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Calling young designers

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Entries have opened for the Eskom eta Awards, which includes a category for Young Designers: school kids with bright minds and bright ideas. Here are a few past winners…

South Africa is a country full of talent. This is particularly true of the youth of the country ‚ a fact which seems to constantly surprise people. In the Young Designers category of the Eskom eta Awards, year after year, school students submit projects on energy efficiency that leave the judges and public alike open-mouthed.

The eta Awards have been running for 23 years, and were originally established with the aim of generating awareness and encouraging action in the energy efficiency field. Over the years they have grown from strength to strength, and are now widely considered the most prestigious energy efficiency awards in the country. They recognise and reward the proven application of sound energy efficiency principals across a broad spectrum of sectors, including commercial, industrial, residential, agricultural and education.

Nine different categories make up the Awards, catering for a wide range of entrants, from individuals to companies – big and small.

The Young Designers category is aimed at school-going children with a creative idea, programme, design or prototype that looks at the efficient use of energy rather than the generation of energy.

Eta Awards judge Alistair Schorn gains inspiration from the high levels of enthusiasm and understanding that the entrants show regarding issues of sustainability, energy efficiency and environment.

‚This is particularly true of our primary school entrants ‚ their submissions are generally the ones that we as judges enjoy the most,‚ he says.

In 2011, the judges were especially impressed by 16 year old Keegan Cordeiro’s entry. This young designer from White River built a solar system that can charge cellphones and run various small appliances that require 220V of alternating current and use a two-prong plug.

This solar-powered charging and supply unit consists of a 15W solar panel, a 12V battery, a 20W inverter, a regulator that protects the battery from being overcharged and also warns you when the battery charge is low, as well as a female USB port, a switch and twin plug. The judges agreed with Cordeiro that it would be cost-effective to manufacture a solar-powered charging and supply unit for the public. His plan is to improve the design and sell the product at a reasonable price to people living in rural areas.

Laura Andreas, a 16 year old student at Deutsche International School in Cape Town, similarly wowed the judges last year with her invention ‚ a solar furnace that desalinates salt water and generates electricity.

Andreas wanted to determine whether it’s possible to desalinate salt water and generate electricity purely using solar energy. The device that she built heats up salt water to boiling point, and then the steam drives a turbine that generates electricity. By condensing the steam water, it produces fresh, drinkable water.

Her project innovatively integrates the concepts of renewable energy and water purification, which, the judges noted, holds significant potential for future development.

The bright young team from Greenwood Independent School in Plettenberg Bay impressed more than just the judges at the 2011 eta Awards. They examined the relationship between the climate, building design and energy usage, aiming to see what they could do to influence local municipality officials with their findings.

They took field trips to see how RDP houses are currently built and identified ways in which they could be made more energy efficient. Their findings indicated that due to lack of insulation, the houses lost a significant amount of heat, and that those built facing west did not benefit from natural warmth.

The innovative youngsters were invited to visit their local mayor, Memory Booysen, to present their findings, which were lauded as ‚eye-opening‚ and said to be likely to change the way RDP houses were built in the future.

It is innovative projects such as these that often leave adults open-mouthed.

Dr Elsa du Toit, longstanding eta Awards judge, sums up this sentiment, saying: ‚Sometimes the kids come up with the brightest innovations and they are so excited about the outcome, which makes the rest of us feel guilty. I like being a judge because I learn something new every year. In a world full of bad news, this is a good news item and it encourages me to continue to fight the good fight in a world full of skeptics.‚

Entries to the 2012 eta Awards opened on 2 April and close on 3 August 2012.

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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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