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Digital gives us time to think

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Just as mechanical muscle lowered the demand for physical labour, today’s technology is reducing the demand for human intervention, and opening up more opportunities for people to think, writes LENORE KERRIGAN, Country Manager, OpenText Africa.

The pace of technological change today is being called the “fourth industrial revolution.” New solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and machine learning are enabling machines to handle processes that once required human decision-making.  Just as mechanical muscle lowered the demand for physical labour in the first industrial revolution, today cutting-edge technology is reducing the demand for human intervention.

The “migration” of tasks from humans to software and machines has been evident for quite some time. From ATMs to automated check-in at airports, technology has been replacing humans across multiple, relatively simple and repetitive tasks. Today, this transformation is allowing much more complex and nuanced tasks to move from human speed to machine speed, and taking place across industries that, historically, have remained largely untouched by machine intervention.

Most recently, we are seeing AI and cognitive systems used in legal discovery, insurance applications, underwriting and claims processing, and the delivery of financial investment advice. In healthcare, telemedicine can allow diagnosis and monitoring without the need to physically see a clinician, and even enable a surgeon to operate from another hospital or country. And while human involvement is not entirely removed, it is clear that some jobs that we have long understood as “human” are being displaced by technology.

The automation option

New opportunities for automation will continue to appear, as we see more and more mechanization, automation, AI, and robotics move in to replace human workers. But it’s not all doom and gloom. As technology develops to enable a whole raft of “traditional” roles to be replaced, new jobs will be created in the transition. Jobs that play to the heart of what make us human—creativity, innovation and strategic thought.

A key benefit of digital transformation is that it releases humans from the confines of mundane work and opens up more opportunity for people to spend time thinking—to conceive of technology that can add more value to everyday life. The time gained through automation can be used to innovate, germinate ideas, and conceive new processes fueled by the kind of thinking that only happens when our minds have time to wander.

The beginning of a sweeping societal change?

The World Economic Forum, as well as economists, analysts, and labour organizations predict a wave of job losses coming from the surge in AI, robotics, and other technologies. Though timing is not certain, one projection says we could expect a net loss of 7.1 million jobs over the next five years in 15 leading countries—the countries that make up approximately 65 percent of the world’s total workforce. Two million of the jobs lost will be offset by the creation of new positions. These will be the roles that support and foster the new wave of innovation beyond what we see as credible or possible today.

The endurance of creative and leadership roles  

As digital technologies take hold, there will be a greater need for individuals who can build, develop and make sense of these changes. Developers, programmers, scientists, and technologists will—more than ever—be required to drive forward the accelerating pace of change. This disruption requires deep, creative thinking by economists, lawyers, and policy makers who can interpret how governance, intellectual property, and society at large will have to adapt.

Going forward, there will be more roles for people who are creative, those who have really honed their ability to think and consider a complete landscape of facts to come up with the right path. Today’s biggest ideas are not just the result of organizing data or understanding a spreadsheet; it’s the culmination of someone’s life experience: what they hear, what they read, who they converse with, and how they process that information within their very human brain to come up with the next big thing.

While algorithms may automate decision-making, it won’t be easy to replace leaders who can navigate fast-paced, intense change.

At the end of the day, you may wonder if a machine could do your job. And the answer is that it could probably do some of it. And that’s okay, because automation will free us up to do more of the thinking required to come up with what’s next, perhaps with the help of a new robot friend or two.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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