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Business divided on robot and artificial intelligence future

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Dell’s recent Realizing 2030: A Divided Vision of the Future survey surveyed nearly 4,000 business leaders across 17 countries including South Africa to find mixed forecasts on the changing relationship between humans and emerging technologies by 2030, and includes their top tips for transforming today.

We’re entering the next era of human-machine partnerships with a divided vision of the future, according to global research now available from Dell Technologies. Half of the 3,800 global business leaders surveyed forecast that automated systems will free up their time, while the other 50% believe otherwise. Similarly, 42% believe they’ll have more job satisfaction in the future by offloading tasks to machines, while 58% disagree.

The quantitative research conducted by Vanson Bourne follows Dell Technologies’ seminal story, “Realizing 2030: The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships.” That study forecasted that by 2030, emerging technologies will forge human partnerships with machines that are richer and more immersive than ever before, helping us surpass our limitations. Business leaders agree: 82% of respondents expect humans and machines will work as integrated teams within their organization inside of five years.

But leaders are also split by whether the future represents an opportunity or a threat, and torn by the need to mitigate these risks. For instance:

  • 48% say the more we depend upon technology, the more we’ll have to lose in the event of a cyber-attack; 52% aren’t concerned
  • 50% of business leaders are calling for clear protocols in the event that autonomous machines fail; other half abstained
  • 45% say computers will need to decipher between good and bad commands; 55% don’t see a need

“You can understand why the business community is so polarized,” comments Jeremy Burton, chief marketing officer, Dell Technologies. “There tends to be two extreme perspectives about the future: the anxiety-driven issue of human obsolescence or the optimistic view that technology will solve our greatest social problems. These differing viewpoints could make it difficult for organizations to prepare for a future that’s in flux and would certainly hamper leaders’ efforts to push through necessary change.”

Given the promise of monumental change—fuelled by exponentially increasing data and the applications, processing power and connectivity to harness it—56% speculate that schools will need to teach how to learn rather than what to learn to prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist. This thinking corroborates IFTF’s forecast that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

Beset by barriers

Furthermore, many businesses aren’t moving fast enough, and going deep enough, to overcome common barriers to operating as a successful digital business. Only 27% of businesses believe they are leading the way, ingraining digital in all they do. Forty-two percent don’t know whether they’ll be able to compete over the next decade, and the majority (57%) of businesses are struggling to keep-up with the pace of change.

Main barriers to becoming a successful digital business in 2030 and beyond:

  1. Lack of a digital vision and strategy: 61%
  2. Lack of workforce readiness: 61%
  3. Technology constraints: 51%
  4. Time and money constraints: 37%
  5. Law and regulations: 20%

Unified by the need to transform

Leaders may be divided in their view of the future and facing barriers to change, but they’re united in the need to transform. In fact, the vast majority of businesses believe they’ll be well on their way to transforming within five years, despite the challenges they face.

Likely to achieve within five years:

  • Have effective cybersecurity defences in place: 94%
  • Deliver their product offering as a service: 90%
  • Complete their transition to a software-defined business: 89%
  • R&D will drive their organization forward: 85%
  • Delivering hyper-connected customer experiences with virtual reality (VR): 80%
  • Using AI to pre-empt customer demands: 81%

Burton adds, “We’re entering an era of monumental change. Although business leaders harbor contrasting views of the future, they share common ground on the need to transform. Based on the many conversations I have with customers, I believe we’re reaching a pivotal moment in time. Businesses can either grasp the mantle, transform their IT, workforce and security and play a defining role in the future or be left behind.”

Our Lives

Forecast Agree Disagree
Automated systems will free-up our time 50% 50%
People will take care of themselves better with healthcare tracking devices 46% 54%
People will absorb and manage information in completely different ways 54% 46%
Smart machines will work as admins in our lives – connecting our lives to highly personalized goods and services 43% 57%
It will be harder to disconnect from technology 42% 58%

 

Our Work

Forecast Agree Disagree
We’ll be more productive by collaborating more 49% 51%
We’ll have more job satisfaction by offloading the tasks that we don’t want to do to intelligent machines 42% 58%
Schools will need to teach how to learn rather than what to learn to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet 56% 44%
We’ll learn on the job with AR 46% 54%
Not sure what the next 10-15 years will look like for their industry, let alone their employees 50% 50%

 

Business                                                                                                                                             

Forecast Agree Disagree
Clear protocols will be need to be established if autonomous machines fail 50% 50%
The more we depend upon technology, the more we’ll have to lose in the event of a cyber-attack 48% 52%
Computers will need to be able to decipher between good and bad commands 45% 55%
We’ll be part of a globally connected, remote workforce 49% 51%
Technology will connect the right person to the right task, at the right time 41% 59%

 

 

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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