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Amazon Web Services makes pitch to retailers

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AWSAmazon is giving AWS more tools to lure retailers.Reuters

  • Amazon is pitching Amazon Web Services as a way to enable retailers to become more like Amazon.com’s own retail operation.
  • It’s in the face of stiff competition from competing cloud providers Google and Microsoft, which have beefed up their offerings.
  • AWS will still likely lose at least some of its retail business, as retailers move to what they see as more neutral platforms that can offer the same benefits.

On January 11, Phil Thompson, industry CTO for retail at Amazon Web Services, stood in front of an assembled group of retail professionals at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in Manhattan.

His pitch: let us help you.

“This is the industry I believe that really needs to take advantage of it,” he told the retailers, referring to AWS’ technological prowess.

It was Amazon’s only official appearance at the event, apart from the AWS booth on the expo floor itself. 

Amazon Web Services is still the largest and most complete cloud services provider for most industries, including retail. It generated more than $25.6 billion in revenue in 2018, a 47% increase year over year, according to Amazon’s most recent earnings report.

Amazon is also the largest online retailer in the US, estimated to account for half of all online sales, Emarketer data shows.

AWS can’t ignore the retail part of its parent company’s business. Amazon.com is listed as the top case study for the retail industry on the AWS website, before it lists customers like Under Armour, Brooks Brothers, and Lululemon.

“They really can’t pretend that they’re not hosting their own retail site,” Dave Bartoletti, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said to Business Insider. “I don’t think it’s unholy. I think they’re saying why not use the best platform like we do? And maybe we can help you be like us.”

Read more: Amazon generated $30 billion in cash last year, and it could be just the ammunition the company needs to start a price war

Making other companies more like Amazon

Instead of downplaying the AWS-Amazon.com connection, Amazon’s pitch is that AWS gives retailers the tools to sell like Amazon. It recently revealed two new tools aimed at retailers: Amazon Forecast and Amazon Personalize.

Forecast is “based on the same technology used at Amazon.com,” according to the AWS website, and it uses machine learning to attempt to deliver predictions for how much demand there will be for a retailer’s product.

Personalize is something most Amazon.com customers already know: it is the same technology that enables personalized recommendations for products. Amazon is now making it available for other retailers to use.

Earlier in 2018, Amazon also added Connect, which is an AWS tool based off of the structure Amazon built for its own customer call center.

“We took it, all of those algorithms, all those machine-learning things that we’ve been learning over the last 20 years, that we’ve been fine-tuning and refining,” Thompson said of the two new offerings while on stage at the NRF conference.We took that and said we’re going to make that available as a service to AWS users.”

Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, or AWS, the retail giant's cloud-computing business.Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services.Mike Blake/Reuters

“Many retailers choose AWS for the same reasons that customers across all industries do: they want their builders to have the most functionality, access to the largest partner ecosystem, and the strongest security and operational performance,” a spokesperson for AWS told Business Insider.

“But, many of these retailers have also asked AWS to help them leverage Amazon’s decades of experience serving retail customers around the world, which is why we’ve built services like Amazon Personalize, Amazon Forecast, and Amazon Connect — all of which incorporate Amazon.com innovations and technology to help AWS’s retail customers operate more efficiently and deliver better customer experiences at lower cost.”

An ‘existential threat’

Making a retailer more like Amazon could prove a compelling pitch to retailers struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. 

But as Amazon becomes a larger company and broader retailer with its large number of private labels and expanding physical store footprint, retailers may become more wary of hosting all of their data on an Amazon server farm.

That’s not because their data is in danger. According to Amazon’s own rules, it can’t use customers’ content for any unauthorized purposes. Amazon has nothing to gain from using its customers’ data for nefarious purposes, but it has everything to lose, Bartoletti notes. 

If they started using data that they’re hosting for people to learn about their businesses, they’d be out of business so fast,” he said. “They have such a Chinese wall up between these businesses, the retail business at Amazon is not learning anything from what retail customers are doing with AWS.”

But just because Amazon says it won’t peek into the data doesn’t mean large retailers are apt to trust it.

Walmart, by far the US’ largest retailer, is working on integrating its cloud services with Microsoft’s Azure platform, Walmart CTO Jeremy King said during a separate panel at the NRF’s conference. But Walmart doesn’t want its partners and vendors to use AWS either, according to a report in the WSJ from 2017.

At the time, a Walmart spokesperson told the WSJ: “It shouldn’t be a big surprise that there are cases in which we’d prefer our most sensitive data isn’t sitting on a competitor’s platform.”

AWS likely realizes it will never hook these large retailers who sell a wide variety of goods like Amazon does. Instead, it’s likely that other retail players who already partner with Amazon to sell their goods — or don’t directly compete in categories like luxury goods — are prepared to partner with AWS.

Over time, Amazon’s bold moves may eventually scare off even these retailers, however.

“I do think more and more retailers might find it easier to work with a company that they don’t see existential threat competition from down the road,” Bartoletti said.

AWS had a large head start in cloud computing, but now other players like Microsoft and Google are catching up in their offerings, if not yet in market share. It is now completely possible to build a retail platform using these services, unlike five years ago, Bartoletti said.

“The good thing for retailers is the options keep getting better,” he said.And the difference between the cloud platforms keeps getting smaller.”

Many retailers are happy with Amazon’s suite of cloud services. But Bartoletti said he expects to continue to see retailers move off of AWS and onto competitors’ platforms.

“I think it would be crazy if we didn’t see that just because of [retailers] feeling an existential threat,” Bartoletti said.

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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