SA’s new contact tracing app: A double-edged sword

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

South Africa became one of the first African countries, if not the first, to implement the COVID-19 contact tracing app. Globally, Switzerland was the first country to release an app using Google and Apple’s exposure notification system in May. In health and technology terms, it’s an important step in the fight against COVID-19. Like all things tech which tend to be beneficial, there are also reasons to be vigilant.

Contact tracing is normally accomplished through a manual interview of the infected individuals, conducted by the health authorities. The aim of the interview is to collect contacts the infected individual had with other individuals in the past 14–21 days (identified as the incubation period for COVID-19). The health officials can then use that information to compute a risk score for each of the contacts, based on the context (e.g., indoors/outdoors), duration, and proximity (distance between the contacts). The tricky part is that it is challenging for people to accurately recall each person that they may have met in the last three weeks. The reality is that an infected individual might have infected many persons that they cannot identify, for example, contact with unknown persons standing in a supermarket checkout queue. Another important factor is that many subsequent interviews require a considerable workforce of health officials trained in the art of manual contact tracing. South Africa knows very well about the health workforce challenges. 

In this context, researchers around the world have been focusing on technological solutions to automate the contact tracing process with the aim of quickly and reliably identifying contacts that might be at significant infection risk. The ubiquity of smartphones and their ability to keep track of their location (e.g., via GPS and WiFi), along with their in-built Bluetooth interface allowing communication and proximity detection with nearby smartphones, makes them ideal devices for automated and reliable contact tracing. As a result, many smartphone contact tracing apps have been proposed, with some already deployed. Using the Bluetooth interface these tracing apps automatically collect the contact data of their users – data to be subsequently used in the future event of a user being identified as infected with COVID-19.

Contract tracing apps if adopted by citizens will make a difference in the fight against COVID-19. They are also raising important ethical concerns.

The introduction of contact tracing apps has led to a debate regarding their architecture, data management, efficacy, privacy, and security. Most of these apps claim to be privacy-preserving – meaning that they do not reveal any Personally Identifiable Information (PII), identity, or location information of the contacts without explicit user permission. In countries where such apps were implemented privacy concerns associated with them are one of the factors that influence their adoption. 

Another primary concern by privacy advocates is the extent to which the apps can be re-purposed to track their users, and how the collected data may be used when the current pandemic ends. 

South Africa has chosen an app architecture, built by both Apple and Google, that takes care of most concerns around privacy. The protocol maintains privacy by the following means: The Exposure Notification Bluetooth Specification does not use the location for proximity detection. It strictly uses Bluetooth beaconing to detect proximity. A user’s Rolling Proximity Identifier changes on average every 15 minutes and needs the Temporary Exposure Key to be correlated to a contact. This behavior reduces the risk of privacy loss from broadcasting the identifiers. Proximity identifiers obtained from other devices are processed exclusively on the device. Users decide whether to contribute to exposure notification. If diagnosed with COVID-19, users must provide their consent to share Diagnosis Keys with the server. Users have transparency in their participation in exposure notification. The challenge with such an app is not so much about its current use. No one can argue with the value of using any means possible to save lives. There should be more concern about what could happen in the future. In the absence of proper public consultation and transparency, such a tool can easily be re-purposed for a post-COVID-19 world.

Many may consider such a possibility as highly unlikely. Here’s a possible scenario: Under a less democratic government. In the interest of not repeating the past where most countries were caught off guard and could not easily trace how people were infected, the contact tracing app may have a reason to live longer. Authorities could easily argue that the app will assist in dealing with future similar pandemics and that will make sense. The challenge with this reasoning is that it will mean compromising citizens’ privacy from now going forward. It’s an ethical dilemma that each country has to face. It’s one of the reasons why some countries in Europe have delayed implementing such apps. 

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. You can follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko


Are universities becoming irrelevant? Tech firms take over in new Covid-19 normal

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The merits of a university education are currently under the microscope. Covid-19 is forcing us to re-evaluate the relevance of universities as developers of a workforce. Yes, they were not just created to develop a workforce, however we are in a different era.

Universities have been tested and they’ve been found wanting. During Covid-19, it will be hard for South African academic institutions to offer value that can enable one to study and earn a qualification that will enable them to get a job.

Many courses by SA universities were never created for an online learning environment, yet they had no choice but to fashion one out of nothing in a matter of weeks. The quality of education during Covid-19 has been shaky. Academic institutions have limited digital means (software and hardware) to enable quality education. At the same time, academic institutions, not just in South Africa, are still charging the same amount of money even though their offering has changed and diminished. While traditional institutions are offering less quality, tech companies are gearing themselves as providers of quality education.

Last month, Google announced the Google Career Certificate for Americans looking for accessible job-training solutions in high-growth industries. These courses offer what people really need now and what they will need to get jobs in future. They don’t offer these courses at the same value as academic institutions. When making the announcement about the courses Google didn’t say how much it would cost to earn a certificate.

However, if it’s anything close to Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate, the cost is quite low, especially compared to universities. There’s also no question that quality will be great judging by the Google products and the calibre of people who work at Google. What is even more important, which tends to be the measuring stick of importance for universities, the Google certificate comes with prestige that no university can match. In case you doubt what this means, here’s a classic example:

According to the World Economic Forum, while data science roles and skills form a relatively small part of the workforce, recent trends indicate that these are currently among the highest in demand roles in the labour market. The demand for data science skills is not limited to the Information Technology sector as data’s importance grows across multiple sectors, including Media and Entertainment, Financial Services and Professional Services. Jobs such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Specialists or Data Scientists, in which data science skills are perhaps most profoundly applicable, are forecasted to be among the most in demand roles across most industries by 2022.

Google is offering a course for Data Analysts. It describes it as a course that will help learners to develop confidence in navigating the data lifecycle using tools and platforms to process, analyse, visualise and gain insights from data. Google has more legitimacy in providing education in data analytics, after all its technology is responsible for collection and analysis of data. Who better to offer a course in Data Analytics?

This indicates the shift that is likely to happen in terms of who qualifies to offer education for some courses that will matter in the future. Traditional universities cannot legitimately offer the same course with the same depth as Google or another tech company with authority in the field being taught.

Content and curriculum is one part of the equation which is critical, the other critical part of the equation is infrastructure. In this regard Google and other tech companies beat universities hands down. Google has become the default learning management system for education institutions. Even in cases where some education institutions have not yet adopted Google infrastructure, they are likely to do so in the future. Current adoption of Google technology in education institutions points to a future where most academic institutions rely on Google as opposed to buildings to offer education.This situation just strengthens the position of tech in the education sector. There are few universities in South Africa that can confidently refuse the technology offering by Google. The tech giant describes its edu products as solutions that create the powerful computing infrastructure that keeps today’s higher ed communities humming. It claims researchers can speed up analysis from days to minutes, working seamlessly across departments and data sets. Students can collaborate easily and securely across disciplines and campuses.

None of this suggests that a private tech company is best placed to offer education for society. The point is simply that they have better quality tools and know more about what will matter in the future than current institutions. It is therefore inevitable that tech companies are coming for higher education and there’s little that academic institutions can do about it.

This is a situation that requires remodelling of education. Traditional universities are no longer viable places to offer education that will matter in the future. They also lack the necessary infrastructure to remain relevant during these tough times. Tech companies are likely to replace them and that is fine in the short run – however, in the long run a different model of education will have to be developed.


Why FACEBOOK wants your Avatar

BY Wesley Diphoko 4 MINUTE READ

If you are on Facebook you probably have your own Avatar by now. If not, you will probably have one soon. If you are not familiar with them, they are a cartoon-like version of yourself on Facebook. One of South Africa’s gadget and technology magazines has declared them as unnecessary. The writer went on to say they are dumb. This is far from the truth, here are key reasons why they matter at least for FACEBOOK.

In 2014 Facebook announced that it had reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, Inc., the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion. 

Why would a social networking company pay so much money for a hardware company? 

At the time Oculus was a leader in immersive virtual reality technology and it had already built strong interest among developers. In its announcement about the acquisition, Facebook mentioned that the plan was to extend Oculus’ existing advantage in gaming to new verticals, including communications, media and entertainment, education, and other areas. The statement went on to emphasise that given these broad potential applications, virtual reality technology is a strong candidate to emerge as the next social and communications platform. Facebook has since struggled to get market traction beyond a niche audience because of the hefty price of VR headsets and the amount of technology required to use them.

Enter Facebook Horizon, a virtual reality sandbox universe where you can build your own environments and games, play and socialize with friends, or just explore the user-generated landscapes. This is Facebook’s take on Second Life, another virtual reality social network.

The social platform was  launched in closed beta this year, providing a space for collaborative, shareable creations, virtual exploration and multiplayer gaming.

Back in 2017, Zuckerberg said that the company wanted to “get a billion people in virtual reality. This is where your avatar comes in. Facebook will do everything in its power to get a billion users for Facebook Horizon and existing users of Facebook can easily make this a reality. Your avatar is also more important for other key reasons.

One of the key features within Facebook Horizon is commerce. Users will be able to buy and pay for services on the virtual social platform. Users for instance will be able to attend virtual events within the virtual space and to do this they will have to pay. Some of the items that you will buy will be critical for the offline world as well, education (e-learning) is one example that comes to mind. 

Facebook is also working on new kinds of social things, from new forms of business cards to new kinds of virtual games you will play in the park with your friends. All of these require having everyone using the real-world identity. The social graph you have on Facebook (or its other properties like Whatsapp, Instagram, Messenger, etc) is hugely important and will be more so by 2025 as XR glasses come along, enabling new ways to work together and play.

Recently Facebook has informed current users of Oculus headsets that they need to have Facebook accounts or identities in order to continue using the headsets. 

Starting later this year, you’ll only be able to sign up for an Oculus account through Facebook. If you already have an account, you’ll be prompted to permanently merge your account. If you don’t, you’ll be able to use the headset normally until 2023, at which point official support will end. Old headsets using non-linked accounts will still work, but some games and apps may no longer function. Developers can keep using an unlinked developer account without social functionality. In simple terms, your Facebook identity has become the most important item in the development of future products on Facebook. Your Facebook avatar will be your key identity going forward to play on the Facebook virtual world. Without it, you cannot become a citizen of the Facebook virtual world.

In other words, Facebook is angling to become the WeChat of the West, where everything you do in the ever-expanding digital world can be accessed through its platform.

Facebook is moving users into its virtual world, known as Facebook Horizon. As part of this process, the global social network is slowly familiarising its users with its social virtual world. Before you know it you will be part of the Facebook virtual social network.

Broadly speaking, we are undergoing a move towards the fourth phase of computing, known as Spatial computing. Users of technology have undergone 3 major phases in the evolution of computing. The first one had to do with the beginning of personal computing and the interface being text-based. The second phase, graphics, and color capabilities were later included. Movement and mobility were added with the third phase in the form of mobile phones.

As indicated, we are now moving towards the fourth phase. This phase is mainly inspired by the transition from physical to virtual space. Spatial Computing comprises all software and hardware technologies that enable humans, virtual beings, or robots to move through real or virtual worlds, and includes Artificial Intelligence, Computer Vision, Augmented Reality (AR), VR, Sensor Technology, and Automated Vehicles. This phase in the evolution of technology will impact mainly the following industries: Transportation; Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT); Manufacturing; Retail; Healthcare; Finance; and Education. 

We are at the early stages of moving towards this fourth phase of computing. Avatars are conscientising users with this new world of computing. It will be difficult to avoid for those concerned about privacy. Facebook will not be alone in this game. Other leading tech giants are also working on their own VR glasses which will be key as we move towards the fourth phase of computing. Apple is reportedly working on one, Microsoft Hololens is just another tool that will form part of this transition. Soon Facebook will reveal the real strategy behind the Avatars that are popping everywhere. For now, understand that Avatars are not just nice cartoons version of yourself or unnecessary dumb idea, they are your identity on the social virtual reality world.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko


The end of global internet is coming, thanks to US/China tech war

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The Internet was supposed to enable globalisation. It has tried and in the process enabled US tech companies to have a global presence. China on the other hand built its own version of the internet which is partly the reason why there are global tech giants from China.

Currently, the US is threatened by Chinese technology innovations. To catch up, the US is banning Chinese technologies. As a result of a technology cold war between the US and China, we are likely to see the emergence of a splinternet or the balkanization of the internet along national boundaries. If the current scenario continues, we are likely to see a lesser globalised internet.

The Russians have been preparing for the splinternet. Last year, Russia shut down the global internet to test the RuNet programme and assess its ability to exist without the need to use the global internet. If the splinternet were to become a reality China and Russia would still be able to carry on with little interruption. Other parts of the world would need to figure out a way of working with nations that have a stronger internet infrastructure. It would be a choice between the US, China, or Russia. All of these nations have value systems that can be embraced and some that should not. 

The bigger question for Africa is the following: what will Africa do in the case of the splinternet. Africa will have no choice but to rely on the internet built for other nations or be internet-less.

The likelihood of using other nation’s internet would mean Africa would forever be dominated by products built elsewhere for other nations. Take WhatsApp, Telegram, and WeChat as examples. Although beneficial, whenever Africans use these products they are either using an American, Russian, or Chinese product respectively. Whatever these nations decide about these products Africa will need to agree. Africa has no way of making rules based on its values, it just uses these products and agrees to everything decided upon by other nations. To understand the meaning of this scenario you have to look at what is happening to TikTok. The US feels that a Chinese product (Tik Tok) is violating its principles and potentially accessing its secrets and therefore poses national security. 

In response, the US plans to ban the Chinese product and in the process, the US in the form of Facebook manages to get its own business (Instagram) to clone (copy) the other Chinese product (TikTok) while it’s forcing TikTok (Chinese) to sell its company to an American company.

Whether you agree or disagree with the US and its approach the reality is that the US can take a stand on the matter and still not suffer the consequences of closing down TikTok because they have alternative products. The same cannot be said about Africa.

The African continent may disagree with how Facebook is abusing its dominance and it can do nothing (although it should) about such violations.

A splintered internet is not desirable however it may be the only way going forward. When such a scenario arises Africa will have to be ready to stand on its own two feet to still have the technology engine of modern society. To get to that point may sound impossible for Africa however it’s possible. In 1999, the Chinese tech giant Alibaba was just a few months old. 

The state of the Chinese internet economy was in its infancy. Today, China has global tech giants that include Alibaba that commands global respect. China can exist without the US in tech terms and still survive. Africa can build its tech giants. In the short run, it may mean reliance on others to have internet independence in the long term. The days of the global internet are coming to an end. Africa needs to build now or become an internet colony.


We need more successful Tech Startups founded by Women

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

There’s no shortage of programmes that are aimed at addressing the shortage of women in the technology industry. Despite the skills development interventions the number of successful women technology startup founders is very limited. Clearly, whatever is done to address this challenge is not significantly changing the status quo.

It is easy to once in a while when it’s the flavour of the month to create an impression that there’s progress. The reality is that the tech industry has failed to create  a conducive environment for all to contribute in this important industry. As a result of this scenario, the industry is loosing from the lack of  diversity of views and approaches that would have added value to innovation. Lack of diversity in tech is probably one of the reasons why there’s slow pace of innovation. The nature of technology that we use has been blamed for many challenges in society which could have been avoided if the voice of women were part of decision making. Think the impact of devices on children.

History tells us that women  can add significant value in technology and innovation. We know this because the first computer programmer, Augusta Ada Lovelace, was a woman. Her work was both profound and inspirational. It gave glimpse to a future in which machines would become partners of the human imagination. She perceived how the processing power of a calculating machine could be used on any form of information. 

We also know that early space mission was enabled by women who calculated the precise trajectories that would let Apollo 11 land on the moon in 1969 and, after Neil Armstrong’s history-making moonwalk, let it return to Earth.

Historical records show us that when women contributes in technology their impact is significant. Imagine if technology startups were also led by women.

There’s no question about the value that women can bring on the table. Even with so much that women can offer we still don’t see them leading successful technology startups. 

There’s a need therefore to review current efforts that are aimed at changing the status quo in tech industry. If we are  to see more successful women tech startup founders something more impactful will have to be done. Clearly there are hurdles and there’s no better time to do something about whatever is standing in the way of getting more innovative minds in tech. 

Education will play a significant role in channeling more young women to consider technology as a field of choice. Role modelling by other successful women in tech will serve as an inspiration. In addition to these interventions, funding of women tech startups will have a far more important role in changing the status quo. 

Technologies of the past industrial revolutions were built mainly by a few homogeneous group. It has brought us progress as well as significant problems. The success of the next industrial revolution will depend on the diversity of views and approaches. 

In the future, when we reflect on the role of women in society there should be more successful women technology startup founders. The technology startup ecosystem will have to conduct a serious self introspection if we are to change the current status quo.


Why African tech start-ups should worry about big tech

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

If there was ever a doubt about the abuse of power by big tech companies, their appearance in front of the US Congress has ended such doubts about the abusive nature of these companies. Revelations by the long-running antitrust investigation show that everyone in business who has been dealing with big tech should be concerned. African Tech startups with a potential for global reach should be more concerned. 

It is almost impossible to operate in the tech space and reach a global market without using either the Apple App Store, Amazon AWS, and other platforms owned by big tech companies.

One factor that stood out during the hearings is that there’s unequal treatment of companies on the App Store by Apple. One document that was presented during the hearings showed how Amazon Prime was paying fewer fees to Apple for its presence on the App store. This is just one example that shows unfair treatment by the global giant, Apple. If a similar service by an African startup were to exist on the App store it would have a lesser chance of success in terms of revenue earned on the App store.

Acquisitions are another area that should concern many African tech startups. Naturally being acquired by a global tech company excites tech founders who dream of scaling their products. Based on recent revelations and what has been known about big tech companies, African tech founders should adopt a different view of acquisitions by big tech companies.

The story of how and why Facebook acquired Instagram should serve as a lesson for many who dream of being acquired by big tech companies.

It’s a known fact that Kevin Systrom, Instagram founder, had a tough time within Facebook after the app was acquired. We now know that the strategy was always about killing the enemy by acquisition. The same happened to WhatsApp. Facebook is currently working on integrating all these acquired products under Facebook while they maintain their identity. It’s also important to note that the founders of both WhatsApp and Instagram are no longer within Facebook and left the company extremely unhappy. The lesson here is that being acquired by big tech is not always what it looks like. The behaviour of big tech companies is something that should not only concern leading tech startups. Even small guys who are just trying to sell a unique product on Amazon should be concerned. The testimony about Amazon showed how the tech company cannibalizes the very entrepreneurs that sell their products on Amazon by creating similar goods thereby competing or removing them completely. The moral of the story here is that Africa should figure out a way to stand on its own. Reliance on global tech platforms will not lead to global tech entities that are Africa owned. 

As long as big tech continues on this trajectory every promising startup will be gobbled and stopped on its tracks by global giants.

The big tech is currently under scrutiny not just in the US. Recently regulators in Australia have accused Alphabet’s Google of misleading consumers to get permission for use of their personal data for targeted advertising, seeking a fine “in the millions. In Africa, however, big tech has been enjoying a free ride. 

As African regulators are doing nothing about big tech, African tech startups should find ways of protecting themselves against falls acquisitions and cloning by big tech.


The curious case of banning Chinese Tech companies (Huawei and soon Tik Tok)

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

Is there a need for a global neutral body to govern the behaviour of global technology companies? The unequal treatment of tech global companies highlights the need for a neutral oversight body. US tech firms, unlike China’s, get unequal treatment.

The US last year banned Huawei citing security risks and this year we may see more Chinese technology companies added to the list.

The White House recently hinted at the possibility of taking action against Chinese firm TikTok, once again flagging it as a security risk.  TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company.

If the ban comes through, TikTok will become the second biggest tech company to be banned by the US after Huawei.

Stated reasons for the ban of these companies are different, however, there are commonalities.  Huawei is accused of  being too close to the Chinese government, while Tik Tok is accused of sharing its information with the Chinese government. So far there’s no evidence of wrongdoing in the public domain by these companies.

The UK has also just announced its ban against Huawei 5G. The common denominator amongst the banned companies is that they are all Chinese technology companies with a global reach.

What these companies are accused of doing is no different to what is done by US tech companies. It is a well known fact that companies such as Facebook and Google have abused user data yet they are not banned by any country. The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data breach occurred in early 2018 when millions of Facebook users’ personal data was harvested without consent by Cambridge Analytica to be predominantly used for political advertising.This data breach was the largest known leak in Facebook history. The data was collected through an app created by Dr Aleksandr Kogan (at the time Dr Aleksandr Spectre), a Cambridge academic, in 2013 and consisted of a series of questions to build psychological profiles on users. The app not only harvested the personal data of the users that completed the questions, but also of the users’ Facebook friends. Cambridge Analytica sought to sell the data of American voters to political campaigns and, ultimately, provided assistance and analytics to the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump campaigns.

Facebook was fined for its wrongdoings that are related to Cambridge Analytica. Europe has been concerned about the behaviour of these technology giants and as a result this has inspired a legal framework – General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)  – to protect against data abuse.

Google became the first tech giant to be hit with a record fine for breaching the EU’s GDPR. A careful study of how Google operates suggests that in the past it has enjoyed US government support in one way or another. Google’s former chairman, Eric Schmidt, now serves on the US Department of Defence’s Defence Innovation Advisory Board. The Defence Innovation Board is an organisation set up in 2016 to bring the technological innovation and best practice of Silicon Valley to the US military. The board has dozen of members selected by the chair in consultation with the US Secretary of Defence.

Currently there’s no single country that has banned Google or any Silicon Valley company  for its wrongdoings or any relationship with the US government. The internet that we use today is the  product of the US. The first workable prototype of the Internet came in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. Originally funded by the US Department of Defence, ARPANET used packet switching to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network. The world is grateful and benefits for this contribution by the US government. A lot has happened since then. The internet has brought good and bad in the world. Its origin and bad elements have not inspired a call for the internet to be banned.

Leading technology companies should all, not just Chinese, take responsibility for the technology mess that we see today. Society is no longer safe online and that is not Chinese technology companies creation. Something more fundamental has to be done to protect society from technology harm. Banning Chinese technology companies will not do anything to improve the situation. Repeated fines of US technology companies is doing nothing to stop them from abusing the data of the world.


After eating the traditional media industry, technology is now coming for the education sector

BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

The tech industry has completed its job of eating the media industry. Just ask the Media 24 journalists whose jobs are on the line partly because of Covid-19 but mainly due to the decline of advertising (thanks to tech giants) for media entities. The next target is the education (both secondary and tertiary) sector. As Covid-19 accelerates the adoption of online education, those that stand to  benefit more are the tech industry giants. Technology companies have spent years on the fringes of the classroom, funding software, cloud computing, and tech and maths programmes in schools, and are even more embedded in research departments.

Microsoft South Africa has recently partnered with a South African telecoms company, Vodacom, to provide access to continuous, connected digital learning for South Africa’s education institutions, educators and learners through their Connected Digital Education initiative. The Connected Digital Education Platform will enable educators to continue  to deliver classes to their learners, who can participate through chat or voice using a SIM card where access to Teams is provided for free, allowing them to continue learning regardless of where they are or what device they are using – whether it be an Android, iOS or Windows smartphone, tablet or laptop.

On the other hand, Google has also announced that Google Meet (previously known as Hangout) is adding new features later this year to help teachers and lecturers improve remote and hybrid learning through better moderation and more interactivity. The features are being added as more than 140 million teachers and students are now using G Suite for Education, according to Google figures. Google Classroom has become one of the major tools used in schools to enable access to learning.

Facebook is a lesser known entity in the education landscape. The reality however is that Facebook is slowly building its own education empire via acquisitions. In India, he social media juggernaut announced it had partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education, a government body that oversees  education in private and public schools in India, to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being, and augmented reality for students and educators in the country. Facebook and CBSE, it’s claimed, aims to prepare secondary school students for current and emerging jobs, and help them develop skills to safely browse the internet, make “well-informed choices” and think about their mental health. In the first phase, Facebook is planning to train more than 10 000 teachers, and in the second phase, they will coach 30,000 students. 

The three-week training on AR will cover fundamentals of the nascent technology, and ways to make use of Facebook’s Spark AR Studio to create augmented reality experiences. To understand Facebook’s interest in education, you have to watch an Indian online learning platform which is a Facebook backed ed-tech company. Unacademy has acquired Chandigarh-based startup PrepLadder for $50 million. PrepLadder, employs about 150 people, offers courses aimed at medical students. The two-year-old startup has more than 80 000 subscribers. It’s clear that the tech industry has its sights on education in the same way that it did for the media industry. 

The education sector has to learn a lot from the media sector errors in technology adoption. The education sector should do everything in its power to not cede control to global technology giants. While the impact on the media industry is known, the impact on education is not yet known but it can be safely assumed that it will not be different if the current status quo remains. If the behaviour of tech giants in the media space is any indication of what’s coming, the education sector has to be very concerned.The big edu-tech opportunity should not be another opportunity to enrich global tech giants. It should be an opportunity to build new local ed-tech companies. Rules of engagement should be setup in such a way that the education sector is not negatively impacted by the entry of technology in the classroom.


Why robots are needed now more than ever

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

The entry of robots into the mainstream has been resisted for valid reasons such as its impact on jobs. Current health circumstances however should inspire a review of that perception. The risk exposure by some professionals should be the main driving force behind the adoption of tools that can still carry out critical work while protecting human beings from exposure. Health professionals are high on this list of exposed professionals.

In view of this risk by health professionals, Professor Coenie Koegelenberg saw a need for robots at Tygerberg hospital and led the process of developing the robot for the Tygerberg Hospital. 

The robot, called Quintin, has been instrumental in protecting health professionals from being exposed to patients who infect patients with a life threatening disease. The challenge however is that this robot, due to costs and other factors, is only operating in a single hospital and only saving the lives of only a  few health professionals. 

Considering the number of health professionals that are contracting the Covid-19 disease, there should be more efforts towards deploying more robots in Covid-19 designated health institutions. Surely, health professionals can be assigned to less risky environments while robots are taking care of areas that are more risky. 

There’s a huge need for robots in healthcare institutions. This need spreads beyond nursing to intensive care units and surgeries. Robots could also take on tasks such as cleaning and disinfecting contaminated environments.  Some of these health-care professionals can still sit behind a screen and guide the robots or use the robots as means of interaction whilst they are located far from the patient with a potential to infect the healthcare worker.

There’s a need to build more robots such as Quintin before we loose more healthcare professionals. Another group of workers who are at risk are now known as essential workers. While it’s important to protect their jobs it is also important to protect their lives. In the process of protecting the lives of essential workers, robots should be considered as tools that can complement workers to protect them from harm.

The current health situation facing mankind requires a mindshift from the thinking of protecting jobs at all costs while exposing people to danger. Technology should be seen as an important tool in carrying out risky work. People should be reassigned to environments that allow them to be the brains behind a technology tool that is in the frontlines. There was a time when the adoption of robots into the mainstream society was seen as a futuristic tool and a threat. Current conditions should expedite the adoption of technologies that were seen as futuristic to solve present challenges.


Vodacom ordered to handover documents to determine Please Call Me Idea value

BY Wesley Diphoko 2 MINUTE READ

The long awaited judgement by Judge Kollapen on the Please Call Me idea matter is finally out. The judge has ordered Vodacom to handover within 21 days contractual documents that can assist with the process of determining the true value of the idea. This comes after Vodacom through its CEO determined that the idea was worth R47 million. This offer was not accepted by Makate on the basis that his attorneys had no access to documentation upon which such value was determined. Makate challenged this decision in court. Makate filed court papers in the North Gauteng high court and asked the court to issue an order to force the Vodacom CEO, Shameel Joosub to disclose all documents he relied upon to conclude that the idea was worth R47 million. Makate believes he is owed more.

This judgement by Judge Kollapen is significant for several reasons. It enables both parties for the very first time to have access to the same set of documents (contractual and financial) to determine the value of the idea. In the past Vodacom was the only party that had access to such documents.

The judge has also ordered that the KPMG report should also be handed over to Makate. The inventor of the Please Call Me idea has been waiting for more than 10 years for the KPMG report. The report was compiled after Vodacom shareholders had requested an investigation into intellectual property matters within the company.

It has been reported that paragraphs within the KPMG report will assist current negotiations process between Makate and Vodacome to achieve a genuine settlement process. 

In the past Vodacom had argued that the document was irrelevant in determining whether it owed Makate any money. The Judge Kollapen judgement however has highlighted  that this report is critical to provide more information about Vodacom practices.

More on this via Fast Company Digital magazine: digimag.fastcompany.co.za