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Why tech pioneers must be more responsible

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Companies perusing new opportunities also need to assume a corporate responsibility as those who compete in these areas will agree to be bound by rules, says HANS ZACHAR, MD for Technology Strategy at Accenture in SA.

As pioneering companies pursue boundary-breaking opportunities, they must assume a new corporate responsibility. The concept of trust and good corporate citizenship will increasingly come to the fore as those who willingly compete in these new and exciting areas willingly agree to be bound by rules, or lose their ability to play on the stage if they do not.

About 65% of IT and business executives surveyed in the Tech Vision 2017 report believe that regulations in their industry have not been able to keep up with the pace of technology advancement. There is little doubt that new age entrepreneurs will continue to move faster than legislators.

Some form of self-regulation appears inevitable if progress is not to be hampered, but a new set of rules will need to be codified to set the boundaries. These developments are likely to include the pioneers themselves helping to form the laws and regulations that govern privacy, data ethics and security.

A few recent examples highlight how companies have realised they need to keep moving to ensure their idea is not stifled. Amazon announced its intent to pilot a service using drones to deliver packages. While an initial set of regulations around the concept was worked on in the US, Amazon took the concept overseas to conduct the pilot, fine tune the service and launch its first delivery in the UK at the end of 2016.

Businesses in Africa and across the globe are also assembling joint task forces or collaborating with competitors to write rules where nothing exists. Last year, 25 startups united to launch a Bitcoin Smart Contract Federation in the belief that Bitcoin offers a more mature, tested and secure alternative to other smart contract platforms. By building the platform, they are creating the rules for others who will join this ecosystem in the future.

In February this year Standard Bank joined the blockchain consortium R3 to explore the technology and its uses – 75 global financial institutions form part of the network, with Absa having joined in 2016.

It is clear that waiting on the sidelines for rules to change and technology standards to solidify is not going to work.

Other emerging technologies include:

•Differential privacy–Integrates digital ethics and privacy standards for companies by receiving data in such a way that individual identifiers are never collected.

•Smart contract technology–Offers an automated way to enforce contracts whether the counter-party is trusted or not. Smart contracts design-in the rules for a value exchange and can be self-exercising or self-enforcing.

•Homomorphic encryption–Implements data sharing and transformations that are performed exclusively with encrypted data, decrypting it only when a user needs to see a result.

In this dynamic new world businesses are not just creating new products and services but are shaping new digital industries. From technology standards, to ethical norms, to government mandates, in an ecosystem-driven digital economy, the Tech Vision survey highlighted that a wide scope of rules still needs to be defined.

To drive governance and accountability, leading enterprises will increasingly embed the newly defined rules and standards into the technologies themselves. It is therefore no surprise that 78% of the executives we surveyed agree that their organization feels it has a duty to be proactive in writing the rules for emerging industries.

We have to fast forward to a world in which advances increase a thousand fold from where they are today and consider how on earth rules will change quickly enough. There will be a need for some level of speedier automation in legislation, as well as a level of self-regulation when change overshoots existing rules.

True authentication and verification could, for example, take place through a bureau service. South Africa has an awesome opportunity to use its population register to create a digitally managed single point of authentication – you just link to it securely and get confirmation. This is also a fabulous way to prevent fraudulent transactions from taking place.

At the end of the day, speed and efficiency remain critical to maximising outcomes in the uncharted world of the future and to fulfil their digital ambitions, companies must take on a leadership role to help shape the new rules of the game. Third world growth economies have a huge opportunity as they are not bound by legacy structures and modes of thinking. African businesses in particular must seize the opportunities created by the eco-system driven digital economy. Discovery is already a great example of how a company can create a single platform which is then provided to global insurance companies.

The huge benefit Africa has is the lack of established retail networks – these are encumbrances of developed markets – Africa can leapfrog them as it embraces these new channels for doing business, which in the future will be far more profitable than traditional bricks and mortar structures.

It will also be important to realise that to successfully implement an idea on the scale required, help from elsewhere will be needed. Most service organisations unfortunately still have pretty rigid conditions, terms and modes of thinking that will only prove to be a barrier to entry. The Google’s and Amazon’s of the world will not wait for you.

However, as rules are not yet advanced enough and much of the current processes within companies are outdated, it is important to keep in mind that when you release your innovation you must make sure you are secure enough and anticipate potential loopholes.

There’s a whirlwind of disruptive activity happening across industries and as these early pivot points of new industries develop, organisations will need to changes the way we see the world and how they embrace risk.

There is no doubt companies will be able to partner best with others that have the same security and technology standards, as well as similar ethical values and commitment to social responsibility.

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Meet the ambassador to the future

Tilly Lockey, 14, lost her hands as a toddler, but sees it as a massive opportunity to embrace technology. She chatted with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK about the human of tomorrow.

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Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

It is a description that defines 14-year-old Tilly Lockey: She lost her hands at the age of 15 months, and now uses bionic hands to show the world how to overcome disability.

That could easily read as an advertisement for a prosthetics company, but Tilly refuses to be defined by marketing messages. She has not only embraced what is supposed to be a disability, but wants to become nothing less than an ambassador to the future.

Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

That is in effect what she is achieving by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with artificial hands. It means that, eventually, she will have more capabilities built into her body than most able-bodied humans can imagine. She collaborates closely with Open Bionics, a start-up that is using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetics with high-tech capabilities.

“I have very high hopes for the future,” she said during a chat on the sidelines of the SingularityU Summit at Kyalami north of Johannesburg. From Newcastle-on-Tyne in the United Kingdom, she was at the Summit as a guest speaker, chaperoned by her father Adam and sister Tia. 

“When I started working with Open Bionics, I wanted it to include lighting, music, Bluetooth, a projector in my palm, all over-optimistic things. But then I feel that is not too far away, and then a disability would turn into and enhancement of normal human hands. I’m really excited about it.

“I know there’s a couple of things they are working on right now, like trying to get the built-in battery thinner, because it’s hard to get overcoats and jackets over it, so they are trying to get the hands slimmer. They’re working on haptic feedback, to give a sense of touch of vibration, which tells me of I have a good grip on something. It could be coming soon. These hands I’m using now were made in the past five years. In another five years, I think we’ll have all of it.”

The hands in question are called Hero Arms, which its creators, Open Bionics, say is “the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics”.

Click here to read more about the development of Open Bionics’s Hero Arms.

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How Tilly Lockey became a Hero

Part 2 of ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK’s interview with Tilly Lockey explores her amazing career.

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Picture courtesy SingularityU South Africa 2019 Summit

This is the second part of this series of articles. To start from the beginning, click here.

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old.

Her mother spotted the tell-tale signs one day in 2007: a fast-spreading skin rash that looks like pinpricks, along with symptoms like lethargy and bruising. She was rushed to hospital, but the bacterial poisoning spread so aggressively, doctors gave Tilley no chance of survival. They had to make a quick decision to amputate her hands to save her life.

Twelve years later, her future truly came into focus: “I was surprised with really cool Alita: Battle Angel bionic Hero Arms and went on the blue carpet at the world premiere of the movie with Rosa Salazar and director James Cameron.”

That pivotal moment in her life would not have been possible without the intensive efforts of her mother, Sara, to raise funds to buy something better than the metal prosthetics issued by the National Health Service in the UK. She increased Tilley’s profile with a campaign to “Give Tilley a Hand”, and today works as a fundraiser and events organiser for the Meningitis Now support group. Her involvement in an event meant she was unable to join Tilley on her trip to South Africa last week, when she spoke at the SingularityU Summit. After coming off stage, Tilley told us that Sara was her biggest inspiration in her life, and the closest to a role model.

“I’m usually a speaker at her events. I tell everyone my story and what I’m doing now and give these kids inspiration, because they often feel they can’t do anything because of what Meningitis did to them.

“I am home schooled now, which is pretty cool, because I’m able to have a career and get educated at the same time. I feel I can do a lot of things that friends can’t do. I can take a whole class on an aeroplane. I have a great time traveling and meeting so many inspiring people who are making a difference in the world.”

The form of Mengingitis that attacked her leaves hidden scars and issues that only become apparent years later. She is almost absurdly cheerful about the challenges that have faced her.

“I personally figured out that my left leg had stopped growing. I’m still finding out things it has caused, but you survive. At least I’m here and I’m alive.”

It does help that she’s comfortable in the spotlight, happy to give interviews, and eager to show what she can do with her bionic hands.

“I want to go into public speaking a lot more, and it could be an option as career. I want it to continue because it’s a lot of fun, and I feel I’ve got a story to share. If I can inspire people to change the world, I will. “

Her travels this year will still take her to Barcelona, Jakarta and New York. In the Big Apple, she will accept a humanitarian award, and intends “to give a funky speech”.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, she will take part in a fashion catwalk and do a makeup tutorial live. She learned to do makeup with one of her bionic hands when she fractured her right elbow in a fall at school

“I got makeup for Christmas and wanted to play with it, and got the idea of doing it with an open hand. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after studying how to do it, I was able to recreate a full makeup routine using one hand. It wasn’t a great situation at the time, but now I’m happy it happened because it got me into doing what I do now.”

What she is doing with makeup is remarkable in its own right. She gives tutorials on YouTube, where she says she is “kinda new”, as she has “only around 16,000 followers”. That may well soon expand into cooking videos.

In other words, everything is an opportunity: “I could be sad, just sit on my bed and cry, or I can live my life and realise what I’ve got: these amazing bionic Hero Arms.

“All I want to do is help give people confidence in themselves, accept who they are, accept their scars and everything about them. That they don’t have to impress everybody and just be themselves.”

Read more in the third article of the series about how family remains at the centre of Tilly’s life.

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