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Goodbye to point-and-click

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At the intersection of customer-centric innovation and user experience (UX), we’re also seeing some profoundly interesting trends developing in the global technology UX space, which are changing the way we interact with, and think about, computing.

While pointing, clicking, and typing still have their place, we’ve also cemented tapping and swiping into our collective consciousness in the past few years. Additionally, speaking is now becoming a fixture. Although voice is not yet a popular interface in South Africa, I think it will soon grow in usage here, as voice and intelligent assistants continue to evolve at an impressive rate.

This makes sense for sheer convenience when you consider that research shows we can type about 40 words per minute, but can only speak about 150 words per minute comfortably. Soon, we won’t just use voice activation in smart phones, speakers and cars, but far more ubiquitously with laptops, and multiple devices around the home and office.

Moving to multimodal input

In fact, our interaction with smart devices will become more multimodal, moving toward what is most natural for the user or the environment they are in. That means instead of using voice or keyboard and mouse or tapping and swiping in isolated ways – we’ll increasingly use them together in more layered ways (imagine touching the screen while voicing a command). We’re beginning to move in this direction with innovations like far-field mics facilitating voice-enabled intelligent AIs such as Cortana and Alexa in some of our Lenovo laptops because it can be easier to talk to your PC in addition to using a traditional input like the mouse. The layering of visual and audible content as well as voice and touch is another example, because sometimes it’s just easier to tap the desired result versus saying a command out loud, or glancing at the display for data instead of listening.

Overall, voice is an area that still needs to evolve – and it will. We’re currently in what I call the ‘Wild, Wild West’ of voice. Just consider the multiple voice offerings all jostling for customer attention: Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby, and so on.

Choices to fit your needs

The unanswered question in the face of these options is choice. In my view, consumers will not want to be confined to one ecosystem. I believe the longer-term winners in voice will be the companies that make offerings which are interoperable with others – like our latest ThinkPad X1 series and Yoga 730 that are Cortana and Alexa-ready. The point is to empower users to play music, get news, or shop online using just their voices. This reflects a shift that is redefining the PC to something much more than a work-focused or task-based machine; in various form factors, PCs will fit into your suite of home-based consumer products, capable of being your intelligent digital assistant and playing a role in running your home appliances – all via voice.

The evolution of sight + sound

This leads me to a point about a growing user experience trend around the integration of video and voice. Over the next year or so, when customers speak a command, we’ll increasingly see a tailored response applicable to that command. For example, a simple question might be answered solely by your voice assistant. But a more complex request may provide the user with a more rounded response: it could be a graphical visualisation, or even a video. In line with this direction is our new Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant built-in. It’s all about the evolution of sight and sound with the intention of saving a user’s time and making their home life smarter and more convenient by adding context-relevant visuals. Users will be able to begin their morning with the latest weather, traffic situation, and meeting schedules, or relax in the evening by video-calling friends and watching YouTube – once again, just by using their voice.

Changing orientations

We expect to see an increase in both video content and video usage frequency as this trend takes hold. Data suggests that smartphones are held in portrait mode up to 94% of the time – which has been driving the use of portrait video, given that smartphones are the dominant consumption device. As a result, more portrait video is showing up in other form factors such as laptops, tablets, desktops, and now in the Lenovo Smart Display that transitions seamlessly from landscape to portrait mode. And with millions of millennials livestreaming and watching hours of videos online each day, we will see better cameras, better displays, more augmented reality (AR) video content, and more evolved AI that does a better job analysing video to help with better user recommendations.

I’m excited for what these voice and video trends will bring. Expect users to become more willing and savvy as they use voice skills with devices in more sophisticated ways. And expect voice to become more intelligent and useful in AR settings, IoT applications in the smart home and office, and for handling better cross-device interaction. Interesting times are ahead.

  • Thibault Dousson, General Manager, Lenovo South Africa & SADC 

 

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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