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Viber opens public chats in SA

Viber has announced that it has opened its latest social channel ‘Public Chats’ to partners in South Africa, the rest of Africa, and the Middle East.

Brands, organisations, celebrities, public figures and social influencers from these countries can now join Viber’s global platform to reach a local and regional audience.

Public Chats are live discussions that Viber users can follow, like and share with their community. Released in beta version in November 2014 with select global partners, this feature offers a new kind of social experience – tapping into live conversations from celebrities, personalities, brands and organisations. Mobile users can discover new communities, follow interactive chats in real-time and share original pieces of content with friends and contacts.

“The Middle East and Africa are important markets for Viber, and we are pleased to welcome local influencers and brands to our Public Chats platform,” said Mark Hardy, CMO, Viber. “We are sure they will enjoy chatting, commenting and debating live on this active social channel whilst sharing tips, news, and local content to our constantly connected mobile audience across the region.”

Selected partners in Africa, at Pan-African level and in key markets such as South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Egypt, have joined Public Chats for this regional launch in a bid to be the first players to offer local conversations on Viber. African users can now start to follow them from the Viber Public Chats explore page.

Super star of African Music, Youssou NDour, the internationally acclaimed Senegalese singer and composer just joined Viber Public Chats. HE SAID: “The Viber Public Chats channel will enable my fans to follow in real time my music and artistic activities; it will also represent an opportunity for me to engage in discussions designed to forge a peaceful and open world.”

Partners in South Africa include Vanessa Haywood, business woman, sports personality and actress; Cindy Pivacic, HIV awareness creator; Carishma Basday, actress, model and yogi; GreenPop, an environmental NGO on a mission to plant trees; Homeology, an interior design webzine; Gareth Pon, internationally recognised image creator; African Hip Hop music blog; adventure couple Gugu and Letshego Zulu; soul singer Ms Kelle; talent, brand and media management specialist Sheree O’Brien; and Hint Business Community founded by Brandon Tancott and Willem Gous.

“I decided to join Viber Public Chats to inspire men, women and children to lead active lifestyles,” says Vanessa Haywood. “I have a great love for sport and adventure among other things and Viber Public Chats has an outstanding reach which I am very excited to tap into”.

“We’re in a new era of HIV care and prevention,” says Cindy Pivacic, HIV activist. “Viber Public Chats represent an ideal platform for spreading messages and debating HIV issues.”

Cindy’s decision to go public with her status was prompted by her own experience with the disease. After acquiring numerous illnesses associated with HIV and AIDS, Cindy realised that she would not cope without the help of others. “Through the use of Viber Public Chats, I hope to bring together a group of people who have experiences to share with a young audience and discuss HIV knowledge, stigma and prevention and ultimately call on people to get tested.”

With proficient knowledge in the use of mobile photography apps, Gareth Pon is influential both locally and internationally. “One of my many passions is to connect and grow the mobile photography community,” he says. “I see Viber Public Chats as a great way to share, learn, explore and spread creativity of photography through mobile.”

Jumia, the leading ecommerce platform in Africa, recently opened Public Chats in Egypt and Nigeria and were one of the first partners to join this new social channel in the Middle East and Africa. Viber users can expect more Jumia Public Chats to open in the African continent in the coming months.

“We are really excited with this partnership,” said Jeremy Doutte, CEO of Jumia. “As new African customers discover the Internet first through their mobile, we want to address them wherever they are. Viber is a mobile first company with an outstanding reach in Africa. Jumia is also a mobile first company and the first online shopping destination in Africa. Joining forces will enable both Viber and Jumia to deliver quality content and good vibes to our users.”

More than 50 partners have joined Public Chats in key African markets. Viber users can now follow Bella Naija, top lifestyle media in Nigeria, Xtian Dela, radio presenter, Blogger & Social Influencer in Kenya, Filfan the first entertainment platform in Egypt, Live FM radio in Ghana, the WIW Sport news portal in Senegal, and Serge Beynaud, Afro Pop musician and composer from Ivory Coast.

Public Chats are easy to follow from within the Viber app. Anyone on Viber can follow as many Public Chats as they like. Conversations are multi-media and include text, photos, audio, video, stickers, web links and geo-localisation. Users can invite friends to follow their favourite Public Chats and share parts of these conversations. The most popular chats are featured on the home screen of Viber’s Public Chats section. Users can easily find new Public Chats through the search tab or access a chat directly via a customised URL.

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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