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‘Machine learning is the big one’: Deloitte expert

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The dominant tech trend in places like Southeast Asia will not be artificial intelligence as a whole, but rather it will be the more specific AI field of machine learning, according to a researcher from Deloitte.

“Machine learning is the big one, not AI. AI’s a very broad field, we are talking about the very narrow field of machine learning,” Duncan Stewart, the director of technology, media, and telecommunications research at Deloitte Canada, told CNBC.

Deloitte predicts that the next 12 months will see significant progress in augmented reality, mobile device usage, and increasingly sophisticated chips. But the most dominant trend will be machine learning — when programs predict or explain using large amounts of data without being explicitly programmed — according to Stewart.

In fact, big companies like Amazon and Netflix use machine learning all the time to analyze and improve user experiences, predicting what their next purchase or binge viewing may be. Stewart, however, added that it’s not just major tech firms employing machine learning: “I am seeing large companies do more and more with machine learning in their own data centers — this isn’t just Google, Amazon and Microsoft, the big cloud guys — this is Southeast Asia companies making investments in new chips to accelerate machine learning.”

While consumer products like Google Home and Amazon Alexa have long used machine learning as a buzzword, enterprise applications such as voice recognition, natural language processing and fraud detection are picking up, according to Stewart.

A large part of that push comes from significant improvements in computer hardware.

“The hardware is about a million times better over the last two years. That means Deloitte is predicting that the enterprise — the business use of machine learning — will double in 2018 compared to the year before; it will double again by 2020. Now that’s exponential growth in a market that’s already worth tens of billions of dollars in size.”

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Coronavirus live updates: Israel locks down again ahead of High Holidays; EU strikes vaccine deal with Sanofi, GSK

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The coronavirus has infected more than 30.2 million people globally as of Friday, killing at least 946,685 people so far.

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Economy is showing positive signs, but banks will feel the brunt

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Principles of ‘green chemistry’ could have a big impact in the future

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Used in everything from the detergent that washes our clothes to the toothpaste that keeps our mouths clean, chemicals play an integral role in society. 

While it’s hard to imagine life without them, if not used in a responsible way their effect on the natural world – and us – can be harmful.

The European Commission has stated that some chemicals “can severely damage our health or the environment,” while the World Health Organization has previously estimated that exposure to selected chemicals resulted in the loss of 1.6 million lives in 2016.

It’s against this backdrop that the notion of “green chemistry” comes into play. In relatively simple terms, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has defined it as “the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use or generation of hazardous substances.”

The EPA goes on to explain that the idea of green chemistry relates to a product’s entire life cycle, which includes everything from its design and production to utilization and disposal.

Paul Anastas is the director of Yale University’s Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering. Speaking on the latest episode of CNBC’s Sustainable Energy, he explained how he became interested in the subject.

“When I was a young chemist, I looked around at all of the technological miracles that chemistry produced,” he said. “And then I looked at the other side of the equation – all of the unintended consequences of pollution and its effect on the environment and on human health,” he added.

“So green chemistry is really a way of keeping all of those technological miracles, those innovations, without all of those unintended consequences.”

Anastas, together with John Warner — a chemist who is now president and chief technology officer of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry — co-authored the book “Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice,” a key body of work in the field.

First published in 1998, the book lists 12 principles of green chemistry, one of which focuses on the prevention of waste, a subject that Anastas expanded upon when speaking to CNBC. 

“Waste, we need to recognize, is a man-made concept,” he said. “In nature, there is no waste: every time a waste is generated, an organism evolves to use that waste as a feedstock.”

He added: “And so, we think about how to do the same thing in industry, how you either prevent or avoid waste, or utilize whatever waste in a valuable way.”

With attitudes regarding pollution and the environment shifting in recent years, many governments and businesses are emphasizing their commitments to sustainable practices.

But while actions need to match words and there is clearly a long way to go, Anastas sought to emphasize the changes that were being made.

“I simply cannot name an industry sector that isn’t using green chemistry,” he said. “Everything from pharmaceuticals, to plastics, everything from … cosmetics to the way that we generate, store and transport our energy,” he added. “Now, I’m not going to say that companies are doing it systematically or in all of their products, but great strides are being made.”

When it comes to the production of chemicals, there is some serious work to be done, however. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2018 direct carbon dioxide emissions from primary chemical production hit 880 million tonnes, a jump of almost 4% compared to 2017. The IEA goes on to describe the chemical sector as being “the largest industrial consumer of both oil and gas.”

Anastas was asked how easy it would be to lower the use of energy in chemical production by applying the principles of green chemistry.

“We’ve forced chemicals to do things they didn’t naturally want to do,” he said. “So we’ve heated them up, we’ve put them under pressure and we’ve tortured them to obey and become the things we want them to become,” he added.

“But it’s not just the quantities of energy that’s important, it’s the character and the nature of energy that we use: it needs to be renewable and non-depleting, and nontoxic, and not polluting.”

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