My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: June 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Jamaica Computer Society and Ministry of S.E.T. fears AI will eliminate Call Center Jobs in 2021

“AI does not flourish without the help of the programmer and architects behind the scene,”

Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley speaking at the symposium organised by the Jamaica Computer Society held on Friday June 9th 2017

The symposium organized by the Jamaica Computer Society at the regional headquarters of the University of the West Indies may have some people working in the BPO Industry on edge!!

This as it was revealed at the symposium organised by the Jamaica Computer Society held on Friday June 9th 2017 that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is a threat to those people employed in the BPO sector as argued in “Artificial Intelligence Posing A Threat To BPO Jobs – Wheatley”, published Friday June 23, 2017, The Jamaica Gleaner.

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So important was this event that the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology @MSETGovJM tweeted the event as it happened:

Technology Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley admitted as much, as AI systems such as the IVR (Interactive Voice Response), or “Ivy” as employees at FLOW's Call Center fondly refer to their Voice activated system that assist with customer queries.  

Already FLOW Customer Care handle 911 and other Emergency queries as predicted in my blog article entitled “How OUR can fund FLOW Jamaica Emergency operator service using Stay Alert App, Mobile Money and Advertising”.

This system isn't artificially intelligent, but rather is a knowledge database that takes input from your phone keypad and provides the appropriate output either in voice or via a text to the customer with the information requested. Potentially AI, the modern day version of Automation, can potentially take away 50% of all jobs in Jamaica, starting with Customer Service Representatives!

But what if in the future it could be made to respond to voice conversations, even answering the customer in a unique voice?

AI and BPO - 200,000 jobs at risk in 2021

 In Jamaica the  BPO sector employs some 22,000 people, with the GOJ (Government of Jamaica) aiming to reach 200,000 by 2021.

The BPO sector has the highest potential for generating job opportunities for those high school leavers. Call Centers are also a reality for University Graduates who are unemployed, albeit you have an advantage if you speak another language such as Spanish as noted in my MICO Wars blog article entitled “PM Andrew Holness says Spanish is Jamaica’s Second Language as UWI makes it compulsory”. 

In other countries, AI-based systems are becoming an attractive option to replace humans in repetitive, boring or sometimes even dangerous jobs. There are AI systems that can answer calls and solve certain problem-solving functions, but they are not yet human enough in their interactions with people to replace a human CSA's.

So what is the solution?

Dr Wheatley and Computer Programmers - train Jamaican people as programmers and software developers

These AI systems are getting better as Dr Wheatley, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology admitted at the symposium organised by the Jamaica Computer Society. still  he did stick to being passive and optimistic in his approach as noted in “Gov’t Set Sights on Artificial Intelligence”, published June 23, 2017 By Douglas McIntosh, The Jamaica Information Service.

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He pointed out that presented an opportunity to train Jamaican people as programmers and software developers as I've long suggested in my MICO Wars blog article entitled “Why Coding in HTML and CSS3 and speaking Spanish needed in Jamaica”. 

I'd even go as far as to suggest Land and attractive housing to talented programmers as West Rural St Andrew Member of Parliament Paul Buchanan had suggested in June 2015 as noted in my blog article entitled “Computer Programming the Future of Jamaica – How Paul Buchanan plans to jump start the ICT Revolution”.
The demand for coders is especially strong in:

1.      Germany
2.      Japan
3.      China
4.      United Kingdom

More reason to learn a foreign language in the future as most of the coding jobs are in non-English speaking countries as I've pointed out in my MICO Wars blog article entitled “How Jamaicans can make money from Coding and Foreign Languages”.

Minister Wheatley is correct; Jamaica needs to become producers of solutions rather than being consumers. Learning a foreign language at Grade 9 is a start as I've pointed out in my MICO Wars blog article entitled “Ministry of Education to make Foreign Languages compulsory up to Grade 9 by 2017”.

As such, Dr. Wheatley plans to re-tool computer science graduates for high level BPO jobs involving programming and software developement, quote: “We must, therefore, look to increase the number of computer science graduates from our tertiary institutions, so that we can take advantage of the clear opportunities that will come from the new demand for highly skilled programmers”.

Otherwise AI will come to Jamaica by 2021....and take away all of those jobs.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

How University of Bath CSCT biodegradable cellulose microbeads can replace plastic microbeads

“Microbeads used in the cosmetics industry are often made of polyethylene or polypropylene, which are cheap and easy to make. However these polymers are derived from oil and they take hundreds of years to break down in the environment. We've developed a way of making microbeads from cellulose, which is not only from a renewable source, but also biodegrades into harmless sugars. We hope in the future these could be used as a direct replacement for plastic microbeads”

Dr Janet Scott, Reader in the Department of Chemistry and part of the CSCT, commenting on the idea of using cellulose to replace microbeads

Want to get that clean refreshing scrub but without the guilt of polluting the environment?
Scientists and engineers from the University of Bath CSCT (Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies) may have the answer; biodegradable cellulose microbeads as detailed in the article “Scientists make biodegradable microbeads from cellulose”, published June 7, 2017, Physorg.
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They have published their results in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering that details how the microbeads replacements are made from cellulose, the same material found in wood and plants.

Biodegradable cellulose microbeads from a sustainable source could replace harmful plastic ones that have been banned by the US of A in 2017 as noted in my blog article entitled “How US microbeads ban by 2017 means NEPA ban coming to protect Coral Reefs”. 

So how did the scientists make the cellulose into a microbeads replacement?

Microbeads in the Environment - Biodegradable cellulose microbeads

Microbeads are little spheres of plastic less than 0.5 mm in size.

They are added to personal care and cleaning products including cosmetics, sunscreens and fillers to:

1.      Give them a smooth texture
2.      Help remove dead skin by their scrubbing action

A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean, or eight million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year. They present an environmental problem as they are too small to be filtered by sewage filtration systems. The plastic particle can absorb pesticides and toxins and upon being consumed by fish in the aquatic food chain.  Ultimately, we humans may end up eating microplastic in our fish, with deadly results.

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The process involves recovering cellulose from various sources such as from the paper making industry. The cellulose is then mechanical milled and made into a fine powder with the same level of granularity as corn meal. The solution of cellulose is forced through tiny holes in a tubular membrane. This creates spherical droplets of the solution which are washed using biodegradable vegetable oil. The beads are then collected, set and separated from the oil ready for use in a variety of products.

The CSCT has largely achieved their goal of a replacement for microbeads that manufacturers can use, to quote Professor of Chemical Engineering and part of the CSCT, Davide Mattia: “Our goal was to develop a continuous process that could be scaled for manufacturing. We achieved this by working together from the start, integrating process design and chemistry optimisation, showing the strength of the multi-disciplinary approach we have in the CSCT”

Already plans are the works to develope biodegradable cellulose microbeads for use in:

1.      Cosmetics and personal care products
2.      Slow release fertilizers

Physical techniques can be used to make the biodegradable cellulose microbeads harder or softer. With the help of £1 million by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, a team, led by Dr Scott and including Professor Davide Mattia (Chemical Engineering) and Professor Karen Edler (Chemistry) plan to make porous beads, capsules and microsponges.

It also presents some interesting applications for other chemical researchers in Jamaica, as biodegradable cellulose microbeads can be used in cleaning products, both for home cleaning as well as personal hygiene e.g. toothpaste and body washes and soaps.