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Michael Dell: Why we must learn to work with AI

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A key message of a major technology conference this week was that we should worry less about artificial intelligence taking our jobs and more about learning to work with it, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

“It’s not people or machines. It’s people AND machines.” With that simple message, Dell Technologies CEO Michael Dell hoped to put to rest the threat of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) replacing humans.

Speaking at the opening of the Dell Technologies World conference in Las Vegas on Monday, the Dell founder was adamant that technology was a force for innovative and positive progress for the entire world.

Later, he told a media briefing that Dell Technologies deeply believed in the power of information technology as a driver of transformation of business and society, and that AI was a key to this transformation.

“I’m seeing an explosion of use cases for AI. It includes neural networks, machine learning and deep learning, but the idea is that you’re taking all this data and using learning and inference to draw better conclusions from the data.”

The message that ran through the conference, which drew 14 000 delegates to experience first-hand the benefits of the historic $67-billion 2016 merger between Dell Inc and EMC, was that AI was the engine of growth, and data was the fuel for this engine. He also described it as a “variable technology”, which meant that its impact would vary greatly depending on how it was used.

“There will always be variable technology, and the difference is between those who figure it out and those who don’t. If you’re not using your data with AI, you’re probably doing it wrong. 

“To be competitive in the future, you have to use AI and data and do it at record speed and at scale. It all starts with a company’s data, and the data helps make a product or service better. This allows a company to attract more customers, which creates more data, and the cycle repeats itself.”

Despite prophecies of AI doom from the likes of Elon Musk, Dell was not too concerned about government stepping in.

“Regulation is interesting. It happens because people are afraid of something, or because something really bad happens. Is that possible with AI? Absolutely. It’s our job to prevent that. We have to figure out how to use it in a responsible way. We’ve had mostly very good stuff. There will always be bad people; we have to figure out how to stop them.

“Will governments play a role in that? Probably. Sometimes regulation is important and works well, sometimes it backfires spectacularly. I do know if you try to hold something back that’s fundamentally powerful and good, that’s not going to work.”

Dell believes that the advent of 5G, the new connectivity standard that will eventually replace 3G and 4G, will once again change everything related to information and communications technology. However, the standard was only finalised at the end of last year, and it will still take a few years before most mobile network operators will be able to roll out 5G networks.

“It will help move that data exponentially faster. If AI is your rocket ship, data is the fuel for your rocket. If you know how to use it, data will become your most valuable asset.

“The thing that is amazing is that so many new things are coming, it’s hard to know which to be more excited about. 5G is like we’re sitting in the mid-90s and someone has cooked up this thing called the World Wide Web and we’re wondering what’s going to happen as a result. In the same way, 5G is a massive accelerant of all the things that are happening in technology. 

“It’s not just about us communicating, it’s about connecting everything together. These are all enabling technologies.”

During the Dell Technologies World event, a constant refrain was for businesses to prepare not for the next few years, but for the next decade. With the theme “Realizing 2030”, the focus was on how emerging technology will reshape our lives in the next 15 years. 

Last year the company collaborated with the Institute for the Future to explore the emerging technologies shaping the future of the human experience over the next decade. 

The ultimate conclusion? Humans and machines will be working in close partnership by 2030.

Both individuals and organisations are grappling with the digital and workforce transformations under way today,” the report found. “As these transformations are informed and influenced by emerging technologies over the next decade, people will develop new and deeper relationships and new dependencies on machines, at home and in the workplace. 

“If we start to approach the next decade as one in which partnerships between humans and machines transcend our limitations and build on our strengths, we can begin to create a more favourable future for everyone.”

In the report, Liam Quinn, Dell Chief Technology Officer, likened the emerging technologies of today to the roll-out of electricity 100 years ago, saying that we no longer fixate on the “mechanics” or the “wonders” of electricity, yet it underpins almost everything we do in our lives. 

Similarly, in the 2030s, today’s emerging technologies will underpin our daily lives: “Imagine the creativity and outlook that’s possible from the vantage point these tools will provide: In 2030, it will be less about the wonderment of the tool itself and more about what that tool can do.”

By 2030, the report concluded, “we will no longer revere the technologies that are emerging today. They will have long disappeared into the background conditions of everyday life. If we engage in the hard work of empowering human-machine partnerships to succeed, their impact on society will enrich us all.”

  • 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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