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Wits U gets digital chair

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Africa’s first Chair in Digital Business is to be established at the Wits Business School through an initial five-year funding commitment from Telkom.

This is in line with leading academic institutions around the world where the digital aspect of business is becoming an essential part of business studies.

“This Chair is a first for South Africa and the continent and will ensure that as a business school located in the economic heart of Africa, we are at the forefront of delivering important research and relevant programmes that are essential for doing business in today’s digitised world,” says Professor Steve Bluen, Head of the Wits Business School. “The impact of this Chair is significant. Not only will it contribute to the economy by developing essential skills that will boost employment and encourage start-ups, but it responds directly to the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy adopted by the African Union in 2014 that aims to reposition the continent as a collection of technology-driven economies, ensuring the sustainable growth of the countries within.”

The rapid development of information and communication technologies around the world and across the continent means that these days the internet is a key part of most businesses. Nearly every company or institution has online operations and many businesses now operate solely online.

Wits Business School also plans to conduct research in the field of digital business in Africa, and advance awareness of digital business and readiness by engaging with business, government and communities.

“A digital business removes the barriers of time and distance, creating local jobs that can compete in a global market,” says Professor Chris van der Hoven, Academic Director at the Wits Business School. “As we stand on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, business persons must understand the challenges, opportunities and risks of digital business, and be able to develop and implement digital business strategies, including digital management, web and data analytics and digital marketing in order to remain competitive locally and globally.”

Potential future developments include the Wits Business School offering a Master of Management in Digital Business, and the establishment of a Centre for Digital Business.

Sipho Maseko, Group Chief Executive at Telkom, said the availability of studies in digital business was an essential development for Africa and South Africa.

“Most businesses are, to an ever-increasing extent, online business. The next generation of business people will be even more exposed to new technologies, along with the threats and opportunities of digital disruption. Unless digital business is part of the business model, companies won’t survive.

“The old analogue approach is history. Digitalisation is helping companies achieve their business goals in a new real-time and information-rich marketplace. This is the world our young people are entering.”

Maseko said the collaboration with the Wits Business School would also help to identify and develop black South African and African talent in the field of digital business.

Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, says, “The Telkom Chair is a welcome addition to Wits’ suite of data science and big data courses and research, as well as to our new innovation hub, the Tshimologong Precinct, in Braamfontein. The development of a successful technology ecosystem is crucial to economic growth and international competitiveness, and I have no doubt that these cutting edge offerings will be central to this.”

In addition to its initial R32.7 million funding over five years, Telkom would create a black internship programme for Wits Business School students. Telkom would also offer free digital business training to its own staff, and particularly executives studying for a master’s degree in digital business.

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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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