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AI paradox: It’s already transformed our lives

By MOHAMMED AMIN, SVP, Middle East, Russia, Africa, Turkey (MERAT) for Dell Technologies

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Those who worry that automation is going to upend our lives are forgetting that we already live in a largely automated world. When was the last time you visited the teller at your bank to withdraw money? Does anyone send hand-written letters to their friends and family around the world anymore? And who lands in a new city and drives around looking for a suitable hotel that may have a room? Automation has touched, transformed, and disrupted each of these examples in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago.

Elisha Graves Otis, founder of the elevator, brought automation to the public eye in 1857, with the first commercial production line of elevators that brought humans and machines next to each other in a coordinated process with well-defined roles of just moving up and down and stopping at certain points. This concept is therefore not new and has only grown in complexity and in pervasiveness, bringing us to a world where we have AI writing news articles and movie scripts, directing the performance of physical tasks in inhuman conditions and helping humans scale heights of achievement never thought possible.

Of course, it is true that the daily impact of automation is probably going to touch our lives in more obvious ways in the days to come. A recent study conducted by Dell Technologies found that 83 per cent of business leaders from Saudi Arabia and UAE expect that they will restructure the way they spend their time, through automation. Imagine the potential that a business unlocks by freeing up some percentage of executive time, to be invested towards planning, skill-building, or relationships. It is natural to say that the time for action is now, but the truth is that we are all well on our way on this journey, and it is business processes and the customer experience that were the first in line to be transformed.

Disruption is driving positive change across industries

Take the case of the banking sector. From the ATM being the multi-purpose, multi-location face of the bank, we moved to Internet banking and now mobile applications. If you call your bank these days, chances are an AI system will guide you through most common transactions and requests for information, and only transfer you to human support for extraordinary and complex requests.

We also see the same concept in the healthcare sector. Just a few years ago, telemedicine was all the rage, as growing bandwidth ensured that doctors in cities could interact with patients in rural areas via high-definition video conferencing and provide the local healthcare teams with prescriptions and instructions for care. Today, with AI, a healthcare group can match the patient with the right doctor, and even automate some of the base diagnoses so that the doctor is only brought in on critical cases. 

Empowering the workforce of tomorrow

Machines and AI are not here to take our jobs; they help us function and perform better. I am very enthused about the emergence of solutions such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which automates recurring tasks and frees the human to focus on higher-value efforts. Effectively, RPA removes the monotony from the workday, a demand that is as old as the formal work environment. This also sets the tone for what Dell Technologies sees as the ‘Networked Reality’ of the future, wherein cyberspace connectivity will be an always-on overlay to our existing reality, with experiences becoming more immersive, and designed to enhance efficiencies. This transition is comparable to the display immersion evolution we’ve seen in our lifetimes; from static televisions, through responsive computers, to interactive smartphones.

Imagine the impact that an equipped and empowered workforce can have on your customer experience. A well-defined and designed automated interaction solution enables your customer to get information and guidance at a time and method of their choice, without being limited by working hours and human availability. As these interactions are designed with the most typical cases in mind, it is easy to factor in the milestones at which the interaction will be immediately flagged for human intervention. And this will be a constant top-of-mind expectation for the customer in 2030, according to our research, as the digital cities we know today will become sentient cities, with AI-powered analytics running the infrastructure as well as the citizen experience of every connected individual.

This is why you hear that data is the new oil, the new gold, or the new moon dust, depending on who you ask. No question about the value, though. If AI is the rocket-ship, then data is the fuel. The insight uncovered from a well-executed data analysis program is at the very core of ensuring the quality, relevance, and impact of an AI-enabled automation strategy. 

Paving the way for a digital future

Every conversation around the user and customer experience ultimately ties back to the technology at the heart of it. Investing in the blueprint for automation and human-machine partnerships is a sound business strategy from an employee as well as a customer perspective. And the beauty of this strategy is that it is not about defining the right resource – human or digital – for the job; it is about the immense additional potential such as artificial intelligence through big data analytics that the ‘machine’ can provide to the human, enabling them to perform at a much higher plane.

As with any significant technology transition, transformation is not a destination, but a never-ending journey. But there are three things to keep in mind when embarking on an organization’s human-machine partnership journey.

  1. Define strategic outcomes: This process is not only about the technology infrastructure, but about finding the right partner to consult on potential risks and required steps towards a successful AI journey
  2. Creating the Framework: Technology components alone do not make a solution. Identical technology infrastructure, in two different organizations, can serve very different purposes. The fact to remember is that you’re not buying a solution, you’re creating a framework for the solution to run
  3. Grow organically: There will be missteps and learnings in the early stages but get past this and you will find that successful models can often be replicated in other contexts too. Once the mindset is established internally, the next step is market dominance

There is no doubt that technology is changing the ways in which we work, live, and play, and this will only get more evident in the future. We should be enthused by the power and potential of technology to change lives for the better and help us move beyond inefficiencies towards inclusive prosperity. Organizations around the world have taken steps – within their contexts – to adopt and adapt the most promising emerging technologies to secure their futures. A new chapter in technology-led human progress is within our grasp, waiting to be unlocked.

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Liquid, IS, partner for 5G roll-out to corporate SA

Liquid Telecom has teamed up with Internet Solutions to develop an ultra-fast wholesale connectivity service for enterprises – including telcos

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Liquid Telecom South Africa has partnered with Internet Solutions (IS) to provide wholesale 5G connectivity targeted at delivering enterprise services to their existing and potential new customer bases.  

The 5G service will provide operators and internet service providers with faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity, ultimately enabling businesses to deliver richer experiences to their customers.

“Providing IS with 5G wholesale services as an alternative to fibre connectivity, Liquid Telecom South Africa is highlighting how we are delivering on our commitment to the market to continue being the best business network in South Africa,” says Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom South Africa. “Local businesses are adopting technologies like SD-WAN, IoT, and cloud computing, However, these technologies need network connectivity that provides high quality, increased capacity, and greater reliability to ensure optimum performance.” 

IS managing executive Dr Setumo Mohapisays the company has evolved its networking model to provide a high-performance hybrid network that aggregates multiple WAN transport services. 

“This enables clients to fully utilise all available bandwidth for high availability and total application performance,” he says. “The innovation, flexibility and range of 5G use cases that this offers for different industries such as agriculture, retail, manufacturing, and logistics is boundless. 5G is a core component of our hybrid network and we are extremely excited about the extended capability this partnership with Liquid enables us to offer our clients.

Liquid Telecom is the first to launch a 5G wholesale network service, which it says will “accelerate the building of Africa’s digital future and the  digital revolution in South Africa”.

Liquid Telecom is a leading communications solutions provider across 13 countries, primarily in Eastern, Southern and South Africa. It serves mobile operators, carriers, enterprise, media and content companies and retail customers with high-speed, reliable connectivity, hosting and co-location and digital services. This means that it can provide the basis for its clients to offer 5G services to end-users.

Liquid has built Africa’s largest independent fibre network, approaching 70,000km, and operates state-of-the-art data centres in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nairobi.

IS, which pioneered Internet connectivity in South Africa, is a subsidiary of the Dimension Data Group and part of Japanese telecoms giant NTT. It now leverages its infrastructure and global footprint to support organisations with the rapid deployment of emerging technologies. Still headquartered in South Africa, it has operating offices in Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. It has 82 Points of Presence (PoPs) in 19 African countries and four international PoPs in London, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore. The company has over 10 000 square metres of data centre space across Africa.

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So you think you need a Blockchain?

By CAYLE SHARROCK, Head of Engineering at Tari Labs

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It’s 2020, and we’re still in hype overdrive about blockchain. If conventional wisdom is to be believed, blockchain is going revolutionise and disrupt every industry known to humankind.

But does every industry actually need a blockchain? Let’s take an objective look at two of the most aggressively touted use cases for Blockchain to see if it’s all it’s cracked up to be.

Before we do this, let’s remind ourselves about the four pillars of Blockchain technology and what they give you: tamper-evident logs (the blockchain); cryptographic proof of ownership (digital signatures); public accountability (the distributed public ledger); and corruption resistance (proof of work).

If we use these four features as a checklist, we can evaluate any proposed use case of blockchain technology and decide whether the potential is genuine, or whether it’s just buzzword bingo.

Banking

There have been hundreds of headlines over the past four years proclaiming how Bank Y will use Blockchain to disrupt the industry. Usually, what they claim is that they can perform interbank settlements at a fraction of the cost of what the incumbent monopoly, SWIFT, provides.

So does Blockchain work for the banking sector? Clearly, tamper detection of the transaction history is a must-have here. What about digital signatures and proof of ownership? Without a doubt. Multiple signatures? The more the merrier.

Bitcoin was conceived as trustless money – and with banks, we have a fairly small community that is heavily regulated, and that do actually trust each other to some degree. Essentially, banks use governments’ big stick instead of proof-of-work to keep everyone honest. This works most of the time. Except when it doesn’t. The 2008 crisis and the 2012 Cypriot haircuts are just two examples.

How about Public Accountability from distributed public records? No, public accountability has never been the banking sector’s strong suit. That means the banks’ ideal “blockchain” is just tamper detection, plus digital signatures. This sounds like a bunch of databases that have tightly controlled access along with strong cryptographic signatures.

The banks actually gave this non-Blockchain blockchain a name: Distributed Ledger Technology. And it’s pretty much what SWIFT already does.

Verdict: Do banks need Blockchain? Nah. They want a cheaper alternative to SWIFT.

Supply-chain management

Blockchain technology is going to revolutionise the supply-chain management (SCM) industry, we’re told. BHP Billiton was one of the first large companies to announce in 2016 that they were implementing Blockchain for their core sample supply chain. We’ve heard similar stories about the diamond industry.

Whether you think a proof-of-work Blockchain makes sense for SCM is really secondary to the challenge of The Oracle problem: blockchains are brilliant at letting you know when data in the system has been compromised. But they have zero sense whether that data is true or not.

The Oracle problem arises whenever you need to bring the concept of truth, or providence from the real world into a trustless system like Blockchain. How does the core sample data get onto the blockchain ledger? Does a guy type it in? Does he never make mistakes? Can he be bribed to type in something else? If it’s a totally automated system, can it fail? Be hacked?

Maybe we solve this by having two systems running and we compare the results. Or three. Or four. Now we have the problem of having to ship our samples to different labs around the world and be sure they weren’t tampered with in transit. If only we had a blockchain-based SCM system to secure our blockchain-based SCM system …

Verdict: The Oracle problem is really hard, and torpedos a lot of tangible good-based blockchain proposals.

So, back to our original question: do you need a blockchain? Ultimately, the future of blockchain applications (beyond money) lies in whether the benefits of having a decentralised, public record secured by proof-of-work outweighs its costs. There are plenty of really encouraging use cases emerging – think ticketing, for example, or trading in any digital assets. But for most industries, the jury’s still out.

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