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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.


ASUS puts more screen into gaming

While others battle over the thinnest bezel for maximizing screen space, ASUS released a dual screen laptop that uses the space where one’s palms would usually rest, writes BRYAN TURNER



When one imagines dual screen, it’s usually two screens side-by-side on a desk, providing a horizontally long desktop experience. There have been clunky dual screen laptops in the past, some that folded out horizontally, but these never really caught the attention of the consumer.  

Enter Asus with the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15. Like the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo, the ROG Zephyrus Duo features two screens – the main screen on the top panel (as we’re all used to) and another screen just below that, where the top of the keyboard would usually be. The main difference is the secondary screen pops out at a 13-degree angle to bridge the gap between the two screens, and to give better viewing angles.  

That ZenBook Pro Duo is also a pretty good machine for gaming, because it features Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics, but it doesn’t have the latest graphics. With the new machine, Asus is one of the first manufacturers to release a laptop featuring Nvidia’s latest RTX 2080 Super Max Q GPU for mobile devices. This is a momentous feat, considering that not only are the external features  cutting edge, but also the internals. 

The main panel is configured to be either 4K 60Hz or 1080p 300Hz. The former is most likely going to be picked up by video editors and photoshop gurus, because it covers 100% of the Adobe RBG colour space, and the latter will appeal to gamers who want to see their high frame rates in action. Both panels are Pantone Colour Calibrated for high colour accuracy. 

The secondary panel features a 32:9 resolution, which is equal to putting two standard 16:9 widescreen panels together. The touchscreen panel outputs a 3840 x 1100 resolution at 60Hz.  

The combination of these panels will be ideal for portable gamers. The main game can be on the main panel, while Discord and game streaming software can be on the secondary panel, all at a glance. Not to mention the game developers that have support for two screens, where the second screen highlights stats and other components that had to be crammed into the main screen’s space.   

On the inside, the laptop features liquid metal cooling, which lowers the temperatures by 8°C and allows the computer to function with less fan noise. Asus has also slipped some very interesting cooling tech behind the secondary panel, when it pops open, to maximise airflow into the computer from both the bottom and the top of the device. 

The laptop features the biggest battery Asus has yet put in a computer, at 90Wh. This is incredibly close to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA’s) limit of 100Wh batteries being allowed on flights to the US. Fortunately, this computer can be taken around the world if necessary. 

These computers will come in two variants of 10th Generation Intel processors, namely the i9-10980HK or i7-10875H. They support up to 2 M.2 NVMe PCIE 3 slots for SSDs. 

The new ROG gaming range from Asus will be available later this year. The price of the computer has not yet been confirmed

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Vodacom, Discovery launch free virtual COVID-19 tests

Vodacom and Discovery have teamed up to launch free virtual COVID-19 testing for all South Africans – not only for their customers.



Vodacom and Discovery have partnered to deliver a powerful online healthcare platform for the benefit of all South Africans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This platform provides easy access to a COVID-19 risk tool for all South Africans, to help understand your personal risk for COVID-19. Where needed, it assists immediately to schedule virtual healthcare professional consultations and get advice.

Globally, telemedicine has proved to be vital in the management of this disease, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak. The risk assessment and virtual healthcare tools can help to identify people who need health professional engagement and a potential referral for testing or to a hospital.

The online healthcare platform therefore makes it possible for South Africans to access a healthcare professional without them having to travel to a healthcare facility.

This reduces overcrowding at clinics and doctors’ rooms where there is greater risk of the virus spreading. It also protects healthcare professionals from potential repeated exposure to COVID-19.

It is free to use and available on any web browser or mobile phone to facilitate a full consultation with a doctor, either through video calls, voice calls, or by text. The service can be accessed by visiting either the Discovery or Vodacom websites. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialling *111#.

Through a partnership with Vodacom, Discovery’s existing DrConnect platform, which was previously available only to Discovery clients, is now accessible to all South Africans. Vodacom and Discovery have also jointly created a fund to pay doctors for approximately 100,000 consultations, making them free to any South African.

There are seven easy steps to use an online doctor consultation:

  1. Start the process by visiting Discovery’s COVID-19 information hub or Vodacom’s website. Members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme can access the service through the Discovery app. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialling *111#.
  2. Utilise the COVID-19 self-screening risk assessment tool, by answering a few easy questions.
  3. If you are confirmed as high risk of having COVID-19, a short registration and consent process on the DrConnect app will follow.
  4. Book a virtual consultation with a doctor who is available to assess the need for COVID-19 testing.
  5. If the doctor recommends testing, a photo of the completed pathology form will be sent to you by SMS, WhatsApp or email. The same process will apply to scripts for medicine.
  6. Testing and collecting of medicine will be facilitated by the relevant essential healthcare service providers that you must visit.
  7. Doctors will receive test results electronically and can then advise if you should schedule follow-up appointments to discuss results and next steps.

The Vodacom COVID-19 information hub contains other up-to-date information for consumers about COVID-19.

With virtual consultations, the location of the doctor or the location of the patient will not restrict access to fast and effective healthcare. All doctors can register to help.

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