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Recycle a phone today

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It is estimated that South Africa generates 300 000 tonnes of e-waste a year – making it the second highest in Africa. This mobile phone recycling today take your electronics to a recycling depot instead of dumping them.

Did you receive a new smartphone, tablet or television for Christmas? Are your children enjoying new electronic toys? This International Mobile Phone Recycling Day, South Africans must consider recycling the goods these gifts have replaced, or donating them for refurbishment.

The Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, released by a specialised agency of the United Nations, estimates that 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated in 2016. Of that amount, only about 20% was recycled.

Each year, South Africa generates about 300,000 tonnes of electronic waste – about 5,7kgs per citizen. In Africa, we’re the second-highest generator of e-waste.

“Mobile devices are among the most disposable of electronic goods, contributing significantly to the shocking amounts of e-waste generated every year,” explains Alicja Radwanska, Chief Marketing Officer at weFix. “Consider that South Africa is one of the most connected countries on the continent. As devices locally get more affordable, we can upgrade and replace smartphones and tablets more frequently which is fantastic for individuals – but there is a resulting risk to the environment.”

The Jane Goodall Institute’s International Mobile Phone Recycling Day campaign was started to protect chimpanzees and safeguard their habitats, threatened by extraction of minerals used to manufacture electronic devices. Control over mining these minerals has created conflict among human communities, and perpetuated unsustainable livelihoods for the people in areas like the Congo Basin.

Pauline Stuart from South Africa’s Jane Goodall Institute says:  “As consumers, we can make a big difference by recycling our phones and reducing the demand for these minerals. Doing so removes these electronics from the waste stream, and reduces the demand for extraction of resources from the habitats that many species – especially chimpanzees, other great apes, and human beings – call home.

“Extraction of these natural resources involves destroying the forests that chimpanzees call home. Tracts of forest are cleared to make way for new roads leading to mining sites which then open the previously inaccessible forest to loggers and poachers. Control over the mining of these minerals has fuelled conflict among human communities and perpetuated unsustainable livelihoods for people who migrate to forests in search of safety from the conflict, which also results in the hunting of local wildlife for food, including chimpanzees for bushmeat (food) and pet trades.”

Radwanska says that South Africans are increasingly calling for refurbished or reconditioned items products that exist within a new ‘circular economy’ that rejects the ‘take, make and dispose’ industrial model. In the last few years, local companies such as Vodacom, DSTV, and weFix are offering refurb or repair products that are affordable and environmentally conscientious.

weFix believes that there is great value giving a ‘second life’ to mobile devices that are pre-owned, damaged during shipment, demo units that are shop-soiled, or new devices that have a fault upon opening.

“Acknowledging that our business is part of a wider industry that generates e-waste, weFix has partnered with the Jane Goodall Institute to educate South Africans about device recycling, and to make it really easy for citizens to dispose of their devices responsibly,” says Radwanska.

From today, weFix will place recycle bins in its 35 stores around the country, part of an ongoing initiative to promote recycling and refurbishment of mobile and other electronic devices.

“Consumers are invited to drop off any old devices instore. For every 20 devices we recycle, we will also adopt a chimpanzee for a year, with the aim of sponsoring all 33 chimps at Chimp Eden in Mpumalanga.”

“Recycling devices, donating them for refurbishment and purchasing refurbished, rather than new, devices, are all important, impactful ways that citizens can ensure our love of electronic devices doesn’t risk the environment and human health,” says Radwanska.D

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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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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