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Two SA students through to Imagine Cup World Finals

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Two second year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) have been listed among the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle.

Following a heavily contested World semi-finals involving 150 student projects from 64 countries, two second year students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) find their team – Digital Interactive Games – listed amongst the 33 top teams competing at the 2015 Imagine Cup World Finals in Seattle taking place July 28 –31.

Imagine Cup is a global student technology competition that provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games as well as integrated solutions that have the potential to change the way we live, work and play. The South African leg of the competition is co-sponsored by Microsoft South Africa and Department of Science and Technology.

“Microsoft Imagine Cup empowers tertiary education students of all ages and skill levels with the tools, programmes, and instruction to turn innovative ideas into reality. Whether they’re building a game, designing an app, or launching a project, Imagine Cup will help them develop their idea and boldly bring it to life,” says Clifford De Wit, Developer Experience Director at Microsoft South Africa.

Possessing that ‘cease the day’ mindset.

Digital Interactive Games consists of two students, Jason Cross and Nicholas Jordaan, who are both attending NMMU in Port Elizabeth. Cross and Jordaan are currently second year students and are studying Software Development.

The team’s project is called PYA Maze of Gods and is a 3D Labyrinth style game that has been built to challenge the player’s problem solving skills, reaction time as well as their ability to overcome the obstacles. For fans of fantasy, the game involves in-depth lore along with detailed character profiles. In the game, PYA, is the name given to the realm of the gods.

They both share a passion for game development and met each other in the first week of varsity, when Jason decided to put together a team in the hopes of making a game. Nicolas was one of the first people he approached in support of that cause.

To get the programming ball rolling both budding game developers taught themselves Unity Personal Edition (formally known as Unity Free) and Autodesk Maya. During their first year at varsity, the pair entered PYA Maze of Gods in the local round of the Imagine Cup, making them the first ever first year students in South Africa to not only compete and win at the local level of the Imagine Cup, but also progress from the Global Semi-finals to the World Finals.

“This phenomenal achievement reassures us that South Africa is on the right path of developing skills in software development that is able to compete with the rest of the world. Initiatives such as Imagine Cup provides an avenue through which to develop future IT entrepreneurs who will soon be creating jobs for the youth,” says Dr Quentin Williams, Strategic Research Manager at the CSIR’s Meraka Institute.

Cross explains their drive in the following manner: “Don’t be afraid to go into something you truly have a passion for or to take the initiative for what you wish to do one day. Don’t wait until someone offers it or you get taught how to. There is a ton of resources available for anyone to teach themselves as well as exciting opportunities like Imagine Cup. So just go, learn and make sure you have fun doing it.”

Seattle is calling

Cross and Jordaan are looking forward to going to Seattle for the first time and competing in the World finals of the 2015 Imagine Cup.

“It is the greatest feeling either of us has ever experienced career wise. We could never have dreamed we would make it this far in the competition, but we are honoured to have the opportunity to represent South Africa in this category,” says Jordaan.

He added that they also cannot wait to meet and learn from all of the Microsoft officials and hopes that this experience will help them start their own game development company. Previous winners of the South African leg of the Imagine Cup has gone on to do exactly this.

For instance, 2007 Imagine Cup winner Devin de Vries and his colleagues managed to build a successful and thriving business around their winning entry called Where is my transport. This solution provides commuters in select South African cities like Cape Town with up-to-the-minute information and timetables for taxis and buses, directly to their smartphones.

“Like previous winners of the Imagine Cup have shown, technology can be a powerful tool for addressing local development challenges and we believe that the youth of the country can be important partners in this endeavour,” says Ms Jeanette Morwane, Director: ICT and Services Industry at the Department of Science and Technology.

According to Cross, Digital Interactive Games plan to build on their achievements. “We want to expand our team to keep pushing our limits and develop games to the best of our abilities,” he concludes.

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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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By 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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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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