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IBM backs blockchain solutions for developing Canadian cannabis industry



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Canada’s soon-to-be legalized cannabis industry could create as much as $22 billion in revenue, and now provincial governments are searching for tools to deal with the newly regulated commodity.

Tech industry leader IBM sees blockchain as an ideal way to ensure transparency in the new cannabis market and to address concerns with criminal activity or fraud. IBM has suggested that Canadian officials evaluate the advantages of using blockchain to control the supply and management for the growing cannabis market.

Blockchain brings cross-industry transparency

Blockchain is a shared digital ledger that records transactions, allowing for the transparent tracking of exchanges. IBM is promoting blockchain technology as a valuable tool for a wide range of business sectors, particularly regulated industries.

The technology company partnered with banking groups such as Bank of Montreal and UBS to create a trading platform based on blockchain technology, called Batavia. IBM is also pursuing the use of blockchain to improve food supply chain safety along with a group of leading food retailers.

The pharmaceutical industry is already witnessing the benefits of blockchain’s advanced digital ledger technology. According to Pharmaceutical Technology magazine, the industry can use the new technology to ensure security, and blockchain can aid with the secure transmission of sensitive patient data and clinical information.

Tracking cannabis from plant to store sale

IBM have passed on their proposal to the government of British Columbia, according to the website Smat2Zero. The proposal outlines how blockchain can be used to track the distribution of the drug, from cultivation to point of sale.

IBM suggests that blockchain will aid and offer visibility for sourcing, selling, and pricing of products. Moreover, certified producers will be able to track inventory and supply.

The technology company submitted their proposal in response to a request for public feedback issued by the Western Canadian province.

A new kind of network

Through the use of data analytics, producers will also be able to make meaningful demand projections and review consumption trends. Moreover, everyone within the network will be able to see all of the data; real-time data collection would further allow the cannabis products to be tracked and traced at any given time point.

IBM pointed out that, “This type of transparency would bring a new level of visibility and control to the provincial regulators.”

While the potential application of blockchain to cannabis production is headline grabbing, the news adds another layer to the growing applications of blockchain to pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

The exchange of data in healthcare happens in high frequency among stakeholders, across varying platforms and technologies, creating the risk of error and vulnerability to cyberattack. Blockchain could be the key to changing that high risk exchange for the better.

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9 out of 10 digital transformation projects will fail



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Digital transformation is now a widely accepted term in enterprises across every industry. While leaders have embraced the idea, a report has found businesses are struggling to implement transformation strategies, with just one in ten projects successful.

The survey from Couchbase found that 90 percent of digital transformation projects have either fallen below planning expectations, delivered only minor improvements or altogether failed. The NoSQL database vendor surveyed 450 CIOs, CTOs and digital leaders at companies with over 1,000 employees in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany.

According to the survey respondents, problems usually occur due to a lack of business agility. The scope, scale and requirements of digital projects can shift significantly during their implementation. When these projects are completed in the context of a large enterprise, they are limited by existing processes that don’t possess the same flexibility.

This has created a disparity between businesses in traditional industries and start-ups focused on tech. Start-ups tend to be implicitly focused on the aims of transformation: improved productivity and an extended customer experience. Larger businesses stand to benefit the most from digital transformation but often find themselves constrained by the nature of their industry.

Specific challenges cited by the survey respondents included a lack of preparation within the organisation and a restrictive reliance on legacy technology. A combination of these problems means most companies find themselves unable to implement their digital transformation strategies, even if the original plan is sound.

This matters because an overwhelming majority of the business leaders surveyed agreed a successful digital transformation will be critical to the future success of their company. A full 73 percent said their industry is being disrupted by new technology, with a further 16 percent saying they expect a transition to be just a matter of time.

The consequences for firms that don’t adapt could be severe. Couchbase previously reported that 54 percent of companies expect to fail if they miss the impending digital transformation revolution. Companies are desperately trying to avoid being made irrelevant by the next Amazon or Uber. However, with only a small minority of digital projects succeeding, the CIOs and CTOs responsible for their implementation are becoming increasingly concerned.

Couchbase warned that enterprises are facing a “stark choice” as they move to put their transformation plans into motion. Companies need to balance the maintenance of their legacy systems with the introduction of modern customer-first alternatives. As entire industries migrate to digital approaches, studying success stories will be vital to installing satisfactory implementations.

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Microsoft ‘AI for Earth’ initiative uses tech to help the planet



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Microsoft is unleashing AI on environmental issues facing the planet.

The company is specifically looking at using data to solve problems in the fields of agriculture, biodiversity, climate change and water access.

The initiative, called AI for Earth, is described as a program to “empower people and organizations” to solve challenges in the environment and climate. Microsoft thinks that making AI more accessible could enable breakthroughs in sustainability that help to protect the Earth.

Microsoft has committed $2 million in the next fiscal year to facilitate this work. It will partner with individuals and organizations who have ideas for the future, offering AI tools to accelerate their projects.

Microsoft’s not going to be directly investing in companies or taking equity stakes. Instead, it wants to provide tangible resources in the form of artificial intelligence. It’s part of a wider endeavour within the company to position itself as a leading member of the AI industry. Solving sustainability challenges using AI will give Microsoft and the technology a place to demonstrate its benefits from.

Organisations involved with AI for Earth will be offered grants that enable them to access Microsoft’s Azure cloud and AI computing tools. The company will also provide education on artificial intelligence, informing project leaders of what’s available and how it works.

“Our goal is to empower others in new and more impactful ways to help create a more sustainable future,” said Microsoft. “This program expands our commitments to democratizing AI and advancing sustainability around the globe. And it builds upon our experience in accelerating the pace of innovation bringing together philanthropic work, connectivity advances and more accessible technology around the world.”

There are currently three “lighthouse” projects in AI for Earth.

  1. FarmBeats is a data-driven approach to farming that helps farmers improve their yield and lower costs.
  2. Project Premonition is tracking mosquitoes to monitor the spread of diseases.
  3. Land Cover Mapping is a fast land mapping system being used by an NGO to help conserve the Chesaspeake watershed.

Applications are currently open for groups looking to enrol in the program.

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Data analytics show flash droughts’ impact on U.S. wheat crops



Photo by Fabian Mardi on Unsplash
Photo by Fabian Mardi on Unsplash
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The “flash drought” came out of nowhere, hitting the High Plains states of Montana and the Dakotas the hardest, destroying more than half of this year’s wheat crop.

The intense drought is so bad the multi-agency U.S. Drought Monitor recently upgraded the drought to “exceptional,” its highest drought designation, akin to the drought that crippled California for five years.

The term, “flash drought” is relatively new, only coming into use in 2016. Flash drought refers to relatively short periods of warm surface temperature and extremely low and rapid decreasing soil moisture (SM). Based on the physical mechanisms associated with flash droughts, these events are classified into two categories: heat wave and precipitation P deficit flash droughts, according to researchers.

In their research, scientists noted that heat wave flash droughts are most likely to occur over the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, where the vegetation cover is dense. So the flash drought occurring on the High Plains is called a heat wave flash drought.

The Associated Press says the dry conditions are “laying waste to crops and searing pasture and hay land” in America’s new wheat belt. Many longtime farmers and ranchers are saying it’s the worst of their lifetimes. “The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable,” Montana resident Sarah Swanson said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

These “flash droughts” are expected to become more frequent as climate change continues to affect our environment and weather patterns. Climate scientists have already predicted the High Plains will essentially turn to desert over the coming decades and centuries. But we must also remember that declining levels of groundwater from intense irrigation, also have to be taken into account.

What is being done to provide early detection of flash droughts?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ranks droughts and flash droughts second in terms of national weather-related economic impacts behind hurricanes, which cause annual losses of nearly $9.0 billion. To provide earlier detection of flash droughts, the Quick Drought Response Index, or QuickDRI, went operational in June 2017.

QuickDRI is a collaboration between the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) and Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies (CALMIT) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science (USGS EROS) Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS), and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

The QuickDRI geospatial tool detects short-term changes and rapid intensification of drought conditions through the integration of satellite, climate, and biophysical information on a weekly basis at a 1.0 kilometer (0.62 miles) gridded spatial resolution.

You could liken QuickDRI to an “alarm,” because it is an indicator of events that are happening rapidly, like a few days in time. Jesslyn Brown, a project co-investigator and lead for QuickDRI operations at the U.S. Geological Survey says, “We expect it to be especially helpful for decisions related to irrigation and fire management.”

QuickDRI has a companion prediction platform called Vegetation Drought Response Index, or VegDRI, which gives us a picture of drought’s impact on vegetation, however, VegDRI is a seasonal drought indicator.

“Preliminary assessment of QuickDRI shows that it consistently detects short-term dryness patterns across the continental U.S.,” said Dr. Brian Wardlow, the co-principal investigator of the QuickDRI project and director of the Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The economic impact of the drought and numerous wildfires burning across the High Plains may exceed $1 billion across the by the time the rains return. Ranchers from as far away as West Virginia have been sending donations of hay to their neighbors in the drought-stricken states. And to add to farmer’s miseries, the Trump administration is proposing heavy cuts to a key federal crop insurance program.

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