Future Decoded 2015 Play-by-play

Hello beautiful people!

It’s a fantastic, gorgeous Saturday morning (it’ll be Monday by the time I hit the publish button, such is the enormity of the post!); the birds are chirping, the sun is shining through the balcony windows (and there is a bloody wasp outside, STILL!!!) and my wife has left me…………to go on a girly weekend (that probably sounded more alarming than intended; hmmm, oh well, it stays!). Whilst she is away fighting the good fight, this gives me the opportunity to go over my thoughts on the recent Future Decoded 2015 event that took place at ExCel in London.

The links to outline this event have been posted before on my blog, but just in case, here are the goods again:

Future Decoded 2015
Future Decoded 2015: Technical Day Highlights

Before we begin, it’s worth pointing out that I attended this event a couple of weeks ago, so apologies if any inaccuracies pop up. I’ll do my best to stick to the facts of what I can remember and specific points that interested me; other commitments ended up preventing me from getting to this particular post sooner. You’ll all let me off, being the super gracious, awesome folks you are, I’m sure :-).

So, FIGHT!!!!!

Sorry, I had a dream about Mortal Kombat last night and upper-cutting people into the pit – What a great stage that was! Ah, the memories….Let’s begin/start/get on with it then.

Morning Key Notes

The morning Key Notes were varied and expansive in nature. I won’t discuss all of them here, only the takeaway points from the talks that struck a chord with me.

1) Scott Guthrie. EVP Cloud and Enterprise, Microsoft (Azure).

I was particularly looking forward to this talk being a keen follower of Scott Guthrie (include Scott Hanselman), and I normally try to catch up with Channel 9 features and Azure Fridays whenever possible (I’ve linked both, although I’m sure most of you, if not all, have come across Channel 9 before or heard of Azure Fridays).

The talk did have primer elements as you would expect, i.e. here’s the Azure Portal and what you can expect to find (in relation to resources, templates you can access for applications, services, Content Distribution Networks (CDN), etc). The next bit really caught me cold, who was expecting a giant image slide of a cow! I certainly wasn’t…

Estrus in Cows

What followed was a full example of real-time data recording and assessment surrounding the monitoring of cows in Asia. I’ve provided a link below that sums up the concept of Estrus (being in heat) nicely enough, but it laymen’s terms it relates to cows ‘being in the mooooooood’ (wife insisted I added that joke). Obviously, a farmers’ ability to accurately detect this, urm, state of being in a cow is an incredibly important factor in the ability to produce calves.

It turns out that a cow tends to move more when in the Estrus state; something that can certainly be measured. So, with pedometers attached to cows to measure steps taken and an Azure based service receiving and providing feedback in real-time, the farmer in question was able to take action to maximise calf production. Further to this, analysis of the data gathered was able to identify trends against how long cows have been in the Estrus state, and the gender of offspring. Crazy stuff, but all very interesting. Feel free to read further to your hearts content:

Cow Estrus Detection

The Internet of Things (IoT) was briefly touched on and another brief, live coding example ensued.

Scott produced a small, bog-standard heat sensor (apparently, just a few pounds, I was impressed he didn’t say dollars!) and proceeded to demonstrate a basic WinForms application passing a JSON payload to Azure in real-time (measurements taken a few times a second). This strikes me as exciting territory, and I have friends who do develop applications working in tandem with sensors already, backed up by technologies such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, for example. The talk closed with the conceptual idea that the majority of data, in the world today, is still largely unmeasured, and hoped that Azure would be an important platform in unlocking developers potential to measure previously untapped data.

2) Kevin Ashton. Inventor of the “Internet of Things”.

Kevin coined the term the Internet of Things (IoT), and gave a very good talk on what this means, as well as identifying certain ‘predictions’ for the future. For instance, that we, as a species, would survive climate change for one. He quickly noted that calling ‘BS’ on this particular one would be tricky should we suffer a doomsday style event at the hands of climate change (I don’t imagine the last thoughts of humanity to be, ‘oh, Kevin Ashton was so bloody wrong!’). Another interesting prediction; we would all own a self-driving car by 2030. Prototype examples already exist, such as Googles (and Apples) efforts, and the Tesla:

Google/Apple (Titan) Self Driving Cars
The Tesla

Self-driving cars being one of the cases in point, the IoT relates to how a whole new host of devices will now become ‘connected’. Besides cars rigged up to the internet, we are all aware of the hooking up of internal systems in our homes (heating, etc) and utility devices (the washing machine), as to always be online and accessible at a moments notice. This world isn’t coming per say, it’s essentially already here.

Pushing past this initial definition, Kevin was keen to stress that the IoT was not limited in its definition to just ‘the connecting of hardware to the internet’ only. Wiki sums this up quite nicely on this occasion, but software (services and analytics) that moves forward with hardware changes will ultimately change the way we live, work, shop and go about our daily lives. Whether this be data relayed from the fridge to google glasses (yes, you are out of milk!), or perhaps a self-driving car ordering ‘click and collect’ shopping and driving you to the collection point after work (not to mention triggering the heating x miles from home!). Software, and the analysis of the new kinds of data we can record from interconnected elements, will be a huge driving force in how our world changes:

Internet of Things (IoT)

Lastly, before I forget and move on, a key phrase voiced several times (although I cannot remember the exact speaker, so apologies for that, it was probably David Chappell) was to reset your defaults. Standard client/server architecture was discussed, and for those of us that are part of long running businesses this is what we are exclusively, or at least partially, dealing with on a daily basis still. However, the change to the use of mobile devices, tablets, etc, as clients and the cloud as the underpinning location for the services these clients communicate with is becoming the norm. For start-ups today, mobile first development and the cloud (Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS)) are probably the initial go-to.

For some of us (speaking from a personal standpoint only), a major factor in our success as developers could simply be determined by understanding the cloud and getting the necessary experience to make the transition (for those who are not actively taking part in this world of course).

So, now we have the IoT, let’s talk security…

3) Graham Cluley. Security Analyst, grahamcluley.com.

Graham delivered a funny and insightful talk surrounding everyones’, ‘Oh my God, the horror, please kill me’ subject, the wonderful world of security.

In a nutshell, he argues (and certainly proves his point as you’ll read next) that the IoT will bring wonders to our world, but not without issues. We now have a scenario whereby a breadth of new devices have suddenly become internet connected. However, are the driving forces behind these changes the people who are used to dealing with the murky world of malware, viruses and hacking attempts (such as OS developers)? Probably not, is the initial answer. This is, of course, just a cultural divide between those used to trans-versing the security world and protecting devices from such attacks, and those tasked with bringing new devices to the interconnected world.

The hacking of self-driving cars (big topic it would seem) was discussed:

Fiat Chrysler Recalls

Also, the potential of hacking pacemakers was covered (bluetooth/wifi enabled), famously featured in the TV series Homeland and which actually lead to Vice President Dick Cheney’s cardiologist disabling the wireless functionality of his device:

Pacemaker Hacking
Could Pacemakers Be Hacked?

Although funny, the talk did indeed bring up a very serious issue. The ramifications could be catastrophic, depending on the types of devices that ultimately end up being exposed to the masses via the web. Essentially, as the IoT age develops, extra care must be taken to ensure that security is right on up there, in the hierarchy of priorities, when developing software for these devices.

4) Chris Bishop. Scientist and Lab Director, Microsoft Research.

The last talk I would personally like to discuss briefly was by Chris Bishop; there were a few great nuggets here that are well worth covering.

The idea of Machine Learning (not a topic I was overly familiar with for starters), Neural Networks and Pattern Recognition laid the foundation for a talk looking at the possibility of producing machines with human-level, or even super-human, intelligence.

The Microsoft Kinect was used to demonstrate hand-tracking software that, I have to admit, had an incredible amount of fidelity in recognising hand positions and shapes.

Lastly, a facial recognition demonstration that could estimate, with good accuracy, the emotional state of a person was kicked off for us all to see. Very, very impressive. There was most certainly an underlying feeling here (and as much was hinted at) that his kind of technology has many hurdles to jump. For instance, building something that can consume an image and accurately describe what is in that image is still a flaky concept, at best (and the difficulties of producing something capable of this are relatively vast).

Still, a greatly enjoyable talk! A book was touted, and I believe (please don’t shout at me if I’m wrong) this is the one:

Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

After the morning Key Notes, a series of smaller talks and break-out sessions were available to us. Here’s how I spent my time…

Unity3D Grok Talk

Josh Taylor. Unity Technologies.

It’s my sincere hope that, on discovering this, my employer won’t decide to sack me! This was over lunch and was a self-indulgent decision I’m afraid! You’ll know from some of my historical posts that I have a keen interest in Unity3D (and have spent time making the odd modest prototype game here and there), and I was interested to see how Unity 5 was progressing, especially as a greater cohesive experience with Visual Studio had been promised.

In this short, 20 minute talk, we experienced how Visual Studio (finally) integrates nicely into the Unity3D content creation pipeline. Unity3D now defaults to using Visual Studio as the editor of choice, with Monodevelop being pushed aside. Apologies to anyone who likes Monodevelop, but I’ve never been able to get behind it. With wacky intellisense and with what I can only describe as a crash-tastic experience in past use, I haven’t seen anything yet to sway me from using Visual Studio. In fact, it was demonstrated that you can even use Visual Studio Code if you wish and, as it’s cross-platform, even Mac and Linux users can switch to this if they wish. More reasons to leave Monodevelop in the dust? It’s not for me to say really, go ahead and do what you’ve got to do at the end of the day!

In order to debug Unity projects in Visual Studio in the past a paid for plugin was required. This particular plugin has been purchased by Microsoft and is now available to all. Being able to easily debug code doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it’s like having a basic human right re-established – such good news!!!

The new licensing model was also commented on, a massive plus for everyone. The previous Free/Pro divide is no more; now everyone gets access to the lions share of the core features. You only need to start spending money as you make it (fair for Unity to ask for a piece of the pie if you start rolling in profit/expanding a team to meet the new demand). For me, this means I actually get to use the Unity Pro water effects, hoorah ;-).

Following this, I spent a bit of time last weekend watching the Unite 2015 Key Notes, discussing 2D game development enhancements, cloud based builds and Oculus support. Well worth a look if and when time allows:

Unite 2015 Key Notes

Plus, if Oculus technology interests you, then it’s definitely worth watching John Carmacks (formerly of ID Software, the mind behind Wolfenstein and Doom) Key Note from the Oculus Connect 2 event:

John Carmack Oculus Keynote

Very exciting times ahead for Unity3D I believe. Self-indulgence over, moving forward then…

Journey to the Intelligent Cloud

Corey Sanders. Director of Program Management, Azure.

Following the Unity3D talk, I made my way back to the ICC Auditorium (I missed a small section of this particular talk, but caught the bulk of it) to catch up on some basic examples of how the new Azure Portal can be used. This took the form of a brief overview of what’s available via the portal, essentially a primer session.

In my recent, personal work with Azure I’ve used the publishing capability within Visual Studio to great affect; it was very transparent and seamless to use by all accounts. A sample was provided within this particular session which demonstrated live coding changes, made in GitHub, being published back to a site hosted on Azure.

Going into a tangent….

Very much a personal opinion here, but I did find (and I wasn’t the only one) that a good portion of the content I wanted to see was a) on at the same time (the 1:15pm slot) and b) was during the core lunch period where everyone was ravenous, I’m a ‘hanger’ sufferer I’m afraid. C# with Mads Torgerson, ASP.NET 5, Nano Servers and Windows 10 (UWP) sessions all occupied this slot, which drove me a little nuts :-(. This felt like a scheduling issue if I’m honest. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who did (or didn’t) feel the same.

I was so disappointed to miss Mads Torgerson, I very much enjoyed the recent C# language features overview and would have loved to have made this breakout session! I did walk past him later in the day, and I hope he never reads this, but he seemed ridiculously tall (perhaps Godly C# skills made him appear several inches taller, who knows!). It doesn’t help that I’m on the shorter side either, I just wanted to be 5′ 11″, that’s all I ever wanted (break out the rack, I need to get stretching!). I should have said hello, but wimped out!

F# Language Breakout Session

Don Syme. Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research.

This was easily the part of the event that resonated the most with me, and strongly influenced the foray into F# that I undertook recently. Don Syme, the designer and architect of the F# language, took us through a quality primer of the syntax and how F# can be used (and scaled) for the cloud.

All of this aside, the most impressive part of the talk was a live demonstration of F# Type Providers. Again, this is fully covered in my previous post so I’ll just direct you to that, which in turn will aid me in cutting down what is now becoming a gargantuan post. In summary, the ability to draw information directly from web pages, rip data straight from files and databases, and combine and aggregate it all together using minimal code produces a terse, easy to understand and pretty darn good experience in my book. Even the code behind producing visual feedback, in the form of the charting API, is succinct; the bar really isn’t set too high for new starters to get involved.

If you decide to give anything a go in the near future, I would give F# the nod (followed closely, just a hair’s breadth away, by jQuery in my opinion). Certainly check it out if you get the chance.

Final Key Note

Professor Brian Cox. Physicist.
Krysta Svore. Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research.

The day proceeded in fast forward and, before we’d really had the chance to gather our thoughts, we were sitting in the main auditorium again faced by Professor Brian Cox, Krysta Svore and a menagerie of confused attendees staring at mathematical formulas outlining quantum theory.

Into the wonderful world of quantum computers we dance, and in my case, dragging my brain along from somewhere back yonder in a desperate attempt to keep up. Thankfully, I’m an avid TED talk fanatic and had, in the run up to the event, brushed up on a few quantum theory and quantum mechanics videos; lucky I did really. The content was dense but, for the most part, well put together and outlined the amazing (and potentially frightening) world of possibilities that quantum computers could unlock for us all.

Professor Brian Cox cruised through the theories we’d need to be intimate with in order to understand the onslaught of oncoming content surrounding quantum computers. In essence, a traditional ‘bit’, has a defined state (like a switch), on or off. However, and this is the simple essence of what they were trying to get to, traditional bits are reaching limitations that will prevent us from solving more complex problems, in a timely manner (you’ll see what I mean in a second). Therefore, qubits, born from quantum theory, are the answer.

Now, I’m not going to insult your intelligence and go into too much detail on a subject that I am clearly not an expert in. So, just in ‘laymen’s bullet points’, here is what I took from all that was said and done across the Key Note:

  • With bits, you are dealing with entities that can have a fixed state (0 or 1). A deterministic system if you will, that has limitations in its problem crunching power.
  • Qubits, however, take us into the realm of a probabilistic system. The qubit can be in a superposition of all of the allowed states, not just 0 or 1.
  • Therefore, the problem crunching powers of qubits are exponential in nature, but the probabilistic nature makes measuring them (and interactions involving them) difficult to get to grips with.

So is it worth fighting through the technical problems in order to harness qubits? What kind of gains are we talking about here?

Krystra Svore outlined an example that displayed that it would take roughly one billion years for a current super computer to crack (more complex than standard) RSA encryption. How long would it take a quantum computer you may ask? Significantly faster is the answer, estimated at around one hundred seconds in fact. This clearly defines for us the amazing problems we’ll be able to solve, whilst simultaneously illustrating the dangerous times that lay ahead from a security standpoint. Let’s just hope cryptography keeps up (I can see a few sniffs to suggest things are in the pipeline, so I will keep an eye out for news as it pops up).

So you want a quantum computer I hear you say! Hmmm, I wouldn’t put it on the Christmas list anytime soon. Due to the fact current quantum computers need to be super cooled (and from the pictures we got to see, didn’t look like you could hike around with it!), we’re not likely to get our hands directly on them in the near future.

Can you get your mitts on quantum simulators today? Apparently yes in the answer (completed untested links, just for you to peruse on your own, good luck):

QC Simulators
Project Liquid

Taking nothing away from the Key Note though, it was a concrete finish to an excellent event. Would I go again? You bet! Should we get the train next time instead of driving? Taking into account the mountains of free beer and wine on offer, of course! To finish up, before summarising the Expo itself, if you haven’t been and get the opportunity (in fact, actively seek the opportunity, enough said) then definitely book this in your calendar, thoroughly brilliant.

Expo

Very, very quickly, as I am acutely aware that your ability to focus on this post (if not already) must have completely diminished by this point, I wanted to describe what the Expo itself had to offer. If you’re still reading, give yourself a pat on the back!

One of the more compelling items we saw was the use of the new Lumia phone as a (kind of) desktop replacement attempt. Let’s get one thing straight, you’re not going to be doing hardcore software development using Visual Studio or any other intensive task on this device anytime soon. However, there was certainly enough evidence to suggest that basic productivity tasks would be possible using a mobile phone as a back bone to facilitate this.

The Lumia can be hooked up to a dock, akin to the Surface Pro 4 (the docks are subtly different apparently, so are not cross-compatible), and that allows it to be tied to a display device. You can also get a folding mouse and keyboard, for a very lightweight, on-the-go experience. Interesting certainly, but there is a definite horse-power issue that will prevent anyone working on anything remotely intensive from getting on board. Anyway, for those interested the link below will get you started:

Lumia Docking Station

I saw a few Surface Pros, and wondered whether we could potentially smuggle a few out of the Expo! Only kidding, no need to call the Police (or for anyone I work with thinking I am some kind of master criminal in the making) :-).

An Oculus demonstration booth was on the Expo floor, and displays were hooked up to show what the participants were experiencing. It was noted that a few of the people using the Oculus seemed to miss the point a bit, and kept their head completely still as they were transported through the experience. Once the heads started moving (to actually take in the world) you could visibly see people getting incredibly immersed. Alas, the queues were pretty darn large every time I made my way past, so I didn’t get a chance to experience it first-hand. One for the future.

There was also a programmable cocktail maker, an IoT masterpiece I think you’ll agree. A perfect union of hardware, software and alcohol, a visionary piece illustrating the future has arrived!

The next time an event like this comes around I will endeavour to get a post up in a timely fashion (which will vastly improve the content I hope).

Thanks for reading and a high five from me if you made it this far. Back to coding in the upcoming post I promise, until the next time, cheers from me (and would you believe it, it’s now Tuesday)!

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