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You looking for an AI project? You love Lego? Look no further than this Reg reader’s machine-learning Lego sorter




An engineer has built something that is sure to be the envy of any self-respecting Lego fan: an AI-powered Lego sorting machine.

Daniel West, a software engineer from Australia, built the device, which is also made out of Lego, of course, over two years. The impressive gizmo stands about 80 centimetres tall, contains over 10,000 individual Lego parts, and 15 motors to move pieces that need to be sorted along a series of conveyor belts. West claims it can process a bucket of jumbled up pieces, grouping 2,927 types of Lego into 18 different bins at a rate of one brick every two seconds. Not bad, eh?

You can watch the machine chugging away below.

Youtube Video

Here’s how it works: First, a giant fistful’s worth of random Lego parts are poured down a chute at the top of the machine. The multicoloured river of Lego is processed and shaken by a vibrational feeder to filter it into individual pieces that pass under a Raspberry Pi computer.

The computer contains a camera and snaps a series of pictures of the passing brick and sends them to a laptop running ResNet-50, a popular convolutional neural network, to categorize. The result is then sent back to the machine, opening the right combination of gates to allow the particular piece to fall into the right bucket.

Sorting Lego may be a trivial and tedious task for humans, but it’s actually pretty difficult for machine learning models. Lego parts come in thousands of distinct types, in multiple colours, and combined with the fact that they all look different when viewed at various angles, it’s no wonder that collecting the right combination of training datasets was the hardest part.

West told The Register this week he, at first, tried to generate fake simulations of the Lego bricks. He took 3D models of the pieces from LDraw Part Library, an open source program that allows enthusiasts to build Lego virtually, and rendered them in Blender, free animation software.

The 3D model bricks could then be simulated at different rotations and colors. These individual images were collected into a synthetic dataset containing over a whopping 25 million pictures. But to West’s frustration, his AI Lego sorter trained on the fake images failed to identify real parts.

“I came to a point where I almost gave up on the project entirely,” he said. “I spent months implementing a complex method to transform synthetic images into real-looking images, with little success.” So, he turned to another popular technique often used in robotics to help reduce the simulation-to-reality gap: domain randomisation.

World’s first Universal Lego Sorting Machine?

Domain randomisation trains a model to recognize even more variations in data. Instead of just different rotations and colors of Lego bricks, the system learned to account for various lighting effects, texture, and noise. To boost the performance of the Lego sorter further, West also incorporated a smaller dataset containing snaps of real Lego pieces.

“The real dataset only contains parts from my personal collection which ends up being only 544 different types of parts,” he said. These pieces are more common types found among Lego collections, whereas the synthetic dataset features rarer types.

angry lego minifig man turns on anxious lego minifig man

How do we stop filling the oceans with Lego? By being a BaaS-tard, toy maker suggests


By training on both datasets, the camera on West’s Lego sorter should, in theory, be able to recognize pieces that it hasn’t actually seen before. In other words, the machine can categorize bricks in the synthetic dataset that isn’t in West’s personal collection. The performance varies, however, it’s 93 per cent accurate at identifying parts that are in the real dataset compared to 74 per cent for ones that are only in the synthetic dataset.

West trained his ResNet-50 using approximately 800 CPU cores rented on AWS over a day. The Lego sorter then runs on Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card commonly found in gaming laptops. West believes that it would also work reasonably fast with weaker GPUs too. He is planning to release the code in the future.

It’s not the world’s first Lego sorter. West was inspired by other gizmos, some of which also used AI algorithms. He claimed, however, that it was the world’s first Universal Lego Sorting Machine. “I call it ‘Universal’ because, thanks to the use of cutting-edge AI, it’s capable of recognizing and sorting any Lego part that has ever been produced,” he said.

“As a lifelong Lego fan, ever since I saw Akiyuki’s original Lego sorting machine way back in 2011, I’d had the idea of building a similar machine in the back of my mind,” West continued. “About three years ago, I became interested in computer vision.

“AI and CNN’s were booming and I began studying them intensely. I also had a lot of experience with computer graphics as during this time, I had just released my video game ‘Airscape: The Fall of Gravity’. I realized that I would be able to combine my skills in a unique way to finally realize my lifelong dream of building a real working Lego sorting machine, while at the same time gaining real-world experience in designing and deploying AI systems.” ®

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Build a scalable machine learning pipeline for ultra-high resolution medical images using Amazon SageMaker




Neural networks have proven effective at solving complex computer vision tasks such as object detection, image similarity, and classification. With the evolution of low-cost GPUs, the computational cost of building and deploying a neural network has drastically reduced. However, most techniques are designed to handle pixel resolutions commonly found in visual media. For example, typical resolution sizes are 544 and 416 pixels for YOLOv3, 300 and 512 pixels for SSD, and 224 pixels for VGG. Training a classifier over a dataset consisting of gigapixel images (10^9+ pixels) such as satellite or digital pathology images is computationally challenging. These images cannot be directly input into a neural network because each GPU is limited by available memory. This requires specific preprocessing techniques such as tiling to be able to process the original images in smaller chunks. Furthermore, due to the large size of these images, the overall training time tends to be high, often requiring several days or weeks without the use of proper scaling techniques such as distributed training.

In this post, we explain how to build a highly scalable machine learning (ML) pipeline to fulfill three objectives:


In this post, we use a dataset consisting of whole-slide digital pathology images obtained from The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) to accurately and automatically classify them as LUAD (adenocarcinoma), LUSC (squamous cell carcinoma), or normal lung tissue, where LUAD and LUSC are the two most prevalent subtypes of lung cancer. The dataset is available for public use by NIH and NCI.

The raw high-resolution images are in SVS format. SVS files are used for archiving and analyzing Aperio microscope images. You can apply the techniques and tools used in this post to any ultra high-resolution image dataset, including satellite images.

The following is a sample image of a tissue slide. This single image contains over a quarter of a billion pixels, and occupies over 750 MB of memory. This image cannot be fed directly to a neural network in its original form, so we must tile the image into many smaller images.

The following are samples of tiled images generated after preprocessing the preceding tissue slide image. These RGB 3-channel images are of size 512×512 and can be directly used as inputs to a neural network. Each of these tiled images is assigned the same label as the parent slide. Additionally, tiled images with more than 50% background are discarded.

Architecture overview

The following figure shows the overall end-to-end architecture, from the original raw images to inference. First, we use SageMaker Processing to tile, zoom, and sort the images into train and test splits, and then package them into the necessary number of shards for distributed SageMaker training. Second, a SageMaker training job loads the Docker container from Amazon Elastic Container Registry (Amazon ECR). The job uses Pipe mode to read the data from the prepared shards of images, trains the model, and stores the final model artifact in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Finally, we deploy the trained model on a real-time inference endpoint that loads the appropriate Docker container (from Amazon ECR) and model (from Amazon S3) to process inference requests with low latency.

Data preprocessing using SageMaker Processing

The SVS slide images are preprocessed in three steps:

  • Tiling images – The images are tiled by non-overlapping 512×512 pixel windows, and tiles containing over 50% background are discarded. The tiles are stored as JPEG images.
  • Converting images to TFRecords – We use SageMaker Pipe mode to reduce our training time, which requires the data to be available in a proto-buffer format. TFRecord is a popular proto-buffer format used for training models with TensorFlow. We explain SageMaker Pipe mode and proto-buffer format in more detail in the following section.
  • Sorting TFRecords – We sort the dataset into test, train, and validation cohorts for a three-way classifier (LUAD/LUSC/Normal). The TCGA dataset can have multiple slide images corresponding to a single patient. We need to make sure all the tiles generated from slides corresponding to the same patient occupy the same split to avoid data leakage. For the test set, we create per-slide TFRecord containing all the tiles from that slide so that we can evaluate the model in the way it will be used in deployment.

The following is the preprocessing code:

def generate_tf_records(base_folder, input_files, output_file, n_image, slide=None): record_file = output_file count = n_image with as writer: while count: filename, label = random.choice(input_files) temp_img = plt.imread(os.path.join(base_folder, filename)) if temp_img.shape != (512, 512, 3): continue count -= 1 image_string = np.float32(temp_img).tobytes() slide_string = slide.encode('utf-8') if slide else None tf_example = image_example(image_string, label, slide_string) writer.write(tf_example.SerializeToString())

We use SageMaker Processing for the preceding preprocessing steps, which allows us to run data preprocessing or postprocessing, feature engineering, data validation, and model evaluation workloads with SageMaker. Processing jobs accept data from Amazon S3 as input and store processed output data back into Amazon S3.

A benefit of using SageMaker Processing is the ease of distributing inputs across multiple compute instances. We can simply set s3_data_distribution_type=ShardedByS3Key parameter to divide data equally among all processing containers.

Importantly, the number of processing instances matches the number of GPUs we will use for distributed training with Horovod (i.e., 16). The reasoning becomes clearer when we introduce Horovod training.

The processing script is available on GitHub.

processor = Processor(image_uri=image_name, role=get_execution_role(), instance_count=16, # run the job on 16 instances base_job_name='processing-base', # should be unique name instance_type='ml.m5.4xlarge', volume_size_in_gb=1000)[ProcessingInput( source=f's3://<bucket_name>/tcga-svs', # s3 input prefix s3_data_type='S3Prefix', s3_input_mode='File', s3_data_distribution_type='ShardedByS3Key', # Split the data across instances destination='/opt/ml/processing/input')], # local path on the container outputs=[ProcessingOutput( source='/opt/ml/processing/output', # local output path on the container destination=f's3://<bucket_name>/tcga-svs-tfrecords/' # output s3 location )], arguments=['10000'], # number of tiled images per TF record for training dataset wait=True, logs=True)

Distributed model training using SageMaker Training

Taking ML models from conceptualization to production is typically complex and time-consuming. We have to manage large amounts of data to train the model, choose the best algorithm for training it, manage the compute capacity while training it, and then deploy the model into a production environment. SageMaker reduces this complexity by making it much easier to build and deploy ML models. It manages the underlying infrastructure to train your model at petabyte scale and deploy it to production.

After we preprocess the whole-slide images, we still have hundreds of gigabytes of data. Training on a single instance (GPU or CPU) would take several days or weeks to finish. To speed things up, we need to distribute the workload of training a model across multiple instances. For this post, we focus on distributed deep learning based on data parallelism using Horovod, a distributed training framework, and SageMaker Pipe mode.

Horovod: A cross-platform distributed training framework

When training a model with a large amount of data, the data needs to distributed across multiple CPUs or GPUs on either a single instance or multiple instances. Deep learning frameworks provide their own methods to support distributed training. Horovod is a popular framework-agnostic toolkit for distributed deep learning. It utilizes an allreduce algorithm for fast distributed training (compared with a parameter server approach) and includes multiple optimization methods to make distributed training faster. For more examples of distributed training with Horovod on SageMaker, see Multi-GPU and distributed training using Horovod in Amazon SageMaker Pipe mode and Reducing training time with Apache MXNet and Horovod on Amazon SageMaker.

SageMaker Pipe mode

You can provide input to SageMaker in either File mode or Pipe mode. In File mode, the input files are copied to the training instance. With Pipe mode, the dataset is streamed directly to your training instances. This means that the training jobs start sooner, compute and download can happen in parallel, and less disk space is required. Therefore, we recommend Pipe mode for large datasets.

SageMaker Pipe mode requires data to be in a protocol buffer format. Protocol buffers are language-neutral, platform-neutral, extensible mechanisms for serializing structured data. TFRecord is a popular proto-buffer format used for training models with TensorFlow. TFRecords are optimized for use with TensorFlow in multiple ways. First, they make it easy to combine multiple datasets and integrate seamlessly with the data import and preprocessing functionality provided by the library. Second, you can store sequence data—for instance, a time series or word encodings—in a way that allows for very efficient and (from a coding perspective) convenient import of this type of data.

The following diagram illustrates data access with Pipe mode.

Data sharding with SageMaker Pipe mode

You should keep in mind a few considerations when working with SageMaker Pipe mode and Horovod:

  • The data that is streamed through each pipe is mutually exclusive of the other pipes. The number of pipes dictates the number of data shards that need to be created.
  • Horovod wraps the training script for each compute instance. This means that data for each compute instance needs to be from a different shard.
  • With the SageMaker Training parameter S3DataDistributionType set to ShardedByS3Key, we can share a pipe with more than one instance. The data is streamed in round-robin fashion across instances.

To illustrate this better, let’s say we use two instances (A and B) of type ml.p3.8xlarge. Each ml.p3.8xlarge instance has four GPUs. We create four pipes (P1, P2, P3, and P4) and set S3DataDistributionType = 'ShardedByS3Key’. As shown in the following table, each pipe equally distributes the data between two instances in a round-robin fashion. This is the core concept needed in setting up pipes with Horovod. Because Horovod wraps the training script for each GPU, we need to create as many pipes as there are GPUs per training instance.

The following code shards the data in Amazon S3 for each pipe. Each shard should have a separate prefix in Amazon S3.

# Definite distributed training hyperparameters
train_instance_count = 4
gpus_per_host = 4
num_of_shards = gpus_per_host * train_instance_count distributions = {'mpi': { 'enabled': True, 'processes_per_host': gpus_per_host }

# Sharding
client = boto3.client('s3')
result = client.list_objects(Bucket=s3://<bucket_name>, Prefix='tcga-svs-tfrecords/train/', Delimiter='/') j = -1
for i in range(num_of_shards): copy_source = { 'Bucket': s3://<bucket_name>, 'Key': result['Contents'][i]['Key'] } print(result['Contents'][i]['Key']) if i % gpus_per_host == 0: j += 1 dest = 'tcga-svs-tfrecords/train_sharded/' + str(j) +'/' + result['Contents'][i]['Key'].split('/')[2] print(dest) s3.meta.client.copy(copy_source, s3://<bucket_name>, dest) # Define inputs to SageMaker estimator
svs_tf_sharded = f's3://<bucket_name>/tcga-svs-tfrecords'
shuffle_config = sagemaker.session.ShuffleConfig(234)
train_s3_uri_prefix = svs_tf_sharded
remote_inputs = {} for idx in range(gpus_per_host): train_s3_uri = f'{train_s3_uri_prefix}/train_sharded/{idx}/' train_s3_input = s3_input(train_s3_uri, distribution ='ShardedByS3Key', shuffle_config=shuffle_config) remote_inputs[f'train_{idx}'] = train_s3_input remote_inputs['valid_{}'.format(idx)] = '{}/valid'.format(svs_tf_sharded)
remote_inputs['test'] = '{}/test'.format(svs_tf_sharded)

We use a SageMaker estimator to launch training on four instances of ml.p3.8xlarge. Each instance has four GPUs. Thus, there are a total of 16 GPUs. See the following code:

local_hyperparameters = {'epochs': 5, 'batch-size' : 16, 'num-train':160000, 'num-val':8192, 'num-test':8192} estimator_dist = TensorFlow(base_job_name='svs-horovod-cloud-pipe', entry_point='src/', role=role, framework_version='2.1.0', py_version='py3', distribution=distributions, volume_size=1024, hyperparameters=local_hyperparameters, output_path=f's3://<bucket_name>/output/', instance_count=4, instance_type=train_instance_type, input_mode='Pipe'), wait=True)

The following code snippet of the training script shows how to orchestrate Horovod with TensorFlow for distributed training:

mpi = False
if 'sagemaker_mpi_enabled' in args.fw_params: if args.fw_params['sagemaker_mpi_enabled']: import horovod.keras as hvd mpi = True # Horovod: initialize Horovod. hvd.init() # Pin GPU to be used to process local rank (one GPU per process) gpus = tf.config.experimental.list_physical_devices('GPU') tf.config.experimental.set_visible_devices(gpus[hvd.local_rank()], 'GPU')
else: hvd = None callbacks = []
if mpi: callbacks.append(hvd.callbacks.BroadcastGlobalVariablesCallback(0)) callbacks.append(hvd.callbacks.MetricAverageCallback()) if hvd.rank() == 0: callbacks.append(ModelCheckpoint(args.output_dir + '/checkpoint-{epoch}.ckpt', save_weights_only=True, verbose=2))
else: callbacks.append(ModelCheckpoint(args.output_dir + '/checkpoint-{epoch}.ckpt', save_weights_only=True, verbose=2)) train_dataset = train_input_fn(hvd, mpi)
valid_dataset = valid_input_fn(hvd, mpi)
test_dataset = test_input_fn()
model = model_def(args.learning_rate, mpi, hvd)"Starting training")
size = 1
if mpi: size = hvd.size(), steps_per_epoch=((args.num_train // args.batch_size) // size), epochs=args.epochs, validation_data=valid_dataset, validation_steps=((args.num_val // args.batch_size) // size), callbacks=callbacks, verbose=2)

Because Pipe mode streams the data to each of our instances, the training script cannot calculate the data size during training (which is needed to compute steps_per_epoch). The parameter is therefore provided manually as a hyperparameter to the TensorFlow estimator. Additionally, the number of data points must be specified so that it can be divided equally amongst the GPUs. An unequal division could lead to a Horovod deadlock, because the time taken by each GPU to complete the training process is no longer identical. To ensure that the data points are equally divided, we use the same of number of instances for preprocessing as the number of GPUs for training. In our example, this number is 16.

Inference and deployment

After we train the model using SageMaker, we deploy it for inference on new images. To set up a persistent endpoint to get one prediction at a time, use SageMaker hosting services. To get predictions for an entire dataset, use SageMaker batch transform.

In this post, we deploy the trained model as a SageMaker endpoint. The following code deploys the model to an m4 instance, reads tiled image data from TFRecords, and generates a slide-level prediction:

# Generate predictor object from trained model
predictor = estimator_dist.deploy(initial_instance_count=1, instance_type='ml.m4.xlarge') # Tile-level prediction
raw_image_dataset ='images/{local_file}') # read a TFrecord
parsed_image_dataset = # Parse TFrecord to JPEGs pred_scores_list = []
for i, element in enumerate(parsed_image_dataset): image = element[0].numpy() label = element[1].numpy() slide = element[2].numpy().decode() if i == 0: print(f"Making tile-level predictions for slide: {slide}...") print(f"Querying endpoint for a prediction for tile {i+1}...") pred_scores = predictor.predict(np.expand_dims(image, axis=0))['predictions'][0] pred_class = np.argmax(pred_scores) if i > 0 and i % 10 == 0: plt.figure() plt.title(f'Tile {i} prediction: {pred_class}') plt.imshow(image / 255) pred_scores_list.append(pred_scores)
print("Done.") # Slide-level prediction (average score over all tiles)
mean_pred_scores = np.mean(np.vstack(pred_scores_list), axis=0)
mean_pred_class = np.argmax(mean_pred_scores)
print(f"Slide-level prediction for {slide}:", mean_pred_class)

The model is trained on individual tile images. During inference, the SageMaker endpoint provides classification scores for each tile. These scores are averaged out across all tiles to generate the slide-level score and prediction. The following diagram illustrates this workflow.

A majority vote scheme would also be appropriate.

To perform inference on a large new batch of slide images, you can run a batch transform job for offline predictions on the dataset in Amazon S3 on multiple instances. Once the processed TFRecords are retrieved from Amazon S3, you can replicate the preceding steps to generate a slide-level classification for each of the new images.


In this post, we introduced a scalable machine learning pipeline for ultra high-resolution images that uses SageMaker Processing, SageMaker Pipe mode, and Horovod. The pipeline simplifies the convoluted process of large-scale training of a classifier over a dataset consisting of images that approach the gigapixel scale. With SageMaker and Horovod, we eased the process by distributing inputs across multiple compute instances, which reduces training time. We also provided a simple but effective strategy to aggregate tile-level predictions to produce slide-level inference.

For more information about SageMaker, see Build, train, and deploy a machine learning model with Amazon SageMaker. For the complete example to run on SageMaker, in which Pipe mode and Horovod are applied together, see the GitHub repo.


  1. Nicolas Coudray, Paolo Santiago Ocampo, Theodore Sakellaropoulos, Navneet Narula, Matija Snuderl, David Fenyö, Andre L. Moreira, Narges Razavian, Aristotelis Tsirigos. “Classification and mutation prediction from non–small cell lung cancer histopathology images using deep learning”. Nature Medicine, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41591-018-0177-5

About the Authors

Karan Sindwani is a Data Scientist at Amazon Machine Learning Solutions where he builds and deploys deep learning models. He specializes in the area of computer vision. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking.

Vinay Hanumaiah is a Deep Learning Architect at Amazon ML Solutions Lab, where he helps customers build AI and ML solutions to accelerate their business challenges. Prior to this, he contributed to the launch of AWS DeepLens and Amazon Personalize. In his spare time, he enjoys time with his family and is an avid rock climber.

Ryan Brand is a Data Scientist in the Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab. He has specific experience in applying machine learning to problems in healthcare and the life sciences, and in his free time he enjoys reading history and science fiction.

Tatsuya Arai, Ph.D. is a biomedical engineer turned deep learning data scientist on the Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab team. He believes in the true democratization of AI and that the power of AI shouldn’t be exclusive to computer scientists or mathematicians.

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Apply to join Transform’s annual Tech Showcase




Join Transform 2021 this July 12-16. Register for the AI event of the year.

VentureBeat’s annual Tech Showcase returns at Transform 2021: Accelerating Enterprise Transformation with AI and Data, hosted July 12-16.

VentureBeat will be selecting 5 companies to present the latest and greatest AI and data products on the main stage during the first day of Transform 2021.

We are looking for companies that have built the coolest products and solutions leveraging bleeding edge technologies to help businesses achieve real and tangible results using AI and data. Whether you are a stealth startup or Fortune 500, or anywhere in between, we welcome your submission.

If you have a story to tell, and an AI or Data product/solution with tangible business results and demonstrative use cases, please submit your application here before 5pm PST on Tuesday, June 1.

Selected companies will present on Transform’s main stage in front of hundreds of industry decision makers and will be featured in our on-demand video-hub following the event.

Attendees from across the globe will join online to hear from top industry experts on strategy and technology in the main application areas of AI/ML automation technology, data, analytics, intelligent automation, conversational AI, intelligent AI assistants, AI at the edge, IoT, & computer vision. Executives across industries are invited to join Transform 2021, so register today to join VentureBeat for 5-days of AI and data.


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TikTok removes 500k+ accounts in Italy after DPA order to block underage users




Video sharing social network TikTok has removed more than 500,000 accounts in Italy following an intervention by the country’s data protection watchdog earlier this year ordering it to recheck the age of all Italian users and block access to any under the age of 13.

Between February 9 and April 21 more than 12.5M Italian users were asked to confirm that they are over 13 years old, according to the regulator.

Online age verification remains a hard problem and it’s not clear how many of the removed accounts definitively belonged to under 13s. The regulator said today that TikTok removed over 500k users because they were “likely” to be under the age of 16; around 400,000 because they declared an age under 13 and 140,000 through what the DPA describes as “a combination of moderation and reporting tools” implemented within the app.

TikTok has also agreed to take a series of additional measures to strengthen its ability to detect and block underage users — including potentially developing AI tools to help it identify when children are using the service.

Reached for comment, TikTok sent us a statement confirming that it is trialling “additional measures to help ensure that only users aged 13 or over are able to use TikTok”.

Here’s the statement, which TikTok attributed to Alexandra Evans, its head of child safety in Europe:

“TikTok’s top priority is protecting the privacy and safety of our users, and in particular our younger users. Following continued engagement with the Garante, we will be trialling additional measures to help ensure that only users aged 13 or over are able to use TikTok.

“We already take industry-leading steps to promote youth safety on TikTok such as setting accounts to private by default for users aged under 16 and enabling parents to link their account to their teen’s through Family Pairing. There is no finish line when it comes to safety, and we continue to evaluate and improve our policies, processes and systems, and consult with external experts.”

Italy’s data protection regulator made an emergency intervention in January — ordering TikTok to recheck the age of all users and block any users whose age it could not verify. The action followed reports in local media about a 10-year-old girl from Palermo who died of asphyxiation after participating in a “blackout challenge” on the social network.

Among the beefed up measures TikTok has agreed to take is a commitment to act faster to remove underage users — with the Italian DPA saying the platform has guaranteed it will cancel reported accounts it verifies as belonging to under 13s within 48 hours.

The regulator said TikTok has also committed to “study and develop” solutions — which may include the use of artificial intelligence — to “minimize the risk of children under 13 using the service”.

TikTok has also agree to launch ad campaigns, both in app and through radio and newspapers in Italy, to raise awareness about safe use of the platform and get the message out that it is not suitable for under-12s — including targeting this messaging in a language and format that’s likely to engage underage minors themselves.

The social network has also agreed to share information with the regulator relating to the effectiveness of the various experimental measures — to work with the regulator to identify the best ways of keeping underage users off the service.

The DPA said it will continue to monitor TikTok’s compliance with its commitments.

Prior to the Garante’s action, TikTok’s age verification checks had been widely criticized as trivially easier for kids to circumvent — with children merely needing to input a false birth date that suggested they are older than 13 to circumvent the age gate and access the service.

A wider investigation that the DPA opened into TikTok’s handling and processing of children’s data last year remains ongoing.

The regulator announced it had begun proceedings against the platform in December 2020, following months of investigation, saying then that it believed TikTok was not complying with EU data protection rules which set stringent requirements for processing children’s data.

In January the Garante also called for the European Data Protection Board to set up an EU taskforce to investigate concerns about the risks of children’s use of the platform — highlighting similar concerns being raised by other agencies in Europe and the U.S.

In February the European consumer rights organization, BEUC, also filed a series of complaints against TikTok, including in relation to its handling of kids’ data.

Earlier this year TikTok announced plans to bring in outside experts in the region to help with content moderation and said it would open a ‘transparency’ center in Europe where outside experts could get information on its content, security and privacy policies.

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New book cites 4 forces to create disruption: Tech, policy, business models and social dynamics




The new book “Future Tech” asserts that this disruption is a good predictor of what’s coming next. For true change the forces must combine.

Future Tech by Trond Arne Undheim

” data-credit=”Image: Kogan Page”>future-tech-book.jpg

Future Tech by Trond Arne Undheim

Image: Kogan Page

According to Trond Arne Undheim, Ph. D., futurist and author, the combination of the four forces of technology, policy, business models and social dynamics are what create industry disruption. An understanding of these phenomena, he said, is predictive of the future. 

More about Innovation

Undheim, the former director of MIT startup exchange, examines the results of disruption in his latest book “Future Tech: How to Capture Value from Disruptive Industry Trends.” Undheim noted that technology is considered the single force for market disruption, but added that one only has to look at historical evidence to find tech stories that did not meet hyped expectations and failed. Undheim said that true change is only possible from the collaboration of science and technology, policy and regulation, new business models, or sharing economy and social dynamics, whether or not people adopt it.  

“Future Tech was written out of the realization that despite massive evidence to the contrary, the common understanding is that technology drives society when it is more of an interplay, especially for succeeding with innovation long term,” Undheim said. “It was part of my strategy to get the maximum out of learning from failure.” He cited his previous work, “Disruption Games: How To Thrive On Serial Failure,” where he pointed out that failing slowly and painfully is the best path to deep wisdom.”

His most recent book, however, “is a lighter take on the subject, drilling in on very basic, but fundamental forces of change in our contemporary world. I’m deeply engaged in understanding the future but in order to do that well, you have to have a framework in place. Otherwise, you end up just inductively looking at any random signal out there, thinking it is more than a fad or trend.”

SEE:  Money makes the world go round: Mobile wallets and the future of commerce (TechRepublic)

He describes his seven years at MIT, where he also taught at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, as “a 24/7 learning machine.” In “Future Tech,” Undheim asserted where disruptive forces will come from: “The next decade will be dominated by platform technologies such as AI, blockchain, robotics, synthetic biology and 3D printing.”

His discovery of the four forces, tech, policy, business models and social dynamics, “became the backbone of my work to try to structure the world’s information. Four is a simple enough concept that everyone can remember. Underlying each is a set of key dimensions, which I cover in the book. The point is to move beyond simply considering one force—technology. My work in government—as well as in standardization, which is important both to government and business—has sensitized me to the role that regulation plays in facilitating innovation. My work at MIT Sloan School of Management convinced me that business models no longer are a theoretical exercise carried out by management school professors; it literally makes or breaks businesses overnight. Finally, social dynamics is the correction that people provide on anything that is shiny. ‘Does it work for me? Will I share it with my peer group? Will I create a social movement to support or fight it?’ Society, ultimately, is a constellation made possible by social dynamics, meaning individuals acting in consort, forming teams, groups, networks and societies.”

As an example of the four forces at work, Undheim said, “AI is enabling analytics on epidemiologic patterns, drug discovery, advanced tracking of the supply chain and more, algorithms of some form will eventually facilitate nearly every human decision,” and added, “but perhaps not replace it.” 

Blockchain empowers “the next generation of peer-to-peer economic exchange in myriad fields, allowing this activity to occur without a middleman, thus encouraging the kind of distributed activity we need to foster in a post-centralized model where humans need to spread out to avoid contagion.” Despite the fact that blockchain is generally considered a financial solution, Undheim said it “is more akin to an exchange principle” and could empower human interactions and provide some sort of trackable ledger. 

In the time of a pandemic, it’s particularly relevant that “synthetic biology enables a much more efficient way to produce vaccines in the future and potentially could speed up clinical trials,” he said, and noted that “3D printing is enabling distributed production and consumption of manufactured items without going through a vulnerable, physical supply chain, even printing metals and now wood. Imagine what this might mean for sustainability if you can print physical goods using all kinds of recycled material, including organic.”

Undheim concluded: “The goal with all of my work is not only to help executives and policy makers better understand change but also to profit from it and make the world a better place,” 

He’s looking toward the big picture: “I’m always going for magnitudes of impact, not just incremental improvements. We don’t have much time. I reckon we have about 500 years left on this planet, if we are lucky. This is the subject of a book I’m hopefully coming out with in 2022.”

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