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.
Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults
An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.
Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.
These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.
Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:
- The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
- The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
- The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
- The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
- The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
- The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.
The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been.
“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured. The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.
“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’.
“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves. Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).
“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”
For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.
Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry
Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time.
Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable.
We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks.
So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility?
Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly.
The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.
Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.