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Robots are (maybe) not coming for you

The fears of technology stealing jobs are exaggerated, but that depends on your job, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



As robots migrate from science fiction to the real world, their image as killers has also migrated – but this time the fear is that they will kill off our jobs. The evidence, however, suggests that their effect will be the exact opposite of these fears.

One can go all the way back to the dawn of the industrial revolution and the first manufacturing machine:  the spinning jenny, which began the automation of weaving. There is one small statistic from that revolution that is seldom mentioned, says Tom Raftery, global vice president and futurist for software giants SAP.

“The spinning jenny was the first mechancial loom,” he said during the recent Saphila conference at Sun City, where SAP users and developers network and share information. “There were 7900 spinners and loomers in the United Kingdom at the time, in 1760. They had riots, but by 1790 the number of spinners and weavers rose to 320,000, because spinning jennies could make yarn cheaper and better quality than the manual process.”

In fact, the riots were provoked not by the fear of machines taking away jobs, as myth has it, but rather because they brought the price of cotton and cloth crashing down. But that, too, resulted in a boom rather than the market collapsing, as had been feared.

“Because of increased demand as more people could afford to buy manufactured clothes, economies of scale kicked in, the quality kept increasing, and they needed supply chains to supply the factories. For that they needed distribution mechanisms, and that led to more roads, railways, and ultimately the industrial revolution.”

In the same way, it is anticipated that, rather than jobs disappearing as a result of the widespread advent of robots, we will see a process called labour switching.

Raftery quotes a study by Deloitte, which found that, as organisations embrace and adopt robotics and AI, they are finding that virtually every job can be redesigned, thus creating new categories of work.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report asked, “Are jobs going away due to technology?”

The answer was mixed but reassuring: “While some may be eliminated, our view is that many more are changing…  only 13 percent believe automation will eliminate a significant number of positions, far different from our findings on this score only a few years ago.”

The value of automation and AI, Deloitte said, “lies not in the ability to replace human labor with machines, but in augmenting the workforce and enabling human work to be reframed in terms of problem-solving and the ability to create new knowledge”.

Raftery pointed to some unexpected results of the growing number of skilled jobs and, by extension, better-paid young people.

“Employment in professional services has gone way up, as have numbers of bar staff, and the number of hairdressers – as we have more money to enjoy ourselves, as we have more money to improve our appearance.

“New jobs are being created by technology all the time. How many of your job titles existed 5 years ago, 10, 15? More than 60% of the global workforce in 1900 was employed in agriculture and manufacture. Today it is 11%, and we don’t have vast unemployment in those areas. Robots won’t take our jobs, they will be creating jobs.”

Raftery pointed to five industries that will be dramatically affected by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, and cloud computing. These make up the so-called fourth industrial revolution, a phrase commonly bandied about in South African government circles, but with little awareness of what it truly represents.

In healthcare, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and food production, he said, we can expect to see a decimation of existing jobs – a prospect that the Government will find somewhat difficult to sell to the labour unions. However, each of these sectors will see a massive demand for new jobs and skills. Already, the cybersecurity industry, which in effect has to secure the data of every one of these sectors, is reporting a desperate shortage of skills, both in South Africa and globally.

Manufacturing, seemingly the most boring of all industries, will present us with the most fascinating opportunities and challenges.

Said Raftery, “We are seeing a move to 3D printing, to mass customisation, which is really product-as-a-service. Fiat is building a modular electric car that one can endlessly customise, down to the battery pack. You can even order an extra 500km of range for the weekend, getting a more expensive battery just for the weekend when you need it.”

United Parcel Service, an American delivery and supply chain management company, has grasped one of the big opportunities offered by 3D printing of products on demand.

“At present UPS has a huge business storing parts for customers,” said Raftery. “They hold US$1.8-trillion worth of customer stock in their warehouses. Now they’ve partnered with SAP to launch a spare parts 3D printing business. They’re going through a certification process with customers to sign off that their 3D printed parts are as good as the originals. Then the products will be digitised and put in digital warehouse and can be sent anywhere in world.”

Some of the world’s biggest technology manufacturers are getting in on the act.

Last week, HP Inc formally opened the doors of a massive new 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in Barcelona. It provides a large-scale factory environment to collaborate with customers and partners on digital manufacturing technologies.

During our visit to the Centre earlier this year, Nick Lazaridis, president of HP for Europe, Middle East and Africa, told us that many companies made the mistake of thinking of the industry in terms of sales of printers and materials.

“If you had a total monopoly of 3D printing, the market would be worth around $40-billion. But if you look at the industry that this is going to disrupt, namely manufacturing, that’s a $12-trillion industry.”

As with Raftery, however, he predicted that 3D printing will have a massive impact on distribution, warehousing and energy needs.

“This smartphone or bottle is being manufactured in a low-cost country. But you have to build factories, manufacture the products, warehouse them, put them on planes and boats, warehouse them again, put them on trucks again, before they arrive on the shelves. That leaves behind a massive carbon footprint.

“When you talk 3D printing, you can design in Spain or South Africa, you can manufacture on demand in South Africa, and deliver in 24 hours because it is printed in a warehouse a few blocks from where you live. You don’t build a hundred thousand units hoping to sell them; you build on demand.”

Obviously, robots, 3D printing and every other expression of the fourth industrial revolution will kill off jobs. But equally obviously, the jobs they create, in turn, will not only be better jobs, they will also be better for our planet.

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


Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.



The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here:

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps



Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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