About Monty

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.

The Honeybee solves maths tests without a sting

University of Sheffield study discovers that the honeybee can solve a type of maths test using non-numerical cues

honeybee

The honeybee can solve a type of maths test without any need for numbers – a discovery that could be used to develop smarter artificial intelligence – according to new research from the University of Sheffield.

In the study, by researchers in the University’s Department of Computer Science and their international collaborators, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, honeybees were found to be using continuous, non-numerical cues to solve a maths problem. 

The insight into how honeybees solve numerical problems could be used to design more sophisticated machines based on the brains of animals, which have evolved to find the simplest, most efficient way to carry out certain tasks.

The methods used in the study could also provide a new, alternative blueprint for testing numerical cognition in animals. Most previous studies attempt to control for at least one non-numerical cue, whereas the Sheffield study is the first to propose a new method that carefully assesses non-numerical continuous cues. 

Determining how different brains, especially those with a miniature brain, solve numerical tasks also provides a valuable insight into the evolutionary roots of cognition.

The ability to use numbers is a powerful cognitive capacity of humans, but replicating their full sophistication via AI is not possible with current approaches. With animals often being very good at finding efficient and sometimes unexpected solutions to problems, it is worth finding out which of their shortcuts could be useful for developing autonomous machines 

Through a task that is commonly used to test numerical cognition in bees and a variety of other animals, the Sheffield team discovered that honeybees can discriminate between placards displaying different numbers of elements without their brains having to process numerical data.

Honeybees were individually trained to identify placards showing different numbers of shapes. Some bees learned to find a sugary reward at the placards that had the most shapes on display while others learned to find the sugary treat at the placards showing the fewest number of shapes.

Once the bees learned this rule, they were able to quickly identify the placard with the highest or lowest number of shapes on them in order to find the sugary treat.

Since these visual cues are computationally simpler to process by a bee’s brain, it is a more efficient way for bees to use them in solving the task, instead of solving a complex cognitive task of numerosity.

To determine if the honeybee used non-numerical clues, they were then tested with two pairs of placards that all contained the same number of shapes but differed in edge length, convex hull and spatial frequency. None of the placards had a sugary treat and if the bees used numerosity they should have flown to each placard equally in search of a reward.

The study found that bees trained to find the placards with the highest number of shapes still flew to signs with the highest level of continuous variables and bees that were trained to find the placards with the lowest number shapes still flew to the signs with the lowest level of continuous variables, and ignored numbers. This suggests the honeybees responded to continuous cues on the shapes and not the number of elements.

Dr HaDi MaBouDi, the lead author on the paper who is based at the University of Sheffield, said: “The results of our study show that animals are incredibly clever and can solve tasks in effective and unexpected ways. This will be very practical in the future of artificial intelligence for designing smart machines based on animals that have evolved for some particular tasks.”

To further test the hypothesis, the bees were shown placards with visual cues that were opposite to the number of shapes on the placards. For example, placards that had three shapes on display but had a lower spatial frequency than the placards with two shapes.

To determine how efficient this non-numeric strategy was for the honeybee, the researchers also created a model based on known details of the honeybee brain. This bee brain model was able to solve several other similar numeric-based tasks without any need for number processing – similar to the real honeybees. 

The research paper, Non-numerical strategies used by bees to solve numerical cognition tasks, is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. To view the paper, visit: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2020.2711

Pension carbon emissions are a national scandal

Nearly 69% of adults are worried their company pension is investing in businesses that are contributing to climate change

pension

Research from Cushon, a FinTech workplace savings disrupter, has found that a staggering 99.5% of the population have no idea about the scale of carbon emitted as a result of their pension’s investments.

When coupled with the fact that each average UK pension pot finances the CO2 equivalent of nine family cars, this lack of awareness is a ‘national scandal’.

According to Cushon’s recent research, more than eight in ten (84%) people are concerned about climate change and 69% are specifically worried that their company pension could be investing in businesses that are contributing to climate change.

In 1995, the average carbon emissions per capita in the UK were 9.3 tonnes. Over the last 25 years the population has actively managed to reduce this output to 5.9 tonnes, yet the way people invest their pension pots remains relatively unchanged and finances nearly four times our personal emissions.

Choosing to use a climate-friendly pension is minimal effort and saves the CO2 equivalent of 27 years’ of recycling each year.

With £2.2 trillion of assets held by pensions, and 62% of the population saying that they would engage more with their pension if they knew their money was making a positive impact on climate change, this exposes a massive missed opportunity for the UK to simultaneously do good for the planet and encourage healthier saving habits for retirement.

Climate change and savings habits are inextricably linked, and the pension sector’s part in this is a considerable, if poorly understood, part of the equation. In fact, each pension pot in the UK finances an average of 23 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year[6] through its investments.  Yet, only a tiny fraction of the population is aware of this.

Responding to this issue, Cushon recently launched a world first Net Zero Now pension. In doing so, their members are actively contributing towards slowing climate change and a 1.5 degree target. The fund has a management fee of just 0.15%, while offering highly competitive returns without sacrificing performance.

Responding to the Cushon research, Baroness Ros Altmann CBE, former UK Pension Minister, said: “It is about time we put people’s pension savings to good use in the battle to protect our planet and knowing their money can help long term sustainability will encourage more people to feel proud of their pensions.

Sienna Network Raises $11.2 Million For Privacy DeFi

Sienna networkPrivacy Decentralised Finance (DeFi) company Sienna Network has raised $11.2 million after a private and public sale of its tokens from institutional investors and the expanding Sienna community.

In the private token sale that was 200% oversubscribed and priced at $5 per token, Sienna Network raised $10 million from long-term investors that include NGC, Inclusion Capital, Lotus Capital, FBG, Skyvision Capital and more.

This was followed by a dual public sale at $6 per token that raised $1.2 million on the DaoMaker and Polkastarter exchanges after the company was swamped by huge interest and demand for the Sienna Governance Token. 

Sienna is solving the industry-wide problem of front-running where bad actors hijack future trades on public DeFi blockchains, leading to a demand for DeFi privacy. 

Execution priority on platforms such as Ethereum are driven by transaction fees. A transaction can be preempted by simply introducing a transaction and paying a higher transaction fee and is illegal in regulated financial systems. Hence front-running.

“It has been an extraordinary month and we have hit a super-sweet spot between institutional investment and our community. 

“At times it has felt like starring in The Social Network in the early days of Facebook with pings coming in from everywhere. The future looks so bright, we will have to wear shades,” said Monty Munford, Chief Evangelist and Core Contributor to Sienna Network.

Built on the Secret Network, which is the first blockchain with privacy-preserving smart contracts, and was recently profiled in a seminal TechCrunch piece article on Privacy DeFi, Sienna is a privacy-first and cross-chain decentralized finance platform where the Sienna community can privately swap, lend and convert its tokens into their private equivalent.

“Sienna’s success validates the vision we’ve long shared to bring data privacy to blockchains and decentralized applications. We believe Sienna will be a key pillar of Secret DeFi and help drive mass adoption of a more secure decentralized financial ecosystem,” said Tor Bair, CEO Secret Network.

Sienna was named after the Italian city Siena (Sienna in English), which played a historical role in banking and cryptography as early as 1135 AD when Sienna was an important trading post.

Loans against collateral and interest were offered to Sienna citizens while simultaneously, the world’s original bankers, the Knights Templar, initiated a huge network of money transfer locations so people could deposit money in the Veneto region and travel to places such as Sienna of Venice without the risk of being robbed.

Upon arrival at either destination, merchants could withdraw their money from a Templar location by handing in an encrypted document. The Templars had also invented a unique kind of encryption that would allow people to travel with a document that could only be decrypted by the Templars.

IAS gives Admix In-Play advertising the thumbs-up

IAS independently measures views ability of Admix’s In-Play inventory

IASAdmix, the pioneering In-Play advertising platform that bridges the gap between mobile games and brands, has announced a new partnership with Integral Ad Science (IAS), a global leader in digital ad verification.

This integration with IAS makes Admix the only In-Play advertising company to offer ad inventory that is measured and verified by an independent partner.

Consequently, the quality of Admix’s In-Play advertising is assessed and verified with the same rigour as wider digital inventory. This measurement is enabled by the powerful technology that IAS provides, helping to unlock significant potential across the In-Play category for the entire mobile advertising ecosystem, from brands to mobile game developers.

Admix offers the most advanced, scalable In-Play platform, empowering advertisers to programmatically target and reach highly engaged audiences across billions of hours of gameplay. Until now, however, Admix created its own measurement tools, meaning the industry was unable to invest at scale with the same confidence provided by this integration with IAS.

“This announcement will be ground-breaking not just for Admix, our developers and advertisers, but for the entire category. At Admix, we regularly hear from agencies who recognize that gaming is a huge part of media consumption and want to make video gaming part of their core strategy.

“Until now, they have been hamstrung by a lack of third-party verification. Thanks to IAS and our technology, brands and agencies can now jump in with full confidence and put compelling, premium ad experiences in front of mobile gaming’s 2.5 billion players,” said Samuel Huber, Admix CEO.

Publishers have already experienced stable and sustainable income through Admix’ self-serve platform and no-code SDK, but the partnership with IAS will help increase media quality and buyer confidence. Just as crucially, Admix offers marketers access to superior inventory to gradually reduce their reliance on interruptive advertising, such as interstitials and rewarded video, thereby improving player experience and retention.

“Working with Admix, we’re delivering a critical viewability solution for In-Play advertising that gives marketers the tools they need to invest confidently. By bringing trusted measurement and greater transparency to the high-growth In-Play gaming market, we’re helping brands, agencies, and mobile game developers ensure the quality of their advertising,” said Chance Johnson, Chief Revenue Officer at IAS.

This news signals gaming’s transition from the most popular entertainment activity to dominant media, heralding a transformative moment for the advertising industry as it approaches mobile gaming and its 2.5 billion audience. Powered by Admix’ pioneering technology, In-Play is set to become a dominant media channel for the next decade and beyond.

Erase All Kittens secures $1 million seed investment

Erase All Kittens is for young players, especially girls, to learn how to code

erase-all-kittensAfter reaching 160,000 players in more than 100 countries, the company has raised a $1 million round led by Twinkl Educational Publishing, with participation from first investor Christian Reyntjens of A Black Square family office, including one of the founders of Shazam.

The funding will be used to develop a more gamified version of Erase All Kittens (EAK) teaching HTML, CSS and Javascript – the languages of all websites and web apps – to kids aged 8-12. It will be launched in July and sold to parents and schools worldwide.

EAK’s research shows that 55% of its players are girls and 95% want to learn more about coding after playing. The existing game is currently free and is being used in over 3,000 schools, with traction having increased by 500% since March 2020.

“We’re designing a coding game that girls genuinely love – one that places a huge emphasis on creativity”, said Dee Saigal, co-founder, CEO and Creative Director.

The female-founded team believe that code education tools for children naturally appeal more to boys because the vast majority have been built by men – with many teaching coding in a similar and instructional way.

They carried out two years of R&D resulting in a game that teaches girls and boys as young as eight years olds transferable digital skills, allowing them to create on the web.

“Girls can see instant results as they code, there are different ways to progress through the game, and learning is seamlessly blended with storytelling,” concludes Saigal.

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