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How tech start-ups can boost rural communities

SCOTT ZAMBONINI, Enterprise Development Manager for Seda Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII), shares his view on how tech start-ups can improve healthcare and education in rural communities.

Approximately one third of South Africa’s population resides in rural areas where the realities of poverty, unemployment and the related social problems are faced on a daily basis.

Social entrepreneurs are those whose core business focus is to provide innovative solutions to social problems such as rural healthcare, welfare and employment with the ultimate outcome being the establishment of a virtuous cycle of prosperity.

In the cases of very poor communities, innovative technology coupled with the mass adoption of smart phones can play an extremely positive role in achieving a social entrepreneurial vision.

Today developments and innovations in several different areas are setting the pace for aspiring social-tech entrepreneurs and rural development agencies.

 Rural Internet Connectivity:

Since its large scale adoption, the Internet has become the urban world’s go-to for information, services and knowledge.

In most rural settings, however, this is not the case – largely due to the lack of internet service provision to rural areas. According to Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey (GHS) 2014, almost half of South African households (48.7%) had at least one member who used the Internet.  Yet only 0.8% of the population living in rural areas in the Eastern Cape have an internet connection at home, while 21.6% used mobile devices. Another 6% used internet cafés and 1% had access to the internet at educational facilities.

Tech solutions in this realm can offer rural communities access to a world of information beyond their imagination, while enabling self-learning, development and access to things like healthcare and education.

Rural Healthcare:

Healthcare in urban centres is easy to access and something we take for granted every day. In rural settings however, individuals and communities struggle to obtain even a basic diagnosis or treatment for mild conditions, let alone life-threatening ones.

The remote locations of rural communities make access to clinics and doctors difficult, so tech innovations to help bridge the gap are in high demand.

One possibility to solve this would be the means to communicate diagnostic data collected in the rural area directly to an urban-based doctor via a portable medical device. This allows for real-time interaction between an urban based doctor and rural patient.

Another idea which stems from this would be the remote dispatching of the required medicinal supplies via a courier drone. The drone company, Zipline, is currently partnering with international aid organisations to use their drones to deliver food and medical supplies to rural Rwandan communities. There is no reason why South Africa cannot use the same idea.

Technology Based Education:

Access to education is a human right which has not been fully realised in rural communities. Book shortages, underqualified teachers, long commutes and poor facilities largely contribute to this dilemma, which often leaves youthful individuals in remote areas with little to no hope.

The recent advent of Massive Open Online Courses has allowed millions of individual’s access to free education from the likes of Harvard and MIT.

Social-techno entrepreneurs have the opportunity to enable   relevant teaching through innovative solutions such as the Samsung Solar Powered Internet School initiative. Here smart schools make use of technology through the use of mobile devices, e-boards and educational software in order to offer improved learning experiences to children and young adults. The units come completely self-contained with solar generators and wireless communication, providing unlimited access to technology, communication and information as long as there is sunlight to power the solar panels, digital cellular network or satellite connectivity.

Virtual Reality:

 Virtual Reality (VR) has long been a dream for the future and science fiction obsessed. VR can be defined as “a computer-simulated reality that replicates an environment which simulates a physical presence in places in the real/imaginary world, allowing the user to interact in that world through artificially created sensory experiences”.

This emerging technology can allow for rural community members to experience a reality outside of the hardships of their own. This type of escape, when used correctly, can provide mental stimulation and a means to cope with one’s current environment without being lured into the prevailing distractions of gang and crime-related activity. “VR for education” applications, which provide an educational experience, will be of high value and allow rural children to participate in virtual classroom activities from any location for personal and cognitive development.

The above mentioned are achievable technology concepts for sustainable socio-economic development that could ideally grow and develop rural areas, and ultimately offer outlying communities a better quality of life.

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Eugene Kaspersky posts from 2050

In his imagined blog entry from the year 2050, the Kaspersky Lab founder imagines an era of digital immunity

In recent years, digital systems have moved up to a whole new level. No longer assistants making life easier for us mere mortals, they’ve become the basis of civilisation — the very framework keeping the world functioning properly in 2050.

This quantum leap forward has generated new requirements for the reliability and stability of artificial intelligence. Although some cyberthreats still haven’t become extinct since the romantic era around the turn of the century, they’re now dangerous only to outliers who for some reason reject modern standards of digital immunity.

The situation in many ways resembles the fight against human diseases. Thanks to the success of vaccines, the terrible epidemics that once devastated entire cities in the twentieth century are a thing of the past.

However, that’s where the resemblance ends. For humans, diseases like the plague or smallpox have been replaced by new, highly resistant “post-vaccination” diseases; but for the machines, things have turned out much better. This is largely because the initial designers of digital immunity made all the right preparations for it in advance. In doing so, what helped them in particular was borrowing the systemic approaches of living systems and humans.

One of the pillars of cyber-immunity today is digital intuition, the ability of AI systems to make the right decisions in conditions where the source data are clearly insufficient to make a rational choice.

But there’s no mysticism here: Digital intuition is merely the logical continuation of the idea of machine learning. When the number and complexity of related self-learning systems exceeds a certain threshold, the quality of decision-making rises to a whole new level — a level that’s completely elusive to rational understanding. An “intuitive solution” results fromthe superimposition of the experience of a huge number of machine-learning models, much like the result of the calculations of a quantum computer.

So, as you can see, it has been digital intuition, with its ability to instantly, correctly respond to unknown challenges that has helped build the digital security standards of this new era.  

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M-Net to film Deon Meyer novel

A television adaptation of Deon Meyer’s crime novel Trackers is to be co-produced by M-Net, Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF, and HBO subsidiary Cinemax, which will also distribute the drama series worldwide. 

Trackers is an unprecedented scripted television venture and MultiChoice and M-Net are proud to chart out new territory … allowing local and international talent to combine their world-class story-telling and production skills,” says MultiChoice CEO of General Entertainment, Yolisa Phahle.

HBO, Cinemax, and M-Net also launched a Producers Apprenticeship programme last year when the Cinemax series Warrior, coming to M-Net in July, was filmed in South Africa. Some other Cinemax originals screened on M-Net include Banshee, The Knick and Strike Back. 

“Cinemax is delighted to partner with M-Net and ZDF in bringing Deon Meyer’s unforgettable characters and storytelling—all so richly rooted in the people and spectacular geography of South Africa—to screens around the world,” says Len Amato, President, HBO Films, Miniseries, and Cinemax.    

Filming for Trackers has already started in  locations across South Africa and the co-production partners have been working together on all aspects of production 

Deon Meyer, whose award-winning crime novels have been translated into more than 20 languages, with millions of copies sold worldwide, serves as a supervising screenwriter and co-producer; British writer Robert Thorogood (Death in Paradise) is the showrunner. The team of South African writers on the project includes the Mitchell’s Plain playwright, screenwriter and director Amy Jephta (Die Ellen Pakkies Story) and local writer/directors Kelsey Egen and Jozua Malherbe. 

The cast for the six-part miniseries includes Ed Stoppard, Rolanda Marais, James Alexander and Thapelo Mokoena. 

Trackers will make its debut on M-Net 101 in October 2019 and will also be available on MultiChoice’s on-demand service, Showmax. The six-part drama series is produced by UK production company Three River Studios as well as South Africa’s Scene 23. 

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