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How digital can expand free trade

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Free trade has been an enduring goal of the international community for more than a century. Despite broad technological progress, modern transaction systems remain heavily burdened by antiquated practices. This creates “friction” that slows global commerce and hinders service delivery.

Banks, for example, still issue letters of credit to importers, a practice that has remained virtually unchanged for 700 years since its origin in medieval Italy. The practice requires the costly and time-consuming entry of a banking intermediary into many transactions. Cross-border regulations, customs delays, fraud and corruption are also frictions that add a significant layer of costs, time, and complexity to global trade and business flows. An IBM test determined that paperwork alone accounted for 15 percent of the cost of a shipment of produce from Africa to Europe.

Emerging digital technologies, in the form of blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI), can help reduce or eliminate these frictions by enhancing “digital trust” in transactions.

Blockchain became famous as the technology underpinning the digital currency Bitcoin, but its uses go far beyond payments. Blockchain puts data into shared, distributed ledgers that allow every participant access to the entire history of a transaction using a “permissioned” network—one that is highly secure and can distinguish who can see what.

And because it can process and analyze massive quantities of data, AI can use blockchain data to gain valuable insights and detect patterns in nearly-real time. AI systems can employ this data to generate hypotheses, piece together reasoned arguments, and make recommendations for action.

IBM and Everledger, a company that tracks and protects high-value goods, have built a system based on this approach. It applies AI to analyze secure data on one million diamonds that are kept on a blockchain in a fraction of the time humans could do this. Among other things, the platform ensures that diamonds are authentic and compliant with thousands of regulations, including those imposed by the United Nations to prevent the sale of conflict diamonds.

Friction not only inhibits trade and business flows, it also inhibits people. Small farmers, evaluating the costs of shipping produce overseas—from bank fees to paperwork to bribes—may decide it is simply not worth the time and money to try to sell outside of local markets.

Digital technologies can remove barriers to economic participation by lowering costs and building trust into business relationships. For example, blockchain eliminates the prospect that a trading partner will have to engage in an expensive and time-consuming audit should a transaction with a smaller, lesser-known party go wrong. With a single version of transaction data on a ledger, all the required information to settle a dispute may be evident and visible to everyone who has permission to see it. The audit trail is laid out in one place and there is no need to involve costly intermediaries.

IBM estimates that more than $300 billion in the underlying costs of global commerce can be optimized with digital technologies like AI and blockchain. A simulation conducted by our Chief Economist’s office of the impact of blockchain adoption on the economies of Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa found lower prices and significant improvements in real GDP and fiscal balances across each country. These findings are detailed in a new book published by the International Monetary Fund called Digital Revolutions in Public Finance (ISBN 9781484315224).

The good news for governments is that these technologies can be adopted at relatively low cost through the internet and cloud computing. Moreover, their benefits have been shown so far to require small changes to legal and regulatory frameworks. However, private sector cooperation and participation are essential. Businesses must agree to a new set of government policies on transactions and data-sharing built around blockchain.

The democratization of secure transaction processing depends on effective public-private partnerships. National governments have every incentive to create them. Millions who have been denied access to the marketplace will benefit from the removal of friction from international commerce. In this way, the expansion of digital trust can lead us to a new era of freer and more equitable trade.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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