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Nintendo Classic Mini spells end of emulation

Nintendo’s refreshed version of the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System has finally arrived in South Africa, changing the culture of games emulation, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Nintendo Classic Mini, a 2016 refresh of the wildly popular Nintendo Entertainment System first released in 1986, has finally arrived in South Africa, and it spells an end to the culture of game emulation that has been particularly strong in this country.

Emulation of the 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System has long been popular for playing classic games on computers without forking out thousands for what is now a collector’s edition. The argument for emulation is almost always backed with, “I purchased this game in the ‘80s or ‘90s but I don’t have the console anymore so I’m going to emulate it with an online back-up”. 

This argument seems fine, in the traditional media back-up sense, because consumers have been backing up their vinyls, tapes and CDs to digital formats for ages. Moreover, this is a perfectly legal thing to do with audio media. Some consumers with damage discs, scratched vinyls and stretched tapes have been digitally downloading the media that they own, often from free and illegal channels, claiming the legal territory of fair use. Is this different to downloading Super Mario Bros if one has purchased it before?

However, the digital backup method becomes illegal with video games. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have explicitly outlined the rules: a consumer does not have the right to make back-ups, obtain back-ups and/or use these back-ups to play their games. The reason behind this is that piracy is rife in the game industry, and back-up copies are usually very difficult to create. 

If back-up copies can be made, the media won’t work on the original console. Sony and Microsoft have implemented special copy-protection measures into their disc media to transmit a “disc wobble”. Their console’s lasers read this wobble, to prove that the disc is not a back-up. Blank discs cannot be purchased with this wobble.

Nintendo has taken a slightly more interesting approach to copy-protection. Apart from the Wii and Wii U, every console the company has produced runs off proprietary game cartridges. This has made the need for back-ups irrelevant, as cartridges are far more resilient to damage compared to their disc counterparts. While dust might be a problem on the older cartridges, they just needed a quick blow of air on the receivers, which Nintendo highly recommended against doing, to get the game working again. 

These cartridges were notoriously difficult to back up, but were not immune. Many websites offer backed up games for download, and Nintendo Entertainment System games are not larger than a megabyte, making them extremely attractive to download when one compares the amount of equipment required to back-up one’s personal copy.

Bearing this in mind, emulators found their way through consumers not being able to play copied games on copy-protected consoles and the rapid increase in computing power. Emulation of copyrighted games is still illegal and will continue to be illegal for decades to come, as copyright stands for 75 years and the earliest Nintendo game is less than four decades old. 

Nintendo doesn’t condone emulation at all and has made it clear that it will never produce an emulator for computers. 

Hidden deep in the legal documentation on its corporate website (see https://www.nintendo.com/corp/legal.jsp#helping), the company goes into great detail on its attitude to emulators. 

It states emphatically: “Emulators developed to play copied Nintendo software promote piracy. That’s like asking why doesn’t Nintendo legitimize piracy. It doesn’t make any business sense. It’s that simple and not open to debate.”

That being said, Sony and Nintendo have seen the market for retro gaming and have released solutions to counter emulation.

Sony released a monthly-subscription service called PlayStation Now which allows consumers to play a vast selection of popular PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games on their PlayStation 4 consoles. This service has been well-received in the launch countries, but licensing issues are restricting Sony from going global with this service. 

Nintendo’s Classic Mini is a different story.

It solves a lot of the issues that Sony is facing with licensing through the release of a separate console. This allows licensing to the console itself, which allows worldwide release. The introductory price of R1200 once-off, with 30 pre-installed classic games like the original Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong, makes this an extremely attractive offer to consumers who want to get the best retro experience while staying on the good side of the law.

The bottom line is, it makes emulation of the console’s games defunct.

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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