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SIRI-OUS BUSINESS

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

There’s a series of adverts running on DSTV at the moment where a group of business leaders are put in one room and a group of teenagers and pre-teens in another.  The business leaders are then given a smart device showing different apps and asked to explore or define them.  The teens sit in the other room watching  their fumbling, bumbling attempts, after which the 2 are brought together to allow the young people to explain to the middle-aged muddlers what they are looking at, how it works and what its purpose is.

It’s actually a bit demeaning and not very accurate.  None of these South African managers apparently know that Spree is an online shopping site, even though it’s fairly well promoted and a frequent pop-up on dozens of high-traffic sites. At the conclusion of one of the ads one male manager looks at the group of youngsters and asks, “Don’t you people shop in malls anymore?” to which they all shake their heads.

Well, let’s unpack that for a moment.  The implication is that kids now do all their clothes and other consumer shopping online which is unlikely for one very good reason.  On-line purchasing requires a credit card and teens and pre-teens, unless they come from very wealthy, laissez-faire type families are unlikely to qualify for, or be permitted to carry, their own credit card.  They may, and probably do, spend a lot of time browsing online but they still have to approach mom and dad for permission to buy, so their purchasing power comes with an adult override switch and filter.

Also, the shopping mall is a communal meeting place, offering a range of fast-food restaurants and cafés, cinema complexes, niche boutiques and market stalls.  Young people may be addicted to the smartphone experience, social media and apps for almost everything but so far they’re still scavenging mall rats after school and during weekends they can lay out their cash and buy without parental control.

But of course the main thrust of the ad is still valid; that no service or supply company today, particularly one that is aimed at a younger consumer, can afford not to have an interactive website, a Twitter and Facebook feed and an accessible App.  Botswana may not be there yet but RSA is well on the way and in Europe and the USA, life via phone, smart device, computer or tablet is the norm.  Take eating out.  Here, when we decide we’d like to go out for supper, we’re still Neanderthal enough to take a mental trawl through all the local restaurants and make our selection from local knowledge and past experience. 

It’s been a while since we went to Restaurant X – time we went back.  Someone said that new place in Mall Y was quite good – let’s give it a try.  But stateside, particularly in larger towns and cities, would-be diners rather hit up their smartphones to see what places are advertising in their chosen area.  From there they proceed to the restaurant’s app or website page to preview the menu, prices and facilities, check out any feedback reviews other customers might have posted and study the directions to get there. Then and only then will they be able to come to a decision as to which lucky eatery will have the pleasure of their company tonight. 

As for shopping, where once canny consumers clipped coupons from pull-outs that came with the local paper, now the coupon and barcode are available on your phone and you simply offer it to the cashier on check-out who scans direct from your cell phone screen.  No more paper trail, not more tedious cutting out, no more cursing because you left the coupon at home – what’s not to like?  And then of course there’s interactive SatNav.  Apple’s voice-responsive Siri will not only guide you to where you want to go, just give ‘her’ the name of the store you want to visit and ‘she’ will give you a list of those branches nearest to where you are at any given moment.

‘She’ will also tell you how far they are and when you make a choice, you’ll receive verbal directions on how to get there by car or on foot.  So now you can drive to a new town and immediately be directed to the nearest Walmart, Target or Borders bookstore if retail therapy is what you have in mind.  Siri will also help you find a hotel for the night, a restaurant to eat in, a gym to work out in, a doctor’s surgery if you feel unwell and a school to enrol your kids in if you decide to relocate.  How did the Western world ever get along with Siri’s encyclopaedic local know-how?

And it’s all available from a phone.  Two decades ago our lives were changed with the advent of the Personal Computer and the World Wide Web.  A decade ago we marvelled at the connectivity of the miniaturised laptop or tablet, along with Wi-Fi internet access.  And today all we need is our cell phone to enhance and expand our every conceivable leisure activity.

George Orwell taught us to beware of Big Brother but you have to wonder now whether the real dark force today isn’t our Big Sister, Siri!  At any rate, if you want to run a successful business, it’s as well to have her on your side.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  HYPERLINK "http://www.hrmc.co.bw" www.hrmc.co.bw   

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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