Artificial intelligence is seen as an advanced and dangerous technology, but IBM is showing how it can help solve problems for Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Artificial intelligence has been getting a bad rap lately. It’s been blamed for the way Facebook and Twitter promote fake news on the basis of showing people more of what they are already click through to read. That in turn is credited by some with handing Donald Trump the US presidency. It’s also been blamed for introducing bias into anything from home loan approvals to facial recognition systems, which tend to be more accurate with Caucasian faces than those of others.
But a team of scientists at a research facility in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, hopes to change all that.
“We are working on beneficial AI,” says Tapiwa Chiwewe, a scientist at IBM Research, which opened its second global research lab in Africa at the Tshimologong precinct in 2016. “We want to create AI that benefits people. In Africa, there are all kinds of socio-economic problems and we’re in a unique position to create AI that improves people’s lives. But we also want to create economic and social value.”
The emphasis is not on AI for its own sake, or operating independently of humans, but on creating symbiotic systems that help humans perform their roles better.
“These range from data driven healthcare to digital urban ecosystems,” says Craig Holmes, vice president for Industry Solutions and Business Development at IBM Middle East and Africa. “We’re researching air-quality management in partnership with the city of Johannesburg and Tshwane, we’re looking at traffic management in cities, and even wildfire risk prediction in the Cape Town area.”
Many of these projects will deliver benefits in the medium- to long-term future, but at least one is ready to roll out. It will be launched this Sunday, April 22, marking Earth Day. Appropriately, it is aimed at promoting sustainable energy.
It’s called EmpowerSolar, and is a web-based application for designing solar powered solutions for domestic and business use.
IBM explains on the site: “The app uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine an optimal solution, along with an estimated price based on current typical prices. The algorithm takes into account the amount of sunlight at your chosen location, along with the specified usage of the various electrical appliances chosen.”
The app was developed by Dr Ashley Gritzman, a young scientist at IBM Research. By coincidence, he had graduated as an electrical engineer and was an installer of solar systems before joining IBM.
“I had a small startup, assessing people’s energy usage, monitoring household or small business consumption, and told them how to reduce their energy use, ranging from changing old light bulbs to LED, to using solar geysers for water heating. Then we’d spec the systems, and design and install. I saw there was a big divide between home owners who may want energy efficiency, and the knowledge of installers and retailers of the technology.
“When I joined this lab, they asked, what contribution can we make to the energy question in South Africa? I saw a big gap of information. For example, solar is regarded as way too expensive for many and they wouldn’t look at it. But in fact, people have no idea what it will cost. If they assume it will cost hundreds of thousands of rands, they won’t even pick up the phone to enquire. I wanted to bridge the gap between homeowners and new technology.”
Part of Gritzman’s motivation was the dramatic fall in solar costs: the price of panels has fallen 50% in the last 5 years. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme, designed to encourage private investment in renewable energy, has seen contract prices fall from R4 to 65c per Kilowatt Hour since 2011.
“South Africa has great resources in both solar and wind, and there is no longer a question that it is cheaper than new-built coal or nuclear. But it has to be super user-friendly, so that my parents can use it; it has to be technically accurate and pricing has to be correct, or else it’s not useful. And the electrical designs it comes up with have to work and be correct.
“When I was doing the solar stuff myself, a design would take a lot of time and a lot of calculations to do an initial quote. Then they also want to run the garage lights, for example, and you have to redo it. The app will be useful to home owners, but also to installers to do a quick design and costing.”
Gritzman’s PhD was in machine learning and image processing, which fits in perfectly with the artificial intelligence focus of the Research Lab and IBM’s Watson AI engine, which has been used for numerous medical breakthroughs, ranging from cancer research to tuberculosis treatment. However, EmpowerSolar fed a personal passion, and he was quickly able to drive it from idea to reality.
“It’s a responsive web site, it looks like an app, but doesn’t have to be downloaded. You choose your location, and we ask a few questions that are easy to understand. The big difference is in how much sun you get. We’ve got little sliders, and ask people to use those to select direction, angle of roof and appliances they’d like to use with solar energy.
“When I was an installer, we’d just say how many kilowatt hours do you use a month, and most people don’t know. So we build this from the ground up, with categories, like home office, kitchen, and lighting, and within each we have a database of generic appliances.”
Part of the purpose of the service is to promote energy-efficient behaviour. As users indicate the appliances they use, messages pop up that, for example, advise that an electric geyser uses a large amount of electricity, and indicates the cost and benefit of installing gas or solar. Nothing is hidden. The application includes costs for solar panels, batteries, charge controllers, inverters and installation costs.
Gritzman is as enthusiastic about South Africa’s advantages as he is about solar power.
“South Africa really is sunny. If you compare us with Germany, one of the world leaders in solar, the least sunny spot in South Africa still has more sun than the most sunny city in Germany. That puts in perspective what opportunity we have.”
* Try out the EmpowerSolar application at https://empowersolar.mybluemix.net/
Here is 2019’s tech
From AI to flexible displays, this is the tech that will shape 2019, writes CY KIM, MD of LG SA
2018 was incredibly exciting for the technology sector which has seen myriad advancements. These include the fundamentals of artificial intelligence (AI) being established, robots helping around the house and consumer electronic innovations such as TVs that are so thin, they might be mistaken for windows, or paintings.
2019 promises to be another significant year as people’s attitudes are changing and technology becomes embedded in our lives. Smart electronics manufacturers will ensure their plans for the future match evolving consumer needs with suitable technology.
We take a look at the biggest innovations for 2019 from AI to lightning-fast internet speeds and flexible viewing surfaces, and we shed some light on how these evolving technologies will impact on how we live and work.
AI will come of age
AI has experienced a marked increase in investments and according to Forbes, 80% of enterprises are investing in AI while 30% are planning to expand their AI investments in the next three years. It’s estimated that during 2017, venture, corporate and seed investors put about $3.6-billion into AI and machine learning companies.
This investment trend has given rise to innovation in deep learning products that have the potential to change the world for the better.
Yes, AI has been around since the 1950s, but its consumer benefits weren’t visible until recently and 2019 will be the year when AI starts to really take off and become a necessity, not just in the home, but in every facet of our lives.
The potential of AI is endless as this technology goes into everything from small watches to cars and even gigantic, connected smart cities. AI is also starting to find its way into TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, speakers, mobile phones and even air cons as products adapt to human behaviour.
Lightning-fast internet speeds
Faster internet speeds enable quicker response times for business tools that we all rely on to get the job done. It will increase the efficiency of workers and will provide reliable communication tools for companies that rely on remote workers.
Given that the so-called gig economy has grown exponentially in recent years, the expectation is that the evolving workforce will contain a higher percentage of employees, or contractors who do not work in a central office.
5G has the potential to change the world the way the internet did a few decades ago. The fifth generation of wireless technology will take internet connectivity to a new level as the internet of things (IoT), will bring about the potential for everything to be connected to everything.
However, 5G is not just about faster internet speeds. It will create new possibilities in numerous sectors, including medicine, transportation and manufacturing.
A smarter world through IoT and AI isn’t possible without 5G’s speed and capacity as the system is able to carry large numbers of connections simultaneously, and is therefore crucial to the development of smart cities, autonomous cars and smart homes.
Life-enriching smart technology
Much like technological innovations, consumer habits and preferences are changing drastically when it comes to home appliances and particularly, home entertainment.
Most consumers believe that advancements in home entertainment tech is life-enriching and that their life is better with the latest tech at their fingertips as it allows them to stay indoors and enjoy quality time with friends and family.
The value of home entertainment tech lies in how it allows loved ones to share experiences, thereby bringing them closer together, particularly during big events such as major sporting events and holiday celebrations.
The potential of flexible viewing surfaces will not only change home entertainment, but also marketing techniques in shopping malls, city centres and shop fronts. With the ability to curve around any environment, this technology creates the perfect platform for signage and consumer engagement that stands out from the crowd.
LG Electronics is an established market leader in innovation and has already started to incorporate these futuristic technologies into its products, which are designed to make consumers lives more convenient. We will continue to release amazing products that utilise smart tech to connect with consumers while staying ahead of the evolutionary curve.
AI will power IoT
A simple gesture. A world built from accessible assets that drive human convenience and interaction. This is the future that’s powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), two of the planet’s hottest topic trends right now for a very good reason. They work, says PHATHIZWE MALINGA, managing director of SqwidNet.
They are also the fuel driving digital transformation in 2019. These are the technologies revolutionising performance, process and productivity. They are also transforming industry challenges across agriculture, retail, health and the public sector and are set to continue on this path well into 2019.
IoT has become the central nervous system of technology, allowing users to make intelligent decisions without feeling overwhelmed by choice or technology. Its ability to make life easier on every level – business, consumer, public sector – is the next step of the IoT evolution as it improves quality of life using AI and machine learning to analyse past behaviour and the insights it gleans to change the future.
This is the vision of the perfect IoT and AI future. The two technologies so intertwined and connected that they are influencing one another’s growth, development and adoption. IoT provides the ability to generate data from the changing circumstances of an asset and the infrastructure required to transport that data to where it can be accessed and analysed. Considering the sheer volume of data generated, it is impossible for a human being to analyse it at the speed required for real-time decision making. And this is why AI has become so important.
Today, it is possible to write code that can read the data generated by IoT and identify meaningful patterns at the right speed. This code can also be written in such a way that it can learn from the results it found the last time it ran. It is code that can learn, an algorithm that can self-educate. In this way, AI requires the power of IoT to generate the data it needs to learn and IoT needs AI to ensure that this data can be made meaningful, in time.
Over the next six to 12 months, it is very likely that the potential of IoT will see numerous small players emerge across all industries. They will be focused on servicing those who have yet to experience the full benefits of IoT and they will use technology to deliver solutions that are just ‘good enough’. This could potentially see the more established players being disrupted but most will likely be using the same technology to innovate and to create solutions that don’t just meet customer expectations but transcend them. Of course, there will be some companies that will remain complacent and they will be the ones battling for customer attention out on the IoT playing field with the small, fresh players.
While on the topic of the customer, the next year is likely to introduce a lot more variety and scalability. The consistent drop in the cost of technology will allow for more choice in solution and capability and this will have a knock-on effect with regards to quality of life and the choices customers make when it comes to solution and service provider.
On the business frontier, the growth of IoT and AI offer an interesting bouquet of choices and opportunities. They allow for investment into solutions that generate better insights that, in turn, generate better products and services. Organisations that ignore this potential or think they can sidle on past what IoT and AI bring to the business are likely to be the ones that are left behind. It’s a cliché for a reason. A single look back at the companies that have emerged as big players in industries previously perceived as impenetrable proves the point. Innovation isn’t optional, it’s an essential part of business DNA and both IoT and AI are critical parts of the ability to innovate at speed, with relevance, and on time.