Imagine if technology could read and react to our emotions

Computers have always been good at doing fast calculations, but adapting to the emotional state of the person using the computer – now there is a grand challenge! The field is called affective computing, and soon it will be an important factor in the way people and computers communicate with each other. By  

The computer will interpret your body language to determine how you are feeling and then tailor its response intuitively, just as we do with each other. What’s more, we will like it because it is far more intuitive than the keyboard, mouse and touch screen as an input method.

As a way of communicating, emotion is very old indeed. Long before humans invented spoken language we communicated non-verbally at an emotional level. It is still the principal way that we get information from each other, with around 70% of a message’s content being conveyed by body language, about 20% by tone of voice and only 10% by words.

This is why we are able to instinctively recognise people’s emotional state. Wherever you are in the world, you can tell when a stranger is angry or happy or sad. Indeed it is such an ancient way that many people can accurately gauge how animals are feeling based on their body language.

Affective computing allows humans and computers to go beyond keyboards and use these rich, non-verbal channels of communication to good effect.

How can computers know our emotions?

Computers will read our emotions by much the same process that humans do. It begins by connecting an array of sensors (cameras, microphones, skin conductivity devices) to a computer that gathers varied information about facial expression, posture, gesture, tone of voice and more.

Advanced software then processes the data, and by referencing a database of known patterns it is able to categorise what it is picking up from the sensors. The pattern might match for a range of emotions such as angry, disgusted, afraid, happy, sad, surprised, amused, contemptuous, contented, embarrassed, excited, guilty, proud of an achievement, relieved, satisfied, sensory pleasure or ashamed.

The system uses a feedback loop to learn and improve. If it is connected to other systems, what one system learns can be learned by all.

Here’s where it gets scary for some. With ageing populations and more people living alone, there is rising demand for companions and helpers at home and work to perform tasks that people are reluctant to do.

This need will increasingly be met by anthropomorphic artificial intelligence – functional robots that look and behave like humans. Over time, these will become increasingly life-like because people like projecting human qualities on the things we live with.

While still in the realm of science fiction, with so much effort going into their creation, a world in which people live and interact with humanoid robots is not far off.

This theme is explored in the 2015 television series Humans, based on the 2012 Swedish series Äkta Människor (Real Humans), currently broadcast on the ABC.

All kinds of applications

Emotion monitoring is already working in systems that we use every day, and we will see more of it soon. Are you tempted to send an angry email? Your computer will be able to detect your emotion as you type.

At home, knowing your habits and current mood, such systems could adjust the lights, music and room temperature to create the most pleasant ambient conditions. It could suggest entertainment options; any number of things.

At school, the mode of on-line delivery could be optimised based on the mood of the student; bored, interested, frustrated, pleased.

At the doctors, it could help with diagnosis and offer a way for people with autism to communicate.

In public, it notices when people are likely to do something such as smash a window, harass someone or start a fight. Likewise at a sporting event when a crowd looks like turning into an riot. In airports it identifies people who might be carrying a bomb or smuggling contraband.

In shops, retailers can use it to know which shoppers need help, who is just browsing and who is thinking about stealing something, all by their body language. Indeed, known shoplifters could be recognised at the door and prevented from entering the store.

In eCommerce, sellers can gauge consumer reaction when they read an ad or use a product.

Should I be worried?

These developments are likely to worry people concerned about privacy and personal liberty. These legitimate concerns must be weighed against the greater public interest and a balance found case-by-case. Privacy laws will need to be strong and to keep pace with developments.

We should understand that such systems are not conscious in the way humans are. They simply interpret the patterns of behaviour that people show the world and make communicating with computers more intuitive.

They will make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and get better over time, just like humans do. Of course, it may be sometime before they can deal with sarcasm and irony. You won’t see too many robots doing stand-up comedy quite yet.

Buhari, Zuma to meet over MTN fine

President Jacob Zuma and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari are expected to meet in Johannesburg this week to discuss the $5.2 billion (R74 billion) fine imposed on MTN Group’s Nigerian unit for failure to register 5.1 million customers. By Staff Writer


The Sunday Times newspaper said Buhari is expected to meet Zuma on the sidelines of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation, which gets under way in Johannesburg this week.

The South African government has been unwilling to confirm or deny its involvement in the MTN matter.

Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations, told the Sunday Times that government was monitoring developments with keen interests “The matter between MTN and Nigeria is between a private company and issues of compliance in a market they do business in,” Monyela told the newspaper.

The news of the planned meeting comes after Nigeria’s Minister of Communications Adebayo Shittu this week said the MTN issue was now before Mr President. “He will take the necessary decision at the appropriate time. And the President would do what is best for the public interest.”

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issued a R74.8bn fine to MTN last month for failing to disconnect five million unregistered SIM cards in a timely manner.

The NCC then set a deadline of November 16 for MTN to pay the fine but was extended until negotiations were completed.

The full report is available in this week’s Sunday Times.

Naspers’ revenue surges 24% to R74bn

Online businesses helped spur on a 24% year-on-year revenue growth at internet and media giant Naspers. By Gareth van Zyl, NewsAgency


In its interim results announcement on Friday, Naspers reported that its revenue measured on an economic interest base topped R74.3bn for the six months ended September 2015.

Meanwhile, the company also said that its core headline earnings increased by 45% year on year to R8.8bn with its stake in Chinese internet giant Tencent and South African video-entertainment businesses being the main contributors. Naspers owns a 34% stake in Tencent.

Breaking down its numbers further, Naspers reported that its internet segment delivered revenues of R47.7bn, an increase of 33% year-on-year. Meanwhile, this segment’s trading profit was R10.2bn – a 57% year-on-year increase owing to Tencent’s performance.

The company indicated that its e-commerce segment grew revenue by 26% during the period to R15.3bn, while the company’s classifieds segment experienced revenue growth of 36% year-on-year.

Naspers’ video entertainment segment reported a year-on-year increase of 12% in revenues to R22.6bn. However, the company’s trading profit in this segment was constant at R5bn compared to the previous year owing to the group’s investment in video streaming service ShowMax, weakening economies and currencies and “sizeable foreign input costs in sub-Saharan Africa”, the company said.

The company further said that its total customer base for video entertainment stood at 10.2 million for the period.

Finally, Naspers said that it is experiencing “headwinds” in its traditional offline print and media business Media24, but that it is “addressing costs”. The company recorded revenues of R4bn in this segment.

In terms of Media24, Naspers said that reduced costs resulted in a trading profit of R202m, but that development spend to build online initiatives was at R142m. – Fin24

Minister to appeal Motsoeneng judgment

 

Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi plans to appeal a court decision to have SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s appointment declared unlawful and irrational. By Gareth van Zyl, NewsAgency


Western Cape High Court Judge Dennis Davis handed down judgment on the matter on Friday amid a legal challenge from opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The DA launched its court case against Muthambi regarding Motsoeneng’s appointment as chief operating officer following a report from Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that said Motsoeneng must be disciplined for falsely claiming to have a matric certificate.

“(The) Minister has noted the judgment of the court and is going to appeal the judgment,” ministry spokesperson Mish Molakeng said in an emailed statement.

The judgment from Davis came amid the second part of the DA’s court case.

Earlier this year, in the first interim part of the case, the Western Cape High Court ordered that Motsoeneng be suspended and that a disciplinary hearing against him should go ahead.

This decision followed an appeal from Motsoeneng and Muthambi. However, the appeal court dismissed the appeal in October.

Motsoeneng also took special leave while a disciplinary hearing against him went ahead. – Fin24

Motsoeneng’s SABC appointment unlawful

The DA won its high court application on Friday to have its appointment of SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng declared unlawful and irrational. By Jenni Evans, NewsAgency

The Western Cape High Court’s judge Dennis Davis handed down the judgment in a few minutes.

“We won,” said Democratic Alliance lawyer Anton Katz outside the court. – News24

Black Friday means ADSL drops to R1.66/GB

The American sales tradition of Black Friday should be known as Bits and Bytes Friday in South Africa following the announcement by web hosting firm Domains.co.za  that it is offering an enormous 300 gigabyte ADSL package for just R499 per month.


As long as potential clients sign up for this special deal between Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Friday, 27 November from 00h00 until 23h59 on Monday, 30 November), they’ll be able to enjoy this no-contract, unshaped broadband offering with a whopping six-month rollover for an unlimited time.

“We’re using Black Friday to celebrate just how far South Africa’s broadband market has come. Eight years ago, the average ADSL price per gigabyte was around R60 to R70. Today, its R1.66 per gigabyte,” says Wayne Diamond, MD of Domains.co.za.

The local web hosting and domain name registrar is also using the annual occasion of Black Friday to cut R40 a month off its selected, unlimited bandwidth hosting plans. In addition, taking R50 off the full version of its popular Site Builder programme means it now comes in at R110 per month.

This widget-based website creator application means anyone – whether a non-profit, start-up, entrepreneur, home-based business, a retail establishment or a school – can register their domain on Domains.co.za and have a website they built themselves, at little cost, up and online in 15 minutes if they have already created content for it. A widget is an app for websites that allows for more advanced functionality. Site Builder has over 35 different widgets that can each add a specific function to your website.

Is there a future for touch screen on your phone?

 

Touch screens are incorporated into almost all new technologies, from smart-phones, tablet computers and personal gadgets to flat panel televisions and household appliances. This explosion of technology is reliant on a key component: a display that is both transparent and able to conduct electrical charge. By 


With the ever increasing volume of devices, the future of such technologies faces substantial hurdles – material availability and raising costs. The most commonly used transparent conducting material comes from limited mineral resources, and despite almost a decade of research there is no clear replacement.

Alternatives which are getting some traction include silver nanowires, carbon nanotubes, graphene and conducting polymers.

The original transparent electrode

Traditionally, the most commonly used transparent conducting materials are doped metal oxides. Indium tin oxide (ITO) has been the market leader in this field for decades.

But the abundance of indium in the Earth’s crust is relatively low (about 0.000016% or 160ppb by weight). With the rate of mining and metal ore extraction, pure indium metal has reached a premium of US$900 a kilogram.

ITO is only transparent when coated very thinly on a device. While this is convenient in terms of saving weight and space on small gadgets, it requires high energy to deposit such a film using a technique known as physical vapour deposition.

Indium tin oxide coated on glass. Adafruit Industries/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Despite its drawbacks, the desirable properties of ITO, such as optical transparency, conductivity and stability, are difficult to match.

Other metal oxide conductors such as fluorine-doped tin oxide and aluminium-doped zinc oxide can provide reasonable substitutes that almost match the properties of ITO.

While using these oxides would reduce the cost of the raw materials, there is no enhancement of the technology with new properties. Like ITO, these metal oxide films are brittle and require significant energy input to coat on substrates.

These issues have prompted researchers to look elsewhere for potential replacements which are not only much cheaper, but are more sustainable, display better performance and can be deposited on flexible substrates.

Nanowires and nanotubes

The advent of nanoparticle research provides techniques and tools to control the assembly of objects on an atomic scale.

Metal nanowires – only tens of nanometres in diameter and micrometres in length – display high conductivity. As these metal nanowires are suspended in liquid they can be sprayed or painted on almost any surface, both rigid and flexible.

By adjusting film thickness, these nanowires can match the performance of ITO. But as silver is the metal of choice in these nanowire systems there may not be any cost benefits here.

Aside from being used to make artificial muscles, carbon nanotubes are fawned over for their conducting and semiconducting properties.

These cylindrical nanostructures are made up solely of carbon atoms which means the cost of making nanotube films is quite low.

Their performance as a transparent conducting material is not always dependable at this stage, as conductivity can fluctuate wildly depending on nanotube density and the interconnections between nanotubes.

The new poster child for the nano-revolution and a close relative of carbon nanotubes, is graphene. Graphene sheets are two-dimensional structures of carbon (one layer of graphite) which can transfer charged electrons at very high speeds.

Graphene-based electrodes have the potential to be real low cost alternatives to ITO. While its use has been demonstrated in research, questions remain over the quality and reproducibility of graphene materials.

Since the production of graphene is still not very consistent, defects are commonly observed leading to less than optimal electrode performance.

Going organic

Transparent electrodes aren’t only needed to display high-resolution images, they also play a vital role in solar energy.

In photovoltaics, which convert light to electricity, a transparent conducting electrode is required to allow the passage of light through the material and to collect the current generated.

Finding a cheaper alternative is crucial to large scale solar cell technologies where competition with fossil fuel and other renewable energy resources makes cost-cutting critical to their success.

Conducting polymers may be just the material to fill this niche. With carbon atoms forming the polymer backbone, the conductivity of such materials depends on the how free the charge is to move and the conductivity of the other added materials.

As organic materials, conducting polymers can be easily processed. Researchers have even been able to print these films on a large scale at a relatively low cost.

While the desirable properties of optical transmittance and conductivity can be tuned with structural modifications, the stability of these organic materials is lower than that of ITO.

One of the most commonly used conducting polymeric material is known as poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene):polystyrene sulfonate, or PEDOT:PSS for short, which has alternating units that can carry both positive and negative charges.

There is also a significant amount of research looking into hybrids or composites of the materials mentioned above.

The ultimate goal is to combine the most desirable characteristics to give a material with high conductivity and optical transparency that can be produced and processed at low cost.

Given the variety of new conducting electrodes under investigation, there is little doubt that an alternative to ITO will be found in the near future.

Absa buys an online life insurer

 

Absa, one of SA’s big four banks, is in a process of buying a controlling stake in an online life insurance distribution platform, Instant Life, for an undisclosed amount. By Gugu Lourie


The transaction will give Absa a 75% stake in Instant Life, online life insurance distribution platform offering life, disability and critical illness cover to qualifying customers.

The online insurer was established in 2008 to address a growing market for pure-risk life insurance sold online.

The deal is subject to regulatory approvals (including approval from the South African Reserve Bank).

“The acquisition of Instant Life will provide Absa with a scalable platform to grow our Bancassurance business as we will now be able to deliver automated and efficient life insurance through all our customer accessed distribution channels,” says Jannie Venter, MD for Absa Life.

 

“By leveraging Instant Life’s existing digital platform, customers will have access to a self-service function that will allow them to acquire insurance and easily update and manage their policies online” adds Venter.

The acquisition also complements Absa’s recent launch of the first predictive underwriting solution in Africa, and one of the first globally.

“Instant Life has developed a tele-underwriting methodology that caters for 99% of lives to be underwritten online or through a telephonic interview that is backed up by an interactive underwriting decision tree” says Venter.

Absa’s acquisition of Instant Life follows the procurement of a controlling interest in First Assurance in Kenya in June.

“We are confident that the Absa and Barclays culture and brand fits well with what has driven Instant Life for the past eight years across our business model and we foresee it increasing both our customer base and our offering through significant opportunities going forward,” says Bryan McLachlan, CEO of Instant Life.

 

FNB Connect awarded most innovative MVNO

 

FNB was recently recognised for being the “Most Innovative MVNO” in the Telecoms.com Awards that conferred in London. By Staff Writer


“We are extremely proud of this achievement, and it is a testament to our culture of innovation and commitment to providing the best products and services to our customers,” say Shadrack Palmer, Chief Commercial Officer of FNB Connect.

In June 2015 FNB became the first bank in South Africa to launch a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). The take up of the service has been nothing short of extraordinary and at the beginning of November, FNB announced that it had over 100 000 active SIMs.

 

In addition to this, FNB picked up another two notable awards in the AfricaCom awards ceremony convened in Cape Town also in November. FNB were winners in the “Excellence in Customer Experience Management” and “Most Innovative Service” categories for the FNB Connect offering.

“It’s really humbling to see the global recognition we are receiving in less than 6 months of launch,” says Palmer.

Customers are regularly logging onto Online Banking, FNB APP and Cell phone Banking to self manage their SIMs just like they manage their bank accounts. SIM management functions include changing limits, block and unblocking SIMs, ordering replacement SIMs doing a SIM Swap and of course managing their spend. This also helps customers save time as they can avoid calling into the call centres and they can execute these functions by a few clicks on Online Banking, the Banking App or Cell phone Banking.

In terms of product and features, the Flexi product and auto recharge are very popular with customers.

“The FNB Connect Flexi package is an innovative product in the market that can be changed monthly according to each individual’s needs using sliders to choose your data, voice and SMS, “adds Palmer.

Another cool feature on the FNB Connect Prepaid offering is the Auto Top-Up function that allows customers to automatically top up their airtime or data when their balance reaches a certain limit. This means that customers will never run out of airtime or be out of bundle when it comes to data.

“We are very excited with the growth of FNB Connect and very pleased that customers are seeing the value in the transparency, control, flexibility and rewards associated with the product,” says Palmer.

Phone your friends for free via ChiChi

 

IT entrepreneur Patrick Palmi is encouraging South Africans to make a free calls on their mobile phones in exchange for listening to an advertisement from a consumer brand. By Gugu Lourie


The owner of justpalm.com has created a platform called Chichi Sponsored Call Marketing that enables brands to give away instant airtime for free in exchange for listening to a promotion.

The platform will help brands to reach new people. The airtime giveaways may also assist brands to build loyalty with customers, who cannot afford airtime and relies on free WhatsApp calls and SMS to communicate with friends and loved ones.

Consumer brands in South Africa spend millions of rands every year on billboard, TV, radio and print advertising.

But, as everyone knows, it’s getting more and more difficult (and expensive) to capture and hold people’s attention. And when you struggle to measure awareness and sentiment, justifying advertising spend can become a nightmare.

South African mobile marketing agency justpalm.com, has found an innovative new way for big brands to connect with low-income consumers – by using mobile marketing to give them something of value in exchange for listening to a promotion.

“It’s called ChiChi Sponsored Call Marketing,” explains Patrick Palmi, CEO of justpalm.com, “and the basic idea is that, through our platform, big brands can help low-income consumers by giving them free cellphone talk time. The consumer can call a friend or family member for free – all the brand asks for in exchange is that, before the call connects the caller, and whoever is on the other end of the line, listen to a 10 to 15 second message”.

The company has recently ran a campaign where 750,000 calls were connected in a week – that’s 1.5 million consumers (two people per call connected) who heard the brand’s promotion in one week.

“It was amazing,” says Palmi.

Watch video below:

 

Palmi says Sponsored Call Marketing can be used for so much more than to drive sales, with brands using it to promote in-store product trials, collect data, and even as a reward for loyal customers.

“It’s proved to be extremely popular as a reward scheme – especially in countries like South Africa, where free talk time is highly valuable to many consumers. “

Whats more refreshing is that ChiChi platform enables users who want to make a free call to SMS the USSD code and then get free airtime to chat with loved ones after listening to a brand promo.

The aim for these kinds of sponsored call campaigns is to connect a particular brand with consumers in an innovative way that get people talking about that brand – telling their friends and family about the free call giveaway they received from the brand.

Justpalm.com claims that sponsored calls work because they give consumers something they value – time to talk to friends and family – rather than simply bombarding them with plain advertising information.

“And in a region where most consumers are on prepaid cell phones, it’s easy to see why this approach is so effective in Africa. Add the fact that sponsored call marketing is so versatile, cost-effective and measurable – and you’ve got a great recipe for consumer campaign success. “If we can achieve all this by giving both sides an advantage, then we’re making advertising better.”

Who is justpalm.com?

 

Justpalm.com was founded in 2009 after being inspired by the groundbreaking “Please Call Me” concept. It was started as company to provide student residence at the University of Johannesburg with prepaid Wi-Fi Hotspots Access and Wi-Fi Hotspots Advertising.

The ChiChi Sponsored Call platform was launched in 2014 as a free calling service just like Viber, Tango, WhatsAp, WeChat but designed for emerging markets low-end feature phones and accessible through USSD, SMS and the web.

“We believe we can make a difference in our customers’ marketing strategies by leveraging off the large mobile phone penetration in emerging markets to connect and engage with consumers,” said Palmi.