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Tech meets Art at Wits

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The creative relationship between hardware, software and art will be discovered, examined and explored as the Fak’ugesi Arts Residency returns as part of the 2015 Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival.

The Fak’ugesi Residency will once again bring together the best local and international creative technologists for festival goers to enjoy.

This year, the Wits Art Museum Basement Gallery will be transformed into an inspired ‘Fak’ugesi Lab’ for the entire three week duration of the festival. During this time, resident artists will engage visitors and run workshops with the public in the development of a final installation that responds to the theme: “Futurist visions of Johannesburg: uncovering place and space, physical and virtual responses to ‘now’ for African socio-cultural technologies of the future.”

Tegan Bristow at the Digital Arts Division at Wits and Irini Papadimitriou, a technology arts curator with Watermans and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London have developed this year’s residency with support from the SA-UK Seasons 2014 & 2015, a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture and the British Council. In the spirit of the evolving partnership with Wits Art Museum, Watermans and Fak’ugesi Festival, Ling Tan and Kasia Molga, two UK based creative technologists will join forces with Jepchumba and Nathan Gates, two Africa based creative technologists to collaborate on the development of this year’s theme. In addition to the residency and exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, the residents will also participate at the annual Digital Performance Weekender Festival at Watermans in the UK later this year.

The not-to-be-missed 2015 line-up includes UK based, Ling Tan – a designer, maker, coder and trained architect will be exploring the modes of interaction between the people and the spaces of Braamfontein using wearable and mobile technology.

Also joining the Arts Residency from the UK is Kasia Molga, a media artist and environmentalist. Molga will be working with the intersection of art, science and technology in a bid to challenge our relationships with the city with its green and man-made spaces.

Jepchumba, who originates from Kenya, will be feature as the resident “African Digital Artist”. With a background in digital art, online development and social media strategy, Jepchumba will examine how young people envision themselves in the creative futures of the city, join her at the museum to “Meet Your Future Selfie”.

South Africa based Nathan Gates joins the Artist Residency line-up as the second African artist. Gates’ interests include the domestication of knowledge at the hands of digital technologies. During the residency he will explore processes of creation in thinking about the future of Johannesburg.

Fak’ugesi Festival Director, Prof Christo Doherty, describes the residency as an exciting evolution of the first event pioneered at last year’s Festival.  “In 2015, we are seeing the development and extension of the residency concept that builds on the lessons learnt and the relationships established at last year’s Festival.  We look forward to a vibrant public engagement and challenging creative collaboration around the theme of futurist visions of Johannesburg.”

The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival will run from 21 August to 13 September in Braamfontein.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

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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