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Big chance for bright idea

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Funisile Zothe, named Community Energy Champion last year, has shown what one person with a commitment to the environment can achieve. Entries for this year’s competition open next week and could win up to R30 000 for a bright idea.

A general worker at an Eastern Cape school is the driving force behind one of the most innovative renewable energy projects in the country.

From the Three Crowns Junior Secondary School in the Kavali Village, Lady Frere, Funisile Zothe has for the past four years been running his own initiatives aimed at promoting sustainable energy use, which garnered him a prestigious Eskom eta Award last year.

Zothe has implemented a biogas facility ‚ a technology that produces biofuel by breaking down organic matter such as dead plant and animal material, animal dung and kitchen waste- as well as a waste water treatment facility, a 2kW wind/solar hybrid system and 12 worm farms at the secondary school.

Zothe is committed to promoting and implementing an energy saving culture at home and in the community as a whole. He teaches the learners at his school about these novel technologies and practices to inspire and motivate them.

Because of this demonstration of dedication to making the school and thereby his whole community more energy efficient, Zothe is the Eskom eta Award’s reigning Community Energy Champion.

Zothe says: ‚We started this project because this area we live in is very poverty-stricken. There is a severe lack of employment, and development has been very slow. But because of this project, our livelihoods have improved significantly and it has made a huge difference. We are going to continue with this project because people in the community have seen how it has changed their lives by saving money and giving back to nature.‚

The Eskom eta Awards recognise exceptional, innovative and outstanding efforts by individuals, students, companies and other institutions in the efficient use of energy. The winner in each category receives a cash amount of R30 000 and R5 000 goes to each of the runners up in each category.

Says Dr Steve Lennon, chairperson of the eta Awards steering committee and divisional executive: Sustainability: ‚Eskom is committed to rewarding individuals who embrace energy efficiency through the eta Awards. As the country’s electricity provider we are always on the lookout for people who are doing good work in helping to reducing their electricity consumption and we are very excited that Funisile Zothe is motivating young South African’s to join the energy efficiency movement.‚

In addition to the biogas facility Zothe has introduced a solar cooker, much to the pleasure of the learners’ mothers. The solar cooker has a solar dish and a stand where pots can be placed to cook hot meals everyday for the learners.

He has also found an innovative way to water the school’s vegetable garden. By simply collecting drinks bottles and recycling them to build a greenhouse Zothe is able to produce enough water to ensure the garden continues to produce veggies to support the school’s feeding programme.

Zothe’s project has been so successful that it is already being replicated and implemented in four communities in the Chris Hani district, and is set to expand.

‚We are very excited that more and more South Africans are thinking about energy efficiency and doing something to reduce the strain on the national electricity grid. We encourage anyone who is doing something in energy efficiency to enter the competition. Who knows you could be the winner of the R30 000 grand prize,‚ says Dr Lennon.

Entries for the 2012 competition open on 2 April 2012 and close on 3 August 2012. If you are doing something extraordinary to be more energy efficient, then why not enter the Eskom eta Awards and you could win up to R30 000 for your bright idea.

For more information, visit www. eta-awards.co.za

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Prepare for deepfake impact

Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper

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Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt. 

deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.

New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.

In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.

Fooling the naked eye

We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?

There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.

recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.

To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.

Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.

Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.

Heading off the very real threat

So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.

Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.

Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees

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The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit  http://www.explore-datascience.net.

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