FS Fives: Monday, July 11

Welcome to the latest FS Fives – FutureScot’s lunchtime round-up of Scottish digital news.

First up, Graeme Smith, director of Amazon’s research and development centre in Edinburgh, has shared some of the practices the company uses to get the best out of its mix of software engineers, data scientists and machine-learning specialists. A common challenge posed to staff is what Smith calls ‘constraint-based thinking’. Staff are asked to imagine how their approach to a particular problem or project would differ under vastly differing circumstances. For example, how would you complete a project if, rather than having six months to complete it, you had two weeks? Or, how would you realise an idea if you had a team of 500 rather than five people? Or, how would you tackle this work if you had infinite computing power? “One of the ways we get great ideas is we think about adding and removing constraints. You have to solve this problem in a totally different way.”

Next, news of plans by the Scottish Government to progress digital transformation of the planning system using tools including the web and 3D visualisations to make information about how places will evolve over time much easier to access and understand. It is one of 10 recommendations for speeding up the planning process and delivering home homes. The Government will work with local authorities, developers and community groups to develop more detailed proposals for reform, which will be fully consulted on later this year. This will pave the way for a new Planning Bill to be brought forward to the Scottish Parliament in 2017.

A ‘mapathon’ in Glasgow has helped Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross by creating maps of vulnerable places, providing a vital resource for their on-the-ground staff as well as local people. For a measles vaccination campaign to be successful, 95% of the people within the area need to be vaccinated in order to stop the spread of the disease. But how do you perform the campaign if you’re not sure how many people need vaccinating? Within a week of a measles outbreak being declared on the island of Idjwi in Democratic Republic of Congo, ‘Missing Maps‘ communities in Glasgow and Brussels and came together to provide vital details to allow MSF teams on the ground to plan their course of action.

We’re getting better at shrinking the physical size of data storage devices while simultaneously increasing the stoarge capacity, with hundreds of gigabytes of data squeezing onto devices that fit in the palm of a hand. But far more data is produced each year than our current technology will be able to keep up with as the world’s total data heads towards an estimated 44 trillion GB by 2020. Now DNA is being explored as a potential means of data storage; a team of researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington has broken a new record, managing to store and retrieve 200 MB of data on strands of DNA.

And finally … OMG Digital, which took part in a recent Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, is ‘basically Buzzfeed for Africa‘.