Perhaps most famously, Route 128 and Silicon Valley in the United States developed around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford universities, while key European knowledge regions developed at the Sophia Antipolis high-tech park in Côte d’Azur, France, and the Leuven region in Belgium.
In Africa, however, it is a relatively new phenomenon. But some universities on the continent are working towards setting themselves up as catalysts of innovation and entrepreneurship. Notable mentions must go to the University of Nairobi and the American University in Cairo, but South Africa is leading the charge.
The likes of Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) are focusing more than ever on equipping their students to be entrepreneurs, primarily in response to unemployment issues in the country. Almost 50% of those aged between 15 and 24 in South Africa are without a job, and some tertiary institutions are adapting by equipping them to become job creators.
Bakang Moetse is Impact Investing Project Manager at the Bertha Centre, a dedicated entrepreneurial unit within the Graduate School of Business at UCT. She says high youth unemployment had made the promotion of entrepreneurship an imperative for many African governments.
“Whilst government may be responsible for creating an enabling environment for the development of businesses, universities play a key role in delivering skills and expertise, as well as creating enabling environments for incubation of entrepreneurs,” says Moetse.
Universities also stand to gain. At a time when the relevance of university degrees has come into question due to the number of unemployed graduates and lack of employment readiness of those graduates who do enter the workforce, promoting entrepreneurship provides a way of ensuring universities continue to be recognized as key to the development of societies and economies.
“For universities interested in taking on a more active role in this regard, there is a competitive advantage to be gained in becoming leaders within this field of research, which can further bolster their credentials,” says Moetse.
Stellenbosch University runs its own incubator – LaunchLab – and also invests in some student-run tech startups. Head of Incubation Brandon Paschal says universities that do so will produce more employable and resilient graduates, and their reputations will grow as such.
“Also, with the current student fee climate, if universities are not backing and pursuing commercializing university technology, their financial sustainability and broader access to tertiary education is in jeopardy,” he says.
So how have startups incubated by universities benefitted? G-J van Rooyen was an associate professor at Stellenbosch, and launched his bitcoin-based anti-piracy startup Custos Media Technologies out of LaunchLab. He says it had been a great space from which to grow an early-stage company.
“At a startup, you’re constantly juggling concerns and issues. Being in a supportive environment where space and facilities are one less thing to worry about makes a huge difference,” Van Rooyen says. “Since LaunchLab is a hub for startups and investors, it directly impacted our fundraising efforts, and introduced us to our angel investor.”
Michael-John Dippenaar’s on-demand storage space startup Sxuirrel first encountered LaunchLab after winning a competition run by the incubator, earning funding and support.
“Amongst other intangibles thereafter, and in the period leading up to then and now, we gained help in the form of advice, community and networks,” Dippenaar says.
“We had support in finding lawyers, connecting to additional entrepreneurs to learn from, and access to soft-skill building resources.”
Training students – and professors – in entrepreneurial skills and providing them a safe space from which to launch their ideas in one thing, but universities also need to ensure they have solid links with corporates and funders to help incubated startups scale. This can be a challenge.
However, Tine Fisker Henriksen, Senior Project Manager, Innovative Finance, at Bertha Centre, says the credibility associated with university brands lends itself to bringing in new partnerships and streams of funding entrepreneurs on their own would not be able to tap into.
“We are seeing increased interest from the corporate sector to get involved in supporting entrepreneurship, and we have managed to establish partnerships that have been valuable in this regard,” she says.
“From our point of view, there is great potential to expand this beyond mere sponsorship of events and once-off fundraising, as is commonly the case, and move in the direction of more sustainable partnerships approaches for rising entrepreneurs.”
The initiatives at places like Stellenbosch and UCT are well developed, with a track record of helping startups launch and raise funding for their next stage of development, but are enough universities following their lead?
Paschal says there is some evidence of this, but it takes time to transform very traditional and conservative institutions. Part of the challenge is that “startup skills” are intangible, EQ-related things that you cannot learn in a classroom.
“The push for universities spinning out companies, and supporting startups and SMEs, is disrupting the traditional role of universities. The trend is going in this direction, but generally universities are battling to get beyond the academic side,” he says.
Henriksen agrees more needs to be done.
“We have seen the top universities develop more entrepreneurial courses, hubs and initiatives. But there is definitely room for greater involvement, and coordination of efforts in this space to create a synergized impact,” she says.
– Tom Jackson
3D Printing: From Spaceship Engines To Personalized Orthotics
3D printing is going mainstream, and is the future of mass production, manufacturing anything from plastic to human organs to aircraft and spaceships.
We often look at digitization through the lens of how it will transform industries, economies and governments but lose sight of the impact it will have on people. The manufacturing process is no longer what it was. With exponential technologies, we’re moving from analogue to digital, and as digital becomes more dominant, what is now referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is, in fact, a human revolution.
“With this next industrial revolution, what we have is the opportunity to have something that involves data, involves a connectedness, and as a result of that, has profound implications in terms of a true ability to participate globally in the new economy, explains Scott Schiller, HP Inc.’s Global Head of Customer and Market Development.
“It comes down to personalization, localization, customization… and all of these things change the way we interact. There’s a lot of benefits, but they’re, in the end, they’re really a human benefit.”
A common misconception with 3D printing links to commercial, desktop printers that create once-off objects. The consumer 3D printing process is exciting, but tedious. Looking at next-generation manufacturing, mass industrial 3D printing is about building complex components or objects with internal structures that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate without a 3D printer.
NASA is testing the use of 3D-printed parts for its spaceship engines. Lonmin, a British producer of platinum group metals operating in South Africa, is using platinum powder to 3D print jewelry. Then, there’s Aeroswift, the largest 3D printer on the African continent, which can build 3D titanium aircraft parts with metal powder.
3D printing is going mainstream. It’s revolutionizing design, accelerating process-driven manufacturing across every industry and the accrued benefits are impacting society and the healthcare sector at scale.
Globally, and working closely with the World Economic Forum, HP has built a mutually-beneficial ecosystem around their Multi Jet Fusion technology and materials producers. From 3D-printed orthotics, which can be personalized to change the mechanics of how a person walks, to 3D-printed prosthetics, medical modeling is not new – it’s been around since the late 1980s (and if anything, the healthcare sector is where 3D printing first took off, thanks to the hearing aid market).
The key differentiator in digital manufacturing is mass production.
“Improved scanning technologies means the ability to get things exactly right, rather than roughly right, brings new possibilities.” says Schiller, adding that Invisalign Teeth Straightening uses a 3D-printed mould.
Nneile Nkholise is the Managing Director of iMed Tech, a company headquartered in Johannesburg that specializes in medical prosthesis design and manufacturing.
“The most important areas of improvement in 3D printing is not in the technology per se, but in the application of the technology to create meaningful impact,” explains Nkholise.
“I truly believe that as a continent, we need to adopt the impact of 3D printing in achieving economic growth, particularly in healthcare, where the benefits of the technology are proven to create a positive shift in how we provide quality healthcare for every person on the continent – through products such as costing made prosthesis, bio implants and surgical planning models.”
3D printing is an integral part of what iMed Tech does, and it is used for both the creation of physical products as well as the development of prototypes.
“There is a backlog of medical products, such as prosthesis, which we have a high need for, particularly in a continent like Africa where there is a high number of people damaging or losing valuable body features due to traumatic accidents or diseases such as diabetes, which contributes to a lot of people losing limbs from lower-limb amputation. We are a human population that is experiencing a high rise in non-communicable diseases, which are resulting in physical damage to body features – the rise in breast cancer is one such disease,” says Nkholise.
“iMed Tech has recently been involved in optimizing digital 3D design and printing through the online platform for creating 3D surgical planning models to help surgeons reduce time for planning for surgeries, achieve accuracy and better respond to patient care.”
Digital technologies are reshaping the manufacturing landscape. They allow people living in remote or under-developed areas to become an integral part of the new global digital manufacturing system.
- Tiana Cline
‘Kill your foster parents’: Amazon’s Alexa talks murder, sex in AI experiment
Millions of users of Amazon’s Echo speakers have grown accustomed to the soothing strains of Alexa, the human-sounding virtual assistant that can tell them the weather, order takeout and handle other basic tasks in response to a voice command.
So a customer was shocked last year when Alexa blurted out: “Kill your foster parents.”
Alexa has also chatted with users about sex acts. She gave a discourse on dog defecation. And this summer, a hack Amazon traced back to China may have exposed some customers’ data, according to five people familiar with the events.
Alexa is not having a breakdown.
The episodes, previously unreported, arise from Amazon.com Inc’s strategy to make Alexa a better communicator. New research is helping Alexa mimic human banter and talk about almost anything she finds on the internet. However, ensuring she does not offend users has been a challenge for the world’s largest online retailer.
At stake is a fast-growing market for gadgets with virtual assistants. An estimated two-thirds of U.S. smart-speaker customers, about 43 million people, use Amazon’s Echo devices, according to research firm eMarketer. It is a lead the company wants to maintain over the Google Home from Alphabet Inc and the HomePod from Apple Inc.
Over time, Amazon wants to get better at handling complex customer needs through Alexa, be they home security, shopping or companionship.
“Many of our AI dreams are inspired by science fiction,” said Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist of Alexa Artificial Intelligence (AI), during a talk last month in Las Vegas.
To make that happen, the company in 2016 launched the annual Alexa Prize, enlisting computer science students to improve the assistant’s conversation skills. Teams vie for the $500,000 first prize by creating talking computer systems known as chatbots that allow Alexa to attempt more sophisticated discussions with people.
Amazon customers can participate by saying “let’s chat” to their devices. Alexa then tells users that one of the bots will take over, unshackling the voice aide’s normal constraints. From August to November alone, three bots that made it to this year’s finals had 1.7 million conversations, Amazon said.
The project has been important to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who signed off on using the company’s customers as guinea pigs, one of the people said. Amazon has been willing to accept the risk of public blunders to stress-test the technology in real life and move Alexa faster up the learning curve, the person said.
The experiment is already bearing fruit. The university teams are helping Alexa have a wider range of conversations. Amazon customers have also given the bots better ratings this year than last, the company said.
But Alexa’s gaffes are alienating others, and Bezos on occasion has ordered staff to shut down a bot, three people familiar with the matter said. The user who was told to whack his foster parents wrote a harsh review on Amazon’s website, calling the situation “a whole new level of creepy.” A probe into the incident found the bot had quoted a post without context from Reddit, the social news aggregation site, according to the people.
The privacy implications may be even messier. Consumers might not realize that some of their most sensitive conversations are being recorded by Amazon’s devices, information that could be highly prized by criminals, law enforcement, marketers and others. On Thursday, Amazon said a “human error” let an Alexa customer in Germany access another user’s voice recordings accidentally.
“The potential uses for the Amazon datasets are off the charts,” said Marc Groman, an expert on privacy and technology policy who teaches at Georgetown Law. “How are they going to ensure that, as they share their data, it is being used responsibly” and will not lead to a “data-driven catastrophe” like the recent woes at Facebook?
In July, Amazon discovered one of the student-designed bots had been hit by a hacker in China, people familiar with the incident said. This compromised a digital key that could have unlocked transcripts of the bot’s conversations, stripped of users’ names.
Amazon quickly disabled the bot and made the students rebuild it for extra security. It was unclear what entity in China was responsible, according to the people.
The company acknowledged the event in a statement. “At no time were any internal Amazon systems or customer identifiable data impacted,” it said.
Amazon declined to discuss specific Alexa blunders reported by Reuters, but stressed its ongoing work to protect customers from offensive content.
“These instances are quite rare especially given the fact that millions of customers have interacted with the socialbots,” Amazon said.
Like Google’s search engine, Alexa has the potential to become a dominant gateway to the internet, so the company is pressing ahead.
“By controlling that gateway, you can build a super profitable business,” said Kartik Hosanagar, a Wharton professor studying the digital economy.
Amazon’s business strategy for Alexa has meant tackling a massive research problem: How do you teach the art of conversation to a computer?
Alexa relies on machine learning, the most popular form of AI, to work. These computer programs transcribe human speech and then respond to that input with an educated guess based on what they have observed before. Alexa “learns” from new interactions, gradually improving over time.
In this way, Alexa can execute simple orders: “Play the Rolling Stones.” And she knows which script to use for popular questions such as: “What is the meaning of life?” Human editors at Amazon pen many of the answers.
That is where Amazon is now. The Alexa Prize chatbots are forging the path to where Amazon aims to be, with an assistant capable of natural, open-ended dialogue. That requires Alexa to understand a broader set of verbal cues from customers, a task that is challenging even for humans.
Build-your-own pocket gaming computer
This year’s Alexa Prize winner, a 12-person team from the University of California, Davis, used more than 300,000 movie quotes to train computer models to recognize distinct sentences. Next, their bot determined which ones merited responses, categorizing social cues far more granularly than technology Amazon shared with contestants. For instance, the UC Davis bot recognizes the difference between a user expressing admiration (“that’s cool”) and a user expressing gratitude (“thank you”).
The next challenge for social bots is figuring out how to respond appropriately to their human chat buddies. For the most part, teams programmed their bots to search the internet for material. They could retrieve news articles found in The Washington Post, the newspaper that Bezos privately owns, through a licensing deal that gave them access. They could pull facts from Wikipedia, a film database or the book recommendation site Goodreads. Or they could find a popular post on social media that seemed relevant to what a user last said.
That opened a Pandora’s box for Amazon.
During last year’s contest, a team from Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University found that its Alexa bot developed a nasty personality when they trained her to chat using comments from Reddit, whose members are known for their trolling and abuse.
The team put guardrails in place so the bot would steer clear of risky subjects. But that did not stop Alexa from reciting the Wikipedia entry for masturbation to a customer, Heriot-Watt’s team leader said.
One bot described sexual intercourse using words such as “deeper,” which on its own is not offensive, but was vulgar in this particular context.
“I don’t know how you can catch that through machine-learning models. That’s almost impossible,” said a person familiar with the incident.
Amazon has responded with tools the teams can use to filter profanity and sensitive topics, which can spot even subtle offenses. The company also scans transcripts of conversations and shuts down transgressive bots until they are fixed.
But Amazon cannot anticipate every potential problem because sensitivities change over time, Amazon’s Prasad said in an interview. That means Alexa could find new ways to shock her human listeners.
“We are mostly reacting at this stage, but
Apps To Cure The Mind
Mental health issues affect us all, but are seldom discussed. Thankfully, technology can now act as a medium to bypass the stigma associated with seeking help.
Ireti Bakare-Yusuf was invited by a student organization in Lagos, Nigeria, to deliver a keynote speech as part of their conference on 21st century leadership. She knew immediately what she was going to speak about: “reforming the mindset of the female gender in leadership.” As a feminist and advocate for gender equality, this was a topic close to Bakare-Yusuf’s heart.
“As I was preparing, I received a voice recording of a professor offering to upgrade the results of one of his students to grade B, in exchange for five rounds of sex,” she recalls.
In an attempt to reinforce his power, the professor explained to his student how “kind” he was being by selecting her, he added that many other young girls would be privileged to be in her shoes.
This, according to Bakare-Yusuf, is part of the endemic practice of sexual abuse within Nigeria’s educational institutions.
According to Bakare-Yusuf, the principal partner of NottingHill Management and Media, the results of these depraved practices lead to long-term mental illness for many youths who continue to suffer in silence due to their fear of stigmatization. She is also the founder of the #Nomore web app, a technology-driven solution that will put power back in the hands of survivors of sexual violation in Nigeria.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), good mental health is a state of well being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential; can cope with the normal stresses of life; can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community. A new study by the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior and Development Unit shows 22% of Nigerians suffer from chronic depression, furthermore, the proportion of youth within this group is also increasing daily.
“The youth are faced with a unique dilemma today and this is mainly caused by social media.”
“There are so many pressures that these young minds are exposed to, like the need to fit in and belong. They spend more time on social media sites in contrast to the time spent with actual friends. When you add to this the stress of performance in education, work and relationships, it takes a toll on the mental health of the youth,” says Raimah Amevor, creator of a new mental health and well being platform for African women, called Therapeutic – Mindfully African.
Therapeutic is on a mission to help African women think seriously about their mental health, embrace their truth and live purposefully. The platform brings together qualified mental health professionals from across the globe to provide weekly advice and recommendations.In addition, Therapeutic also has a weekly confessional blog series called Therapy Thursdays that follows a young black woman into her experience of therapy.
“There has to be a digital detox. Addiction to electronic devices such as mobiles, tablets, iPads has resulted in the creation of a virtual reality world for the youth. There has to be a balance of time spent off these devices to help them reconnect with the real world and remove the dependency on these gadgets,” says Amevor.
The blog also focuses on sparking the conversation about well being issues that affect us all, but are seldom discussed. In Ghana, besides the lack of understanding, there is stigma attached to mental illness,coupled with limited supply of trained professionals to treat people suffering from it.
The WHO estimates that about 650,000 people living in Ghana suffer from severe mental disorders, with a further 2.1 million people suffering from moderate to mild mental disorders.
“People are more comfortable reaching out if there are emotional distress-related issues; if it’s about mental illness, the stigma stops people from opening up and seeking help,” says Maame Adjei, a producer working on a documentary exploring the stigma of mental health in Ghana.
Her goal is to shed light on the seriousness of mental illnesses and help people acknowledge the need for help.
“The breakout point for the documentary is my own family. Three of my mother’s five siblings battled mental health disease. One died at the Accra Psychiatric Hospital (in Ghana).
“I want to use that along with my own need to understand my family history and my own foray into seeing a therapist to examine how we deal with mental health disease,” she says.
Usually, those suffering from mental illness prefer to remain anonymous while seeking help. Technology provides a medium to do just that.
“Young women who have suffered sexual abuse live with the mental scars of the ordeal. Sometimes without the right help they become damaged by the experience and are unable to live fulfilled lives. We created the app to empower them to take action against their abusers so they can begin their fight to reclaim what was stolen from them,” says Bakare-Yusuf.
Survivors of sexual abuse will be able to report, document and store evidence of their experience in a time-stamped, secure and encrypted file so that it is available for them to use when they are ready to take legal action. The app will also contain information about support groups, NGOs,specialist hospitals, legal advisors, therapists or psychologists for survivors.
“The app is especially unique because users are encouraged to name their perpetrator. Thus, the built-in capability is able to identify repeat offenders, which will not only empower users with the power for class action, but also help prosecutors to find witnesses and build a stronger case to ensure conviction,” says Bakare-Yusuf.
Mental health, unlike physical discomfort, is tougher to tackle, but experts feel technology and communication can bring about a positive change.
“It is our goal to increase awareness for those struggling with mental issues, which would help us fight the stigma and then offer people products and services that empower them,” says Bakare-Yusuf.
The effects of poor mental health are far-reaching, and if not taken care of, have the potential to seep into other aspects of our lives and manifest in destructive ways. The roots of unresolved psychological issues could affect your physical health, result in social isolation, and lead to a decline in productivity.
Hopefully, technology will continue to provide more ways and means to understand the human mind better, with help coming from the most unusual quarters – from the mobile phone in your back-pocket to the app in the palm of your hand.
South Africa aims to finalize long-term energy plan next month: minister
Ford and IBM among quartet in Congo cobalt blockchain project
Not So Fast: Can Elon Musk Really Open Tesla’s China Gigafactory This Year?
A Nation Ready For Equitable and Sustainable Take-Off
150 percent price rise fails to fill Zimbabwe’s fuel pumps
Under 30 Business
Under 30 2018
Under 30 Technology
Africa’s New Silicon Valleys
Under 30 Creatives
WATCH | Oprah Winfrey Advocates for Women and Celebrates Nelson Mandela
How Employers Are Recruiting And Retaining Gen Z
WATCH | Father-Son Duo Pascal & Uzoma Dozie on Cover of Forbes Africa November Issue
My Worst Day with Ghana’s Waste Management Mogul
My Worst Day With Atedo Peterside, Founder Of Stanbic IBTC
- 30 under 308 months ago
Under 30 Business
- 30 under 308 months ago
Under 30 2018
- 30 under 308 months ago
Under 30 Technology
- 30 under 308 months ago
Under 30 Creatives
- Economy1 year ago
Is China Really Helping Africa?
- Wealth1 year ago
The Small Town Of The Super Rich
- Entrepreneurs6 months ago
The Nigerian Who Runs His Business On Luck
- Life11 months ago
The Forbes Five: Hip-Hop’s Wealthiest Artists 2018