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Tech can sustain cities

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In 2010, we passed the historic milestone of having the majority of the world’s population live in cities. With this in mind, sustainability must become a key priority for business leaders, says COLIN THORNTON, MD of Turrito Networks and Dial a Nerd.

More than ever before, technology drives our world. It powers businesses, cities and governments, and shapes individual lives in a hugely impactful way. Indeed, smart technology ensures that we have clean water, and that food is available in supermarkets. Today, we order food, clothes, and all manner of services with just three simple taps. We do our banking on the go, paying salaries while sitting in traffic!

Technology continues to shape the very fabric of our lives, and this dependence is only likely to accelerate given that, in 2010, we passed the historic milestone of having the majority of the world’s population live in cities. With this in mind, sustainability must become a key priority for business leaders and policymakers around the world.

Leveraging Data

Today, information technology has the unique capability of being able to capture the ever-increasing amounts of information generated in the world around us – whether it is sensors that monitor traffic on the roads, the passage of water through pipes or the GPS signals from mobile phones.

Every day, advanced technology is providing us with increasingly detailed information about the services we depend on – and improvements in data communications are allowing us to combine real-time data with existing information. At the same time, recent developments in analytic algorithms mean that, more than ever before, we can gain new insights from this rich data store to help us make smarter decisions.

Developing ‘Smart’ Infrastructure

Increasingly, people want to live in cities where there’s a high quality of life and where services are delivered seamlessly and efficiently. As a result, these demands are placing a huge strain on city infrastructures and the planet’s resources at large.

Arguably, we now need a “smarter” approach to delivering vital services, such as transportation, logistics, healthcare, education, public safety, energy and water delivery. Notably, it’s estimated that lost productivity and energy use due to traffic congestion alone wastes between 1% and 3% of the world’s gross domestic product! Smart technology can undoubtedly ease traffic congestion, if the right measures are implemented.

Early Signs of Success

Encouragingly, work has already begun in cities around the world to make cities smarter and more energy efficient. For example, Singapore, Brisbane and Stockholm are all working to reduce both traffic congestion and air pollution through intelligent transportation solutions, including predictive tools to route vehicles around traffic accidents.

Several cities in Italy, the island of Malta, as well as the US state of Texas are using smart electric meters and instruments to make their power grids more stable, efficient and ready to integrate renewable energy sources and electric vehicles.

In an innovative project in Glasgow, new system insights are helping the council develop strategies to provide affordable warmth to vulnerable citizens – while making progress towards the city’s 2020 reduction targets for CO2.

Rotterdam is adopting a monitoring and forecasting system to support both its water and energy that uses real-time information to manage infrastructure and operations related to the effects of climate change.

China is introducing high-speed trains and expanding its rail network between cities, adding 25,000 miles of track between now and 2020. The goal is to fuel economic development without increasing automobile or truck traffic.

In South Africa, we are beginning to develop our own smart cities and smart communities, although there are challenges around legacy infrastructure and ever changing local leadership.

Looking ahead, every city and community will be forced to adopt certain technology tools and platforms in order to attract people and talent – and also to remain up to speed with increasingly stringent environmental and sustainability standards. For both people and the environment, technology is a powerful tool that can be leveraged for positive change and sustainable development!

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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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