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Internet In Our Bodies?

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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.

Arts

Oliver Mtukudzi The Soldier With A Big Voice – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

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In January, Africa lost Oliver Mtukudzi. His friend and fellow musician Yvonne Chaka Chaka fondly remembers the global icon. 

In October 2012, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, South Africa’s Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Kenya’s Suzanna Owíyo produced Because I Am Girl with musicians from around the world.

It was released to promote the global launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I am A Girl’ campaign, marking the first UN International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11.

READ MORE | Tribute To Oliver Mtukudzi – Zimbabwe’s ‘Man With The Talking Guitar’

Dressed in African prints, they sang together, spreading the word about the empowerment of the girl child.

Mtukudzi’s bass and Chaka Chaka’s soulful voice in harmony, they became more than co-artists; they become brother and sister. It was the first performance of many for the two.

Seven years on, Chaka Chaka is teary-eyed about Mtukudzi’s death 23 days into 2019, when not just she, but Africa lost a music legend.

In a strange coincidence, Mtukudzi died the same day the continent lost the father of South African jazz, Hugh Masekela, last year.

On the phone for this interview, Chaka Chaka describes Mtukudzi as a soldier at work.

“When he was on stage, he was a totally different man. When he had his guitar, it was like a soldier. Like a soldier who has a gun at work,” she tells us.

“I think there were two different people. Offstage, he was just an ordinary man, and on stage, people ate out of the palm of his hand.

“I’ve never known Oliver to never be fit. He has been a skinny man and he would just twist that body with a guitar and that gravel voice of his. A big voice in a small body,” she says.

“He has never called me Yvonne, he has always called me Fifi… Fifi means sister.

“The man was always humble, he never raised his voice, I have never seen him angry and all he has ever wanted is just to see Africa thriving. He wanted to see Africa beautiful. He wanted to see Africa with less disease, less hunger, less corruption, a happy Africa – that was his wish.”

One anecdote Chaka Chaka shares is when Mtukudzi was made a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Zimbabwe in 2011.

“You know he sat there with me and asked, ‘so, what does this entail, my sister? You have been a goodwill ambassador for a long time. You will tell me what needs to be done. How should I act? How should I react? How should I do things?’

“And I’m like, ‘no, but you know, you are more of a star than me and you have been in this industry long before I’. He was just so down-to-earth and had no chip on his shoulder.” 

The last performance the two did together was in October last year in Harare during the Jacaranda Festival, attended by more than 2,000 people and other artists around the continent.

“Oliver was not in his changing room or at home. He stayed there and watched other artists perform, which was so great,” says Chaka Chaka.

“This year, he promised that we would do it [the Jacaranda Festival] in Bulawayo,” she said. They had planned to make it a big show and use their status as goodwill ambassadors to encourage and inspire more youth.

 But sadly, that promise will never be fulfilled.

“The legacy he will leave behind is a legacy of love, the legacy of pro-African and I think for me he was a pan-Africanist. That’s what he was,” she says.

READ MORE | Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66

To this day, Neria is still one of Chaka Chaka’s favorite songs by him.

 Mtukudzi, who died aged 66 of diabetes, was laid to rest on January 27 in his home village of  Madziwa.

Thousands sang and danced to the melodies of his songs.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared him a national hero, posthumously, a status that has previously been reserved for ruling party elite and independence veterans.

He may be gone but his music will live forever in the hearts of the fans that loved this legend who soldiered on until the end.

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Economy

What A Failed Johannesburg Project Tells Us About Mega Cities In Africa

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Six years ago a major development was announced in South Africa. Billed as a game changer, it was meant to alter the urban footprint of Johannesburg, Africa’s richest city, forever.

The Modderfontein New City project was launched amid much fanfare, expectation and media hype.

Zendai, a Chinese developer, bought a 1600-hectare site north-east of Johannesburg for the development, which it quickly dubbed as the “New York of Africa”. Early plans showed it was to include 55,000 housing units, 1,468,000 m2 of office space and all the necessary amenities for urban life in the form of a single large-scale urban district. The cost estimate was set at R84 billion.

The developers believed that Modderfontein could function as a global business hub and would become Johannesburg’s main commercial center, replacing Sandton. The project would also change Johannesburg’s international profile by strengthening relations with Asian corporate interests.

But, despite the release of futuristic computer-generated images which led to significant publicity for the project, it was never built. Instead, the land was eventually sold off. Another developer has since begun construction on a much more scaled down project, in the form of a gated-community style housing development.

Modderfontein has faded away from the public consciousness. The story of why it failed has never been adequately told in the media.

Our research, which took place over the course of several years, sought to understand the factors which led to the project’s demise. We also wanted to find out how Modderfontein’s failure relates to the broader African urban context.

We found that the project was hindered by conflicting visions between the developer and the City of Johannesburg. Moreover, unexpectedly low demand for both housing and office space meant the original plan for the project was incompatible with the city’s real estate market.

The project’s trajectory also shows how African “edge-city” developments, which are generally elite-driven and marketed as “eco-friendly” or “smart”, can be influenced by a strong local government with the means and willingness to shape development.

Conflicting interests

Zendai’s aspirations to produce a high-end, mixed-used development did not fit with the City of Johannesburg’s approach. Rather than a luxurious global hub, the city wanted a more inclusive development – one which reflected the principles outlined in its 2014 Spatial Development Framework.

At the heart of the framework is the desire to reshape a trend that saw capital leave the old central business district for affluent Sandton at the dawn of democracy in 1994. This was accompanied by an upsurge in securitised suburbs further north towards Pretoria, the country’s capital city.

These spatial trends were incompatible with the ideals of South Africa’s new democratic government and its strategy to mitigate the effects of apartheid-era planning. During apartheid, black people were prohibited from living in more affluent areas, which were reserved for the minority white population. Instead, they were forced into sprawling “townships” on the periphery of cities, far from work and economic opportunities.

To this end, the city demanded that Zendai include at least 5 000 affordable homes in its plans. It also wanted to ensure that the development was compatible with, and complemented, Johanneburg’s public transport system. The city was willing to contribute funding for the necessary infrastructure and inclusive housing.

Yet Zendai remained steadfast in its commitment to its vision, eventually deciding against fully integrating the city’s wishes into its planning application. This saw the city draw-out the planning process.

Meanwhile, problems were mounting for Zendai. The owner, Dai Zhikang, was eventually forced to sell his stake in the project to the China Orient Asset Management Company. Rather than continuing with the project, the asset managers sold the land to the company behind the new housing development on the site.

Smart cities in Africa

Over the last decade, a variety of developments like Modderfontein, including Eko-Atlantic in Nigeria, New Cairo in Egypt, and Konza Technology City in Kenya, have been touted by both public and private sectors as panaceas for Africa’s urban problems. The thinking is that as the developments are disconnected from the existing urban landscape, they won’t be burdened by crime or informality. However, these projects can take badly needed resources away from the marginalised areas of the city.

To make them more palatable to domestic and international audiences, the developments are usually marketed as “smart” or “eco-friendly”.

But these developments can fail at the point of implementation. This is because, as speculative projects, they generally don’t recognise the need to fit in with the wishes of the local authorities or adapt to the existing city. In the case of Modderfontein, the city government had the capability to push back against the developers and, in the end tried to shape the project to better fit Johannesburg’s urban realities. – The Conversation

-Ricardo Reboredo; PhD Candidate in Geography, Trinity College Dublin

-Frances Brill; Research fellow, UCL

The Conversation

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Focus

4 Ways To Develop Employment-Ready Graduates

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Chris Pilgrim, the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, on the potential game-changers in higher education on the continent.


It is to a verdant academic campus in Ghana   that Chris Pilgrim will be packing his bags from the dunes of Dubai. As the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group (TAG) West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, Pilgrim will provide students across emerging markets access to post-secondary and executive education.

TAG currently owns and operates Lancaster University’s campus in Ghana, Curtin University’s Dubai campus, and South Africa-based ABN Training in partnership with the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia.

Pilgrim, who has helped develop TAG’s expansion in Africa and has over 25 years of experience in the higher education sector, spoke to FORBES AFRICA about skills-building, STEM and job creation:

READ MORE | Education Quality and the Youth Skills Gap Are Marring Progress in Africa

1. Are more universities looking to set up here?

A. With over half a million African students studying abroad annually, the continent has the highest outbound student ratio (number of outbound tertiary students/total number of tertiary students) in the world. Along with this annual migration of students comes capital flight, increased brain drain, and a hesitancy to build further world-class higher education capacity on the continent.

TAG partners with globally top-ranked universities to provide the highest quality of higher education in emerging market nations, thereby reversing, albeit modestly, the flow of students.

Our campus in Ghana, in partnership with Lancaster University (ranked sixth in the UK), provides world-class higher education capacity for West Africans, and it has seen students from other countries, including outside of Africa, take up enrolment.

TAG’s Lancaster University Ghana is the only comprehensive UK university campus in mainland Africa, and while TAG is undertaking steps to open similar branch campuses in other African countries, other investors and top-ranked universities have not moved to open campuses in the region.


Chris Pilgrim, the CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana.

2. How can Africa build skills, capacity and create more jobs?

A. While there has been a modest growth of employment in the formal job sector in some countries, many of Africa’s youth are more likely today to take up work in the informal sectors and in family enterprises.

Africa, as a region, has the largest youth population in the world, and with over 11 million young people expected to enter the job market each year, its economies are stretched to productively absorb Africa’s greatest asset – this youth population.

While the continent’s education capacities and output are integral to leveraging this youth population into a potential demographic dividend, investments, both private and public, into relevant higher education capacities, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) capacity, are limited.

In the long-term, addressing the underlying causes of unemployment and skills-gap lies in increasing enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, with a focus on STEM, thus enabling graduates to participate in the new economies and globalization emerging with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship are fundamental to creating the jobs of the future.

3. What is the increasing role of STEM programs?

A. While the vital importance of STEM education to infrastructure development, healthcare, energy security, agriculture, and the environment are well cited over the past decade, the role of STEM and digital skills in preparing for 4IR are potential game-changers.

READ MORE | Kenyan Approach Holds Promise for Boosting Early Childhood Education

African nations need to develop “future-ready curricula that encourage critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence as well as accelerate acquisition of digital and STEM skills to match the way people will work and collaborate in 4IR” (Source: WEF 2017 The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa).

Lancaster University Ghana has been delivering relevant computer science curriculum since its inception, and is set to launch programs in engineering this year, followed by additional programs in STEM disciplines.

4. How are you creating future leaders?

A. TAG Ghana works closely with Lancaster University to assure that our students receive an education that is relevant both locally, and in the global context. We work closely with industry and the community to understand their needs so our graduates are employment-ready.

Interviewed by Methil Renuka

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