Tag: tech

ACSA to spend R1.2bn digitising SA airports

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) has set aside R1.2 billion to digitise the country’s airports, according to a recent article in ITWeb.

The announcement was made as the company released its financial results to 31 March.

Highlights include:

  • Profit fell by 58%, largely due to a 50% increase in security costs
  • R287-million was spent on data centre and network upgrades in 2018/19
  • The organisation says it has embarked on a five-year IT upgrade programme
  • The board has set aside R1.2-billion in capital expenditure to spend on IT infrastructure
  • Upgrades will focus on digitising local airports
  • R301-million will be spent on IT network optimisation
  • R142-million will go towards IT backup and storage solutions
  • R240-million will be spent on improving and upgrading the company’s physical IT infrastructure
  • Legacy equipment will be replaced
  • Paperless travel will require it to tightly integrate its passenger processing systems with databases residing with the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Transport, as well as with other airlines
  • Faster passenger processing will allow the retail component of the airport to generate more non-aeronautical revenue
  • A new mobile application will allow customers and passengers to interact with airports remotely

Image credit: ACSA

Shoprite launches standalone tech stores

Retailer Shoprite has launched new standalone tech stores, called K’nect, in an effort to make it easier for its customers to access services including global money transfers, mobile phone purchases, bill payments, tickets and insurance.

  • The first store was successfully launched at the Delft Mall in Cape Town in May 2019
  • Six new stores will open between end July and mid-August 2019
  • The stores will be located in Hatfield, Rosebank, Riverside Mall, Mmabatho, Watergate Mall and Illanga Mall
  • Stores include specialist tills for money transfers, tickets for travel and events, insurance and mobile devices and accessories
  • Express tills cater for quick transactions, including bill payments (accounts and bills), airtime and data (top-up and recharge), electricity purchases and Lotto ticket purchases

Image credit: MyBroadband

By Sean Hollister for The Verge

In 2014, The Verge reported how Google had effectively created its own island in Silicon Valley, something akin to a company town, exacerbating a housing and traffic crisis that now characterizes much of the San Francisco Bay Area — the place with the highest housing costs in the nation.

Now, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is announcing the company’s biggest commitment by far to fix its broken backyard: a $1 billion investment over the next 10 years to build some 20,000 units of housing.

According to the official Google blog post, the new commitment includes:

  • $750 million worth of the company’s existing office space, which Google will convert into an estimated 15,000 units
  • $250 million toward “incentives” for other developers to build 5,000 units of affordable housing
  • $50 million to nonprofits that help the homeless find shelter

That sounds good! But let me bring you down to reality with some more bullet points:

  • We were already expecting Google to free up as many as 9,850 units in its Mountain View backyard, with Google offering to build some 5,700 itself. (The company leases a lot of property, too.) Google tells The Verge that plan hasn’t yet been approved by the town, but whatever housing it builds in Mountain View is included in this total.
  • This is an investment, not a charity. Google says it’s leasing this land to developers who will rent and sell units — you know, for money — and won’t restrict what they do with it. That does mean no explicit preference to house Google employees, though, and cities will require a certain percentage to be affordable housing. Google proposed 20 percent affordable housing in Mountain View.
  • We’re not talking about single-family homes. Google simply doesn’t have enough office space for 15,000 traditional homes, so it’s going to need to build upward. Expect apartments and condos in multistory units.
  • We don’t know where they’ll be. Optimally, Google can help Bay Area traffic woes by building housing close to its big campuses, and that’s likely, but Google says they could be anywhere in the Bay Area it has office space. The details are up in the air as of today.
  • Google won’t be building 5,000 units of affordable housing itself. The $250M will help developers secure land and permits for affordable housing, incentivizing developers to build.
  • This is a 10-year commitment, all while Google keeps growing. In addition to its holdings in Mountain View, San Francisco, and generally across 24 of the 50 US states, the company’s planning a whole new giant campus in San Jose.

If you want more insight into the kind of relationship that Google believes it can have with the Bay Area, take a peek at the company’s pitch to transform North Bayshore (that’s the portion of Mountain View that Google primarily occupies) with housing, $77M for transportation, plus parks, schools, and more. There’s also a North Bayshore FAQ you might want to read — it explains why Google’s offering 5,700 units there, not 9,850.

But you also might want to think about how Google tried to use housing as a bargaining chip to get more Bay Area office space to begin with — and the damage that big companies like Google can cause if they wind up pulling out of a major infrastructure project early.

By Stephanie Butzer for The Denver Channel

Amazon will expand its Denver Tech Hub, creating 400 new high-tech jobs in fields like software and hardware engineering, cloud computing and advertising, the company announced Tuesday morning.

Amazon plans to open a new office in downtown Denver to accommodate the new positions. This comes in the wake of the company opening a new office in Boulder in the fall of 2018.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he’s excited the company chose to add 400 new jobs here.

“We have a terrific workforce that continues to attract the ideas and businesses that thrive in a knowledge-based economy and we are a great place to do business,” he said. “Amazon’s current Colorado presence spans from distribution centers to robotics, corporate and operations. It’s wonderful to see their continued investment in our community.”

The new office, which will span 98,000 square feet, will be located in Invesco’s 1515 Wynkoop LEED Platinum building in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood.

Currently, Amazon has more than 350 employees in the Denver area and more than 3,500 full-time jobs in the state. It has invested more than $1.5 billion in the state since 2016.

Apple unveils credit card plans

By Nick Statt for The Verge

Among the most tangible announcements at Apple’s services event yesterday was also its most interesting: a credit card, aptly called the Apple Card, with both a physical and digital version that gives you up to 3 percent cash back. The product is, on the surface, a way for Apple to sell its brand on another everyday object you likely already own. But beneath the veneer of a titanium credit card with the Apple logo on it, the company is clearly charting out its post-iPhone future, one in which services reign supreme, by following a formula we’ve never quite seen it attempt before.

In this case, Apple has decided that it needs a traditional product, even one with the dubious moral baggage of a credit card, to promote Apple Pay. While the digital wallet and payment platform is growing fast, it’s still used by less than half of all global iPhone owners (and even less in the US). So just as Apple sees competing with Netflix and large cable companies as part of its future by creating its own TV shows and paying top dollar for Hollywood talent, the company no longer sees upending the status quo in payments as a viable path forward for Apple Pay.

“I think the strange optic here is that credit cards are not necessarily innovation in payments, even with better rates and loyalty,” says Rivka Gewirtz Little, a global research director at analyst firm IDC who specializes in payments. “So, to see a big tech firm, which hangs its hat on innovation, go such a traditional route – that’s what I think is a bit odd here. I’d like to see Apple get more innovative in transforming the way we pay.”

For years, as the iPhone has become ubiquitous and sales have started to slow, Apple has tried to emulate the paradigm-shifting success of the App Store and iTunes before it by barreling its way into TV and film, mobile payments, and news. But time and again over the last half-decade or so, Apple has run into the hard economic and logistic reality of trying to change industries that are far less malleable than mobile software and music.

And while Apple Pay may be a bold vision of the future, it’ll likely be years before contactless digital payments become truly mainstream in the US. In the meantime, Apple wants to sell you the benign and the boring — a credit card, a cable package, a magazine subscription — in hopes it can make its software and services as intrinsic a part of everyday life as its smartphone. Changing industries from the ground up is no longer Apple’s playbook, especially as it plays catch-up to companies like Netflix and Spotify.

Apple’s strategy mirrors that of Amazon. The e-commerce giant started out selling genuinely new and best-in-class products like the Kindle and then the AI-powered Echo speaker. But Amazon has since used the consumer goodwill it garnered and the power it wields over its digital storefront to sell you everything from microwaves and wall clocks to white label clothing brands, home supplies, and AmazonBasics-branded AA batteries.

Apple is doing the same, using the iPhone as the ultimate gateway to transform every iOS and Mac user into a series of multiple recurring revenue streams from products made first and in some cases made better by other companies, be it Apple Music, Apple News, iCloud, or the new TV app. Apple is stopping short of making its own version of Prime, in which all of these services could be bundled together, but the company appears to be taking its cues from Amazon’s subscription approach to further lock iPhone owners into a broader ecosystem.

With the Apple Card, the company is going one step further and trying to capture not just what you consume, but also the financial means you use to do so. Apple isn’t reinventing the wheel — the card, as reported by CNET, doesn’t have contactless capabilities like newer cards from competing banks, so you’ll need to slide it or input the chip into a reader to use it every time. Instead, Apple is giving users a no-frills credit card that’s a cleverly disguised way to juice Apple Pay adoption and usage.

Unlike the subscription services it plans to sell, the Apple Card comes with no annual fee, no late lees, and an interest rate supposedly lower than the industry average. On top of that, it has a pretty straightforward rewards program that incentivizes consumers to use Apple Pay to buy Apple products, for the most cash back at 3 percent thanks likely to the fact that Apple no longer has to hand over as high a processing fee as it does with a third-party card. If you have to use the physical Mastercard-branded card, you’ll get 1 percent back. (Granted, when it launches, the Apple Card will be one of the only cards on the market without a sign-up bonus, the primary incentivizing mechanism banks use to get people to open new lines of credit.)

To get customers to actually sign up, Apple is leaning heavily on its privacy-first approach. Effectively, Apple wants to be the only tech company you actually trust. Onstage yesterday, CEO Tim Cook said the card will not collect data on your transactions, and Apple will not let its partner bank, Goldman Sachs, sell any data to third parties. But of course that begs the question: how does it make money, and without those usual stipulations, is Apple not simply banking on users falling into debt and pocketing the insurance money they’re forced to pay for years to come?

The goal may not be to turn a profit, at least not on the service itself. It all comes back to Apple Pay. The reason Apple made a credit card in the first place is to spur adoption of Apple Pay, and to create a digital wallet that can be used not just in the real world, but also inside an iOS ecosystem that is increasingly being peppered with new, for-pay services.

“Mobile wallets are still a small section of the market, so it’s understandable there needs to be a big push if your aim is more adoption,” says Rasha Katabi, CEO and co-founder of credit card and digital payments startup Brim Financial. “As the adoption of e-commerce increases, and we’ve seen that at an exponential rate over the past few years, the relevance of having a physical card or lack thereof will track really closely to the adoption and migration from physical shopping to fully online shopping.”

The only online shopping Apple truly cares about happens within its ecosystem: in-app subscriptions for its new services, microtransactions in mobile games like Fortnite, Venmo-style peer-to-peer payments with Apple Cash, and purchasing of Apple hardware from within the Apple Store mobile app. All of this qualifies for the 3 percent cash back bonus, Apple confirmed to The Verge. And that arrangement sheds an interesting light on the entire Apple Card approach.

Through its incentives, Apple is creating a system where you’ll shop in the real world at Apple Pay partners for an extra cash back bonus, switch your App Store credit card to an Apple one with an even better bonus, and rely only on the physical card for when you absolutely have to. And all of it is underpinned by Apple’s privacy pledge and relatively solid security track record, as well as the luxury status symbol provided by an Apple-branded piece of titanium, with its number-less design that non-coincidentally makes it easy to gloat about on social media.

Tech trends for 2019

By Bernard Marr for Forbes

Every year, many of my clients ask me about the key technology trends that I believe will define the coming year. Here are my predictions of the tech trends that have the potential to make or break careers and businesses in 2019.

While some of these may seem obvious – no one will be surprised to hear that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are likely to remain hot topics – the disruptive nature of tech means it’s likely we will get a few surprises.

Artificial intelligence everywhere

The year 2018 will be remembered as the year that artificial intelligence (AI) hit the mainstream, but in 2019 and beyond it’s going to be absolutely everywhere.

This is because hardware and software developers have passed the trial period – experimenting to see where AI fits, and where it can deliver the biggest improvements in customer experience and productivity improvements.

In many cases we won’t even know it’s there – as machine learning services work quietly in their clouds, managing everything from power networks to distribution logistics and financial transactions.

In other cases, it will be highly visible – as our smartphones, home assistants, kitchen gadgets and cars put increasingly sophisticated tools at our fingertips.

The AI we interact with day-to-day – whether it is Google search engines, Netflix recommendation engines or assistants like Alexa or Siri – will become increasingly ubiquitous as well as useful, as breakthroughs in deep learning and reinforcement learning lead to more capable and reliable services.

Rapid changes in healthcare delivery

Undoubtedly one of the most crucial and worthy applications of technology – expect machines to be credited with saving more lives in 2019.

With much of the world facing a shortage of trained medical professionals, and even rich nations feeling the bite due to economic pressures, technology is often hailed as a potential savior.

From AI systems capable of detecting cancer or heart attacks to the rollout of telemedicine allowing patients to be treated in their homes, perhaps no industry is pinning its hopes for the future so firmly on tech as healthcare is.

This year could be the year that their impact on patient outcomes and quality-of-life comes to the attention of the mainstream. With projects moving out of pilot phases and beginning to go into operational deployment, we will see technology costs coming down and more providers such as hospitals and clinics being able to cover the up-front cost.

At the same time, a growing awareness of personal data issues – particularly in developing countries where they have so far not been given much thought at all – will lead to growing concern over what is happening with all of the data that is being generated by these 21st-century solutions.

There will also be voices cautioning that when ill people are being examined remotely and diagnosed by machines, the “personal touch” which has long been an essential skill for doctors and nurses will be lost, and the long-term implications of this are far from certain.

You won’t hear as much about blockchain – but it’s far from dead

One “hot topic” on a lot of last years’ lists (including mine) was blockchain. This year, it is somewhat conspicuous by its absence.

A lot of this may be down to the slump in the price of cryptocurrency Bitcoin – still blockchain’s most public-facing application. However, reports that many private commercial or industrial blockchain initiatives are still failing to demonstrate much real-world value are also a factor.

Does this mean that blockchain is dead? I think it’s far too early to make that call. The fundamental principle of a distributed ledger, secured by encryption, providing an immutable record of transactional activity, still holds a tremendous amount of potential value.

Organizations may be struggling to see their way to building the most successful implementations, and in 2019 we may well see the folding of any number of previously highly-publicized attempts.

But innovation is still going on behind the scenes, and it is probable that less publicized but well thought-out initiatives may start to generate value. A rise in the value of Bitcoin (which has crashed just as spectacularly as it did this year in the past, before rising to ever-greater heights) would reinvigorate interest in the underlying tech, too -for better or worse.

Smart cities will become smarter

Residents of cities where investment has been made in environmental, utility management and transport infrastructure tech will start to see real benefits in their daily lives during 2019.

All of these infrastructure initiatives require one thing – beyond even money or innovation – to deliver real results, and that’s real data, gathered from real-world applications.

With many of these projects around the world beginning to mature, the volume of data will reach a critical mass meaning the impact on our lives – from cleaner air to cheaper energy and more efficient public services, can start to take effect.

Those that aren’t generating value by this point will be abandoned – in line with the “fail fast” ethos that drives tech development today. On the other hand, where pilots and trials in global showcase smart cities have been demonstrated beyond doubt, we can expect those initiatives to be adopted elsewhere quickly.

Global eSports revenues hit $1 billion

According to research from Deloitte, the market for eSports – video games played as a spectator sport – will expand by 35% in the next year.

The growth in the number of people wanting to watch professional video game players, particularly although not exclusively among the younger demographic, has already swept through Asian countries. Experts predict 2019 could be the year it hits the big time in the US, too.

Franchise rights, advertising, and broadcast agreements will drive spending as audiences get hooked on newly formed leagues, tapping into the fanbase for successful video game series such as Fifa, NBA, Fortnite, and Overwatch.

eSports have grown in popularity due to their existence at the convergence of several trends -notably changes in our leisure habits, with younger people watching less television and playing more games. And a move towards building online, social communities where fans interact and converse.

The elevation of professional game players to the level of professional athletes and sportspeople is a developing trend which is also likely to continue, with big money on offer for those who prove they can attract audiences to this entertainment.

Written by Jason O’Brien for Training Journal 

The introduction of digital technologies into the workplace has brought with it a number of advantages. Businesses have solutions to improve productivity and reduce expenditure. Employees have greater flexibility and better tools to do their job.

However, the evidence suggests there are some downsides to the amount of technology we use in the workplace. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, sometimes limiting the amount of technology employees use can actually increase their productivity. Limits on tech can prevent fatigue and help staff avoid procrastination so they are worth taking a look at.

Tech affects our mental state

Technology may make our professional lives easier, but studies have been conducted that suggest it doesn’t make us healthier. Take this 2015 study of college students, published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. It shows the link between smartphone addiction and negative physiological and psychological symptoms including increased blood pressure and anxiety.

In 2012, the University of Gothenburg’s research into smartphone and computer usage found that excessive use is linked to stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms. If users undertake excessive use of both smartphones and computers, the risk of these symptoms is heightened, A computer repair Company in Springfield finds.

Affecting everything from attention spans to creativity, use of technology affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. This in turn affects a business’s bottom line.

Sleep is the real issue that underpins the negative aspects of technology use. Affecting everything from attention spans to creativity, use of technology affects our ability to get a good night’s sleep. This in turn affects a business’s bottom line.

A 2016 study from Hult International Business School showed that a lack of sleep costs organisations $2,280 a year for every sleep-deprived employee. Without enough rest, the ability of staff to communicate effectively and problem solve is lowered – costing businesses money.

Help employees reduce usage

To combat the detrimental effects technology brings to the workplace, organisations are adopting the ‘Digital Detox’, an initiative that looks to reduce the level of exposure employees have to technology both in and out of the office.

For office-based workers, a computer is a necessary part of the job, but it means employees can clock up 30-hours screen time a week just at work. To bring this down, you could implement some of these work policies:

In the office

Active lunchtimes

Given all the distractions the internet provides us, it’s all too easy for staff to stay seated at lunchtime and use their computer for entertainment. To encourage people to get a break from the computer screen, you could organise recreational lunchtime events, particularly around exercise.

Put on a yoga class or find a local gym that could offer discounted rates to your staff – anything that gets people engaged and active. Exercise has been demonstrated to improve our ability to shift and focus attention. An active mind will help staff return from lunch ready to refocus on the afternoon’s tasks.

Tech-free meetings

Communication tools and applications make it easy to chat to colleagues no matter your or their location – but as a result, face-to-face interaction has become a bit of a lost art. Meetings are a great opportunity to ditch digital communications and rediscover vocal interchanges.

Adopt a meeting or two each week that specifically sets out a no-tech policy.

Inadequate communication between employees reportedly costs large businesses $62.4m a year. Communicating over digital channels like email doesn’t allow for facial gestures and tone of voice, making misinterpretation common. Encourage personal, face-to-face communication to minimise these effects and grow your team’s interpersonal skills.

Out of the office

Encourage a ‘leave in the office’ policy

Given the impact technology has on our stress levels and sleep patterns, organisations should look to minimise the level at which employees take their work home with them. Some office cultures expect this of their employees despite evidence suggesting it’s likely to have a negative impact on productivity in the long-term.

You might not want to go as far as France, who have enshrined in law the right to avoid checking work email out of hours, but encourage staff not to engage in too much work activity in their own time. The blue light emitted from our smartphones and computers suppresses melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycles.

Given the effect poor sleep patterns have on productivity, the more you allow your employees to switch off at home the more they will be able to focus when in the office.

Improve employee sleep to improve employee focus

A good night’s sleep is the key to having an engaged, focused and happy workforce. Too much exposure to technology makes it more difficult for us to achieve this – either through negative psychological symptoms like increased anxiety or stress or by suppressing the hormones we need for better sleep.

But organisations can help. Adopt a Digital Detox policy and help reduce the things that cost your employees valuable sleep. The result could see your company’s productivity increase.

By Giovanni Buttarelli for The Washington Post 

First came the scaremongering. Then came the strong-arming. After being contested in arguably the biggest lobbying exercise in the history of the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation became fully applicable at the end of May.

Since its passage, there have been great efforts at compliance, which regulators recognize. At the same time, unfortunately, consumers have felt nudged or bullied by companies into agreeing to business as usual. This would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new law.

The GDPR aims to redress the startling imbalance of power between big tech and the consumer, giving people more control over their data and making big companies accountable for what they do with it. It replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive, which required national legislation in each of the 28 E.U. countries in order to be implemented. And it offers people and businesses a single rulebook for the biggest data privacy questions. Tech titans now have a single point of contact instead of 28.

The new regulation, like the old directive, requires all personal data processing to be “lawful and fair.” To process data lawfully, companies need to identify the most appropriate basis for doing so. The most common method is to obtain the freely given and informed consent of the person to whom the data relates. A business can also have a “legitimate interest” to use data in the service of its aims as a business, as long as it doesn’t unduly impinge on the rights and interests of the individual. Take, for example, a pizza shop that processes your personal information, such as your home address, in order to deliver your order. It may be considered to have a legitimate interest to maintain your details for a reasonable period of time afterward in order to send you information about its services. It isn’t violating your rights, just pursing its business interests. What the pizza shop cannot do is then offer its clients’ data to the juice shop next door without going back and requesting consent.

A third aspect of lawfully processing data pertains to contracts between a company and client. When you purchase an item online, for example, you enter into a contract. But in order for the business to fulfill that contract and send you your goods, you must offer credit card details and a delivery address. In this scenario, the business may also legitimately store your data, depending on the terms of that limited business-client relationship.

But under the GDPR, a contract cannot be used to obtain consent. Some major companies seem to be relying on take-it-or-leave-it contracts to justify their sweeping data practices. Witness the hundreds of messages telling us we cannot continue to use a service unless we agree to the data use policy. We’ve all faced the pop-up window that gives us the option of clicking a brightly colored button to simply accept the terms, with the “manage settings” or “read more” section often greyed-out. One of the big questions is the extent to which a company can justify collecting and using massive amounts of information in order to offer a “free” service.

Under E.U. law, a contractual term may be unfair if it “causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations arising under the contract that are to the detriment of the consumer.” The E.U. is seeking to prevent people from being cajoled into “consenting” to unfair contracts and accepting surveillance in exchange for a service. What’s more, a company is generally prohibited to process, without the “explicit consent” of the individual, sensitive types of information that may reveal race or political, religious, genetic and biometric data.

Indeed, regulators are being asked to determine whether disclosing so much data is even necessary for the provision of services — whether it is ecommerce, search or social media. One key principle to remember is that asking for an individual’s consent should be regarded as an unusual request, given that asking for consent often signals that a party wants to do something with personal data that the individual may not be comfortable with or might not reasonably expect. Thus, it should be a duty of customer care for a company to check back with users or patrons honestly, transparently and respectfully. As the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed, allowing an outside company to collect personal data was not the type of service that users would have reasonably expected. Clearly, abuse has become the norm. The aim of the EU data protection agency that I lead is to stop it.

Independent E.U. enforcement authorities — at least one in each E.U. member state — are already investigating 30 cases of such alleged violations, including those lodged by the activist group NOYB (“none of your business”). The public will see the first results before the end of the year. Regulators will use the full range of their enforcement powers to address abuses, including issuing fines.

The GDPR is not perfect, but it passed into law with an extraordinary consensus across the political spectrum, belying the increasingly fractious politics of our times. As of June, there were 126 countries around the world with modern data protection laws broadly modeled on the European approach. This month, Brazil is next. And it will the biggest country to date to adopt such laws. It is likely to be followed by Pakistan and India, both of which recently published draft laws.

But if the latest effort is a reliable precedent, data protection reform comes around every two decades or so — several lifetimes in terms of the pace of technological change. We still need to finish the job with the ePrivacy Regulation still under negotiation, which would stop companies snooping on private communications and require — again — genuine consent to use metadata about who you talk to as well as when and where.

I am nevertheless already thinking about the post-GDPR future: a manifesto for the effective de-bureaucratizing and safeguarding of peoples’ digital selves. It would include a consensus among developers, companies and governments on the ethics of the underlying decisions in the application of digital technology. Devices and programming would be geared by default to safeguard people’s privacy and freedom. Today’s overcentralized Internet would be de-concentrated, as advocated by Tim Berners-Lee, who first invented the Internet, with a fairer allocation of the digital dividend and with the control of information handed back to individuals from big tech and the state.

This is a long-term project. But nothing could be more urgent as the digital world develops ever more rapidly.

Source: Fin24 

With its colourful hammocks and table tennis table, a new tech hub in the Lagos metropolis wouldn’t look out of place among the start-ups on the other side of the world in Silicon Valley.

But the NG_Hub office is in the suburb of Yaba – the heart of Nigeria’s burgeoning tech scene that is attracting interest from global giants keen to tap into an emerging market of young, connected Africans.

In May, both Google and Facebook launched initiatives nearby.

This week, Nigeria’s Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was in California to court US tech investors for what he said could herald a “fourth industrial revolution” back home.

But it isn’t just Nigeria that is piquing the interest of tech giants.

Last month, Google said it would open Africa’s first artificial intelligence lab in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

Demographics are a key factor behind the drive: Africa’s population is estimated to be 1.2 billion, 60% of them under 24. By 2050, the UN estimates the population will double to 2.4 billion.

“There’s a clear opportunity for companies like Facebook and Google to really go in and put a pole in the sand,” said Daniel Ives, a technology researcher at GBH Insights in New York.

“If you look at Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, where is a lot of that growth coming from? It’s international,” he told AFP.

Facebook is operating from the NG_Hub as it doesn’t yet have a permanent office in Nigeria.

The company’s Africa head of public policy, Ebele Okobi, said at the opening of the premises that the goal was to cultivate the nascent technology community.

The social network has pledged to train 50 000 people across the country to “give them the digital skills they need to succeed”, she added.

In exchange, Facebook, which currently has some 26 million users in Nigeria, gets more users and access to a massive market to test new products and strategies.

“We are invested in the ecosystem. Just the fact that they are engaging… that in of itself is a goal,” she added.

Cyber colonialism?

Many African governments have given the tech titans an enthusiastic welcome.

In California, Osinbajo said the Nigerian government will “actively support” Google’s “Next Billion Users” plan to “ensure greater digital access in Nigeria and around the world”.

Few sectors in Africa inspire as much hope as technology, which has the potential to revolutionise everything from healthcare to farming.

Examples include Ubenwa, a Nigerian start-up that has been described as “Shazam for babies”, after the application that identifies music and films from snippets.

Ubenwa analyses a baby’s cry using AI to diagnose birth asphyxia, a major cause of death in Africa when babies don’t get enough oxygen and nutrients before, during or immediately after birth.

Detecting the problem early could save thousands of lives. In a bid to detect and analyse such health issues using the assistance of advanced technology, it is imperative that only the most trusted of all electrical parts and equipments are used in the making of such devices. There are several companies around the globe (for instance, Direct Components is a authorized Altera distributor) which are authorized and have high credibility when it comes to the manufacturing of such electrical and digital parts.

“Africans should be responsible to come up with the solutions,” said Tewodros Abebe, a doctoral student studying language technology at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

“Unless we are involved, no one can understand the existing problems in our continent.”

Abebe dismissed fears that what Facebook and Google are doing represents a form of so-called cyber colonialism.

“Working collaboratively I think is a good way of technology transfer for Africa,” he said. “If they are only looking for business, that’s colonisation.”

‘Epocalypse now’

As Africa’s technology sector grows, fuelled by growth in mobile phone use, so too does pressure on governments to protect its citizens’ personal data.

Osinbajo told tech leaders Nigeria was keen to create the right environment for development, including for regulation.

But the debate over privacy is muted in many African countries, unlike in Europe, which recently passed tougher new data protection laws.

Facebook has also been at the centre of a storm for failing to protect user data in connection with claims of manipulation in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit referendum.

Global Justice Now, an anti-poverty group, fears tech companies are being given free rein to create a global surveillance state.

“We could find ourselves sleepwalking towards a world in which a handful of tech companies exercise monopoly control over whole swathes of the world economy, further exacerbating inequality between the global north and the global south,” said the activist group in a May 2018 report titled “Epocalypse Now”.

Renata Avila, from the World Wide Web Foundation in Geneva that campaigns for digital equality, said that has not come to fruition but there were pressing concerns.

“The message is that Africa needs investment and it needs to develop these industries, so usually it’s a pro-business narrative,” said Avila, a digital rights researcher.

“But there is little oversight,” she added, warning that without regulation, people were vulnerable to exploitation.

Tech-friendly letter writing

By Akanksha Singh for Grok Nation

Imagine sending out an email to a friend, only to receive a digital handwritten note back. Handwriting correspondence, snapping a photo and sending it digitally is what I call “tech-friendly letter writing.”

Once upon a time, people sat at desks with inked fingertips and wrote letters with quills. Messengers delivered them on horseback. Such correspondence was so culturally essential that collections of letters from famous authors became a means of insight into their lives. Then came stamps. Then email. Tech-friendly letter writing combines the best of handwritten notes with the convenience of technology.

Plus you skip on stamps by taking a photo and sending it via email, text–faster and there’s some guarantee of receipt. But, that’s not to say I’m against “snail mail.” I’ve been writing letters since college. When I moved from Dubai to Montreal for university, I was lonely and homesick. I remember feeling elated when I sorted through my usual spam (pizza fliers, bills), and finding a letter in the mix. My roommate’s mother had sent it, along with an exam-season care package. It meant the world to me.

So, whenever I write someone a letter, I think of them looking through bills and fliers, and finding something that was actually intended for them, created with love and thought.

Before you knock the idea for being a waste of time, let me give you some background: I attempted tech-friendly letter writing after I read this article about a Jordanian bookshop owner who replies to text messages and Facebook posts with a picture of his handwritten response. Around the same time, I decided I wasn’t immune to the technology-induced dopamine reward loops just because I was aware of them, and that I was sick of being glued to my phone all day, being plugged into everything from my Apple Watch (FYI: we broke up) to my Messenger app.

We’re all aware that our connectedness has made us bad communicators, and that we’re too busy nowadays; tech-friendly letter writing is a good way to disconnect without losing connection.

Often, when I’m typing, I’ve noticed that I type as fast as –if not faster than– I think. Word vomit all the time. Handwriting, I’ve found, has been a great way to slow down, reflect on my day and just breathe. And not surprisingly, handwriting has several benefits for the brain, like increasing neural activity, helping us learn, and more. In addition, letter writing increases those benefits!

How to go about implementing it

  1. Pretty stationery + camera phone
    I’m one of those people who indulges in stationery shopping at Kikki K whenever life gets too real. Pretty stationery does make the whole experience more enjoyable for you and the person receiving an emailed letter. Beautiful stationery options we love here, here, and here.
  2. Get over handwriting perfectionism
    Since I was a child, I’ve always prided myself on having nice handwriting; the sort that people looked at and commented on for its prettiness, which I’d counter with, “Oh, that chicken scratch?” Truthfully, I’d learned calligraphy in school (the real sort, not the messy sort that’s trendy nowadays), and picked it back up when I learned Meghan Markle was a calligrapher (shameless girl crush; judge away). So when I started writing several letters a week and experiencing hand cramps, and produced genuinely messy handwriting, I did what most perfectionists do: I’d rewrite letters that were almost ready to go, minding my cursive and avoiding spelling mistakes best I could.
    It. Was. Exhausting.
    Eventually, the reality of it (time wasting, neuroticism) dawned on me, and I let myself have messy days. The whole point of this exercise was to be real, after all.
  3. Take the pressure off
    When I initially committed to this, I overwhelmed myself with the need to do it all the time.. I eventually realized that I was taking the fun out of what was supposed to be a relaxing exercise, and I was stressing myself out. Which brings me to my next point…
  4. Accept that not everyone or every situation is deserving of a handwritten note
    Set aside a time for correspondence, like the “old days.” I know there are certain people who are worth my time and the paper and ink it takes me to write a thoughtful note. I want to be thoughtful for said people.
  5. Commit for a significant period to see if it works for you
    Like all habits, this will take some time to cultivate. In fact, it’ll likely take longer–texting is just so damned easy. Schedule an hour, half an hour, or even ten minutes per week and stick with it. When I started, I did it for a month, then it became three months, and now we’re going on four. (This is coming from someone who has issues committing to a favorite color, much less a favorite band or tv show, can I add?)

If the letters are long and personal —and sent to someone I really care about— I’ll spend money on postage and mail them off. If not, I’d have typically written the letter or note in my diary, so it will stay there. So, I definitely hang on to everything, sentimentalist that I am!

Friends writing back made this wholly worthwhile: I even reached out to a friend I’d lost touch with (life happens!), with a handwritten apology, and she called and we talked like no time had passed. The biggest benefit for me, personally, has been slowing down to reflect on my thoughts as I’m writing them. So, yeah–it takes longer than clacking out an email or a long text message. But that’s the point.

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