Microsoft makes $20bn bet on speech AI firm Nuance

Microsoft Corp plans to buy a tech firm known for helping to develop Apple’s Siri speech recognition software in a deal valued at $19.7bn (£13.3bn).

The purchase of Nuance Communications is the second largest in Microsoft’s history, after its acquisition of networking site LinkedIn in 2016.

Microsoft said it would bolster its software and artificial intelligence expertise for healthcare companies.

So-called “telehealth” and remote doctor visits have boomed in lockdown.

This growth is forecast to continue after the pandemic.

“Nuance provides the AI layer at the healthcare point of delivery,” Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said in a statement. “AI is technology’s most important priority, and healthcare is its most urgent application.”

The deal, which includes Nuance debt, is expected to be completed this year.

What is Nuance?

Nuance, based in Massachusetts, was founded in 1992. It employs more than 1,600 people globally and is active in 28 countries.

Known … Read the rest

HANDS UP – Are you addicted to your mobile phone?

While a smartphone, or tablet can be a hugely productive tool, compulsive use of these devices can interfere with work, school, and relationships.

After all, it’s rarely the phone or tablet itself that creates the compulsion, but rather the games, apps, and online worlds it connects us to.

Do you recognise yourself here:

  1. You feel anxious when the phone battery gets low
  2. You can’t leave the house without your smartphone
  3. You feel annoyed when you can’t access your phone
  4. You put your life or others at risk to check your smartphone
  5. You use your phone to check for work updates while on holiday
  6. Find yourself waking up at 3 am to check your email or Facebook account?
  7. Your phone addiction is having a negative effect on your relationship?
  8. You make sure you can see your phone whenever it is in your hand or pocket
  9. Check your phone several times an
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Facebook will not notify over 530m users exposed in 2019 breach

Facebook has not notified the more-than 530m users whose details were exposed on a hacker forum in 2019 and has no plans to do so, according to company representatives.

Business Insider reported last week that phone numbers and other details from Facebook user profiles were available in a public database. The social media company acknowledged in a blogpost on Tuesday that “malicious actors” had obtained the data prior to September 2019 by “scraping” profiles using a vulnerability in the platform’s tool for syncing contacts. Facebook has said it plugged the hole after identifying the problem at the time.

But a Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday that the company would not be notifying users affected by the hack and that it was not confident it had full visibility on which users would need to be alerted. He said the company also took into account that users could not fix the issue … Read the rest

British tech start-up takes on Amazon in the battle for the High Street

Forbes 30-under-30 alumnus goes head-to-head with Amazon with smartphone-based retail checkout solution

In 2015, MishiPay CEO Mustafa Khanwala waited 20 minutes in a supermarket line to pay for a can of drink. The queue gave him time to consider retail’s most persistent pinch point and trigger the development of MishiPay: a high concept Scan & Go solution that promises to truly revitalise retail.

Khanwala wasn’t the only one thinking about the costly problem of check-out queues, but he is the only one to have found a viable answer, and now the Forbes 30-under-30 alumnus is going head-to-head with Amazon with smartphone-based tech that promises to truly revitalise retail.

The checkout queue has been with us since Memphis retailer Piggly-Wiggly introduced it to the world in 1916, and the model has remained fundamentally unchanged for 104 years.

Self-scan checkouts, introduced in 1992, are both unpopular and inefficient, and Amazon Go’s high-tech … Read the rest

Three entrepreneurs join the Board of UK’s leading business organisation

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has made three new appointments to its member-led national Board of Directors.

I.T., cyber security and digital transformation specialist Olu Odeniyi and information management entrepreneur Alison North are joining the Board as Directors.

Meanwhile, recruitment and employment services entrepreneur, Tina McKenzie, is taking up the newly created role of Deputy Chair, Policy and Advocacy (UK).

All three are experienced member volunteers at FSB, and will join the existing national Board of Directors, which is made up of FSB member small business owners.

FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “FSB is proud to represent the UK’s small business and self-employed community. Our volunteers, alongside a dedicated staff team, work hard to support entrepreneurs right across the country and in every sector, and to give small businesses the big voice they deserve. Tina, Olu and Alison bring a wealth of experience and enthusiasm, and I’m delighted … Read the rest

Employers are feeling the buzz for April 12 reopening with hiring spree

Hiring activity picked up at its fastest pace in almost six years last month as companies prepared for the national lockdown to ease, a survey of employers has found.

With pubs and restaurants allowed to serve customers outdoors and shops, hairdressers and gyms reopening from April 12, employers stepped up their recruitment plans. For the first month this year, permanent starting salaries increased. Temporary salaries also rose in March at the fastest rates since December 2019.

The March report on jobs from KPMG, the accountancy firm, and the Recruitment & Employment Confederation found that plans to lift lockdown had “led to a marked improvement in recruitment activity”.

The number of advertised vacancies rose at the quickest pace since August 2018 and permanent hires grew at the steepest rate since 2015. Temporary billings expanded at the quickest rate since November 2017.

Unemployment has dropped to 5 per cent since the government … Read the rest

IR35 changes undermine self-employed at “worst possible time”

IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) has said that the changes to IR35 self-employed taxation coming into effect today are undermining the sector at the “worst possible time”.

IPSE research has shown that half of freelancers are planning to stop contracting in the UK after the changes – unless they can get contracts unaffected by them. Instead, they are planning to seek contracts abroad, stop working altogether, seek an employed role or retire within the next year.

Clients seem to be reacting badly to the changes too: nearly one in four contractors said in February that their clients were either uncertain or had made no indication of what they would do in response to the IR35 changes.

Meanwhile, a quarter said that their clients were planning to blanket-assess all their contractors as ‘inside IR35’ and one fifth will only engage contractors working through umbrella companies. Nearly one … Read the rest

Warehouse builders respond to online demand with development boom

A record amount of new warehouse space is due to be built in Britain this year as developers respond to rising demand for storage from online retailers.

Research by Knight Frank, the property consultancy, found that 40 million sq ft of new space is due to be built this year, double the amount completed last year. Much of the new space has already been leased to retailers and distribution companies ordering purpose-built properties.

Online sales rose £34 billion year-on-year last year and are expected to exceed £150 billion by 2024. Every billion pounds of online sales requires about 1.4 million sq ft of warehouse space, according to Knight Frank.

Charles Binks, head of industrial and logistics at the consultancy, said: “The robust forecast for online retail and increased competition for high-specification and well-located assets is driving development activity. Take-up over the past year has reduced the level of availability and … Read the rest

Colour-coding calls to beat Zoom fatigue at KPMG

A leading accountancy firm is hoping to combat “Zoom fatigue” among its staff by testing a “rainbow meeting system” that will colour-code calls that can be taken during an outdoor walk and those where staff need to be on screen.

KPMG said that it would pilot the system to encourage employees to take regular breaks and avoid back-to-back virtual meetings.

Bosses of professional services firms are becoming concerned about staff burnout as employees complain about the impact of long hours tied to their desks at home. Junior consultants have warned bosses that they are suffering from overwork in areas such as mergers and acquisitions after a record number of private equity deals last year.

A University College London social study tracking 70,000 Britons during the pandemic found that two fifths of people were exercising less compared with the first lockdown and 34 per cent of adults were putting in longer … Read the rest

Special purpose acquisition companies fall out of favour with investors

After an wave of special purpose acquisition companies, known as Spacs, the tide appears to be turning, with some of the highest-profile examples now under pressure

Spacs — or blank-cheque funds — are shell companies that raise money via initial public offerings before listing on a stock exchange. Then they search for an acquisition, typically a private company. Once a deal is finalised, the Spac takes its target public by absorbing it and its investors take a slice of the new company. If no deal is done, the fund is liquidated and investors are refunded.

Two months ago shares in Sir Richard Branson’s VG Acquisition Corp surged to $17.65 when it announced its merger with 23andme, a genetic testing firm. It has since fallen by 42 per cent to $10.20.

Shares in Churchill Capital Corp IV have halved since its combination with Lucid Motors, an electric carmaker, was announced on … Read the rest