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In 2020, tech will reconnect us with our humanity

By LEE NAIK, TransUnion Africa CEO

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From the Black Mirror series to the recent Terminator sequel, Hollywood keeps showing us pessimistic visions of the future. It’s all too easy to buy into the idea that tech is out to rob us of our humanity. But the trends of 2020 from global thought leaders and TransUnion data paint a different picture: that technology is actually allowing us to reconnect with our humanity.

How is it doing this? Let’s unpack some of the key trends we’re seeing right now.

Empowerment at the Edge

How close are we to the Internet of Things becoming a reality? It’s already here. Organisations like SqwidNet have been quietly laying the infrastructure for IoT in South Africa for the last few years. Now, all we need is the connection to take full advantage. With ICASA set to license 5G spectrum, expect to see plenty of enterprises connect to 5G over the next year. This is the final frontier of our digital leapfrogging journey, where inexpensive edge computing and hyperspeed connectivity come together for a fully connected Africa to emerge. Imagine a society where every single person is connected, not just to the internet, but to each other.  Where sensors are so ubiquitous that objects can communicate with each other instantly – think cars warning other cars when they’re about to crash. The promise of always-on connectivity isn’t faster internet – it’s the opportunities for empowerment and positive change.

Welcome to the Age of Augmentation

Nowadays, people are using automation to make their lives easier in nearly every industry, from medicine to mining. Clevva uses AI advisors to assist sales teams and technical consultants. Aajoh helps doctors make better use of their time by streamlining the diagnosis process. Mining companies are using augmented reality and digital twin technologies to create safer, more sustainable smart mines. With South Africa’s power issues taking centre stage for 2020, this is a chance to deploy augmentation in the energy industry. Augmentation isn’t just improving productivity – it’s freeing us from low-value tasks so we can focus on our customers and employees. The more we start treating AI as our partners, the more space we will have to practice our humanity and empathy.

AI gets Self-Sufficient…and So Do We

According to E&Y, at least 46% of SA companies are actively piloting AI initiatives, with 96% of businesses expecting to gain significant benefits. In 2019, Google opened its first AI intelligence lab in Africa, laying the groundwork for greater skill capabilities on the continent. In 2020, expect to see artificial intelligence finally live up to the ‘intelligence’ part – what Forrester calls cognitive automation, where machines are able to self-learn, self-diagnose and self-govern. That means less time spent developing and baby-sitting applications, and more time spent enjoying the rewards. What used to take 100 hours might now only take 10 – what we need to be asking ourselves is how we can make the most of those additional 90 hours.

Rediscovering Trust

For consumers, who have seen their personal data get commoditised and misused, trust is at an all-time low. The fact that so many people believe Facebook is secretly listening to conversations shows how deep the erosion of trust goes. Winning back consumers won’t just be about ticking the GDPR or PoPIA boxes. It will take embedding a culture of trust and human empathy in everything, from basic user privacy policies to how your AI applications are designed and deployed. The development of this trust culture is going to be one of the biggest challenges for organisations in 2020, especially as emerging platforms like wearables, voice search and facial recognition introduce new user privacy challenges. Only by making intentional choices to prioritise the wellbeing of your people – be they customers, employees or users – will you be able to win back their trust over time.

Embracing Digital Minimalism

In a world where digital and physical are one and the same, information overload is a real possibility. And, short of completely removing yourself from society, there’s no real way of opting out. Consumers are embracing a more purposeful approach to technology, cutting out the white noise and sticking with the parts of the connected world that add the most value to their lives. Who needs 10 apps when one superapp can do it all? And why spend more money on features you’ll barely use when you can spend less on those you use regularly? In 2020, we’ll see a return to ‘less is more’ approach as consumers seek more streamlined, simplified experiences. For businesses, this means reimagining the customer experience, finding ways to engage with their customers more meaningfully. It also means practicing their own digital minimalism, dropping bells and whistles in favour of simpler solutions that will have a greater impact on their customers.

The Search for Joy

For the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about design thinking and user experience. Yet while many organisations are talking the talk, there’s been little real commitment to this outside of the occasional side project. That’s set to change as advanced customer analytics become more accessible. Soon, everyone will be able to use data to understand how people use their services and products. The ones who stand out from the pack will not be those with the latest features, but the ones who understand and design for their customers’ emotional needs. More organisations need to take a page from the Apple playbook on how to spark joy in every engagement. Rediscovering our humanity means focusing on the empathy of what we do – how we can delight, pleasure, and bring joy to people through our products and services.

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Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving

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For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit www.pingloud.com

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Coronavirus to hit 5G

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Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
5G19199
Rest of Market13941165
Total14131364
 
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
5G1%15%
Rest of Market99%85%
Total100%100%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/wep83gc.

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