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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 18th Jun 2018

There is new evidence that the revolution in computing education in English schools is faltering - and that fewer children are getting the digital skills that employers and the government say are vital.

It comes in the annual computing education report from the University of Roehampton which looks at how many pupils achieved GCSE and A-level computing qualifications in 2017.

ICT (Information and Communication Technology) - which was widely derided as being no more than a course in Microsoft Office skills - is being phased out of the curriculum and disappears after this summer as an exam subject.

But its replacement at GCSE and A-level is the far more challenging computer science.

The report says this subject is proving very hard - both for the students and for the schools which need to find the staff to teach it.

In 2017, just over half of all schools in England offered the subject at GCSE level - smaller schools and those in the independent sector were less likely to give pupils the chance to study computer science.

But overall, only 12% of all students choose to take the subject.

It is also proving less attractive to girls than ICT - they make up only 20% of GCSE entrants.

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Entries by pupils from poorer backgrounds are also lower.

The typical computer science entrant, says the report, is "academically strong, mathematically able, likely to be taking triple science, from a relatively affluent family, and overwhelmingly likely to be male (even if the smaller number of girls taking the subject do better in the exam)".

And while entries for the new subject have been gradually rising they are not keeping up with the fall in those for ICT.

After that exam disappears this summer, it looks as though there will be a big fall in the overall number of 16-year-olds achieving some form of computing qualification.

"This will disproportionately impact girls, poorer students and some ethnic minority groups," warns the report.

Since 2014, 30,000 fewer girls have got a computing qualification by the age of 16.

There is also concern that budgetary pressures will affect the ability of sixth form colleges to continue offering the A-level in computer science.

Most of them have so few students taking the subject that they are below the minimum viable class size set by the Department for Education.

'Exclusive' computing

The authors of the report said they welcomed the introduction of computer science into the curriculum but they now believe ICT should be retained as an alternative.

"The government's refusal to renew GCSE and A-level IT, against the will of the teaching community, is making computing more exclusive," says Peter Kemp from the University of Roehampton.

"The overemphasis on computer science seems likely to lead to fewer students, particularly girls, studying any digital qualification at school. I think it's time to rebalance what's on offer."

The Chartered Institute for IT also expressed concern, saying it estimates that the UK needs half a million more children to gain a computing qualification each year.

"We still have a lack of young people with the work-ready digital and computing skills that our economy needs."

But the Department for Education says the computer science GCSE is providing pupils with a "gold standard" qualification equipping them with the skills they will need for the hi-tech jobs of the future.

A spokesperson said: "Entries for computer science continue to rise more quickly than any other subject, increasing year-on-year since its introduction."

But the latest figures for exam watchdog Ofqual for 2018 - not included in the Roehampton report - show the rise in entries for computer science slowing to only 4%.

With ICT entries down 40%, that means a fall in the total number entering for a GCSE of more than 14,500.

If the aim of overhauling the computing curriculum in England was to give more children digital skills, it appears to be failing.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 18th Jun 2018

Cities around the world are turning to the bicycle to help solve congestion and pollution issues, as urbanisation increasingly puts pressure on traditional infrastructure.

Fifteen years ago there were just four bike-sharing schemes in cities around the world, but now there are close to 1,000.

Most require you to pick up and leave a bike at a designated area, but new "dockless" schemes from China are coming to cities around the world - and proving controversial.


Image result for bike sharing

Image caption Bike schemes are now a common sight in cities

The first public bike-sharing scheme, Velib, launched in Paris in 2007, attracted 20 million users in its first year.

As well as the obvious environmental benefits, it brought considerable health advantages too - Velib users were estimated to have burned more than 19 billion calories in the first six years of the scheme.

Now, new schemes such as ofo, dubbed the Uber for bikes, want a slice of the action.

Ofo is China's largest bike-sharing operator, with an estimated three million daily users across 34 cities in the country.

It is in a further 150 cities worldwide.

Users click on the app to locate the nearest bike and receive a four-digit code to unlock it.

They can use it for as long as they want, for a fee of about 50p per half hour.

When they have finished, they can leave the bike wherever they want, although they are encouraged to drop it near existing cycling parking.

Jane Wakefield took on the London traffic with a ride through the capital on a Gazelle e-bike.

I cycle to the station every day, but only in the suburban town I live in.

I have never dared tackle the streets of London.

So, when I was given the opportunity to try out some of the capital's cycling infrastructure on a Dutch e-bike from cycling company Gazelle, I leapt aboard.

The first thing I discovered is that cycling in segregated lanes is easy, fun and really starts making the bike look like a good alternative method of transportation.

But there simply isn't enough of it.

Venturing out of the safe confines of Hyde Park, the infrastructure is patchy - one minute you can be cycling in a separate lane and the next it will abruptly end, pushing you into the traffic.

As Erik Tettero, a cycling consultant and senior policy adviser to the Dutch government, told me afterwards: "You need a comprehensive network and having a luxurious cycling super-highway along the Thames is no good it if arrives at a junction where you are fighting for your life in traffic."

Oxford is one of the latest cities to adopt ofo. And the council says there have been teething problems, with bikes "left strewn across the city" according to one local newspaper.

"We are seeing cases of bikes that are dumped in rivers, and a lot of education needs to be done," said an ofo spokesman.

"The dockless model is completely new, and there is a learning curve to understand the proper way to engage with it.

"We expect to see a decrease in misuse as awareness of ofo and station-free bike-sharing grows."

The app does geo-fence areas within the city that bikes can be parked in, sending an alert if riders go outside it.

It also offers suggestions for the best places to park.

Cities are looking to the low-tech bicycle to help solve traffic crises

In Shanghai, ofo is facing a more serious problem - a first-of-its-kind legal action from the parents of a 11-year child who managed to break the lock of one of its bikes and was subsequently killed in a collision with a coach.

Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to ride on the roads in China.

"Everyone at ofo is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life, and public safety is a top priority for the company in all countries," the spokesman told the BBC.

"We are exploring options to further deter unsafe and under-age riding.

"Due to pending litigation, however, we cannot discuss the case in any further detail."

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Ofo's yellow bikes are a common sight in Chinese cities

The glut of dockless shared-bike start-ups in China - there are 40 to date - has brought its own issues.

According to state media, one Beijing repair centre now receives more than 400 damaged bikes each day, with many struggling to cope with demand.

Another, Wukong Bicycle, shut down after 90% of its cycles were stolen.

In Europe, the Netherlands is regarded by many as the spiritual home of the bike - but when ofo arrived in Amsterdam, it was not a big success.

"There is already a shortage of parking spaces in the city as so many people have a bike and when they have used it, they leave it wherever suits them. But who is cleaning up the mess?" asked Mr Tettero.

"It might make cycling cheaper - but the bike is a precious vehicle so you need to take care of it not just throw it away."

Bikes have changed little since the machine became popular 200 years ago, but take-up of e-bikes is booming in the Netherlands, with one in three bikes sold there an electric one.

Although, Gazelle's UK head, Justin Rodley, admits e-bike companies face an uphill struggle persuading hard-core cyclists to don Lycra on an e-bike.

"It can be a hard conversion for the twenty- to fortysomethings who don't want the assistance," he said.

Dutch architect Daan Roosegaarde is planning a smog-free bicycle, which inhales polluted air and cleans it for cyclist

But e-bikes are seeing new markets among the over-55s, where they can be a confidence booster.

The next stage is to cut down the size of the currently clunky batteries.

"The weight of these bikes is the number one barrier at the moment, and we have seen sales stopped by people worrying about how they will lift it on to a bike rack," said Mr Rodley.

But, he added: "Each year they are getting lighter."

Currently, 27% of all trips in the Netherlands are by bike, and Dutch citizens cycle an average of 1,000km (600 miles) per year.

"For us, it is a default transport method for getting to work and school," said Mr Tettero.

Cities are introducing elevated cycle lanes, such as this one in Chinese city of Xiamen

The Dutch government now wants to increase the number of kilometres cycled by each person by 20% over the next 10 years.

To aid that, it is ploughing money into creating 40,000 more parking spaces for bikes as well as building more infrastructure and developing a system that will alert future autonomous cars to the presence of cyclists.

The advice to other cities wanting to make more of bikes? "In the Netherlands, cycling infrastructure is carefully designed to cover entire cities and is linked to other infrastructure, such as train stations," said Mr Tettero.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Thu 14th Jun 2018

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Schools and parents should not be scared to take smartphones and other electronic devices away from teenagers, the headmaster of Eton has said.

Simon Henderson, head of the private school since 2015, says it is sometimes appropriate to take devices away.

Speaking at a Girls' Day School Trust conference in London, Mr Henderson said Eton now requires its Year 9 boys to hand in their devices at night-time.

He said the boys liked the move, as it removed the pressure from them.

Asked how schools could help teenagers navigate social media, Mr Henderson told the conference: "It's a 24/7 culture, but there's a place for taking phones and things off them.

"Sometimes parents and schools are reluctant to do that.

"We've done that now at Eton. Our Year 9 pupils have to hand their devices in at night.

"We thought there'd be outrage from the boys, but they actually liked it - they had permission to not have to check this overnight."

He said Year 9 boys, aged 13 and 14, handed them in at around 21:30 and got them back at around 07:45.

"Parents know it is happening and so are encouraged to call outside of those times.

"If there is a particular pastoral reason why a boy should have it overnight (eg homesickness) then the housemaster can give permission on a case-by-case basis."

Individual school policy

Many schools, both state and private, ban pupils from having mobile phones with them in school.

While teachers have the legal right to confiscate items from pupils, there is no government policy about mobile phone use in England and individual schools make their own rules on the issue.

While Mr Henderson's comments may have many parents thinking "easier said than done", research from the London School of Economics found banning mobile phones in schools has the effect of giving pupils an extra week's education over the course of an academic year.

The study looked at schools in four English cities and found test scores increased by more than 6% in those which banned phones.

Former Ofsted boss and vice-chancellor of Reading University, Sir David Bell, who also spoke at the GDST conference, was keen to point out the positive side of social media.

Sir David said it was a wonderful opportunity for youngsters to "connect up".

But he acknowledged there were elements of social media that left young people vulnerable.

"We've had some students excluded very quickly by horrible social media traffic."

It was important to help young people identify the "right sort of community" to be a part of, he added.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 13th Jun 2018

Subject: Lucky 13


I’m not a massive Apple user, but I do have an Apple Watch.

There’s something about smartwatch tech that appealed to me, and 13 months back, I decided that it was time to give it a try.

The Apple Watch seemed the best fit for me, so I ordered one, and it arrived in the usual, pristine Apple packaging.


And for 12 months, it was fantastic.


It made buying things easier, thanks to Apple Pay.

It meant I could reply to texts and Whatsapps in seconds.

It allowed me to time my laps when I went swimming.

In the 13th month though, something went wrong. I say, ‘went wrong’.  What I really mean is that the whole thing stopped working.

Disaster.  I only had a 12-month warranty, so I was thinking that my expensive toy was going to cost me a couple of hundred pounds to get sorted.

Nevertheless, I shipped it off to Apple anyway, to see what they said, fearing the worst.

A couple of days later I got an email telling me that a new watch was on its way to me.

No mention of the expired warranty, and no request for extra funds.  Just a new watch that works again.

This is super smart from Apple. 

If they’d played by the rules, I’d have had to pay for a repair, and to be honest, I might not have bothered. 

Given that a repair would have cost the same sort of price as the watch itself, I may have looked for a cheaper model, or gone for a manufacturer that I thought was more durable.


Instead, I’m still an Apple customer, still using their Apps, still buying from their App store, and still in their ecosystem.


Sometimes it pays to break the rules.


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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 13th Jun 2018

USB fan and Kim Jong-Un CD

Image captionThe gift pack included a USB fan and a handheld fan illustrated with the face of the North Korean leader

Cyber-security experts have expressed surprise that journalists at the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Singapore were given USB-powered fans.

Some warned reporters not to plug them in to their laptops, as USB devices can carry malware.

The fans were part of a gift bag including a branded water bottle and a local guidebook.

Temperatures reached 33C in Singapore during the meeting.

Dutch journalist Harald Doornbos tweeted a picture of the fan.

Skip Twitter post by @HaraldDoornbos

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

Harald Doornbos✔@HaraldDoornbos

Replying to @HaraldDoornbos

13/ Handig. In de persmap voor de zit een mini usb fan. Handig om koel te blijven tijdens het schrijven. Het is hier in Singapore idd vrij heet. 33°C of zo. Maar haalt het niet bij Dubai, koning van de oven.

10:41 AM - Jun 10, 2018

Twitter Ads info and privacy


End of Twitter post by @HaraldDoornbos

The tweet reads: "Handy. In the press kit for the #KimTrumpSummit, there is a mini USB fan - convenient to stay cool while writing. It is pretty hot here in Singapore, 33C or so. But it does not reach Dubai, king of the oven."

But cyber-security expert Prof Alan Woodward, from Surrey University, said: "For years now, engineering people to plug in a USB stick you supplied has been a classic way of circumventing security measures to get your software on their machine.

"There's an adage in cyber-security: if you give someone physical access to your computer, it's no longer your computer. Use an unknown USB stick and you are doing just that."

The gift packs were assembled by the Communications Ministry in Singapore.

The gifts have no known link with North Korea. which has been blamed for a number of cyber-security incidents, including the release of the Wannacry ransomware that struck the NHS in 2017.

The state has always denied responsibility for the attack.

Skip Twitter post by @bartongellman

Barton Gellman✔@bartongellman

Replying to @bartongellman

Maybe the fan is just a fan. Bad bet, though. I should probably add: if you did plug it in you’re human. Malware authors abuse the instinct to trust. Until someone competent has a look, I recommend you power down your machine if you can and change passwords with a clean device. https://twitter.com/bartongellman/status/1006288000106549248 …

12:10 AM - Jun 12, 2018

Twitter Ads info and privacy


Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 5th Jun 2018

I was doing my daily scroll of the BBC News website the other day, when I happened upon an article that really struck a chord with me.

An American schoolteacher asked her class of seven and eight-year olds to write about an invention that they wish had never been invented.

And nearly 20% of them wrote about the same thing: mobile phones.

The reason?  All those kids felt that their parents spent too much time staring at a mobile screen, and not enough time in the real world, enjoying time with their children.

One child had this to say, “I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day.  A phone is sometimes a really bad habit”.

As is so often the case, there’s a deeper, wiser point being made by these children – mobile phones have changed our society, and articles like this make us ask the question: has it changed for the good, or the bad?

What do you think?  Do mobile phones stop you from spending quality time with your kids?  Are you ‘present’ when you’re hanging out with them, or does the temptation to scroll overcome you?

P.S. Here’s the original article

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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th May 2018

Image result for googleImage result for instagram logo

Image result for facebookImage result for whatsapp

Four web giants are accused of breaking the law

Complaints have been filed against Facebook, Google, Instagram and WhatsApp within hours of the new GDPR data protection law taking effect.

The companies are accused of forcing users to consent to targeted advertising to use the services.

Privacy group noyb.eu led by activist Max Schrems said people were not being given a "free choice".

If the complaints are upheld, the websites may be forced to change how they operate, and they could be fined.

What's the issue?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new EU law that changes how personal data can be collected and used. Even companies based outside the EU must follow the new rules if offering their services in the EU.

In its four complaints, noyb.eu argues that the named companies are in breach of GDPR because they have adopted a "take it or leave it approach".


Media captionWATCH: What is GDPR?

The activist group says customers must agree to having their data collected, shared and used for targeted advertising, or delete their accounts.

This, the organisation suggests, falls foul of the new rules because forcing people to accept wide-ranging data collection in exchange for using a service is prohibited under GDPR.

"The GDPR explicitly allows any data processing that is strictly necessary for the service - but using the data additionally for advertisement or to sell it on needs the users' free opt-in consent," said noyb.eu in a statement.

"GDPR is very pragmatic on this point: whatever is really necessary for an app is legal without consent, the rest needs a free 'yes' or 'no' option."

Privacy advocate Max Schrems said: "Many users do not know yet that this annoying way of pushing people to consent is actually forbidden under GDPR in most cases."


The complaints were filed by four EU citizens with local regulators in Austria, Belgium, France and Germany.

Analysts and regulators had expected complaints to be filed shortly after the introduction of the law, as organisations and privacy advocates argue over how the law should be interpreted.

'Huge fines'

Some companies based outside the EU have temporarily blocked their services across Europe to avoid falling foul of the new legislation.

However, others such as Twitter have introduced granular controls that let people opt out of targeted advertising.

Companies that fall foul of GDPR can be - in extreme cases - fined more than £17m.

Facebook said in a statement that it had spent 18 months preparing to make sure it met the requirements of GDPR.

Google told the BBC: "We build privacy and security into our products from the very earliest stages and are committed to complying with the EU General Data Protection Regulation."

WhatsApp has not yet responded to the BBC's request for comment.

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th May 2018

Well would you look at that – day one of the new General Data Protection Regulation and BOOM, Google gets its first complaint.

It’s hardly surprising – we all know that Google’s been watching us for years, following us around the web and showing us targeted advertising.

For some people, it’s no big deal, and for others, it feels like a massive invasion of privacy.

Where do you stand on it?

I guess the big issue for lots of us is that Google is so ingrained into the fabric of our lives that it can be really hard to extricate ourselves from it.

I mean, where else would you find the number for your local takeaway?

Maybe you’re uncomfortable with the way Google uses your data, maybe you’re not, but if you fancy giving Google less information about you and your browsing behaviour, it’s worth pointing out that there is an alternative.

DuckDuckGo is ‘the search engine that doesn’t track you’.

They don’t believe that your data should be monetised, which is why they provide a browser plugin that:

  • Blocks advertising trackers
  • Keeps your search history private
  • Allows you to take control of your personal data

Click HERE and give it a go – you never know, you might like it.


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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 29th May 2018

Mobile phones are bad for us. We know because every day there is a news story telling us so, or at least it can feel like that.

But no-one ever actually puts their phone down after hearing these reports, right?

What if children told you exactly how your WhatsApping, Instagramming, emailing and news-reading makes them feel?

"I hate my mum's phone and I wish she never had one," is what one primary school child wrote in a class assignment.

American school teacher Jen Adams Beason posted the comment on Facebook, and revealed that four out of 21 of her students said they wished mobile phones had never been invented.

Ms Beason, who lives in Louisiana, also posted a picture of the second grade (ages seven to eight) pupil's class work after she asked them to describe something they wish had never been created.

Facebook post by Jen: I had my 2nd graders write about an invention that they wish had never been created.  Out of 21 students, 4 of them wrote about this topic 😥
#listentoyourkidsImage Copyright JenJEN

"I would say that I don't like the phone," one child wrote.

"I don't like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day. A phone is sometimes a really bad habit."

The student completed the work with a drawing of a mobile phone with a cross through it and a large sad face saying "I hate it".

The picture was posted last Friday and has been shared almost 170,000 times since, including by shocked parents who are stopping to think twice about their technology habits.

"Wow. Out of the mouths of babes! We are all guilty!" responded one user, Tracy Jenkins.

"Strong words for a second grader! Listen parents," added Sylvia Burton.

Another wrote, "That is so sad and convicting. Great reminder for us all to put those phones down and engage with our kids more."

Other teachers also joined the discussion to add their own experience of children's reaction to their parents' internet use.

"We had a class discussion about Facebook and every single one of the students said their parents spend more time on Facebook then they do talking to their child. It was very eye opening for me," commented Abbey Fauntleroy.

Some parents offered their personal experience of trying to address the problem.

Beau Stermer wrote that he has seen his two-year-old son reacting negatively to his use of his mobile phone: "I've noticed if he and I are playing and my phone rings for something at work, he has nothing to do with me after I get off the phone.

"It kills me. I have made an agreement with myself that if I am playing with him everything else can wait."

However, one mum pointed out that her teenagers were just as bad, often choosing their phone over family time.

A survey carried out in the US in 2017 reported that half of parents surveyed found that using technology disrupted interactions with their child three or more times a day, a phenomenon named "technoference".

Source: bbc.co.uk
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 23rd May 2018

Before robots can take over from humans, we need more humans

Image result for robots A1 development

With private companies leading AI development, defence departments need their own specialists

In a world where technological prowess, rather than manpower, defines military might, the UK needs to focus its resources on developing an industrial and research base in artificial intelligence and robotics.

So says the Ministry of Defence in its new Joint Concept Note, titled Human and Machine Teaming, where it also laments the UK's skills shortage and suggests maintaining ‘a register of security-cleared UK nationals' with AI and robotics expertise.

Don't worry if this all sounds a bit 1984 - all documents from the MoD come across that way.

The document sets out the Ministry's vision of the future in a world where artificial intelligence is critical to national defence, which relies on access to two ‘critical indirect elements': qualified experts and investment.

The lead in technology development has shifted from the public to the private sector in recent decades, with ‘civil commercial investment in AI and robotic technologies and the recruitment of subject matter experts' vastly outstripping the resources available to nation states.

The best systems thus begin and remain in the civilian sector, making military access a challenge: ‘Some Western commercial entities have publicly declared policies stating they will not contract with defence or security agencies which may compound the challenges facing the UK Ministry of Defence. This is in stark contrast to other states which have enshrined access rights to expertise, technology and data in their national legislation.'

The MoD goes on to paint a picture where countries with low GDP or manpower, but strengths in mathematics, programming and other technologies, could increasingly ‘punch above their weight'. Just to drive the point home, the Note specifically mentions the West's bogeyman, Russia.

How does the defence industry compete?

Technology giants like Google are keen to bring AI and robotics experts on board and keep them there, through recruitment drives and M&A movements. The defence industry struggles to compete in a market where private companies might pay the equivalent of $10 million per expert acquired in such a way.

The MoD suggests ‘[being] innovative to secure access to subject matter expertise' and ‘[needing] to nurture sufficient in-house knowledge and understanding to generate intelligent customer capabilities'.

In English, that means that the Ministry wants to make sure its own experts are...well, experts, who can understand what they're being told by contractors. As the MoD, and defence departments worldwide, have to buy AI systems from commercial companies, that is vital to ensure that budgets are spent responsibly.

That's where the proposed register comes in, as a list of security-cleared experts could help the MoD understand the technology behind the hype; much the same as the cybersecurity experts that GCHQ can call upon.

‘This may be as valuable an advantage as the ability to fabricate high grade steel during the Victorian age', the Note claims.

You might have noticed that there's very little mention above of the way that the MoD intends to actually use AI in the field. Just to keep you happy, here's the view of a future command centre:

‘Longer term research efforts should be focused on the use of intelligent software agents that manage all aspects of information processing. Ultimately, this could eliminate technological constraints that confine us to our current monolithic headquarters approaches. The whole system could be built on a federated, disaggregated and self-organising peer-to-peer command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) network - effectively a combat cloud. Such a system should be able to draw on reachback access to cloud-based servers, but be capable of resilient operation provided by command and control applications across a variety of in-theatre platforms. From an operator's perspective such a system will handle user requests for information and data passage as an intelligent assistant service.'

Source: v3.co.uk
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