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Apps drive work democracy

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Apps have made just about anything possible and are broadening service providers’ access to their customers. Also, anyone can now start an enterprise, thereby brining in more competition and offering better prices and more choices than ever before.

In the evolution of the digital world, apps have made just about anything possible by broadening the access that service providers have to customers. Ultimately, it can be said that digital has democratised business by enabling anyone, even those operating on shoestring budgets, to start an enterprise of their own and exceed their wildest dreams. For consumers across the globe, this new world means more choice and better prices than ever before.

So says Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, who points to the success of Uber, the innovative app that connects riders to drivers through smartphone technology. It has revolutionised the transportation industry around the world, and is presently making waves on South African shores.

The change Uber is bringing to the transportation industry, and the inspiration it provides to entrepreneurs looking for a new niche for their ideas, was illustrated in a recent episode of The Growth Engines, supported by Standard Bank and aired on Business Day TV. The series examines how innovative small and major businesses can collaborate to innovate in their markets.

“By using an app to create a connection point between transportation providers and passengers, Uber has changed the way that people move across 300 cities around the world. It has also boosted the earnings of taxi drivers who can use the technology to be connected to a new base of riders across their cities – thus reducing the ‘dead return time’ that normally occurs after a fare is dropped at a destination.

What is particularly interesting is that fitting the modern app-driven convenience of mobile technology into an established, traditional business like driving a taxi has involved some compromise on the part of Uber. Innovation has won the day, but collaboration between the old and the new is what is making the concept work,” says Ms Nyembe.

“The app has become the middle-man, bringing the essentials of democratisation to the transportation business. By bringing efficiency and accessibility to the fore, it has simultaneously empowered drivers to transform the way they do business,” says Alon Lits, General Manager: Uber (Gauteng and Durban).

In its six years of existence, Uber has transformed the way that people move around the world’s major cities. Commuters use the app to request a driver close by, are collected by the vehicle, and are billed through Uber, making the service seamless and easy.

“The birth of the Uber service was spurred by the founders walking through the snow in Paris trying to find a taxi. Both, already entrepreneurs in their own rights, returned to San Francisco and developed the app,” says Mr Lits.

Uber does not employ drivers or own any cars, but partners with the drivers. The drivers, in return for being able to access customers through Uber, pay a fee for the lead generation software every time they pick up an Uber rider. Security, however, dictates that drivers must have the necessary public professional driving permit, commercial insurance, roadworthy certificate, and spotless character references before they can join Uber.

It is at this point that the new way of doing business couldn’t succeed without the traditional, concedes Mr Lits.

“We looked at the system in South Africa and saw drivers coming through who had criminal records. We instituted additional screening practices by partnering with EMPS (Employers’ Mutual Protection Services) to clear prospective driver-partners.”

Says Kirsten Halcrow, Managing Director: Employers’ Mutual Protection Services, whose company uses the services of the South African Police Service (SAPS), Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), and other South African institutions to ensure that people who apply do not have criminal records and that they do in fact have the qualifications and experience they claim:

“We are constantly examining technology and what value we can add to our clients’ recruitment processes. This is particularly important in the present socio-economic environment where it is tough to get jobs and individuals are looking for easy ways of getting employment – many will use fake qualifications to achieve their ambitions.

Individuals who have criminal records do not admit this on application forms. For Uber specifically, we look for fake driver’s licenses, permits and examine all partner-drivers’ references. Unfortunately, to trust what is on a CV or driver application will not help anyone.”

A more challenging problem for Uber has been the failure of regulations and legislation to keep pace with the changes that have taken place with the emergence of the app world. An alleged contravention of permit bylaws in Cape Town recently saw 60 Uber operators running foul of the law.

“We continue to engage with regulators at city, provincial and national levels to ensure that our partners have a clear route to licensing. At the end of the day, we are dealing with a case where regulation is lagging innovation. It doesn’t make sense to step back and wait for regulation to catch up.

This is especially so in the context of South Africa. How can we sit back and let outdated regulations stand in the way of job creation, and safe and reliable rides that can transform the taxi industry?

We see Uber as not taking away business from traditional metered taxi drivers, but assisting them by taking away their down-time. It is not about them losing existing business, it is about adding to it. Even though Uber fares are lower, we are being told by drivers that they are making more money and also managing their time better,” says Mr Lits.

“The path to innovation and democratisation will never be totally trouble-free. In a fast-moving world, it is becoming increasingly common for entrepreneurs to identify a need and do what they can to supply solutions. It is inevitable that from time-to-time, entrepreneurs will conflict with entrenched interests and regulators.

Inevitably, the needs of customers and the opportunities offered to people to find gainful employment by using apps and digital services will win out,” says Ms Nyembe.

The Growth Engines can be viewed on Business Day TV (DSTV channel 412) on Tuesdays at 9:30pm, with repeats on Wednesdays at 10:00am and Thursdays at 2:00pm. For more information and to view in-depth articles on the key themes explored on the programme, log on at bizconnect.standardbank.co.za or bdlive.co.za/indepth/growthengines.

 

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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