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How tech start-ups can boost rural communities

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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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ConceptD: Creatives get a tech brand of their own

The unveiling of a new brand by Acer recognises the massive computing power needed in creative professions, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It’s a crisp Spring morning in Brooklyn. The regular water taxi from Manhattan pulls up at Duggal Greenhouse on the edge of the East River. It’s a building that symbolises the rejuvenation of Brooklyn as a hub of artistic and creative expression.

Inside the vast structure, global computer brand Acer is about to unveil its own tribute to creativity. Company CEO Jason Chen takes to the stage in faded blue jeans and brown t-shirt, underlining the connection of the event to the informality of the area.

“Brooklyn is become more and more diverse,” he tells a gathering of press from around the world, attending the Next@Acer media event. “It’s an area that is up and coming. It represents new lifestyles. And our theme today is turning a new chapter for creativity.”

Every year, Next@Acer is a parade of the cutting edge in gaming and educational laptops and computers. New devices from sub-brands like Predator, Helios and Nitro have gamers salivating. This year is no different, but there is a surprise in store, hinted in Chen’s introduction.

As a grand finale, he calls on stage Angelica Davila, whose day job is senior marketing manager for Acer Latin America. But she also happens to have a Masters degree in computer and electric engineering. A stint at Intel, where she joined a sales and marketing programme for engineers, set her on a new path.

Angelica Davila, marketing manager for Acer Latin America

For the last few months, she has been helping write Acer’s next chapter. She has shepherded into being nothing less than a new brand: ConceptD.

Click here to read more about ConceptD.

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Which voice assistant wins battle of translators?

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Take the most famous phrase from the Godfather – “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” – or “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” from the inaugural address of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and see just how the virtual assistants do in translating them using their newly introduced Neural Machine Translation (NMT) capabilities. One Hour Translation (OHT), the world’s largest online translation service, conducted a study to find out just how accurate these new services are.

OHT used 60 sentences from movies and famous people ranging from the Godfather and Wizard of Oz to Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, US presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy and historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci and Aesop. The sentences were translated by Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri from English to French, Spanish, Chinese and German and then given to five professional translators for their assessment on a scale of 1-6. 

Google Assistant scored highest in three of the four languages surveyed – English to French, English to German and English to Spanish and second in English to Chinese.  Amazon’s Alexa, whose translation engine is powered by Microsoft Translator, was tops in the English to Chinese category. Apple’s Siri was second place in English to French and English to Spanish and third place in English to German and English to Chinese.  (See chart). All three virtual assistants are compatible with mobile phones.

“The automated assistants’ translation quality was relatively high, which means that assistants are useful for handling simple translations automatically,” says Yaron Kaufman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of OHT. He predicts that “there is no doubt that the use of assistants is growing rapidly, is becoming a part of our lives and will make a huge contribution to the business world.” 

A lot will depend on further improvements in NMT technology, which has revolutionized the field of translation over the past two years.  All the companies active in the field are investing large sums as part of this effort. “OHT is working with several of the leading NMT providers to improve their engines through the use of its hybrid online translation service that combines NMT and human post-editing,” notes Kaufman. He adds that this will no doubt have a huge impact on the use of assistants for translation purposes.

OHT has made a name for itself in assessing the level of translations by NMT engines.  Its ONEs Evaluation Score is a unique human-based assessment of the leading NMT engines conducted on a quarterly basis and used as an industry standard. 

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