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SA digital prospects shine

By Doug Woolley, GM, Dell EMC Southern Africa

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South Africa is awaiting the arrival of not one but three international data centres, each representing a major hyperscale provider. Suffice to say, SA and its neighbours will soon have access to the same digital power, flexibility and reduced costs that makes the likes of Google, Facebook and Netflix possible.

It’s not an isolated event but in response to the market’s appetites. Companies large and small are rethinking and rebuilding their data centres, moving to massive hosting sites, using public cloud services, and investing in more specialised private systems. Not long ago this was the message brought to a reluctant market, but by 2018 the adoption of modern technologies – collectively called Digital Transformation – is in full swing.

There are many challenges facing our country, but we are also seeing important gains. The fast growth of fibre, refreshing new attitudes around mobile data, and proactive moves by Government are all pushing digital’s momentum in the right direction. Digital is prompting both foreign investment and massive expansions by local companies.

According to an International Data Corp (IDC) report, the local IT industry is outperforming other parts of the economy and is a real job creator. Much of this is due to cloud adoption, which moots suspicions that digital technology will reduce employment. In contrast, it shapes a smarter business environment, which is more productive and innovative. This grows economies and creates work.

What does it mean for 2019? The IT sector is still a small part of SA’s GDP, but that view doesn’t take in the knock-on effect of technology. For example, you can now apply for an ID or passport online, a big step forward from the stifling queues that many had to take time off from work to attend. Local services are taking on international rivals in the taxi and entertainment sectors. There has been a steady bubbling of startups taking SA innovations to international markets. Smarter farms, smarter taxis, smarter cities, smarter mines – digital is rippling through our society.

That ripple will continue to grow and reverb in 2019 – of that, I have no doubt. Today we have many local use cases where businesses and services have changed how they serve their markets. This is silencing digital’s critics as well as giving clear pathways to transformation. Making the switch is not easy. It takes leadership and an appetite for change and its challenges. But the practical proof is out there for all to see and the ways to accomplish it are clearer than ever before.

Meaningful change requires a certain level of strife. We can use this idea to colour our expectations for 2019. We can’t deny that it will be a tough year as the repercussions of a struggling economy start making themselves felt. But that means for the enlightened and proactive there will be opportunities for change as well. The groundwork for that shift is, as I explained earlier, already in place.

2019 will be tough, but it will also see SA flex its digital muscles. These are ready for primetime in a society that increasingly appreciates the relationship between digital technology and our wellbeing. The arrival of Azure, AWS and other international data centres to the market show that foreign investors see that potential. In 2019 South African society will start seeing it as well.

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CES: Most useless gadgets

The worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Language tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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