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Chatbot helps abuse victims

An artificial intelligence chatbot is set to change how abuse victims can understand and cope with abusive relationships, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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An engaging AI bot named Bo is at the heart of a new Facebook Messenger chatbot service called rAInbow, launched in South Africa to help victims of abuse.  It provides advice on coping with abuse, as well as stories of abuse victims who have overcome their experiences and circumstances.

Domestic abuse is a big issue in South Africa, according to the South African Medical Research Council. In a household survey, it found that 40% of men had hit their partners and that one in four men had raped a woman. The same study found that just 2% of women who have been raped had reported it to the police.

Backed by the Sage Foundation, rAInbow aims to break the silence around domestic abuse by starting a conversation with victims. The chatbot can also chat to friends of abuse victims, and offers advice on how to get the conversation started with victims of abuse.

The chatbot’s AI is geared to learn from behavioural patterns of users and provide responses in line with the situation.

The developer and CEO of AI for Good, Kriti Sharma, says rAInbow was created with ethics in mind. It is not a replacement for a therapist, and claims only to provide options and stories from which abuse victims can learn.

rAInbow is accessible to a large portion of South Africans, as it does not require a smartphone. All it needs to run is access to Facebook Messenger, which can run on smartphones and some feature phones. It does also use data, although many South African networks provide access to Facebook Lite for free.

From left to right: Debbie Wall, VP Sage Foundation; Josina Machel, Speaker & activist for violence against women; Kriti Sharma, AI lead at Sage & founder of AI for Good; Joanne van der Walt, Global Director Sage Foundation.

A huge positive of the chatbot is that it isn’t in a separate app and exists on Facebook Messenger under a gender-neutral name: Hi Rainbow. This helps in the event of an abuser going through the victim’s device.

“The app is powered by the AI and natural language processing, but there has been a lot of work on the user experience,” says Sharma. “We’re trying to make the chatbot technology as easy to use as possible so the powerful technology behind it can fulfil its purpose.”

Data collected will make rAInbow smarter but will not be able to identify users, as users are assigned a random ID every time they chat with the bot. Data that will be used is how abusive situations affect the lives of South Africans and how to deal with it.

rAInbow is available now by searching “Hi rAInbow” in the search bar of Facebook Messenger.

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Arts and Entertainment

Netflix to make SA series

The world leader in streaming movies has announced the first South African production to join its Originals roster.

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World leader in entertainment streaming services Netflix this week announced its first Original series in Africa, with South African series Queen Sono.

The news comes immediately in the wake of local rival Showmax announcing it’s first original drama production. In this context, it heralds a new phase in the evolution of streaming video-on-demand in South Africa.

The action-packed series follows Queen Sono, the highly trained top spy in a South African agency whose purpose is to better the lives of African citizens. While taking on her most dangerous mission yet, she must also face changing relationships in her personal life. The series will be created by Director, Kagiso Lediga and Executive producer Tamsin Andersson.

South African actress, Pearl Thusi, will star as Queen Sono, with the character having been created with her in mind. Thusi is also known for her performance in the romantic dramedy, Catching Feelings, available on Netflix.

Pearl Thusi stars as Queen Sono in Netflix’s first original series in Africa.

“We are excited to be working with Kagiso and Pearl, to bring the story of Queen Sono to life, and we expect it to be embraced by our South African users and global audiences alike.” said Erik Barmack, Vice President of International Original Series at Netflix.

“We are delighted to create this original series with Netflix, and are super excited by their undeniable ability to take this homegrown South African story to a global audience. We believe Queen Sono will kick the door open for more awesome stories from this part of the world” added the director and executive producer of the series, Kagiso Lediga.

The series is due to start production in 2019.

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Microsoft adds Chrome to Edge

Microsoft is working to build a new version of its Edge browser on the open-source version of Google Chrome, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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After 20 years of backing Internet Explorer and its underlying software technologies, Microsoft has chosen to integrate Chromium, the open source version of Google Chrome. This announcement comes just three years after launching Microsoft Edge, the refreshed version of Internet Explorer.

“We intend to adopt the Chromium open source project in the development of Microsoft Edge on the desktop to create better web compatibility for our customers and less fragmentation of the web for all web developers,” said Joe Belfiore, corporate VP at Windows, in a blog post on 6 December.

The change affects the back-end elements of the browser that run in the background to make the web pages work for the user. The shift includes scrapping Microsoft’s EdgeHTML rendering engine in favour of Chrome’s Blink.

Utilising the Blink engine will allow Microsoft to support versions of new Edge on Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as a version for macOS. Belfiore said that the company had also started contributing to the Chromium open source project: “We’ve begun making contributions to the Chromium project to help move browsing forward on new ARM-based Windows devices.”

Microsoft’s move to Chrome has shifted the “browser wars” in favour of Google Chrome, as Opera and Edge will now both be using Chrome’s rendering engine.

“If you’re a Microsoft Edge customer, there is nothing you need to do, as the Microsoft Edge you use today isn’t changing. If you are a web developer, we invite you to join our community by installing preview builds when they’re available and staying current on our testing and contributions.” said Belfiore.

Edge’s project manager, Kyle Alden, confirmed in a Reddit thread that Chrome extensions will be compatible with the new version of Edge. It is expected to launch in a preview build in early 2019.

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