Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Robot That Can Write a Symphony: AI Device Composes Tailor-Made Music

Robot That Can Write a Symphony: AI Device Composes Tailor-Made Music

By Jonathan Gross TECH 18:39 17.01.2017 (updated 19:57 17.01.2017)

An artificial intelligence headset that records brain waves, links them to the individual’s moods, and then composes original music to uplift its user’s feelings has been invented.

The device, developed by a team of Japanese scientists from Osaka University and Tokyo City University and a research institute in Belgium, was unveiled on January 16, Japanese newspaper Asahi reported.  To design the headset the scientists recorded the brain waves of volunteers while they listened to different music samples ranging from J-Pop to nursery rhymes. Based on this data, they create a personalized "emotional music model" for each individual.

The AI first studied the relations between the music and the emotions of a particular person and then writes the ideal musical composition.

The story reminds of the famous quotation from the movie “I, Robot” and makes us think again in what unexpected things computers might become better than us.

​According to the research group, conventional automatic music composition machines require the input of specific data about the characteristics of the music that the listener wants, but this system makes music directly in accordance with the listener’s personal sensitivity.

The AI headset is scheduled to be showcased at the 3d Wearable Expo in Tokyo on January 18-20, the report says.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Airbus CEO sees 'flying car' prototype ready by end of year

Airbus CEO sees 'flying car' prototype ready by end of year

Mon Jan 16, 2017 | 7:05am EST

Airbus Group plans to test a prototype for a self-piloted flying car as a way of avoiding gridlock on city roads by the end of the year, the aerospace group's chief executive said on Monday.

Airbus last year formed a division called Urban Air Mobility that is exploring concepts such as a vehicle to transport individuals or a helicopter-style vehicle that can carry multiple riders. The aim would be for people to book the vehicle using an app, similar to car-sharing schemes.

"One hundred years ago, urban transport went underground, now we have the technological wherewithal to go above ground," Airbus CEO Tom Enders told the DLD digital tech conference in Munich, adding he hoped the Airbus could fly a demonstration vehicle for single-person transport by the end of the year.

"We are in an experimentation phase, we take this development very seriously," he said, adding that Airbus recognized such technologies would have to be clean to avoid further polluting congested cities.

He said using the skies could also reduce costs for city infrastructure planners. "With flying, you don't need to pour billions into concrete bridges and roads," he said.

Enders said Airbus, as the world's largest maker of commercial helicopters, wanted to invest to make the most of new technologies such as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence, to usher in what amounts to an era of flying cars.

"If we ignore these developments, we will be pushed out of important segments of the business," he said.

A spokesman for Airbus declined to say how much the company was investing in urban mobility.

(Reporting by Eric Auchard; Writing by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)


Great Firewall of China: Requires Registration of Apps, Tightening Oversight...

China Tightens Apps Oversight
Beijing begins requiring the country’s hundreds of internet app stores to register with the state

By EVA DOU Jan. 16, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET

BEIJING—Plugging a gap in the Great Firewall, China on Monday began requiring internet app stores to register with the state.

China has long censored websites, barring outlawed content such as pornography, the promotion of illegal activity including terrorism and “rumors,” a term regulators often apply to antigovernment statements.

But apps create a special challenge for government censors, experts say, because they often incorporate a wide variety of functions and serve as platforms for users to exchange information, making them harder to oversee. They are also multiplying quickly.

“It’s almost impossible for the regulators to register and supervise all the millions of apps there one by one,” said Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law. “The government is managing the app stores, and stores are managing the app developers according to law.”

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which announced new regulations on content distributed by apps in August, followed up Friday by notifying app stores that starting Monday they must register with the CAC.

“Some app distributors did not strictly review apps before putting them on the shelf, which resulted in some apps spreading illegal information, violating users’ rights and interests and bringing security risks,” the CAC statement read.

Earlier this month, Apple Inc. said it had pulled the New York Times’ app from its Chinese app store after a request from Chinese authorities. The new registration requirement, however, appears directed at new app stores that are cropping up rather than at larger distributors, with which regulators are already in regular contact.

In addition to banned content such as pornography, the state-run National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China has warned consumers against malicious apps, including ones that harvest personal information and levy charges without their knowledge.

The U.S.-China Business Council declined to comment on the new requirement.

China’s authorities rely heavily on internet companies to censor themselves in the world’s largest mobile market, which is both fast-growing and fragmented, with hundreds of suppliers—in contrast with the U.S., where Google Play and Apple Inc.’s App Store dominate.

China’s most popular Android-based app stores, run by Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., both had more than 200 million active users in the third quarter of 2016, according to the research firm Analysys.

—Yang Jie contributed to this article.


As Robots Take Jobs, Europeans Mull Free Money for All

AS ROBOTS TAKE JOBS, EUROPEANS MULL FREE MONEY FOR ALL

BY JOHN LEICESTER ASSOCIATED PRESS Jan 16, 11:41 AM EST

PARIS (AP) -- I am, therefore I'm paid.

The radical notion that governments should hand out free money to everyone - rich and poor, those who work and those who don't - is slowly but surely gaining ground in Europe. Yes, you read that right: a guaranteed monthly living allowance, no strings attached.

In France, two of the seven candidates vying to represent the ruling Socialist Party in this year's presidential election are promising modest but regular stipends to all French adults. A limited test is already underway in Finland, with other experiments planned elsewhere, including in the United States.

Called "universal income" by some, "universal basic income" or just "basic income" by others, the idea has been floated in various guises since at least the mid-19th century. After decades on the fringes of intellectual debate, it became more mainstream in 2016, with Switzerland holding a referendum - and overwhelmingly rejecting - a proposed basic income of around $2,500 per month.

"An incredible year," says Philippe Van Parijs, a founder of the Basic Income Earth Network that lobbies for such payments. "There has been more written and said on basic income than in the whole history of mankind."

But before you write a resignation letter to your boss in anticipation of never needing to work again, be warned: there are multiple questions, including how to finance such schemes. Here is a look at the issues:

---

WHY THE MOUNTING INTEREST?

In a word, robots. With automated systems and machines increasingly replacing human workers, France could lose 3 million jobs by 2025, says Benoit Hamon, a former education minister campaigning for the French presidency on a promise of gradually introducing no-strings-attached payments for all. As work becomes scarcer, a modest but regular guaranteed income would stop people from fearing the future and free up their time for family, the needy and themselves, he argues.

It could also encourage people to take risks, start businesses and try new activities without the risk of losing welfare benefits.

The other pro-basic income candidate for the Socialist Party presidential ticket is outsider Jean-Luc Bennahmias. Like Hamon, the former European Parliament lawmaker argues that it is pointless to expect the return of economic boom times, with jobs for all.

"Growth at two, three, four or five percent in western countries: it's finished," he said in a televised debate last week. "We have to speak the truth."

Outside research backs up their arguments. An Oxford University study in 2015 estimated nearly half of the American workforce is at risk of automation.

---

PUT TO THE TEST

Finland's small-scale, two-year trial that started Jan. 1 aims to answer a frequent question from basic income opponents: With a guaranteed 560 euros ($600) a month, will the 2,000 human guinea pigs - drawn randomly from Finland's unemployed - just laze around?

Budget constraints and opposition from multiple quarters stymied ambitions for a broader test, says Olli Kangas from the Finnish government agency KELA, which is responsible for the country's social benefits.

"It's a pretty watered down version," he said in a telephone interview. "We had to make a huge number of compromises."

Still, he argues that such studies are essential in helping societies prepare for changed labor markets of the future.

"I'm not saying that basic income is the solution," he said. "I'm just saying that it's a solution that we have to think about."

In the Netherlands, the city of Utrecht this year plans to trial no-strings welfare payments that will also allow test groups to work on the side if they choose - again, in part, to study the effect on their motivation to find work.

To prepare for "a world where technology replaces existing jobs and basic income becomes necessary," Silicon Valley startup financier Y Combinator says it plans a pilot study in Oakland, California, paying recipients an unconditional income because "we want to see how people experience that freedom."

---

THE COST

Obviously, expensive. Hamon proposes the gradual introduction of basic income schemes in France, starting with 600 euros ($640) per month for the nation's poor and 18-25-year-olds before scaling up payments to 750 euros ($800) for all adults - for a total estimated annual cost of 400 billion euros ($425 billion).

Part of the cost could be financed by taxing goods and services produced by automated systems and machines, he says. Opponents argue that doing so would simply prompt companies to move robots elsewhere, out of reach of French tax collectors.

Doing away with housing, family, poverty and unemployment benefits could free up more than 100 billion euros ($106 billion) to fold into a replacement basic income scheme.

There'd also be less red tape, saving money that way, too, but switching to basic income would still require new taxes, a 2016 Senate report said.

It estimated that paying everyone 500 to 1,000 euros ($530-$1,100) per month would cost 300 billion to 700 billion euros ($745 billion-$320 billion) annually. It recommended starting with three-year pilot schemes with trials involving 20,000-30,000 people.

---

THE CONS

Costs aside, opponents argue that guaranteed incomes would promote laziness and devalue the concept of work. Hamon's opponents for the Socialist presidential ticket dispute as false his argument that jobs for humans are growing scarcer.

Ultimately, to see the light of day, basic income schemes will need political champions, said Van Parijs.

"We need radical ideas as targets and then we need clever tinkering to move in that direction," he said.

© 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Amazon: patents design for giant flying fleet of connected aircraft to deliver big packages

Now Amazon plans MEGADRONES: Firm patents design for giant flying fleet of connected aircraft to deliver big packages (maybe even more than half a mile from their depot) 
·       Flying in convoy would mean drones could cover longer distances and carry heavier loads 
·       The average drone can typically fly continuously for up to 30 minutes and can only transport items weighing up to 10 pounds
·       A collective aerial drone would be capable of transporting 'virtually any size, weight, or quantity of items' 

PUBLISHED: 13:59 EST, 7 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:59 EST, 7 January 2017
·    
Amazon is developing technology that will allow a flock of drones to fly in convoy, allowing the machines to cover longer distances and carry heavier loads.
The company has been granted the patent for a large and robust flying drone, which is  made up of several smaller drones.
The Amazon Technologies Inc. patent says that individual modules could detach from the collective drone body once they were no longer required, allowing them to operate independently to deliver smaller parcels.
The patent description explains that a collective aerial drone would be capable of transporting 'virtually any size, weight, or quantity of items.'
The average drone can typically fly continuously for up to 30 minutes and can only transport items weighing up to 10 pounds. +8
Last month the company revealed that it had made its first aircraft delivery and claimed to have dropped off the package just 13 minutes after it was ordered.
However, investigations later showed that the parcel, containing an Amazon Fire TV box and a bag of popcorn, were flown from Amazon's drone testing site near Cambridge, across one field to a farmhouse just 765 yards away. 
Amazon has spent millions of pounds developing its drone service. In July the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) lifted strict drone flying restrictions to enable the company to start testing its drones.
It means Amazon is allowed to have one pilot controlling multiple autonomous drones and can operate a drone without a direct line of sight. 
Over the summer Amazon secretly flew its drones in a field, around five miles east of its research and development centre in Cambridge.
It built a wall of haybales to hide the testing area, but the drone could be spotted when it was flying in the sky.
The secret site also contains a blue control tower, with a five-metre tall antenna, and a manicured landing site, the size of a football pitch to resemble a front garden.
The area is constantly patrolled by security men and vans, with Amazon keen to keep its latest development to itself.
Amazon has also applied for a patent for anti-collision avoidance systems on their drones.
The company has stated the drones will cruise below 400ft, carrying packages up to 5lbs and guided by GPS.
Amazon does not require a licence for the drones but once it rolls out the service further it will need to obtain the permission of the Civil Aviation Authority for every delivery as all commercial drone flights must be approved by the body. 
Questions over the safe use of drones remain, however, with a number of near-misses involving commercial aircraft and amateur drone pilots reported this year.
Amazon has proposed using its crafts in 'segregated blocks of airspace below 500 feet and away from most manned aviation operations'. 
The firm also said its drones will use 'sense and avoid' technology and data will be continuously gathered throughout the trial to make improvements, calling safety its 'top priority'.
The company added that the current trial was only permitted to operate during daylight hours with low winds and good visibility, and not in rain, snow or icy conditions.
On its website Amazon said: 'It looks like science fiction, but it's real. One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.'
A spokesman for the CAA said it was 'too early' to talk about granting Amazon exemptions for commercial flights for 'out of line of sight' flights on a national scale.
The spokesman added the company would likely have to get Government approval to pursue such an extension.
Earlier this year Amazon got British approval for three new types of tests, including flying drones that are no longer within sight of their operators in rural and suburban areas.
The other two are having one person operate several highly automated drones and testing devices to make the drones able to identify and avoid obstacles. 
Similar technology to Amazon's megadrone has been developed elsewhere, including in Norway. +88
One potential use for a vehicle of this sort would be to rescue someone trapped on a roof, the team said
It contains 13 propellers and eight hexacopters powered by a total of 48 motors that reside on a frame built from aluminum and plywood.
In October 2015, it broke the world record by lifting a payload of 61kg(134lb 7.6oz) into the air and holding it there for 37 seconds, elevated to a height of at least one meter at all times.
The team behind the unmaned vehicle hope it could eventually be used to transport people - although Norwegian authorities did not grant them permission to carry out test flights with humans on board. 

The FBI Is Apparently Paying Geek Squad Members To Dig Around In Computers For Evidence Of Criminal Activity

The FBI Is Apparently Paying Geek Squad Members To Dig Around In Computers For Evidence Of Criminal Activity

by Tim Cushing Mon, Jan 9th 2017 6:43am

Law enforcement has a number of informants working for it and the companies that already pay their paychecks, like UPS, for example. It also has a number of government employees working for the TSA, keeping their eyes peeled for "suspicious" amounts of cash it can swoop in and seize.

Unsurprisingly, the FBI also has a number of paid informants. Some of these informants apparently work at Best Buy -- Geek Squad by day, government informants by... well, also by day.

According to court records, Geek Squad technician John "Trey" Westphal, an FBI informant, reported he accidentally located on Rettenmaier's computer an image of "a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck." Westphal notified his boss, Justin Meade, also an FBI informant, who alerted colleague Randall Ratliff, another FBI informant at Best Buy, as well as the FBI. Claiming the image met the definition of child pornography and was tied to a series of illicit pictures known as the "Jenny" shots, agent Tracey Riley seized the hard drive.

Not necessarily a problem, considering companies performing computer/electronic device repair are legally required to report discovered child porn to law enforcement. The difference here is the paycheck. This Geek Squad member had been paid $500 for digging around in customers' computers and reporting his findings to the FBI. That changes the motivation from legal obligation to a chance to earn extra cash by digging around in files not essential to the repair work at hand.

More of a problem is the FBI's tactics. While it possibly could have simply pointed to the legal obligation Best Buy has to report discovered child porn, it proactively destroyed this argument by apparently trying to cover up the origin of its investigation, as well as a couple of warrantless searches.

Setting aside the issue of whether the search of Rettenmaier's computer constituted an illegal search by private individuals acting as government agents, the FBI undertook a series of dishonest measures in hopes of building a case, according to James D. Riddet, Rettenmaier's San Clemente-based defense attorney. Riddet says agents conducted two additional searches of the computer without obtaining necessary warrants, lied to trick a federal magistrate judge into authorizing a search warrant, then tried to cover up their misdeeds by initially hiding records.

The "private search" issue is mentioned briefly in OC Weekly's report, but should be examined more closely. Private searches are acceptable, but the introduction of cash payments, as well as the FBI having an official liaison with Best Buy suggests the searches aren't really "private." Instead, the FBI appears to be using private searches to route around warrant requirements. That's not permissible and even the FBI's belief that going after the "worst of worst" isn't going to be enough to salvage these warrantless searches.

As Andrew Fleischman points out at Fault Lines, the government's spin on the paid "private search" issue -- that it's "wild speculation" the Best Buy employee was acting as a paid informant when he discovered the child porn -- doesn't hold up if the situation is reversed. AUSA Anthony Brown's defensive statement is nothing more than the noise of a double standard being erected.

Flipping the script for a minute, would an AUSA say it was "wild speculation" that a man was a drug dealer when phone records showed he regularly contacted a distributor, he was listed as a drug dealer in a special book of drug dealers, and he had received $500.00 for drugs? Sorry to break it to you, Mr. Brown, but once you start getting paid for something, it's tough to argue you're just doing it for the love of the game.

In addition to these problems, the file discovered by the Best Buy tech was in unallocated space... something that points to almost nothing, legally-speaking.

[I]n Rettenmaier's case, the alleged "Jenny" image was found on unallocated "trash" space, meaning it could only be retrieved by "carving" with costly, highly sophisticated forensics tools. In other words, it's arguable a computer's owner wouldn't know of its existence. (For example, malware can secretly implant files.) Worse for the FBI, a federal appellate court unequivocally declared in February 2011 (USA v. Andrew Flyer) that pictures found on unallocated space did not constitute knowing possession because it is impossible to determine when, why or who downloaded them.

This important detail was apparently glossed over in the FBI's warrant application to search Rettenmaier's home and personal devices.

In hopes of overcoming this obstacle, they performed a sleight-of-hand maneuver, according to Riddet. The agents simply didn't alert Judge Marc Goldman that the image in question had been buried in unallocated space and, thus, secured deceitful authorization for a February 2012 raid on Rettenmaier's Laguna Niguel residence.

Courts have shown an often-excessive amount of empathy for the government's "outrageous" behavior when pursuing criminals. The fact that there's child porn involved budges the needle in the government's direction, but the obstacles the FBI has placed in its own way through its deceptive behavior may prevent it from salvaging this case.

The case is already on very shaky ground, with the presiding judge questioning agents' "odd memory losses," noting several discrepancies between the FBI's reports and its testimony, and its "perplexing" opposition to turning over documents the defense has requested.

In any event, it appears the FBI has a vast network of informants -- paid or otherwise -- working for both private companies and the federal government. Considering the FBI is already the beneficiary of legal reporting requirements, this move seems ill-advised. It jeopardizes the legitimacy of the evidence, even before the FBI engages in the sort of self-sabotaging acts it appears to have done here.

Underneath it all is the perplexing and disturbing aversion to adhering to the Fourth Amendment we've seen time and time again from law enforcement agencies, both at local and federal levels. Anything that can be done to avoid seeking a warrant, and anything that creates an obfuscatory paper trail, is deployed to make sure the accused faces an even more uphill battle once they arrive in court.


The rise of the cashless city: 'There is this real danger of exclusion'

The rise of the cashless city: 'There is this real danger of exclusion'

Cities from Sweden to India are pushing for a totally cash-free society. But as more shops and transport networks insist on electronic payments, where does this leave the smallest traders and poorest inhabitants?

By Adam Forrest Monday 9 January 2017 02.00 EST Last modified on Monday 9 January 2017 02.02 EST

Scrolling through my online bank statements at Christmas, I was surprised to find I had not removed cash from an ATM for well over four months. Thanks to the ubiquity of electronic payment systems, it has become increasingly easy to glide around London to a chorus of approving bleeps.

As more shops and transport networks adapt to contactless card and touch-and-go mobile technology, many major cities around the world are in the process of relegating cash to second-class status. Some London shops and cafes are now, like the capital's buses, simply refusing to handle notes or coins.

Could we see a whole city go cash-free? From Seoul to Bergamo, cities big and small are at the forefront of a global drive to go digital. Many of us are happy to tap cards or phones to hop on a bus, buy a coffee or pay for groceries, but it raises the prospect of a time we no longer carry any cash at all.

No spare change for the busker at the station, the person sleeping rough in need of a hot drink, the market trader, the donation box. Although even on-street charity fundraisers are now broaching the world of contactless payments, what might the rise of the cashless city mean for street vendors, small merchants and the poorest inhabitants?

Some experts now fear a two-tier urban realm in which those on the lowest incomes become disconnected from mainstream commercial life by their dependence on traditional forms of currency.

"The beauty of cash is that it's a direct and simple transaction between all kinds of different people, no matter how rich or poor," explains financial writer Dominic Frisby. "If you begin to insist on cashlessness, it does put pressure on you to be banked and signed up to financial system, and many of the poorest are likely to remain outside of that system. So there is this real danger of exclusion."

Ajay Banga, Mastercard's CEO, has spoken about the growing global risk of "creating islands, where the unbanked transact [only] with each other".

In India, the question of how the poorest might connect with the digitised world of the middle-class consumer is now of central importance. In November, the prime minister Narendra Modi announced the removal of 500 and 1000 rupee notes from circulation. Part of a wider attempt to jolt the nation into joining the cashless revolution, Modi's government believes restricting currency and pushing the take-up of electronic payment will help tackle corruption and regulate India's untaxed, "black" economy.

Saurabh Shukla, the Delhi-based editor in chief at NewsMobile Asia, says he has seen many small "mom and pop" store owners introduce card readers and learn how to use Paytm, a mobile payment platform, over the past two months.

"They realise a big change is here and they are trying to adjust to electronic payment," he explains. "But they still want to convert back to cash at the end of the working day or the working week. It will be a gradual adjustment. We might not be able to create a completely cashless India, but we can aim to create a low cash economy."

Modi is encouraging state government to create "smart" cities by connecting their public services with the latest online technology. Officials are aiming to make the Chandigarh - famously designed by modernist architect Le Corbusier - India's first cashless city by insisting all bills are paid electronically at government offices. And the government of Goa is attempting to turn its capital Panjim cash-free by offering discounts in digitally bought services like train tickets, and by setting up classrooms to teach small traders e-payment technology.

Yet huge queues remain outside banks as many Indians continue to demand cash. Some of the poorest street vendors cannot afford card readers, and have struggled to operate Paytm payment transfers on their mobile phones.

Aires Rodrigues, a human rights lawyer in Goa, says traders in Panjim are suffering. Rickshaw drivers and fish market sellers have been left with no way of accepting payment from middle-class customers now inclined to do everything digitally. "It's senseless to try to make everyone go cashless," says Rodrigues. "The government seems to have lost sight of the plight of the common man."

If India's urbanites are being forced to undergo digital shock therapy, city dwellers in much of Europe have been moving steadily away from cash. Consumers like convenience. Governments like the idea of tax transparency. And retailers like cutting down on the costs of cash handling.

According to a recent report by Fung Global Retail & Technology, nine of the top 15 "most digital-ready" countries are in Europe. It predicts Sweden could become the world's first completely cashless society. Niklas Arvidsson at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology thinks it could happen by 2030.

Yet even Sweden has seen an enthusiasm gap emerge, mostly along demographic lines. Older people in the rural north, tending to be the least tech-savvy, resent the economic power of Stockholm and Gothenburg, now almost entirely cash-free urban zones. The National Pensioners Organisation is a key player in the "Cash Uprising" coalition now campaigning to make sure older Swedes can still deposit and remove cash from banks.

Wealth, however, remains the key factor in determining who might be entirely left behind by the evolving digital economy. Some of the poorest people in Europe's richest cities have found themselves pushed aside.

In Amsterdam, homeless people selling street magazine Z!, the Dutch equivalent of The Big Issue, now struggle to find customers still using cash. Z! trialled card payments by giving a dozen of the city's vendors iZettle readers back in 2013, but the method was deemed too cumbersome.

"After a few weeks, our vendors said, 'Look, this is too complicated'," says editor Hans van Dalfsen. "It became too clunky and time-consuming for the vendor to juggle their magazines, the card reader and their own mobile phone connected to Bluetooth - all that stuff was needed to carry out the transaction."

Van Dalfsen says he is now talking to a major telecoms company to try to find a simpler way for homeless vendors to accept payment using only their mobile phones, perhaps with help of unique QR code on their ID badge.

"Like Scandinavia, we are close to being cashless in Amsterdam," he says. "I'm an optimist, but we really need bright people in the tech companies to come up with simple, convenient solutions that work for everyone. We cannot let people become cut off from the life of the city."

Like many of the world's poorest people, much of Amsterdam's homeless population remain without a bank account. So even if they own a mobile phone, most fall back to cash.

Kenya may offer a guiding light here, having found a way to allow unbanked citizens access into the cashless society using cheap mobiles. Launched in 2007, M-Pesa has become the world's leading mobile money platform, allowing millions of users to transfer money to each other by sending text messages and store their funds digitally without opening a conventional bank account.

In Zimbabwe, last year's cash liquidity crisis led to renewed distrust in the banks and helped mobile money platforms take off as an alternative way of doing business, first in the capital city Harare, then in rural areas. The country's most popular text-based service EcoCash now has more than six million users.

"There has been a huge explosion in cashless payments, down to the very poorest street traders using mobile money solutions," says Nigel Gambanga, a Harare-based technology analyst. "Everyone has begun to realise, 'If I don't figure this out, I might not be in business tomorrow.' People are adaptable."

Dave Birch, director of innovation at UK firm Consult Hyperion, thinks it would be foolish to insist on clinging on to cash on behalf of the poor. "If you keep people trapped in a cash economy, you leave them to pay higher prices for everything, you leave them struggling to access credit, and more vulnerable to theft," he says.

"We're going to replace cash with electronic platforms," Birch adds. "I don't think poverty or being unbanked is necessarily a barrier, because everyone has a phone. Given the technology we have, we can develop new ways of moving digital cash around, even on the most basic of phones."

The challenge for banks, regulators, tech innovators and officials keen to push forward "smart city" initiatives, is to make sure evolving platforms are accessible and keep everyone interconnected.

If we cannot find a common payment ecosystem, we may find ourselves wandering through divided cities, separated by the sound of bleeps and the shuffling of cold, hard cash.