09.21.21

Dear President Ramaphosa: This is what SA Startups want

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

A group of well-meaning and hard-working South Africans are working around the clock to make life easier for South African startups by developing a Startup Act.

They include SiMODiSA (Secretariat), i4 Policy, Endeavor South Africa, Silicon

Cape, SAVCA, Loud Hailer and The Digital Collective Africa. Earlier this week they released a white paper which contains elements of the proposed act. The proposed act is a form of an invitation to South Africans to have their say about what can be done to enable local startups to grow without current hurdles.

What is contained in this proposed act is ideal and not so ideal depending on who you are and your background. It is ideal in the sense that it seeks to create a common and legal definition of high-growth enterprises, relevant to delivering high-growth impact. This includes the need to formulate and articulate the following foundations from which to support and grow the SA start-up ecosystem:

i. Legal definitions for start-ups, start-up ecosystem, and high-growth enterprises;

ii. Labelling (to distinguish from other labels such as small enterprises, tech(nology) enterprises, SMEs, entrepreneurial businesses and many others);

iii. Harmonisation of policies and acts that have a direct bearing on start-ups; and

iv. Outline specific interventions that are needed to support qualifying start-ups with the potential to become high-growth firms.

This is important partly because in South Africa these terms have been confused, in other words, there’s a difference between a business selling sweets on the side of the street and a business developing software that can be deployed across the world for maximum impact and potential investments.

It is also ideal in the sense that it seeks to enable startups to have better access to finance by calling for tax breaks and incentives to encourage investment in qualifying Start-ups. Anyone who knows the struggle of accessing finance in South Africa will have no challenge understanding the need for such an intervention.

The same proposed act is also not ideal for two reasons. One, it calls for special treatment to enable a more flexible employment regime that underpins the ability to appoint and dismiss without fear of CCMA penalties and pro-labour rulings, if such appointments are made by a qualifying start-up.

Any startup employee with an experience of being fired by a startup will understand the implications of this proposal. In the startup world there are stories of founders who check their spreadsheets on Fridays and if they foresee payroll challenges they don’t waste time firing staff by Monday.

Two, it calls for automatic relaxation in the extent of BBBEE scrutiny

for the purposes of procurement and supply chain grading, enabling quicker access to the supply chains of Corporate South Africa and the public sector. In other words, it is calling for startups to be exempted from BBB-EE. The proposed act goes on to indicate that the benefit for startups will include radically

increasing the opportunities for market access, without the restraints and costs intrinsic to obtaining and maintaining BBBEE points and schemes, as well as enabling capital raising from offshore investors without risking the loss of BBB-EE status when local equity is taken up by non-South African investors.

Anyone who understands the current startup ecosystem in South Africa which is mainly dominated by one group of privileged South Africans will appreciate the need for BBBEE in this sector.

There’s no doubt that startups are key for the future of South African economy. The proposed act makes this point clear by highlighting the fact that there is growing awareness that there is a subset of firms in the economy—high-growth firms (HGFs)—that contribute disproportionately to net employment growth. These firms also contribute disproportionately to innovation and productivity growth. HGFs are broadly defined as the fastest growing firms in the economy and have been found to be responsible for a disproportionate contribution to net employment growth in developed countries . HGFs are the most productive and innovative firms in their industries and consistently create a disproportionately large share of new jobs at any given point in time across different countries.

This startup impact on society should however not exempt them from forming part of solving local economic challenges related to unfair employment practices and economic exclusion of some members of society. The startup community should appreciate the fact that diversity is key to the advancement of economies. Caring for employees and treating employees as partners in the process of building a startup should be seen as value-adding instead of a burden.

As the startup community engages in the next stages of this process may it result in an intervention that will lead to an inclusive and caring economy for South Africa.

09.16.21

Here’s what the SA Startup community wants – Proposed SA Startup Act

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

A call by startups to the President to unleash the growth and innovation inherent in the country’s entrepreneurs and youth.

Today the startup ecosystem stakeholders are unveiling the latest findings and plans towards the development of a proposed South African Startup Act – a call to the President to unleash the growth and innovation inherent in the country’s entrepreneurs and youth. These findings, gathered over the past six months via desktop research, focus groups and research contributed by the World Bank (one of the main sponsors of the research), provide a holistic overview of the problems affecting the ability of startups to establish, grow and scale in South Africa.

The findings, which have been collated into a position paper, suggest that innovation-driven start-ups with a turnover of less than R100 million be exempted from the limitations of existing policies and the red-tape that constrains their growth as well as their ability to contribute to job creation. Doing so will accelerate the socio and economic spill over of such startups to the rest of South Africa.

“The vast majority of new small and micro business enterprises that exist beyond the first three years of operations do not grow. Rather, it is the remaining balance comprised of a tiny portion of startups that are responsible for creating a disproportionate number of jobs[i]. Such firms, with their high-growth potential, are the intended beneficiaries of the proposed South African Startup Act,” explains Stephan J Lamprecht, Founder of VS Nova, a Southern African-based management consultancy that has been appointed by the SA Startup Act Steering Committee to provide research and advisory services. The Steering Committee is comprised of representatives from Digital Collective Africa, Endeavor South Africa, i4Policy, Loudhailer, the Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA), Silicon Cape, SiMODiSA, and Wesgro.

Proposed interventions contained in the position paper are premised on the finding that immediate benefits can accrue to job creation, economic transformation and the competitiveness of the South African economy – all mainstays of the National Development Plan (NDP) – if barriers limiting the creation and impact of startups are removed. The findings advocate for a number of relaxations to current legislation and policies impacting on the growth of, and investment into startups, including exchange controls and Capital Gains Tax. Other relaxations include simplifying procurement policies with which to scale up the involvement of startups in the national economy; direct funding of startup businesses through automatic reinvestment of PAYE and VAT; and easing of labour and immigration laws to foster the availability of and access to talent. The findings also support the introduction of incentives to stimulate capital contributions from early-stage funding entities.

Lamprecht explains that between 2013 and 2019, the contribution of small businesses to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by almost 40%[ii], eating into the share from large business, which has waned by 9% over the same period. “While the South African startup ecosystem is clearly growing and increasingly contributing to GDP, recent events in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are a stark reminder that the country is at a critical crossroad in so far as socio and economic policy, with national unemployment and the impact of COVID-19 laying bare the failures of not attaining the objectives outlined in the NDP. By remaining slaves to a resource-driven economy, and negating the opportunities embedded in our burgeoning services sectors, South Africa is missing out on the benefits to its economy from startups. The country can ill afford to wait patiently for the eventual trickling down effects from current levels of entrepreneurial activity, especially if these are reduced to organic growth at best. Other African countries such as Tunisia, Senegal and Ghana are prioritising the participation of startups in their economies by introducing Startup Acts, so why shouldn’t South Africa?”

The South African Startup Act sets out to enable economic policy through an amendment or a standalone act. In addition to radically increasing the contribution to and impact on the national GDP by startups, the Act seeks to address the growth objectives outlined in the NDP. It also strives to leverage and grow the existing ecosystem so that more South African startups can become successful locally and globally. And to do this in a way that South African talented youth and entrepreneurs won’t have to relinquish their country ties as a consequence of experiencing startup growth and success.

SiMODISA Vice Chairperson and South African Startup Act Steering Committee chairperson, Matsi Modise, concludes by saying that by removing the constraints that come with operating a South African startup business, the Act will maximise the value and impact of South Africa’s startups and successful entrepreneurs for the benefit of the country and her people. “Ultimately, it is for South Africa, by South Africans.”

The virtual event explores the proposed interventions and attempt to answer questions such as whether it will take too long to introduce a new Act, how much it will possibly cost, and whether Treasury will allow it. To register for the virtual event, go to: https://bit.ly/SAStartupAct

For more information, go to https://startupact.org.za.

You can view/download the positioning paper here: https://we.tl/t-8SspkRfHHs.

09.12.21

How South Africa is Fighting Online Misinformation

BY Wesley Diphoko 4 MINUTE READ

When social media and some online tools were introduced to society they were hailed as tools that would connect people, enable freedom of speech and facilitate better access to information. Although some of the good things are achieved through online tools we are also witnessing the spread of misinformation. Many will remember Bell Pottinger and how it used social media to spread misinformation. Currently, we are witnessing the spread of misinformation around vaccines. We are also likely to see more misinformation as South Africa enters the election season. These factors have given rise to online misinformation fighters. Earlier this month Phumzile Van Damme, former member of Parliament and member of the Democratic Alliance together with other organisations kickstarted a Local Government Election Anti-Disinformation Project. The organisers indicated that their effort is a collaborative project against disinformation and misinformation. The project’s partners are: Phumzile Van Damme, Right2Know, Code For Africa,Superlinear, Dr David Rosenstein and WITNESS. They also indicated that their project will focus on Disinformation monitoring and combatting, focusing on online political discourse, messaging emanating from political parties and government, advocacy focusing on Big Tech, PR firms and the use of video technology to expose human rights abuses and combat disinformation, behavioural science aimed at understanding the believability of disinformation in South Africa.

Phumzile Van Damme is no stranger to the fight against misinformation, her efforts contributed in bringing down the world renowned Bell Pottinger. She is not alone in her efforts to fight misinformation. Another significant player in this fight is an entity that is incubated within the University of Cape Town Alan Gray Centre for Values Leadership, the Centre for Analytics & Behavioural Change. The alarming increase in fake news, hate speech, mis-and-disinformation campaigns, trolling and all other negative influences designed to confuse, distract, and divide society led to the founding of the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC). According to its co-founder Stuart Jones the centre has about 40 team members who consist of journalists, academics, psychologists, criminologists and sustainability experts. The centre is backed and funded by the Millenium Trust which is also a funder of many organisations that have been involved in South African societal issues. These organisations include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, AmaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism,Daily Maverick,Centre for the Advancement of the Constitution, Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law and others.

The Millenium Trust was established in 2010 by the Capitec founder, Dr Michiel Le Roux. He established the Millenium Trust with an aim of dealing with some of South Africa’s pressing issues. The trust has done this by supporting the organisations mentioned above including the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change.

The centre seeks to use technological and social science means to address the misinformation challenge. The picture that seems to emerge is that the misinformation challenge in South Africa is attracting very influential people and organisations to deal with it. Phumzile Van Damme left her parliamentary seat to focus on this issue. What seems to be a significant amount of money and the size of resources deployed by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change also seems to indicate that this is receiving the serious attention it deserves.

The fight against misinformation will not be an easy one. According to Phumzile Van Damme when she tried to get Facebook to account for misininformation to the South African parliament she was blocked by both her former political party leaders and also somehow an organisation that lobbies for Facebook. It’s also a fight that will also require a significant amount of money which is probably part of the reason why a trust with the backing of one of the richest South Africans, Michiel Le Roux, is also backing this fight.

When one considers the effects of misinformation, think vaccine hesitancy and recent unrests, there’s no doubt that there’s a need to fight misinformation with the every ammunition available. One of the tools that will be used in this fight is fact checking. Global experience has proven that fact-checking can be a powerful tool in the fight against online falsehood. It is also important to understand that it can be used as a means of censorship if not only facts but also opinions and narratives are checked.

Used correctly, fact-checking contests falsehoods in ways that complement free speech. But free speech is about letting people be wrong as well as right. There’s a need to limit the checking to facts, which is tricky enough, and not opinions that the checkers don’t happen to like.

When it comes to partisan fact-checking about complex issues—which describes much of the fact-checking that takes place in the context of political news—the truth as stated is often the subjective opinion of people with shared political views. This is something that South African misinformation fighters will have to guard against. It’s very easy to bring together people with the same worldview on these matters and also get backers who share an identical worldview. This leads to bias in how the fact checking process is undertaken and can raise questions about the real motive of misinformation projects.

One path to a solution is “adversarial fact-checking.” Fact-checking is often done by teams of two or more journalists rather than by a single person. It may be ideal that political, health and others claims continue to be aggressively fact-checked, but by teams of individuals with diverse sociopolitical and diverse views; for example, by pairing fact-checkers from entities with different world views. This would add little, if any, cost. The misinformation fighting community should abandon fact-checkers’ pretext of objectivity and political disinterest and instead acknowledge and declare their socio political leanings. This will be important especially now that part of the focus will be on factchecking election information.Research underscores that fact-checkers’ personal biases influence both their choice of which statements to analyze and their determination of accuracy. Let diverse fact-checkers work as members of an adversarial team, much like two sides in arbitration. Fact-checkers are human beings who live in the real world, rather than in a sociopolitical monastery. There’s a need to abandon the pretense of objectivity and design a system of adversarial fact-checking that places the evidence for competing claims front and centre.

When adversarial fact-checking leads to unresolvable disagreements among team members, readers will be better able to judge how persuasive each side’s argument is and arrive at a more informed conclusion than they would if only one side’s evidence is presented. The misinformation fighters are on the right track, to win they will need more resources and support not just from single entities who share their worldview but from a diverse pool of support and neutral entities. In the long run society will need an artificial intelligence tool built by a diverse community to fact check the pool of information in society.

Wesley Diphoko

08.31.21

People are faking vaccine cards, do we need a digital vaccine card?

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

As the COVID-19 delta variant spreads and the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down, experts say that people across the world are now having an easier time getting around restrictions related to vaccination status – by purchasing fake vaccine cards online. As more and more South Africans get vaccinated and facilities mandate vaccines for entry, fake vaccine cards are likely to become a challenge going forward.

Some parts of the world, like New York and California, have introduced their own digital vaccine cards. The South Korean tech company, Samsung, has come up with their own solution for this challenge. Samsung devices that support Samsung Pay can now (in the US) store digital versions of users’ COVID-19 vaccination cards, through a partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, the smartphone company announced.

Users have to first download the free CommonHealth app from the Google Play store and follow the instructions to access their COVID-19 vaccine record, from participating pharmacies, health systems, and health providers (not all providers are connected to the system yet). Once the user has access to their COVID-19 credential within the CommonHealth app, they can add it to their Samsung Pay wallet. The Covid-19 Vaccine Pass will then be available on the Samsung Pay app home page.

In June, Google announced that it had developed similar technology for all updated Android phones and that it was seeking vaccination providers. And Apple has said the iPhone’s next operating system, iOS 15, will offer a similar feature when it is released later this year.

The next stage in this process may be to get restaurants, schools, offices, or other places that may require proof of vaccination, to accept these electronic versions.

In the US, the electronic COVID vaccine card has been a bit slow to catch on, but there’s been some progress. In June, Google opened up Android’s built-in passes system to let Android users store a digital vaccine card, on their phones. Available first in the US, it will rely on support from healthcare providers, or other organizations authorized to distribute COVID vaccines.

Concerns have also been raised about privacy and securing health data once digital vaccine cards are adopted. This concern has fuelled the preference for cardboard vaccine cards. Currently it seems there’s a need for more innovation with vaccine cards to avoid fakes and violation of privacy and possibly manipulation of vaccine status online.

A better quality vaccine card with digital elements may be a safer compromise than cardboard cards and complete digital versions. Innovators in South Africa should take on this challenge and potentially develop the next version of digital health records.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief: FastCompany (SA) magazine

08.23.21

Samsung develops a digital vaccine card solution

BY Wesley Diphoko < 1 MINUTE READ

All vaccinated people are getting a cardboard card that contains information about their vaccination status. Problem is, in some parts of the world there are concerns that these cards may be faked. The South Korean tech company, Samsung, has come up with a solution for this challenge. Samsung devices that support Samsung Pay can now (in the US) store digital versions of users’ COVID-19 vaccination cards, through a partnership with healthcare nonprofit The Commons Project, the smartphone company announced..

Users have to first download the free CommonHealth app from the Google Play store and follow the instructions to access their COVID-19 vaccine record, from participating pharmacies, health systems, and health providers (not all providers are connected to the system yet). Once the user has access to their COVID-19 credential within the CommonHealth app, they can add it to their Samsung Pay wallet. The Covid-19 Vaccine Pass will then be available on the Samsung Pay app home page.

The next stage in this process may be to get restaurants, schools, offices, or other places that may require proof of vaccination, to accept these electronic versions.

In the US, the electronic COVID vaccine card has been a bit slow to catch on, but there’s been some progress. In June, Google opened up Android’s built-in passes system to let Android users store a digital vaccine card, on their phones. Available first in the US, it will rely on support from healthcare providers, or other organizations authorized to distribute COVID vaccines. And some states, like New York and California, have introduced their own digital vaccine cards. Is time for South Africa to start thinking about e-version of vaccine cards?

08.16.21

To Do List for SA Tech Minister

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

 

The Communications and Digital Technologies ministry is one of those that has been less fortunate in getting a Minister with the necessary industry experience.

Now for the first time, someone who has a professional background in working with technology has been appointed to serve as the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies. Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni will serve as the 15th Minister in a department that has numerous difficulties. Ntshavheni served as the municipal manager of Ba-Phalaborwa municipality in Limpopo, a position that she held from April 2008 until November 2010. She is also a previous tourism manager for trade & investment in Limpopo. She served as spokeswoman to the premier of Limpopo and had lectured at Unisa. It is her experience of working as the Chief Information Officer for the local government and housing departments in Limpopo and her role as the Chief Operating Officer at the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) that will serve as her most important weapon in the department that requires someone who understands technology.

She has an important task of leading spectrum allocation, sorting out the Post Office mess, and taking the SABC to new heights. She has an opportunity to make an impact in the South African ICT landscape. To make a dent in the universe she will have to go where no other minister has been before. She joins the Comms & Digital Tech ministry at a time when South Africa needs digital transformation. The pandemic as well as the emergence of the 4th industrial revolution requires a digital response that has never been seen before. South Africa will have to, for the first time, create a new entity to respond to new technological changes. SABC, SA Post Office as well as Telkom are dinosaurs of the past. This is not to say they are no longer relevant, they however need a counterpart to take them into the 4th industrial revolution.

Ntshavheni can make a significant impact by creating a National Data entity to unlock innovation and enable the digital economy.

South African tech startups and the economy, in general, need an entity that can provide quality data (in the form of information) to build new products and services.

In the same way that Eskom provided electricity to power previous industrial revolutions, SA needs another entity to power the new industrial revolution in the form of data.

South Africa can develop a trillion-dollar industry by making it easy for companies to access data and APIs to develop new companies. Various economic sectors in South Africa produce troves of data that can be harnessed to enable new companies.

As someone who worked at the State Information Technology Agency, Ntshavheni knows what it takes to develop technology systems that can serve the nation and economy.

In her list of priorities, however, the data policy should be on top. It would be unwise for South Africa to pursue the 4th industrial revolution goals without a clear legal framework to provide a national direction. Lastly, South Africa needs a national portal and an app to enable citizens to access government services from the comfort of their homes and without waiting in long queues.

It is one thing for each department to have their own digital platform, it is something else to integrate them (sitting on different databases) and enable ease of access. SA should learn from Estonia and its approach to eCitizenry. Estonia has built an efficient, secure, and transparent ecosystem where 99% of governmental services are online. It is no surprise then that Estonians have designed numerous digital solutions to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Estonia has experienced the transformative power of digital development over the last 30 years since restoring its independence in 1991. Estonia has shared the benefits of an e-society and lessons learned with many other countries around the world. Digitalisation has served as an equaliser within the country as well as in international competition as it makes countries more efficient.

Minister Ntshavheni can become the first Minister to make the necessary impact in the Comms and Digital Tech ministry and use technology to enable a better life for all.

Her ministry is one of the few that can contribute to the economy by enabling the digital economy to thrive by unlocking data and innovation to make South Africa a digital nation.

Wesley Diphoko – is the Editor-In-Chief of the Fast Company (SA) magazine.

08.13.21

METAVERSE: How Zuckerberg is planning to rule the world

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Several upper-echelon tech companies announced earnings recently, including Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. They all have some things in common. They’re all making lots of money: Each benefited because they are mainly digital companies, well positioned to profit from the increased time we spent within digital spaces during the pandemic. And they all have a stake in something called the “metaverse.”

What’s that? The metaverse is a sort of shared digital reality experienced within the lenses of augmented reality glasses or within the sealed-in space of virtual reality headgear—a digital world where you can work, play, and socialize. (The term comes from the Neal Stephenson sci-fi novel Snow Crash.)

The tech company talking the loudest about the metaverse lately is Facebook. In an interview with The Verge’s Casey Newton, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said this: “I think over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of our company, I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

Facebook believes its users will eventually experience the social network not on a smartphone screen but superimposed over the real world they see through the AR glasses. The company is now exploring how to create a map of the real world so that this digital, social layer can be put over it, with certain digital items anchored to certain physical places. In one use case the glasses may superimpose around the head of a person approaching in the real world that person’s social information such as name, city, relationship status, interests, and message history. Virtual meetings between avatars can happen within real-world spaces. Cameras within the glasses will detect where the user’s eyes are moving.

The idea that Facebook might be moving in this direction is far from new: But one of the advantages of Zuckerberg talking up the metaverse now is that it gives us more time to fully process all the negative repercussions if Facebook were to play as big a role as it does in today’s online social spaces.

As more people spend even more time in digital space, what’s to stop Facebook from capturing them? Despite the arguments of Facebook’s lawyers, the company faces little real competition as an all-purpose social network. It’s worth paying attention when a company as big, rich, and ambitious as Facebook is talking about creating an alternate, digital universe. Building a successful metaverse might deliver Facebook from an old conundrum: Its reliance on Apple’s and Google’s app stores and smartphone operating systems. Such a platform could also put Facebook in a position to access unprecedented levels of personal information about its users, and about people its users encounter in the real world.

Who knows what consumers will ultimately accept, but some very big companies (including Facebook) are betting big money that some flavor of mixed-reality glasses will be our next big personal computing platform. Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and numerous smaller players are putting increasing numbers of people behind overcoming the technical hurdles preventing the creation of a pair of AR glasses that are small and light enough for all-day wear.

The quality of mixed-reality content, and how well it’s integrated around and within the real world in front of our eyes, may determine whether people eventually adopt it. If it’s done artfully, the little displays within the glasses might become our main computing environment. We’d no longer have to keep our noses in our smartphone screens, which would be nice, but at the same time the canvas of software makers and platform operators would become far bigger. The user interface would overlay most of the world in front of our eyes. It would be far more immersive, and could easily take up even more of our attention. The technology would grow closer—potentially in a far better position to mediate our experiences and know things about us. We’d need to trust it.

That’s why Facebook is the wrong company to operate this computing platform. Within the metaverse, where user privacy could be greatly exposed, the company’s worst instincts might be magnified as it harvests user data and keeps the ad machine humming. In the metaverse there will be much more opportunity for commerce; users would have to trust Facebook not to clutter the world in front of them with flashing ads and offers of digital goods. There’d be more content to moderate, and Facebook would likely continue relying heavily on artificial intelligence to do it. There’d be new ways for content to go viral in a metaverse, and Facebook might continue to struggle as misinformation and disinformation proliferates.

If the next big personal computing platform turns out to be a metaverse within mixed-reality glasses, it could unleash all kinds of creativity and new experiences. Let us hope it also brings with it a totally new kind of social network—one that is far less centrally controlled, better moderated, not dependent on user surveillance, and less rewarding of misleading content.

FastCompany.com

07.20.21

Jeff Bezos first space trip a success

BY Wesley Diphoko < 1 MINUTE READ

Today the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, lifted off from a site in West Texas with three other people, fulfilling a key goal of his private rocket company. It was a brief jaunt — rising 60-some miles into the sky above West Texas — in a spacecraft that was built by Mr. Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin.

The booster landed vertically, similar to the reusable Falcon 9 booster of the rival spaceflight company SpaceX. The capsule then descended until it gently set down in a puff of dust.

Four people flew today on Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule, and while one of them,82-year-old Wally Funk is a pilot, her decades of experience was not required to fly the rocket.

That’s because New Shepard is fully autonomous. Blue Origin has spent the better part of the last decade running the suborbital New Shepard rocket through a series of successful test flights that have been fully automated and, thus far, carried no humans. Today’s flight marked the first time it carried people on board.

Mr. Bezos brought along his younger brother. Mark Bezos, 50, who has lived a more private life. He is a co-founder and general partner at HighPost Capital, a private equity firm. Mark Bezos previously worked as head of communications at the Robin Hood Foundation, a charity that aids anti-poverty efforts in New York City.

Another crew member was, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands who lucked into the flight when the winner of an auction for the fourth seat had to postpone.

07.19.21

What’s the point of the billionaires space race?

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The space race is no longer the same. The “space race” was a Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop aerospace capabilities, including artificial satellites, unmanned space probes, and human spaceflight. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 as the federal agency with primary responsibility for the development of civilian aerospace research. Early Soviet successes in the space race had a major impact on US society and culture, altering strategic defense doctrines and leading to new educational initiatives. The space race existed to marshal a sense of shared purpose (and also to make spy satellites). It gestured toward higher values that are nowhere to be found in the current billionaires’ space race. What was the point of the first billionaire (Sir Richard Branson) in space and what will be the meaning of the second billionaire (Jeff Bezos) in space?

Branson spent the money he earned off the labour of low-wage workers and became a winner in an extravagant pageant that’s designed less to inaugurate a new era of spaceflight than to drum up business for his other companies. Branson, like his would-be spacefaring competitors, isn’t an innovator; he’s a salesman. He is on a marketing campaign for the Virgin name to create an image of innovation and safety that will help his group of companies pick off a satellite launch contract or two that might have gone to SpaceX.

As for Jeff Bezos, next week, July 20, he will follow Branson with his own rocket.

Blue Origin will fly its 16th New Shepard flight to space and its first with astronauts on board. The launch will be broadcast live on BlueOrigin.com beginning at 6:30 am CDT / 11:30 UTC. Liftoff is currently targeted for 8:00 am CDT / 13:00 UTC. Blue Origin’s Launch Site One is in a remote location in the US, West Texas desert and there are no on-site public viewing areas in the vicinity of the launch site. The Texas Department of Transportation will be closing a portion of State Highway 54 adjacent to the launch site and will not allow spectators on the closed portion of the road during the launch.

Bezos and Branson are going to space at a time when our earthly inequities could not be more clear, the truth is that it is obscene to allow moguls to pour their untaxed billions, earned on the backs of precarious workers, into private ventures divorced from everyday concern or accountability. Branson’s suborbital space success has pleased a few investors, and even some industry rivals, the principal benefits will flow to him and few individuals. They say however part of the plan is to usher in the new space tourism industry. As a result, Bezos and his space company announced that Oliver Daemen will be the first paying customer to fly onboard Blue Origin (New Shepard), marking the beginning of commercial operations for the programme. He will join Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, and Wally Funk aboard the first human flight on July 20. At 18-years-old and 82-years-young, Oliver Daemen and Wally Funk represent the youngest and oldest astronauts to travel to space.

This is a big deal for Bezos and Blue Origin, which has yet to send any people into space. Climbing on board doesn’t only raise the profile of the trip–it also sends a vote of confidence that Bezos believes his company is at least on par with SpaceX, which has mostly led the private space industry.

The Elon Musk space company, SpaceX, is probably the only company that can claim the innovation prize amongst the three. Elon has humbly not tried to score brand points by trying to become the first person in space with his own rocket. He has however championed a few innovations in the space industry.

At face value, the space race by billionaires appears futile and a wasteful exercise as innovation often appears to be in the early days. History is littered with explorers and colonies that failed, the experimental technologies that blew up in the faces of their inventors. Every human alive today is the unlikely heir of adventurers who were willing to dare despite the odds. And every new breakthrough, from fire onward, was undoubtedly deprecated by neighbours who considered the thing a pointless waste. If humanity is eventually going to the stars, the kind of innovation currently being tested by the billionaires will be an essential part of how we’ll get there. Hopefully, the end goal is not just to boost companies of billionaires to earn more but the advancement of humanity.

07.08.21

Future VW cars to be powered and connected by HUAWEI

BY Wesley Diphoko < 1 MINUTE READ

Huawei announced it has reached a license agreement with a supplier of Volkswagen Group (“Volkswagen”). The agreement includes a license under Huawei’s 4G standard essential patents (SEPs), which covers Volkswagen vehicles equipped with wireless connectivity. This agreement marks Huawei’s largest licensing deal in the automotive industry.

Song Liuping, Chief Legal Officer of Huawei, says: “As an innovative company, we own a leading patent portfolio for wireless technologies, which creates great value for the automotive industry. We are pleased that key players from the automotive industry recognize that value. We believe this license will benefit worldwide consumers with our advanced technology.”

Huawei expects more than 30 million vehicles to be licensed under its patents based on existing license agreements.

Over the past 20 years, Huawei has entered into more than 100 patent license agreements with major global companies across Europe, the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Huawei will continue to bring digital connectivity to more vehicles globally to establish a fully connected, intelligent world.

Earlier this year, Huawei indicated that it will invest $1 billion in researching self-driving and electric-car technologies, accelerating plans to compete with Tesla Inc. and Xiaomi Corp. in the world’s biggest vehicle arena.

Huawei’s auto push however does not include making its cars. Instead, the Chinese tech giant’s long-term strategy is to manufacture key components for intelligent and connected vehicles. According to Huawei, this is the largest deal yet in the automotive industry.

VW has always maintained that the car of the future is fully connected. In doing this VW understands that developing cars is the domain of engineers, but they are working more and more frequently and closely together with software developers and companies such as Huawei in developing cars of the future.

Wesley Diphoko