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Machine learning will go big and small in 2017

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Machine learning is an emerging trend in South Africa, with demand for data scientists rising and university programmes incorporating it in study programmes. DataProphet MD, FRANS CRONJE, highlights South Africa’s top machine learning trends.

Machine learning as a subset of Artificial Intelligence is an emerging trend in South Africa, with demand for data scientists rising sharply and university programmes incorporating the discipline in study programmes. However, still a long way behind international counterparts, South African machine learning trends for 2017 place focus on our unique and emerging market.

The machine learning sector is really beginning to take form in South Africa with various start-ups taking off and entering the international scene.

At DataProphet, we specialise in the application of machine learning algorithms to provide actionable solutions for a variety of industries. Having built a presence in the U.S. we have experienced the difference in industry trends first hand.

South Africa’s diverse range of spoken languages makes it difficult to use existing personal assistants, chatbots and speech recognition tools which were designed solely for the English language. This is just one example of how approaches to machine learning need to be tailored to the local market.

In addition, inequality in terms of income and high levels of poverty means that fewer people have the means to take part in the growing Internet of Things (IoT) trend. This is also influenced by lower levels of affordable smartphone, computer and data access.

Fortunately, South African companies – not generally known for their customer care – are starting to wake up to the possibilities of efficient customer relationship management (CRM) through bespoke products, targeted marketing and improved customer service.

Our top four trends for machine learning in South Africa for 2017 are:

1. Big Data

Until recently, there were only a few companies who had the expertise needed to handle large datasets. However, as Big Data ‘know-how’ continues to spread across local industries, organisations will begin to see the benefits of uncovering new insights and opportunities presented through previously untouched data.

One way of using this data which has seen incredible growth is in segmentation – distinguishing customers based on their behaviour. Vodacom’s ‘Just 4 You’ campaign, for example, enabled businesses to better understand their needs and provide a personalised experience while also improving profits.

2. Chatbots

In a country where many digital and technological services are limited, chatbots are set to see steady increase in use cases as the technology graduates out of a being seen as ‘gimmicky’. Their return will see an increase in assistance with legal and financial advice, medical diagnosis and customer support.

ABSA has already introduced such a chatbot in the market, increasing the ways in which the bank engages with customers.

3. Computer Vision

The near-human level performance of computer vision will definitely be a trend to watch out for in 2017. For example, useful in the South African retail industry, smart cameras may be able to identify when a shoplifting or a break-in occurs and then notify security services.

4. Autonomous Worker Drones

Lastly, while smaller and far less technologically advanced drones made it onto the wishlists of teenagers over the festive season, advanced drone-mounted cameras are likely to gain popularity in South Africa this year. The efficiency of such technology is undeniable with the ability to battle rhino poachers by scanning large areas and reporting on the whereabouts of wildlife and people.

Beyond 2017, industry players may also want to keep the below considerations in mind.

  • Data is a gold mine

Keep in mind that while you may not be taking full advantage of your data, others are going to be efficiently using theirs and will therefore have a competitive edge over you. Machine learning has the ability to disrupt the market; driverless cars are just one example of this. Keeping up-to-date and adapting with the times is vital to avoid becoming obsolete.

  • Not all solutions are equal

Off-the-shelf ‘black-box’ machine learning models and analysis tools often hide a myriad of algorithmic design decisions in exchange for usability resulting in the most common for all scenarios but also non-optimal solution for all scenarios. The use of such solutions can result in sub-optimal model performance or unintended, negative consequences. Many of the very best machine learning products are open-source and open-data which allow for the establishment of social-good machine learning applications that many may not have even considered yet.

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Get your passwords in shape

New Year’s resolutions should extend to getting password protection sorted out, writes Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET Southern Africa.

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Many of us have entered the new year with a boat load of New Year’s resolutions.  Doing more exercise, fixing unhealthy eating habits and saving more money are all highly respectable goals, but could it be that they don’t go far enough in an era with countless apps and sites that scream for letting them help you reach your personal goals.

Now, you may want to add a few weightier and yet effortless habits on top of those well-worn choices. Here are a handful of tips for ‘exercises’ that will go good for your cyber-fitness.

I won’t pass up on stubborn passwords

Passwords have a bad rap, and deservedly so: they suffer from weaknesses, both in terms of security and convenience, that make them a less-than-ideal method of authentication.  However, much of what the internet offers is independent on your singing up for this or that online service, and the available form of authentication almost universally happens to the username/password combination.

As the keys that open online accounts (not to speak of many devices), passwords are often rightly thought of as the first – alas, often only – line of defence that protects your virtual and real assets from intruders. However, passwords don’t offer much in the way of protection unless, in the first place, they’re strong and unique to each device and account.

But what constitutes a strong password?  A passphrase! Done right, typical passphrases are generally both more secure and more user-friendly than typical passwords. The longer the passphrase and the more words it packs the better, with seven words providing for a solid start. With each extra character (not to mention words), the number of possible combinations rises exponentially, which makes simple brute-force password-cracking attacks far less likely to succeed, if not well-nigh impossible (assuming, of course, that the service in question does not impose limitations on password input length – something that is, sadly, far too common).

Click here to read about making secure passwords by not using dictionary words, using two-factor authentication, and how biometrics are coming to web browsers.

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Code Week prepares 2.3m young Africans for future

By SUNIL GENESS, Director Government Relations & CSR, Global Digital Government, at SAP Africa.

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On January 6th, 2019, news broke of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans to announce a new approach to education in his second State of the Nation address, including:

  • A universal roll-out of tablets for all pupils in the country’s 23 700 primary and secondary schools
  • Computer coding and robotics classes for the foundation-phase pupils from grade 1-3 and the
  • Digitisation of the entire curriculum, , including textbooks, workbooks and all teacher support material.

With this, the President has shown South Africa’s response to a global challenge: equipping our youth with the skills they’ll need to survive and thrive in the 21st century digital economy.

Africa’s working-age population will increase to 600 million in 2030 from a base of 370 million in 2010.

In South Africa, unemployment stands at 26.7 percent, but is much more pronounced among youths: 52.2 percent of the country’s 15-24-year-olds are looking for work.

As an organisation deeply invested in South Africa and its future, SAP has developed and implemented a range of initiatives aimed at fostering digital skills development among the country’s youth, including:

AFRICA CODE WEEK

Since its launch in 2015, Africa Code Week has introduced more than 4 million African youth to basic coding.

In 2018, more than 2.3 million youth across 37 countries took part in Africa Code Week.

The digital skills development initiative’s focus on building local capacity for sustainable learning resulted in close to 23 000 teachers being trained in the run-up to the October 2018 events.

Vital to the success of Africa Code Week is the close support it receives from a broad spectrum of public and private sector institutions, including UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Cape Town Science Centre, the Camden Education Trust, 28 African governments, over 130 implementing partners and 120 ambassadors across the continent.

SAP’s efforts to drive digital skills development on the African continent forms part of a broader organisational commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 4 (“Ensure quality and inclusive education for all”)

A core component of Africa Code Week is to encourage female participation in STEM-related skills development activities: in 2018, more than 46% of all Africa Code Week participants were female.

According to Africa Code Week Global Coordinator Sunil Geness, female representation in STEM-related fields among African businesses currently stands at 30%, “requiring powerful public-private partnerships to start turning the tide and creating more equitable opportunities for African youth to contribute to the continent’s economic development and success”.

Click here to read more about the Skills for Africa graduate training programme, and about the LEGO League.

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