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Now gamers help diagnose disease

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Over a billion people in the world entertain themselves with video games. Miguel Luengo Oroz has taken his gaming to the next level by using the intelligence of players from around the world to help diagnose diseases.

More than one billion people in the world entertain themselves with apps and video games. Only a hobby? For Miguel Luengo Oroz, the answer is no. Miguel and his team from the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) have resolved to use the collective intelligence of players from around the world to help diagnose diseases that kill thousands of people every day.

Parasites rather than spaceships

The idea originated in 2012. “While I was working for the United Nations in global health challenges, it caught my attention how tough and manual the process of diagnosing malaria was,” explains Miguel. “It can take up to 30 minutes to identify and count the parasites in a blood sample that cause the disease. There are not enough specialists in the world to diagnose all the cases!”

Miguel, a great fan of videogames had an idea: “Why not create a videogame in which rather than shooting spaceships we search for parasites?” And MalariaSpot was born, a game available for computer and mobiles in which the “malaria hunter” has one minute to detect the parasites in a real, digitalized blood sample.

Since its launch, more than 100.000 people in 100 countries have “hunted” one and a half million parasites, and the results are promising. The number of clicks made by many players in the same image sample combined by artificial intelligence shows a count as precise as the one of an expert, but quicker.

“We published a study that probed that the collective diagnosis by the use of a videogame is not a crazy thing, but now it needs to be assessed from a medical point of view,” explains Miguel. His team cooperates with a clinic in Mozambique and has done some tests in real time and has achieved the first collaborative remote diagnosis of Malaria from Africa.

The technology platform to host the game was the key. “We needed a flexible infrastructure that worked from anywhere in the world. We usually have traffic spikes when we appear in media or when we do campaigns in social networks, and we saw that Amazon Web Services (AWS) offered a good solution for auto scaling based on demand,” Miguel said.

Miguel and his team use the AWS Research Grants program that allows students, teachers, and researchers to transfer their activities to the cloud and innovate rapidly at a low cost. “We can now test different services without having to worry about the bill,” explains Miguel.

From the White House to neighborhood schools

The MalariaSpot project has attracted the recognition of entities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who has named Miguel one of the ten youngest Spaniards under 35 with potential to change the world through technology, the Singularity University of the NASA, and the Office of Science and Technology of the White House.

But one of the greatest awards for Miguel and his team comes much closer to home. They enjoy visiting schools all over Spain and helping awake the most unsuspected scientific vocations. “Today’s kids are digital natives. They are used to seeing and analyzing complex images on a screen,” says Miguel. This shows the educational value and awareness of videogames. During the last World Malaria Day on 25th April thousands of Spanish students participated in “Olympic Malaria Videogames” playing the new game MalariaSpot Bubbles. During this day school teams competed to become the best virtual hunters of malaria parasites.

“With MalariaSpot we have even be able to reach kids who were not very good at biology, in a workshop that we run in a school last year the kid who won was the most troublemaker out of his whole class,” explains Miguel (with a smile).

And the future of medical diagnosis is not only defined in laboratories. “We are in a turning point where technology allows ubiquitous connectivity. And us, and the rest of our generation, are responsible to direct all the possibilities that technology offers us to initiatives that make a real impact on the lives of people. And what better than health.”

With MalariaSpot and her “younger sister,” TuberSpot, Miguel and his young team of researchers are contributing so that in five years 5% of videogames are used to analyze medical images. Their objective? “Achieve a low cost diagnosis of global diseases, accessible to any person anywhere around the planet.”

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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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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