Cities are intense. They are diverse, competitive and malleable – highly responsive to human and non-human action, sometimes in weird and unpredictable ways. Therefore, cities tend to be characterised by an elevated urgency, messiness and even volatility. And this intensity is what attracts many of us to them. It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity.
What cities are not is a place to park off and wait for anything. These are energetic places where you have to be busy and engaged – light on the feet, fingers to the pulse, living in the dynamic realities and fantasies, and there are always old and new problems with which to contend. And this is exactly why innovation is often acknowledged as a largely urban phenomenon – the consequence of this intensity combined with other conditions, such as the concentration of knowledge organisations and infrastructures in urban centres worldwide.
So, whenever people ask me about smart cities, I have a standard response: “What’s smart to you?” And often what follows is a litany of tech solutions we could be deploying in cities to make them more efficient, more futuristic.
Now, I love tech as much as the next person and I am not ignorant of the exponential growth and fundamental impacts of tech in our times. However, I am also aware of another concurrent reality: that human population, and particularly in the youth category, has also been growing exponentially in Africa. And people (for now) develop tech. So, where do we locate smart or not smart?
Let’s start with some facts that we are all increasingly aware of. Today, over half of the world’s population is under 30, and two billion are classified as youth. In South Africa, already over 20 million people (35% of national population) are between the ages of 15 and 34. According to the United Nations, one out of three young people in the world will be African by 2050.
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How exciting! Notwithstanding the serious issue of planetary limits, we are looking at billions of young people who are designed to be creative and adaptive in a range of contexts and with the ability to exchange and learn. There are so many possibilities and directions imaginable! Yet when we start talking about how we innovate our way into and through the future, the focus is squarely elsewhere. Suddenly there are very few and very similar voices around the table that focus on the agency of a few and centre tech as the key driver. The agency of billions is occluded and they become the so-called entitled beneficiaries, use cases, and/or the grateful consumers.
Coming back to smart (and my assertion that I am not anti-tech) – why does this matter? Well, it matters because tech is developed and governed by people. People determine the assumptions and rules that we embed into what we encode. We en-culture tech so to speak – contrary to the simplistic claim that tech is objective or neutral.
In my view, it is not likely that technology on its own has the potential to be usefully transformative. Consider, the hyper-connected world that IoT enables or blockchain’s democratisation of not only administration, but also of traditional entrepreneurship and innovation systems. These could be transformative – but not if our processes of technological development and diffusion are the domain of the fortunate few, circumventing – or even subverting – the recognition and involvement of the billions. Barring blind faith in the benevolence of the privileged or in happenstance – the technologies are far more likely to reproduce our current structure and gaps of privilege and exclusion. This is a good example of how not to be smart: following the same old processes with new tools and expecting different results. And then not recognising it as such.
We need to get smarter. We need to activate the over 50% unemployed youth in South Africa as well as the billion who are living in slums all around the world. We need to cease thinking of inclusion only as an outcome, and instead tap into the dynamism of place and the spirit of youth to engage, play, imagine, try to mix. We need to open up to an abundance of visceral ideas and queer possibilities which speak to a multiverse of unique contexts, circumstances and considerations; which are witty, novel and generative.
This, in my view, is the essence of what we should refer to as “smart”. With this openness, there is the possibility of pursuing the idea that everything from the strategic to the operational processes and assumptions of technological change can be more relevant and transformative as processes of current inclusiveness than as solutions for a magical future destination called inclusion.
Imagine a situation where everyone was acknowledged as having ideas which any of them could pursue on the ideas’ merit and relevance, and with concomitant recognition, rather than advancement relying on arbitrarily (or even unfairly) assigned access and privilege and power? Imagine that…
“Smart” for South Africa – and for African cities – has got to be about enabling the millions and billions of youth to do what they could do best: energise and inspire. And while we may have been focusing on millennials’ poor education or non-sensibilities as the excuses for their perpetual exclusion, it is evident that even these assumptions need to be subjected to interrogation and innovation. The smart process has to be open to finding new ways of being and doing, and figure out how to make them work. The technologies will follow function, rather than vice versa.
The recently launched African Leadership Institute report An Abundance of Young African Leaders but no Seat at the Table (2018), bears a title that tells it all. According to this report, 700 000 young Africans have been exposed to some form of leadership initiative in recent years. Yet they get little opportunity to gain the experience of providing leadership and are, the report says, largely invisible.
Cities and emerging technologies are not abstract trends around us. Nor are they autonomous solutions for the future of humanity or so-called smartness. They are part of an ecosystem of which we are part, and in which we should probably be looking to enact different processes of engagement, given our challenges and desire to be smarter. We could start by inviting the transformative potential of our massive numbers of youth, drawing them out of invisibility. If we don’t recognise our real abundance – the abundance of youthful potential and possibility – then perhaps we are just waiting for a few people somewhere with their gadgets to come colonise our future with their version of what is considered to be smart, and then to specify our role in it. And that is really not very smart.
Step Into The Future With Ignite Fibre
A fast Internet connection has swiftly moved from being a “nice-to-have” to a critical component of business success.
As more business is conducted online, applications and data are being moved to the cloud for increased versatility and to facilitate a better interaction with customers. This is why so many small business owners are turning their attention to fibre.
According to the SME 2018 survey conducted by World Wide Worx, small businesses are looking for connectivity solutions that will help them deliver better products and services and produce a greater return. Arthur Goldstuck, the founder of World Wide Worx, says that the fibre uptake among SMEs has grown from 7% to 24% in the last three years. SMEs want to put themselves in the best position to be more innovative and find solutions to existing and future demands.
Key benefits of switching to fibre
Once fibre is installed, SMEs will gain access to a fast, reliable and well-supported Internet connection. Fibre-optic technology uses light pulses to carry data. In terms of speed or “throughput”, fibre transfers more data at higher throughput over longer distances than copper wire.
This means faster file transfers, uninterrupted streaming and faster page load times. For instance, networking between computers will be easier when you use fibre because there’s no interference and you have a higher bandwidth, which translates to more effective data transmissions. You will also experience quick access to data or operational resources hosted in the cloud.
Businesses can adopt more cloud-based applications to improve productivity. Data transfers between team members are seamless when a business moves processes to the cloud. There’s less downtime, which allows employees to be more productive throughout the day. This directly contributes to an improved customer service.
Fibre is a superior connectivity solution because no data protocol is prioritised over another. Whether you’re uploading a cloud backup or downloading rich media, both functions will enjoy uninterrupted streaming. In terms of VoIP, the quality of voice is far superior over a fibre line.
Fibre allows your business to operate online without any of the performance and quality constraints you might have experienced previously. This opens up the business to a range of new possibilities and expands the capabilities of an SME to compete on the same level as larger businesses.
Change the way you use the Internet
When you choose a package, base it on your business requirements and be sure to take into account your daily connectivity demands. SMEs that require a cost-effective solution, with fast download speeds, should connect to an Asymmetrical line. If your workforce needs to transfer large amounts of data, adapt cloud telephony or collaborate online, it is advisable to use a Symmetrical line.
A Creative Business In A Box
Thanks to her investment in a Brother ScanNCut machine, Mary-Anne Shaw has doubled her income while keeping her hours flexible and costs low.
With an eye for creative detail and an interest in electric machines, Mary-Anne Shaw has carved a niche reputation as a seamstress who produces perfect finished goods. Her reputation is such that she’s even had the opportunity to add some Shaw flair to a collection of Mandela family outfits in recent years.
Mary-Anne’s sewing and stitching services began as a hobby almost 45 years ago. Thanks to word-of-mouth referrals from friends and family however, it soon grew into a business. “I’ve been extremely lucky to build a small speciality business over the years selling sewing machines and teaching sewing skills, drawing business from repeat and new clients based on recommendations,” she says.
The business became more serious when, a few years ago, Mary-Anne made the decision to invest her earnings in a Brother sewing machine. “I started attending Brother training sessions and workshops to gain more knowledge and meet more people.”
Mary-Anne’s relationship with Brother grew. At a Hobby-X exhibition in Johannesburg she came across a Brother ScanNCut machine. Already familiar with the Brother brand and the training and support that customers can access, she was drawn to the ‘novelty’ machine.
“I watched a few demonstrations and immediately saw how the ScanNCut could add value to my existing business and generate some exciting new creative projects.”
Mary-Anne was right. In just two short years, she has doubled her business income, while keeping her hours flexible and her costs to a minimum. “The Brother ScanNCut is a remarkable little machine,” says Mary-Anne.
“The cutting and scanning quality is superb, and it’s easy to set up. Brother provides a number of tutorial videos and case studies and, after a few days of viewing and practising, anyone can get up and running.”
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Mary-Anne began showcasing her ScanNCut capabilities at quilting events in Gauteng, gaining orders for applique work, and enquiries from people who wanted to buy the machine.
“Since the quilting events began, I haven’t stopped,” she says. “I now sell ScanNCut accessories and kits daily to existing owners, and I teach groups and individuals how to use ScanNCut to extend their skills into a variety of creative areas such as applique work for gift boxes, cushions and lamp shades, as well as card making and more. People buy the machine for their own use, or ask me to create personalised items for them on my own machines.”
Knowing who her customers are has been important to Mary-Anne’s growth. “My advice to anyone who wishes to start a small business with ScanNCut is to first understand who you want to sell to and how. Most of my work is word-of-mouth, but I also exhibit at crafting exhibitions, and work with crafting associations with an interest in the products I sell. I use email specials and post tutorials and projects on my Facebook page. I’m finalising a new website that will feature my products and training tools.”
Mary-Anne is supported by local Brother ScanNCut distributor, Kemtek Imaging Systems and its highly-qualified sales and business development team, who provide training, sales and marketing support for promotions and events. Mary-Anne’s set-up costs for ScanNCut included the machine, and a range of accessories, kits and materials, totalling R45 000. Two years on, her first machine is still in operation and she has invested in a second unit — the latest ScanNCut CM900, which offers a WiFi set-up.
Introducing the Brother ScanNCut CM900
The latest ScanNCut CM900 is a revolutionary home-cutting machine with a built-in scanner. Its uniqueness lies in the 300 dpi built-in scanner that makes it the only cutting machine able to turn scanned images, photos or hand-drawn sketches into unique cutting designs.
What’s more, the ScanNCut CM900 has a 12″ x 24″ scanning capability for larger projects, with the cutting mat doubling up as a scanning mat. Enhanced scanning quality with RGB colour recognition automatically distinguishes hues to extend design opportunities.
Once scanned, this fuss-free machine allows crafters to put their own creative spin on images, providing the option to customise using the 30% larger LCD screen with rotate, weld and resize functions, as well as an innovative ‘Pen Draw’ feature.
The interchangeable blades can easily cut shapes from a host of different materials to cater for numerous craft projects. The machine can read SVG files, PES files and PHC files containing appliqué stitch data. Fabric shapes can be cut out to then appliqué with an embroidery machine.
The ScanNCut CM900 comes with built-in wireless LAN, plus a total of 1002 built-in designs and 15 fonts.
Is The Future Of AI Around the Corner? Computing Power Suppliers Are Shifting Gears
Here, we look at the challenges faced by cloud-based computing, and some potential solutions.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing everything from the information we see on our Facebook feeds, to improving diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.
According to McKinsey, it has the potential to create an additional $13 trillion in global economic output by 2030. Governments and start-ups alike are scrambling to ensure they are in a position to enjoy the economic benefits that AI will bring.
However, despite the apparent potential, there’s one significant bottleneck — the supply of computational power required to develop and drive AI products and solutions.
At present, cloud-based providers of computing resources are striving to keep up with the pace of development in power hungry AI. Here, we look at the challenges faced by cloud-based computing, and some potential solutions.
Challenge 1 – Supply and Demand
AI relies on data and lots of it. As such, the computational demand of AI is growing — one report estimates that the amount of compute used by AI currently has a three and a half month doubling time.
As things stand, AI developers are dependent on computing capacity from the $247 billion cloud computing industry. This industry is dominated by four corporate IT firms – Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM, collectively known as the ‘Big Four’. These companies rely on their vast centralised data centres to keep the world’s cloud computing services running.
In an attempt to meet the growing demand for AI computing services, investment in data centres is also growing at a startling pace. Computing firms spent $27 billion in the first quarter of 2018, with most of that expenditure thought to be directed into developing data centres. Compare this with the $74 billion spent in 2017, and the pace of growth is evident.
The question is, how long can the computing firms continue to keep up with demand using the traditional datacenter model?
In an attempt to stem demand, the big IT firms are increasing their costs.
With AI services requiring massive computational power before they can go to market, the rising cost of computing risks stifling innovation, particularly for smaller developers.
Challenge 2 – Environmental Sustainability
If the only way to meet demand is to build more data centres, then this means more electricity-hungry machines. It’s reported that 2% of all CO2 emissions globally emerge from the datacenter industry — more than the airline industry.
Just this month, the United States of America’s Department of Energy reported that data centres in their country accounted for around 2% of the overall energy consumption.
While owners are investigating green energy alternatives, the fact remains that more data centres will result in higher energy consumption.
Challenge 3 – A single point of failure
Amazon famously brought down a number of large websites last year when an employee accidentally took more servers offline than intended. That event sparked a domino effect that was felt globally.
It’s natural that single points of failure raise the risk of an incident having a more substantial impact. With cloud data provided by just four companies from a limited number of data centres, that risk is always present.
A Quantum of Solace?
Chinese marketplace Alibaba is also in the business of cloud computing, albeit not yet one of the ‘Big Four’ However, its representatives have clearly stated that the company has market leader Amazon firmly in its sights.
Earlier this year, Alibaba launched its first cloud quantum computer, capable of processing 11 quantum bits (qubit). A typical computer chip is binary, meaning it can only process values of 0 or 1 at any given moment depending on its speed. A quantum computer is capable of handling both at the same time, meaning a single qubit can participate in many millions of processes.
Alibaba has pledged to continue development in this area, having already invested $15.5 billion at the end of last year. IBM is also firmly invested in quantum computing, having launched its own quantum computer last year. Quantum computers could ultimately do away with the need for centralised data centres.
From Cloud Computing to Distributed Computing
While some commentators have predicted a wait of five to ten years for quantum computing solutions to cope with demand, a few start-ups are working to meet the requirements of cloud computing on a shorter timeline. One start-up has devised a scalable solution, which it says will be up and running as early as 2019.
Tatau, which calls itself the “Uber of Computing,” has designed a platform which essentially creates a global supercomputer to harness the joint capacity of already existing GPU computing capacity.
By utilising a resource that already exists, the company claims it can offer cloud computing that is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and more scalable than current solutions. Moreover, a decentralised model doesn’t have a single point of failure, reducing the risk of downtime or hacks.
Tatau’s decentralised network taps into the computing capacity that sits outside of data centres. The company has designed a blockchain-driven marketplace where owners of GPU hardware can sell under-utilised computing power to a buyer. By utilising latent capacity, this solution provides a way for owners of hardware to receive better returns on their investment, and provide access to reliable, cost-effective compute previously unavailable to AI developers.
The Future for AI Development
Given the growing demand for AI services, the computing sector needs to find a way to meet the need for computing services. Given the challenges inherent in the current datacenter model, it seems likely that quantum or distributed computing could ultimately take off.
The question will be, are the current ‘Big Four’ market players ready to compete on a different playing field?
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