Amazon may soon allow users to pay in cryptocurrency

BY Fast Company South Africa 2 MINUTE READ

Amazon may allow users to pay in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin soon as the e-commerce giant is hiring a digital currency and blockchain product lead for its payments team.

According to a latest job listing, Amazon’s Payments Acceptance & Experience team is “seeking an experienced product leader to develop Amazon’s Digital Currency and Blockchain strategy and product roadmap”.

The product lead will work closely with teams across Amazon, including AWS to develop the roadmap for the customer experience, technical strategy and capabilities as well as the launch strategy.

Amazon doesn’t accept cryptocurrencies as payment yet.

A company spokesperson told Insider that it was “inspired by the innovation happening in the cryptocurrency space and are exploring what this could look like on Amazon.”

Amazon Web Services (AWS), the Cloud arm of Amazon, currently offers a managed blockchain service.

The new digital currency and blockchain product lead would “need to operate with a high level of autonomy and operate analytically, working backwards from data and customer insights to build new and innovative solutions to unsolved problems”, the company further said.

Tesla and Twitter are bullish on Bitcoin as the next payment mode.

The online world needs a global currency, and our focus is on Bitcoin because with this cryptocurrency, we can reach every single person on the planet, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has stressed.

Designer Jon Ive collaborates with Prince Charles in new design lab

BY Fast Company South Africa 2 MINUTE READ

Saving the environment is one of the most pressing design challenges of our time. And with just 100 days before the UN’s COP26 climate conference—where the world will convene to discuss action on climate change—the most prominent designer of our time has made a big announcement.

Sir Jony Ive is partnering with Prince Charles to open a design lab through London’s Royal College of Art. Called the Terra Carta Design Lab, its goal is to work with students to “create small designs that can make a big impact for the world’s transition to a sustainable future,” according to the press release.

The lab stems from the Terra Carta  (which means “Earth Charter” in Latin). It’s a 17-page environmental charter also backed by Prince Charles and designed by Ive. Released earlier this year, it provides an environmental innovation framework to be backed by $10 billion in planned investments raised from the private sector. The lab itself is being funded by investments from Octopus Energy, the Islamic Development Bank, and Amazon.

The lab is separate from Ive’s commercial enterprise, his burgeoning design studio LoveFrom. The Terra Carta Design Lab invites all of RCA’s more than 2,300 students, ranging from designers to artists to architects, to create “high impact, low cost solutions for Nature, People, and Planet.” Both Ive and Prince Charles will help pick the top projects coming out of the lab, while Ive will advise on the most promising projects.

Topics that students will address include reducing greenhouse gases, increasing biodiversity, and supporting environmentally-focused economic development for developing countries.

The partnership might seem surprising, given Prince Charles’s historically conservative views on modern architecture. However, students in RCA’s design program regularly conceive of some of the most radical and thoughtful sustainable-design concepts developed each year. The new design lab appears to be something of a lens, focusing students even more toward environmentally positive projects. Meanwhile, the Terra Carta Design Lab’s corporate partners stand by with the resources and reach to scale some of the lab’s best ideas.

How the lab works: Students will develop and submit design ideas. Then by November, RCA will pare down all student submissions to the top 16 finalists, to be announced at COP26. An unspecified number of winning designs will be chosen to receive funding in 2022, along with access to private partners and personal mentorship from Ive himself.

While it’s impossible to predict what sort of impact can come out of any one educational program or design lab, the Terra Carta Design Lab seems like it will be impossibly enticing to many young design students.

In some ways, I’m less curious about what we will see funded in 2022 than by the movement that could grow over several years’ time, as more talented and ambitious young creatives are drawn to the mission of the program. Technologists graduating from places like the MIT Media Lab have had access to short-tracked corporate funding for years. Bringing this sort of opportunity to environmental design might just be a way to get more promising minds working on one of the most urgent problems of our time.

Article originally published on fastcompany.com.


Can your Apple Watch detect Covid-19?

BY Fast Company South Africa < 1 MINUTE READ

Apple has launched a study into whether its Apple Watch can can be used to detect COVID-19.

The tech giant has joined forces with the University of Washington and the Seattle Flu Study for the purposes of the investigation.

The company first announced plans to stage the study in September last year, but Apple has only just launched the research, as it seeks to establish whether the Apple Watch can be used to detect various respiratory illnesses.

The study is expected to take up to six months to complete and enrolment for the research is now open to people who are 22 or older and living in the greater Seattle area.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, the NHS contact tracing app for COVID-19 was been blocked for breaking the terms of an agreement made with Apple and Google.

An update to the app – which allows users to check-in to locations, such as pubs and hairdressers, in order to be notified about possible exposure to COVID-19 – saw the app banned on the iOS and Google Play app stores for breaching the terms of a privacy agreement.

The plan had been to ask users to upload logs of venue check-ins if they tested positive for the virus so that they could be used to warn others, but both Apple and Google had explicitly banned such a function from the launch of the app last year.

Under the terms that all health authorities signed up to in order to use Apple and Google’s privacy-centric contact-tracing tech, they had to agree not to collect any location data via the software.


Article originally published on iol.co.za

Vaccine passports: Is SA ready for a Covid-19 dompas?

BY Fast Company South Africa 3 MINUTE READ

When South Africa finally goes full steam with the vaccination process, the next big thing will be whether to implement a vaccine passport.

A vaccine passport is a certification of either vaccination status or immunity following a natural infection that confirms you no longer pose a risk to others.

This is happening in Israel. A “Green Pass” is available to anyone who has been fully vaccinated or has recovered from Covid-19. They have to show it to access facilities such as hotels, gyms or theatres. It is available as a paper certificate or in an app, which links users to their health ministry data.

The app is opening opportunities for international travel. Israel has struck deals with Greece and Cyprus, so Israeli citizens with passes can travel to those two countries. Experts have however expressed privacy concerns over the smartphone app. Estonia, one of the world’s most advanced digital societies, is planning to start issuing digital certificates (also referred to as vaccine passports) in the form of a QR code, showing proof of vaccination by the end of April. Individuals will be able to download their unique code to prove they have been vaccinated and show how many doses they have received. They can either print it off or store it on a smartphone.

South Africa is far from implementing such a passport. Given a growing debate about the adoption of such passports across the globe, it might be wise for South Africa to start thinking about whether such passports should be used for Covid-19 and also what it would mean to implement such a digital certificate or passport.

If the decision is to use them, considerations should include where the data will be held, how the frameworks will be built to protect it, and the form of technology app or paper to be used. This should receive serious attention, focusing on whether Covid19 passport will endanger privacy, exacerbate inequity or even create a two-tiered society.

There’s a need to start thinking about this now. Vaccine passports are attracting Big Tech to create solutions. IBM’s Excelsior Pass is an app that draws on the state’s registry to verify vaccination status for people who want to attend events for which the state has set capacity limitations.

Another involved tech organisation is PanaBIOS which is built by African technologists and AI thinkers to provide bio-surveillance and bio-screening technology, data, and insights to enable the creation of Public Health Corridors within the broader AU Open Corridors Initiative.

In the US, Microsoft is involved in the Vaccination Credential Initiative.

Assuming there will be vaccine passports, there’s a need for vigilance. There’s no better time to start preparing for such digital certificates by ensuring that when they are implemented there’s societal consensus and that there is no violation of privacy principles in the long run.

As the technology world and health converge there’s a need to ensure that the custodians of health data have the best interest of society at heart as opposed to profit.

Covid-19 is shifting the health sector to use technology.

Users of such health technologies should have peace of mind that when they use such technologies, they will not regret using them in the future.

It is the responsibility of regulators to ensure that when health technologies are implemented there will be no harm to society in whatever form.

AUTHOR: Wesley Diphoko, Editor-in-Chief Fast Company SA.

WATCH: Most Innovative Companies Awards + Winners 2021

BY Fast Company South Africa < 1 MINUTE READ

On Wednesday 14 April 2021, Fast Company SA hosted the annual Most Innovative Companies Awards ceremony. This time, the event went virtual, showcasing a short film and online event to honour the Top 25 Most Innovative Companies in South Africa. 

In recognition of the disruption and upheaval on businesses within the past year, the MIC Awards honoured those companies that used innovation and determination to overcome Covid-19 disruptions and skills challenges.

The event also featured insightful conversations with thought leaders including CEO of Discovery South Africa, Adrian Gore, who let us in on the conception behind Discovery’s innovative new digital bank, as well as Sumarie Roodt from Silicon Cape, and Dr Mclean Sibanda, former CEO of Innovation Hub.

Thank you to our sponsor, AYO Technology Solutions for their support and not only helping us get this prestigious event off the ground, but making into the success that it was.

See below for the full list of winners:

25. Dropp
24. espAfrika
23. Livestock Wealth
22. Technovera (Pelebox)
21. Spinach King
20. Valenture Institute
19. Yuppie Chef
18. Zulzi
17. Sweep South
16. Sea Monster
15. South Africa Makes
14. Rhino Modified Wood
13. Juta & Co
12. Deaf Touch
11. Smart Wage
10. ChowBot
9. Wonder Bag
8. Sorted
7. Made In Workshop
6. SendMarc

3.Hypernova Space Technologies

Don’t forget to grab your copy of the latest Fast Company magazine available at all Exclusive Books stores to read more about our 2021 Most Innovative Companies. Click on the link to watch the video of the virtual ceremony.


Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies Awards 2021

BY Fast Company South Africa 2 MINUTE READ

Nominations for the 2021 Fast Company (SA) Most Innovative Companies Awards are in and have officially closed. Excitement for the event is mounting, as the team now reviews all the entrants and decides which companies are deserving of the prestigious MIC awards. 

Since 2008, Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies edition has been the definitive source for recognising the organisations that are transforming industries and shaping societies. 

In 2020, Fast Company South Africa recognised more than 30 organisations in South Africa with this prestigious honour.

This year, Fast Company has taken its Most Innovative Companies edition a giant leap forward, introducing a virtual and hybrid awards session to coincide with the publication of its Most Innovative Companies magazine.

The virtual session will bring together South African innovators and innovative companies under one virtual roof to map out how innovation can enable South Africa to build a new economy.

The conference will serve as a platform for companies to share how their innovative solutions can enable the new normal. The Fast Company community in South Africa will also get an opportunity to listen and watch some of the countries leading innovators sharing their thinking behind some of SA’s latest innovations.

The virtual awards session will celebrate the cream of the crop of companies innovating across a range of sectors. Twenty-five finalists will be chosen from the nominations and five companies will be awarded as the most innovative. 

Whether you’re a fintech institution that’s developed an easy, cashless way to pay, an app development company that’s introduced an innovative solution to a common challenge, or a start-up trying to make life a little easier for South Africans, companies from all sectors are up for the prize.

To find out more about the inaugural conference and awards gala, visit the Fast Company (SA) website here

The event will take place virtually on 14 April 2021. Keep an eye out on our website and social media for notices about speakers, judges, prizes, ticket information, and more. 


This tech startup has found a way to make peanuts less dangerous – and gluten-free bread more tasty

BY Fast Company South Africa 2 MINUTE READ

No one likes gluten-free bread. It often feels stale or is too cracker-like. People will make do with gluten-free baked goods if they must, but the springiness of wheat is sorely absent.

“It’s never as crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside as regular bread,” says Anat Binur, CEO and founder of a startup called Ukko. The company is working on non-allergenic wheat for those with wheat allergies, gluten intolerances, or celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes gluten to wreak havoc on the small intestine. It wants to create a bevy of foods that anyone can eat—and enjoy—regardless of allergies.

Ukko is also working on a line of therapeutics that will help people get over food sensitivities, including the 6.1 million Americans who are allergic to peanuts. The startup recently raised $40 million. Bayer’s venture capital arm led the round.

While celiac disease affects only 1% of the U.S. population, a growing number of people are affected by non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that roughly 1 in 13 kids have some kind of food allergy.

Ukko is the Finnish god of thunder. He is believed to control rainfall and good harvest. The name gives the company the crunchy flair of The Moosewood Cookbook, but the work it’s doing is very much of the future. Ukko, the company, uses artificial intelligence to figure out which proteins in gluten are triggering the immune system. Then it uses CRISPR Cas-9, a genetic editing technique, to remove the problem.

“We will end up having a gluten that is functional and wonderful, but doesn’t trigger the immune system,” says Binur.

The idea of editing out problematic proteins in foods is still new. Researchers at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands first started publishing on the concept in 2019. The scientists removed an entire family of proteins in order to prevent allergic reaction. They also laid out methods for testing whether the edited wheat truly is safe for people with celiac disease. Binur says Ukko’s approach is different in that it’s excising out a much smaller target.
The company also wants to extend this concept into the world of therapeutics. The main method for treating a peanut allergy, aside from avoidance, is to introduce tiny amounts of peanut into the diet and grow exposure over time. It essentially desensitizes the body to peanuts. Last year the Food and Drug Administration approved the first peanut allergy powder. Ukko wants to develop a similar therapeutic, but with the immune system offending protein edited out. The result would be a peanut allergy pill that has much lower risk of causing an allergic reaction.
Article originally published on fastcompany.com.

WhatsApp has added a new security feature which they claim protects your messages a little more

BY Fast Company South Africa 2 MINUTE READ

The beleaguered WhatsApp has just debuted a new feature to its WhatsApp Web and Desktop apps that adds an extra layer of protection to your messages. WhatsApp Web and WhatsApp Desktop are the web-based and Mac and PC desktop apps that allow you to access your WhatsApp account on your computer instead of just your phone.

Both apps are handy as, if you’re having a long WhatsApp text conversation, it’s generally much easier to type it out using your computer’s keyboard than your smartphone’s touch screen. In order for a user to link their WhatsApp account from their mobile app to the web or desktop apps, they have previously only had to scan a QR code via the WhatsApp mobile app.

The drawback to this has always been that anyone with access to your mobile phone (such as someone in your house or workplace) could sync all your WhatsApp messages to the WhatsApp Web and Desktop apps on their own computer. But not anymore. That’s because WhatsApp has announced it’s added a new security feature that will require biometric authentication from the user when setting up a new web or desktop sync.

Now when you sync your WhatsApp mobile app with the desktop or web app you’ll be asked to authenticate with the biometrics built into your smartphone (such as Face ID on an iPhone or a fingerprint on your Android device) before being allowed to scan the QR code linking your device. As WhatsApp notes, “this will limit the chance that a housemate or officemate (when we have those again) can link devices to your WhatsApp account without you.”

While not a major new feature, it’s a nice extra layer of security to keep your messages that much safer. If you’ve never used WhatsApp desktop sync capabilities before, you can follow WhatsApp’s full instructions to set the feature up.

Article originally published on fastcompany.com.


Researchers have found these 5 expressions make your email sound whiny

BY Fast Company South Africa 3 MINUTE READ

No one likes a downer–especially not by email, a format that makes people feel disconnected from each other to begin with. Whether you’re communicating with a boss, a colleague, or a customer, it’s always wise to be positive. Most people know that. But our heads are often full of thoughts, worries, and concerns at work, which makes it easy to inadvertently express those things, particularly when you’re dashing off an email on the fly.

In fact, researchers have found that we’re actually primed to read emails more negatively than they’re meant, so chances are yours sound whinier than you intended. The good news? All it takes is pruning out these five expressions to instantly improve the tone of your emails.

Avoid this phrase at all costs. There are times when it’s tempting to write, “I’m afraid we have chosen another candidate for the job,” or, “I’m afraid your work has not been at the level I’ve expected.” After all, you’re just trying to warn the other person before you give unpleasant news. But those words have an emotional undercurrent. Instead of softening the blow, they actually make it sound worse.

It’s always better to present the facts in a straightforward way. Simply write, “We have chosen another candidate” or, “Your work has not been at the level I would have expected.” The person you’re writing to will be less likely to react emotionally and more likely to discuss the situation objectively.

This word signals a sense of regret or apology. For example: “Unfortunately, I cannot be your keynote speaker,” or, “Unfortunately, our meeting has to be rescheduled since I have another commitment.” Just like “I’m afraid,” this phrase injects an unnecessary negative emotion that makes the situation appear worse than it really is.

Why not use a positive? In the first example, you might write, “I’m delighted that you invited me to be your keynote speaker. I’ll be in Mexico that month but would love to speak another time.” Or in the second example, say, “I’ll need to change the timing of our meeting. If 2 p.m. works for you, that would be great for me as well.” These responses are reinforcing, rather than filled with regret.

This is the “cover your butt” response to a problem. It’s defensive, suggesting that the writer takes no responsibility for what’s happened. You can bet that your recipient will react irritably.

Never write an email phrased to prove you didn’t do anything wrong; prove you can get it right. This means showing the recipient what you’ll do for them, how you can solve a problem, when they can expect things to be fixed. Remember: It’s not about you; it’s about the person receiving your message.

This expression is like a rap on the knuckles for an infraction. A manager might tell a staff member, “It concerns me that you can’t get along with your teammates.” Worse, it actually conveys two layers of criticism: Not only is the employee’s action wrong, but the boss is upset by it.

It’s always better to avoid this emotional overload–especially by email. Instead, just write, “I’ve observed that you have some challenges interacting with your teammates.” This is an open-ended message that invites a discussion, rather than a conflict.

Many people use this expression at the end of their emails. I’ve asked people why, and most of the time their answer is, “It sounds polite.” The problem is that it smacks of uncertainty. When I read an email that concludes with, “if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me,” I immediately think, “What question do I have?” or, “What question should I have?” Not only do I wonder if something is missing, but it makes me think that the writer isn’t sure of themselves, either.

Instead, close with the more positive, “I suggest we proceed with the project,” “I’ll look forward to your agreement,” or “I’ll set up the schedule for our work together.” These “presumptive closings” clear the way for your views to be well-received and the recipient to follow your recommendations.

For every negative expression, there’s a positive one that will do a better job. So do one final check to make sure that these whiny phrases are nowhere to be found before hitting “send.”


Article originally fastcompany.com

Scientists have figured out a way to produce lab-grown furniture and help reduce deforestation

BY Fast Company South Africa 2 MINUTE READ

Scientists have already figured out how to grow meat in a lab, nurturing animal cells to multiply into chicken cutlets and burger patties. Now, MIT researchers are hoping to do the same with wood, to quickly produce in a lab what would take decades to grow in nature. From there, they could even coax wood tissue to grow into fully-formed shapes—like, say, a table—in order to mitigate the environmental harm of the logging and construction industries

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the researchers detail how they grew wood-like plant tissue from cells extracted from the leaves of a zinnia plant, without soil or sunlight. “The plant cells are similar to stem cells,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories and co-author of the paper. “They have the potential to be many things.”

With the ability to “tune” the plant cells into whatever shape they decide, Ashley Beckwith, mechanical engineering PhD student and the paper’s lead author, says they could use this process to grow more efficient materials. “Trees grow in tall cylindrical poles, and we rarely use tall cylindrical poles in industrial applications,” she says. “So you end up shaving off a bunch of material that you spent 20 years growing and that ends up being a waste product.” Instead, their idea is to grow structures that are more practical, like rectangular boards or eventually an entire table that doesn’t need to be assembled, which would reduce waste and potentially let land currently used for logging instead be preserved as forest.

The idea is similar to lab-grown meat (which is also called cell-cultured meat) in that the researchers are producing isolated tissues without having to grow the whole plant, just like cell-cultured meat eliminates the need to raise an entire animal. But plant cell cultures are easier to grow than animal cell cultures, Beckwith says, meaning lab-grown wood or wood products could become cost-competitive more quickly. Velásquez-García doesn’t see this process being used to grow food crops, which could also make its commercial adoption quicker since it won’t need to undergo as strict quality controls. Instead, he sees it as a solution to manufacturing everything from furniture to fibers for clothing.

The work is still in its very early stages, the researchers say. No one’s yet looking to buy a table made of zinnia. But by successfully growing those cells, they say they’ve provided a starting point to a new way of producing biomaterials. It’s a process that eventually could help accelerate our shift away from plastics and other materials that end up in landfill toward materials that can biodegrade. Velásquez-García points to a Japanese startup building satellites from wood as an example. “Any product should really contemplate how it’s going to go back to the Earth,” he says. “All these technologies, like the one we’re reporting in our paper, are a step in the right direction.”


Article originally published on fastcompany.com