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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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TikTok takes on COVID-19

The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.

Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.

Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.

The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.

One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.

@ndlovuyouthchoir

Our community has limited access to running water. Follow these instructions on how to safely wash your hands using a bucket. ##coronavirus##washinghands

♬ original sound – ndlovuyouthchoir

“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”

The page can be viewed at https://vm.tiktok.com/GHTEGf

TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources/covid-19.

If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on https://vm.tiktok.com/swKbn4. The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.

Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.

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On World Backup Day: backup, backup, backup

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It was World Backup Day yesterday, 31 March, at a time when business continuity is threatened as never before. That makes calls for protecting email and defending against ransomware all the more urgent.

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief many organisations’ lack of business continuity plans and policies. With more than two billion people around the globe in forced lockdown in wide-ranging government efforts to stem the tide of infections, an unprecedented number of employees are working remotely.

This interruption to the normal way of work is precisely what an effective and resilient business continuity strategy should plan for, says Heino Gevers, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast

“Companies need uninterrupted access to critical business applications during times of disruption, including safe and secure web and email access for workers that are now operating outside the normal perimeters of the organisation,” he says. “In addition, comprehensive backup and archiving solutions should be ready to restore access to critical business applications should there be any unplanned downtime to ensure continuity until the crisis passes.”

According to Gevers, the current global crisis is likely to push business continuity up the list of priorities for many organisations that have been disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus.

“Organisations are facing new challenges to their productivity; for example in terms of technical support. If a remote user is infected with malware or ransomware, how does the IT team restore that device or do any remediation without being able to physically access it?”

Gevers advises that organisations implement tools that enhances the data protection capabilities of commonly-used tools such as Office365 and can leverage archived data to provide quick recovery of email data in the event of accidental loss, malicious attacks or technical failure. 

“As adoption of cloud-based business applications grow in the wake of forced lockdowns around the globe, companies need to ensure they have the tools to recover in any situation,” he says. “This includes a data management strategy that combines archiving, backup and data protection capabilities to allow for quick restoration of critical systems and applications in the event of disruption.”

Jasmit Sagoo, head of technology at Veritas for the United Kingdom and Ireland, warns that this is a golden age for cybercriminals looking for ransomware opportunities.

“As the global cost of ransomware continues to grow, this World Backup Day, Veritas is saying: ‘don’t pay up, back up!’,” he says. “Ransomware is said to generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion a year, and companies who are not consistent in backing up their data are allowing criminals to line their pockets.

“Ransomware attacks exist only because some businesses can’t survive unless the hackers give them back their data.  So, the key to survival is removing that reliance and being able to regain access to data, without engaging with the cybercriminals.  The best way to do that is with a sound backup strategy.

“Sagoo advises organisations to create isolated, offline backup copies of their data to keep it out of reach of any attackers.  They then need to proactively monitor and restrict backup credentials, while running backups frequently to shrink the risk of potential data loss. Businesses should also test and retest their ransomware defences regularly.

“Ransomware strikes without warning and it doesn’t discriminate between its targets – it can happen to any organisation, large or small. Despite their best efforts, most companies will fall to at least one attack. What distinguishes one victim from another is the ability to bounce back, which ultimately depends on its backup strategy.

“When ransomware hits, organisations that aren’t prepared often feel helpless to do anything other than to submit to their attacker’s demands.   That’s why we’re urging all businesses to use World Backup Day as a catalyst to get ahead of the situation and get their data protected.”

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