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Enter Watson’s Law …

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At last week’s IBM Think conference in Las Vegas, the company took Watson from tool to Law, writes TIANA CLINE.

From Moore’s Law in 1971 to Metcalfe’s Law in 1995 to … Watson’s Law in 2018? IBM is heralding a new digital age – with a bit of chutzpah – with the name of its artificial intelligence engine.

“It’s an exponential moment, when both business and technology architectures change at the same time. It has the potential to change everything,” said IBM chairman, president and CEO Ginni Rometty at the IBM Think conference in Las Vegas last week.

IBM Watson integrates the entire spectrum of data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning to lay a foundation for open and adaptive AI. At IBM Think, the tech giant unveiled a number of new cloud technologies (private, public and on-premises), open AI opportunities for businesses, and the fully-customisable Watson Assistant that takes a new approach in the AI space by only talking to businesses.

IBM’s end goal with Watson is to build a data-driven culture for enterprises. It is asking: how can artificial intelligence (AI) be integrated into every profession or industry and industries to transform workflow? And how can one ensure that the data that is gathered will be secure and accessible, wherever it lives, and that data-driven insights can be turned into competitive advantage?

The contrast is with narrow AI, which is able to perform simple smartphone tasks like distinguishing the difference between a cat and a baby in a camera roll, using machine learning (ML). Watson has been ramped up substantially for broader, more in-depth AI, which encompasses the use of smart data patterns, and blockchain for exponential learning.

“Ultimately, we need to make data incredibly simple and accessible with no assembly required,” said Rob Thomas, general manager for IBM Analytics. “IBM Cloud Private for Data is the only platform in the enterprise with no assembly required. It’s Cloud Agile.”

IBM also unveiled two key partnerships with Apple at IBM Think: IBM Watson Services for Apple’s AI, Core ML, and IBM Cloud Developer Console for Apple.

IBM Watson Services for Core ML will allow companies to create AI-powered apps that securely connect to their enterprise data and can run offline and on cloud. The main differentiator is that the AI continuously learns, adapts and improves through each user interaction.

“All iOS developers can now build applications in devices that run Watson, even if they’re not connected,” said David Kenny, IBM’s senior vice president for IBM Watson and Cloud Platform.

“It’s about getting a better understand of what’s going on.”

The new IBM Cloud Developer Console for Apple provides key tools, like pre-configured starter kits, along with AI, data and mobile services for Apple’s coding language Swift. This enables developers to link to IBM Cloud to build easy-to-code apps that can be integrated with enterprise data and are quick to deploy.

“Watson can help you reimagine your workflows,” said Kenny. “There’s a lot of noise in the AI space, but somebody needed to help the enterprise with deep, vertical expertise. It’s about security, transparency and compliance and we wanted to make it easy for businesses to get started, so we packaged together Watson Assistant.”

Siri or Alexa? Djingo and Cortana? No matter what a company names its voice assistant, there’s a good chance it’s Watson underneath. Enter Watson Assistant: it can be embedded into anything and be used in industry-specific applications where businesses can also white-label the service. This means there is no official Watson Assistant wake-word, such as “Hey Siri”, nor plans for a Watson-branded device to be sold in the shops.

“We’re training Watson Assistant with data which really understands industries,” said Kenny. “We want to make it easier for every developer in the world who is building applications.”

Watson Assistant can be implemented across key industry sectors, from hospitality to banking data, insurance, agriculture and the automotive industry. The overarching idea is to combine AI, cloud and the Internet of Things to help businesses enhance their brand and customer experiences.

IBM Watson Assistant for Automotive, for example, is a digital assistant designed to help the automotive industry understand and interact with drivers and passengers.

In the agriculture space, IBM Watson IoT can analyse farm data like temperature, soil pH and other environmental factors to give farmers insights that can help them make better decisions – and harvest greater yields. On a global scale, Identity Guard is using IBM Watson to fight cyberbullying, using social media and smart AI monitoring tools. A collaboration between IBM Research and the University of Oxford has begun using machine intelligence to simulate and explore more effective malaria policy interventions.

As Watson Assistant develops a deeper understanding of the user, it will be able to include additional factors, such as their location and time of day. The difference between Watson Assistant and voice assistants is that learns through each interaction.

Watson, as an AI platform, can quickly build and deploy chatbots and virtual agents across a variety of channels, including mobile devices, messaging platforms, and even robots.

With Watson, IBM believes that companies won’t need to fight data, but rather use it to accelerate research and discovery, and enrich customer interactions. Adaptive AI isn’t just an advantage, was the underlying message at IBM Think, it’s essential.

 

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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