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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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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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