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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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In short, the Internet of Things, big data and Artificial Intelligence is being used to interpret the language of bees to gain a true understanding of biodiversity and environmental health.

“We’re starting to understand the characteristics of communication in the beehive,” says John Abel, vice president of cloud and technology at Oracle for the UK, Ireland and Israel.

“Already, we understand certain actions of the bee. For example, flying in a figure 8 is not random. It is very specific. Certain tones bees use will indicate food or water. The way the bee shudders and rotates within the figure 8 will indicate to the rest of the colony what it found and where it is. If the heat or sound in the hive changes, it can mean the hive is preparing to swarm.

“If the queen bee is too large to fly – because when it is in the hive, its job is to create the future bees of the hive – the queen’s workers have to prepare the queen for flying, and that takes 20 odd days. You can hear a difference in the noise when they are doing that. If the queen not getting a lot of food, it’s preparing to lose weight to leave the hive.

“Thanks to artificial intelligence analysing the acoustic recordings in the hive, we can hear all of this clearly from the sound in the hive. Are they talking? No. But are they communicating? Definitely.”

If it were left only to AI, however, the project would be a dead end. Experts from Reading University and the World Bee Project initially visited Oracle’s sprawling campus in Reading to teach the machines the patterns that they already understood. The machines, in turn, used these patterns to build further knowledge by inference. This is the fundamental process of machine learning, which can ultimately evolve into artificial intelligence.

“Once the machines understand these patterns, they begin to learn more quickly, and the more quickly they learn, the quicker they can self-teach. We can then use big data to correlate sounds with behaviour.”

At first sight, it is not obvious why Oracle would get involved in a project like this. Its branding appears nowhere on the hives or even on the website of the World Bee Project. The clue lies in the lessons that are being learned about how big data can be leveraged more effectively by organisations when human experts give machines their basic training.

“Most enterprises struggle with big data, because they have to learn a bunch of technology they have to wire together,” says Abel. “When businesses look at data and analytics, they work in isolation, and they get insight in a one-dimensional way. In the same way, if we just analysed the sound of bees in isolation of other data, it would have no correlation with the biodiversity of the environment.”

The result, in the business world, is that organisations analyse data in silos, and have tremendous difficulty combining data and insights across these silos. It is a similar issue to what banks face when they know all about clients’ patterns of use of their current accounts, but cannot link it to their home loan history, and therefore are unable to make informed decisions about new products or loans for those clients.

In the world of bees, that would be the equivalent of understanding the sounds they make, on the one hand, and having climate and food production data on the other, but not being able to understand the link between the two. Oracle uses what is called a data lake, literally to pool all forms of data – acoustic, relational, spatial, among other – and then use machine learning to spot the patterns not just within each data set, but between the sets.

“Our big advantage is that we can handle all those in a single data repository. We then use machine learning to start creating a single data view of all the data we capture, and teach it what relationship we already know exists between data. The machine can then find the metaphorical needle in the haystack.

“Knowing there’s pollution data doesn’t help us. We need to know what type of pollution is impacting the bees in what way. We need that relation between what is affecting the hive and how we can fix it.”

Oracle and the World Bee Project have set up similar IoT hives in London and Tel Aviv. The variety of ecosystems represented – from rural England to its urban heart to the Middle East – provides an evolving picture of the impact of different environments on the ability of bees to do their job.

Abel believes that the benefits of the project will flow through strongly to many countries on the African continent.

“Across Africa, farmers use mobile devices to find crop grain prices at market. Now we’ve developed a chatbot which lets farmer engage with experts in beekeeping in different countries to understand how to improve biodiversity, which improves pollination, which improves crops.”

According to the World Bee Project, more than three-quarters of the world’s food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals.

“There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees alone, plus many species of butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other animals that contribute to pollination,” it states. “Pollinated crops include those that provide fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils. Many of these are important dietary sources of vitamins and minerals, without which the risks of malnutrition might be expected to increase. Several crops also represent an important source of income in developing countries from, for example, the production of coffee and cocoa.”

In short, understanding the language of bees contributes not just to technology advances, but to the very survival of the human race.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Building Africa’s Century

The 4th industrial revolution will be on the agenda of this week’s Gartner IT Symposium in Cape Town. Doug Woolley, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa, ponders its meaning for Africa

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Is this Africa’s Century, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the recent WEF on Africa gathering? I believe so. The event made solid headway in charting a course forward for African-centric solutions to our challenges. 

Technology featured often in discussions and the 4th Industrial Revolution was a central theme. Many of the outcomes also tied to a more connected digital world. But those are the broad strokes. What happens next?

An important avenue can be found in all the individual investments made inside societies, such as broadband. The spread of connectivity is in part due to telecommunications firms being mandated by the Government to reach rural and under-serviced communities. But the major momentum behind broadband stems from demand. From individuals to enterprises, a hungry broadband market has helped South Africa become much more connected.

This paradigm applies to other technology investments as well. All of them add up to support the ideas and advancements that were discussed at WEF on Africa. The need for better services and performance through technology stokes the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s engine. Every network, every datacentre, every smartphone is a piece of the puzzle that will create Africa’s Century.

We are further along the curve than most people realise. If I can judge a country’s potential based on how digitally mature its organisations are, then South Africa is not in bad shape. Earlier this year, the annual Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index ranked South Africa in the top ten, ahead of most developed nations. The investments made by the Public and Private sectors are taking root. 

It may not make headlines, but all these individual ambitions pointing in the same direction are building the change we all want to see.

This brings me to the Gartner IT Symposium Xpo, the business-technology event taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 16 to 18 September. If WEF on Africa challenged for solutions at a high level, then the Gartner Symposium is where those individual investments come into play.

The nitty-gritty of the 4IR era will be on the Symposium agenda. Research by World Wide Worx on the uptake of 4IR technologies among South African enterprises will be presented tomorrow (Tuesday) by one of the company’s data analysts, Bryan Turner.

I also anticipate discussions about multi-cloud. Cloud has grown tremendously as African organisations saw the progress that came with investing in it, connectivity and data – the core ingredients of the 4IR era. Now they are looking ahead to what can be done next: that multi-cloud is on the agenda shows how Africa’s technology capability is growing.

Unified workspaces will be another good conversation topic. What happens in the office doesn’t stay in the office. Our technology habits follow us home and, more often, our home habits follow us to the office. This makes perfect sense, because 4IR is primarily about people being empowered by technology. Our workplace technology habits are microcosms of our overall use of technology.

Multi-cloud is the ‘infrastructure’ of the 4IR conversation and the workplace is where these technologies deliver some of their value. Considerable buzz is growing around unified workspaces, which make office environments more manageable and secure while reshaping them to fit the needs of modern employees.

Stop by the Dell Technologies stand and see how we’re helping create that momentum with multi-cloud, unified workspaces and through many other channels, including skills development and supporting SMMEs to grow.

How do we create Africa’s Century? Through those individual investments that collectively stoke the engines of our country and continent. It’s not just for the big players: 4IR can provide for every organisation regardless of size. Those investments are investments in the future of Africa.

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PayPal pictures how the future will be won – or lost

By AAYUSH SINGHANIA, director of Commercial Operations for PayPal Cross-Border Trade Markets

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There’s no doubt that technology has already re-shaped the way the world thinks about buying and selling. Who would have thought twenty years ago that people would be shopping on their phones?

Despite the huge changes to the shopping experience in recent years, it’s important to understand that we are only part-way through this journey. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, and as technologies continue to advance, and we as a society adapt our behaviours, new opportunities and risks will present themselves to merchants of all sizes.

Here is where I see the future of commerce being won and lost, as we continue on this technology journey:

Meeting ever-increasing demand for personalised experiences

We’ve already witnessed the transition of commerce from brick and mortar to the web, and then from the web to mobile. The next phase of internet-connected devices will make commerce even more contextual whereby anything you can interact with can be a platform for commerce. Imagine being able to point your phone at your best friend’s shoes, and almost instantly they are in your shopping cart, ready to be delivered to your home?

Mobile has already made shopping an “all the time” activity and has given us a taste of what it’s like to have hyper-personalised experiences. While a consumer walking into a retail store is limited by physical space, the online world offers an unlimited shelf for merchants to deliver tailored customer experiences. Looking ahead, innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning hold great promise to further deliver on this hyper-personalisation, by being able to learn about who a consumer really is as a person and their individual preferences.

As a result of this evolution, customers have moved from being surprised and delighted by personalised experiences to expect them in every context. Many customers, for example, now get frustrated when they receive advertisements for products that they’ve already bought, or have no interest in. This shift has made it critical for merchants to avoid delivering homogenous experiences to shoppers who demand personalised interactions across all contexts. In doing so, it’s important that merchants find a balance between personalising their offerings and ensuring consumers don’t feel their privacy is being invaded. Shoppers want to feel like a brand understands them, but isn’t stalking them, particularly in the wake of several high-profile data breaches.

Closing the consumer fulfilment gap to deliver seamless experiences

With new advancements in technology comes the ability to create seamless customer experiences that narrow the gap between customer desire and fulfilment. Gone are the days where shoppers decided to purchase an item and they were happy to wait a week to receive it – for many, two-day shipping still isn’t quick enough. The invention of the internet meant people could shop from home, and recently we’ve seen this evolve further where consumers prefer to shop on-the-go via mobile.

The big question is, what’s next? We’re already seeing the growth of commerce through technologies like AI-enabled voice assistants and virtual reality, so it’s critical that merchants keep pace with innovations that enable them to close the gap between desire and purchase in a delightful way.

At the end of the day, businesses need to remember that the act of filling up a cart and the process of checking out is not the fun part of making a purchase – these are points of friction – and technology is the answer to removing these frustrations for customers.

Managing customer reactions to technology disruption

Every tech disruption in its early days delivers excitement, fear, anxiety and doubt – not necessarily in that order. We all go through a phase of tech humanisation, because technology grows as we do – and we help shape the development of new solutions.

Technology has been used for good and bad, and technology that causes eye-raising experiences at the start will generally normalise in time. Remember the first video cameras on phones? As people learned how to use the technology, content got posted that shouldn’t have. Everything from the telephone, to radio and the television all caused concern and were initially criticised when first introduced to the public, but with time they’ve become part of our everyday lives.  As technology evolves, companies learn from it, and the acceptance and humanisation of technology will take place for both consumers and merchants as new innovations are applied to the world of commerce.

Merchants need to have a mindset that’s focused on being a customer champion, while recognising that customers need to adapt to new technologies in their own time. To do this, businesses must leverage technology to build the right features that aren’t intrusive, but geared towards helping people, and respect the customer’s choice to turn technology on or off.

Technology innovation will continue to re-shape commerce in the years ahead, with the potential to deliver new growth opportunities for merchants, and offering customers more choice, convenience, value and instant gratification. In a broader sense, these innovations can also help promote employment by breaking down traditional barriers to buying and selling. For merchants, the opportunities will arise, they just have to know how to take advantage of them in the right way.

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