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Will a robot take my job?

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Recent research has found that AI has the potential to double the growth rate of the South African economy. Even though this is great news, it is worrying for many employees as they begin to wonder if they will be replaced by a robot, says ROB JARDINE, Head, Research and Solutions at the NeuroLeadership Institute South Africa.

Last year, research by Accenture and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) posited that artificial intelligence (AI) had the potential to double the growth rate of the South African economy and boost rates of profitability by an average of 38 percent by 2035. This is great news for South African businesses of course, but an AI-dominated landscape brings with it multiple ethical and social issues, including the problem of a labour force that feels redundant and whose skills may be no longer needed.

AI will undoubtedly change the world of work, just as the Industrial Revolution did in the 1700s and 1800s. Certain jobs will become obsolete, as intelligent machines will be able to complete tasks quicker and more accurately than humans. New roles will also be created – jobs that we haven’t even thought about yet. AI will be the biggest disruptor the business world has seen in over two centuries. It is little wonder, then, that people are already starting to get jittery about the possibility of being replaced by, or working with, a robot in the near future.

Why we see AI as a threat

Neuroscience, which focuses on how the brain works, has some valuable insights into precisely why AI is perceived as such a threat by the workforce. As social animals, our desire to be part of a herd – in this case a company – is hardwired into our brains, an evolutionary remnant of when physical survival depended on safety in numbers. Any sense of social exclusion, therefore, is felt as a danger to our very existence, and our brain is consequently sensitive to this trigger in our social environments.

Feeling excluded is one of the five social triggers that is interpreted by the brain as a result of its central organising principal: to minimize danger and maximise reward. These triggers can put our brains into a threat or reward state that has an effect on our capacity to solve problems, make decisions and collaborate. AI is particularly threatening because it can be triggered by all five areas of human social experience: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness (SCARF ®).

AI threatens an employee’s Status, as their value in the workplace and as a productive member of society comes into question. Certainty is no longer guaranteed, as the future is unpredictable and employees wonder whether they will even have a job in the next five years. With AI encroaching on the workplace, employees feel as though they are losing their Autonomy because they cease to feel in control and think that they may not have options. Their Relatedness is threatened as they believe that they don’t belong anymore and are not sure which group they may belong to in the future. Finally, a sense of Fairness is triggered in employees as they feel as though they may not be treated equally.

One of the worst effects of being in a threatened state is that people are not open to change because the brain has less access to long-term memory and its capacity to think rationally and make decisions is reduced. This is because the brain is in a flight-or-flight survival mode, and so does not prioritise these actions. People are consequently also unable to see AI as something that could allow them the space to be more innovative, explore a new career, or give them more free time.

This brain state also affects the control of self-defeating behaviour; for example, an employee in a threatened state could stop being collaborative with their colleagues, procrastinate in their work, and have lower capacity to solve problems. None of this behaviour is conducive to doing business or ensuring a productive workforce.

Cultivating a growth mindset in employees

As AI becomes more of a permanent fixture in companies, employers should start focusing on fostering a growth mindset in their employees, so that they welcome the change that AI will bring, rather than fearing it. This mindset, pioneered by the work of Dr Carol Dweck, is based on whether employees believe that their abilities are finite or if they can be developed. If they do believe that their ability can be developed, then they will be inspired by the change and look forward to it as an opportunity to grow.

We must also remember that, with the dawn of the age of AI, human qualities become far more valuable. AI machines cannot truly collaborate and adjust their behaviour in relation to others’ actions. They do not have the same degree of social intelligence, and cannot become leaders. AI machines also lack business acumen and are unable to transfer their ‘skills’ from one industry to another. All these qualities, even in the age of AI, will still be a vital aspect of ensuring a prosperous society and thriving economy.

Entrepreneurship provides a solution

It is undeniable, however, that many South African’s jobs will become obsolete or change as AI becomes more of a permanent fixture in the workplace. The significant portion of SA’s workforce that is unskilled or semi-skilled will most likely be the first to be replaced by machines that will be able to do the work more efficiently. This will place pressure on individuals to change how they approach work and possibly to seek work in other sectors. However, this is no different to how jobs have evolved in the past. The introduction of more efficient farming technology a few centuries ago, for example, meant fewer people were needed to farm the land and so more workers were able to take up roles in other industries where there were labour shortages.

But with every door that AI closes to the workforce, another one opens – in this case, entrepreneurship. AI will make entrepreneurship an even more sought-after skill in the SA economy, as it focuses on innovation, provides employment opportunities, and has significant social impact. Entrepreneurship also gives individuals a sense of belonging, as being productive members of society provides Status, Certainty, Autonomy, and a sense of Relatedness and Fairness. People are able to elevate their level of contribution, they have more certainty and autonomy in their own work in an entrepreneurial setting, and can develop a more individualised sense of belonging by being able to gain as much as they contribute. This sense of belonging means that people are performing at their best, as they do not feel threatened by a change that may seem out of their control.

Of course, in order to retain employees, it is not feasible to ask them to set up their own shops. However, as employers, we can look at the ways that we define and integrate current employment when the machines join us in the workforce. By allowing employees more autonomy and control in the way they do and view their work, we can put them in a better brain state, as it plays to their social drivers. In most industries where the impact of machines will become more prominent, this is already being done in the advancement of the gig economy.

In conclusion, then, AI is definitely set to change our workforce in the next few decades, but not all these changes will be threatening. It is up to employers to ensure that their employees realise this by playing to the social domains that trigger the brain, so that every individual can continue to perform optimally, learn new skills, and work towards their future roles in stimulating our economy. If we are able to do this, we will ensure our brains will be at their best to face and embrace this change.

In a world that is becoming more mechanistic, it is our ability to be aware of our social surroundings that both sets us apart, and allows us to never fear a robot taking our job.

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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