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The 2 AI trends no one
talks about

AI will create jobs, but purpose-built is a bad move, writes VIAN CHINNER, CEO of Xineoh

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Two artificial intelligence (AI) trends that will become a reality in 2019 – the rapid broadening of AI and its ability to create thousands of jobs – are not being widely spoken about.

Purpose-built algorithms will become obsolete

There is a lot of talk about when AI will be smarter than human beings. The reality is, when it comes to certain singular tasks, AI has been smarter than humans for a long time.

Consider the humble calculator, which delivers flawlessly time after time. The best human brains are only capable of completing large calculations accurately about 80% of the time, and they take considerably longer to do so.

Tasks of increasing complexity, such as banking transactions, can be concluded significantly faster by an automated teller machine (ATM) than a human teller. The ATM is also more accurate and doesn’t become tired.

At a task as complex as chess, AI had already beaten the best human player in 1997.

What most people refer to when discussing the prospect of AI becoming smarter than human beings is the broadening of AI. Broadening refers to a broad algorithm that can teach itself to master many tasks, such as Google’s one algorithm to rule them all. By the end of 2017, this algorithm started beating purpose-built algorithms in several fields.

Given that AI’s strength doubles every six months, broad algorithms are highly likely to outperform a huge number of purpose-built algorithms by the end of 2019.

Why are people not talking about this?

Given that things move linearly in our evolutionary environment, human brains are not wired for exponential equations. For example, if algae doubles every day and takes 40 days to cover an entire lake, how much time did it take to cover 25% of the lake? The answer is: 38 days, the other 75% came in just 2 days.

AI is a bit like the algae. It doubles every six months. By 2016, we had been working on generalised AI for several years and hadn’t made much progress. By 2017, we started to get some results and by 2018 it began to beat some of our purpose-built results. This is why it is extremely likely that generalised AI will surpass a plethora of purpose-built algorithms this year and we will have no use for them anymore.

AI will create more jobs than it destroys

The narrative around AI is often pessimistic, with self-proclaimed pundits predicting countless job losses and other equally woeful outcomes. The fact is that AI has the potential to create many more jobs than it destroys. Many multiples more.

With the unemployment rate hovering around the 27%-mark, South Africa is desperate to find ways to help the unemployed become more economically active. A poor education system and a large pool of people without qualifications or skills means that even if jobs are available, many of these people cannot be considered for them.

Reducing unemployment would be the single greatest contributor to a better South Africa. Getting everybody into a job would massively reduce crime, increase productivity and change citizens’ outlook on voting.

Economically speaking, the only sustainable way to get someone to earn a higher wage is to increase their skills and productivity. Consider a domestic worker, who is expected to complete various cleaning chores. For her to move up the skills value chain where she is managing the household, buying groceries and cooking, would require training and experience.

This is where AI can play a significant role and have a huge impact on society. For someone to be employed, the marginal value they add for the next person needs to be more than the marginal cost of employing that person. AI can dramatically skill people up, making them more valuable. In fact, the lower people are on the labour rung, the larger the effect AI can have on their productivity.

So, if the domestic worker, who only has basic cooking skills, harnesses AI to access various programmes or apps that help her create gourmet meals, she instantly moves up the skills value chain. Similarly, a gardener can become an Uber driver and go from making R150 per day to potentially earning R150 per hour.

The reason we don’t currently have an app to show someone how to create food step-by step is because creating a bespoke AI algorithm has been prohibitively expensive. The broadening of AI, however, will change this and result in apps that will help increase the marginal value of people and significantly reduce unemployment in South Africa.

Uber is an excellent example of the power of AI to reduce unemployment. Prior to Uber, South Africa had tiny meter taxi industry. The advent of Uber has seen a massive expansion of the pay-for-ride industry, creating thousands of jobs.

The possibilities are endless. Imagine a gardener becoming a landscape expert, a driver gaining motor mechanic skills, a domestic worker becoming a culinary expert or a super nanny. AI can do this. It’s already doing it. And, if left to its own devices, it will happen organically.

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Netflix lifts lid on first Nigerian Original

The streaming giant is set to increase its investment in Nigerian and African entertainment

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Back row (From L-R): Banky W, Ted Sarandos (Netflix Chief Content Officer), Kate Henshaw, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Felipe Tewes (Netflix Italian & African Originals Director), Omoni Oboli, Ben Amadasun (Netflix Africa Licensing Director) and Akin Omotoso Front Row (L-R) Mo Abudu, Adesua Etomi, Dorothy Ghettuba (Netflix African Originals lead) , Kunle Afolayan, Kemi Adetiba and Ramsey Noah.

The working title is the “Akin Omotoso Project”, but the world will soon get to know it by a snappier title. It is the first African original scripted series from Nigeria commissioned by Netflix. To be directed by Akin Omotoso, with Daniel Oriahi and CJ Obasi, it is planned to be a six-part series.

Netflix this week announced that it will increase its investment in Nigeria’s creative community, starting with the Akin Omotoso Project,

The series will star Kate Henshaw and Ade Laoye in leading roles, alongside other Nollywood greats and fresh faces, such as Richard Mofe Damijo, Joke Silva, Fabian Adeoye Lojede, Kehinde Bankole, Ayoola Ayolola, Toyin Oshinaike, Goodness Emmanuel, Ireti Doyle, Fabian Adeoye Lojede, Bimbo Akintola, Tope Tedela and Ijeoma Grace Agu.

Set in modern-day Nigeria and shot in Lagos, this drama tells the story of Kemi, a goddess reincarnated as a human to avenge her sister’s death. But first, she must learn how to use and harness her superpowers to defeat her enemies and save her family from destruction. The series will be produced by Rififi Pictures.

Over the last year, Netflix has started to invest in the creative community – bringing Nigerian stories to audiences all around the world. These include: popular movies such as Merry Men, The Real Yoruba Demons, The Wedding Party 2, King of Boys; Nollywood classics like The CEO, October 1 and The Figurine; and films by renowned Nigerian director, Kunle Afolayan, such as Mokalik. These much loved Nigerian movies will join Nollywood favorites such as Chief Daddy, Lion Heart and box office hit, The Bling Lagosians.   

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer said: “Movies like King of Boys, Merry Men and The Bling Lagosian have shown how much our members love Nigerian movies. So we’re incredibly excited to be investing in Made in Nigeria stories – bringing them to audiences all around the world”. 

Dorothy Ghettuba, who leads African Originals at Netflix, said: “I’m excited that in the same week that we’re launching Queen Sono, we had the opportunity to be here in Lagos with Nigerian storytellers to share plans of our first Nigerian original production. Our continent has a wealth of diversity, multiplicity and beauty in stories that have yet to be told and we want to be top of mind for creators in Nigeria, especially when it comes to stories they haven’t had a chance to tell yet.” 

Last month, Netflix enabled Nigerian members to pay for its service in Naira – making it easier for subscribers to use Netflix. Members can enjoy a wide range of diverse, quality entertainment, including African Originals like Queen Sono, which launches this Friday, 28 February. Other African Originals launching this year include Blood & Water and Mama K’s Team 4. 

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Load-shedding generator could blow your insurance

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Load shedding is going to remain a reality in South Africa for at least the next 18 months as Eskom conducts maintenance on its ageing power plants – but don’t go rushing off to buy your own alternative power supply without first checking how it’ll affect your home insurance.

That’s the warning from King Price’s partner of client experience, Wynand van Vuuren, who says it’s vital that alternative power supplies like generators are installed and certified by accredited electricians. If these devices are installed or used incorrectly, you might not be covered for any damages that may result.

“There’s been a huge upsurge in the number of people using portable generators to keep a few basic essentials going when the power goes off,” says Van Vuuren. “But what most people don’t know is that you’ve got to have them installed professionally by an electrician. You can’t just stick your generator in the garage with an extension cord running through the window.”

Here are Van Vuuren’s top tips for staying covered and charged safely during load shedding.

Do your homework

Know what your alternative power options are, and the pros and cons of each.

An inverter changes DC power from a battery into AC power that you can use to operate all kinds of devices. Obviously, it needs a battery pack to be useful. These batteries are either charged by solar or from the grid while the power is on.

A portable generator is a little generator on wheels that you see people buying in their dozens at Makro and Builders Warehouse over the weekend. They’re relatively cheap and easy to operate, but can’t keep big appliances running.

Stationary generators are usually slightly bigger units that are installed permanently, and switch on automatically when the power goes off. They’re more expensive, but have greater capacity.

Stay safe – and covered

Apart from keeping your lights on, the different power options all have one thing in common: they must comply with safety guidelines, and be installed by a professional.

“I know of guys who take their portable generators to a different mate’s house every weekend so they can watch the rugby during load shedding,” says Van Vuuren. “It’s not as smart an idea as you think: not only is the generator not covered, but any possible damage caused by the generator won’t be covered either, because it’s not properly installed.”

It’s also essential that portable generators are operated in open areas with good air flow, to prevent carbon monoxide build-up, and that fuel is stored safely in an area with adequate ventilation.

Keep your bases covered

If you’re using a generator or an inverter, make sure they power your electric fence, gate and alarm as well, as burglars are all too quick to exploit opportunities caused by power outages. If you don’t have an alternative power supply, make sure your fence, gate and alarm have a battery back-up that’s sufficient to see you through your darkest moments.

Oh, and make sure your generator’s insured as well, in case it’s stolen or struck by lightning. You would typically insure a portable generator under your home. A stationary (standby) generator becomes a fixed fitting once installed and must, therefore, be added to your buildings cover.

Beat the downs with UPS

Another major headache for South Africans is the power surge that can happen when the power is switched back on after load shedding, with big-ticket appliances like dishwashers, televisions, fridges, coffee machines and sound systems all at risk.

“We’ve seen claims for ‘fried’ computer equipment, appliances and even distribution boards caused by power surges,” says Van Vuuren. “This can be avoided by installing a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) – which doesn’t come cheap – but is advisable to at least protect costly items, like TVs and sound systems, and items with intrinsic value, like laptops.

“The other alternative is to manually disconnect your more sensitive appliances from the power supply and reconnect them after the electricity is switched back on.”

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