To serve and protect? Strategies for an artificially super-intelligent future


Vantage Consulting director David Miller is leading a presentation and discussion on the global risks arising from super-intelligence as part of the Hutt City Council’s STEMM Festival. His talk takes place on Thursday May 18 from 5.30-6.30pm at The Dowse Art Museum, 45 Laings Road, Lower Hutt, Wellington – in the James Coe 2 Room.

The following is David’s brief outline of what he will cover. It is also being promoted as an EXOSphere Meetup.

 

This is a subject in which I’ve had a keen interest for several years.

Despite not having any domain expertise in the technical disciplines associated with artificial intelligence, it has been fascinating to read about the potential for the so-called “singularity” – a hypothetical point when artificial intelligence exceeds and then accelerates far beyond human intelligence.

While argument from authority is never valid, it is interesting to note that some of the world’s relevant leading thinkers on the subject have expressed significant concerns, e.g. Stephen Hawkings, Eion Musk.

The writings and thinking of Prof Nick Bostrom at Oxford University are especially stimulating, and I will draw on several of his important ideas. There are of course some who assure us that there is no risk. Remember the bright sparks (sometimes “experts” in their day) who assured us that aeroplanes, computers and telephones had no future when they were first invented?

The session I have initiated is not concerned with the technicalities of artificial intelligence in the short/medium term.

It starts with the assumption that there are significant risks to the human race from super-intelligence.

The topics I’ll cover include:

  • What sorts of super-intelligence might develop, and what are the different risks associated with these?
  • How important in assessing risks are self-awareness and sentience vis a vis sheer intelligence?
  • What type of sneaky short-term strategies might superintelligence adopt?
  • What timeframe are we talking about?
  • What are the likely human sources of superintelligence and what are the risk implications? (I believe these are hugely significant)
  • Can we learn from academia, industry, science fiction writers and producers and from social science?
  • What mechanisms and approaches are possible to minimise the risks?
  • How might the global community (i.e. human race) respond and develop strategies to protect future generations? What precedents are there and what is different about superintelligence that is particularly concerning?

This is not a session designed to demonstrate any particular knowledge or to provide any answers.

Following a presentation which is a “starter for 10”, there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion and perhaps to cover off some global issues which don’t seem to have been well covered in the literature to date.

So be prepared to pitch in!

Thanks and regards

David Miller
Director
Vantage Consulting

To help with numbers – please either sign up at EXOSphere here or simply email david@vantagegroup.co.nz if you’re coming.

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Fuelled adds an important string to the business cashflow bow


So what do you do when cashflow’s a bit tight?

You have outstanding invoices to be paid, but have a few of your own bills that also need dealing with.

Yes you could go to your traditional bank. But 15 pages of forms later and signing over rights to your first born child is a real drag.

There’s also invoicing and factoring companies. Their job is to chase or hassle the outstanding debtor to pay the invoice.

This has two really big negatives though.

  • The debtor (and many people they know) start to make unfounded assumptions that you must be in financial trouble and could be close to going out of business
  • They get really annoyed – and though they might pay up straight away, there’s a good chance they become a non-client

Small business loans based on unpaid invoices

Which is where 18 month old small business loans company (with a difference!) Fuelled comes to the party.

Fuelled advances money to a company based on outstanding invoices – and the relationship is purely between the company and Fuelled, not with the debtor.

The transaction is confidential, no personal guarantees are required and costs are simple and transparent. (For example, an outstanding $10,000 invoice can receive $9000 from Fuelled, along with a fee of $471 for 30 days cover).

small loan company

Small loan company Fuelled, uses client’s unpaid invoices as collateral

A major component of Fuelled’s offer is its partnership with Xero, and its membership of the cloud accounting platform’s financial web. Fuelled links to a company’s Xero data, which enables it to quickly determine how much funding it can provide. An API and clever algorithms provide this functionality.

Fuelled is also developing relationships with other cloud accounting businesses such as MYOB to provide its funding option for non-Xero clients.

As Mike Brunel, Fuelled’s sales and marketing manager says, it is this ability to have a fast, close and deep understanding of a company that allows it to receive a request in the morning, and deliver money to business in the afternoon.

Mike says the growth of the small business loan service partly reflects the slowness of old-school banks to adapt to a new digital environment that requires speed of decisions and fast action once one is made.

Similar small business loans services have existed in Britain for three or four years, and Fuelled has been cofounded by ex-trading bankers.

Part of Fuelled’s success can be objectively seen in the fact that Heartland Bank has taken a 25% shareholding in it – underpinning its own equity/balance sheet and providing a credit line as well.

Expansion into Australia is on the near horizon for Fuelled – though the company (and Heartland who is also looking to establish over the ditch) is well aware of the challenges of building a new sales organisation away from home base.

As a fast and frictionless alternative lending platform, Fuelled is another example of interesting and valuable market segments being populated where the major banks fear to tread. (Think PledgeMe, Harmoney, Snowball Effect).

Fuelled clearly knows its game and makes money by cleverly lending money without requiring those requiring its small business loans to leap through multiple hoops.

As a financier in the right place at the right time it has a jump on (would-be) competition.

Today New Zealand, tomorrow Australia…and then who knows where it will see market opportunity to be Fuelled up.

There’s millions of businesses with cashflow challenges further down the digital road in South East Asia!

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Solving the part timer work conundrum


Matching both sides of the equation for part time jobs sounds like it should be easy.

‘Employer has limited hours required role = young person willing and happy to do it’.

Sounds easy are the operative words though.

Now, contrary to popular belief modern youth are keen on the experience gained and income derived from working around their study.

Equally, employers really like to hire part time competent people with time flexibility.

But uumm….how do you equalise both sides of the equation.

Said youth can go door knocking, make phone calls, drop off their CV, apply for advertised positions, do all the things they’re meant to do to show they’re keen. For many reasons, most of it around timing, they’ll probably miss out.

Employers can (shudder) advertise what is usually a low-skilled job, get dozens of replies, weed through them to then carry out a few interviews and find the perfect person…only to find they’re only available at certain times.

There’s a disconnect on both sides.

Part time jobs fulfillment a tricky beast

The efforts and desires and struggle for a (would be) part time job seeker and provider is way disproportionate for the actuality of the role.

Enter PartTimer (parttimer.jobs), a responsive web page (not an app, but more on that later) that is a fairy godmother in this flexible job/availability, and very importantly, live-close-by, market space.

Part time jobs at your fingertips

PartTimer creator Rebecca Gidall has helped co-grow this ‘introductory’ service over the past 14 months.

The ex Victoria University student (she’s quit to learn how to run a real-world business) was part of a Creative HQ Venture Up accelerator group towards the end of 2015.

The problem of finding part time work to fit around their study was something all the team had experienced. They originally saw the need to help high school students, but quickly realised it’s not just their challenge. There’s many reasons different people have different needs and availability around part time roles.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks Rebecca found is that a part time position needs to be physically close to where a would-be worker lives. After all, a distant job, usually around minimum wage can have a significant transport component especially if it is only for an hour or so. The opportunity cost of time, money and effort to get to work can be a major factor in its desirability.

PartTimer solves some major hassles

PartTimer solves these issues by allowing would-be workers to state their availability(ies) and location, as well as other relevant information. Would be employers can put their job requirements up on the website and carry out a search of job seekers. The employer makes a contact request (by email or text) with the worker, and that person can say yes or no. If is only after a ‘yes’ that the employer is charged a flat fee of $9.95.

The part timer isn’t charged – filling out their profile is enough ‘work’ says Rebecca.

There’s also another (perverse?) first. There is NO app. Rebecca says a common comment is “thank you for not making me download yet another app to fill up my phone”.

In the tradition of creating a solution to fill a definite need, PartTimer has a lot going for it.

The traditional recruitment industry and process (and companies) is a system that’s ripe for disruption – and cheaper, faster and better solutions. Part time roles don’t have the complexity, nor crucialness, of a full time hire.

After all, though part time jobs will require a small and fast tidbit of training, most young people are smart (enough!), keen and personable to do them.

As a double-facing solution (like Uber and Air BnB), PartTimer has evolved and is evolving a neat answer.

The three step process, that’s actually only two for registration on PartTimer

As its website cleverly explains, there’s only three steps in its process…though the third step is ‘there is no step three’’.

PartTimer obtained its first investment capital from its now Managing Director Vivian Morresey (a former team member of on-demand cloud server access success GreenButton. See that story and his involvement in these Stick stories here and here ).

A second round of funding has come from associates – all obviously seeing and believing in the site’s role and functionality.

There’s a good chance these investors are also a bit like me.

As parents of late teen, early 20’s kids, they (and me) are only too aware of the challenge of finding part time work.

It’s not that the majority of youth are lazy or deadbeats.

What they usually lack are the required connection(s).

PartTimer is the virtual body hand-holding between two markets, and taking a small clip of the ticket.

In an environment with no lack of competition, it will be fascinating to see how it chews its slice of the work pie.

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Helping Kiwis fund the things they care about – a grown up Pledgeme says how it’s done


Well, hasn’t PledgeMe grown up.

The crowdfunding platform is only five years old, but as its founder (and self-titled chief bubble blower) Anna Guenther told a Deloitte Private gathering recently, in that time it has managed over 1100 successful fundraising campaigns.

That adds up to over $14 million raised “for anything you can think of, and not think of,” she says.

(Stick’s reported on various Pledgeme initiatives over the years – see here, here and here for different stories).

Three years to nail its tagline

As an aside, It took Pledgeme three years to nail its heart & soul statement/tagline/value proposition. Wearing my Punchline (million dollar messages) hat, I applaud its who, what and why statement.

Helping Kiwis fund the things they care about.

Deloitte Private invites speakers every couple of months to a diverse range of clients and non-clients to learn, mingle and exchange knowledge (and business cards).

It’s March meeting was around sources of funding for growth.

As PledgeMe’s chief cheerleader, Anna’s ability to entertain and tell a good story is second-to-none. (Admittedly she has a huge range of good stories to choose from!)

crowd funding

PledgeMe’s Anna Guenther – a natural storyteller and dispenser of crowdfunding wisdom at Deloitte Private

She has also narrowed down on how to give yourself the best chance of raising money for your particular cause.

Have a:

  • Specific goal
  • Deadline
  • Offer something in return

Crowdfunding is attracting an older crowd

Crowdfunding’s not just something aimed and understood by Gen X and Millennials. The platform’s graying – one example being 83 year old Stu Buchanan from Christchurch who raised funds to put together and produce a CD of his music.

Anna also made the point that crowdfunding is a huge opportunity to strengthen existing relationships. Current clients (think craft brewers, custard-square makers) are an important first point of investment opportunity – and “bring much more than just funding” she says.

Anna gave her considered 5 P’s of crowdfunding.

Prepare

Plan

  • Documentation
  • Minimum and maximum raise
  • Commonsense plan

Pitch (the part seen on the PledgeMe page)

  • Succinctly explain
  • Make sure the rewards are rewarding
  • Video is king (people want to see who you are)
  • Keep it balanced – but have fun
  • Have 50 people in mind before pitching
  • Make your funders feel loved
  • Make it real – show who you are

Promotion

Post

  • Communicate once you’re done
  • Make sure you know what’s required around audits and providing financial information ongoing

Anna made a final point that “people buy into your success, are engaged in your success. That’s because they feel part of you because they now own a piece of you.”

(Stick enables science and tech companies to simply tell their story. Punchline, a sister company, helps clients create million dollar messages – the 2 – 10 words that describes your essence, emotively communicates your value proposition)

 

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Mevo…(t)apping into the zeitgeist of non-car ownership


Mevo is an intriguing start up that Wellington’s Biz Dojo attracts at times.

It is making a major play towards a future where we won’t own our own car, but will hire one as required.

Additionally, Mevo’s also touting itself as the world’s first climate positive car share scheme using modern electric vehicles as well as carbon credits to help restore our environment.

Today Wellington, tomorrow the world?

Today Wellington, tomorrow the world?

Wellington’s a logical kick off city to test and refine its business model given its greenish people-ethos and density. It will grow its pods/locations of cars over the next few months (as we speak, three cars on the road, six at the end of March) and expects to have 50 vehicles in operation by the end of the year.

Part of Mevo’s intrigue is that it appears to be reasonably funded, has a strong development team and broad-based advisers. It is also partnering with others obviously keen to get into a market that is its own niche between taxis, Uber and the run-of-the-mill hire cars.

Hence (great descriptions) its partners:

  • Driven by Audi
  • Powered by Meridian
  • Insured by Trademe insurance

Clever, on cue messages

In fact, (wearing my ‘Punchline – million dollar messages’, hat) all of Mevo’s messages are clever and on cue.

That starts with the name – Mevo – this familiar but different word is move with the ‘o’ and ‘e’ reversed.

The company tells you exactly what and who they are in eight words.

‘App-based, on-demand access to electric vehicles’

And they have and emotion-based reminder of what’s in it for their customers.

‘Own the journey, not the machine’.

This is simple, effective and memorable…something you can easily imagine someone saying over a BBQ when making the point that they don’t have a lump of depreciating metal taking up space in their garage.

Part of Mevo’s cleverness is its pricing structure. Users have the options of different weekly membership fees (or none at all and paying a per hour fee), and a lower hourly rate. To mix metaphors in an digital era, it’s horses for courses.

Now naturally, starting a business and getting it to fly are two different beasts.

But Mevo may’ve just tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment.

It will still be a year or three or ten before self-driving cars become ubiquitous, and inner-city residents (in particular) become comfortable with not owning their own vehicle.

No doubt too if and when self-driving cars become the norm, Mevo will have the infrastructure – digital and physical – to seamlessly transition to this world as well.

So, Mevo – a major play, but quite possibly the right people at the right time and in the right place (before taking over the world!)
(Stick enables science and tech companies to simply tell their story. Punchline, a sister company, helps clients create million dollar messages – the 2 – 10 words that describes your essence, emotively communicates your value proposition)

Posted in Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, Market validation, start-up, sustainability, technology | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Big brains, big ideas, big discussions make Multicore World 2017 an important place to be


One of the dirty little secrets of computing is that the power of the processor(s) is currently way beyond our ability to program them.

It’s as if you have a V8 powered car but only feeding fuel into one cylinder. The rest of the engine’s potential is vastly underutilised.

So it is with multicore processors, which are like having 2 – 1016 (or much more) individual computers on a single chip.

Still most coding/programming is single lines of information in, single computer action out. Writing programs that not only parallel input multiple streams of instructions, ‘talk’ to each other while carrying out those instructions, and generate simultaneous outputs is, to use the vernacular, bloody, bloody difficult.

There's plenty of grunt available in a multicore processor, but no one has really cracked how to parallel program them. People can find out more about this leading edge technology at MW2017

There’s plenty of grunt available in a multicore processor, but no one has really cracked how to parallel program them. People can find out more about this leading edge technology at MW2017

Nicolas Erdody, yet another clever immigrant who we’re lucky calls New Zealand home, recognised this issue many years ago in setting up Multicore World from 2012. The heavyweight conference’s sixth rendition, MW2017 is again taking place in Wellington on Monday 20 – Wednesday 23 February, and again is a concentration of extremely smart people, working at the leading edge of computing possibility.

As the conference brochure says, it is about:

Trends and road maps that are not in the general domain.

For this reason alone, being part of, and being able to commercially link into solving the challenge, is an opportunity not to be missed.

Apparently the Multicore World conference is the best global assemblage of brains addressing how to overcome parallel programming’s bottleneck problem. (Check out the programme of speakers here).

Of course the opportunity for some of the speakers and attendees (more than 40% of who come from outside NZ and Australia) to visit New Zealand is in itself a major enticement – but ultimately it is the concentration of talent that is in itself the main drawcard.

Erdody, CEO of Open Parallel has largely self-funded the conference, though every year its sponsorship has become more and more heavyweight – objective proof of the value seen in pulling global experts to the bottom of the world.

Much of his efforts have gone unheralded, but Erdody has a bigger objective than exploring possibilities. He also has the dream and intent to see New Zealand as world leader in multicore processor programming and spillover its applications to NZ’s core GDP generators, from primary industries to digital animation.

But what are the other reasons people should attend?

The quality of conversations at Multicore World is arguably unparalleled (pun intended) as well, and can lead to big breakthroughs.

Three years ago, ex-pat American Alex St John heard a comment at MW2014 that unstructured data can’t be compressed. The former Microsoft top shot, and programmer figured that using gaming GPU’s that he could crack this nut…and has.

Along with Matthew Simmons, they’ve formed the ever-growing Nyriad based in Cambridge (NZ) and offering hyperscale storage processing technology. They offer what is effectively ‘liquid’ data storage and movement – and could be key in the Square Kilometer Array’s need to simultaneously render massive quantities of data when this global project begins surveying the heavens.

MW2017 will be more than a talk-fest.

It will be grunty and leading edge.

If people have half a mind to get along, they should – Stick will almost guarantee that any insights alone gained will more than cover the entry price. The connections and future business possibilities on top of this is simply a wonderful bonus.

(Stick enables science and tech companies to simply tell their story. Punchline, a sister company, helps clients create million dollar messages – the 2 – 10 words that describes your essence, emotively describes a value proposition)

 

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Why we need to go back to the future (and give it a name)


Here’s a counter-intuitive notion, that if we’re smart, could allow our analogue agricultural systems to thrive in a digital world.

But to do so we MUST own our story.

My contention is, the more society connects to the cloud, the more we will want to connect to the land.

That is, as virtual and artificial becomes ubiquitous and cheaper, the more valuable and special will be realness and authenticity.

Realness and authenticity is about ‘trust’. In theory most of our current farming-based industries should have a distinct advantage in this regard. Which is the problem when it comes to agriculture.

Pasture brand

How much better and easier would it be for New Zealand if we named the pastoral method that underpins our protein production system?

Because farmers, companies and our country can only benefit by branding our key comparative and competitive advantage – namely our ability to grow, and knowledge about pastures.

We don’t share a brand/name/story around this, though we’ve poured billions of dollars into its R&D over 120 years.

Now , compared to factory/feedlot farming, the way we grow pasture and raise animals – sustainably (mostly), scientifically, safely, ethically – is the way discerning and affluent consumers would do it themselves.

The only protein production system that can say ‘visit’

Indeed, we’re the only protein production system that can happily say, ‘visit’.But because we have no brand/name/story for what, how and why we grow pasture, there’s no way to:

  • Charge more for our superior protein products
  • Justify (an increased?) R&D investment
  • Inspire young people into what they currently perceive as a moribund industry

Our primary agriculture is still commodity oriented, is gradually being taken over by foreign interests, and has increasing public irrelevance – all because we don’t own our story.

Sure many NZ primary industry focused interests attempt to put their own spin on a ‘method’ we all own. However, there is no critical mass around these names, no shared story.

Equally, the plethora of names such as natural, grass-fed, free-range et al don’t describe the value proposition of our pastoral method, doesn’t link to consumers’ emotions, has no resonance.

Such terms don’t allow us to differentiate the animal-based products coming from our land, or enable our seed, animal genetics or stock control agribusiness to set themselves apart.

Strength for a digital future

The irony is soon as we did name our pastoral method at a national level, we would give our agriculture a position of strength in a digital future.

We’d give ourselves a platform on which to tell our shared story. Individual companies would have a supporting brand/name/story to underpin their marketing efforts.

How confident am I that our farming industry can see this, make a simple change?

Not confident at all.

In spite of the fact an NZ-owned pasture brand would provide tangible ‘trust’ for global consumers, and enable a correctly aligned underpinning for a host of improvements in the industry, it will probably never be done.

Farming’s much more comfortable pedalling ever faster, for ever diminishing returns, than shining a light on what we do exceptionally well.

We’re too busy fighting each other in the market, we can’t see that there’s advantage in working together.

Rather than taking a deep breath, and giving a brandname to the reason our hills are green, we continue to race to the bottom with everyone else..

Naming our specialness is too blindingly obvious a thing to do to ever have a hope of being achieved.

NZ Inc agriculture has the opportunity to stake a global claim for a methodology that works in harmony with nature, and take worldwide ownership of a natural space.

We can own a small part of the market representing realness and authenticity. We can give primary industry a healthy, sustainable and profitable future by being able to tell, and retell our what makes us special through digital storytelling.

We can demonstrate our trustworthiness.

But, all this is possible, ONLY if we name what we do best.

(Stick enables science and tech companies to simply tell their story. Punchline, a sister company, helps clients create million dollar messages – the 2 – 10 words that describes your essence, emotively describes a value proposition)

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Why we should give some serious thought to a Science and Innovation Council


It’s that time of year when we fly  kites, give voice to possibilities.

So, given we have a new Science and Innovation minister, namely Paul Goldsmith, how about exploring whether now is a good time to put seriously explore forming a Science and Innovation Council.

science

New Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith should look at the advantages of forming a Science and Innovation Council

After all, if it is good enough for countries such as Denmark, Finland and Singapore (economies that we like to rate and rank ourselves against) surely it is good enough for us.

Stick’s blogged about the desirability of such a high-level, well-connected, oversight body in the past – but there’s nothing like resurrecting a good idea!

It was also Recommendation 13 in ‘Powering Innovation’ – a strategy paper from June 2011.

Recommendation 13:

Form a Science and Innovation Council, led from a very senior ministerial level in Government, with representatives from the university, public and private research organisations and from industry. Members should represent a wide range of science and technology themes, including the social sciences. The role of the Science and Innovation Council should be to establish a national innovation strategy and advise on science and innovation policy and priorities.

In the comparative countries, S&I Councils are often attended by the Prime Minister, but at the very least are way up in the pecking order of how and more importantly why, R&D is carried out.

An auspicious mix of private business people, scientists, academics and government, S&I councils form a vital part of connecting between commerce, technology, applied science and fundamental science.

Align the science and innovation continuum

These S&I Councils help align a country’s business strengths, its expected future requirements, the ‘brains’ being trained up, and the pipelines of new developments needed to stay competitive.

Denmark’s S&I Council for example was a major reason the small Nordic nation went strongly down the ‘design’ (as an element of all innovation) path.

The other advantage an NZ S&I Council would have is to better engage the broader New Zealand public with science. Far too many people (my own children included) see science as a separate ‘thing’ that’s done by geeks, something that’s not relevant to their own lives (this of course while remaining totally oblivious to the huge R&D that is their smart phone).

A S&I Council would help address this disconnect. It would make much more visible and relevant the continuum between science and technology and how our country can and should create greater wealth from clever products and services.

A S&I Council would also help reassure Prime Minister Bill English that the continued investment in R&D is worthwhile and important. He, like all of us, like to know where’s the payback? Well, an S&I Council, preferably with him also on it, would help answer that question.

So, go on Mr Goldsmith, give it some decent thought.

(Peter Kerr runs Punchline [messages that matter], as well as What I Wish My Dad Told Me – advice that could be useful)

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Clever solution to a quad bike problem


Here’s a great idea from someone who is (take your pick from, or choose the lot) young, entrepreneurial, agri-tech, female, creative, persevering, clever; and as it happens is a dag-hand at cake-making.

Now the Biz Dojo (where Stick operates out of) is so full of things digital that it is a surprise to find someone developing a product you can drop on your toe.

In the Flatpak Quaddy’s case it wouldn’t hurt much as the large, tough PVC-canvas and flexible multi-use bag doesn’t weigh that much.

science and technology writing

The Flatpak Quaddy opened out

Flatpak Quaddy, a science and technology answer to a problem

The Flatpak Quaddy, on an ATV, folded down and not in action

Emily Tasker came up with the safe and secure transport carrier for the back of a quad bike (ATV) while at school. She was helping out Ruth McDavitt in the Summer of Tech programme for a while at the Biz Dojo, and in keeping with a ‘good at many things mindset’, is heading down to Christchurch to work with Holmes Solutions (who specialise in engineering projects that no one has done before).

Coming from an agricultural background myself, safely carrying equipment on the back of a quad is a challenge. Her solution is also in the scheme of things of “how come no one has thought of this before”.

But Emily’s kept on keeping on at this project, had it as part of the Venture Up, and Young Enterprise Scheme, and is selling it though stock and station companies across the length of NZ.

Carrying equipment on the rear of a quad, instead of on its front carrier is proven to be more safe; and given the number of accidents that kill and/or maim our farmers, anything that lowers accidents is obviously worth pursuing. Flatpak conforms to WorkSafe standards.

It’s dimensions are 1040mm x 400 x 300, and about 200mm when folded flat – hence the Flatpak name…though as the website points out is is a comfortable place for a dog to sit if it gets sick of running beside the quad.

Stick’s a great fan of solutions to a problem. The Flatpak Quaddy is one of those.

Emily’s clearly heading for higher things. She has given university a miss, figuring that life itself will be her educator.

Expect to see more of her in the future…you heard it here first!

(Stick is a sister site to Punchline – million dollar messages)

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Global mindset drives Kiwi ‘stamp of approval’ enterprise


How does an organisation from the bottom of the world, excell internationally in verifying and stamping its approval on food quality and safety?

The first answer is because New Zealand exports over 90% of the food it produces, and other countries demand assurances of quality and safety against their market access standards.

The second is through 120 years of experience backed by expertise, professionalism and integrity which sees AsureQuality as its home country’s premier food assurances provider. These attributes also see it with significant operations in Australia, Singapore, China and the Middle East.

testing and certification

AsureQuality’s Dr Harry Enckevort in the SOE’s sophisticated Wellington laboratory

AsureQuality’s 1700 people have inherited and continue to develop world-leading inspection, auditing, certification, testing, training, advisory and authentication services.

Integrating inspection, certification and testing

As a recognised Conformity Assessment Body (CAB) it has a mandate that integrates inspection and certification with testing.

Its Chief Science Officer, Dr Harry van Enckevort says food is the State Owned Enterprise’s main focus – giving consumers confidence in what they eat while also protecting the brands of countries and companies.

As well as New Zealand clients, customers include very well known non-NZ multinationals, with some of these brands also in the very sensitive infant formula space.

“AsureQuality also has a key role in New Zealand’s food safety regulatory framework and to do that we have to walk the line between customers and regulators. To achieve it we can’t have conflicts of interest.”

In practice it means across all AsureQuality services, we have to maintain our independence.

“We can only do that because we carefully cultivate our expertise, professionalism and integrity.”

Harry says the organisation is based on a deeply skilled people resource underpinned by its science and technical capabilities.

“We also have a worldwide overview – helping take exports out of New Zealand and bringing global perspectives back home,” he says. “That customer focus is a two-way flow; they lead us and we lead them. If we didn’t there is no way we’d have our global expertise in food quality and safety.”

He says the company instills continual improvement through looking at ourselves and customer feedback and surveys.

“We’re constantly looking at what we need to do to stay relevant and ahead of the game and competition,” Harry says. “We’re always looking to find a better way, challenging our people how we can do things better, faster and smarter while still maintaining the quality of our output. Because there’s always changes in customers and industry as well as customer needs, we have feedback loops and responses.”

A particular point of focus is to add value for a customer beyond mere compliance, not simply ticking a box as part of an audit or certification.

When we give customer feedback in an audit, they might ask what the options are to mitigate the issues,

“We say, here are some options – we don’t tell them what to do – they need to make their own call,” he says.

For AsureQuality to still be thriving in five years time, “to still have relevance, we will have to be commercially successful.”

“Our market offering will have to continue to be relevant, and we’ll need to maintain our comparative advantage against our competitors. If we do that we’d like to think we’ll have a larger global presence than we presently do. To achieve that we’ll need to continue to have the right people in the right place with the right expertise and service.

“So far we’ve met the demands of customers and stakeholders all across the world. By maintaining our core focus on science and technology that is how we will continue to provide the services they want, how we will continue to grow.”

This story also appeared here,  https://blog.scienceexchange.com/2016/11/asurequality/, as a commissioned article for Science Exchange. It has recently opened an NZ satellite office for its USA-based business.

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