Why We Have To Do Better: The Case for Tech for Good

By Paula Reinman

When you talk with Hao Zou, you’re never sure which country he is in or which problem he is working on. Born in China, educated in California and busily applying mathematics and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve social problems globally, Hao is focused on changing lives for the better.

The 2008 Marconi Society Young Scholar has just been named a 2017 Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum, representing the Greater China region. According to the World Economic Forum, these young leaders are “innovative, enterprising and socially minded men and women under the age of 40 who are pushing boundaries and re-thinking the world around them.”

For Zou, this award brings together the three most important aspects of his work: his entrepreneurial venture, Abundy, using AI to increase efficiency in financial services and healthcare; his academic work as a Chair Professor at Tsinghua University leveraging computer vision technology to detect curable cancers; and his social impact work in developing countries as a member of the Marconi Society Board supporting STEM students.

“Being chosen as a WEF Global Young Leader connects all of my efforts and gives me an opportunity to build relationships with people working in NGOs, academia and industry to increase social responsibility,” said Zou. “I am very honored to be selected.”

Using Math to Give Back

Emeritus Professor and 2006 Marconi Fellow, John Cioffi, was Zou’s advisor at Stanford, where he was one of the few students ever to have earned an MBA and PhD simultaneously. Cioffi says Zou was “perhaps the most brilliant student I’ve ever had.” Following graduation from Stanford’s Department of Engineering and Graduate School of Business, Zou worked as a portfolio manager for five years in one of the world’s largest investment companies, focusing on quantitative investing and identifying values in securities with mathematical financial models. He considered it a great opportunity to learn the financial industry, and the prevalent inefficiencies within it.

“I feel very privileged to have received the education that I did at Stanford and in the industry, and I am passionate about giving back,” Zou explained.

Zou believes that much of the societal divide in our world is based on inefficiency. Often, problems are more about resource allocation and increasing productivity or reducing factors that impede the economy than they are about pure scarcity. AI can be a powerful tool in equalizing opportunities when it is applied to reducing the costs of serving large or distributed populations.

Here are a couple of examples of Zou’s work in action:

Early identification of curable cancers

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer to affect women, with about 1.7M new cases diagnosed every year. Early diagnosis is critical to survival. Due to a shortage of experienced pathologists and radiologists, as well as the sheer size of the population in China, curable cancers like breast cancer can easily be missed and have much lower survival rates in China than they do in the US.

5-Year Relative Survival Rate (2005-2009)

Source: Healthline

Zou, as the Director of the Center for Intelligent Medical Imaging and Health at Tsinghua, along with his colleagues, are using computer vision technology to help doctors diagnose breast cancer early. AI can help doctors make faster and more accurate diagnoses for more patients – and save more lives.

Financial Inclusion:

Financial services is another area where greater efficiencies will lead to economic opportunity for diverse populations. In China and other emerging countries, there is no mass-market credit scoring system, as there is in the US and the developed world. This means that fewer than 30% of people have credit scores, which entitle them to lower interest loans. Large banks currently have no incentive to undertake the time consuming and costly work of identifying good loan candidates from the pool of those with no credit scores.

Using analytics and AI, banks can more easily identify potential loan recipients, expand their business and offer opportunities to a far greater number of people than ever before, making financial inclusion a reality.

Zou believes that technology in the hands of a select few will create even more inequality. According to Marconi Society Chairman, Vint Cerf, this is exactly the kind of thinking we need from the next generation of scientists. “Hao is quite phenomenal,” says Cerf. “Technology used to build scale and increase performance in areas like healthcare and financial inclusion can make a difference to people around the world. With champions like Zou, it’s easy to have hope for positive global change.”

The Internet’s Wild Ride: From Trust to Cybersecurity Threats

By Leonard Kleinrock
Co-authored by Paula Reinman

On March 31, 1976, Queen Elizabeth II sent the first e-mail to come from a head of state. With assistance from my colleague and fellow Marconi Prize winner, Peter Kirstein, who set up the Queen’s e-mail account with the username HME2 (Her Majesty, Elizabeth II), the Queen sent a message that would have made any techie proud about the Coral 66 compiler on the ARPANET.

While the Queen’s e-mail was a high-profile early indicator that non-scientists would eventually join the engineering elite on the Internet, the idea of interconnected computers and the first message between them had played out years earlier in 1969.

We Don’t Need Networking

When ARPANET started in 1969, most people were not interested in networking computers together. What seemed like a good idea to us was resisted by the scientific community, who felt that their computers were already 100 percent utilized and did not want to share capacity, and by businesses like AT&T, who thrived on voice revenue and had no idea how to monetize data.

The first two networked computers were installed at UCLA and Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in late 1969. Once we had two networked computers, we could evaluate the capability of networking. On October 29, 1969, I supervised a graduate student member of my UCLA software team, Charley Kline, as the first message was sent from the UCLA computer to the SRI computer over 300 miles to the North in our attempt to log in remotely. That first message, intended to be “login,” was truncated to “lo” when the SRI computer crashed after the first two letters. Thus, the first message over a packet network serendipitously turned out to be “lo”, as in “Lo and Behold.” We could not have asked for a more succinct, more powerful, or more prophetic message.

The fledgling network generated little publicity in those early days. In 1972, a public demonstration of ARPANET, staged by Bob Kahn, another Marconi Prize winner, attracted considerable attention. This demonstration opened people’s eyes to networked applications and demonstrated the power of the ARPANET.

From Collaboration to the Dark Side

By the late ‘80’s, as the NSFNET took over the backbone of the Internet, scientists and corporations saw value in networking and in the Internet for e-mail, file transfer and other applications to facilitate collaboration. The user interface was still unfriendly, to say the least, and consumers did not find it attractive until the early 90’s when the Internet became usable for the masses, thanks to the friendly graphical user interface offered by the emerging Web. And flock to it the masses did!

Along with this broadened constituency of users, another behavior emerged. The first computer worm was generated by a Cornell graduate student and appeared in 1988; we saw it and thought of it as a one-time abuse. Then, on April 12, 1994, the first broad-based spam attack occurred – a commercial advertisement that was an abuse of our research network and outraged the well-behaved research community. This ushered in never-before-imagined hostile actions and the dark side of the Internet was launched.

Today’s Serious Problems

Our world today is one in which the Internet supports huge social and economic benefits, yet one in which the dark side is pervasive. This dark side started out as a nuisance by hackers and advertisers and has now metastasized into a significant threat, with illegal actions perpetrated by nation-states and organized crime.

There are two issues of interest, both at the edge of the network, about which I’m particularly concerned:

Built-in network security – Because there was so much initial skepticism about networked computers and resource sharing, we built networking to be inclusive so that everyone could try it and experience the benefits. Our original design made it easy for people to join and relied on a trusted, shared, open and ethics-based culture. Sadly, after 20 years of good behavior, that culture has eroded. We now suffer from a lack of strong user authentication to prove that it is actually you when you are communicating, and strong file authentication to prove that what you got is what was sent.  We could have installed these two protections in the network initially, but they did not serve our purpose of openness and inclusiveness. These protections are far more difficult to implement today than they would have been at the outset.

Vulnerabilities in the Internet of Things – Devices for home security, entertainment, temperature control, etc., are being purchased and deployed by the hundreds of millions and most have very little, if any, security built in. Malicious users will be able to turn these devices on to see what’s happening in the homes of their owners, to lock and unlock doors and to see when occupants are away. They have the capability to exploit web-based connectivity to attack the civilian infrastructure and more. These devices are opening up a whole new set of threats that we’re only just beginning to see. We cannot ignore this issue.

Promising Developments

While these problems are complex, they are not intractable. There are several nascent efforts underway that show promise in making the Internet a safer place for all of us:

Xnet – Ray Sanders and I are developing a new approach to networking. Today’s two most commonly used forwarding approaches are: 1) a data packet network that is complex and offers flexible, asynchronous, best effort services with no guarantees; and 2) a traditional, and dying, voice circuit-based network that is synchronous, deterministic and simple, but not flexible. The new approach is called ‘Xnet.’ It takes the best of both old approaches to deliver a network that is very low cost, efficient, deterministic, low latency, dynamic and secure. An Xnet changes packet bursts into short packet connections, each of which lasts for the period existing between a connection’s source and destination packet bursts. A plurality of connections travels between an Xnet data source area and a data sink area where the data packets will exist. No source-destination information travels with the data stream, which adds an additional layer of security. The packet connections are disjoint, each with their own bandwidths, entry times and durations. At the destination, the packet connections are returned in scheduled packet bursts delivered to the data sinks. The packet connections exist in dual sub-connections with the packet headers and packet data being forwarded over disjoint paths. While we are early in development, we look for initial deployments in private corporate networks and greenfield networks.

Homomorphic encryption – This is a form of encryption that allows encrypted data to be processed by encrypted programs without the data itself or the program ever being exposed in the clear. The research in this area is moving ahead vigorously to provide the needed efficiency for practical use.

End user security hygiene – This is one of the most effective, but one of the most difficult, ways to overcome security concerns. From computer back-ups to password management applications that keep us from using the same relatively simple passwords for everything, the end user community must learn to take strong security hygiene measures to protect itself.

In retrospect, perhaps we should have designed stronger authentication capabilities into our original networking architecture and started using them when the need arose. In spite of these security issues, however, the value and applications of networked computing, and particularly of basic e-mail, prove themselves many times every single day.

Marconi Society Young Scholar Award: The Nomination that Can Change your Career

Are you laser-focused on innovations in communications and the Internet that will significantly benefit people everywhere? Have you persevered against incredible odds to show that your ideas will work and can change the status quo? If you are a visionary thinker, a tenacious champion of your research and a generous collaborator, there is an award designed to honor just these qualities.

The Marconi Society Paul Baran Young Scholar Award

Honoring the spirit of Nobel Laureate Guglielmo Marconi – scientist, engineer, inventor and entrepreneur – the Marconi Society encourages young researchers who are developing the latest innovations in communication theory, technology and applications that benefit society.

The highly prestigious award is granted to a few nominees from around the world each year and the Marconi Society is accepting nominations for the 2017 Young Scholar cohort through June 30, 2017.

Young Scholars exhibit the creativity, passion, persistence and grit that true change-makers need to have. Now in its ninth year, the award has honored Young Scholars who are now founders of innovative start-ups, technical staff at leading research institutions and national labs, and faculty and staff at prestigious universities.

The Young Scholar Award is unlike any other, offering unparalleled connections, networking and opportunity for social impact.

“It’s an incredible honor to be part of the Marconi Society and it gives me an amazing opportunity to inspire the next generation of women who are passionate about solving technology problems and are looking for ways to have that kind of impact,” says Aakanksha Chowdhery, 2012 Young Scholar and Associate Research Scholar at Princeton University.

Inspirational Networking

Young Scholars immediately become part of an intimate and powerful group comprised of both their fellow Young Scholars and distinguished Marconi Prize winners and Board Members.

Whether you want to discuss the Internet with Vint Cerf, wireless communications with Marty Cooper, security with Martin E. Hellman and Whit Diffie, GPS with Brad Parkinson or any of a host of other groundbreaking technologies with the people who created them, the Marconi Fellows engage to get to know the Young Scholars, to support them and to help them succeed.

The Young Scholars themselves are an formidable group. They interact frequently to create a network of peers across industries whose careers are progressing rapidly.

“It has given me a broad perspective on how one should do their research, taking more risk and focusing on a longer time frame. Marconi Fellows took huge risks on their careers, which clearly paid off,” said Rafael Laufer, 2008 Young Scholar and Researcher at Nokia Bell Labs. “The unique experience of knowing these researchers is almost impossible to get from outside, where you can know their work, but not their personalities. Knowing their personalities is key to understanding how one can truly achieve success.”

International recognition

The Young Scholar award gives immediate credibility to a researcher’s work. Recognized at universities, research institutions and within corporate research teams around the world, the award boosts the researcher’s profile and showcases their successful work.

“I found the award indispensable in establishing myself and making connections at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). The publicity generated from the award provided a platform to share my PhD research with colleagues and—most importantly—to discover shared interests and form potential collaborations across the broad spectrum of scientists at ORNL,” says Joe Lukens, 2015 Young Scholar and Wigner Fellow at ORNL.

Social impact

Following in the footsteps of Guglielmo Marconi, who was dedicated to using technology to improve people’s lives, the Young Scholars are like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds who want to make a positive impact on society.

Together, the Young Scholars created the Celestini Project, designed to provide mentorship and support to technical undergrads in developing countries. The Celestini Project enables these students to use communications and networking technology to solve problems that are important in their communities. With the added support of the Marconi Fellows and Board, the Celestini Project is saving the lives of pregnant women in Uganda and preparing to improve safety on the roads of Delhi.

Nominations are Due June 30, 2017

Young Scholar candidates are nominated by faculty and mentors. We welcome applications from around the world and encourage diversity in gender, culture and area of study, as long as it fits with the Society’s overall mission of advancing the Internet and communications.

“Being a Young Scholar and part of the Marconi Society helped solidify my career goals toward meaningful contributions to the world. As engineers and scientists, we all have dreams of making an impact in this world with new ideas, discoveries and inventions. But often times it feels like trying to climb Mount Everest. The odds of failure are high. Doubts about your assumptions and strategy are constant. It’s definitely much simpler to give up and try to solve an easier problem. But after being part of the Marconi Society and listening to the legends of telecom tell their stories of diligence, heart break, persistence, and eventual triumph, it has given me the attitude and willpower to try to solve those really difficult problems” – Felix Gutierrez, 2009 Young Scholar, Vice President, Hardware Engineering, Parlevel Systems.

Technology for Good: How Networking Saves Big Cats

By Camilla Fritze
Co-authored by Paula Reinman

Close your eyes and think of a jungle: the noises, the smells and the sounds. Think of the most majestic and inspirational creature in that jungle. What comes to mind? For many, the tiger is the embodiment of this wilderness.

Numbering just 3900, these iconic cats are now on the verge of extinction. Because poaching is the tigers’ key existential threat, technology is a critical tool in securing and protecting the last wild tiger populations.

At the forefront of the initiative to use technology for animal conservation is Panthera, the only organization dedicated exclusively to conserving the world’s wild cats and their ecosystems. Camilla Fritze, great-granddaughter of Guglielmo Marconi, Marconi Society board member, and a wildlife conservationist at Panthera, is spearheading this initiative.

A conservation biologist by training, Camilla comes from a family of scientists. Her dad is an astrophysicist, and, of course, her great-grandfather won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work on long distance radio transmission. As much as she loves the science, though, Camilla is proud of the Marconi Society’s focus on celebrating communication, entrepreneurship and commercialization. Her work using technology to save tigers combines these interests.

Saving Tigers: Why Now, Why Ever?

Poaching has become a $20B/year business, driven largely by an expanding middle class in Asia that demands animal products including skins, bones, teeth and organs, in the case of tigers. On our watch, elephants, rhinos and many of the big cats are disappearing from national parks and the world’s last wild places. This impact is magnified because, as an umbrella species, these animals shape the landscapes they inhabit by preserving the food web for animals and humans alike, and the structure and ecological processes on which all life on earth depends.

The criminal networks directing poaching are using increasingly sophisticated techniques and weapons, even resorting to helicopters, night vision equipment, and satellite communications in certain areas (i.e. rhino poaching in southern Africa). This trade threatens entire ecosystems and places already vulnerable human communities in even greater danger.

According to Global Conservation, over 1,000 park rangers have been killed on duty over the past 10 years, and 80% of them were killed by commercial poachers and armed militia groups.

Tigers are particularly vulnerable to poaching. Despite extensive habitat loss in the most densely populated regions of the world, there are over one million km² of potential tiger habitat left in Asia, but the majority of habitat is vacant due to the killing of tigers and their prey. These vast areas of unoccupied habitat are perhaps the greatest indicator of the magnitude of the poaching problem. The critical solution to protecting tigers, therefore, is anti-poaching. “The habitat exists,” according to Fritze. “Our priority is to secure the last populations of big cats before it is too late. Technology can be a game changer by allowing us to do more with less. We’re using wireless communications to a different end than traditional applications.”

Picture a protected area in the typical Asian or African country. It is likely either very remote, extremely rugged, or both. The park guards tasked with anti-poaching are often under-resourced, lacking sufficient budgets, manpower and infrastructure to do their job effectively and safely. Conservationists need to find solutions that work within these realities and strategically increase the capacity of rangers to respond to and prevent poaching. This is where technology comes in.

The PoacherCam: Using Networks to Protect Tigers

Thanks to innovations that make cameras easy to use, low cost and durable, Panthera has designed a remote wildlife security camera, called the PoacherCam, that transfers data over cellular and satellite networks to detect poaching threats in real time.

The PoacherCam is Panthera’s 6th generation camera that builds upon years of in-house research and development in remote cameras for wildlife monitoring. Camera trapping is a widely used, non-invasive method to monitor wild cat populations. For example, when a tiger triggers the motion sensor on a camera trap, its stripe pattern, similar to a human fingerprint, is logged and added to a database of known patterns. This allows biologists to identify an individual animal and track its survival over years.

Panthera’s latest generation of remote cameras adds protection to the equation. The PoacherCam features two innovations. The first is a human detection algorithm that enables the camera to differentiate between humans and animals. This ensures that any photo alert sent by the camera is indeed a human, rather than a falling leaf or passing animal, and thus worthy of a response.

The second innovation is an embedded M2M module that transfers data over existing cellular networks with backhaul over a satellite Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) link. Once triggered, PoacherCams transfer an alert message with an attached image, in real time, to an online web server and send data to the email inbox of a designated recipient, such as an anti-poaching tasking officer. Anti-poaching response teams can mount an immediate and targeted response to a potential poaching threat, giving teams a potentially life-saving tactical advantage.

Given that GSM coverage is patchy in most of world’s protected areas, Panthera is exploring alternate methods of networking such as long range wifi, private GSM and satellite. PoacherCams are currently deployed at the edge of parks and at known access points where GSM can be accessed.

Join the Effort to Protect Tigers

We can each play a part in saving tigers and the last wild places.

  • Lend your expertise to Panthera’s conservation technology unit by helping us find alternative networking systems for connecting remote areas in the absence of native GSM, for instance long range wifi, private GSM, satellite uplinks, etc.
  • Support an anti-poaching team in one of Panthera’s tiger conservation sites by providing funds for equipment, training and technology. Or sign your company up for corporate giving. Details on how to donate to Panthera: https://www.panthera.org/donate.
  • Connect Panthera’s conservation technology unit to interested companies and investors in order to scale the PoacherCam technology globally and combat poaching of all species.

There has been so much published about the benefits of our connected world, from providing healthcare to people in remote areas to being about to download an HD movie in a minute. By providing safe and intelligent communications for police and park rangers, we can use our connected world and the internet of things to save some of the world’s most majestic animals, to impact the ecosystem and make the world safer.