Last week I was proud to continue the tradition of Sopra Steria’s support of the Young Software Engineer of the year award, since its inception 20 years ago. Once again the entrants were outstanding (though I confess the technicalities of some project went right over my head!). Can Gafuroglu’s winning project was entitled ‘Joint prediction and Classification of Brain Image Evolution Trajectories from Baseline with Application to Early Dementia Diagnosis’. Our industry is about solving problems and this project underlines the significance of what can be achieved by the smart use of technology by #smartpeople.
The buzz at the dinner was incredible and underlined the spirit of ScotlandIS – that of #community.Our Sopra Steria table was no exception, with a mix of SMEs, customers and advisors. Plus Alison McLaughlin – now on secondment to Scottish Government Digital as part of the Digital Fellowship Programme.
And, #trees. Lizzy Yarnold was an inspirational speaker on the evening and reminded us all of the importance of belief, ambition and team work. She spoke about a book “The Inner Life of Trees”: What they feel, how they communicate. A brilliant parallel to business life – the need for constant communication, mutual support and networking.
Well done to ScotlandIS. The Scotsoft conference has once again reinforced our Smart Young People, Our Community and that we are a well-connected forest.
A splendid evening with around 250 people in attendance enjoyed a night of celebration of the volunteering community in the borough of Harrow. Ray Baker and myself were fortunate enough to share a table with the Leader of the council, Cllr Graham Henson and his wife, and fellow councillor Maxine Henson, amongst others. Canapés and bubbly were shared beforehand with a photo booth and a rousing introduction from the exuberant, The Worshipful The Mayor, Councillor Kareema Marikar.
Dinner was delicious range of Indian food and the compere moved things along briskly as the awards started being presented. Each group of nominees were called forward and the winner was invited onto the stage to receive their award from the guest presenter for the category. Runners up received a certificate extolling the virtues and winners a rather lovely glass trophy.
The Sopra Steria sponsored award was presented to the overall winners of all of the categories, i.e. the Volunteers of the Year. I was honoured to be invited on to stage to present this to the Infant Feeding Volunteers Peer Supporters.
Overall it was a fantastic evening that really celebrated the true nature of volunteerism and I’m proud that Sopra Steria can support this great work being done and I look forward to our continued involvement going forward.
We all have dreamt of flying, fighting with a lightsabre, and controlling objects with our mind. I was lucky enough to make one of my dreams come true when DigiLab UK went on an exploration journey of brain-computer interfaces. I recruited one fellow dreamer, a UX designer, along with me, the software engineer. We started to look at different aspects of BCI. The initial task chosen was to control an object with our mind, and in the journey, learn more about the technology. I was staring at my desk thinking about which object to control. Then there was my answer staring back at me, BB8 on my desk. Whether by fate or the force, we knew what we had to do. We would control BB8 using a BCI device, the Emotiv EPOC+, which was also available and previously used for hackathon project in Norway. I will take you through my journey of making this prototype with the help of a two-part series blog in the hopes of helping others who are starting to explore BCI technology.
The Emotiv EPOC+ headset comes along with 14 electrodes. Setup of the device is easy but tedious as you are required to soak the electrodes with saline solution each time before screwing them onto the device. This process is needed to get good connectivity between the user’s scalp and electrodes. For people with more hair, it is naturally more difficult to get good connectivity as they must adjust their hair to make sure there is nothing between the electrodes and scalp. For some connectivity levels were sufficient with dry electrodes but to save time I recommend that always soak the electrodes before using the device as you are more likely to get fast and good connectivity. There are many videos available online that guide you through the initial setup of the device.
Training mental commands
I aimed to control BB8 with EPOC+ headset, so I started to investigate the mental commands and its various functionalities. To use the mental commands you first need to train them. The training process enables the EPOC+ to analyze individual brainwaves and develop a personalized signature corresponding to the different mental action.
Emotiv Xavier control panel is an application that configures and demonstrates the Emotiv detection suites. It provides the user with an interface to train mental commands, view facial expressions, performance metric, raw data, and to upload data to Emotiv account. The user has the option to sign in to their account or use the application as a guest.
The user is required to make a training profile. Users have the option to have multiple training profiles under one Emotiv account. Each user needs their profile as each one of us possesses unique brain waves.
Let’s train the commands
The first mental command or action user must record is their “neutral” state. The neutral state is like a baseline or passive mental command. While recording this state, it is advisable to remain relaxed like when you are reading or watching TV. If the neutral state has not recorded correctly, the user will not be able to get any other mental commands working properly. For some recording, the neutral state results in better detection of other mental commands.
The “record neutral”button allows the user to record up to 30 seconds of neutral training data. The recording automatically finishes after 30 seconds, but the user has the option to stop recording any time they feel that enough data has been collected. At least 6 seconds of recorded data is required to update the signature.
After recording the neutral state, the user can start to train any one of the 13 different actions available. For my research, I only focused on two mental actions “push” and “pull.” Emotiv website provides tips and instruction on how to train the mental commands. It suggests remaining consistent in thoughts while training. To perform any mental action, users must replicate their exact thoughts process or mental state that they had during the training process. For example, if a user wants to train “push” command, it’s up to the user what they want to think or visualized for that action. Some users might imagine a cube going away from them, or some might imagine a cube shrinking, whatever works for them, but they need to remain consistent in their thoughts and mental state. If the user is distracted even for a second, it is advisable to retrain the action. As the user is able to train a distinct and reproducible mental state for each action, the detection of these actions become more precise. Mostly, the users must train an action several times before getting accurate results.
While I was trying to train the “push” action, I placed the BB8 on a white table and imagined it moving away from me. I replicated same thought, imagining BB8 going away from me on the table and was able to perform the mental action. However, when I placed the BB8 on the carpet, I failed. This may have been because the different colour of the carpet distracted me and I was unable to replicate my exact mental state, therefore, failed to perform the mental action. For me, the environment needed to be the same to reproduce my specific mental state. However, this varies from user to user.
Emotiv Xavier gives the option to view an animated 3D cube on the screen while training an action. Some users find it easier to maintain the necessary focus and consistency if the cube is automatically animated to perform the intended action as a visualization aid during the training process. A user can, therefore view themselves performing an action by viewing the cube. The cube remains stationary unless the user is performing one of the mental actions (if already trained) or unless the user selects “Animate model according to training action” checkbox for training purposes. It is advisable to train one action fully before moving on to the next one. It gets harder and harder to train as you add more mental actions.
Is the training process easy?
There are lots of tips and guidance given on Emotiv website for training mental commands. Users are given an interface to help them train and perform mental actions with the aid of animated 3D or 2D models. However, during my three days of training, I was not able to find an easy and generic way to train the mental commands. People are different. Some are more focused than others. Some like to close their eyes to visualize and perform the command. Some want help with animation. What I observed was that it depends on the person and how focused they are, and how readily they can replicate a state of mind. There is no straightforward equation. You need time and patience. I was only able to achieve 15 % skill rating after training two mental actions. Only one of my colleagues got 70% skill rating which he wasn’t able to reproduce later.
While searching for simpler ways to train mental commands I came across a process known as neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a procedure for observing your brain activity to understand and train your brain. A user observes what their brain is actually doing as compared to what they want it to be doing. The user monitors their brain waves, and if they are nearing the desired mental state, then they are rewarded with a positive response which can be music, video or advancing in a game. Neurofeedback is used to help reduce stress, anxiety, aid in sleeping, and for other forms of therapeutic assistance.
Neurofeedback is a great way to train your brain for mental commands. For example, if someone is trying to do “push” command,” they can observe their brain activities on screen and see if they are consistent. Then they can slowly and steadily train their brain to replicate a specific state. Emotiv provides the “Emotive 3D Brain Activity Map” and “Emotiv Brain Activity Map”, a paid application that can be used to monitor, visualize and adjust brainwaves in real time. For our research, we didn’t try these applications. If you try it out, let us know how you got on!
Training is like developing a new skill. Remember how you learned to ride a bike, or how you learned to drive? It took time and practice, and it’s the same for training mental commands. Companies do provide help by giving tips, instruction and software applications to help users train and visualize, but in the end, it’s acquiring a new skill, and users need practice. Some might learn faster than others, but for everyone it takes time.
On the 19th of September we had our first ‘Fintech Bites’ meetup, hosted at the premises of The IDco, a great new Fintech and Sopra Steria partner that focuses on Open Banking. The main theme was Digital Identities in Financial and Public Sectors. This was a soft launch event, with over 30 Financial Services professionals in attendance, including a number of representatives responsible for Fintech and Innovation from RBS, Lloyds and HSBCThe evening commenced with myself, Sopra Steria Consultant Taz Juozokas, introducing the meetup story and what we have in store for it in future. This was followed by UK Fintech Director Colin Carmichael talking about the Fintech Scotland ecosystem and what the key roles of each of the partners in Scotland are (Sopra Steria was announced as a Fintech Scotland partner in June 2018 with Managing Director of UK Consulting Melba Foggo on the Board of Executives).
The IDco were next to speak, with Digital & Open Banking Expert Andrew Garden and Digital Marketing Specialist Jimmy McLellan providing some great insight into their offerings.
Andrew gave a short overview of the interesting work The IDco has been doing in the digital identity space, as well as their future plans for KYC and AML automation for the Financial Services sector. He also showed us a demo of NoMo – a new digital finance management app. NoMo allows the customer to understand how well they are doing with finances and recommends spending based on this. It also does payment aggregation and alerts with personalised messages. You can test the private, beta version here.
Sopra Steria tech partner Wallet.Services closed the event, with speakers including Chairman Rab Campbell and CEO Stuart Fraser.
Rab covered the concept of blockchain and the work Wallet.Services have been doing with the Sopra Steria public sector. The audience was thrilled to learn about zero knowledge authentication enabled via distributed ledger technology. He also talked about their projects for Oil and Gas companies in Aberdeen, as well as the innovative work they have been doing with Citylets and partners regarding the safe sharing of rental information across the lettings market.
Wallet.Services created a digital identity on blockchain, which allows the registering of housing tenants rent payments in order to build their credit history.
The event has received great feedback from the audience and some interesting discussions were had afterwards. I would like to thank everyone who attended the event and showed an interest. Look out for more to come across the UK!
“Harrow’s Heroes” celebrates the hard work, dedication and commitment of local volunteers who make Harrow a special place to live and work. We are delighted to be involved in recognising the hundreds of unsung heroes that are doing so much in their communities and are looking forward to presenting the ‘Volunteer of the year award’ at tonight’s event and we want to wish the best of luck to everyone shortlisted.
As a company we’re committed to a spirit of volunteerism, Sopra Steria is honoured to again be part of the celebration which recognises the many hours volunteers dedicate to helping others and their incredible contributions to local causes. The commitment and achievements of those shortlisted in the awards is truly inspiring.
Sopra Steria was selected by Harrow Council to deliver IT services, including upgrading the IT systems across the council to ensure staff and residents can take advantage of new technology and can access more digital, on-line services.
In late July and early August, my colleague, Jen Rodvold, and I, had the opportunity to visit India for the purpose of seeing first-hand what the Sopra Steria India foundation does, and as Video Content Creator for the company, capture footage of the experience for those who are not as fortunate as me to have such an amazing opportunity. I was honoured to be invited and excited to go on a trip like this. What I didn’t expect, was for it to have such an impression on myself, and to become a real advocate for a cause as incredible and impactful as the Sopra Steria India foundation.
During the course of our 8-day trip, we visited Chennai, Pune, and Delhi, seeing various schools, homes and Sopra Steria offices. This allowed me to see the students that the Sopra Steria India foundation helps, and the volunteers and CSR workers that put in the hard work to allow the scheme to be such a success.
As soon as I arrived in India, it was clear to see the cultural difference between the UK and India. The poverty was highly evident, especially when we visited scholars in their homes. These scholars often lived in one-room homes, where entire families would live and care for each other. But because of our sponsorship, we gave them a vision of a route out of this difficult life. This was made evident in particular when one scholar’s mother was present during our interview. And as we finished, she spoke about how proud she was of her daughter, and began to get emotional, due to what her daughter is going to go onto achieve thanks to her hard work and our financial support. That was on the first day of our interviews, and therefore at the very start of my experience made me realise the Sopra Steria foundation really is making a huge difference to people’s lives.
Every student I saw clearly had so much desire and motivation to achieve their ambitions. They had a target, and they knew how to get there, through their hard work and dedication. They realised that they needed financial support to achieve their dreams, and were therefore very grateful that Sopra Steria had chosen them to make their dreams come true.
Along with seeing sponsored scholars, we visited schools that Sopra Steria provide support for. Each school we visited gave us an incredibly warm welcome with their hospitality, even putting on performances for the purpose of our arrival. The generosity and care of the teachers and students showed how grateful they were because of our support. The Sopra Steria India foundation provides computers to schools throughout the country, where the children are given the opportunity to apply their creativity and learn much more necessary skills in order to succeed in the future. Along with computers, the Sopra Steria India foundation provides the basic amenity of clean drinking water through the installation of water towers. Without our help, the children wouldn’t have such a basic necessity provided for them, which is truly shocking. This is why the scheme must continue and grow.
As the volunteers vocalised (and as I saw for myself), it is a shame we cannot sponsor every child and support every school. In one school, I saw young students expressing their ambitions and future wishes, and if they did have the financial support I could see them achieving them. And although we cannot help every single child, we can certainly try our best to help as many as we can through the continued support of the Sopra Steria India foundation.
Through the course of the next few months, various videos will be created from the footage I filmed, and will be published to further explain the Sopra Steria India foundation, and clearly show how it greatly helps underprivileged communities.
Recently my colleague, Max Barker, and I spent some time in India to visit and film the schools and educational centres Sopra Steria supports, and meet some of the students, teachers, volunteers and recipients of our scholarships. What I saw was transformational – demonstrable positive impact.
In only 8 days, we travelled to our three main Indian centres (Chennai, Pune and Noida). Although it was a short visit, it doesn’t take long to get a sense for the scale of the need in India. Until this year, India had for decades held the undesirable distinction as the country with the world’s largest proportion of its population living in extreme poverty, less than $1.90 per day. And of course the population we’re talking about is huge – over 1.3 billion – an unimaginable figure for most of us, but one that you start to get a feel for in the country’s frenetic cities, where even as gleaming new buildings and signs of development appear everywhere, so do heart-wrenching scenes of hardship.
But next to the scale of the need, I saw something else: in our visits to schools, and conversations with students, teachers, principals, volunteers and my colleagues, I saw determination and dedication like I’ve never seen. The students, ranging in age from 6 to 17, came to school joyful, curious, anticipating their day of learning and ready to work hard. Every day we visited at least two schools, and the warm welcome from students and staff, boisterous greetings from the children, and the visible commitment to learning was always inspiring and energizing.
We were also honoured by several of the scholars we are supporting through university to be invited to their homes, where we saw that despite extraordinarily challenging circumstances, these young people are the embodiment of hope and ambition. They told us how they planned to do well in university, get a good job, then help support their families. One scholar, pictured below, had lost her mother and had basically raised her sister while her father worked in low-paying jobs, still managing to come top in her class and get into a good college. The three of them lived in one windowless room in a highrise slum in Noida, the possibility of complete destitution never far off.
The hundreds of people making our schools and scholarships programme also made an indelible impression on me, from the Sopra Steria volunteers who give their time to teach classes and are met with riotous cheers from the young pupils who love them, to the retired engineer who volunteers full time at a girls’ school in Noida, teaching maths. Our programme works because of their dedication, too.
Our programme is special for another important reason: it takes a holistic approach that yields sustainable results. All of the recipients of the Sopra Steria scholarships were once students in the schools that we support, which means we have been working with them, supporting them, getting to know them, their families and their circumstances before they apply for a scholarship. We select our scholars based on academic performance and potential, and financial need, all of which we have real insight into because of the depth of our relationships with them. Unlike other programmes that simply fund scholarships without that connection to the students, the schools, the teachers and principals, ours helps to ensure that our investment is not just in an individual, but in their family, their community and their collective future. Our scholars are committed to building a better life not just for themselves, but for as many people as they can reach by getting into gainful employment and sharing their success. Our relatively small gift is multiplied through their dedication and generosity of spirit.
Over the coming months, we’ll be releasing several videos from our time there to introduce you to the work of the Sopra Steria India Foundation and the Sopra Steria Scholarship programme. Keep an eye out for these so you, too, can see how these powerful programmes are making a huge difference.