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Making money fit for the future

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There is a problem with money – it now comes in many forms, but is not fit for the future. That’s going to change, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.|easy tech

Pepper is not your everyday waiter. He is a robot that can move on its own wheels, taking orders from customers in a restaurant, fetching the food and delivering it to tables. But he’s not just a novelty: over the past year, more than 14 000 units have been deployed in fast food outlets across Japan.

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Its maker, Softbank, builds a thousand every month and sells out as fast it produces them. Pepper has branched out into dentist offices, bathhouses and even life insurance sales.

Pepper’s international breakthrough came in May, when Softbank teamed up with Mastercard to add payment functionality via the Masterpass digital wallet app. It allows customers to pair the app on their smartphones with Pepper, and make payment through a touching a button on their screens or tapping the phone on Pepper.

It is currently being rolled out out mainly by Pizza Hut in its outlets across Asia, but is not going to stick to fast food. Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in Japan plans to put a hundred Peppers to work as salesrobots at its 80 branches.

Pepper may well look like the future of sales, but in truth is only one of many futures that is beginning to emerge. At the Mastercard Innovation Forum in Budapest last week, where Pepper made an appearance, it was clear that the real secret was not in the artificial intelligence that makes Pepper possible, but in the interfaces that make payments seamless.

According to Michael Miebach, chief product officer at Mastercard, the problem with money is that it no longer works seamlessly, even in the digital area of connected accounts and mobile money apps.

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“The consumer today mainly engages with us through plastic, and some use digital payment factors,” said Miebach in an interview in Budapest. “So the payment experience can be digital, but there are many other experiences around payment that are not connected to each other.

“Take loyalty programmes with frequent flyer miles: to figure out what my mileage is, I have to go onto a website. And I can’t connect it with my card account. So there is a disconnect between all the payment tools. Many of them work well by themselves, but they are not fit for the future.”

This startling statement comes as research reveals it is not only so-called millennials who are ready for digital and connected payment systems. Consumers across the board want to be able to pay on any available channel, at any time, anywhere.

“They want convenience, it must be simple and smart, and it must be secure,” said Miebach. “The most important thing is safety and security, which is not only about preventing theft: it means that the payment must only take place when you want it to, and where you want it. Those needs are universal, for millennials and for older people.”

The initial focus is on what has been around for a long time, namely the existing form factor of the plastic card and how it will evolve, and linking it to what’s happening in the Internet space.

The big push in the United States at present is for the EMV system, named for card associations Europay, Mastercard and Visa. A chip embedded in the EMV card allows for authentication of the transaction on the card itself via a PIN number linked to the chip. South Africa introduced the system a few years ago, but it is only beginning to be a dominant safety standard in the USA.

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It is likely to be followed by a shift to tokenisation, which allows a random string of digits, linked to a card number, to be used once-off for the transaction, so that the card details are not stored by the merchant, and cannot be reused if intercepted.

Then, according to Miebach, “We move all the way to consumer self-authentication, or biometrics, and here it gets really interesting. I believe biometrics will be a critical factor to identify who is paying and who they are paying.”

Many smartphone users are already familiar with biometrics thanks to fingerprint recognition on newer smartphones. However, Miebach believes that facial recognition has the potential to be as big.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February, Mastercard demonstrated the concept of Selfie Pay, based on many smartphones having a camera that can recognise facial features. Instead of typing in a password, the user selects the Selfie Pay option, takes a photo with the front camera of the phone, and the transaction is authenticated. It’s already in use in California and the Netherlands.

In principle, there is little difference between biometric authentication like fingerprint and facial recognition on the one hand, and voice and iris scans on the other. It all comes down to the platform where the payment is being made, and which is the most natural form of authentication at that moment.

However, even the selfie does not offer enough convenience, says Miebach, as one still has to hold up the phone and take pic.

Raghav Malik, Senior Analyst in Enterprise Security Solutions doing a product demonstration of Identity Check in MasterCard stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The company displayed the future of payments for devices and wearables. (Carlos Alonso/AP Images for MasterCard)

Raghav Malik, Senior Analyst in Enterprise Security Solutions doing a product demonstration of Identity Check in MasterCard stand at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. The company displayed the future of payments for devices and wearables. (Carlos Alonso/AP Images for MasterCard)

“How about if you have continuous proof of life, such as heartbeat patterns and continual authentication, based on wearables? It will be very intuitive and consumers won’t even notice it’s happening.”

There is one fundamental reason consumers would embrace this payments future, and why organisations like Mastercard are working so hard to turn it into reality.

“It sure beats the world of today with the range of passwords and user names we need to remember,” says Miebach. “That’s like having to guess who you are every time you make a payment.”

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  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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