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Machine learning will go big and small in 2017

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Machine learning is an emerging trend in South Africa, with demand for data scientists rising and university programmes incorporating it in study programmes. DataProphet MD, FRANS CRONJE, highlights South Africa’s top machine learning trends.

Machine learning as a subset of Artificial Intelligence is an emerging trend in South Africa, with demand for data scientists rising sharply and university programmes incorporating the discipline in study programmes. However, still a long way behind international counterparts, South African machine learning trends for 2017 place focus on our unique and emerging market.

The machine learning sector is really beginning to take form in South Africa with various start-ups taking off and entering the international scene.

At DataProphet, we specialise in the application of machine learning algorithms to provide actionable solutions for a variety of industries. Having built a presence in the U.S. we have experienced the difference in industry trends first hand.

South Africa’s diverse range of spoken languages makes it difficult to use existing personal assistants, chatbots and speech recognition tools which were designed solely for the English language. This is just one example of how approaches to machine learning need to be tailored to the local market.

In addition, inequality in terms of income and high levels of poverty means that fewer people have the means to take part in the growing Internet of Things (IoT) trend. This is also influenced by lower levels of affordable smartphone, computer and data access.

Fortunately, South African companies – not generally known for their customer care – are starting to wake up to the possibilities of efficient customer relationship management (CRM) through bespoke products, targeted marketing and improved customer service.

Our top four trends for machine learning in South Africa for 2017 are:

1. Big Data

Until recently, there were only a few companies who had the expertise needed to handle large datasets. However, as Big Data ‘know-how’ continues to spread across local industries, organisations will begin to see the benefits of uncovering new insights and opportunities presented through previously untouched data.

One way of using this data which has seen incredible growth is in segmentation – distinguishing customers based on their behaviour. Vodacom’s ‘Just 4 You’ campaign, for example, enabled businesses to better understand their needs and provide a personalised experience while also improving profits.

2. Chatbots

In a country where many digital and technological services are limited, chatbots are set to see steady increase in use cases as the technology graduates out of a being seen as ‘gimmicky’. Their return will see an increase in assistance with legal and financial advice, medical diagnosis and customer support.

ABSA has already introduced such a chatbot in the market, increasing the ways in which the bank engages with customers.

3. Computer Vision

The near-human level performance of computer vision will definitely be a trend to watch out for in 2017. For example, useful in the South African retail industry, smart cameras may be able to identify when a shoplifting or a break-in occurs and then notify security services.

4. Autonomous Worker Drones

Lastly, while smaller and far less technologically advanced drones made it onto the wishlists of teenagers over the festive season, advanced drone-mounted cameras are likely to gain popularity in South Africa this year. The efficiency of such technology is undeniable with the ability to battle rhino poachers by scanning large areas and reporting on the whereabouts of wildlife and people.

Beyond 2017, industry players may also want to keep the below considerations in mind.

  • Data is a gold mine

Keep in mind that while you may not be taking full advantage of your data, others are going to be efficiently using theirs and will therefore have a competitive edge over you. Machine learning has the ability to disrupt the market; driverless cars are just one example of this. Keeping up-to-date and adapting with the times is vital to avoid becoming obsolete.

  • Not all solutions are equal

Off-the-shelf ‘black-box’ machine learning models and analysis tools often hide a myriad of algorithmic design decisions in exchange for usability resulting in the most common for all scenarios but also non-optimal solution for all scenarios. The use of such solutions can result in sub-optimal model performance or unintended, negative consequences. Many of the very best machine learning products are open-source and open-data which allow for the establishment of social-good machine learning applications that many may not have even considered yet.

Arts and Entertainment

Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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Sports streaming takes off

Live streaming of sports is coming of age as a mainstream method of viewing big games, as the latest FIFA World Cup figures from the UK show. Africa isn’t yet at the same level when it comes to the adoption of sports streaming, but usage is clearly moving in the right direction.

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England’s World Cup quarter-final against Sweden was watched by just under 20 million viewers in the UK via BBC One. While this traditional broadcast audience was huge, it was streaming that broke records: the game was the BBC’s most popular online-viewed live programme ever, with 3.8 million views. In Africa, the absolute numbers are lower but the trend towards streaming major sports events on the continent is also well under way.

According to DStv, live streaming of sports dominates the usage figures for its live and recorded TV streaming app, DStv Now. The number of people using the app in June was five times higher than a year ago, with concurrent views peaking during major football and rugby games.

Since the start of the World Cup, average weekday usage of DStv Now is up 60%. The absolute peak in concurrent usage for one event was reached on 26 June, during the Nigeria vs Argentina game. The app’s biggest ever test was on 16 June with both Springbok Rugby and World Cup Football under way at the same time, resulting in concurrent in-app views seven times higher than the peaks seen in June last year.

The World Cup has also been a major reason for new users to download and try out the app. First-time app user volumes have tripled on Android and doubled on iOS since the start of the tournament.

“While we expected live sports streaming to take off, it’s also been pleasing to see that the app is really popular for watching shows on Catch Up,” says MultiChoice South Africa Chief Operating Officer Mark Rayner. “Interestingly, some of the most popular Catch Up shows are local, with Isibaya, Binnelanders, The Queen and The River all getting a significant number of views.”

With respect to app usage, the web and Android apps are the most popular way to watch DStv Now, with Android outpacing iOS by a factor of 2:1.

“We’re continuing to develop DStv Now, with 4k streaming in testing and smart TV and Apple TV apps on their way shortly,” says Rayner. “The other key priority for us is working with the telcos to deliver mobile data propositions that make watching online painless and worry-free for our customers.”

The DStv Now app is free to all 10 million DStv customers in Africa. The app streams DStv live channels as well as supplying an extended Catch Up library. Two separate streams can be watched on different devices simultaneously, and content can also be downloaded to smartphones and tablets. The content available on the app varies according to the DStv package subscribed to.

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