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AI freight train is arriving

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Smart businesses will move quickly to harness artificial intelligence, as they have done with most other disruptive technologies in the past says DR DONALD BROWN, Founder and CEO, Interactive Intelligence.

The once-futuristic predictions about how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the world are becoming reality. Legendary futurist Ray Kurzweil has imagined advanced technology delivering everything from computerised brain chips to near-total automation of industries, and we already see the signs that AI will ultimately change the way we live and work.

AI, where computers behave like humans, is no longer the stuff of science fiction. In many respects, AI is like a freight train racing down the tracks. Steady advances in hardware and software are sparking immense progress in how machines help interact with customers.

Google’s voice recognition technology, for instance, improved to 98% in 2014 from 84% just two years earlier. Facebook’s DeepFace technology now recognizes faces with 97% accuracy.

As for IBM’s Watson, its technology is 2,400% smarter today than when it achieved its Jeopardy victory in 2011. Voice recognition systems themselves now perform tens of millions of online searches every month.

As machines get smarter, companies across the globe are beginning to explore ways to leverage AI to work more efficiently, safely, accurately and cost-effectively, and improve consumer engagement and customer experience at the same time. AI will be used to replace simple human tasks and augment more complex ones in the foreseeable future.

In fact, we are already seeing humans being replaced by AI in mundane customer service roles – for example, through chat bots. Cognitive technologies are making possible faster actions and decisions that satisfy today’s consumers who seek speedy responses. It’s enabling improved efficiency of operations and employees, reduced labour costs, and greater scale by performing major tasks that are impractical to perform manually.

We can expect AI to impact critical fields like medicine, where it will be harnessed for more accurate diagnostics, treatment, and possibly even consultative roles. In the long term, it’s been predicted that AI will extend our brains to predominantly non-biological thinking.

Exactly how AI will be adopted and change the world isn’t easy to predict, but there is no doubt that smart businesses will use AI, as they have with every other technology at their disposal in the past, to disrupt themselves in order to succeed.

Much of this move to AI will be driven by a business need to anticipate customer needs in ways that surpass expectations, while increasing operational efficiencies.

The increasing dependence on AI, and its impact on the way people live and work, will feel disruptive to some and quite natural to others. For younger people, the so-called ‘digital natives’, moving from engagements with chat bots to counselling from AI therapists will feel like a natural progression. And for business, the benefits realised by the early adoption of AI technologies are likely to drive faster uptake.

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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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