With many worried about their jobs being taken over by artificial intelligence and machines, SIMON CARPENTER, Chief Technology Adviser at SAP Africa, asks what the future has in stall for humankind.
Perhaps it’s because I have less runway ahead of me than behind me or perhaps it’s because of being in the IT industry for three and half decades but I find myself marvelling at and sometimes bewildered by, the exponentially accelerating pace and scope of advances in science and technology. Recently, in response to alarming headlines about job destruction and Artificial Intelligence (AI) getting away from us, I’ve been wondering where it’s all heading for the apex primate – humankind.
A brief history of mankind
When you look at the mammal that is Homo sapiens in the context of geological time, the 200,000 years we have been around is a tiny, tiny amount of time – a mere 0.00004% of Earth’s existence. And yet here we are, living in the Anthropocene epoch (recently named for us by climatologists and geologists). This epoch is so named because for the first time in the 4.1-billion-year history of life on Earth we humans, as a species, are changing what happens to and on the planet, rather than simply being the observers and subjects of natural forces.
In that 200,000 years since Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa and spread across the planet we have evolved to become a “reasonably smart” apex primate at the top of the food chain in a closed system called planet Earth (although we have already made our presence felt in other parts of the solar system).
You could argue that we’re only “reasonably smart” because whilst we are sentient, have consciousness, self-awareness, intellectual capacity, language, moral reasoning, and the ability to create, we haven’t yet figured out how to live without degrading our own environment through pollution, over-population, over-exploitation of natural resources and species extinction. Only “reasonably smart” because whilst we create great art, music, literature, food, science and technologies and new industries we haven’t yet figured out how to stop warring with each other, to transcend tribalism and racism, or to curb the greed and corruption whereby the few predate upon the many. Only “reasonably smart” because although we’ve made great strides in medicine and healthcare we have not yet figured out how to cure dread diseases, prevent obesity, build equitable, inclusive economies or provide universal healthcare.
The greatest show in the universe
These “reasonable smarts” come to us courtesy of arguably the most amazingly complex “thing” in the universe – the human brain. With its estimated 86,000,000,000 to 100,000,000,000 neurons and 3,440,000,000,000,000 to 4,000,000,000,000,000 synapses it accounts for roughly 2% of our body mass yet consumes around 20% of the oxygen and energy we take in. It is this human brain and its astonishing capacities that keeps us alive on daily basis, that enables us to dominate other animals and that accounts for all human progress and the massive impact we have had on the planet despite having been here for only 0.00004% of the earth’s history. And, it is this amazing brain that has helped us to develop and master the various technologies that have brought us this far; from fire to fission and everything in between.
Yet, despite this awesomeness, the human brain may not be sufficient to ensure our survival as a species. Whilst there is still much to discover about how the brain works we do know that it suffers from the fact that it is trapped in a physically constrained space – the skull – and is subject to metabolic limitations. The prefrontal cortex, where we do most of our reasoning, appears to be able process no more than five to seven discrete pieces of information at any one time, and the myth of multitasking is just that – a complete myth. Our individual brains, in other words, are ill-equipped to deal with either the size or dynamism of some of the challenges we now face. That’s one of the reasons we find it so hard to execute the dictum that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” (commonly attributed to Einstein) – it’s hard to change consciousness when its seat doesn’t change. The world in which our current brains evolved no longer exists and, per evolutionary science, it will take somewhere in the region of one million years for any significant changes in our human capabilities. So, we will need to look elsewhere for solutions to the many pressing problems such as how to feed an additional two billion people on shrinking amounts of arable land and how to manage traffic congestion and safety in rapidly urbanising societies, how to provide sufficient energy for economic development or manage epidemics or maximise corporate profits without harming society and so on.
The digital brain
Help is at hand. We now stand at the dawn of a Digital Revolution, one which promises socio-economic upheaval as profound as that which followed previous agricultural and industrial revolutions. Whereas the plough, the steam-engine and the production technologies of yesteryear augmented our physical capabilities this new Digital Revolution, with its data generation, information processing and communication technologies is about augmenting our mental capabilities. Pre-eminent among the multi-faceted technologies that underpin the Digital Revolution is Artificial Intelligence.
As we embed sensors in more and more things in the world (including ourselves) and this cyber-physical world creates unprecedented volumes and velocities of data we must use AI to make sense of it as our brains are simply not up to the task of dealing with the velocity and volumes of data.
Unlike our brains, and courtesy of Moore’s law, we can scale up silicon-based capabilities in a largely unrestricted fashion – it’s not bound by the physical limitations of the human skull or by the metabolic need for sleep – and this is enabling us to deliver AI capabilities that were the stuff of science fiction only a few years ago. There is much debate as to when (and whether) AI will exceed human intelligence with futurists such a Ray Kurzweil (who claims an 86% accuracy rate for the 147 predictions he has made since the 1990s) positing 2045 as the year when the Singularity will occur. The Singularity being the point in time at which AI leads to machines that are smarter than human beings.
But, you may say, AI is not new and for every success there have been many failures and it’s nowhere close to matching human general intelligence. So, what is different this time? Well, your assertions would be right on all counts but the answer to your question is “plenty”.
Advances in technology
The last few years have seen spectacular improvements in capability and affordability on several fronts that feed into Artificial Intelligence. The pace of this Digital Revolution has no historical precedent we can refer to; advances in science and technology are combinatorial and exponential in nature, intersecting in ways we battle to anticipate and because of which jobs, industries and societies are being disrupted.
There have been improvements in computing technologies, especially Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) to the point where super-computing and massive memory is affordable and therefore widely available, significant improvements in algorithms (not least of which is Deep Learning) and massive sets of data on which to train new AI models using techniques like Machine and Deep Learning. And all of this is set to accelerate as the Internet of Things (IoT) takes hold allowing us to create and “feed” real-time data into Digital Twins that will represent all sorts of artefacts from the real world (including humans). The possibilities are endless and limited only by our imaginations and ethical considerations, the ramifications can be scary, and the process is unstoppable.
It is now up to us as individuals, workers, parents, managers, leaders, companies, governments and societies to understand and evaluate these trends and technologies and to ask how can we ensure this new technology serves us? How will we apply it to help make the world run better and improve people’s lives?
The (narrow) usefulness of AI
The answer lies in understanding that today’s AIs are very narrow – they can do certain specific tasks, but only those tasks, astonishingly well. So, it’s about picking the most valuable use cases, understanding that for certain tasks, where efficiency, repeatability, neutrality, speed and big sets of data are the norm the narrow intelligence of today’s AI is often superior to humans when it comes to getting a job done. It’s also about having a mindset of embedding these new tools into both existing or new business processes and models in such a way that we can take the “work out of work” and free our people up to do the things that only humans can do; imagining, empathising, relating, creating and solving complex problems. This last point is worth emphasising; AI cannot envision, it cannot innovate, it doesn’t empathise, it cannot synthesise new solutions to complex problems. What it can do is tackle the routine, mundane, dangerous activities that make work a less than stellar experience for millions of people – so that those people can bring their talents to bear on the world’s challenges in a more engaging fashion.
It is about taking tools such as machine learning and applying them to the data you already have (or will generate through new capabilities such as social listening, IoT or visual processing) to generate new insights, to make life and work safer, easier and more productive, and to design innovative competitive capabilities.
As we stand at the beginning of a new age for humanity, one where we can use Artificial Intelligence for good, it is up to us to explore ways to make sure technology serves us well. We don’t yet know where it will take us but we do know that we must get started.
Have you asked yourself how your organisation is using Artificial Intelligence today?
AppDate: DStv jumps on music bandwagon
In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights DStv’s JOOX, Cisco’s Security Connector, Diski Skills, Namola and Exhibid.
DStv is now offering JOOX, a music streaming service owned by China’s Tencent, to DStv Premium, Compact Plus and Compact customers.
In addition to streaming local and international artists, JOOX allows one to switch to karaoke mode and learn the lyrics as well as create and share playlists. Users can add up to four friends or family to the service free of charge.
DStv Family, Access and EasyView customers can also log in to the free JOOX service directly through JOOX App, but will be unable to add additional friends and won’t be able to listen to add-free music.
Platform: Access the JOOX service directly from the services menu on DStv or download the JOOX app for an iOS or Android phone.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.
Cisco Security Connector
With all the malware, viruses and trojans doing the rounds, it is difficult for users and enterprises to ensure that they don’t become targets. Cisco, in collaboration with Apple, has brought out its Cisco Security Connector to protect users. The app is designed to give enterprises and users overall visibility and control over their network activity on iOS devices. It does this by ensuring compliance of mobile users and their enterprise-owned iOS devices during incident investigations, by identifying what happened, who it affected, and the risk of the exposure. It also protects iPhone and iPad users from accessing malicious sites on the Internet, whether on the corporate network, public Wi-Fi, or cellular networks. In turn, it prevents any viruses from entering a company’s network.
Platform: iPhones and iPads running iOS 11.3 or later
Expect to pay: A free download
Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store for downloading instructions.
The Goethe-Institut, in co-operation with augmented reality specialists Something Else Design Agency, has created a new card game which celebrates South African freestyle football culture, and brings it alive through augmented reality. Diski Skills is quick card game, set in a South African street football scenario, showing popular tricks such as the Shibobo, Tsamaya or Scara Turn. Each trick is rated in categories of attack, defence and swag – one wins the game by challenging an opponent strategically with the trick at hand. Through augmented reality, the cards come alive. Move a smartphone over a card and watch as the trick appears on the screen in a slow motion video. An educational value is added as players can study the tricks and learn more about the idea behind it.
The game will be launched on 27 October 2018 at the Goethe-Institut.
For more information visit: www.goethe.de
With recent news of kidnappings on the rise, a lot more thought is going into keeping children safe. Would your child know what to do in an emergency? Have you actually asked them?
Namola, supported by Dialdirect Insurance, is a free mobile safety app. Namola’s simple interface makes it an ideal way for children to learn how to get help in an emergency. All they need to do is activate the app and push a button to get help that they need, even when their parents are not around.
Parents need to install the app on their child’s phone, hold down the request assistance button, program emergency numbers that will automatically be dialled when the emergency button is pushed, and teach their children how and when to use the app.
Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.
Exhibid could be thought of as Tinder, but for for art lovers. The interface looks very similar to the popular mobile dating app, in that users swipe left for a painting that doesn’t appeal to them, or swipe right for something they like. Once an art piece is liked by swiping right, one can start bidding or make an offer on it. The bid is automatically sent to the artist. Should he or she accept the offer, the buyer makes a payment through the app’s secure payment gateway and the two are put in contact to make arrangements for delivery.
Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.
New kind of business school
At a recent meeting, ALLON RAIZ, founder and CEO of Raizcorp, realised that in order for today’s youth to become entrepreneurs, teachers, the curriculum and the parents need continually expose them to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age.
Several years ago, I found myself in a meeting with my business partner and two of my staff members. In front of us was a client who was sharing some of the frustrations in his business. At the end of the meeting, my partner and I were extremely excited about the prospect of two massive opportunities we had both independently identified while listening to the client. My two staff members, on the other hand, completely missed them. This led me to wonder what it was in my own and my partner’s backgrounds that allowed us to so easily spot opportunities while my two staff members remained oblivious … I realised that the difference was that my partner and I both had an early exposure to entrepreneurship while they didn’t.
Not long afterwards, I was delivering a lecture about how Raizcorp grows and develops small businesses at Oxford University’s Said Business School in my role as their Entrepreneur-in-Residence. I mentioned the above incident and spoke about my intention of going into children’s education with a view to providing an entrepreneurial perspective.
One of the professors in attendance asked me if I’d ever heard of a piece of research by Henrich R Greve called Who wants to be an entrepreneur? The deviant roots of entrepreneurship. It’s a pretty unfortunate title but a fascinating piece of research nonetheless. It highlights how certain contexts in childhood result in a much a higher probability of becoming an entrepreneur. For example, kids who participate in solo sports such as tennis or athletics are more likely to become entrepreneurs than children who play team sports like soccer and cricket. Conversely, your mother’s participation in the parent-teacher association has a negative correlation to you becoming an entrepreneur. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the professor’s office discussing other research papers that unequivocally proved that context during your childhood has a massive influence on whether or not you will follow the entrepreneurial route.
Another member of the lecture audience was a double-PhD from the USA who was completing her MBA at Oxford. After the lecture, she approached me and volunteered to help build a framework to incorporate entrepreneurship in the school curriculum without interfering with the formal requirements of the CAPS curriculum.
She spent nine months in South Africa working with me to build out a practical framework. The next phase of the plan was to find the right school at which to embark upon this journey. In December 2015, Raizcorp purchased Radley Private School and we began our entrepreneurial education adventure in earnest in 2016.
At the centre of the Radley philosophy is that the school (the physical building), the teachers, the curriculum and the parents are the “marinade” in which the kids need to soak in order to be continuously exposed to entrepreneurial thinking from a young age. The aim was that if, in future, the kids found themselves sitting in a boardroom with me and my partner, they too would be able to identify the opportunities that we did.
A big shift this year has been the launch of our Entrepreneurial Educator Guide (EEG) programme where we have been training our Radley teachers (whom we call guides) to understand entrepreneurship, business language, business concepts, financial documents and the like. (The EEG training makes use of Raizcorp’s internationally accredited entrepreneurial learning and guiding methodologies.) We have also employed a full-time staff member to ensure that these concepts are imbedded into all lesson plans and classroom activities.
Through my network at Raizcorp, I have been pleasantly surprised by the massive support we’re receiving from prominent entrepreneurs and businesses who want to participate in our Radley Exposure programme, where we take our kids of all ages on visits to different types of businesses so they can understand the difference between retail, wholesale, manufacturing, logistics and so on. Prominent businesspeople have put up their hands to come to the school and tell their stories of hard work, resilience and perseverance. This ties in beautifully with the 17 entrepreneurial concepts that we are instilling into our Radley learners (such as opposite eyes, lateral thinking and opposable mind), while never compromising on our quality academic offering.
As parents, we’ve all heard the terrible statistics about the probability of our kids finding jobs in the future. At Radley, we’re working hard to ensure that our kids have a legitimate and lucrative alternative to finding traditional employment and that is to become an entrepreneur. Radley is all about producing job creators and not job seekers!
To enrol your child or find out more about the school, please visit www.radley.co.za.