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Next big Switch is coming to gaming

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The first major new gaming console brand in many years arrives in South Africa next week. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK previews the Nintendo Switch.

Computer games could comfortably be called the new music. The industry has long surpassed music sales, and live gaming tournaments have spawned a sub-industry all of its own, called eSports, which pulls in tens of millions of dollars in prize money globally.

Little wonder, then, that such intense competition exists between the world’s two leading console platforms, Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Every year sees a new version, a new level of graphic excellence, and fans clamouring for new versions of powerful gaming titles.

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This is the context in which Nintendo, which practically invented the concept, is making its return to the console wars. The now-primitive Game Boy was the first handheld console to go truly mass market in the late 1980s, and resurrected the ailing video game industry. It set the scene for Nintendo to dominate the market for a decade before the arrival of the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox at the turn of the century pushed it down the rankings.

The massive success of the Wii – it sold more than 100-million units from 2006 to 2012 – brought Nintendo back into contention. However, its successor, the handheld Wii U, is today regarded as a flop. Among other, it was brought down by too much complexity and too little versatility.

The outrageous if brief popularity of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game for smartphones, reminded the world that Nintendo was still around. The company pulled off a masterstroke by getting Apple to showcase the Mario Super Run mobile game during the iPhone 7 launch in September, and set the stage for the unveiling of its new console.

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The Nintendo Switch is the first major new gaming console brand in many years, and has seen levels of enthusiasm among the game buying public that is normally associated with the hottest new smartphones.

It arrives in South Africa on 3 March, and is already expected to walk off the shelves. The only holdback is likely to be the initial recommended retail price of R5 999, but that is expected to come down significantly thanks to exchange rate improvements and retailer discounts.

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The beauty of the Switch is that it is several gaming devices in one. At first sight, it is merely a handheld console, albeit a few generations advanced over the Wii U: it houses a 6.2-inch, multi-touch capacitive touch screen and offers a display resolution of 1280 x 720. The console can also be connected to a TV, underlining its competition to the PlayStation and Xbox.

The controllers on either side of the screen can also be removed, to become two separate devices that allow two players to challenge each other on the same system. Called Joy-Con, the devices can be deployed in single- or two-controller mode, and can be used vertically or sideways, with motion controls or button.

This is a level of versatility never seen before in gaming devices.

The sophistication of these seemingly humble controllers becomes apparent in games that use both motion control and force feedback – which Nintendo calls HD rumble, a vibration feature built into each JoyCon.

Up to eight controllers can be used with one Switch system, allowing for games like Splatoon – first made popular on the Wii U in 2015 – to enter the eSports arena.

Parental Controls allow parents to use a smart device app to set time limits – both in duration and time of day – as well as parameters for what games can be played by which kids. Even posting screenshots to social media – nowadays a standard feature of gameplay – can be  controlled by parents.

Possibly the most significant innovation of the Switch is in the gaming experience itself, and is heavily driven by the extent to which games take advantage of the technology built into the Joy-Con. This is exemplified by Snipperclips, a deceptively simple game that demands close collaboration between two players, each using a Joy-Con. It turns out to be engrossing, fun and even a bonding experience. One cannot say that of many computer games!

Many people buying the Switch, however, will be coming back for Legend of Zelda, a long-time Nintendo favourite that has sold more than 75-million games in the last two decades. The new edition, Breath of the Wild, drew the longest lines during Switch demos in Johannesburg last weekend.

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It is clear that it will ensure the continued longevity of that specific franchise, as well as underpin the success of the Switch itself. Microsoft and Sony might not take their eyes off their own controllers for now, but they are no longer the only games in town.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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UN calls for electronics overhaul to beat e-waste

Seven UN entities have come together at the World Economic Forum to tackle the escalating scourge of electronic waste.

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Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges. 

The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the GDP of most countries. 

Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars– more than the GDP of most countries.  

Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment. 

The report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.  

Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.  

The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.  

And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide. 

The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions. 

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: 

  • International Labour Organization (ILO); 
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU); 
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); 
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); 
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); 
  • United Nations University (UNU), and 
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS). 

The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).  

Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment announce a 2 million dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million dollars in additional financing from the private sector.   

According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste. 

UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, whilst enhancing regional cooperation. 

Another Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy. 

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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