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AI goes job-hunting

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Artificial intelligence has evolved to the extent that companies will be using bits of it to streamline job functions, representing an opportunity for employees in the digital world, writes FRANK RIZZO, Technology sector leader at KPMG, South Africa.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can no longer be considered the stuff of science fiction. In fact, it has evolved to such an extent that many companies will soon be using elements of it to streamline job functions – and this represents a significant opportunity for employees in the digital world.

AI brings with it substantial potential for the business to take previously laborious tasks and automate them. And while automation is nothing new, the fact that we are entering a phase where AI targets highly skilled knowledge workers is not something that business have had to address before. So, should South African employees be concerned that they will lose their jobs to AI and automation? There is no denying the fact that there will be an impact, but it is not in the way many think.

Knowledge workers are under increasing pressure to do more given the influx of data inside the organisation. Taking both structured and unstructured forms, employees must continuously learn to innovate and use the data at their disposal to deliver value for the business. All of this is happening in an environment where time is still taken up by numerous day-to-day tasks.

For example, responding to customer queries, performing administrative functions, conducting research, managing aspects of financial and legal services, and so on require people to rely on their intelligence and situational analysis to make decisions and take action.

However, advances in AI and automation means that methodologies will likely come to the fore, where technology can be used to take care of many of these standard activities. The benefit this provides both the organisation and the knowledge worker is that time can now be used more effectively to perform more mission-critical functions.

In many respects, AI is still in its early days, especially when it comes to a mass roll-out across businesses, irrespective of industries. Even though the potential exists, developers and organisations still need to find the most efficient ways of introducing these components into existing processes. In South Africa, where there is a significant rate of unemployment, some might feel threatened by this potential.

And yet, this does not have to be the case.

By using AI to automate certain job functions, the organisation can focus on empowering the employee with additional skills and knowledge required to benefit from the digital economy. By reducing the number of menial tasks, the organisation will be able to create new job functions (for example data scientist) that are designed to harness the potential of a connected society.

Of course, this will not happen overnight. As with any revolution, the fourth industrial revolution currently being experienced will incrementally change the way we work and live.

Industry 4.0 is predominantly focused on automation and data exchanges in manufacturing technologies. Today, focus will be given to reinvention and using technologies in new and different ways to be more efficient and cost-conscious. In reality, we can do very little to stop how technology evolves and how AI will become even more intelligent and intuitive. However, it is not going to be a case of ‘us versus them’. Instead, companies the world over will find ways in which employees will work in collaboration with AI and automation to capitalise on all available resources.

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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.

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By 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.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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