Speech Recognition Now As Good As A Human

It has been reported that Microsoft’s speech recognition system has reached its lowest ever Word Error Rate (WER) of 5.1%, a rate that puts it on par with humans.

What Speech Recognition System?

For the last 25 years, reaching human parity with a speech recognition system has been a goal of Microsoft, and the company has, therefore, committed to investing in long-term research associated with it. The research, investment, and the resulting system (which includes an AI element) have fed into products and services like Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

The 5.1% Error Rate

Last September, Microsoft’s speech engine is reported to have registered a 6.3% word WER , but Microsoft was able to bring it down to 5.9%. Further recent work on the engine lowered that rate 5.1%, which is the human word error rate.

Microsoft’s system is benchmarked against the Switchboard corpus, which is a dataset of recorded telephone conversations that speech research technologists have been using for more than 20 years to measure the capability of transcription systems.

Human parity of the kind that Microsoft has now achieved has obviously been a goal of the company’s research, and puts it well on the way to creating a system that can be an effective central component of many of its future products and services.

Why The Big Improvement?

Microsoft’s recent advances in AI techniques like neural-net based acoustic and language models, and innovations in enabling the system to take into account the context of the speech to make better guesses as to what unclear words are have led to the reduced error rate.

What’s Next?

Now that Microsoft has an advanced human speech recognition system, reports indicate that future work will focus on tackling the challenges posed by recognising accented speech, dialects, and conversations in noisy surroundings.

Getting a grip on accented speech and dialects could open the speech recognition system to more users globally, and recognising and capturing conversation in noisy environments could make the system more versatile and useful.

Another project in the works is improving the system’s ability to understand the meaning and intent of speech, which Microsoft sees as the next frontier for speech technology.

With all of these advances, and with more research in the pipeline, we can expect more improvements to be rolled out in the future updates of e.g. Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI and the use of speech recognition are now becoming familiar as a way in which we interact with entertainment devices e.g. Amazon Echo and Siri controlled systems like Apple’s new HomePod, and how we interact with our PCs and mobile devices e.g. with Cortana. They are also playing an important role in how we interact with, and how security can be improved with company services e.g. via bots and verification / authentication systems used by banks.

AI and machine learning offer companies the chance to develop innovative products and services that offer the kind of customized, personalized experiences are highly valued by modern consumers. The ability of devices and services to adapt intelligently and relate more closely than ever to our personal likes and needs saves us time, and increase our loyalty to those products and services.

AI developments have been such that back in April, an AI program learned how to ‘bluff’ and beat expert human competitors to the prize money in a series of exhibition poker matches, and this month an AI program cracked a (physical) combination safe in 30 minutes by reducing a possible million combinations to just one correct code. Also, Google’s AI company DeepMind and Oxford University has developed WLAS, a system that can lip read better than a trained professional, and Google has reportedly used AI machine learning technology on its Gmail service with a reported 99.9% blocking of all phishing attempts that it detected.

Not all share the view that the rapid development of AI and machine learning of this kind is a positive thing as Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently described AI as a "fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation”, and a report in March this year by PwC claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation (aided by AI developments) by the year 2030. Recently, concerns have also been raised about how AI could be used to create custom malware to defeat antivirus software by learning how to tweak malicious binaries.

AI technology is finding its way into our daily lives to enhance and tie together existing products and services and new security technologies (biometrics) in new ways, and an essential element of communication, value addition, and convenience, must surely be an effective speech recognition system that is as close to our own as possible.

Banned Neo-Nazi Website Causes Freedom of Speech Concerns

Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare’s decision to stop serving a neo-Nazi site has prompted a US-based digital rights group to express concerns about freedom of speech being compromised.

Daily Stormer Kicked Out

After much public pressure, all three web companies pulled the rug from under The Daily Stormer, saying it violated their terms of service. The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news and commentary website that has recently gained media attention after vilifying Heather Heyer, the 32-year old killed in the car attack in the Charlottesville violence.

GoDaddy were reportedly first to act by pulling DNS services for the neo-Nazis, followed by Google (Domains) when The Daily Stormer tried to move its site there, and finally, Cloudflare (which had initially provided the site’s DNS and a proxy service) followed suit when the neo-Nazi website implied that Cloudflare supported their cause and agreed with the content of their articles.

EEF Reacts

The decisions of these 3 web companies did not sit well with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which has reportedly stated that no-one, not even the government and private companies, should decide who can speak or not. The EFF has pointed out that internet companies control so much online that their decisions about this particular matter that will impact freedom of speech in future, and could have far-reaching effects.

Not Just Because They’re Nazis Says Cloudflare

Cloudfire’s CEO Matthew Prince explained on the company’s blog that the reason for expelling the site from their servers was not because of the Nazi views that it expressed, but because it had said that Cloudfire secretly agreed with its views (which Cloudfire has clearly stated that it does not).

Hiding In The Dark Web

With no company now wanting to host the site, and with hackers worldwide relishing the opportunity of launching all manner of attacks on the website, The Daily Stormer has had to retreat to the Dark Web.

What / Where Is The Dark Web?

The Dark Web refers to a collection of websites on private, encrypted networks built from connections between trusted peers using unconventional protocols. It is only accessible by means of special software, configurations or authorization. Most websites on the Dark Web hide their identity using something called the Tor encryption tool, and sites on the Dark Web cannot be found through search engines or by using traditional browsers. The Dark Web is just one part of a massive network not indexed by search engines like Google, known as the Deep Web.

Freedom of Speech For All

While the EEF has acknowledges that a stand against violence and aggression must be made, it has also pointed out that the methods used to silence neo-Nazis could, in theory, be used on anyone. For this reason, the EEF believes that the expulsion from the Internet by GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudfare could have a compromising effect on freedom of speech on the Web in future.

The EEF occupies a clear position to protect free speech, especially on the Internet, regardless whether they agree with what is being said, and with the principle that no one (including governments and private companies) should be able to decide on who can speak or not

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While freedom of speech is important, in the business world, being publicly associated in any way with unpopular, racist, hate-promoting violent groups / organisations is very bad for business, and could become a PR disaster with long-lasting negative effects if not handled correctly. It is, therefore, not surprising that some big web players were able to make a very quick decision to distance themselves from The Daily Stormer, and their actions in this case could also be justified on moral and ethical grounds too.

This story also raises other important issues and angles including:

  • The initial request to Cloudfire to terminate The Daily Stormer’s service actually came from hackers who wanted Cloudfire’s online protection removed so that they could knock the site out e.g. with a DDoS attack. Hacking is now a powerful threat on the Internet for governments, companies, and all kinds of organizations. As well as being used for theft and fraud, it can also be used as a kind of direct action motivated by social justice issues. In this case, both the host companies, and the Daily Stormer could have had reason to fear the hackers.
  • As Cloudfire’s CEO pointed out, the decision to dump The Daily Stormer could have come at a price for his company (which has never made such an exception before), because it could make it harder for them (and other web companies) to argue against e.g. a government pressuring them into taking down a site they don’t like. This is a particularly pertinent point in a time where e.g. in the UK we have the Investigatory Powers Act and pressure from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to gain more powers online for surveillance and gaining back doors into social media platforms.
  • For many free speech advocates, what happened to The Daily Stormer’s website could have far reaching effects because it has, in a way, breached a more or less united front by web companies against censorship, and could provide leverage to those seeking influence over the Internet.

Tougher Sentences For Online Abusers

The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has said that the Crown Prosecution Service will treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face, and will seek tougher penalties and sentences for online abuse on social media platforms.

Crackdown On Online Hate Speech

Online hate speech has proliferated on (and been enabled by) social media in recent years, and trolling has resulted in misery for victims, and even suicides. With online hate speech and hate crime on the rise, the CPS has announced that it plans to erase the line between real-world , face to face offences and online abuse, and take into account the effects on the victim and on the community.

The reason for this new move by the CPS is the now widely accepted belief that, left unchallenged, low-level abuse (offending) can fuel dangerous and hostile hate crimes e.g. like those seen recently in Charlottesville in the US.

Different Experiences And Needs

In its new policy documents, the CPS covers many different types of hate crimes e.g. racist, religious, disability. The CPS has also now acknowledges that different victim types have different needs and experiences e.g. differences in the experiences of victims of biphobic crime (aimed at bi-sexuals) and victims of homophobic and transphobic offences.

As such, the CPS now intends to remove obstacles to justice for all kinds of victims in all kinds of hate crimes, and wants to ensure that (for example) disabled victims and witnesses get the right support they need to allow them to give their best evidence.

Hate Crimes Defined And Contextualised

According to the CPS, hate crimes are committed by a person motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. The CPS has now prioritized hate crime because it recognises the corrosive and lasting impact that such crime can have on communities and citizens, and how it can drive people to change the way they live and to live in fear.

The new policy also takes into consideration the current breadth and context of the offence, giving the prosecutors the best probable chance of getting justice for the victims. It also lets the victims and witnesses know what they can expect from the CPS.

Public Encouraged To Report Hate Crime

The CPS is encouraging the public to report hate crime with confidence, knowing that the CPS will take them seriously and give them the needed support. Its campaign, #hatecrimematters, aims to educate and inform the public about the new policy by the CPS.

ORG Warning

Although the Open Rights Group (ORG) broadly supports the idea of holding perpetrators of online hate speech / hate crime to account, it has warned internet companies against a blanket policing of online free speech.

For The Record

Currently, CPS has a record of 83.2% conviction rate in its completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest figure thus far.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The business world works best when customers, investors, and other stakeholders have confidence in companies, brands, products and services. Those businesses that supply platforms for, or enable the sharing / distribution free speech of any kind e.g. social media and web companies, are now supported in UK law by their common duty to provide a safe online environment for their users e.g. by removing hate speech promptly, and by making their part of the online environment particularly safe for children, young people, and the vulnerable.

Businesses and organisations of all kinds can help the common purpose of minimising online hate crime through education of their staff / pupils / customers / users / stakeholders about their own policies for the treatment of those discovered to be using hate speech e.g. at work online.

We can all play our own individual part in making the online environment safe for all by reporting hate speech where we find it, and, although the stance of open rights / free speech organisations such as the ORG is important, so is ensuring that the Internet is a safe place for all.

68% of UK Firms Not Trained Against Cyber Attacks

The annual Cyber Governance Health Check has shown that 68% of the UK’s top business board members have received no training in how to respond to a cyber attack.

No Plan For One In Ten FTSE Companies

Also, according to the report from The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), even though 54% acknowledge that cyber attack is a top threat to their business, 10% of the FTSE 350 companies don’t have a plan in place for what to do in the event of an attack.

Board-Level Awareness

The report shows that although board-level awareness on the importance of cyber security has risen by almost 10% over the year (up from 21% to 31%), two-thirds of UK Board members are not up-to-date with cyber security risk information.

Customer Data Safety

On a slightly more promising note, however, 50% of board members said that they review and challenge reports on the security of customer’s data.

Better Training Needed

The survey results have prompted industry experts to rally senior executives and their staff to get proper training in managing cyber attacks in order to ensure that companies can minimise damage to their systems and reputation, and avoid possible lawsuits.

Adopting Best Practice

Digital Minister Matt Hancock has publicly acknowledged that there is a need to adopt best practice in cyber security to avoid the devastating effects of a cyber attack in the first place. Mr Hancock has highlighted how the UK’s world-leading businesses and charities are naturally going to be targets for hackers. It is therefore vital that senior executives work with the National Cyber Security Centre and heed Government’s advice and training.

UK charities can also take advantage of a tailored programme of support that has been developed alongside the Charity Commission and the National Cyber Security Centre.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cyber crime is a major threat to all UK businesses and organisations, and knowledge about it is no longer something that can be left to the IT Department. Given the level of risk that cyber crime poses to the very life of the business, board members and senior executives should be among those most well informed, should be prioritizing and championing the promotion of cyber security best practice throughout the company.

If businesses have not done so already, now is the time to prioritise the issue and make sure that basic cyber security steps are taken at the very least – see https://www.cyberstreetwise.com/cyberessentials/
Now may also be a good time therefore for businesses to seek other professional advice about measures that could be taken to ensure cyber resilience in the first place, such as quality cyber security training for all staff (including Board members), health checks, risk assessments / audits, cyber security policies, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

Less Than 10% Completing Computing A-levels Are Female

According to statistics on A-level results released recently, only 9.8% of those completing A-level computing courses are female.


While almost 7,600 UK students took A-level computing in the UK, less than 10% completing those courses were females. These figures also highlight a huge shortfall from the UK’s aim and expectation of 40,000 students taking A-level computing.

Why Such Low Numbers?

Many industry commentators have given possible causes and reasons for the low numbers of females ending up with computing A-levels. These include:

  • The failure of the UK education system to attract girls to the subject from primary school level and beyond.
  • Negative stereotyping of females, including an unconscious bias and gender stereotyping which assigns females to particular tech jobs. This was partly reflected recently, for example, in an incident where a Google engineer was sacked for authoring a controversial 10-page memo arguing for less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace, and criticizing Google for its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • The expectation that females will be paid less than their male counterparts. For example, research from April this year by Korn Ferry Hay Group found that the Technology sector has the largest ‘like-for-like’ gender pay gap In UK, with women being paid an average of 16% less than men in the same job.
  • The effects of teachers, parents, and other opinion leaders cautioning young girls, when they entertain the idea of working in the tech industry (because of some the reasons shown above).
  • According to the Stemettes charity foundation (one that encourages girls to pursue careers in the sciences, technology engineering, and maths), girls are unlikely to pick a subject to study if they believe that they will be all alone in taking that subject.

Not All Bad News

Data from Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has revealed a little bit of good news. There was an increase of 34% in the number of females taking up computer science exams, from 609 in 2016 to 816 this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK not only has a major challenge with a skills gap in IT, but it is also facing the possibility of almost entirely missing out on the contribution that women could be making to the sector. Not only are there proven, more obvious barriers (gender pay gaps and stereotyping), but there is a more difficult to pin down combination of circumstances earlier in girls’ lives that is steering them away from, and giving them a negative attitude towards tech careers.

Technology and employment commentators have suggested that the next generation needs to be shown early on (at home, at school, and in wider society influences) that gender is not a part of the equation if a person is seeking a career in the tech industry. Young women need to be encouraged and equipped with the digital skills they need to get work or to pursue further studies in the tech area, and women who have achieved success in the technology IT world could be championed as examples, role models and mentors.

Work also needs to be done within the tech industry and tech companies themselves to challenge the kinds of mistaken beliefs, attitudes, and cultures that lead to extra challenges for women who want to get on, and receive equal opportunities, equal pay, and recognition.

Closing Time For Lovefilm’s Postal DVD Service

Lovefilm has announced that it will be ceasing its postal DVD rental service on 31st October this year, as the format is being superseded by streaming services.

Streaming Kills DVD Demand

A decrease in demand for DVD and Blu-ray rentals, caused by the huge increase in demand for streaming movies and TV series are cited for the reasons why the Amazon-owned DVD rental service will be closing down Lovefilm in the UK and Germany.

Founded in 2002, Lovefilm rented out DVD and Blu-ray discs via the post for a monthly subscription fee. Amazon acquired the service in 2011, and at its peak, Lovefilm had more than 1.4 million subscribers.

From Rental to Streaming

Back in 2010, Lovefilm started to offer some content for online streaming, earning the tag (in 2011) “the Netflix of Europe” before Netflix was actually rolled out there in 2012. The streaming service was then rebranded as Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Discs Donated To Charities

Lovefilm’s film catalogue is vast, comprising of more than 80,000 titles. It has been reported that Amazon now intends to donate all of the DVD and Blu-ray discs to charity partners.

Some Disappointed

The Lovefilm service still has many fans, some of whom have expressed their disappointment at the closing of the service because:

  • Many more film titles appear to be available on DVD and Blu-ray compared to streaming services.
  • DVDs and Blu-ray don’t suffer from the buffering that streaming can suffer from.
  • Some film buffs prefer the ritual and the experience (and the excitement) of receiving a physical film through the post and putting it in a player.
  • Committed DVD and Blue-ray watchers may not have video shops nearby.

Dead Formats?

Streaming has now become common, with high-quality 4K and HDR being offered by streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Google Play Movies. Sales of DVDs and Blu-rays in the US, for example, have gone down 7% year-on-year, while subscriptions for streaming services grew 23% last year.

Here in the UK, streaming services have overtaken DVD and Blu-ray sales and rentals for the first time, with revenues surging to almost £1.3bn in the UK last year. Sales of physical video discs fell 17% to £894m, with the physical rental market down 21% to just £49m.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how physical (disc-based) formats have become less popular with consumers, who now prefer digital and streamed film and TV content. The benefits to customers are that it is immediate, convenient, can be watched on mobile devices, doesn’t require storage space in the home (eliminates DVD clutter), it is available on-demand any time, and it eliminates local / regional variations in available titles (you’re not limited by what the local shop stocks).

For businesses offering these services, there are many benefits including the elimination of costs associated with the storage and distribution of social media, fewer piracy worries, greater knowledge about customers and their viewing habits / preferences, and better billing and price / plan segmentation opportunities. It also offers more advertising revenue opportunities.

Tech Tip: Two Handy Right-Clicks

There are two handy right mouse click tips on Windows 10 that can help you save time and personalize your desktop.

Right-Click To Personalize Tiles

  • To personalise your tiles, simply right-click on them to prompt a pop-up menu. This will enable you to un-pin them from the Start menu, resize the windows, or to turn that live tile off.

Right-Click on the Taskbar

  • A right-click on the taskbar reveals a menu that enables you to quickly access many of the presets for the toolbars, Cortana, and window schemes.

Introducing Facebook’s New ‘Watch’ Video Service

Facebook might just give YouTube and some TV networks a run for their money with the introduction of new video service called ‘Watch’ that also offers all of Facebook’s basic functions.

Watch Tab

The current Facebook service will soon be equipped with a ‘Watch’ tab, offering users an array of shows and some even sponsored by the social network itself. What gives this feature an edge is its seemingly personalised content for the user, based on what their friends are watching.

Basic Facebook Functionalities

According to comments by Mark Zuckerberg, the idea is to leverage Facebook’s power at bringing people who like the same things together, and to make watching TV shows more of an experience.


To fund the service Facebook, like YouTube, will need to run adverts on the video service, and a small group of approved publishers will be featured in the ad breaks at the beginning of the service.

One challenge for Facebook will be how it develops the advertising in the service going forward i.e. whether it wants to follow YouTube’s model of breaking up the video-watching experience by showing adverts for a set period of time before the user’s chosen video runs. Many media commentators believe that that it will be difficult for Facbook’s video service not to follow the idea of showing ads before and during videos, both of which can be annoying for users.

From Amateur Clips To Original Content

In terms of content, Facebook’s video service will feature amateur clips, news clips, and possibly some clips that are linked to YouTube. Facebook is reported to have hinted that it may soon produce original content (like Netflix does). This well-timed hint just happens to come in the week that Disney has announced its split with Netflix in order to create its own direct-to-consumer streaming-video services.

Niche and Broad

Facebook appears to be aiming to cover a wide base of consumer interest by picking shows that address both niche and broad topics, and Facebook looks likely to focus on shows that are ‘easy’ watch, and shows that play well on smartphones, such as cookery, fitness, health, and travel shows.


The video channel market (and its TV counterpart) is now a crowded one, and Facebook will be in broad competition with players like YouTube, Netflix, Disney, and various TV networks. It is, therefore, important that each player chooses the right content for its target customer.

Facebook is reported to have partnered with other organisations to help produce content and shows that will be of interest to its target market. These partners include Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, and Group Nine Media. Other measures taken by Facebook to ensure the success of its new service are the setting up an ESPN streaming service for next year (like Disney is doing), and the selection of some shows known to have popular appeal (particularly in the US) e.g. Major League Baseball and a safari programme from National Geographic.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For consumers, getting access to another quality channel of easy to watch, factual entertainment shows that is designed with smartphone viewing in mind is good news. Similarly, for programme makers, this will provide another channel to promote their output and to gain loyalty for their shows in the wider marketplace. It is also good news for programme makers of all sizes that Facebook plans to allow anyone to be able to make shows for Watch in future.

From an advertising point of view however, Facebook has only chosen a small number of publishers for the trial period of the service, and this means that content-makers and advertisers are likely to stay with YouTube for the time-being. It is also likely that Google’s video streaming site will offer an easier way for vloggers and those outside the mainstream media industry to make money in the short term until Facebook’s Watch gains momentum, and until it becomes clearer what the advertising situation is on the service. For now it’s a case of waiting until its roll-out out beyond the US, which looks unlikely to happen before the end of the year.

Cryptocurrency Scam Foiled By London Police

A scam which involved duping investors out of £160,000 by selling fake cyber cash has been foiled by London police and has resulted in the arrest of one man.

What Is A Cryptocurrency?

A cryptocurrency is a digital (virtual) currency which uses encryption techniques to regulate the generation of units of currency, and to verify the transfer of funds. The most famous cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, which reached a record high value this month of £2,651 per coin.

Cryptocurrencies don’t conform to the normal economic fundamentals because their value is mainly based on speculation and betting.

What Happened?

A fraudulent cryptocurrency boiler room scam call centre in the City of London was reportedly shut down by the City of London Police last week, after it was allegedly discovered to be the centre of an operation to dupe investors by selling fake cyber cash. The call centre workers were allegedly cold-calling UK consumers, trying to convince them to invest in a fake cryptocurrency.

The alleged fraudsters were discovered to have set up the boiler room in London’s square mile, specifically on Old Broad Street near the Bank of England, to try to legitimise their activity.

The police swoop came after 9 alleged victims reported the company to Action Fraud. Although the name of the fake cryptocurrency has not been confirmed, some online commentators have suggested that it was ‘OneCoin’.

Similar To Other Fraud

It has been reported that police shut down a similar fraud earlier this month. That scam involved attempting to sell wine investments in the same way.

Leading Fraud

Back in February this year, OneCoin was identified as the number one currency fraud doing the worldwide rounds, with the selling of S-Coin and EarthCoin coming second and third.

A lack of knowledge about cryptocurrencies, reports of the high value of Bitcoin, greed, and the need to find profitable investments in difficult global economic times, are all factors fuelling the success of cryptocurrency investment scams.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Potential investors in new currencies should really do their homework and find and choose a reputable company to help them invest, rather than simply responding to cold callers.

If you are / have been targeted by cold callers about cryptocurrency investment, you should report the incident to Action Fraud (the UK’s consumer fraud and cyber crime watchdog) and alert the police.

You can also report cold callers that you are unhappy about, and the details of the call to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It can also help others to avoid being scammed by checking on and reporting the number that you were called on (if you were unavailable for that call) to websites such as who-called.co.uk (or similar).

Many people also find that registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) offers a basic level of protection against unwanted calls in the first place, although this service may be ignored by determined fraudsters.

This story illustrates how fraud is still a very popular crime in the UK, both on and offline, and how fraudsters can use aggressive, cunning tactics, and how they can be well informed about technology and how to use it as part their crime.

With much of the focus now switching to online protection against fraud, many people forget that telephone fraud is a tried and tested way for bold and persuasive fraudsters to reach their victims.

Blockchain Links Students To Employers

A new Sony Global Education (SGE) service uses Blockchain to enable students to more easily share their qualifications with employers.

Building on IBM’s Blockchain

SGE, the international education services development subsidiary of Sony, will use IBM’s Blockchain to develop a platform that will allow educational institutions to host the entire educational history of a student. The aim is to thereby give companies and educational authorities a means to access and verify accurate information about a person’s credentials.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain technology operates using the IBM cloud and is powered by Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 of Linux Foundation. Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.

The developers of the Blockchain system say that the trust between participants is not necessary because trust is embedded in the system itself, and that access to all relevant information is available to participants.

Blockchain is the same technology behind cryptocurrencies e.g. Bitcoin, and it is now being applied to new industries and sectors, like education.

Digital Hub For Education Records…And More

The new Sony system will be a hub for all education records, including a variety of documents, such as informal records of achievements, and credentials gained during training or seminars. This hub will be securely accessible to organisations that need to verify education information about individuals from the educational institution.

Anytime, Anywhere Access

Users who want to move to other areas or work in other parts of the world will benefit from Sony’s Blockchain-based system because it will be accessible anytime, anywhere, and will standardise and prove the authenticity of scholastic records easily. This means that users with access to the Blockchain-based service will be able to effectively carry their education history with them wherever they are, in a system that any organisation can gain access to.

SGE has said that it has developed this system to prevent fraud while giving access to third parties who will need information for job interviews and assessments.

Ready Next Year

It has been reported that SGE is working with selected educational institutions to have something ready by 2018.

Huge Potential For Blockchain

As well as working with the education sector, SGE is also reported to be exploring how Blockchain-based technology could be used to benefit other industries like logistics and supply chains.

The potential for Blockchain-based systems is huge, and examples of how they have been used in other industries include:

  • Using the data on a Blockchain ledger to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturer to hospital in hot climates. The ‘incorruptible’ aspect of the Blockchain data gives a clear record of care and responsibility along the whole supply chain.
  • Using a Blockchain ledger to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history. This has helped to combat fraud in the industry and has provided provenance and re-assurance to buyers.
  • Shipping Company Maersk using a Blockchain-based system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency i.e. digitising a formerly paper-based process that involved multiple interactions.
  • Start-up company ‘Electron’ building a Blockchain-based system for sharing information between those involved in supplying energy which could speed up and simplify the supplier switching process. It may also be used for smart grid processes, such as local load-balancing of supply and demand.
  • Australian start-up Zimrii developing a Blockchain-based service that allows independent musicians to sell downloads to fans, distribute the proceeds between collaborators, and allow interaction with managers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

A system like Sony’s could make life much easier for employers worldwide to accurately check the educational credentials of job applicants. If this kind of system was searchable (through consent) by employers and / or offered through employment agencies, it could be a great way for employers to source individuals with the qualifications they’re looking for. This kind of system would, however, have several challenges to overcome first e.g. consent, privacy, security and rights, differences in international laws, and the potential for existing employees to be poached.

Blockchain clearly has huge untapped potential for all kinds of businesses and organisations, and could represent a major opportunity to improve services, and effectively tackle visibility, transparency and efficiency issues.

Blockchain has proven itself to be particularly well suited to processes where there are a lot of steps e.g. supply chains, and where there’s a lack of trust in a business / business relationship, and the need for accurate authentication / verification.

The significant commitment that countries like Dubai have made to the technology and the success of the crypto-currency Bitcoin (which have used Blockchain) are indicators that this new technology has real value in today’s business world, and its potential has not yet been realised.