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Where The Medium’s The Topic And The Topic is Topical

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UJ, 4IR, and the CloudebateTM concept

UJ is the University of Johannesburg. 4IR is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. CloudebateTM? Well – it’s a place where really interesting questions are asked, such as: is the academic thesis a thing of the past? Have books outlived their physical form? Are we witnessing the demise of childhood? Will eye-tracking, sip and puff, or exoskeletons lead to true equality of opportunity? Will society change Africa? Will Africa help change society? Will education teach our children what they really need to know? And if so, how?

As 4IR sweeps the world, sending many preconceptions, predilections, and presuppositions tumbling as it goes, UJ sees the asking of questions like these as a fundamental response. And it’s responding because, since 2013, when it first embarked on its strategy of global excellence and stature, the university saw a clear need to take the lead in exploring the applications, implications and potential of 4IR. What’s more, it saw a need to do this not just as part of its positioning as a thought-leader on the continent, but as part of making a proactive and positive contribution towards African society, education and enablement.

A vision of width, a platform of depth

It’s a significant vision, and as part realising it, UJ has been investigating new and challenging ways, not just of identifying the issues at stake, but of presenting them in depth. It sought a way that would bring medium and content, idea and action, debate and initiative, together on one unique platform.

And that unique platform, one that UJ has not only created, but given a unique name to as well, is the CloudebateTM

The CloudebateTM

The CloudebateTM has essentially taken the traditional debate/panel discussion and reimagined it, placing it firmly within the realm of its own 4IR scope, and using the latest live-streaming technology. It is the place where 4IR ideas that have been identified as relevant, meaningful, challenging and thought-provoking are placed before an expert panel as well as an online audience who are invited to participate in real time, online, in a very 4IR way, in the discussion, analysis and dissection.  

There have been seven Cloudebates held so far, and their names provide an insight into their capacity to provoke thought: The Way Tomorrow Works; Digitally Equal; Is 4IR the Demise of Childhood? Questioning the Answers; Obsolete or Absolute? Should Books be Shelved? Adding Muscle to Open Doors.

When thought is action

It’s all about the kind of world we are creating for our children to inhabit. What will the elimination of jobs do to society? Are children growing directly into the immediacy of adulthood? Are academic theses outdated? Are libraries passé? Can technology enable opportunity equally for all?

The digital reach has been immense, not just in South Africa but globally, where it has found a worldwide audience. Moreover, UJ’s CloudebateTM initiative is set to continue into 2020 with further challenges to our received wisdom, our perceived way of doing things. So, if you have any stimulating 4IR topics that you would like to see discussed, send them to [email protected] – UJ would love to hear from you. And if you’d like to see the discussions that have already taken place, then just go to uj.ac.za/4IR, where you can watch, and take a view of your own.

Creating tomorrow

With its innovative CloudebateTM concept, UJ’s pursuit of global excellence has been a most rewarding journey that will continue to develop and expand along with 4IR, and along with UJ’s ongoing commitment to creating tomorrow.

Content provided by the University of Johannesburg

Billionaires

How This Billionaire-Backed Crypto Startup Gets Paid To Not Mine Bitcoin

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It’s everyone’s dream to get paid to do nothing. Bitcoin miner Layer1 is turning that dream into reality — having figured out how to make money even when its machines are turned off. 

Layer1 is a cryptocurrency startup backed by the likes of billionaire Peter Thiel. In recent months, out in the hardscrabble land of west Texas, the company has been busy erecting steel boxes (think shipping containers) stuffed chockablock with high-end processors submerged inside cooling baths of mineral oil. Why west Texas? Beause thanks to a glut of natural gas and a forest of wind turbines, power there is among the cheapest in the world — which is what you need for crypto. 

“Mining Bitcoin is about converting electricity into money,” says Alex Liegl, CEO and co-founder. By this fall Layer1 will have dozens of these boxes churning around the clock to transform 100 megawatts into a stream of Bitcoin. Liegl says their average cost of production is about $1,000 per coin — equating to a 90% profit margin at current BTC price of $9,100. 

So it’s odd how excited Liegl is about the prospect of having to shut down his Bitcoin miners this summer. 

Already this year west Texas has seen a string of 100-degree days. But the real heat and humidity don’t hit until August, which is when the Texas power grid strains under the load of every air conditioning unit in the state going full blast. During an intense week in 2019, wholesale electricity prices in the grid region managed by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) soared from about $120 per megawatthour to peak out at $9,000 per mwh. It was only the third time in history that Texas power hit that level. And although the peak pricing only lasted an hour or so, that’s enough to generate big profits. Analyst Hugh Wynne at research outfit SSR figures that Texas power generators make about 15% of annual revenues during the peak 1% of hours (whereas in more temperate California grid generators only get 3% of revs from the top 1%).

Turns out that running a phalanx of Bitcoin miners is a great way to arbitrage those peaks. Layer1 has entered into so-called “demand response” contracts whereby at a minute’s notice they will shut down all their machines and instead allow their 100 mw load to flow onto the grid. “We act as an insurance underwriter for the energy grid,” says Liegl, 27. “If there is an insufficiency of supply we can shut down.” The best part, they get paid whether a grid emergeny occurs or not. Just for their willingness to shut in Bitcoin production, Layer1 collects an annual premium equating to $19 per megawatthour of their expected power demand — or about $17 million. Given Layer1’s roughly $25 per mwh long-term contracted costs, this gets their all-in power price down 75% to less than 1 cent per kwh (just 10% of what residential customers pay). 

It may seem like grid operators are paying Layer1 a lot for something that might not even happen, especially with coronavirus reducing electricity demand, but it makes total sense, says Ed Hirs, a lecturer in energy economics at the University of Houston and research fellow at consultancy BDO: “It’s a lot cheaper option than building a whole new power plant or battery system just to keep it on standby.” 

And although this may be a new concept for cryptocurrency miners, it’s been done before. Two decades ago industrialist Charles Hurwitz bought up power-hogging aluminum smelters in the Pacific Northwest and made more money reselling electricity than making metal. “It used to be called load management,” says Dan Delurey, a consultant with Wedgemere Group. “In old commercial buildings you might still find telephone wires connected to air conditioning systems so that grid operators could send a signal to shut off.” More recently we’ve seen companies install radio-based devices to control hot water heaters and lighting systems. Indeed, grid management is a hot enough area that in 2017 Italy’s power giant Enel bought Boston-based Enernoc for $250 million and Itron ITRI bought Comverge for $100 million. What’s emerged are entities, like Layer1, that Delurey calls the “prosumer” — producing consumer. 

As for Layer1, Liegl says his next step is to vertically integrate into financial products, including Bitcoin derivatives and more. “We are building an in-house energy trading division to leverage this into being a virtual power plant.” 

His message to any pikers still trying to mine cryptocurrencies from their bedroom PC or even via cloud services: “I can’t think of something more irrational at this point. It’s like if I wanted to dig a hole in my backyard and try to get oil out of the ground.” 

Christopher Helman, Forbes Staff, Energy

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Google Diversity Report Shows Little Progress For Women And People Of Color

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Google released its seventh consecutive diversity report on Thursday, revealing modest gains in representation for women and people of color, and a disproportionately white, Asian and male workforce.

The percentage of black hires in the U.S. grew from 4.8% in 2018 to 5.5% in 2019, a .7% increase. The percentage of black hires in technical roles also grew by .7%, the largest increase in the share of black technical hires since Google first started publishing diversity data. Latinx employees, on the other hand, saw a dip in hiring, dropping from 6.8% in 2018 to 6.6% in 2019. The percentage of Latinx employees in technical roles increased by a mere .2%.

Female employees didn’t fare much better, dropping from 33.2% of global hires in 2018 to 32.5% in 2019. Over that same time period, the percentage of women hired for technical positions remained at about 25.6%—a far cry from gender parity. But hiring only shows one side of the coin, which is why Google began to include attrition rates in 2018.

As in previous years, women continued to have a lower than average attrition rate in 2019, while Latinx attrition in the U.S. dipped below the Google average. Attrition was highest for Native Americans and increased significantly for black women.

Overall, Google’s workforce representation—defined as hiring minus attrition—saw a slight uptick for most underrepresented groups. Black and Latinx employees represented 9.6% of the U.S. workforce in 2019, up from 9% in 2018, and women represented 32% of Google’s global workforce, up from 31.6%.

The representation of women and Latinx employees in leadership roles also grew, increasing by .6% and .4% respectively. The percentage of black employees in leadership positions didn’t change year-over-year and dropped by .2% for Native American employees.

Although the needle has barely budged for women and people of color in tech over the last year, Google has made it a point to invest in diversity programs. Through its philanthropic arm, Google.org, the company committed $10 million to support low-income students and students of color in Bay Area STEM classrooms in 2019.

Internally, the company has launched smaller initiatives, such as running all job postings through a bias removal tool, which it says has led to an 11% increase in applications from women. And in an effort to retain diverse talent, Google expanded its retention case management program for underrepresented employees who are considering leaving the company.

Looking at its most recent diversity figures, however, Google concedes that there is considerable room for improvement. “The Native American population is one of those areas where we remain flat and so we will continue to invest more focus in 2020 to make sure that we’re targeting this population as well,” says Melonie Parker, Google’s chief diversity officer.

While she wouldn’t specify what that investment would entail, Parker says that the company is moving forward on its 2020 diversity goals and will continue to focus on representation and creating an inclusive culture companywide. She also notes that even the smallest percentage gains represent thousands of jobs for underrepresented groups. 

One area where Google has seen significant progress is in its internship program: Globally, 40% of interns in technical roles were women in 2019 and 24% of U.S. interns were black and Latinx.

Ruth Umoh, Forbes Staff, Diversity & Inclusion

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Jeff Bezos ‘Trillionaire’ Is Trending On Twitter. Here’s Why

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TOPLINE Jeff Bezos’ wealth suddenly caught Twitter’s attention on Wednesday amid ‘claims’ that the world’s richest man is set to become a trillionaire, in part thanks to pandemic-driven demand that has sent Amazon stock soaring.

KEY FACTS

  • Bezos was trending on Twitter on Wednesday after a months-old study by small business advice platform, Comparisun, resurfaced, claiming that Bezos net worth could reach $1 trillion by 2026.
  • The company analyzed the market cap of the highest valued firms on the New York Stock Exchange, as well as Forbes’ 25 richest people. Chinese real estate billionaire Xu Jiayin is second on the study’s list.
  • But Bezos has a long way to go to become the world’s first trillionaire. At the time of publication, Forbes values the 56-year-old’s net worth to be $143 billion. He owns a 11.2% stake in Amazon, and his wealth has surged upwards from around $125 billion in March.
  • Amazon is predicted to be one of the winners of the pandemic as demand for online shopping, streaming and delivery services flies.
  • Sales in the first three months of the year topped $75 billion, up from $60 billion in 2019. The potential for a second wave of the virus and further lockdowns could keep that demand high.
  • Bezos joined Forbes’ list of 400 richest Americans in 1998, four years after he founded Amazon, and had a net worth of $1.6 billion at the time.

KEY BACKGROUND

Amazon AMZN shares are up more than 28% so far this year. But the company is now up against “the hardest time” it has ever faced, Bezos said in April. The company predicted operating profits of $4 billion in the three months to June, but is now committing that entire amount to “COVID-related expenses” such as higher wages for hourly teams, buying up personal protective equipment for staff, and developing coronavirus testing facilities.

The company has been under fire from former employees—both office staff and warehouse workers—for allegedly silencing them after they spoke out about a lack of protection against the virus. Amazon has let go a number of employees, claiming that they breached company policy. 

TANGENT

In February, Bezos pocketed $3.1 billion after selling $4 billion worth of Amazon shares since January.

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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