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Education needs rethink for digital future

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Africa faces a set of potential scenarios brought on by the disruption of digital technologies. But we need a workforce that has the skills and understanding to drive these potentials and bring them to reality, writes SIMON CARPENTER, Chief Technology Advisor at SAP Africa.

Africa faces a set of potential scenarios brought on by the disruption of digital technologies. This in turn provides the continent exponential opportunities for transformation in every aspect of work and life. But we need a workforce that has the skills and understanding of digital technologies to drive these potentials and bring them to reality.

The world of work now faces unprecedented disruption. There is no profession that will be untouched by the advances in machine learning and AI: a recent PwC report on the impact of automation found that 38% of jobs in the US are at risk. As far back as 2012, Dr Thomas Frey has predicted that more than 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 thanks to technological advances.

The skills imperative

Africa largely missed the Industrial Era; since the continent is immensely rich in mineral wealth and arable land, most countries had little need to industrialise. This has left most African countries underdeveloped and lacking the infrastructure that has made more developed nations so wealthy. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is optimistic talk about Africa taking a leap forward in its development to not only catch up but surpass some of its Western peers.

But unless we drastically accelerate STEM skills development, Africa will be left trailing in the dust of global progress for decades. New skills such as computational biology, data science, and algorithmic programming will replace huge numbers of middle class occupations. Without a solid grounding in science, technology, maths and engineering, young workers will simply not have the skills needed to survive – and thrive – in tomorrow’s economy. Initiatives such as Africa Code Week, which is this year aiming to teach basic coding skills to half a million youngsters, and the so-called MOOCS (massive open online courses) such as Coursera and OpenSAP will become invaluable to educators as the pace of change outstrips governments’ and education departments’ ability to maintain a relevant and future-looking curriculum.

Rethinking how we prepare our children for the future of work

While technology poses risks, its potential benefits are immense. The same machine learning technology that is making many jobs irrelevant could be deployed to understand how children learn at an individual level, allowing educators to tailor the classroom experience and curriculum to maximise each unique child’s talents.

Teachers need to be equipped with the tools and content that will inspire a new generation of learners to be curious, learn, and apply new technologies to solve problems that are not even known to us yet. Without great teachers, great teaching is impossible. Clever use of gamification, video content, augmented and virtual reality, and social media can transform the learning and teaching process and inspire learners and teachers alike.

As technological progress further accelerates, we will need to continuously learn new skills and update and augment our knowledge. In the 1950s, the half-life of what you learned at university was as much as 30 years. Today, it’s closer to 5. If you want to work for what we now consider to be a normal working life of 40 years, you need to keep learning or face irrelevance.

The new face of work

The inevitable result of this is that a new type of worker will emerge, challenging organisations by forcing them to radically rethink not only their employment policies but their entire business vision. We are already seeing how the hyper-connected millennial workforce is upending long-held beliefs of what constitutes meaningful and worthwhile work.

These Millennials are generally not interested in the accumulation of material goods at all costs. The hallmark of the 80s and roaring 90s was an accelerating consumerism as technology enabled us to provide convenience and luxury at an unprecedented scale. This new generation demands more from companies and governments: matters such as environmental sustainability, social impact, and equitable distribution of wealth take priority over capitalism’s “profit at all costs” approach.

This has given rise to a new type of organisation, one that strives for a purpose that transcends pure profit. It’s no longer enough to show only positive bottom-line results: if your business is harmful, inequitable, discriminatory, or otherwise counter to prevailing ethical behaviour, you will soon find yourself unable to compete with more socially conscious companies that are able to attract the very best in digital talent.

All exponential organisations have a massively transformational purpose that extends beyond pure profit. SAP’s is to help the world run better and improve peoples’ lives. And, like any organisation, our ability to fulfil that purpose rests wholly on the digital workforce we have to invest in today.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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