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AI will be like R2-D2, not Terminator

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As artificial intelligence continues to capture the imagination of the tech and mainstream media, Forrester’s new AI TechRadar report for customer intelligence professionals (CI) takes a pragmatic view of what it can do for business in the future.

Well publicised breakthroughs from major tech companies, like Google, Apple and Amazon, have placed AI high on the technology agenda. However, business leaders are struggling to make sense of how this technology could and should be deployed in their organisations.

“To put it mildly, this is confusing for businesses, who are trying to determine what is real and what is mere snake oil,” writes Forrester senior analyst and co-author of the report, Brandon Purcell. “Forrester believes AI will significantly disrupt the way organisations win, serve, and retain customers… eventually. To do this, it will take massive amounts of data to train artificially intelligent systems to perform their jobs well enough to replace their human counterparts.”

In the report, Forrester points out that as storage and processing power advances, AI is gaining some traction amongst businesses, allowing companies to generate insights and engage with their customers.

Forrester says AI is uniquely suited to help optimise customer interactions across touchpoints and channels. This is largely driven by the technology’s ability to process huge amounts of data, which can inform real time action. Moreover, in the near future, business leaders will be able to blend technologies such as facial scanning, text analytics, machine learning, and natural language generation (NLG) to better engage with their customers.

AI also has the ability to surface insights automatically, with banks today already using such technologies to detect anomaly for fraudulent transactions. Combing through massive data sets will also allow for better data analysis, particularly when it comes to unstructured data.

Despite these early successes, Purcell believes that it may take time and work before the real benefits of AI will be realised.

“AI is not a homogenous set of technologies, and some tasks will take longer to automate than others. And, despite the fact that the goal of AI technology is to free humans from some intelligence tasks so that they may more effectively focus on others, the process of creating this state has significant challenges for human designers and engineers,” Purcell comments in the report.

One of the main challenges facing the adoption of AI into mainstream business is the lack of a clear business case. Forrester points out that the research and academic communities were the first to develop and deploy AI technologies, and businesses are only now jumping onto the bandwagon. Organisations still require a clear ROI to justify an AI investment.

Time and skills are also potential hurdles. Artificially intelligent systems require massive amounts of training data to learn to perform specific tasks. While some vendors offer pre-trained solutions, even these will require many additional hours of training and refinement before they can be deployed.

When it comes to skills in the field, Forrester says there is a clear dearth of talent. “If data scientists are unicorns, then specialists in AI are their even more rarely mentioned winged cousin, Pegasus,”  comments Purcell in the report. “There are a handful of notable researchers in academia who specialise in deep learning and AI, but the talent pool for businesses is extremely shallow. Additionally, since AI adoption for businesses is so nascent, there are even fewer people with the ability to deploy AI in a business context.”

Making use of its TechRadar methodology, Forrester identified and analysed the current and future prospects of 12 AI technologies and solutions in their comprehensive report. According to the analysis, the company placed two technologies in the Creation phase, six in the Survival phase, and four in the Growth phase. None were placed in the Equilibrium or Decline phases due to the relative immaturity of AI, with the company saying that, when it comes to AI, “…we are still in chapter one.”

Summing up the analysis, Forrester points out that, despite many doom-mongers, AI will not be a threat to most jobs. While there may be some losses in the call centre and other positions, for the most part, AI will free employees from banal or onerous tasks with little value-add. The report also assures readers that there is no imminent rise of the machines about to take place and that humankind is not facing an immediate threat from AI. In fact, it is the role of the Customer Intelligence leader to separate the myth from reality.

As part of its extensive AI research and analysis, Forrester has also completed a TechRadar report on AI for application development and delivery professionals.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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