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Synapse: Into the future: AI in 2022

By Johan Steyn, November 2021

We are living in an unprecedented era. On the one hand, there are the uncertain times brought about by the global pandemic, while on the other hand, there are the changes brought about by the era of smart technology. And in some ways, these two concepts are inextricably linked.

Many workers around the world have been forced to adapt to working from home. The demand for improved digital services and faster internet access, combined with the rise of virtual meetings, transformed the workplace. Numerous organisations that had been putting off digitisation were compelled to do so. Many realised that it is possible and much easier than anticipated.

The following are some of the major technological trends that will emerge in 2022:

Hybrid work and Extended reality

Numerous organisations are already encouraging employees to return to their offices on a rotational basis. While virtual meetings are convenient, they also present a challenge in terms of team collaboration. As humans, we are hardwired to connect and to read body language, and the virtual world as it currently exists is incapable of meeting that requirement.

Extended reality (XR) has the potential to fundamentally alter how businesses use smart media platforms, as it enables seamless interaction between the physical and virtual worlds, providing an immersive experience for users. This technology is applicable in a variety of fields, from healthcare to education, but most notably in the business world.

I wonder if the new year will introduce more immersive virtual experiences where it feels like we are really in the same room with other people.

Automation and Unemployment

Technological automation of tasks currently performed by a large number of workers is a legitimate societal concern. We have already witnessed the beginning of a global wave of job displacement brought about by intelligent automation.

Globally, developing economies will bear the brunt of the loss. High unemployment, collapsing infrastructure, and education systems that have not kept up with global demand may result in a job loss pandemic in these countries. South Africa's economy will undoubtedly be harmed by intelligent automation's onslaught.

In the next year, we will witness a rapid increase in automation platform use. We will also see an increase in job displacements. We need to work together and think smartly about the fine balancing act of operational efficiency and the upskilling and continued employment of our workers.

Facial recognition and Biometric data

While facial recognition technology is widely used, it is also contentious. The evidence of algorithmic bias is evident in the technology's struggle to correctly identify individuals, particularly women and those with darker skin tones.

New forms of human-machine integration have the potential to increase the effectiveness and reach of surveillance systems across time and space. However, whether these experimental technologies can or should be used to accomplish these goals is debatable, frequently manifesting itself in the news and policy debates as a trade-off between "security" and "privacy."

Locally the news media has been reporting that the government is considering widely using this technology. Let’s hope it is done correctly and that it will not be used in ways that international deployments have shown to be ineffective and disconcerting.

Artificial Intelligence and Business application

To compete on a global scale, businesses in South Africa must embrace artificial AI and related technologies such as machine learning, robotics, and intelligent automation. The state of AI in South Africa appears to be maturing, owing to a variety of educational, business, and societal initiatives.

Widespread and rapid adoption across the business spectrum is required, and business leaders, in particular, must educate themselves about the risks and benefits of smart technology.

Skills Shortage

Wits University's Joburg Centre for Software Engineering, in collaboration with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals SA, released the most recent ICT skills survey in October 2021. It demonstrates the region's deteriorating educational system, particularly in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

While several initiatives by business and social organizations have been launched to address these issues, they are frequently fragmented and represent a drop in the bucket in comparison to the larger challenge of developing appropriate curricula and skilled teachers.


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