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Education needs rethink for digital future

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Africa faces a set of potential scenarios brought on by the disruption of digital technologies. But we need a workforce that has the skills and understanding to drive these potentials and bring them to reality, writes SIMON CARPENTER, Chief Technology Advisor at SAP Africa.

Africa faces a set of potential scenarios brought on by the disruption of digital technologies. This in turn provides the continent exponential opportunities for transformation in every aspect of work and life. But we need a workforce that has the skills and understanding of digital technologies to drive these potentials and bring them to reality.

The world of work now faces unprecedented disruption. There is no profession that will be untouched by the advances in machine learning and AI: a recent PwC report on the impact of automation found that 38% of jobs in the US are at risk. As far back as 2012, Dr Thomas Frey has predicted that more than 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 thanks to technological advances.

The skills imperative

Africa largely missed the Industrial Era; since the continent is immensely rich in mineral wealth and arable land, most countries had little need to industrialise. This has left most African countries underdeveloped and lacking the infrastructure that has made more developed nations so wealthy. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is optimistic talk about Africa taking a leap forward in its development to not only catch up but surpass some of its Western peers.

But unless we drastically accelerate STEM skills development, Africa will be left trailing in the dust of global progress for decades. New skills such as computational biology, data science, and algorithmic programming will replace huge numbers of middle class occupations. Without a solid grounding in science, technology, maths and engineering, young workers will simply not have the skills needed to survive – and thrive – in tomorrow’s economy. Initiatives such as Africa Code Week, which is this year aiming to teach basic coding skills to half a million youngsters, and the so-called MOOCS (massive open online courses) such as Coursera and OpenSAP will become invaluable to educators as the pace of change outstrips governments’ and education departments’ ability to maintain a relevant and future-looking curriculum.

Rethinking how we prepare our children for the future of work

While technology poses risks, its potential benefits are immense. The same machine learning technology that is making many jobs irrelevant could be deployed to understand how children learn at an individual level, allowing educators to tailor the classroom experience and curriculum to maximise each unique child’s talents.

Teachers need to be equipped with the tools and content that will inspire a new generation of learners to be curious, learn, and apply new technologies to solve problems that are not even known to us yet. Without great teachers, great teaching is impossible. Clever use of gamification, video content, augmented and virtual reality, and social media can transform the learning and teaching process and inspire learners and teachers alike.

As technological progress further accelerates, we will need to continuously learn new skills and update and augment our knowledge. In the 1950s, the half-life of what you learned at university was as much as 30 years. Today, it’s closer to 5. If you want to work for what we now consider to be a normal working life of 40 years, you need to keep learning or face irrelevance.

The new face of work

The inevitable result of this is that a new type of worker will emerge, challenging organisations by forcing them to radically rethink not only their employment policies but their entire business vision. We are already seeing how the hyper-connected millennial workforce is upending long-held beliefs of what constitutes meaningful and worthwhile work.

These Millennials are generally not interested in the accumulation of material goods at all costs. The hallmark of the 80s and roaring 90s was an accelerating consumerism as technology enabled us to provide convenience and luxury at an unprecedented scale. This new generation demands more from companies and governments: matters such as environmental sustainability, social impact, and equitable distribution of wealth take priority over capitalism’s “profit at all costs” approach.

This has given rise to a new type of organisation, one that strives for a purpose that transcends pure profit. It’s no longer enough to show only positive bottom-line results: if your business is harmful, inequitable, discriminatory, or otherwise counter to prevailing ethical behaviour, you will soon find yourself unable to compete with more socially conscious companies that are able to attract the very best in digital talent.

All exponential organisations have a massively transformational purpose that extends beyond pure profit. SAP’s is to help the world run better and improve peoples’ lives. And, like any organisation, our ability to fulfil that purpose rests wholly on the digital workforce we have to invest in today.

Cars

Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

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

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LG rethinks portable speakers

LG adds three sizes to its XBoom Go portable speaker line in a portable revision, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Portable Bluetooth speakers are fairly commonplace at a pool party because they’re battery-powered. The only issue is that louder speakers usually distort the music or break the bank. The LG XBoom aims to change this.

LG has partnered with Meridian Audio to produce great sounding speakers that can go loud without distorting the audio. Meridian Audio is an expert in high-performance, high-fidelity audio experiences. The company is best known for producing the industry’s first audiophile-quality compact disc player and provide audio equipment to McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover.

The Bluetooth software in the XBoom Go is Qualcomm aptX HD compatible, meaning that 24bit vinyl-quality audio can be played through this speaker over Bluetooth instead of standard-fidelity audio.

The major phone assistants feature on these speakers, with tethered Google Assistant or Apple Siri functionality from one’s smartphone. This makes it very convenient to use the voice assistant button to skip tracks and change music when one’s hands are wet.

Three models of the XBoom Go series – the PK3, PK5 and PK7 – offer different audio functions depending on the audio needs of the user. Best fits for these speakers are:

  • PK3 – The Pool Friendly Speaker: The PK3 is IPX7 water resistant, up to 1 metre for 30 minutes, making this speaker accident proof at pool parties. Boasting up to 12 hours of playback from its built-in battery, this speaker will last as long as the party.

  • PK5 – The Party Friendly Speaker: Even if the lunch braai turns into a midnight feast, this speaker will play throughout as its battery lasts up to 18 hours. Clear Vocal technology is added to the PK5, which reduces audio imperfections from the music for a sharper sound. It is also water and splash resistant and has a handle, allowing for it to be easily carried. Built-in LED lights which pulse with the beat of the music on this speaker provide a light show for any song.

  • PK7 –  The Audiophile’s Speaker: With a battery life that lasts for up to 22 hours, the PK7 also contains an LED light to the rhythm of the sound. The speaker integrates a convenient handle grip that allows for it to be transported securely. The powerful PK7 Bluetooth speaker also distributes its high frequencies across two separate tweeters for more precise sonic detail.

Overall, LG’s XBoom PK portable speakers are a phenomenal set of high-quality wireless speakers.

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