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SA students win global app prizes

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Two software development students from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth have come up tops in international app development competitions.

Jason Cross and Nicholas Jordaan first gained attention in the local software development industry in 2015, after winning the local round of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2015. This global technology competition provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games as well as integrated solutions that have the potential to change the way we live, work and play. It empowers tertiary education students of all ages and skill levels with the tools, programmes, and instruction they require to turn innovative ideas into software that can tackle real world problems or provide entertainment.

Normally, the kind of students entering this competition are in the final stages of their undergraduate degrees or even Honours level, however, Cross and Jordaan entered as first years with the goal of getting a little experience and seeing how they rank in terms of skills when matched against their peers. The duo formed a team called Digital Interactive Games and saw their project, a 3D Labyrinth style game called PYA Maze of Gods, win the local round of Imagine Cup and they went on to represent South Africa at the global finals.

As a result of the vast amount of learning that this experience provided the team with, they wanted to compete again in the forthcoming Imagine Cup 2016. Their latest project, called Of Dragons & Sheep, was born out of this need and incorporated the learnings from last year’s experiences. Consequently, the team has already managed to edge out global competition to come up tops within the games category of the 2016 Big Idea: Design Winners competition as well as the games category of the 2016 Big Idea: Pitch Winners. They also landed an honourable mention in the 2016 Project Blueprint challenge.

Entries for Imagine Cup 2016 is still open to all institutions of higher learning and students can register their teams on www.imaginecup.com. The finals of the local round of Imagine Cup 2016 will take place on the 30th of March 2016.

For the first time, primary- and high school students are also able to enter in the Imagine Cup Earth category. This new online contest is open to students aged 6-18, with the goal of using computer programming to create a game, simulation, or story inspired by the kinds of earth science that NASA and other researchers do every day. 18 winning students will win prizes totalling $36 000.

Tapping into local youth to boost the SA app development market

According to the latest research from Statistics South Africa, there are about 19.706 million working-age youth (15 to 34 years) in the country, most of whom (around 9.885 million) are not economically active, meaning they are students, care takers at home, or are no longer actively seeking employment opportunities. Approximately 6.239 million are employed, while 3.646 million were unemployed and looking for work.

In order for South Africa’s youth to participate in the economy and software development industry effectively, young people must be provided with the right training, opportunities, access to jobs, internships and learning experiences through initiatives like Imagine Cup.

“The phenomenal achievements of Cross and Jordaan reassures us that South Africa is on the right path of developing skills in software development that is able to compete with the rest of the world. Initiatives such as Imagine Cup provides an important avenue through which to develop future IT entrepreneurs who will soon be creating more jobs for the youth of the country and delivering apps that will grow the local software economy,” says Clifford De Wit, Developer Experience Director at Microsoft South Africa.

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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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By 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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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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