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War on e-waste goes global

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In an effort to properly dispose of used electronics, the ITU has set up a variety of recycling initiatives with agencies around the world.

As digital and tech devices become more available worldwide, their responsible disposal is becoming a challenge for many countries. In response, ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technology (ICT) has partnered with the United Nations University (UNU), acting through its Vice Rectorate in Europe hosted Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme, and the Solid Waste Association (ISWA) to form the Global e-Waste Statistics Partnership.

The main objectives of the partnership are to improve and collect worldwide e-waste statistics. As such, the partnership will support countries to produce reliable and comparable e-waste statistics, and will also deliver capacity building workshops and raise visibility on the importance of tracking and managing e-waste.

In addition to the increased production of electrical and electronic equipment worldwide, is the increased pace at which new technologies are being developed. As a result, the amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, is growing rapidly. Used, broken, or obsolete equipment, such as mobile phones, laptops, televisions and batteries contain substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks, especially if not disposed of properly. Most e-waste is not properly documented and not treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods. According to the United Nations Environment Program report Waste Crimes, up to 50 million tons of electronic waste are expected to be dumped in 2017. This represents a 20 per cent increase from 2015.

Measuring e-waste is an important step towards addressing the e-waste challenge. Statistics help to evaluate developments over time, set and assess targets, and identify best practices of policies. Better e-waste data will help to minimize its generation, prevent illegal dumping, promote recycling, and create jobs in the reuse, refurbishment and recycling sectors. In so doing, this will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG12, to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.

“ITU has a track record of providing the world with the most reliable and trustworthy ICT-related data,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “We are pleased to be part of this partnership and to lend our expertise and our long standing experience in data collection to assist countries to track and measure their e-waste, so that responsible e-waste management can be implemented.”

In November 2017, the partnership will publish the global e-waste statistics in a comprehensive report called the Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, which will provide a review of the e-waste challenge to inform country-level decision-making on e-waste management.

“Better statistics will inform policy making to minimize the generation of e-waste, prevent illegal dumping, promote recycling and create valuable jobs in the reuse, refurbishment and recycling sectors,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “This will also contribute to achievement of SDG12, which seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns,” he added.

Through its work, the partnership will identify best practices of global e-waste management and further identify recycling opportunities. To expand its scope and accelerate progress, the partnership is also seeking to engage with other public and private partners interested in addressing the global e-waste challenge.

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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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