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10 ways tech will shape the world in 2018

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With companies spending small fortunes on technologies like AI, big data, IoT and blockchain, the world as we know could change dramatically. Simon Carpenter, Chief Technology Advisor at SAP Africa, gives his predictions on how 2018 will shape the future.

A lot can happen in a year. And when that year is 2018, a year in which we stand on the threshold of an exponential future driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, IoT and blockchain, the world may look very different by the end of it than it does now.

It is often productive to take some time in the early part of a year to consider (and imagine) what the next 10-12 months will hold. At the very least it affords us an opportunity to dream big and consider the implications of new trends, products, and services, as well as their underlying technologies. At best, we gain invaluable insight into how these technology trends will affect, improve or disrupt our businesses, our work and our personal lives, and help us reach previously unattainable goals, progress, (and even distant planets!)

Here are my (and my colleagues’) top technology predictions for 2018:

  1. In aerospace, the commercial airplane industry will see cool, new products and innovations. We’ll see the first legitimate applications of large-scale autonomous air taxis and hypersonic aircraft. In space, the journey to Mars is closer than we think. Our own Head of Innovation, Adriana Marais, is even shortlisted to be one of the first humans to undertake a manned mission to the Red Planet. 2018 is set to re-ignite our imaginations around space travel.

 

  1. In the manufacturing arena we will see the use of 3D Printing (or additive manufacturing) and robotics accelerating as companies position themselves to be more responsive, less wasteful and more competitive in a global context.

 

  1. Across Africa we will see agricultural value chains embracing technology as both government and private sector organisations work towards food security for Africa’s exploding population in the face of climate change, water shortages and land degradation. Technologies will be used to help both small and large-scale farmers achieve better outcomes with less impact on the environment and less wastage in the supply chain

 

  1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will become mainstream in business in 2018. You can break it down into three categories:
  1. Advanced analytics and big data plays, where the aggregation of data will enable fresh and deep insights and allow the creation of new business models,
  2. Business process automation, where we’ll see a high degree of back-end business processing being done by algorithms, freeing up human resources to be more productive and creative, and
  3. Customer experience, where we’ll see more intelligent and personalised layers between humans and systems, like voice navigation and human-like virtual assistants.

 

  1. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things, and blockchain will also enable new business models and create new markets driven by start-ups and agile corporates that can embrace these trends and understand the potential value propositions that can come out of it.

 

  1. On the workplace culture side, we’re going to see a significant refocus on cultural aspects of organisations, specifically how company culture and its practices support the needs and well-being of the organisation. Companies are realising that if they don’t have the culture and the practices to support a healthy, productive environment for their workers, they’re not going reach their goals.

 

  1. Design will assume a heightened eminence as companies, with equal and easy access to the latest technology platforms seek ways to establish a competitive edge in the way they apply technology to unforeseen problems and opportunities.

 

  1. One of the biggest stories in 2018 will be cybersecurity. The explosion in software, technology, and connected devices open many new threat vectors, at the same time that the regulatory environment is becoming significantly tougher.  Security systems must keep pace in the same fashion. We desperately need to get those protocols and security measures in place.

 

  1. Today there is a “land grab” happening in the IoT space as vendors, large and small, jostle for leadership. SAP’s global IoT evangelist Tom Raftery predicts that the IoT cloud platform market is going to consolidate quickly. “The IoT hype is going to finish and we’re going to move into possibly a ‘trough of disillusionment’ – as Gartner calls it – that precedes mainstream adoption. IoT architecture will evolve from data ingestion and analytics (the “thing to dashboard” paradigm) to an intelligent event-driven solution for end users. Digital twins will evolve from concepts to implementation providing new simulation and decision-making capabilities within and across companies.”

 

  1. Cameron Beveridge, SAP’s local cloud lead, predicts that we’re going to see companies reassess their strategic technical plan – possibly even stopping some of the roadmaps and re-evaluating options for the cloud, as well as moving forward with ERP transformations and improving total cost of operations by streamlining business processes and technical architecture. “There will be quite a bit around end-to-end transformation and being more innovative and proactive in business processes.”

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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