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The small flaw in high-tech cars

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High-tech cars may offer the ultimate in automated safety features, but that means little in the face of idiot drivers, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The fundamental flaw of futuristic vehicle technology came home to me with a bang in a parking lot in Johannesburg. And I wasn’t even in the car.

The Ford Fusion 1.5 EcoBoost is a superb combination of the traditional luxury sedan of the past decade and the early days of the connected car of tomorrow. The comfort and silence inside the car leaves one almost detached from the road, making it possible to dull the torture of traffic and idiot drivers.

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The technology built into the car is startling, given the common view of Ford as being an everyman vehicle with only the basics in place. A system called Active Park Assist finds parking spaces and steers the vehicle in. As the brochure tells it: “Simply put the car into gear and take your hands off the wheel. All you have to do is work the accelerator and brake. It even steers you out of your parking, hands-free.”

And yes, it works. The bane of the learner driver, parallel parking, solved by high-tech.

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The Blind Spot Information System activates indicator lights on the side mirrors if  a vehicle has snuck into your blind spot while you’re changing lanes. “So you can see what you can’t see,” Ford cutely puts it.

The Lane Keeping Aid adds to this category of safety: it monitors road markings, and detects if the vehcile is unintentionally moving out of its lane – i.e. when the indicator isn’t on. A vibrating steering wheel, as if driving over a corrugated surface, makes for a very tactile warning. If you’re still verring out of your lane without having indicated, the system applies steering torque to urge you back into your lane.

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If that isn’t enough, Active City Stop watches out for that moment when the driver becomes too detached from the traffic while stuck in the kind of bumper-to-bumper situation where the car’s entertainment system just begs to be explored. It only works in slow traffic: at less than 30km/h, it detects a sudden stop by the vehicle in front of the car, and applies brakes. No, it isn’t artificial intelligence. It is more of an advanced version of a thermostat in a fridge or toaster triggering automatic responses.

That gives us an inkling of what will be possible when we bring real artificial intelligence to bear on vehicle technology. It also goes some way to explain why there is so much hope for the self-driving car of the near future, and the role it can play in reducing accidents. The Ford Fusion 1.5 EcoBoost is an ideal bridge to this future.

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But there is one thing the technology still cannot do: deal with idiot drivers. And let’s face it, we’re all idiot drivers somewhere along the road.

In my case, it was an idiot parker. Or someone trying to manoeuvre out of a tight parking spot without watching where they were going, which is a synonym for an idiot parker. This resulted in a not-so-neat modification of the Ford Fusion’s rear end, and a visit to the nearest police station to report an accident.

This was doubly sad, since the Fusion is also fitted with a rear-view parking camera. It not only provides a clear view of what lurks behind, but also has proximity sensors that beep when you get too close to the object. The beeping intensifies as you get closer, and automatically turns down the music so that the noise of the beeps can penetrate your head-banging to Beethoven or Iron Maiden.

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The problem with the technology is that it only works when you are using it. Once the car is parked and switched off, the safety systems go to sleep. Which means that your car is at the mercy of the idiot parker.

On the open road, it also means that, as high-tech as the safety systems may be on your car, you are still at the mercy of the inadequate specs of other cars or their drivers.

That is the fundamental flaw of the self-driving car of the future. As long as there are human-propelled vehicles on the road, and as long as idiot drivers keep being drivers or idiots, the safest cars in the world may still be subject to the risks and perils of the rest.

* 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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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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