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By Kelvin Chungu

 THE rate of technological innovation is mind numbing even as it is challenging to wrap around their progressive nuances. The scale, scope and complexity of the disruptive technologies make the future a coveted, yet a dreaded place if you are unskilled.

The list of the many that will be left behind will be unravelling in due course, yet these tech advances portends for better more liberated lifestyles by enabling the discovery of new drugs, by enabling the creation of algorithms that can diagnose patients.

And perhaps a study of current trends will help to develop adaptive responses to them. Todate, we already know of self-driving cars that will soon be a feature in the showrooms by 2020.

Robots are already being produced that mimic humans and infact investment houses such as Goldman Sachs are expanding the use of virtual assistants to provide investment advice. The list is endless.

The technologies as they come are liberating, even redemptive yet it is hard not to face the lens of their side effects. The tapestry of conversations of doom currently unveiling are difficult to ignore.

As an example, on 1 May 2015, Business Insider, a United States Journal reported that Experts predict that by 2025, 30 percent of our jobs will be done by robots.  Other more recent estimation is that by 2050 around two billion jobs will likely be replaced by robots.

Just recently, Elon Musk of Tesla Inc. (Esla is an American electric vehicle manufacturer and energy storage company) had this to say to the United States National Governors Association meeting in July 2017: “I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react.” This is from a gentlemen who has revolutionised the auto industry.

In another recent episode, UK Telegraph reported on 1 August 2017 that “Researchers at Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research built a chatbot earlier this year that was meant to learn how to negotiate by mimicking human trading and bartering, but had to shut it down when a pair of its artificial intelligence robots invented their own language.”

The Telegraph reported further that “when the social network paired two of the programmes, nicknamed Alice and Bob, to trade against each other, they started to learn their own bizarre form of communication which diverted from human language” while they seemed to communicate with each other.

This is very scary stuff to wrap around the head and investors want in on this deal. The International Federation of Robotics noted that investor funding in Artificial Intelligence has grown significantly from US$45 million in 2010 to US$310 million in 2015 and this is expected to grow to US$67 billion annually by 2025.

Although the political world have not gnawed on the potential negative social impact, it is not something to dismiss easily, yet even as the vast population in different parts of the world have trended economic nationalist, the borders will no longer act as insulation to this disruptive change.

The potential effect on the job market is unknown, but perhaps this sends fear when it rings home as in the following article.

In October 2016, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in its Economia “How Artificial Intelligence will impact Accounting” publication, wrote that “In 2015 the UK media widely picked up on American media organisation NPR’s calculator that could predict which jobs are susceptible to computerisation.

The calculator, using research by the University of Oxford, said accountants have a 95 percent chance of losing their jobs as machines take over the number crunching and data analysis.”  The article also added that “If you are a younger accountant coming into the profession you need to understand what’s going on and what’s available to help you work alongside artificial intelligence.”

Very little is known about these technologies in Zambia that it is almost like a fairy tale when you begin to talk about them.

However the pace of change and the impact on our way of life means we need to begin to popularise these concepts and engage universities and colleges including primary and secondary schools to begin to embrace and appreciate the future we are walking into.

For Businesses, this is time to begin to ask the question about whether your business model will guarantee your business tomorrow.

It is never too early to begin to ask the better questions of how to modernise the business models and streamline operations. To ask the better question of how your business can harness these technologies with potential value for significant cost savings.

So what are some of these technologies that are revolutionising the world of business.

 1. Internet of Things (IoT) – IoT represents things or objects that are connected to the internet and communicate to each other, such as the networking of objects with processors through wireless communication. Another way to understand this is that IoT is made up of various connected devices such as a sensor connected to a smartphone or to a remote camera.

As an example, the introduction of IoT to business applications that are able to communicate with sensors on product lines has the potential to increase efficiency and reduce waste.

Infact it is estimated that the manufacturers that at the leading edge of efficiency are increasingly using data generated by smart sensors in their factories.

Infact in Zambia, there are farmers that have sensor that are inserted into soils which then assists them in determining the soil condition and therefore are better able to understand the fertilisers to use on their land. This also has potential application for cattle and poultry farmers in terms of count management etc.

 

  1. Robotics Process Automation (RPA) – RPA are softwares that are embedded within computers that interacts directly with business applications installed by a business.

The RPA are not necessarily robots, the terminology for robotics arises because these software are designed to mimick how people use applications and making sure basic rules are adhered to.

These software are embedded in business applications to automate routine business processes such that human intervention is reduced. These routine activities may be regarding data collection and comparative analysis from different systems or just processing orders through to invoicing.

 

3.Block Chain (BC) – The BC technology is currently emerging and it is projected that it will have substantial impact on current business processes and functions.

Don & Alex Tapscott, authors of Blockchain Revolution (2016) defined it as “An incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

The way the technology works is that it structures transactions in such a way that it allows data to be stored in a shared and continually reconciled ledger across the internet traded using the Bitcoin currency – simply a new virtual currency. It has been hailed for offerings increased trust and transparency because the ledger is not sitting in any one single server (it is distributed across millions of computers) and it is recorded via a secure validation system.

This technology is expected to be particularly disruptive in the financial services industry with potential for revolutionising traditional finance operations. Experts estimate that the BC technology will change the finance function because of increased IT security, its inherent contract management and supply chain management.

  1. Cloud Computing – Cloud computing is simply the provision of computing services over the internet by independent providers of the various computing services.

The common computing services provided include servers hosting, storage facilities, databases, networking, software, data analytics can now be outsourced to companies that are able to provide those services based on usage at a fraction of the cost when the services are inhouse.

 

  1. Artificial intelligence (AI) AI is perhaps the science that has emerged with tremendous promise for enabling the most disruption, it is also a science that is generating a great deal of debate particularly with its potential to bring about societal upheavals and other negative social impact.

The science of AI is about the design and manufacture of intelligent machine with humanlike abilities capable of reasoning, speech recognition, of being perceptive, with problem solvings skills and with an ability learn. The aspect of machine learning is perhaps one that conjures up the potential for machines to upstage humans. As noted above, it is a developing technology set to grow to US$67 billion annually by 2025. These technologies are enabling competitors to enter new markets that are not necessarily in their core industries and thriving. Therefore knowing these core technologies, will enable business executives to understand how these can be harnessed to impact a Company’s businesss strategy and operations.  The potential for long terms gains within the value chain are real.

As an example, the growth in cloud computing is enabling startups to have the computing capability of mature business without the set-up costs for that capabilities.

These and many more advantages can be harnessed as business executive begin to develop an understanding of these disruptive technologies and their potential impact on their businesses.

 

About the Author

Kelvin Chungu is an Associate Director in the Assurance, Advisory and business development service department of EY Zambia and can be contacted on Kelvin.Chungu@zm.ey.com

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