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Welcome to 2050

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The year 2050 is more than three decades away, but forward-looking organisations are beginning to build it today, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The journey to the future always begins tomorrow. That may be a glib statement, but it’s also a strategic rule that is guiding many technology companies’ planning for the way the world is expected to be.

At the Cisco Live conference in Barcelona last week, the world’s leading networking hardware company revealed that this was one of the keys to its innovation.

“We like to make predictions of the future so that we can think about where we should be going, and contrast that with Cisco’s overall strategy,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president at Cisco. He is also Cisco’s general manager for the Internet of Things and Applications, meaning his day job is not only to think about the physical shape of the future, but to guide its creation.

“The reality is we are heading into an age of intelligence from a technology perspective, made possible by all the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning we’ve seen in the last few years. Those two advances are what underpin many of the innovations you’ve seen from us already.”

In a keynote address, Trollope took his audience through the key inventions and technologies that can already be predicted today through to 2050. However, rather than taking the safe route of predicting general directions and periods, he gave exact years when we could see specific innovations come to pass:

2022

“Dubai has announced that, in 2022, they will launch the worlds first driverless hover taxi. A flying car. We finally get a flying car! This is real, this is happening.”

2025

“By 2025, we believe you’re going to start seeing smartphones disappear. Last year I went to Florida to a little office park and visited a company called Magic Leap. They are launching an Augmented Reality headset, completely wireless, with all the capabilities of a smartphone, but you don’t have to carry around this brick in your hand. Google Glass was version 1, Magic Leap is version 2, and there will be many more versions. The experience I had was so much better than looking at a piece of glass. It’s hard not to imagine a world in which we don’t carry smartphones.”

2027

“In 2027 we should see the first commercial launch of a technology called text-by-thinking. It was launched in 2010, and has been tested in medical applications. It’s pretty exciting but also super weird.”

2028

As we reach the end of the 2020s, says Trollope, complete simulations of the human brain will become possible.

“This will allow us to achieve an incredible milestone, which is to fully simulate the functioning of the human brain. They can already do this for mice in the lab, so it’s only a matter of time. This will also be important for medical purposes.”

2030s

“The 2030s,” says Trollope, “will make the 2020s look like nothing has happened.

New job tiles on LinkedIn that will be common in 2030s will include positions like Avatar Manager, Body Part Maker, Vertical Farmer, Nano Medic, Climate Change Reversal Specialist, and Waste Data Handler. The world of work looks very different.”

2034

“By the early 2030s, in 2034, we will see 1 Terabit connections (1000 Gigabits or a million Megabits per second) to the home become common, and even with on-person connection technologies, built into what we wear.”

This is where the role of organisations like Cisco becomes clearer. Because the company is the world’s leading supplier of the routers and switches and other equipment that allows computer networks to communicate, it also has a central role in making possible the rapid increase in data speeds on the Internet. Particularly with the rise of the Internet of Things, connected sensors and devices – and analysis of the data they generate – will play a key role.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in next 12 years to get to that world of 2034,” says Trollope. “Gathering data from every object around us, will transform the way we live and work. We will see really astounding progress from a networking perspective.”

2036

“By 2036, as a result of reverse engineering the human brain, experts predict, Alzheimer’s will finally be cured. But between now and then we will see many of the diseases that afflict us today wiped out.”

2040

“When we get to the 2040s, things really start to happen. We believe by 2040, the average home PC will have the computing power of 1-billion human brains. While today you have a thousand songs in your pocket, you will have a billion brains in your pocket by then.”

Trollope also believes that many of the computing giants that are household names today will have disappeared, become new entities or merge. He showed a mock-up logo for a brand called DELLnovo, cheekily suggesting the merging of Dell and Lenovo, today respectively the American and Chinese leaders in PC production.

2045

“By 2045, Ray Kurzweil, the chief futurist of Google, has predicted we will reach the Singularity. That is the moment AI becomes smarter than humans. What Elon Musk and Bill Gates are concerned about, is that it might decide that it doesn’t need us pesky humans around anymore. Regardless of whether we believe that or not, we must be prepared for a future that is radically different.”

2050

“By the end of the 2040s, virtual telepathy will dominate personal communications. Advancing text-by-thinking over the next 20 years, that technology will become good enough for personal use and cheap enough for most people on earth. It will radically change our culture and society in ways we can’t imagine.

“By the 2050s, we will have the first permanent human presence on Mars. We will finally become an interplanetary species. If you believe Elon Musk, it will happen even sooner.”

The big question, says Trollope, is what happens to planet Earth? It will need to support almost 10-billion people, but scientists believe it doesn’t have the “carrying capacity”.

“It will require two Earth-sized planets to support 9.7-billion people. The problem is that we only have one. The only way to survive comfortably in such a future, is that we have to be vastly more efficient with our resources, and that requires technology.

“We cannot have clean water and air for all people on earth without technology infrastructure. Every single system will require the groundwork we are doing today as a company and as an industry.”

Trollope has a warning that is both hopeful and ominous: “We have to think about how we are going to get there with technology. This puts in perspective why we do what we do. We have no choice.”

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

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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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