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AI slashes treatment time

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ANESHAN RAMALOO, Senior Business Solutions Manager at SAS, looks into how 2018 will see how technology trends will shape developments through the year.

It used to take months to be able to say whether a particular treatment for cancer was working – wasting precious time which might otherwise have been used to save a patient’s life. Now using analytics, we can predict that treatment’s effectiveness within days.

When addressing the question of what to expect in the tech space in 2018, there is no limit. AI is already doing things we never before would have dreamed possible. From writing music to creating videos, we are achieving milestones which we previously would have considered strictly human.

And yes, it is even helping to save lives.

One of the major forces driving the world of tech and AI is the increasing volume and availability of data. Think of devices like the Fitbit, which provides a wealth of data concerning your health, such as heart rate and sleeping patterns.

At the same time, we’ve developed technology that allows us to analyse more data than ever before. And thanks to a massive improvement in compute power, analytical solutions can now analyse these massive volumes of data at blistering speed. Data scientists can develop machine learning models in minutes, which can enable businesses to deliver results quickly.

A great example of the technology that allows this is SAS VIYA, which is an end-to-end analytical platform. The platform fuels the analytics life cycle from data preparation to model development and finally deployment. This is all done in a single interface

One feature of the SAS platform that I’m particularly excited about is the ability to analyse images. This capability is already helping when it comes to wildlife conservation. In the past game rangers had to manually take pictures of particular species of animals and tag them. While this wasn’t part of their core focus, it absorbed a great deal of time. But using SAS’s new technology they can simply take the picture and allow the AI to classify, not only the species of the animal, but other helpful traits such as the sex as well. At the end of the day this frees up the rangers to tackle more important tasks.

More accurate predictions

While the algorithms used in machine learning have been relatively unchanged for decades, we are now seeing the emergence of new algorithms, such as extreme gradient boosting, which have proven to be very successful in data mining competitions like Kaggle. Extreme gradient boosting is a significant development in analytics because it generalises well, enabling more accurate predictions.

While we’ve been drawing on structured data sources like transactional data for some time, no-one has really been tapping into unstructured data sources. For example, customer complaints, reviews and other text data sources.

But these two sources when combined together can be extremely powerful. Say, for instance, you wanted to develop a customer churn prediction model. By including data sources like customer complaints, as opposed to just structured and traditional data sources, you can develop a model that is more accurate at predicting churn.

Deep learning has created a lot of hype, and for good reason.

It is a type of machine learning, based on a set of algorithms that model high-level abstractions in data, by using multiple processing layers with complex structures.Instead of organising data to run through predefined equations, deep learning sets up basic parameters about the data and trains the computer to learn on its own by recognising patterns using many layers of processing. This means it can train computers to perform human-like tasks, such as recognising speech, identifying images or making predictions.

Deep learning is already being used to make significant inroads into areas such as image recognition, fraud detection and the highly regulated credit risk modelling. In fact, SAS is currently working with credit bureau, Equifax, using deep learning techniques in credit risk modelling. The results are promising as the accuracy of the models has improved traditional techniques.

Bots that understand emotion

Another exciting space in AI is bot technology. Chatbots are programmes that use natural language processing and AI to create conversations between machines and humans.

Instead of having a human respond to complaints or queries, this can now be done by a chatbot to save time and money on mundane and repetitive tasks. For example, responses to queries on bank accounts. Some banks are using bots to advise customers on financial advice and investments.

Until now, AI has generally been designed to do specific things like fraud detection. The human ability to perform tasks has always been greater than machines as we can generalise and perform a much wider set of functions.

But incredibly we’re starting to see AI train itself to learn.

In 2016 Google created a programme called AlphaGo. It was capable of beating even the most skilled human players at the ancient Chinese strategy game, Go – considered to be one of the most complicated games on earth.

But this was taken a step further through the creation of AlphaGo Zero, a programme provided with a very limited amount of training data. The idea was that it would learn by playing against itself. Over a period of time, AlphaGo Zero beat AlphaGo.

Essentially it had taught itself to think.

On the threshold of a future in which machines can think and learn: as we step into 2018, one could say nothing is impossible.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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