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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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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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