

Maybe the future of work isn’t just remote, it’s also on drugs.

Please read Earth Resonance’s healthcare disclaimer before ordering. If you have any underlying conditions or doubts, consult with your physician beforehand.

Published October 23, 2020 — 08:41 UTC

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How I passed the TensorFlow Developer Certification Exam

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Curriculum — what I studied to build the skills necessary for passing the exam

It should be noted that before I started studying for the exam, I had some hands-on experience building several projects with TensorFlow.

The experienced TensorFlow and deep learning practitioner will likely find they can go through the following curriculum at about the same pace I did (three weeks total), maybe faster.

The beginner will want to take as much time as needed. Remember: building any worthwhile skill takes time.

I’ve listed timelines, costs ($USD), and helpfulness level (towards passing the exam) for each resource. The timelines are based on my experience.

If you want to create a curriculum for yourself, I’d recommend something like the following.

Note: For paid resources, affiliate links have been used. This doesn’t change the price of the resource but if you do happen to purchase one, I will receive a portion of the payment: money I use towards creating resources like this.

Time: 1-hour.

Cost: Free.

Helpfulness level: Required.

This should be your first stop. It outlines the topics which will be covered in the exam. Read it and then read it again.

If you’re new to TensorFlow and machine learning, you’ll likely read this and get scared at all the different topics. Don’t worry. The resources below will help you become familiar with them.

Time: 3 weeks (advanced user) to 3 months (beginner).

Cost: $59 per month after a 7-day free trial, financial aid available through application. If you can’t access Coursera, see the equivalent free version on YouTube.

Helpfulness level: 10/10.

This is the most relevant resource to the exam (and getting started with TensorFlow in general). The careful student will notice the TensorFlow Certification handbook and the outline of this specialization are almost identical.

It’s taught by Laurence Moroney and Andrew Ng, two titans of TensorFlow and machine learning and if I had to only choose one resource to prepare for the exam, this would be it.

I appreciated the short video format and focus on hands-on examples as soon as possible. The multiple code notebooks at the end of each section were must-haves for any practical learner.

A tip for the programming exercises: don’t just fill in the code gaps, write the entire thing out yourself.

Time: 3 weeks (reading cover to cover, no exercises) — 3 months (reading cover to cover and doing the exercises).

Cost: Price varies on Amazon but I picked up a hard copy for $55. You can see all the code for free on GitHub.

Helpfulness level: 7/10 (only because some chapters aren’t relevant to the exam).

At 700+ pages, this book covers basically all of machine learning and thus, some topics which aren’t relevant to the exam. But it’s a must-read for anyone interested in setting themselves a solid foundation for a future in machine learning and not just to pass an exam.

If you’re new to machine learning, you’ll probably find this book hard to read (to begin with). Again, not to worry, you’re not in a rush, learning useful skills takes time.

Put it this way, if you want an idea of the quality of the book, I read the first edition during morning commutes to my machine learning engineer job. And I can tell you, more often than not, I’d end up using exactly what I read in the book during the day.

The 2nd edition is no different, except it’s been updated to cover the latest tools and techniques, namely TensorFlow 2.x — what the exam is based on.

If you’re only after relevant chapters to the exam, you’ll want to read:

  • Chapter 10: Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks with Keras
  • Chapter 11: Training Deep Neural Networks
  • Chapter 12: Custom Models and Training with TensorFlow
  • Chapter 13: Loading and Preprocessing Data with TensorFlow
  • Chapter 14: Deep Computer Vision Using Convolutional Neural Networks
  • Chapter 15: Processing Sequences Using RNNs and CNNs
  • Chapter 16: Natural Language Processing with RNNs and Attention

But for the serious student, I’d suggest the whole book and the exercises (maybe not all, but pick and the choose the ones which suit spark your interests most).

Time: 3-hours (I only watched 3 lectures) — 24-hours (1-hour per lecture, plus 1-hour review each).

Cost: Free.

Helpfulness level: 8/10.

World-class deep learning information from a world-class university, oh and did I mention? It’s free.

The first 3 lectures, deep learning (in general), Convolutional Neural Networks (usually used for computer vision), and Recurrent Neural Networks (usually used for text processing) are the most relevant to the exam.

But again, for the eager learner, going through the whole course wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Be sure to check out the labs and code they offer on GitHub, especially the Introduction to TensorFlow one. And again, I can’t stress the importance of writing the code yourself.

Time: 3-hours (depending on how fast your computer is).

Cost: Free.

Helpfulness level: 10/10 (using PyCharm is a requirement).

The exam takes place in PyCharm (a Python development tool). Before the exam, I’d never used PyCharm. And it’s suggested you get at least somewhat familiar with it before you start.

So to familiarize myself with PyCharm, I went through their getting started series on YouTube which was very straightforward, “here’s what this button does.”

But the main tests were making sure TensorFlow 2.x ran without any issues and my computer could run deep neural networks in a respectable time (my MacBook Pro doesn’t have a Nvidia GPU).

To test this, I replicated the following two TensorFlow tutorials on my local machine:

  1. Image Classification with TensorFlow
  2. Text classification with TensorFlow

Both of these worked fine locally, however, as we’ll see below, as soon as I started the exam, I ran into an issue.

Extras

  • deeplearning.ai videos on Coursera/YouTube — The examination is purely code-based (Python code) but if you want to know what’s going on behind the scenes of the code you’re writing (linear algebra, calculus), I’d jump in and out of videos here as you see fit. For example, if you’re not sure what mini-batch gradient descent is, search “deeplearning.ai mini-batch gradient descent.”
  • TensorFlow documentation — If you’re going to be a TensorFlow practitioner, you’re going to need to be able to read the documentation. If you don’t understand something, write the code and comment it yourself.
  • Coding with TensorFlow on YouTube (playlist) — Most of the TensorFlow in Practice Coursera Specialization in video series on YouTube, taught by the same instructor as well.

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