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AI can double SA growth

AI has the potential to double SA’s growth, specifically in the agriculture, manufacturing and mining sectors is one of the major findings in a recent Accenture white paper.

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As most global markets experience growth, South Africa remains in an economic quagmire. Due to credit rating downgrades, a volatile currency, and lower contributions to GDP from the country’s major economic spinners – the agriculture, manufacturing, and mining sectors – the country is experiencing stubbornly high unemployment and anaemic economic growth. Low skills levels and declining productivity are also eroding the country’s global competitiveness.

While the panacea to these challenges is multifaceted, and requires both public and private sector participation, the appropriate application of modern technologies can be an important part of solving many of these challenges, states a new whitepaper released by Accenture. Thanks to unlimited access to computational power through cloud computing, and growth in big data, new digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) are already reshaping the world. Similarly, AI can help South Africa solve many of its challenges in entirely new ways, and across multiple industries. More significantly, the whitepaper’s authors believe that the application of AI technology has the potential to double annual growth rates.

“South African organisations can no longer depend on increases in capital and labour alone to drive economic growth. They need to also embrace and accelerate their adoption of AI to improve operational efficiencies and margins,” comments Dr Caroline Belrose, chief data scientist and MD for Accenture Analytics, part of Accenture Digital. “In South Africa, AI already exists to some degree in many industries, but digital adoption on the whole remains slow. The imperative to transform is, however, urgent if businesses wish to maintain their competitiveness in global digital markets and ensure their sustainability.”

The whitepaper attributes this slow rate of adoption to the fact that many local organisations are currently struggling with legacy technologies, systems, business models and corporate structures, large core workforces and sunk investments in owned infrastructure. Others are just starting their digital journeys, and are coming to terms with the new business models, processes and skills needed to leverage the opportunities in an increasingly digitalised world. “To these organisations, AI may seem a long way off, but it is not. Organisations that leverage AI technologies now and make them a key component of their digital business environment will weave a place for themselves in a new digital society,” continues Belrose.

An important aspect of AI highlighted in the whitepaper is machine learning. AI is able to learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply. Unlike conventional assets such as buildings and machinery, AI in its physical forms, such as robots or intelligent machines, can improve over time, thanks to AI’s self-learning capabilities.

Research presented in the paper shows that businesses that operate in the manufacturing, agriculture, and wholesale and retail and accommodation and food services sectors are poised to benefit most by embedding AI. According to the research findings, the impact of AI on these industries could boost annual gross value added (GVA) growth rates by 1.4, 1.2 and 1.1 percentage points respectively, by 2035. However, to successfully pursue an AI agenda in South Africa, the authors state that policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, an AI-enabled future. “They must understand that AI is not simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, it is a new and discrete factor of production, and a tool that can transform our thinking about how to create growth.”

This, states the whitepaper, can be achieved in three distinct ways: By creating a new virtual workforce that complements and enhances the skills and ability of existing workers and physical capital, in what Accenture calls “intelligent automation”; by augmenting labour and capital to boost productivity through enhanced efficiencies and effectiveness; and through AI’s ability to stimulate innovation as it diffuses through the economy. Accenture believes that AI should be applied in a capital-labour hybrid model, where it is able to replicate work activities at greater scale and speed, often well beyond human capabilities. “The ability of AI to complement and enhance traditional factors of production is where its true potential lies,” adds Belrose.

 However, while the payoffs of an AI-enabled future could be significant, the authors caution policy makers and business leaders against underestimating the challenges that lie ahead in integrating AI into the economic, social and business systems of our country.

“To fully exploit AI’s potential for South Africa, policymakers must be thoroughly prepared to address the intellectual, technological, political, ethical and social challenges that will inevitably arise as AI becomes more embedded in our lives,” states Belrose.

Key to this will be successfully integrating human intelligence with machine intelligence, so that they coexist in a two-way learning relationship. “As the division of labour between man and machine changes, policy makers need to re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.” This will require, among other considerations highlighted in the whitepaper, the AI-enabled identification of talent, the re-skilling and up-skilling of the workforce, the creation of a code of ethics for AI, and a new strategic approach and mindset to the application of these technologies.

“Ultimately, the opportunity that AI presents for South Africa transcends improved efficiencies. It is an opportunity to close gaps and radically improve the productivity of people and assets, spur innovation and increase competitiveness across sectors. However, to realise this potential the time to move forward is now,” says Belrose.

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Revealing the real cost of ‘free’ online services

A free service by Finnish cybersecurity provider F-Secure reveals the real cost of using “free” services by Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon, among others.

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What do Google, Facebook, and Amazon have in common? Privacy and identity scandals. From Cambridge Analytica to Google’s vulnerability in Google+, the amount of personal data sitting on these platforms is enormous.

Cybersecurity provider F-Secure has released a free online tool that helps expose the true cost of using some of the web’s most popular free services. And that cost is the abundance of data that has been collected about users by Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon Alexa, Twitter, and Snapchat. The good news is that you can take back your data “gold”.

F-Secure Data Discovery Portal sends users directly to the often hard-to-locate resources provided by each of these tech giants that allow users to review their data, securely and privately.

“What you do with the data collection is entirely between you and the service,” says Erka Koivunen, F-Secure Chief Information Security Officer. “We don’t see – and don’t want to see – your settings or your data. Our only goal is to help you find out how much of your information is out there.”

More than half of adult Facebook users, 54%, adjusted how they use the site in the wake of the scandal that revealed Cambridge Analytica had collected data without users’ permission.* But the biggest social network in the world continues to grow, reporting 2.3 billion monthly users at the end of 2018.**

“You often hear, ‘if you’re not paying, you’re the product.’ But your data is an asset to any company, whether you’re paying for a product or not,” says Koivunen. “Data enables tech companies to sell billions in ads and products, building some of the biggest businesses in the history of money.”

F-Secure is offering the tool as part of the company’s growing focus on identity protection that secures consumers before, during, and after data breaches. By spreading awareness of the potential costs of these “free” services, the Data Discovery Portal aims to make users aware that securing their data and identity is more important than ever.

A recent F-Secure survey found that 54% of internet users over 25 worry about someone hacking into their social media accounts.*** Data is only as secure as the networks of the companies that collect it, and the passwords and tactics used to protect our accounts. While the settings these sites offer are useful, they cannot eliminate the collection of data.

Koivunen says: “While consumers effectively volunteer this information, they should know the privacy and security implications of building accounts that hold more potential insight about our identities than we could possibly share with our family. All of that information could be available to a hacker through a breach or an account takeover.”

However, there is no silver bullet for users when it comes to permanently locking down security or hiding it from the services they choose to use.

“Default privacy settings are typically quite loose, whether you’re using a social network, apps, browsers or any service,” says Koivunen. “Review your settings now, if you haven’t already, and periodically afterwards. And no matter what you can do, nothing stops these companies from knowing what you’re doing when you’re logged into their services.”

*Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/09/05/americans-are-changing-their-relationship-with-facebook/
**Source: https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/30/18204186/facebook-q4-2018-earnings-user-growth-revenue-increase-privacy-scandals
***Source: F-Secure Identity Protection Consumer (B2C) Survey, May 2019, conducted in cooperation with survey partner Toluna, 9 countries (USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Brazil, Finland, Sweden, and Japan), 400 respondents per country = 3600 respondents (+25years)

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WhatsApp comes to KaiOS

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By the end of September, WhatsApp will be pre-installed on all phones running the KaiOS operating system, which turns feature phones into smart phones. The announcement was made yesterday by KaiOS Technologies, maker of the KaiOS mobile operating system for smart feature phones, and Facebook. WhatsApp is also available for download in the KaiStore, on both 512MB and 256MB RAM devices.

“KaiOS has been a critical partner in helping us bring private messaging to smart feature phones around the world,” said Matt Idema, COO of WhatsApp. “Providing WhatsApp on KaiOS helps bridge the digital gap to connect friends and family in a simple, reliable and secure way.”

WhatsApp is a messaging tool used by more than 1.5 billion people worldwide who need a simple, reliable and secure way to communicate with friends and family. Users can use calling and messaging capabilities with end-to-end encryption that keeps correspondence private and secure. 

WhatsApp was first launched on the KaiOS-powered JioPhone in India in September of 2018. Now, with the broad release, the app is expected to reach millions of new users across Africa, Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

“We’re thrilled to bring WhatsApp to the KaiOS platform and extend such an important means of communication to a brand new demographic,” said Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS Technologies. “We strive to make the internet and digital services accessible for everyone and offering WhatsApp on affordable smart feature phones is a giant leap towards this goal. We can’t wait to see the next billion users connect in meaningful ways with their loved ones, communities, and others across the globe.”

KaiOS-powered smart feature phones are a new category of mobile devices that combine the affordability of a feature phone with the essential features of a smartphone. They meet a growing demand for affordable devices from people living across Africa – and other emerging markets – who are not currently online. 

WhatsApp is now available for download from KaiStore, an app store specifically designed for KaiOS-powered devices and home to the world’s most popular apps, including the Google Assistant, YouTube, Facebook, Google Maps and Twitter. Apps in the KaiStore are customised to minimise data usage and maximise user experience for smart feature phone users.

In Africa, the KaiOS-powered MTN Smart and Orange Sanza are currently available in 22 countries, offering 256MB RAM and 3G connectivity.

KaiOS currently powers more than 100 million devices shipped worldwide, in over 100 countries. The platform enables a new category of devices that require limited memory, while still offering a rich user experience.

* For more details, visit: Meet The Devices That Are Powered by KaiOS

* Also read Arthur Goldstuck’s story, Smart feature phones spell KaiOS

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