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AI will be like R2-D2, not Terminator

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As artificial intelligence continues to capture the imagination of the tech and mainstream media, Forrester’s new AI TechRadar report for customer intelligence professionals (CI) takes a pragmatic view of what it can do for business in the future.

Well publicised breakthroughs from major tech companies, like Google, Apple and Amazon, have placed AI high on the technology agenda. However, business leaders are struggling to make sense of how this technology could and should be deployed in their organisations.

“To put it mildly, this is confusing for businesses, who are trying to determine what is real and what is mere snake oil,” writes Forrester senior analyst and co-author of the report, Brandon Purcell. “Forrester believes AI will significantly disrupt the way organisations win, serve, and retain customers… eventually. To do this, it will take massive amounts of data to train artificially intelligent systems to perform their jobs well enough to replace their human counterparts.”

In the report, Forrester points out that as storage and processing power advances, AI is gaining some traction amongst businesses, allowing companies to generate insights and engage with their customers.

Forrester says AI is uniquely suited to help optimise customer interactions across touchpoints and channels. This is largely driven by the technology’s ability to process huge amounts of data, which can inform real time action. Moreover, in the near future, business leaders will be able to blend technologies such as facial scanning, text analytics, machine learning, and natural language generation (NLG) to better engage with their customers.

AI also has the ability to surface insights automatically, with banks today already using such technologies to detect anomaly for fraudulent transactions. Combing through massive data sets will also allow for better data analysis, particularly when it comes to unstructured data.

Despite these early successes, Purcell believes that it may take time and work before the real benefits of AI will be realised.

“AI is not a homogenous set of technologies, and some tasks will take longer to automate than others. And, despite the fact that the goal of AI technology is to free humans from some intelligence tasks so that they may more effectively focus on others, the process of creating this state has significant challenges for human designers and engineers,” Purcell comments in the report.

One of the main challenges facing the adoption of AI into mainstream business is the lack of a clear business case. Forrester points out that the research and academic communities were the first to develop and deploy AI technologies, and businesses are only now jumping onto the bandwagon. Organisations still require a clear ROI to justify an AI investment.

Time and skills are also potential hurdles. Artificially intelligent systems require massive amounts of training data to learn to perform specific tasks. While some vendors offer pre-trained solutions, even these will require many additional hours of training and refinement before they can be deployed.

When it comes to skills in the field, Forrester says there is a clear dearth of talent. “If data scientists are unicorns, then specialists in AI are their even more rarely mentioned winged cousin, Pegasus,”  comments Purcell in the report. “There are a handful of notable researchers in academia who specialise in deep learning and AI, but the talent pool for businesses is extremely shallow. Additionally, since AI adoption for businesses is so nascent, there are even fewer people with the ability to deploy AI in a business context.”

Making use of its TechRadar methodology, Forrester identified and analysed the current and future prospects of 12 AI technologies and solutions in their comprehensive report. According to the analysis, the company placed two technologies in the Creation phase, six in the Survival phase, and four in the Growth phase. None were placed in the Equilibrium or Decline phases due to the relative immaturity of AI, with the company saying that, when it comes to AI, “…we are still in chapter one.”

Summing up the analysis, Forrester points out that, despite many doom-mongers, AI will not be a threat to most jobs. While there may be some losses in the call centre and other positions, for the most part, AI will free employees from banal or onerous tasks with little value-add. The report also assures readers that there is no imminent rise of the machines about to take place and that humankind is not facing an immediate threat from AI. In fact, it is the role of the Customer Intelligence leader to separate the myth from reality.

As part of its extensive AI research and analysis, Forrester has also completed a TechRadar report on AI for application development and delivery professionals.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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