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Biometrics joins battle for online payment security

Identity theft is costing South Africa as much as R1-billion per year and has increased by more than 200% in the past six years. It is clear that consumers need an easy to manage security solution, but is biometrics the way forward?

Growing cyber risk has ushered in the need for watertight methods of protecting personal data. According to the South African Fraud Prevention Service, identity theft is costing the country at least R1 billion per year and has increased by more than 200% in the last six years.

Demanding and tech-savvy users continue to exert extreme pressure on companies to solve the convenience versus security conundrum. This is where a seamless customer experience and data security intersects.

In today’s mobile world it is increasingly important to have secure, on-the-go authentication. As a result, many experts feel that biometrics offers the best hope.

A new research report by analyst group BIS, forecasts the global biometric market to grow from $10.08 billion in 2014 to $25.31 billion in 2020.

This steep growth projection is helping to fuel innovation that is evident in how biometrics modalities continue to spread across the human body. It started with fingerprints in the late 1960s and progressed to facial recognition. Today the list includes vein, palm, iris, voice, gait, DNA, handwritten signatures and tattoos.

The new wave of biometrics technology is gesture related and personalised through a combination of wearable technology and geo-location as well as sci-fi inspired implants and ingestible tokens. Facial emotion recognition technology is patent-pending and is pipelined for consumer use. Though these have appeared in films for many years, they are largely unproven in the real world.

A bad rap

Despite its association to the tourism industry’s recent reduction in visitor numbers, biometrics in South Africa is enjoying real-world resurgence.

Speaking at the Biometrics in Financial Services conference, Nick Perkins, divisional director for identity management at Bytes Systems Integration believes the reason is that we have arrived at a time where we need a new solution.  “The existing card and pin authentication model has not been replaced because it is simple. The problem is that it’s no longer secure and is being exploited,” says Perkins.

Essentially biometrics is the measurement of a human being through their physical characteristics. Physical biometrics is turned into electronic biometrics when an algorithm converts an image of a biometric subject into a mathematical string that can be best described as coordinates and descriptions of unique identifiable features.

These algorithms then compare a “fresh capture” to the “reference template” which is warehoused in a database. The storage of templates instead of images helps to secure biometric data.

The many biometrics modalities on offer may hold the key to its wider adoption. South African biometrics experts agree that today it is not good enough for banks and other companies to rely on one form of authentication.

PayU COO, Johan Dekker, believes a solution lies in multi-factor authentication.

“The dual-factor authentication model strives to have two of three verifications in place at all times. A pin code is what you know, a smartcard is what you have and a biometric characteristic is what you are. A one size fits all approach would not provide enough adaptability, security and redundancy in the event of an access breach,” says Dekker.

Much work to be done still

Authentication is not the only aspect of biometrics that requires smoothing out. Biometric data can be stolen, lost or otherwise compromised while being stored. Unauthorized access to biometric storage devices through corporate sabotage by disgruntled employees is a growing threat to privacy. So too, is the misuse of a biometric, given that the biometric itself cannot be changed. Once compromised it will continue to be an issue for the life of the donor, as opposed to a password which can be easily changed.

Independent identity verification expert, Dawid Jacobs, highlights a key focus area and potential driver of biometrics today.

Says Jacobs, “The emphasis is on customer experience and how quickly they can be helped. This creates allowance for potential problems which escalate over time, specially with acceptable losses. In my view there is no such thing as acceptable losses due to identity theft. The individual needs to be put back in control of their Identity.”

The rush to ensure users are happy and safe is keeping leading tech companies busy.

MasterCard is currently piloting its new biometrics app, MasterCard Identity Check, which is set for a widespread launch in 2016. The app combines facial or fingerprint recognition as well as the recent human obsession, selfies. It remains to be seen whether Mastercard have solved the problems associated with lighting and background. All fingerprint scans remain on your device and facial scans are linked to the cloud so that templates will transmit and remain safe on MasterCard’s servers.

Apple has applied to use a facial recognition system for photo distribution. This calls into question the company’s pro-privacy stance should it decide to use cloud-based processing or storage of private user info. Apple was also recently granted a US patent that covers a new technology that enables users to unlock future iPhones by…wait for it…taking a selfie.

Closer to home, Standard Bank has debuted its biometric banking app. Capitec has fingerprint details of all 6.2 million of its customers and has linked its biometric database to the Department of Home Affairs’ database, enabling it to verify customer identity. The rollout of Biometric ATMs by FNB is imminent.

Dawid Jacobs is building an independent database of certified living and deceased fingerprint identities. He aims to provide SA companies with full audit trails and to be fully compliant with POPI, ISO and all relevant legislation.

Jacobs says, “The more companies know about their customers and the more they collaborate the less pressure is on state law enforcement agencies who do not have the tech or the capacity.” This will complement the FICA endorsed Know Your Customer initiative which also endeavours to prevent identity theft and money laundering.

Mustapha Zaouini, PayU’s MEA CEO sums up the reality for all users. “The issue of protecting individual data will only grow in importance. In order to reap the convenience benefits users must prepare themselves for more disciplined and multiple information security practices in this brave new world.”

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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