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Wits U opens Digital Hub in Braamfontein

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The University of the Witwatersrand and its partners in government, business and industry have officially launched the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is Johannesburg’s newest high-tech address in the vibrant inner-city district of Braamfontein, where the incubation of start-ups, the commercialisation of research and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youths will take place.

Through Wits’ Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), Tshimologong has been three years in the making and is a dynamic development that encourages tech innovation and collaboration between the University’s researchers and students and the private, public and civil society sectors in Johannesburg.

“We hope that transforming Braamfontein into Africa’s premier technology hub will inspire new talent, create jobs and lead to an economic renaissance,” says Barry Dwolatzky, Professor of Software Engineering in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering and Director of JCSE.

Dwolatzky, who has been driving the Tshimologong-initiative, envisions 24/7 activity in the new precinct, with events running day and night, as well as a hub where ideas are hatched and creativity has a space to breathe.

“Tshimologong will be a start-up incubator, business accelerator and source of skills. The focus is on digital hardware, software and content. We are creating a hub space where people can get together, brainstorm and work on creative projects,” he says.

Programmers, designers, developers, entrepreneurs and start-ups will congregate in this half-a-city-block along Juta Street. It has flexible open-plan co-working areas with broadband connectivity for ICT start-ups, meeting and refreshment zones, computer laboratories, training rooms, maker spaces, creative content development environments, and administrative and infrastructure support offices.

Drawing on models that have proved hugely successful in major cities around the world, Wits is driving the development of a successful technology ecosystem in the centre of Africa’s most important business and economic hub. It will complement the University’s suite of ICT-related offerings in research, courses and programmes in software engineering, data science, big data, digital business, and others.

“Wits aims to inspire the development of a new generation of digital technology experts, innovators and entrepreneurs and Tshimologong will provide an enabling space for our country’s most creative young minds to develop new digital technologies that are crucial to South Africa’s economic growth and international competitiveness,” says Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal at Wits University.

Not only accessible or open to University researchers and students, the Precinct is membership-based and will provide a space for skills development in the software and digital technology sector, help address unemployment, and encourage the growth of new businesses.

An important element of the Tshimologong Precinct is the recently launched IBM Research Lab, the first such facility anywhere in the world that is tightly integrated into an innovation hub.

An addition to the Tshimologong development is the establishment by Wits of The DIZ (Digital Innovation Zone), a fantastic space in Smit Street Braamfontein where creatives, innovators and programmers can come together and collaborate.

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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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