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Internet In Our Bodies?

Karen Mwendera

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Some of the life-changing tech trends the world will see in 2019.


From automated transportation, to digital pills  and social credit algorithms, technological advancements are growing at the speed of light.

The big question is, can we keep up with the pace?

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, based in New York City, predicts some of the future tech trends for 2019.

Deep learning accelerators, assisted transportation, and the Internet of Bodies (IoB) lead their 2019 technology outlook.

Some local experts weigh in on this from an African perspective and contribute and identify some of the tech trends we can look out for.

Assisted automated transportation

Assisted transportation is already in use in some countries.

The phenomena of self-driving cars has been growing.

Although many critics fear that it still needs more time to test and trial, IEEE experts predict that there will be a wide recognition for fully autonomous vehicles this year.

“I don’t think self-driving cars would solve a major social need in Africa at the moment,” says Aatish Ramkaran, who is a Digital Architect at Nedbank and Co-Founder of Blockchain Entrepreneurs Club South Africa.

“What we really need are better, more affordable mass passenger transport systems, as the majority of the South African workforce live significant distances from their workplaces,”

Ramkaran adds.

This technology in autonomous vehicles is highly dependent on deep learning accelerators.

Early last month, a robot was struck down by a self-driving Tesla Model S.

Electrical engineer Darryn Cornish predicts that it may take a while before self-driving cars become a trend in Africa, “mainly because we don’t have a law around it”.

He currently serves as the chair for the IEEE in South Africa and is pursuing his PhD in high voltage physics at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Your social media could reveal your credit score

The IEEE report states that these are algorithms that use facial recognition and other advanced biometrics to identify a person and retrieve data about that person from social media and other digital profiles for the purpose of approval or denial of access to consumer products or social services.

“In our increasingly networked world, the combination of biometrics and blended social data streams can turn a brief observation into a judgment of whether a person is a good or bad risk or worthy of public social sanction,” says the report.

“Using social media to check credit scores could work for someone who doesn’t have the transaction history that’s built with a bank account,” Ramkaran says.

He says this method attempts to build a psychological profile using your social media behavior, rather than your banking history, to indicate whether you would honor your loan repayment.

“Discovery Bank, which claims to be the first behavioural bank, is taking this a step further by not only observing, but actually influencing your behavior,” he says.

At the moment, China has been popular for planning to incorporate a nationwide social credit system.

It is due to be fully operational nationwide by 2020.

However, a report by Business Insider critiques this method of checking credit scores as people with low credit scores in China have been banned from flying, as well as banning students from certain universities as they have been considered bad students.

“Li Xiaolin, a lawyer who was placed on the list in 2015, found himself unable to purchase plane tickets home while on a work trip, Human Rights Watch reported. He also couldn’t apply for credit cards,” says Business Insider.

Internet implants?

We’ve heard of Internet of Things, a buzz phrase that came with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Internet of Bodies (IoB), on the other hand, is exactly that; internet activity found within the human body.

There have already been external self-monitoring technologies such as fitness trackers and smart glasses.

IEEE now predicts that “digital pills are entering mainstream medicine, and body-attached, implantable, and embedded IoB devices are also beginning to interact with sensors in the environment”.

“These devices yield richer data that enable more interesting and useful applications, but also raise concerns about security, privacy, physical harm, and abuse,” the report says.

Critics, however, are concerned that they could be setting dangerous precedents and courts and regulatory bodies may not be ready for them yet.

“The biggest concern for a while now has been around the transparency and protection of personal data being collected by devices and their service providers on consumers that wear or have ingested Internet of Bodies type devices,” says Lee Naik, CEO, TransUnion

Africa and a digital and technology transformation expert.

Examples of these are smart contact lenses that are being developed to monitor glucose levels and could eliminate the daily blood sugar pinprick for people with diabetes.

Other devices are the Bluetooth-equipped electronic pills being developed to monitor the inner workings of the  body.

They could eventually broadcast what you’ve eaten or whether you’ve taken drugs.

Another emerging piece of technology related to the IoB is the radio-frequency identification chip that can contain details of a person’s bank details and identification in a chip implanted in the body.

In a report by The Independent, a company by the name of Biohax has implanted chips in more than 4,000 people.

“Further regulation will be required to protect consumer interests in relation to the Internet of Bodies, specifically to deal with the security of consumer personal data which needs to be effectively protected in balance with consumers receiving further benefits from innovation in this space,” Naik says.

Despite some of the concerns around IoB, a recent study published by Market Research Future reveals that the global smart contact lenses market is set to thrive at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 10.4% during the forecast period 2017 to 2023.

This could potentially change the way personal health is monitored and personal data is kept, connecting the body to the internet forever.

Cyber security pre-installed

IEEE experts suggest that a new generation of security mechanism is merging.

The traditional method of protecting computer systems looked at software such as anti-virus.

But now, new software uses an active approach such as hooks that can be activated when new types of attacks are exposed and machine-learning mechanisms to identify sophisticated attacks.

Already, cyber security solutions company McAfee announced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2019 that it would extend its collaboration with PC hardware giant Dell to provide pre-installed security software for its PCs and laptops.

According to Techradar, Dell Consumer and small business customers who purchase a new PC or laptop will also have the option to protect all of their devices with McAfee by installing the company’s cross-device software on their smartphones and tablets.

Selling your electricity to your neighbor

According to Cornish, this year, we may see the move from a concentrated power producer such as Eskom to a micro grid system.

The concentrated power is usually produced in a certain location and then distributed via transmission lines where it is used by the consumer.

With a micro grid system, it uses a distributed power system.

“Little communities have their own little power grids and can generate power where they use it,” Cornish says.

“In other words, your house would have solar power and whatever energy you have extra you would sell onto a grid and your whole community is a micro grid and a system controls who gets power and when.”

Ramkaran says this trend would really work well in Africa.

“The major issue holding back these ‘micro-grids’ are not technological. We are perfectly capable of building these systems, just look at Australia and Germany, but regulatory hurdles prevent their implementation locally,” he says.

Another trend is the emergence of a worldwide power grid.

According to a Reuters report, the world’s first ±1100-kV ultra-high voltage direct current transmission line was put into operation last month in China, marking the project with the highest voltage, the biggest transmission capacity, the longest transmission distance and the most advanced in technology in the world, running 3,293 kilometers long and having a transmission capacity of 12 million kW.

“There are many talks with China, Europe and Asia, to create a huge high voltage transmission line along the entire continent and possibly down to Africa. And it would be a worldwide grid that everyone could connect to.

“If we are suffering with power problems, we could buy power from China or Russia or whoever has spare capacity, so we get rid of that capacity issue,” says Cornish, who predicts this could happen in South Africa in the next five years.

Consumers the new producers

With the rise of blockchain data, crowdsourcing has become a growing trend, according to Cornish.

Using a blockchain platform for crowdsourcing helps solve a variety of tasks through a collective approach.

“We are moving towards a crowdsourced idea instead of having monolithic entities who create and consumers who consume. We are now going into the phase where consumers are now producers,” says Cornish.

According to Markets Insider, one of the world’s first blockchain-based e-commerce verification platform launched a platform by integrating blockchain, AI and crowdsourcing.

The platform SimplyBrand aims to end online counterfeiting through a safe and trustworthy digital commerce ecosystem in conjunction with strategic partner Cobinhood, a leading cryptocurrency service platform featuring zero-trading-fee exchange as well as an end-to-end ICO service provider. 

They launched their token pre-sale early last month.

Within this ecosystem, crowdsourced participants who report fake products through the SimplyBrand App can “earn token rewards to purchase brand privileged items or sell them on exchange, while brands can buy tokens from exchange and purchase brand-protection services,” according to Reuters.

“It would be interesting to see how we will be leveraging from that but we will be seeing much more of that,” Cornish says.

Ramkaran says that this trend of peer-to-peer exchange is intensifying.

“With established platforms like Airbnb and Uber, people have become comfortable with buying goods and services from others, however, they’ve also become aware of the high transaction fees they’re charged,” he says.

Personal data becomes personal advertising

Cornish predicts the rise of big data analytics.

Big data is known as extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

“If you go into big data, you can start telling a lot about how a person lives. For example, if someone goes every Friday to buy a specific item, you could tell whether they get wages as opposed to salaries just from that load.”

“If you had their health data like Discovery does, you could collect that data and start targeting ads like Google.”

However, Cornish suggests that it would be interesting to see if Google would go ahead and collect consumer data as well. 

Naik says that businesses will start to invest in data science and AI to drive insights from their large and growing big data.

“Big Data will be central to helping businesses understand consumers better and develop products that best address consumer needs. Ultimately, big data and artificial intelligence will be a big driver of business strategy in future,” he says.

Ramkaran says that focus has shifted from ‘Big Data’ to ‘Machine and Deep Learning’, as companies have found more value in how specially trained algorithms interpret and make decisions on data.

“Tech giants like Facebook and Google have mastered the art of collecting your personal data, for free, which they leverage for massive advertising revenues.

“People are beginning to realize how they’re being exploited and manipulated, but based on the sheer numbers of connected users and power that these platforms have, it won’t be an easy fight,” adds Ramkaran.

 But with big data analytics as such, the ethics of tapping into personal information may be of concern.

Cornish predicts that it may take two years or more before big data analytics will trend.

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