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Voice is the new oil

Your voice is becoming the new battleground of the Internet economy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



Your voice is worth a fortune. No, you’re not about to win a recording contract. But we are about to see a replay of the way our clicks on websites – and the clicks of billions of others – became the heart of the data economy. The mantra of the world that turned Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon into the world’s biggest companies is that “data is the new oil”.

But now, clicks and typed searches are fast being replaced by voice commands and spoken searches. Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri are suddenly available to half the world’s population, via the Android and iOS phones that dominate the smartphone world.

At first, it seemed benign, and a natural way to make services and applications available to a vast proportion of the global population that cannot read, write or type. But now, barely a week goes by without a revelation of a major player in the Internet industry not only allowing users’ voice activity to be intercepted, but actively using such interception as a means of enhancing services.

Only when they are caught out, do they tend to admit their misdoings, and offer assurances that it won’t happen again.

However, the incentive to find new ways to exploit your voice are massive. Right now, the best voice assistants process spoken instructions or questions via the Cloud, where their vast resources and ultra-sophisticated artificial intelligence engines fine tune the delivery and provide the user with a seemingly accurate service.

However, when the user is offline, the voice assistance either does not work, or becomes a pale shadow of the connected version. The reality is that the machine learning and artificial intelligence built into phones is still rudimentary, and the disconnected phone is still a blunt instrument in the war for your voice.

This is one of the reasons access to your voice is so important to the big players: the more voice data points they have, the more errors they can identify, and the more feedback they can get and give, the better their voice assistants become, and the better they compete in the war for attention.

That is only one reason why voice is the new oil.

The other core factor is the extent to which spoken words in general conversation are being used to “personalise” your services. Which is, of course, a euphemism for targeted ads.

So when you are discussing a specific product, service or intention, and then suddenly start seeing ads for that very thing crop up in banners on sites you visit, it’s not paranormal. Rather, it’s the new normal – for now.

For example, see how Google gives itself permission to record your voice and “audio input” to improve speech recognition:

Think that’s creepy? Amazon advises that “the voice recordings associated with your account are used to improve the accuracy of the results”. It even lets you listen to those very recordings. The link is hidden deep in the Amazon website, and unlikely to be discovered in random browsing. See it here:

This helps explain why we often imagine that our homes or other environments are being bugged by the giant corporations, poised to send us adverts the moment we mention a product or travel destination. It is because they are indeed bugging us, but with our permission, granted when we signed up to use their free services.

As the cliché goes, if the service is free, you are the product. Except that now, your voice is the product.

Read more about how tech companies are hiring contractors to listen to voice commands.


The Outer Worlds creates a twist on lone hero RPGs

With The Outer Worlds being released just under a month ago, BRYAN TURNER played it extensively to shell out exactly what makes it so special.



The Outer Worlds makes it difficult to turn the console off. It took a while to pinpoint exactly what makes it so more-ish. Eventually, it became clear that it’s not one aspect, but rather several facets that make this game great. We’ve separated this game into its parts.

It comes as no surprise that Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of Fallout New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Fallen Empire, was behind The Outer Worlds. It blends two distinct flavours of gaming – the chaos of Fallout with the intergalactic travel from Star Wars. This makes The Outer Worlds feel familiar but fresh at the same time.

At first, the game felt similar to the Fallout RPG series, particularly Fallout New Vegas, where the player is conveniently more powerful than the other players that exist in the world into which they venture. In Fallout, worlds are generally lawless, and players must navigate their character towards the alignment or “good or bad status” they want the player to be. The plot has scenarios that only a certain type of alignment can be, whether the character is the Restorer of Faith or the Architect of Doom.

The Outer Worlds follows a similar kind of style, but replaces the wasteland with a picture of the far future. Players start off as a passenger who gets unfrozen on a ship that holds a few of Earth’s brightest minds. The main campaign goal is to help unfreeze the other passengers. Instead, players are found in a hyper-capitalist world where workers are extremely disposable. Enormous companies go by names like “Auntie Cleos” but set extremely oppressive policies to keep their workers in line. From this, one can tell that dark humour is rife throughout this game.

These kinds of immersive RPGs, naturally, pack so many side quests into their world that it’s easy to forget the player’s main objective. These side quests are very reminiscent of the Fallout series, because they feature many ways of getting the job done, whether it be fighting, convincing or sneaking. One can even have companions, which present players with even more quest lines.

Not everything is a remix of other games. Companions have a direct effect on a character’s skill set, because the main characters are not always skilled in what players need. For example, we brought along Parvati in a quest where we needed more support with engineering skills, which is a skill we neglected to level up in the main character.

There’s also the ability to have a special combat skill, which becomes very handy in situations where there are many enemies around. Of course, it not only buys players time, but delivers more damage to opponents. Some special combat skills even stun non-targeted opponents, which really helps.

Gear and perks have also been designed from scratch, and it shows. It’s far more intuitive than we’ve seen in other RPGs so far and it makes for a much better experience that saves time on upgrading gear and perks so players can actually play the game.

I’m a huge fan of the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS, as Fallout players know it. The system allows players to target various limbs or parts of the opponent with precision aim, ensuring a better shot. While The Outer Worlds doesn’t use this, it features a slow-motion aiming system which can be considered an equivalent.

The travel system allows for travel from planet to planet, and they’re all distinctly mapped. While many are filled with enemies and marauders in empty wastelands, there are also major cities. The art style and careful attention to detail with the colour make this contrast distinguishable.

One of our biggest compliments is the completeness of this game. Many games have recently shipped glorified beta versions of their games because they’re pressed for time. The Outer Worlds, however, didn’t present a single bug within 20 hours of gameplay.

Overall, it’s a very enjoyable game, and fans of the Fallout, Star Wars RPGs, and Mass Effect series’ should definitely take a look at what The Outer Worlds has to offer.

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FNB takes shot at Bank Zero



With expectation building for the launch of Bank Zero by legendary banker Michael Jordaan, his previous employer seems to have taken a strategic shot with the launch of its latest service. 

FNB has launched Easy Zero, a fully-fledged digital bank account with a card to allow customers to transact easily without paying a monthly fee. The mobile account was formerly known as eWallet eXtra.

The revamped digital account will now have a branded FNB bank card, providing customers with free card swipes, cost-effective transactional and ATM cash withdrawal fees. The card now gives customers more options to access their money. In addition, customers will also get free prepaid purchases and free cash deposits of up to R1,500 per month.

FNB Easy CEO Philani Potwana said: “We are aware of the day-to-day financial pressure that our consumers face, and Easy Zero is a direct response to their needs. The account is in line with our strategy to broaden financial inclusion to the unbanked and underbanked. We believe that the ability to operate the account digitally will allow customers to operate it at virtually no cost or minimal cost depending on transactional behaviour.

“We see Easy Zero being a digital bank account of choice for customers who do not have regular income or have limited banking needs. This is partly the reason debit orders are not allowed on the digital account as customers in this segment have limited debit orders. However, for those customers that have a need for debit orders they can still use our competitively priced Easy PAYU and Easy Smart Bundle accounts.”

Through Easy Zero, customers will be able to send money to anyone with a valid SA cellphone number, and skip the queues to pay people and accounts. Easy Zero account holders can also view their bank account balance and transaction history on their mobile phone at any time, from anywhere.

“The success of our digital account, with over 140,000 active customers, shows that anyone who owns a mobile phone can be banked in minutes using a mobile device,” says Potwana. “This showcases our ability to adapt to the ever-changing consumer landscape to cater for the needs of customers through platform innovation. ”

FNB is also offering Easy Zero digital account holders a toll-free number (0800 079 599) where easy customers can call for help on any of their banking needs. To open an Easy Zero account, dial *120*277# on a mobile phone and follow the prompts.

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