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Are we drowning in data?

We live on a planet almost three-quarters covered by oceans, but says ADRIANA MARAIS, Head of Innovation at SAP Africa, better data-enabled management can prevent a global water crisis.

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Life as we know it requires water to survive. While simple in composition, the H2O molecule in bulk liquid form enables the complex chemistry required for organisms from bacteria to humans to function. However, as the pace of change of our technological development accelerates and shifting weather patterns and a growing population place increasing pressure on our fresh water resources, a deeper appreciation and better management of this most vital resource to our existence needs to become a priority.

Water is more abundant in the solar system than we thought

Life is arguably one of the most mysterious phenomena we have ever come across. Philosophically, it could be argued that a full understanding of the topic may be impossible from the vantage point of being living organisms ourselves. Nonetheless, this has not prevented us from trying to figure it out.  Among the most interesting discoveries that we have made is that all living things on Earth contain DNA, and that significant portions of the genetic code are shared in organisms from amoeba to elephants. This is a beautiful discovery in terms of unity- we are all part of one living system on this planet. On the flipside, this implies that terrestrial life provides us with just a single data point in terms of our understanding of life itself. In light of the observation that all terrestrial life requires water, a reasonable place to begin in our search for a second data point representing a living system, is in places in our solar system where liquid water is present.

Much of Earth’s water is older than the Sun. This remarkable observation is based on the Sun not having radiated enough during its lifetime to have produced the observed isotope ratios of existing H2O. Furthermore, liquid water in our solar system appears to be far less rare than previously imagined. For example, Jupiter’s moon Europa is thought to have an ocean beneath its icy crust, kept warm by the tidal friction of expansion and contraction induced by its elliptic orbit in the gravitational field of the massive planet. Recently, the detection of an underground lake on Mars was announced, its liquid state thought to be maintained even at temperatures significantly below zero due to dissolved salts as well as the pressure of the ice sheet above it, similar to lakes detected under Antarctica.

At the recent OzWater 2018 conference held in Brisbane, Australia, the opening speakers addressed the role of big data, both in increased precision of astronomical observations including detections of water in our solar system, as well as in managing our diminishing fresh water supplies on Earth. The Mars One Project and other endeavours to design and implement human settlement of Mars are driving a fundamental rethink of how we use and think about natural resources, in particular water. Capabilities in efficient solar-powered desalination, which we should be moving towards faster on Earth, are crucial prerequisites for the design of systems on Mars to extract ice crystals from the sand, liquefy and purify for safe usage, all powered by thin-film photovoltaics.

The extraction of resources like metals and water from asteroids may seem futuristic in terms of our requirements on this planet, but in fact, for example, we are predicted to run out the rare metal indium required for touch screen functionality in the next decade. For crewed space travel on the other hand, the capability to rendezvous with asteroids to collect water and other resources is essential as we explore beyond Mars. A crew of four people requires three tons of drinking water for the seven-month journey to Mars- a figure which quickly becomes a limiting factor for longer journeys.

Back on Earth, water scarcity is an increasing problem

Around the world, water scarcity is gaining ground as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. The recent global headlines around Cape Town’s impending Day Zero- the day the taps run dry- sent shockwaves around the world. A major city running out of drinkable water may have been unthinkable only a few decades ago, but according to the World Wildlife Fund, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Already, some 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to water, with a total of 2.7 billion finding water scarce for at least one month of the year.

At the recently-held WISA 2017 conference in Cape Town, deputy Cape Town mayor Ian Nielsen admitted that water scarcity may become Cape Town’s defining feature, and that “we need to accept the days of plentiful water supply in Cape Town may well be over.”

Dams and (Big Data) lakes

Space exploration continues to push the envelope in terms of our technological capability. We first landed remotely controlled equipment on Mars in the 1970’s. The Mars Rover is the 7th successful landing on Mars, and has traversed the surface of the Red Planet since 2012, gathering and sharing volumes of data that are instrumental in our understanding of the planet and its capability to support life, both in the past, present and future. Recent data generated by the Rover revealed that the watery lake that once filled Gale Crater, around 3.5 billion years ago, contained complex organic molecules that may constitute a food source or the remnants of life there. In 2014, the Rover detected methane- the simplest organic molecule, periodically being released in Mars’ atmosphere.

In isolation, neither of these discoveries provide proof of life on Mars. However, while the data itself is inconclusive, increased sophistication of hardware sent to explore Mars, use of capabilities like machine learning for increased automation of this hardware, and by applying powerful data analytics tools, researchers can start piecing together parts of the problem. As more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, the possibility of uncovering ground-breaking findings increases exponentially.

The accelerating use of IoT sensors and accompanying computing platforms that mine sensor data to reveal insights and trends is equipping policymakers and governments with unprecedented insight into how to best manage available resources based on real-time, accurate information.

Cape Town City has begun to take steps to securing its 3 million-odd residents’ water supply. These include plans for desalination plants, groundwater abstraction projects, improved municipal water management, and other supply diversification programmes. And much of this is built on or enabled by technology.

Data has been used to develop a range of interventions that have seen water consumption reduced by 30% over the past 15 years in the Cape Town, despite its population growing by 30% during the same period. The City’s use of technology to automate asset management and field service processes has enabled mobile field workers to access, complete and manage their assigned work orders and service requests via their mobile devices. To date, the meter reading teams have captured over 3.7 million meter readings using its mobile application at an average speed of 45-70 seconds per meter. This has enabled the City to better manage its water resources and install, inspect, maintain and repair water and sanitation assets while giving managers access to near real-time information that is analysed to improve future decision making.

In spite of all the data, a lot remains to be done in the City from a management perspective. Damage to agriculture in the region due to the water crisis has already been estimated at several fold the cost of a desalinator with capacity for the entire City’s consumption. This is coupled with last week’s report of underspending by the City’s water department of a whopping R1.6 billion on its capital budget in the midst of the ongoing crisis.

As climate change and growing populations place increasing pressure on our limited natural resources, all countries and cities will need to drastically rethink their approach to the preservation, management and use of scarce natural resources. I always come back to the thought that intelligent aliens would laugh at a water scarcity crisis on a planet 71 percent covered by oceans. Instead of accepting that the days of plentiful water supply may well be over, we need to accelerate our use of technology and data towards better management of our precious resources on this planet, most vitally, water.

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Here is 2019’s tech

From AI to flexible displays, this is the tech that will shape 2019, writes CY KIM, MD of LG SA

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2018 was incredibly exciting for the technology sector which has seen myriad advancements. These include the fundamentals of artificial intelligence (AI) being established, robots helping around the house and consumer electronic innovations such as TVs that are so thin, they might be mistaken for windows, or paintings.

2019 promises to be another significant year as people’s attitudes are changing and technology becomes embedded in our lives. Smart electronics manufacturers will ensure their plans for the future match evolving consumer needs with suitable technology.

We take a look at the biggest innovations for 2019 from AI to lightning-fast internet speeds and flexible viewing surfaces, and we shed some light on how these evolving technologies will impact on how we live and work.

AI will come of age

AI has experienced a marked increase in investments and according to Forbes, 80% of enterprises are investing in AI while 30% are planning to expand their AI investments in the next three years. It’s estimated that during 2017, venture, corporate and seed investors put about $3.6-billion into AI and machine learning companies.

This investment trend has given rise to innovation in deep learning products that have the potential to change the world for the better.

Yes, AI has been around since the 1950s, but its consumer benefits weren’t visible until recently and 2019 will be the year when AI starts to really take off and become a necessity, not just in the home, but in every facet of our lives.

The potential of AI is endless as this technology goes into everything from small watches to cars and even gigantic, connected smart cities. AI is also starting to find its way into TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, speakers, mobile phones and even air cons as products adapt to human behaviour.

Lightning-fast internet speeds

Faster internet speeds enable quicker response times for business tools that we all rely on to get the job done. It will increase the efficiency of workers and will provide reliable communication tools for companies that rely on remote workers.

Given that the so-called gig economy has grown exponentially in recent years, the expectation is that the evolving workforce will contain a higher percentage of employees, or contractors who do not work in a central office.

5G has the potential to change the world the way the internet did a few decades ago. The fifth generation of wireless technology will take internet connectivity to a new level as the internet of things (IoT), will bring about the potential for everything to be connected to everything.

However, 5G is not just about faster internet speeds. It will create new possibilities in numerous sectors, including medicine, transportation and manufacturing.

A smarter world through IoT and AI isn’t possible without 5G’s speed and capacity as the system is able to carry large numbers of connections simultaneously, and is therefore crucial to the development of smart cities, autonomous cars and smart homes.

Life-enriching smart technology

Much like technological innovations, consumer habits and preferences are changing drastically when it comes to home appliances and particularly, home entertainment.

Most consumers believe that advancements in home entertainment tech is life-enriching and that their life is better with the latest tech at their fingertips as it allows them to stay indoors and enjoy quality time with friends and family.

The value of home entertainment tech lies in how it allows loved ones to share experiences, thereby bringing them closer together, particularly during big events such as major sporting events and holiday celebrations.

The potential of flexible viewing surfaces will not only change home entertainment, but also marketing techniques in shopping malls, city centres and shop fronts. With the ability to curve around any environment, this technology creates the perfect platform for signage and consumer engagement that stands out from the crowd.

LG Electronics is an established market leader in innovation and has already started to incorporate these futuristic technologies into its products, which are designed to make consumers lives more convenient. We will continue to release amazing products that utilise smart tech to connect with consumers while staying ahead of the evolutionary curve.

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AI will power IoT

A simple gesture. A world built from accessible assets that drive human convenience and interaction. This is the future that’s powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), two of the planet’s hottest topic trends right now for a very good reason. They work, says PHATHIZWE MALINGA, managing director of SqwidNet.

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They are also the fuel driving digital transformation in 2019. These are the technologies revolutionising performance, process and productivity. They are also transforming industry challenges across agriculture, retail, health and the public sector and are set to continue on this path well into 2019.

IoT has become the central nervous system of technology, allowing users to make intelligent decisions without feeling overwhelmed by choice or technology. Its ability to make life easier on every level – business, consumer, public sector – is the next step of the IoT evolution as it improves quality of life using AI and machine learning to analyse past behaviour and the insights it gleans to change the future.

This is the vision of the perfect IoT and AI future. The two technologies so intertwined and connected that they are influencing one another’s growth, development and adoption. IoT provides the ability to generate data from the changing circumstances of an asset and the infrastructure required to transport that data to where it can be accessed and analysed. Considering the sheer volume of data generated, it is impossible for a human being to analyse it at the speed required for real-time decision making. And this is why AI has become so important.

Today, it is possible to write code that can read the data generated by IoT and identify meaningful patterns at the right speed. This code can also be written in such a way that it can learn from the results it found the last time it ran. It is code that can learn, an algorithm that can self-educate. In this way, AI requires the power of IoT to generate the data it needs to learn and IoT needs AI to ensure that this data can be made meaningful, in time.

Over the next six to 12 months, it is very likely that the potential of IoT will see numerous small players emerge across all industries. They will be focused on servicing those who have yet to experience the full benefits of IoT and they will use technology to deliver solutions that are just ‘good enough’. This could potentially see the more established players being disrupted but most will likely be using the same technology to innovate and to create solutions that don’t just meet customer expectations but transcend them.  Of course, there will be some companies that will remain complacent and they will be the ones battling for customer attention out on the IoT playing field with the small, fresh players.

While on the topic of the customer, the next year is likely to introduce a lot more variety and scalability. The consistent drop in the cost of technology will allow for more choice in solution and capability and this will have a knock-on effect with regards to quality of life and the choices customers make when it comes to solution and service provider.

On the business frontier, the growth of IoT and AI offer an interesting bouquet of choices and opportunities. They allow for investment into solutions that generate better insights that, in turn, generate better products and services. Organisations that ignore this potential or think they can sidle on past what IoT and AI bring to the business are likely to be the ones that are left behind. It’s a cliché for a reason. A single look back at the companies that have emerged as big players in industries previously perceived as impenetrable proves the point. Innovation isn’t optional, it’s an essential part of business DNA and both IoT and AI are critical parts of the ability to innovate at speed, with relevance, and on time.

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