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Bootcamp for startups

- Wits University

IBM SA and Wits’ Tshimologong Precinct launch six week acceleration bootcamp for startups.

IBM South Africa and the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct have announced the launch of the Startup Accelerator, a programme designed to enable the development of Growth Stage Tech and Digital Startups through using a bootcamp format that will run over six weeks.  

The bootcamp – taking place from 8 October 2018 to 16 November 2018 - will focus on enablement and development through a series of short, intensive and rigorous modules. Each module is specifically selected to address skills, resources, infrastructure and technology growth within the startup. The bootcamp culminates in an investment proposal and pitch whereby the winning participants stand in line to win up to R500k in required products and services.  

“Growing technology startups has long been a focus of the Precinct and we are pleased to partner with IBM SA to further develop this vital segment of the market. This bootcamp is centred on investment, one of the critical elements of any growing business. We look forward to working with the teams to make a bottom-line investment in tomorrow’s future technology leaders,” says Shaun Randles, Enterprise Development Manager, Wits Tshimologong Precinct

The Startup Accelerator is an initiative of the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP), one of 3 streams of the IBM SA Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (EEIP). The EDP is focused on the enablement of entrepreneurs and businesses with a highly specialised ICT focus in globally relevant areas of technology such as Big Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things and Cybersecurity, amongst other things.  

To win the investment, the tech startups need to demonstrate how the investment will be used to accelerate the business. The growth trajectory the investment will yield must be based on tangible outcomes simulating financials and thus demonstrating an increase in revenue or job creation.  The investment must include their technology requirements for both internal operations and product scaling.   

The startup will pitch its reasons why IBM should invest in the development of the business at an awards evening at Wits Tshimologong Precinct taking place during Global Entrepreneurship Week 2018. The evening will be attended by a panel of industry thought leaders and influencers. 

Interested participants need to ensure the business has a minimum of one-year trading as a CIPC registered business. The Growth Stage Tech Startup should be Black South African owned and managed. Turnover needs to be between R120k to R50 million per annum and the owner must be actively involved in the business. See the full list of eligibility criteria as well as other pertinent information by visiting www.tshimologong.joburg/programs/ibm-bootcamp/.

Wits Team eFundanathi and eZone in Learning Idols

- Wits University

A lecturer in the Wits School of Therapeutic Sciences was in the top three vying in Learning Idols at the Learning Innovation Africa Conference 2018.

The Learning Idols at #LIA2018 displays technological innovation in teaching and learning.

Dr. Paula Barnard-Ashton, manager of eFundanathi [learn with us] and the eZone at Wits, vied for Learning Idol against Lebogang Lekoma from Sea Monster and Ricky Hinde from Cell C. Barnard-Ashton ultimately placed second after Lekoma.

“The eZone has been transforming the way lecturers in the School of Therapeutic Sciences engage in teaching and learning activities, by bringing 21st Century learning and technology into the classroom”, says Barnard-Ashton, who leads the team at Wits who won the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching and Learning Award (team category) in 2017.

As part of her presentation at #LIA2018, Barnard-Ashton included an example from Physiotherapy of how learning spaces in higher education need to move away from rigid, fixed desk lecture theatres. eFundanathi demonstrated a video app that the students could use in the eZone to practically learn clinical skills.

“After trying it with our second-year students, I will never go back to the traditional teaching methods I used before. It has reignited my passion for teaching, and the students eagerly participated. We all had fun!” says Vaneshveri Naidoo, a lecturer in Physiotherapy at Wits. 

Dr Paula Barnard Ashton, Wits eZone manager, and Prof. Andrew Crouch Wits DVCAcademic at Learning Idols 2018.

The eZone enables real blended learning and student collaboration by bringing together technology and flexibility of space. Professor Andrew Crouch, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic, who supported Barnard-Ashton during the group session rounds of Learning Idols, reinforces the importance of redesigning learning spaces in his statement:

“Wits University has committed to developing five innovative, technology-rich learning spaces similar to the eZone across Wits campuses over the next two years.”

Barnard-Ashton says that a top three placement in Learning Idols emphasises that university initiatives like the eZone and eFundanathi can compete on an intellectual and innovation level against private businesses as hubs of excellence.  

“It is very rewarding,” she says.

New MOOCs for agents of change

- Wits University

Wits University has added two new courses to its free, online WitsX/edX learning platform.

Starting in October, the two courses, Activism and Citizen Journalism through Media and Civil Society and African Media Policy in the Digital Age, focus on various aspects of activism, media, journalism, social media, civil society, and media policy and practice.

New MOOCs on WitsX

Course: Activism and citizen journalism through media

Media is a powerful tool for promoting social justice. If you are an activist involved in promoting or advocating for a social cause then this free online course is for you. Aimed at people working in civil society and NGOs, it provides a practical guide to using both traditional and social media to promote a social cause.

The course was developed in collaboration with the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development (CLTD), under the WitsX partnership. The course is designed to equip participants to produce a journalistic story using mobile media tools, to promote social justice. Participants will learn to: identify newsworthy issues; define the limits and possibilities of different mobile platforms and tools, and identify an appropriate strategy and platform/tool to reach a defined target audience. The course also promotes ethical and safe media practices. The course draws on the innovative work of the Citizen Justice Network.

Course: Civil society and African media policy in the digital age

This free, six-week online MOOC offered on the WitsX/edX platform and delivered by Wits LINK Centre academics in cooperation with other African media policy experts.

Media play a critical role in democratic societies by informing citizens, facilitating and building freedom of expression, and fostering access to information. This course will help you to identify the principles and components of democratic media policy and practice, and to identify strategies for effective civil society engagement with these matters in African settings.

This course aims to empower civil society actors in support of a free, pluralistic and independent African media. It seeks to sustain the work of the late South African media activist, Jeanette Minnie, who was devoted to robust civil society engagement with African media policy.  Her work showed the value of civil society and media personnel in impacting on state policy, law and administrative action in the interests of freedom, pluralism and independence for media.

About WitsX on edX

In 2014 Wits University became the first African University to partner with edX, the online learning destination founded by MIT and Harvard to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) to a global learning audience.

The first three MOOCs on the WitsX platform was launched in 2016 and to date 47 477 students have enrolled for eight courses on the platform. Three more will be added to WitsX and will start running in the first half of 2019.

Witsies win big in travel innovation competition

- Wits University

A cash prize of $10,000 has been awarded to Wits students for their winning travel idea.

The SITA Air Transport Community Foundation, based in the UK, has awarded a $10,000 prize to Wits University students Jules Ntumba, Tso Mello and Fiona Ndlovu.

The group, one of seven finalists, was shortlisted through a competition to address what information, tools or technology first-time air travellers in Africa need to make their journeys easy, successful and enjoyable. The travel innovation competition, a partnership between Wits University and the Tshimologong Precinct, was launched in March 2018 and the winners were announced at an awards ceremony held at Wits University on 20 July 2018.

Team One Exceptional, and its members, Ntumba, Mello and Ndlovu were awarded the top cash prize for their winning idea, which was targeted at the +50-year-old first time traveller. The trio from Wits University, who recently completed their Bachelor of Science degrees in Aeronautical Engineering in June, were ecstatic with the win and will use the prize money for a start-up company.

Jules Ntumba, Tso Mello and Fiona Ndlovu winners of SITA Foundation air travel competition

“Young people don’t usually have difficulties navigating around an airport, but an older, potentially illiterate traveller will experience challenges. It gets more difficult for them because they are not as tech-savvy as younger people. Our research showed that in Africa one out of three people above the age of 50 can’t read and we wanted to cater to them,” said Mello.

Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at SITA Air Transport Community Foundation, Amber Harrison said SITA’s focus is on information technology and education in Africa.

"We created this innovation award to highlight the challenges and opportunities for a continent that is seeing a changing demographic, coupled with growth in technology and aviation. The quality of submissions were of a high standard and it is encouraging to witness the brimming innovation in South Africa,” said Harrison. 

Harrison said that an impressive level of originality, innovation and research was evident in the submissions. She believes that this is of significance as the aviation industry continues to grow and will require more skilled people.

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits University, said that the SITA competition was a good example of the University’s quest for excellence.

 “The University of the Witwatersrand prides itself on pushing the frontiers of excellence in its almost 100 years of existence. These initiatives play an important role as we need to ensure we stay at the frontier of knowledge,” said Vilakazi.

In collaboration with SITA, both aim to contribute to the building and supporting of the African aviation and ICT industry, boosting vital ICT skills, especially in the space of the fourth industrial revolution. Supporting home‐grown ICT educational development, creating jobs through entrepreneurship and leading research development across Africa, are all key initiatives and focus areas.

Dr Lerato Masisi, a lecturer at Wits University and one of the judges, said that the teams were judged on originality, target audience, solutions, report and presentations. “Due to the high calibre of ideas submitted for the competition, SITA decided to award two additional prizes for the runner ups,” said Masisi. 

These two runner up teams included Team Ava, which was made up of Alice Yang, Sean Morrow, Linda Khumalo and Muhammed Chand and Team Wits Elites, made up of Rachel Mohlomi, Nqobile Mhlanga and Takatso Molekane. Both teams were awarded a cash prize of $1000. 

Enabling youth to power the digital economy

- Wits University

Hundreds descended upon Wits to hear the legendary Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, address entrepreneurs, students and policy makers.

Wits University was selected as the site of the important event, Netrepreneurs: The Rise of Africa’s Digital Lions, organised by Alibaba and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in support of their mission to grow African economies through entrepreneurship.

The charismatic e-commerce billionaire enthralled the audience with his journey of humble beginnings and lessons learnt along the way.

During his talk he advocated for tax breaks to aid small businesses stating that big business does not need these as much as budding entrepreneurs. The event also served to launch the Jack Ma Foundation Netpreneur Prize for small businesses working to grow the continent’s digital economy. Entrepreneurs will compete for $1 million in prize money every year for the next 10 years.

The digital economy, which is set to revolutionise the economy, is seen as an equaliser and an opportunity for Africa which has the world’s youngest population and thus poised to benefit from the new economy provided that the lions and lionesses of Africa rise to the challenge.

Universities will continue to play a key role in unlocking Africa’s potential in the digital economy.

Wits Acting Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe opened the event watched by audiences across the world. He later participated in a panel discussion themed Digital Talent: Enabling Africa’s to Power the New Economy, where he shared current and future steps by Wits University to accelerate entrepreneurship and the digital economy.

Wits is tackling head-on the challenge of nurturing innovation and youth entrepreneurship through the Tshimolong Digital Precinct and the Wits Centre for Entrepreneurship.

In another bold move to shift thinking and embed entrepreneurship in the lives of students and the University, Wits has launched the ‘Entrepreneurs ways’ said Kupe.

“This means that all Wits courses will directly or indirectly have an entrepreneural component that includes a digital dimension,” Kupe.

Entrepreneurship has been identifie as one of the solutions to the high unemployent rate in the country.

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey released in July 2018 by Statistics South Africa, the official unemployment rate has increased to 27.2 percent from 26.7 percent in the previous period.

Government has often been criticed for its failure in supporting small businesses. Ma however said this is common across the world. Banks and governments do not give to the little guys.

"Don't wait for government, by the time government comes it will be too late" he said adding that by the time government delivers the infrastucture, entrepreneurs would have missed out on the opportunities to deliver that which government is struggling to provide.

Unpack the source code of your African Identity

- Wits University

Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival announces its 2018 line-up.

The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival, “Tap Your Afro Source Code”, has released its 2018 programme promising to yet again transform Johannesburg into a celebration of technology, creativity and innovation from across the African continent. The full program of activities running from 18 August to 29 September 2018, Fak’ugesi will take place at Tshimologong Precinct sharing activities in 2018 with Wits Art Museum and the Point of Order. 

Fakugesi Digital Innovation Festival 2018

Dr Tegan Bristow, Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival director, says that the 2018 theme ‘Tap your Afro Source Code’ centres on African visions of technology by tapping into the sources of African tradition and culture alongside technology, creativity and innovation: “This year we are exploring how local culture can move and change the future of technology. How would you understand and unpack the source code of your African identity?” 

Bristow says that the Festival will fully explore the algorithms, patterns and fractals of Africa. In digital art, music, games, virtual reality, digital makers or the way you braid your hair: “Fak’ugesi acts as a platform that brings together diverse digital and technology sectors to collaborate and share skills in digital media and technology innovation”. 

A highlight in this year’s Fak’ugesi programme is a large collaboration with the Wits Art Museum in an exhibition project titled Digital Imaginaries: Premonition, the second leg of a three-city project, which started with Kër Thiossane and Afropixel Festival in Dakar, Senegal in May and will conclude at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany in November 2018. The project, an initiative between social scientists and artists, imagines and critiques how globalised digital technology and systems have already, and will continue, to shape and shift African futures. The exhibition, now on at the Wits Art Museum from the 24 July to 23 September was co-curated by Bristow. 

Another highlight of the 2018 programme is the expanded Fak’ugesi Digital Africa Residency. Initially focused on bringing young aspiring digital artists together from the SADC region, this year includes further collaboration with Pro Helvetia, Johannesburg to include digital artists from North Africa, South Asia and Switzerland. This extended approach will enable students to do a deep dive into the algorithms, patterns and fractals of their indigenous cultures. 

Along with supporting young up-and-coming digital arts, Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival will be hosting two international media artists: Marc Lee, a Swiss artist supported by Pro Helvetia and Brain House, a North American artist supported by the Watershed project. Lee will act as Resident mentor, offering open master classes and will be installing new interactive live work at the Tshimologong Precinct, while Brain House Bristow states will be joining Fak’ugesi to install new work at Tshimologong Precinct and conduct master classes. House explores the interdependent rhythms of the body, technology, and the environment. His background in both computer science and performance informs his research-based practice. Recent interests include artificial Intelligence, extractive industries, and urban rats. A collaboration between Fak’ugesi Festival & Watershed, this art/science programme, is brought to the Festival by the Centre for Water Research and Development, WITS, Brown University and Providence RI. 

2018 will see the launch of the Fak’ugesi Arcade concept, announcing the start of a new era in supporting African games and gaming developers. Bristow invites the regional gaming community to discuss how the Festival can better support and help develop the game development community: “We want to better understand the needs and requirements, both as a platform and as a location for skills exchange and networking. The Fak’ugesi Arcade is partnering this year with Redbull Basement and Trace TV and will be rolled out in 2019.” 

For a second year running, in partnership with Weheartbeat via Fak’ugesi Beats, a six-day beats lab residency will be running from 24 to 28 September. Curated by Weheartbeat, participants will embrace the 2018 Fak’ugesi theme, combining tradition with futurism. Bristow is excited about the programme and says that the outcome from these sessions will result in an EP release, available both digitally and on limited edition vinyl. The artists featured include: Potatohead People (Canada), S Fidelity (Switzerland), Zikomo (USA), Morena Leraba (Lesotho) and South African artists Bonj Mpanza and Hlasko. 

Fak’ugesi Beats will open to the public through a series of workshops and master sessions on 27 September 2018. This will culminate in the Fak’ugesi Beats Bloc Party and closing event on Saturday the 29 September 2018. The Fak’ugesi Beats programme is in partnership with Weheartbeat, Pro Helvetia, Red Bull Music and Ballantine’s Whiskey. 

In its fifth year, Bristow says the Fak’ugesi Festival attracts over 6000 participants and is widely recognised for its important role supporting and developing African technology, creativity and culture: “The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival is the only one of its kind in Africa and the only digital arts focused festival in Sub Saharan Africa. It has a very special location via which many young digital makers have launched their careers and have become prominent digital makers.” 

She says the 2018 Festival approach is a step back from the annual programming that will provide an opportunity for the programme directors to focus on the vision and development for the next five years. This will be supported by the Wits School of Art; the Digital Content Hub of Tshimologong Precinct in collaboration with Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and the British Council ConnectZA. 

For more information on the 2018 Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival visit www.fakugesi.co.za 

About Fak’ugesi

Fak’ugesi - Joburg’s one and only African Digital Innovation Festival will take place in September 2018, with the theme ‘Tap your Africa Source Code’. The 2018 festival will focus on bringing to the table important African visions and futures, by tapping into the sources of African tradition and culture alongside technology, creativity and innovation.  Explore how local culture can move and change the future of technology. What would you call a vernacular algorithm? What is algorithm in IsiZulu? In 2018 Fak’ugesi Festival calls on you to explore the algorithms, patterns and fractals of Africa! In digital art, music, games, VR, digital makers or the way you braid your hair.

Fak’ugesi, which means “Switch it on” or “add power” in urban Zulu, is focused on making young adults aware of digital innovation. It is an opportunity for young adults, with or without formal education, to learn or engage with tomorrow’s technology.

According to an Impact Report commissioned by the British Council ConnectZA- Fak’ugesi is believed to be the most important digital creativity festival in Africa.

About Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is one of Johannesburg’s newest high-tech addresses 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 takes place. The Precinct was launched in September 2016 with strategic support from major companies including Microsoft, Cisco, TIA, Teraco, BCX, ACSA and MMI. Gauteng Province through its Department of E-Government and the City of Johannesburg have also provided significant support. The Precinct also houses the prestigious IBM Research’s Lab Africa – one of only 12 such facilities in the world. Website: www.tshimologong.joburg 

About Digital Imaginaries

Digital Imaginaries is funded by the TURN fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation (Kulturstiftung des Bundes). The related workshop series Competences and Visions for the Digitization of Africa in Dakar and Johannesburg with Fak’ugesi Festival is financed by the GIZ commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Engineering solutions for tomorrow

- Wits University

Final year engineering showcased their design-and-build projects which provided solutions to everyday life challenges.

Engineers are known to be the masterminds behind innovative designs, systems and structures that solve real life problems. The skills of engineers cut across various sectors.

The School of Electrical and Information Engineering annual Open Day held in the Chamber of Mines Building on 28 August 2018 was testament to this. 

The open day showcased the design-and-build projects of final year students in the School, which applied scientific methodology and theory for practical solutions to their identified problems.

Khwezi, a mobile app developed by students Refilwe Semenya and Ngoako Monyebodi, addresses the challenge of reporting incidents of sexual harassment on Wits’ campuses more efficiently.

Issues around gender-based violence persist at the culmination of Women’s Month in August, when scores of women made public outcries against the scourge and urged intervention from government and the public.

“This app is a way to combat sexual assault. We noticed that people are usually shy or scared to report sexual harassment incidents and the reporting procedure can be long and traumatising to the victims,” said Monyebodi.

The app includes a feature where the victim can give a full description of the offender, which compares this with previous offenders reported on the app.

Users of the app will also have access to a map, which indicates hotspots to avoid.

Aspiring biomedical engineers, Boitumelo Manji and Fiona Oolo who want to make their mark in the male dominated industry, applied their skills and knowledge to improve medical tools.

For their project, the pair designed an electronic stethoscope which can be used by medical practitioners to listen to internal sounds in the body, such as those produced by the heart, lungs and abdomen.

“The device offers real time data phonograms of internal body sounds and can capture and store them. This enables doctors to go back to the captured data and replay the sounds to check for abnormalities even when the patient is not there,” said Mantji.

The system is also able to detect from where in the body the sound is coming.

The three best projects received awards from Professor Estelle Trengove, Head of the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

Students Lauren Barger and Vassiliki Marantos won the best poster for their project, Advanced Control of a Ball. The device they developed controls the position of a ball on a flat plate without the ball rolling off.

We hope that our project will be used for future control engineering students, who will use the model to implement their own controllers. We are hoping for the project to be developed into a lab kit for the control department. The applications are simply an educational or testing platform, however the same theory applies to various other similar systems such as drones, suspension control in cars and many more, said Barger. 

Young digital entrepreneurs showcase cool innovations

- Wits University

Entrepreneurs at the Wits Digital Tshimologong Precinct show Johannesburg Executive Mayor, Herman Mashaba how creative they are.

Mashaba visited the entreprenuerson 16 May 2018 to explore how Wits University is developing digital entrepreneurs by incubating start-ups in the Tshimologong Precinct and also explored how the precinct is contributing to the elevation of Braamfontein into a tech-hub.

Tshimologong is an e-skills, software innovation and digital knowledge hub.  It provides a venue in which it is possible to research and nurture tech hubs.

 

Tshimologong, Mayors visit

Welcoming the Mayor and his delegation at the precinct– which included Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Development Planning, Councillor Reuben Masango, MMC for Economic Development, Councillor Leah Ruth Knott and MMC for Finance, Councillor Funzela Ngobeni – Professor Tawana Kupe , Acting Vice-Chancellor at Wits University highlighted how the University is embracing new technologies by integrating digital methods into its teaching and learning strategy.

 “We pride ourselves in integrating digital technology in all aspects of our teaching, learning, as well as research. We now have, under the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Studies, a division on e-research, for example, because we want to harness all these digital technologies in our quest to be a globally responsive, but also a University that uptakes new technologies. Also, the reason why we do this is to create access to education. The history of this country is the history of exclusion – educational exclusion, or even people get inferior education and also failing to develop and maintaining quality,” said Kupe.

“We as Wits we are committed to increasing access but access to quality education that is cutting edge and adopts the new and latest technologies.”

Lesley Williams, CEO of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Precinct and newly elected member of the Obama Leadership Programme explained to guests the essence of Africa making global contribution in technological advancements.

Lesley Williams, Herman Mashaba, Professor Tawana Kupe at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Precinct

“For us, as Tshimologong, we believe in the narrative of Africa Rising. We also believe in the narrative of Joburg as a world-class city. Our contribution in that is making sure that we are contributing from a technological perspective. We want to take it a step further. As Africans, we believe, we have to go beyond being the consumers of world technologies. We need to be active producers – producers that are locally relevant, but producers that are exporting globally and that’s why we exist.”

During the visit, entrepreneurs exhibited their innovations to the mayor. Young innovator, Neo Hutiri and founder of Technovera  - who won R1million in the 2016 #Hack.Jozi Challenge – showcased his innovation which enables patients to conveniently collect medication in under 2 minutes instead of spending hours on queues. This innovation is enabled through pelebox technology.

Another innovator, Skhona Khumalo, exhibited his brainchild, the Kwela Taxi app, which was launched last month. The app was designed to assist commuters with information pertaining to taxi prices, taxi routes and nearest taxi ranks.

First executive programme in Digital Business

- Wits Business School

Wits Business School (WBS) is excited to have launched its first executive education programme in Digital Business, the first of its kind in South Africa.

The programmes, which kicked off in March, will be rolled out during 2018 for digital solutions company BCX, a subsidiary of the Telkom Group.

“The programmes have been designed to equip businesses with skills, knowledge and insight into the future world of work, specifically training managers to lead on all fronts in an era of rapid and unpredictable digitalisation,” says Professor Brian Armstrong, Head of the BCX Chair in Digital Business at WBS.  “This is an exciting venture for WBS, the Chair of Digital Business and Executive Education. It is a privilege to work with BCX in creating this new programme,” he concludes.

WBS took a proactive step in 2016 when it established the first Chair in Digital Business in Africa, through funding by Telkom, with the overarching aim of helping South African businesses thrive in the digital era.

An important focus of the Chair is the generation of new research in an area which, until now, has not been a formal area of study. Research will lead to the further development of academic curricula, including a Master’s degree in Digital Business, as well as various short learning programmes and executive courses.

The successful roll out of the pilot programmes for BCX will allow other organisations to benefit from the close working relationships between the Digital Chair and BCX, as well as Executive Education, says Dr Timothy Hutton, Acting Director of Executive Education at WBS.

“We designed the programmes in close collaboration with BCX, creating content that suits the needs of the company. It has been an immensely exciting process, and also a big learning curve for all involved,” says Dr Hutton.

A total of 205 managers at BCX were selected to take part in the programmes which are aimed at junior, middle and senior managers. The programmes, Future Leaders in Digital Business, Digital Business Management and Digital Business Executive Programme are on average around 24 days in duration, completed in study blocks. Graduation is set for the end of February 2019.

“The beauty of the BCX programme is that it can be refashioned to address the needs of any organisation. Just as financial considerations cut across all business, so too does digital,” notes Hutton. “The programme can be structured to highlight specific aspects and pull out desired learnings. Within a rigorous academic framework, there is a lot of flexibility.  For example, one of the modules is currently being re-designed as a stand-alone programme to be launched in the middle of this year.”

The BCX programme will be offered in various formats in the future, including online and contact, in-house and open enrolment, for both companies and individuals wanting to enhance their understanding of digital business.

“Working in the digital world does not only mean how to develop new strategies or market digitally and understand the financials of digital; it also means how, fundamentally, we and our customers remain human, how we anticipate and mitigate social consequences of digitisation, and how we understand the environmental costs and benefits of the digital world,” says Professor Armstrong. 

“The rollout of the BCX Executive Education programmes is a very exciting step forward in preparing business leaders in South Africa, not only for the future world of work, but indeed also the rapidly changing current world of work. We are not always aware of this ‘digital presence’ in our daily lives. This programme will open eyes, ideas and innovative opportunities around this very fact.”

#SA4IR to explore how the 4th Industrial Revolution could shape SA

- Wits University

Wits, UJ, Fort Hare and Telkom to develop a national response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution that could shape the futures of South Africa.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is set to dramatically change how humans interact with technology, how we express ourselves, communicate and engage in a new world.

While the potential of transformative technologies – such as artificial intelligence, big data, automation, cryptocurrencies, or augmented, virtual and mixed realities – is immense, we face profound, multi-layered and multi-faceted changes that are radically reshaping how we live, work, do business, and how governments engage with citizens.

How will these changes impact on human rights, legal and moral matters; or on fundamental transformations in human consciousness and identity? What are the possibilities, the fears, the hopes and the realities for us ‘sentient beings’ and how will these technologies shape new economic, social and political  orders?

What does it all mean for South Africa?

To understand the nature and complexity of these developments, Telkom and three universities – Wits University, the University of Johannesburg and the University of Fort Hare – today launch:

#SA4IR - a partnership to explore how the Fourth Industrial Revolution could shape the futures of South Africa.

Launch of #SA4IR. From left Professor Zeblon Vilakazi (Wits), Professor John Hendricks (Fort Hare), Professor Adam Habib (Wits), Sipho Maseko (Telkom), Professor Babu Paul (UJ). Photo by Wits University

It seeks to build an inclusive developmental future for all South Africans by stimulating a national dialogue and developing a national agenda in response to the impact of the 4IR on the country.

The partnership will explore the impact of the 4IR on the economy and the new digital Economy; higher education and the future of work; inequality; citizens; society and the state; and other critical factors.

“We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, some which we may not yet have encountered,” says Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal. “We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing to create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power. We can’t stop the change, any more than we can stop the sun from setting, so let’s embrace it.”

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ Vice-Chancellor and Principal, adds:  “The 4IR is changing our political, economic and social lives. Those who master the means and ways of the 4IR shall thrive. Those who fail to master this revolution shall be thrown into the dustbin of backwardness. We at UJ intent to lead this revolution for the benefit of our societies.”

Professor Sakhela Buhlungu, Fort Hare Vice-Chancellor and Principal, adds: “The 4IR is meant to be a game changer for South Africa’s current and future economic growth, for all imaginable sectors of human-activity and citizen-centricity. Based on its core design principles (Interoperability, Information Transparency, Technical Assistance and Decentralised Decisions), the human-sphere will have a highly inter-correlated and technology-dependant environment for solving daily challenges of human-activity by breaking our limitations on technical, social and digital information processing. Apart from its anticipated benefits for humans, we further need to be cognisant of the things that may go wrong, such jobs losses, negative impact on human rights, and even loss of life. Thus, as public institutions, we need to train the next generation of highly skilled experts and leaders to assist us to harness the potential that this revolution is going to deliver.”

“The 4IR is transforming the world economy and dialogue around its implementation is imperative to ensure South Africa’s future economic participation,” says Mr Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom SA Ltd. “When we consider the 4IR, it’s important that we are also cognisant that our decision are narrowing the current digital divide. Lowering the cost of access to broadband will be an important way that marginalised groups can gain access to the economy of the future.”

Ultimately, it is envisaged that a national action plan – SA4IR – will be formulated.

Creating collective memory

- Erna van Wyk

Creating a collective memory in a country with a fragmented past and persistent inequality needs money, skills and political will to preserve its history.

The recently launched WITS-NRF Digitisation Capacity Development Initiative at Wits University is driving efforts to digitise and make available online South Africa’s vast historical collections, including a comprehensive “Mandela Archive”. 

Since the early ’90s, varying materials related to former President Nelson Mandela, held in galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs) in institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation or the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits, have been collected and digitally preserved in individualised efforts to “digitise Mandela” and to make these collections available to the public to enhance a collective memory.

Documents and clippings from the Historical Research Papers Archive at Wits University. ©Erna van Wyk 

The next step is to bring these archives together. This goal has been set as one of the first three outcomes of the new WITS-NRF Digitisation Capacity Development Initiative: To establish a National Digital Library Aggregator Pilot Project – a central online portal from where viewers can access South Africa’s precious collections, including the possibility of a digital “Mandela Archive”. 

“Similar projects have already been done in Europe, for instance, with the Europeana Collections – a portal where thousands of GLAMs share cultural heritage for enjoyment, education and research,” says Gabriele Mohale, archivist in the Historical Papers Research Archive situated in the Willem Cullen Library on Wits’ Braamfontein East Campus. 

“It is very costly and European countries have more money. Most institutions in Africa are inhibited by their lack of funding and as such have only taken baby steps towards purposeful digitisation for access and preservation of South Africa’s rich historical heritage,” she adds. 

Now, with the WITS-NRF Digitisation Capacity Development Initiative, participating institutions could combine their efforts in implementing such a pilot project between five institutions: the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the University of Cape Town, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, and the National Archives of South Africa. 

“These institutions are already applying main archival and international standards of description and it will allow us to link our institutions’ archival collections and create a multi-institutional repository, endorsed by the International Council on Archives, in a portal or aggregator where the user can put in one search term and get the output from these five participating institutions,” Mohale says. 

Search: “Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela”+“Nelson Mandela”+“Mandela”+ “Madiba”
Output: *searching* 

“Given South Africa’s fragmented past, archives, preservation and the digitisation of material such as the Nelson Mandela Papers here at Wits, are some of the ways to create a collective memory and enduring legacy for Madiba,” says Mohale. 

Established in 1966, the Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits is one of the largest and most comprehensive independent archives in southern Africa – housing over 3 400 collections of historical, political and cultural importance, encompassing the mid-17th Century to the present. 

Its Nelson Mandela Papers is a collection of records in preparation of Mandela’s two trials: the ‘State vs Nelson Mandela’ in the Pretoria Regional Court 1962, and ‘The State vs Nelson Mandela and Others’ (Rivonia Trial) in the Supreme Court (Transvaal Provincial Division) in 1963/1964. 

“Digitising archives is important to not only preserve material for future generations or to create easy and open access to history, but also bring those forgotten materials back out into the current agenda. In South Africa we are historically fragmented in terms of understanding and knowledge of our histories, and digital archives play a role in accessing and enhancing memory,” Mohale says. 

The hidden technology

- Wits University

Automatic control is a technology that modern society cannot live without.

Professor Ian Craig, Group Head: Control Systems in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria, delivered the 2018 Bernard Price Memorial Lecture at Wits University.

Professor Ian Craig, Group Head: Control Systems in the Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria, delivered the 2018 Bernard Price Memorial Lecture at Wits University.

In his presentation, titled: Automatic control: The hidden technology that modern society cannot live without, Craig explained why automatic control is so important: Where an automatic controller ‘thinks’ about what will happen next in the process that it controls, and based on the feedback, take the necessary steps and instruct corrective action to the actuators to drive a process in a desired direction.

“Almost all goods and many services consumed in today’s modern economy are impacted on automatic control and automation,” said Craig.

He touched on a range of areas – manufacturing, aircraft, and health systems to name a few – and explained that automatic control is a pervasive technology that is prevalent in the production of almost all goods and services consumed by the modern consumer.

“Control systems thinking provide a framework that can be applied to almost any system imaginable. Today, control engineering skills are in demand to optimally utilize increasingly complex systems and to the exponentially increasing number of sensors and actuators available. There are also many opportunities arising to apply automatic control to areas beyond the traditional physical engineered systems,” he added.

About the Bernard Price Memorial Lecture

The Bernard Price Memorial Lecture has been jointly hosted by Wits University and the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers since 1951.

The first such lecture in 1951 was delivered by Professor Basil Schonland, the founding director of the Bernard Price Institute (BPI) at Wits. The topic was: The work of the BPI: 1938-1951. It covered the history of the BPI, as well as the work of the BPI – including the work related to lightning. It also covered the role of the BPI in the development of RADAR as deployed around the South African coast, as well as in the East African and Mediterranean theatres of WW2.

Bridging the digital divide with photonics

- Wits University

Wits physicists and engineers team up to tackle Africa’s digital divide with home grown technologies

Africa has 20% of the world’s population but only 4% of its internet data access. This “digital divide”, with low internet connectivity reach, particularly in rural areas, is both economic and geographic in nature. A team of international researchers, coordinated by Professor Andrew Forbes from the School of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (Wits), South Africa, and Professor Ling Cheng of the School of Electrical and Information gathered in South Africa recently to address this problem. Their solutions were published in Nature Photonics last month.

A prototype of a device that could be used to connect remote places to the internet.

The “divide” can be broken down into two parts: an affordability gap due to low disposable income and a geographical gap, due to lack of infrastructure. If South Africa’s gap was to be addressed by state-of-the-art optical fibre then an additional 160 000 km of fibre would be needed. This is possible but very expensive. But getting people connected is a priority, particularly for South Africa, where Broadband has been estimated to raise GDP by R130 billion and create 400 000 jobs. The Wits team are concentrating on bridging the divide by connecting communities with free-space optical (FSO) links – a network of communication channels through air, much like wifi but much faster and with a longer reach.

“Light holds tremendous promise for fast connections across medium distances,” explains Professor Andrew Forbes, team leader of the collaboration and Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics where he heads up the Wits Structured Light Laboratory. “Even Google, Facebook and SpaceX have exotic proposals for Africa that include drones and other aerial vehicles delivering connections in a blanket manner. We are working on point to point solutions with sustainable photonics that are home-grown.”

Internet is not a luxury but a right,” says Mitchell Cox, PhD engineering student working on the project. Existing FSO systems are able to comfortably sustain gigabit connection speeds over multi-kilometre distances. “With further research and development into advanced digital signal processing and coding schemes, this may be increased dramatically with relatively little expense,” says Professor Ling Cheng, from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering.

The team are working towards a multi-hop FSO link that will cover tens of kilometres across the digital divide. Forbes points out that working with this team of Scientists and Engineers has allowed some of the most recent scientific findings to be rapidly and efficiently deployed to tackle this challenge.

Members of the School of Physics and Engineering teamed up to build a prototype device that can solve Africa's digital divide.A recent report by the UN has highlighted that over 4 billion people in the world are “not connected”, with Africa having the lowest penetration (22%) and the highest gender divide (25%). “What is tragic is that economic upliftment is hindered by these divides, yet they are widening not shrinking with time,” says Forbes The UN estimates that $400m (just under R5 billion) allotted to bridging the gender digital divide remains unspent. The Wits team has already made several technical advances to address these issues and is about to embark on a commercialisation programme with a local listed company.

Building the world’s most powerful microscope using particle accelerators

- Wits University

Bruce Mellado, National Contact Physicist of South Africa at the ATLAS experiment at CERN, says there are future plans for a bigger, better LHC.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has provided one of the most important discoveries in the world of physics, when the observation of the Higgs boson was made in 2012. And, while it will continue to operate as one of the worlds’ largest science experiments until well into the 2030s, scientists are already asking questions about what should come next.

Professor Bruce MelladoProfessor Bruce Mellado is the National Contact Physicist of South Africa at the ATLAS experiment at CERN and holds a dual appointment at the University of the Witwatersrand and iThemba LABS of the NRF. He supports the idea to build an accelerator that would be almost four times the size of the current LHC, which, at the moment is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

“The LHC was critical in providing evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson, and the Higgs boson gives us an understanding of the origin of matter, but this is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Mellado.

Mellado was asked to present a plenary talk to about 500 physicists in Amsterdam, Holland, in April, where the scientists gathered to discuss the prospects for a new, more powerful accelerator. His talk on the opening day of the conference, was attended by the Director General of CERN, Dr Fabiola Gianotti, as well as other leading members of the international High Energy Particle Physics community.  

The new proposed particle accelerator, called the Future Circular Collider (FCC), which would also be built by CERN, is envisaged to have an underground tunnel of 100km long, compared to the 27km tunnel of the current LHC.

Particle accelerators are massive structures with long underground tunnels where particles such as protons are collided against each other at very high energies, using a complex system of magnets and accelerating devices. As the biggest accelerator to date, the LHC has become the quintessential Big Science project.

“By colliding the particles against each other at speeds close to the speed of light, we physically break up these particles to see what they are made of,” says Mellado.

Matter is made of atoms with a nucleus made of neutrons and protons. By colliding particles at high energies it was shown that protons can be broken up into a number of various “building blocks”, such as quarks and gluons.

Mellado, like his colleagues, believes that building a bigger accelerator can provide evidence that even these structures can be broken up further.

“Quarks are currently believed to be elementary particles, but we think that if we take a closer look at higher energies we may see that quarks also have structures,” says Mellado.

In order to do this, we need the most powerful microscope that has ever been devised. This is one of the roles that the proposed FCC would be suitable for.

“By colliding electrons at high velocities at a target, like a proton, it works like a microscope, where you can zoom in closely into the structure of matter. The higher energy you have, the more you can zoom into the structure of the proton.” The increased energy would be provided by the increased length and more powerful magnets that the FCC would have.

An impression of the proposed Future Circular Collider (FCC) with the current Large Hadron Collider (LHC) incorporated into it.In his talk, Mellado – who has published a number of seminal papers on the advantages of electron-proton collisions, including in the prestigious Physics Review Letters – discussed the possibility of attaching a small accelerator of electrons to the FCC that would create head-on collisions with the protons, to happen at the same times as proton-proton collisions.

Particle physicists are not only interested in what particles are made up of, but also how particles are created. According to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=MC2, matter (particles) can be created when you have large amounts of energy. One of the ways to do this, would be to collide two proton particles against each other. The large amounts of energy released in this collision means that new forms of matter could be created.

“Our ability to accelerate particles is very small in comparison to what is needed to explore the Universe, so our understanding of the Universe is very limited,” says Mellado. “With the FCC, we can take another step towards understanding nature better.”

While it may seem early to be talking about the future of the LHC beyond its lifetime, when it is still expected to be operating into the 2030s, Mellado says there is no time to spare.

“The first serious discussion about the LHC took place in 1984 and it started routine operations in 2010,” says Mellado. “The construction of such a complex facility required careful planning and designing, so we need to start talking now about the future of accelerators.”

Read Mellado's article on the CERN https://fcc.web.cern.ch/Pages/news/A-future-electron-proton-collider-.aspxwebsite.

Tech bytes

- Erna van Wyk

From slow sand filters and to towers that measure energy and gases.

Sand sweeps water clean at home

The slow sand filter method has been used for centuries to treat water. It’s so effective that the World Health Organization has given it its stamp of approval: “Under suitable circumstances, slow sand filtration may be not only the cheapest and simplest but also the most efficient method of water treatment.” 

However, this method has mostly been used on a large scale and isn’t suitable for the thousands of South African households who battle daily to have clean drinking water in their homes.

Busisiwe-Mashiane_©Lauren Mulligan 

Busisiwe Mashiane, a fourth year chemical engineering student in the School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering at Wits, is researching and developing a slow sand filter to meet the needs of South Africans. 

“Many South Africans living in disadvantaged communities across the country not only have difficulties accessing water but also face many health risks due to the lack of access to clean drinking water,” explains Mashiane. 

“Our aim is to develop a low-cost but highly efficient water treatment system that can treat river water effectively and make it consumable. We want to ensure that, because people in these communities cannot afford elaborate water treatment methods, our system can assist in their basic human right of having access to clean potable water.”  

How it works 

A continuous water flow from a 25 litre tank feeds into a reactor tank (the sand bed). From here the water flows into a 25 litre transparent sterlisation tank, after which the clean water can be dispensed into a storage container for use. 

The sand bed in the reactor tank is made up of layers of fine gravel, then activated carbon, and finally coarse gravel and fine sand.

 Slow sand filter

A layer of biological matter, called the schmutzdecke, forms on top of the sand and the schmutzdecke in the water is prevented from flowing through the sand. This layer of biological matter ensures that the filtered water is free of harmful bacteria and pathogens, while the sand bed strips the physical impurities out of the water. 

“Our research project is aimed at figuring out the mechanisms of the slow sand filter, to see how it functions under different conditions, and to find ways to optimise it,” says Mashiane, adding that the plan in future is to take the project out of the lab and into homes where it can make a difference in people’s lives. 

“We want to discover what its limitations are and eventually find the best way to replicate the design and easily cut down the set-up time – currently between three to four months due to the need to wait for the biological layer to form.”

Researching the link between ecosystem and climate

A high-tech scientific research installation, called the Eddy Covariance Flux Tower was erected in 2015 in Agincourt, Mpumalanga, which is home to the Medical Research Council/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit

“The Eddy Flux Tower is a piece of equipment which measures the exchange of energy and gases between the land surface and the atmosphere, and does so at landscape scale – over a footprint of about a kilometre. The towers were set up to measure carbon dioxide exchange, but also measure water exchange,” says Professor Bob Scholes, world-renowned scientist in systems ecology (regarding African savannahs) in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits. 

The Agincourt tower is part of a network of towers in the Skukuza and Malopeni villages in the Lowveld. It was erected by a research consortium that includes Wits University, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and various South African and German universities. 

The project investigates the coupled carbon and water cycles of natural and disturbed savannah ecosystems in southern Africa. It aims to deepen the knowledge on how the natural environment functions in rural communities in southern Africa. This knowledge is crucial for understanding the link between ecosystems and climate, and how changes in land use may impact the climate in the future. 

“These towers provide powerful insights into one of the key processes in the hydrological cycle, which control the amount of water entering aquifers [an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock] and rivers for human use, and how it might change with a changing climate,” says Scholes.

The flux tower houses a range of sophisticated equipment used to measure how much carbon dioxide, water vapour, and energy move between the land surface and the atmosphere. Other measurements, including climate parameters (temperature, humidity, rainfall, atmospheric pressure), are made to get more information about processes of the savannah ecosystem. 

“The research would help us understand changes in greenhouse gas concentrations and how they influence agricultural and ecosystem productivity,” says Scholes. 

The Skukuza tower, erected in 2000, was the first in Africa and today there are about eight scattered around the country. Another six towers will be erected through the Department of Science and Technology’s South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR), the first project of its kind in South Africa. SARIR is a strategic intervention to provide research infrastructure across the entire public research system that builds on existing capabilities and considers future needs. 

Read more about the research conducted across faculties, disciplines and entities to help secure humanity’s most important resource for survival: water, in the fourth issue of Wits' new research magazine, Curiosity.

Tech giant recognises African machine learning research

- Wits University

Wits robotics researcher awarded Africa’s only grant in the 2017 round of the Google Faculty Research Awards.

Dr Benjamin Rosman, a Senior Lecturer in the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, has been granted the award in the “Machine learning and data mining” category, Research at Google announced last week.

Rosman is a researcher in robotics, artificial intelligence, decision theory and machine learning. His proposal for the Google Faculty Research Awards was one of 1 033 Research at Google received from 46 countries and over 360 universities – making Rosman and Wits University the only African researcher and university among the recipients.

Dr Benjamin Rosman has been granted a Google Faculty Research Award.

“I am extremely happy that my proposal has been accepted. My research focuses on decision making in autonomous systems. I am interested in how an artificial agent such as a robot can acquire skills and behaviours through learning, and transfer this knowledge to new situations,” Rosman said this week.

“It is exciting that Google acknowledges the tremendous technology leaps in machine learning and data mining research that is currently being conducted in Africa, and at Wits,” he added. In recent years the University has launched numerous research projects and collaborations, such as the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, where the next generation of scholars is developing new technologies and leading innovation in various fields related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Read more about these developments in the second issue of Wits’ new research magazine, Curiosity: iHuman.

Rosman was appointed as Senior Lecturer at Wits in July last year and he teaches courses on robotics and machine learning. He also runs the Robotics, Autonomous Intelligence and Learning Laboratory at the University and was a co-organiser of the first Deep Learning Indaba in Africa that was held at Wits in March last year.

A Wits alumnus with a BSc (Honours) in Computer Science and a BSc (Honours) in Computational and Applied Mathematics, Rosman also holds a MSc in Artificial Intelligence and a PhD in Informatics from the University of Edinburgh.

He holds a joint appointment as a Principal Researcher in the Mobile Intelligent Autonomous Systems group at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and is the Chair of the IEEE South African joint chapter of Control Systems, and Robotics and Automation.

About Research at Google

The Google Faculty Research Awards Program aims to recognize and support world-class, permanent faculty pursuing cutting-edge research in areas of mutual interest. The goal is to identify and strengthen long-term collaborative relationships with faculty working on problems that will impact how future generations use technology. The award is highly competitive - only 15% of applicants receive funding - and each proposal goes through a rigorous Google-wide review process.

About the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics

The School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM), in the Faculty of Science, offers enriching programmes which are in the forefront of national interests. The unique programmes include Big Data Science, Data Analytics, eScience and eResearch. The School offers Advanced Mathematics of Finance and other Applied Mathematics courses which include Computational Methods, Mathematical Modelling and Analytical Methods which provide skill-sets in solving abstract industrial problems. Its pioneering research has positioned CSAM amongst South Africa’s best and ensured that it is globally competitive. 

Accelerating high-tech training

- Wits University

Wits students contribute to the upgrade of the high-tech software and hardware at the CERN ATLAS detector.

In 2012, the world was astonished by the announcement of the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Centre for Nuclear Reseach (CERN) in Switzerland. That announcement completed physicists understanding of what we know of the part of our world that we can see and feel­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­, namely normal matter.

The discovery of the Higgs boson, however, inspired the worlds’ physicists into a whole new world of study, searching for the answers to the mysteries of the things in our universe that we cannot see.

“Normal matter, in other words, the things that we can see and feel around us comprises only about 4% of what is actually in the universe. While we know that there is a lot of matter and energy out there we do not really know what it is and how it is related to the known matter.” says Professor Bruce Mellado, the National Contact Physicist of South Africa at the ATLAS experiment at CERN from the School of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Dingane HlakuluThe Department of Science and Technology funds the South Africa CERN (SA-CERN) consortium. This avenue is essential for South African students and researchers to access this leading global research infrastructure.

Wits is the single largest contributor from South Africa to CERN. This includes theoreticians and experimentalists together with a  group of 35 students from a wide variety of historical and financial backgrounds that are highly involved in the search for new bosons. These students from Wits University spend significant amount of time at CERN, where some of them play an active role in the upcoming upgrading of the ATLAS particle detectors, that is situated in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC will be upgraded in 2023-2024 to increase its sensitivity in order to enhance the potential for new discoveries.

“The LHC is the largest particle accelerator in the world, and it is used to accelerate two high energy particle beams in opposite directions in a circular route, and set them on a collision course with each other,” says Ntabiseng Lekalakala, an M.Sc. student from Wits University, who is now based at CERN.

“By colliding the particles against each other at speeds close to the speed of light, we physically break up these particles to see what they are made of.”

These collissions happen at a rate of one every 25 nanoseconds (a nanosecond is one thousand-millionth of a second).

Dingane Hlaluku, a student at the Wits School of Physics, is working on the software upgrade of the detector. He completed his Masters in Physics at Wits in 2017 and has developed a keen interest in software engineering of largely distributed systems. In October 2017, he was invited to deliver a plenary presentation on the status of the detector upgrades to the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS experiment – which included some of the world’s top physicists in High Energy Physics.

Joyful Mdhluli“Dingane giving a plenary presentation summarising the upgrade activities of the Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS detector was a honour to us all,” says Mellado.

One of the biggest challenges at the ATLAS experiment is to sift through the huge amounts of big data that the experiment delivers, and to only capture the relevant data. This is where Dingane’s software update plays a crucial role.

After the upgrade, the readout electronics will need to cope with digital data with full granularity at about 40 MHz, which means the electronics will need to process data at a minimum rate of 9.6 Gigabytes per second to the off-detector readout components. This is equal to downloading three full feature-length Blueray DVDs per second. The off-detector electronics that is used to control, configure and monitor the process will be required to send data at a rate of about 4.8 Gigabytes per second.

“The software is augmented to look for specific signatures from different regions of the detector in three stages/levels and discard uninteresting events in real-time.” says Hlaluku.

In the current configuration of the detector, data is processed, digitized and read out at 100 KHz.

 

The fourth annual High Energy Particle Physics (HEPP) workshop took place this January 21st to February 2nd at the Wallenberg Research Centre at Stellenbosch. Professor Alan Cornell, from Wits University and a co-chair of the workshop has been instrumental in the growth of the field in South Africa. “It is great to see so many new students choose to do research in our field. The attendance of this year’s HEPP workshop is double that of three years ago,” says Cornell.

Another Wits student who is contributing to the upgrade of the hardware for the ATLAS detector is twenty-four-year-old PhD student Joyful Mdhluli.

Mdhluli has been involved in the ATLAS experiment at CERN for two years. The experience has changed her life.

Ntabiseng Lekalakala and a fellow student working on electronic equipment“I’ve been able to attend lots of conferences, where I’ve met different kinds of people from different parts of the world, and I’ve also learnt a lot about High Energy Physics,” she says.

“I realised that High Energy Physics basically involves a lot of interesting stuff, like astronomy and dark matter.”

Mdhluli’s research is on trying to find materials that can withstand the high levels of radiation for parts of the ATLAS detector.

“If you want to study particles beyond the standard model, you need to get efficient and accurate data, so if the materials in the detectors deteriorate over time, then that means the signals that they get over time are not reliable. So, we are trying to make it as efficient as possible by making sure that the materials they are using will be able to last long periods and will have reliable signals coming through,” she says.

Professor Elias Sideras-Haddad, Mdhluli’s PhD supervisor and a member of the ATLAS experiment, is enthusiastic about training students in nuclear and radiation physics: “The ATLAS experiment operates under high levels of radiation. South Africa has excellent capabilities to undertand how detector components respond to radiation. Our work with the ATLAS experiment opens a new dimension and it demonstrates that South Africa has a lot fo offer,” says Sideras-Haddad.

Wits’ involvement at CERN has already led to actual technological innovation in South Africa, where the Cape Town-based company Trax Interonnect built a new 16-layer electronics board specifically for the ATLAS detector upgrade. This board was until recently the most complex printed circuit board ever produced in South Africa.

“The production of the board for ATLAS was a challenge. Since then, we have improved on our own capabilities and now we are able to produce even more complex boards,” says Daniel Dock, Managing Director of Trax Interconnect.

Speaking at the HEPP workshop in Stellenbosch, Mathis Wiedeking of iThemba Laboratories said that South Africa has a long standing collaboration CERN.

“Student training and the education of our next generation scientists is a top priority and a foundation for research development. South Africa plays a visible role in this field of research and contributes quite significantly,” he said. “The SA-CERN consortium has the capacity to attract young people and get kids interested in science, and it plays a huge role in sparking the interest in sience and technology among young South Africans.”

Mellado agrees. “Our collaboration with CERN provides us with an excellent opportunity to develop human capacity in areas of high-tech that are badly needed in South Africa, contributing to the training of a new generation of leaders. Technology transfer to South African industry is an important by-product of this interaction,” says Mellado.   

DigiMine, the future of mining research

- Wits University

Celebrating the research of the new Sibanye-Stillwater Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine) at Wits University.

To celebrate the launch of the Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine) sponsored by Sibanye-Stillwater at the University of the Witwatersrand later this month, the Wits Mining Institute (WMI) will host a seminar on 26 and 27 March 2018 showcasing its high-tech DigiMine and research being done. 

According to WMI director Professor Fred Cawood, the seminar is part of a week-long celebration by the partners in the DigiMine project, which will be formally unveiled on 28 March by Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater. 

“The seminar is for anyone interested in digital mining in the underground environment,” said Professor Cawood. “We will be showcasing our laboratory, which comprises a 24/7, digitally monitored, realistic underground mining environment, as well as our research agenda to develop digital technologies for mining applications; delegates will also witness some of our research outcomes that have been developed in recent years by the WMI and its partners.” 

Keynotes at the event will come from two of DigiMine’s key partners: the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) in Pakistan, and Sibanye-Stillwater who will give their view of mine digitisation in the 21st century. Presentations will also be made by selected postgraduate research students and partner organisations. Read more

About the Wits Mining Institute (WMI)

The WMI conducts and facilitates multidisciplinary research, encouraging partnerships to ensure a sustainable business model. Its flagship programme is the digital mining laboratory (DigiMine), where its focus is to conduct tests, research and development for transferring surface digital technologies into the underground mining environment. It also identifies and develops skills required to operate 21st century, technologically-intensive mines, which feed into a programme for developing modern skill-sets at artisan, technician and professional levels for the mining sector. Visit https://www.wits.ac.za/wmi/

About Sibanye-Stillwater

Sibanye-Stillwater is an independent, global precious metal mining group, producing a unique mix of metals that includes gold and the platinum group metals (PGMs). Domiciled in South Africa, Sibanye-Stillwater owns and operates a portfolio of high-quality operations and projects, which are grouped by region: the Southern Africa region and the United States region. Globally, Sibanye-Stillwater is the third largest producer of palladium and platinum and features among the world’s top ten gold producing companies. Visit https://www.sibanyestillwater.com/

SA will not escape this revolution

- Zeblon Vilakazi

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi’s editorial in the latest issue of Curiosity, Wits’ new research magazine:

Welcome to the third issue of Curios.ty, which features research and researchers that interrogate capital within the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption, and the rapid disruption of the status quo and the world as we know it today. 

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research

Let us consider the capital wielded globally in terms of the economic, social and political power of the big five tech companies - Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. The New York Times columnist, Farhard Manjoo, has provocatively referred to them as the ‘frightful five’, declaring that they control the world’s most important platforms – smartphones, app stores and a map of our global social interactions – in a way that is unprecedented in human history. 

Who would have imagined a world where the largest hotel company (AirBnB) doesn’t own a single piece of real estate, and the largest private transport company (Uber) does not own a fleet of taxis? Take the new cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripley) that are traded on alternative exchanges or the latest Wits MOOCs available on the EdX platform. These examples are indicators of how capital has, over the past decade, been disrupted by the ‘frightful five’. 

Recent events in North Africa and the Middle East – and the US Presidential election results – also point to the power of these platforms in reshaping regional political events in some of the world’s most powerful nations. 

Moisés Naím, the Venezuelan thinker and internationally syndicated columnist, writes in his book, The End of Power, that globalisation, economic growth, a growing global middle class, the spread of democracy, and rapidly expanding telecommunications technologies have changed our world and created a fluid and unpredictable environment which has unsettled the traditional dominions of power. 

Some refer to this context as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is a wave of change that uses technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and robots to enhance our cognitive abilities. Most previous technology revolutions enhanced our muscle power; this one is characterised by social and technical interfaces and will impact on the world of work and the economy. 

South Africa will not escape this revolution. We will need to grapple with these changes as we simultaneously contend with transformation, social cohesion, poverty, inequality and unemployment. If not sufficiently daunting, we need to manage these changes in the context of sluggish economic growth still reliant, largely, on resources. 

These are some of the questions that Wits researchers and students are exploring. By extension, Wits will implement a new research and postgraduate strategic plan (2018-2022), that speaks to the transformation of the future, whilst addressing the challenges of today. 

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits University. 

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

How the humanities can equip students for the 4IR

- Ruksana Osman

An understanding of the interaction of humans with technology and technology with humans are key to grasp the impact of the fourth industrial revolution.

The term “fourth industrial revolution” is understood in various ways. Some people are excited about it. Others are cautious. Some assume it means that technology and robots will take over every human activity. And still others imagine that this “revolution” will lead only to joblessness and automation.

There are also those who are sceptical and insist it’s no revolution at all. They argue that it’s just an improvement and fusion of various technologies – like artificial intelligence and 3D printing – and acceleration in productivity.

In all these instances, the interaction of technology with humans and humans with technology is underestimated. The emphasis on interaction is key to understanding the fourth industrial revolution. And this epoch will, like all times of change, require universities to push the boundaries of teaching and learning.

Universities will need to ensure that students are equipped with approaches to learning that involve agility, adaptability and curiosity. It will be a challenge for us all.

The fourth industrial revolution will also raise many questions for universities to consider. What needs to shift in how lecturers teach and how students learn and will be learning? What does the blurring of the lines between the physical, digital and technological mean for social relationships and for student learning? What do these shifts mean for different countries? Is learning in an environment with peers (virtually or in a class) better than learning online?

In seeking answers, societies must create the space to have conversations across social, academic, industry and community boundaries. The purpose of these conversations is to determine priority areas that need to be improved by the rapid technological changes we are currently experiencing as well as thinking about how we redefine the human condition.

Universities have a crucial role to play in these conversations. And a humanities education has a lot to offer when it comes to preparing students for the fourth industrial revolution.

Harnessing the humanities

A humanities education inculcates the importance of reflecting on the vast array of methodological and societal issues that arise from any practices. These include the technological and computational practices that underpin the fourth industrial revolution.

Critical thinking, debating and creative problem solving are taught in the humanities. This kind of critical orientation allows students to explore the complex human-to-human relations and the human to robotic relations that we are already encountering and that will become ever more common.

This isn’t to suggest that only the humanities are relevant. Cross-disciplinary communities of researchers and educators matter and will matter now more than ever.

This is particularly true in South Africa where the education system hasn’t provided for the breaking down of boundaries between the sciences, let alone between the disciplines in the humanities. Collectively we will need to do more when it comes to drawing on approaches from various disciplines, which will allow for quantitative reasoning, problem solving and systems thinking that are socially relevant.

Such partnerships are already happening in small pockets, and are yielding promising results.

Collaborating and mutuality

For instance, the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg collaborates with the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment to offer a joint undergraduate programme that meshes engineering with arts to make a programme in game design and digital arts.

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Engineering students work alongside each other in courses that are team-taught to design innovative high tech games. It’s not all fun: games, after all, are a means of challenging ourselves, controlling outcomes, competing, and figuring out successful strategies of doing things.

Students from this programme draw on a variety of skills like problem solving, inferential thinking and visualisation. They have produced games that are frequently downloaded from various app stores.

Similarly, the university’s faculties of science and humanities offer a postgraduate programme on e-Science or Data Science. The programme brings together science and humanities students and staff to work on complex, big data problems. They’re also taught to think of ways to visualise and communicate this information and to question the predictive powers of big data.

Students are exposed to various interdisciplinary approaches like statistical computing and modelling, data visualisation, text analysis, and geographical information systems. Master of Arts students take courses in data privacy and ethics alongside MSc students. This course is team-taught and students engage with complex problems from two or more science and humanities disciplines.

These and other examples of innovative teaching and learning help to disrupt the current techno talk that dominates conversations about the fourth industrial revolution. It’s essential that we bring our ideas to the fore and reshape the conversations in ways that resonate with who we are, where we are located and what this means for us and our futures.The Conversation

Ruksana Osman, Professor and Dean of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It's time to talk about tech

- Imraan Valodia and Bonang Mohale

Technological advances are reshaping our lives, and our policies should be designed to enhance its creative and empowering potential.

Across the world communities are adjusting to new ways of working, doing business, consuming goods, socialising and researching as technological advances that have come to be known as the fourth industrial revolution change how we do things.

The likely effects of the fourth industrial revolution are determined largely by who you are, what you do, how wealthy you are and where you live.

Some in the wealthy nations see these changes as opportunities for a better work-leisure balance. Developing countries have vastly different challenges and need to be thinking about how these technologies will affect employment, economic growth, job security and inequality, among others.

We should consider the risks and the opportunities that these technologies may offer to improve the lives of the millions who live in poverty and on the margins of the economy. We think we should be guided by:

  • A focus on overall systems, not just technologies. We should try to understand the overall system of technological change and not fall into technological determinism. We have the power to determine the course of technological change. Developing countries and all segments of society should have a say in how these technologies develop. After all, much of technological research is funded from public resources.
  • Technologies must empower people, not determine the fate of people unilaterally. Technology offers the possibility to make our lives a lot better and more meaningful. It also has the potential to be destructive. Our policies should be designed to enhance its creative and empowering potential and to reduce its destructive and negative consequences.

The International Labour Organisation has taken a particular interest in the labour market consequences of this revolution and has set up a consultative process to focus on the future of work. We are fortunate that President Cyril Ramaphosa is co-chairing this commission. It is an important vehicle for SA to play a role on the global stage to shape our future world.

We have to acknowledge that technology might be disruptive. Advances may result in costs for businesses as they adjust. Advancements could negatively affect employment levels. The focus must be on looking at innovative ways to ensure that technology serves to support and empower, rather than replace, workers. We should consider policies that will manage these transitions in the labour market so that society, rather than individual workers, bears the costs of adjustment.

We should start with an understanding of what we mean by "work". We tend to focus on paid work and ignore unpaid work, and the interactions between paid and unpaid work. The reality is that there is a gendered distribution of unpaid work, with a large number of women having to deal with the burdens of low-paid work and an unequal burden of unpaid care work. Technological change could change the nature of paid and unpaid work. In most developing countries, most jobs — especially for women — have been created in the informal economy. The conversation on technological advances must also look at work in the informal economy.
 
Technological change has different effects on different groups. We need to understand how this change will affect inequality and what policies and mechanisms can ameliorate the costs for the most vulnerable sections of our population and how it can lead to greater levels of equality. Because the challenges in developing countries are far different from those in developed countries, we need to craft a strategy that does not simply respond to the negative aspects of the fourth industrial revolution but rather uses it to build a more equitable world.

Technological change is not a process that is independent of social norms and regulations. Instead, these fundamentally shape the process of technological change and its outcomes. The worst response would be a one-size-fits-all approach that is based on how wealthy countries will adjust to this new world of working. It also means that we need to urgently start having these important conversations in order to ensure we are drivers of and not responders to the fourth industrial revolution.

As we continue to grapple with unsustainably high levels of unemployment we must be cognisant of the potential of technology in the labour market. If we want to harness the potential of technology as a tool to build something better, we need to be thinking about using the fourth industrial revolution to create a labour market that deals with inequality.

Imraan Valodia is the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management and leads the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies (SCIS) at Wits University. Mohale is CEO of Business Leadership SA. This article was originally published on https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/.

How we recreated a lost African city with laser technology

- Karim Sadr

LiDAR, was used to “redraw” the remains of the city, along the lower western slopes of the Suikerbosrand hills near Johannesburg.

There are lost cities all over the world. Some, like the remains of Mayan cities hidden beneath a thick canopy of rainforest in Mesoamerica, are found with the help of laser lights.

Now the same technology which located those Mayan cities has been used to rediscover a southern African city that was occupied from the 15th century until about 200 years ago. This technology, called LiDAR, was used to “redraw” the remains of the city, along the lower western slopes of the Suikerbosrand hills near Johannesburg.

It is one of several large settlements occupied by Tswana-speakers that dotted the northern parts of South Africa for generations before the first European travellers encountered them in the early years of the nineteenth century. In the 1820s all these Tswana city states collapsed in what became known as the Difeqane civil wars. Some had never been documented in writing and their oral histories had gone unrecorded.

Four or five decades ago, several ancient Tswana ruins in and around the Suikerbosrand hills, about 60 kilometres south of Johannesburg, had been excavated by archaeologists from the University of the Witwatersrand. But from ground level and on aerial photos the full extent of this settlement could not be appreciated because vegetation hides many of the ruins.

But LiDAR, which uses laser light, allowed my students and I to create images of the landscape and virtually strip away the vegetation. This permits unimpeded aerial views of the ancient buildings and monuments.

We have given the city a generic placeholder name for now – SKBR. We hope an appropriate Tswana name can eventually be adopted.

Bringing the city to life

Judging by the dated architectural styles that were common at SKBR, it’s estimated that the builders of the stone walled structures occupied this area from the fifteenth century AD until the second half of the 1800s.

The evidence we gathered suggests that SKBR was certainly large enough to be called a city. The ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur was less than 2km in diameter while SKBR is nearly 10km long and about 2km wide.

The ancient homesteads at Suikerbosrand are shown against an aerial photograph from 1961. The two rectangles show the footprint of the LiDAR imagery. Karim Sadr

It is difficult to estimate the size of its population. Between 750 and 850 homesteads have been counted at SKBR, but it’s hard to tell how many of these were inhabited at the same time, so we cannot easily estimate the city’s population at its peak.

Given what we know about more recent Tswana settlements, each homestead would have housed an extended family with, at the least, the (male) head of the homestead, one or more wives and their children.

Many features of the built environment at SKBR seem to signal the wealth and status of the homesteads or suburbs that they are associated with. For example, parallel pairs of rock alignments mark sections of passageways in several different parts of the city.

South African archaeologist Professor Revil Mason, who has carried out a great deal of research on stone walled ruins around Johannesburg, called these features cattle drives, built to funnel the beasts along certain routes through the city.

If these were cattle drives the width and location of these passageways would have signalled the livestock wealth of the ward or homestead that constructed them, even when the cattle were not present.

In the central sector of SKBR there are two very large stone walled enclosures, with a combined area of just under 10, 000 square meters. They may have been kraals and if so they could have held nearly a thousand head of cattle.

Monuments to wealth

Among the largest features of the built environment at SKBR are artificial mounds composed of masses of ash from cattle dung fires, mixed with bones of livestock and broken pottery vessels. All this material appears to have been deliberately piled up at the entrance to the larger homesteads.

These are the remains of feasts and the ash heaps’ size publicised the particular homestead’s generosity and wealth. The use of refuse dumps as landmarks of wealth and power is known from other parts of the world, like India, as well. Even the contemporary gold mine dumps of Johannesburg can be seen in this light.

Other monuments to wealth and power at SKBR include a large number of short and squat stone towers – on average 1.8 - 2.5 metres tall and about 5 metres wide at their base. The homesteads with the most stone towers tend to also have unusually large ash heaps at their entrance. The practical function of the towers isn’t known yet: they may have been the bases for grain bins, or they may mark burials of important people.

It will take another decade or two of field work to fully understand the birth, development and ultimate demise of this African city. This will be done through additional coverage with LiDAR, intensive ground surveys as well as excavations in selected localities.

The ConversationIdeally, the descendants of those who built and inhabited this city should be involved in future research at this site. Some of my postgraduate students are already in contact with representatives of the Bakwena branch of the Tswana who claim parts of the landscape to the south of Johannesburg. We hope that they will actively become involved in our research project.

Karim Sadr, Professor Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We’ve come up with a TB test that’s cheaper, quicker and more accurate

- Bavesh Kana

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease that kills more people due to a bacterial infection than any other disease in the world.

In 2016, the World Health Organisation reported over 10 million new infections and 1.7 million deaths. In South Africa, TB remains one of the leading causes of death.

Countries with high TB burdens are tackling the problem in two ways: with the BCG vaccine – the most widely administered vaccine in human history – and a chemotherapeutic regimen. Nevertheless, there are still multiple obstacles to getting the disease under control.

To make major strides, the world needs better interventions, vaccines and ways of diagnosing TB. In addition, new drugs are needed to tackle drug resistant strains and reduce treatment duration.

Extensive effort has been put into improving diagnostics. This makes sense for two reasons: diagnosing people earlier and faster means they get onto treatment earlier, and it reduces the risk of transmission.

There are three ways in which TB is diagnosed: through a sputum smear test; by growing bacteria in a lab through a process known as culturing; and by using molecular diagnostics to detect DNA components of the bacteria.

But each has limitations preventing them from being scaled up. We set about bridging this gap.

In our study we’ve identified a way to speed up the age-old sputum smear test by using an invisible ink that lights up when it comes in contact with the TB bacteria. The ink significantly reduces the processing time to get a positive reading on a test. It’s also inexpensive which means our new method paves the way to introducing a test in communities where dozens of diagnostic tests need to be administered each day.

Limitations to existing tests

The current range of TB diagnostic tests have various limitations.

For example, the sputum smear is 100 years old. It’s outdated, clumsy and takes long to process. It’s also not very accurate because each sputum sample must contain more than 10 000 bacteria for an accurate test. This means it doesn’t work with patients who have a low number of bacteria.

The challenge is that people with an HIV and TB co-infection have significantly lower levels of bacteria because HIV remodels the way the disease occurs in the lung.

Diagnosing TB in this cohort of people is problematic, particularly in countries like South Africa with the highest HIV and TB co-infection rate in the world.

Another limitation with smear methods are that they can’t distinguish between living and dead bacteria – making it hard to tell if a person is responding well to treatment.

One of the other methods, culturing, also has serious limitations. For one, it’s a lengthy process. Culturing TB in a laboratory can take up to 42 days because TB is a slow growing organism. This is problematic for treatment and care because it is easy to lose people from the health care system during this time.

Culturing is also difficult in situations where resources are stretched. This means it can’t be scaled up and implemented in a community setting.

Finally, there’s the molecular diagnostics test. One such test is the GeneXpert which is being rolled out in South Africa. But its challenge is that it’s expensive and it can’t tell the difference between living and dead organisms.

Invisible ink

Our study focused on ways to improve the sputum smear test because it can be scaled up and implemented in communities.

To improve it, we decided to target a specific part of the TB bacteria – its cell wall. This protects the bacteria from the immune system in the body.

TB bacteria are rod shaped. Similarly to a capsule, the bacterial cell wall forms a protective coat that covers the bacteria. It is incredibly complex. It is thick and has many layers and is the reason why TB treatment takes a long time to take effect: drugs need to penetrate the wall.

But the defence wall in fact delivered the solution we’ve pioneered. It is built with mycolic acids, which is made of a chemical molecule (trehalose) unique to the TB bacteria family. As part of our study, the chemical molecule was fused with another chemical (a fluorophore) to create a stain that’s naturally fluorescent and changes colour (known as solvatochromic). The combination is called DMN-trehalose.

The DMN-trehalose is the brainchild of Dr Carolyn Bertozzi at Stanford University in the US whose lab conceived the idea and generated DMN-trehalose before bringing it to South Africa for tests in clinical samples.

The beauty of DMN-trehalose is that it colourless when it’s outside a TB bacteria. But as soon as it is in the presence of TB-infected sputum, TB bacteria immediately internalise it. Once the DMN-trehalose is inside the bacterial cell, it gets built into the cell wall and lights up the organism.

The advantage of our method is that it promises to reduce the processing time and complexity of the smear test. Another advantage is that it is very specific to TB because trehalose is only found in the TB bacteria family.

Lastly, the DMN-trehalose will only stain living bacteria, meaning it’s possible to tell whether treatment is working or not.

Next steps

Now that our study has shown proof of principle, it’s being tested in a pilot study at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The pilot will take one year and will look at both the sputum smears and oral swabs to assess how well DMN-trehalose works. It will assess sputum samples from people before treatment to establish if accurate diagnosis is possible, and after completing treatment to see if the regimes worked.

The pilot will help us compare it to the current staining method in sputum smear tests. If it produces similar results, the new test could become the preferred method because it requires less processing.

The ConversationEffective, cheap and scalable diagnostics are urgently required for TB. For this, the new DMN-trehalose stain has great promise. It’s also an excellent research tool to help understand TB transmission and how TB bacteria remodels their cell walls during TB disease.

Bavesh Kana, Head of the Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why it would be in everybody’s interests to regulate cryptocurrencies

- Desné Masie

Cryptocurrencies originated as an alternative payment mechanism to traditional currencies.

There are growing calls for regulation of the cryptocurrency market, which is rapidly approaching a market capitalisation of $1 trillion. But there’s little agreement about the forms this should take.

If the case for government regulation is strong, the case for a clear, coordinated regulatory approach is even stronger. It would increase the flow of institutional capital into cryptocurrency markets. And that would further strengthen corporate governance in cryptocurrency companies.

The trick for regulators is to balance investor protection and systemic stability with the need to protect innovation and encourage capital formation in different legal systems.

At present the regulatory environment is a muddle because there’s rapid divergence in the regulation of cryptocurrencies across jurisdictions. Countries like Japan, while thorough, have a more open approach. China is more strict.

Sovereign governments need to develop coherent frameworks for cryptocurrency oversight. But solutions will only be found through international cooperation in this cross-border market.

Growing concerns

Cryptocurrencies originated as an alternative payment mechanism to traditional currencies. But they are now also traded on spot exchanges as highly speculative investment assets.

Recent spin-off crowd funding opportunities such as initial coin offerings have become a particular cause of concern. These involve startup cryptocurrency companies offering initial investment stakes in new token issues. China and Vietnam have banned them. Japan has taken a friendlier attitude while the UK and the US have adopted a wait and see approach. South Africa, like many other developing countries, offers zero protection to investors in initial coin offerings.

These different responses are due to different legal definitions of cryptocurrencies. The rapidly evolving technology behind them doesn’t help the situation either.

The precise nature of an initial coin offerings depends on its structure as well as its context which can change quickly and have hybrid characteristics of financial instruments.

The definition, and hence legal treatment, of the tokens issued under an initial coin offering can be as diverse as a currency, commodity, security, property, loan, deposit, derivative or forex contract. Agreeing a taxonomy of cryptocurrencies defined by how they’re used is clearly one of the most urgent tasks facing regulators.

Towards a taxonomy of cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrency expert Lawrence Wintermeyer has argued that distributed ledger technology powered digital assets could be organised into three potential buckets: cryptocurrencies, cryptocommodities, and cryptotokens.

But the lack of harmonisation across jurisdictions is a wider problem than nomenclature.

Cryptocurrency companies sometimes use the distributed nature of these assets – which sit on digital ledgers held by multiple token holders – to argue that there is no issuer. They also sometimes argue that these assets are not securities, and that they should therefore not be subjected to a particular jurisdiction’s securities laws.

There are also clear cross border regulatory gaps. What makes it difficult to reconcile these is that the assets can easily be transferred and their origins are difficult to trace. Tokens could be issued in a more token-friendly jurisdiction like Japan. The same tokens could land up in the hands of unassuming retail investors in stricter jurisdictions such as the US.

Avoiding money laundering and financial crime

This cross border confusion allows token companies to pick and choose jurisdictions with favourable rules. This could make money laundering easier.

There are a few steps governments can take to close these gaps.

They should support investment in technology that makes the provenance of tokens clearer while preserving their encryption. Regulators could then enforce an “indicator of origin” as a standard. This would make it less easy for the assets to be transferred illegally.

Offshore centres like Jersey have got a lot of bad press in recent the backlash against international financial centres. But there’s a great deal to learn from well-regulated offshore jurisdictions. They are beginning to take the lead with potential applications of international best practice and corporate governance for cryptocurrencies. They offer investors in digital assets an extra set of gatekeepers’ eyes, and potentially, a more calculated risk.

In jurisdictions like Jersey issuers of initial coin offerings have to jump through quite a few hoops. This includes using a regulated service provider which has to make an application to the Jersey companies registry for a consent. The service provider is among a number of requirements that provide checks in relation to anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism.

Current frameworks and global co-ordination

But what could a coordinated global regulatory approach to cryptocurrencies look like?

Harmonisation via a code of conduct or voluntary signatory to a global compact could certainly stop token companies from cherry picking jurisdictions to their advantage. Not being signatories to the codes would place token companies outside the market.

A multilateral code of conduct or global convention or compact, such as those administered by the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, or a United Nations co-ordinated approach could be model solutions.

Standard regulatory codes are particularly critical for some pockets of the investment community. For example, there has been a significant surge in the establishment of investment funds looking to invest in initial coin offerings on behalf of sophisticated investors.

Standard codes for institutional investors in the first instance, could help both regulation as well as innovation. Institutional investors, unlike retail investors, can withstand, and even benefit from, the upside of volatility over time.

For now, the poorly regulated speculative hoarding of cryptocurrencies reduces the potential of assets like this to become a public good. This ultimately affects the potential value of the tokens by amplifying volatility.

Paying attention to this is important for investors and regulators as well as issuers. There will also have to be a degree of self regulation by issuers as global regulators get up to speed.

Desné Masie, Visiting Researcher in International Political Economy, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

WiSER professor wins inaugural Humanities Book Award

- Wits Communications

The Academy of Science of South Africa has identified Prof. Keith Breckenridge as the winner of its Humanities Book Award for his book on the Biometric State.

Breckenridge is Deputy Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

The award will be presented to Breckenridge for his book Biometric State: The Global Politics of Identification and Surveillance in South Africa, 1850 to the Present.

The book shows how the South African obsession with Francis Galton's universal fingerprint identity registration served as a 20th Century incubator for the development throughout the south of the current systems of biometric citizenship.

The ASSAf Humanities Book Award is presented to a writer of a scholarly, well-written work of non-fiction published up to three years prior to its nomination. The book should be noteworthy for its contribution to developing new understanding and insight of a topic in the Humanities.

Chosen from among 58 entries, Breckenridge's book is claimed to have reawakened international interest in the fine details of South African state-building, showing that our history can reveal and explain patterns of state formation in Europe, the Americas and Asia, and our peer states on this continent.

The book, reviewers have commented, engages problems that have broad interdisciplinary significance, reworking them to place South African history at the centre of a new global explanation. It has produced new explanations of the roots of Galton's eugenics, of social Darwinism, of Gandhi's distinctive anti-progressivism, of the limits of the colonial state's will to know, of the surveillance capacities of the apartheid state, and the current global enthusiasm for biometric social welfare.

The book does this by combining very wide comparative reading with the fine-grained archival research that has been the hallmark of South African historiography for two generations. It is carefully and fluently written and encourages South African social scientists, historians, in particular, to be comparative, and theoretically ambitious, deploying the detail of what we know best about our own society to shape debates in the global academy.

The prize will be awarded to Breckenridge at the inaugural ASSAf Annual Humanities Lecture and Book Award event on 9 March 2017 in Pretoria. 

Broadly, Breckenridge writes about the cultural and economic history of South Africa, particularly the gold mining industry, the state and the development of information systems. Read more about his publications.

Wits offers new post graduate courses in e-Science

- Wits University

Programme will create opportunities for students in a variety of fields to gain an interdisciplinary perspective on the emerging fields of Data Science.


Wits University is leading the charge in combating the large shortage in scientists and professionals qualified in dealing with e-Science, including Big Data.

The University, in association with five other South African Universities and research institutions, has started two new Masters degrees, that deal with Big Data, namely a M.Sc. in e-Science, and a M.A. degree in e-Science. 

Situated in the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, the M.Sc. degree aims to train postgraduate students in computational, mathematical and statistical methods to solve data-driven problems. This programme will create opportunities for students in the Computer Science, Statistics, Physics, Electrical Engineering, Medicine, Biological Sciences and other technical fields, to gain an interdisciplinary perspective on the emerging fields of Data Science.
The M.A. degree, which is situated in the School of Social Sciences in the Humanities Faculty, aims to train students in the use of statistical methods to conduct data-driven research in the social sciences and humanities.

Starting in 2018, students from Wits, University of Pretoria and North West University can enrol at the university where they are registered at.

The University of Limpopo, University of Venda and Sol Plaatje University will join the programme for the 2019 intake.

For the first year of the 18-month programme, students will attend their coursework classes at Wits, irrespective of which university they are registered at, before returning to their home institution for their research project.

Students who enrol for the M.Sc. degree will have to take two compulsory courses, namely: Research methods and capstone projects in data science, and Data privacy and ethics, as well as four electives, while students enrolling for the M.A. programme will have four compulsory courses, namely Research methods and capstone project in data science; data privacy and ethics; principles of quantitative social research and advanced topics in quantitative social research.
Both programmes are funded by the Department of Science and Technology, through the Council for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR). The 2018 intake of 30 students will be fully funded.

For the 2018 intake students are required to have a background in mathematics, statistics or computer science. However, from 2019, bridging courses will be added for students who don’t have a strong mathematics background.

For more information contact e-science.research@wits.co.za or visit http://www.escience.ac.za/.

Read the curriculum overview.

 

 

 

Wits appoints new CEO for Tshimologong

- Wits University

Lesley Williams will head up the tech precinct and help it to achieve its full potential.

Wits University today announced it has appointed Lesley Donna Williams, a consultant and entrepreneur, as the new CEO of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

Williams, named in 2011 by the Mail&Guardian as one of its “Top 200 Young South Africans”, has for the past 17 years been actively engaged in setting up and running collaborative work spaces and associated programmes.

She joined Wits on Monday and describes herself as being “enthusiastic about collaboration with particular passion for shaping the future of business that contributes to social innovation and enables participatory leadership.”

Williams established the first Impact Hub in Africa, “Impact Hub Johannesburg”, in 2010 and today there are more than 100 Impact Hubs in major cities around the world. Impact Hub is a community of spaces, people and programming with an impact mission.

Lesley D Williams, new CEO of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct

Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, welcomed Williams and said she has been mandated to ensure that the Tshimologong Precinct also achieves its full potential.

“Through Tshimologong, Wits is enabling the development of a new generation of digital technology experts, innovators and entrepreneurs. The Precinct is providing space for our country's most creative young minds to develop the new digital technologies that are crucial to South Africa’s economic growth and international competitiveness,” he says.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Head of Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and founder of the Tshimologong Precinct says, “I’m really excited to welcome Lesley as our CEO. She brings a wealth of experience and boundless energy and enthusiasm to this important strategic initiative. Going forward my own role will be to support Lesley and her team in various ways with a particular focus on growing strategic relationships both locally and internationally.”

ABOUT WITS UNIVERSITY’S TSHIMOLOGONG DIGITAL INNOVATION PRECINCT

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is Johannesburg’s new 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 takes place. The Precinct was launched in September 2016 with support from major companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Datacentrix, Telkom, ACSA and MMI. Gauteng Province through its Department of E-Government and the City of Johannesburg has also provided significant support. The Precinct also houses the prestigious IBM Research’s Lab Africa – one of only 12 such facilities in the world. Website: www.tshimologong.joburg

Tshimologong's first accelerator programme now open for applications

- Wits University

The Journalism and Media Accelerator (JAMLAB) will be home to innovators who want to develop new forms of journalism.

Applications open today for a new six-month innovation support programme for existing or new South African journalism and media teams.

JAMLAB will provide participating teams with the tools, facilities, contacts and the support necessary to realise their ideas and ambitions, combining professional mentorship with a collaborative and creative tech-advanced working space.

Up to six teams will be selected for the programme, which runs from July at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein. This will be the first accelerator programme to launch at Tshimologong. 

Successful applicants will receive:

  • A six-month fellowship at Wits Journalism
  • Free workspace and membership at the new Tshimologong Precinct co-working space
  • Mentorship and coaching from experienced media, start-up and tech experts, and entrepreneurs
  • Free places on a three-month Wits ‘Creating the Media’ certificate course
  • Access to a software development team at Tshimologong
  • Opportunities to pitch to potential investors and funders

JAMLAB will be seeking to ensure that it addresses historic inequalities of opportunities in South Africa and that those who are selected are a diverse group of people who understand and want to engage the widest range of South African audiences. 

The partners are especially keen to see women and women led teams apply.

Indra de Lanerolle, JAMLAB director, says: “We are looking for great new ideas that can change the media and journalism landscape. We want strong teams that are passionate about stories, information, opinion and ideas. They must also have a keen interest to engage with new audiences. Whether non-profit or for profit, brand new or old hands, as long as you have the energy to do something new that can make a real difference to media and journalism in South Africa.”

JAMLAB is a programme of Wits Journalism and the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering in partnership with Ryerson University, Toronto and Journalists for Human Rights.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE and founder of the Tshimologong Precinct, says that this is an exciting collaboration: “We are delighted to work with such esteemed partners to focus on creating new ideas that bring technology and journalism closer together. As the first accelerator programme to launch at the Precinct, we are both excited and happy to host the next generation of journalists and media moguls.”

To apply

To find out more about the programme visit http://medium.com/jamlab

Follow @jamlabafrica on Twitter or on Facebook Facebook.com/jamlabafrica

Applications close on 9 June 2017.

Calling all aspiring digital entrepreneurs

- Wits University

Are you up for Wits’ first Digital Innovation Challenge? Do you have the smarts and skills in location technology?

An exciting new initiative is calling on developers and entrepreneurs with innovative ideas on how to solve the Wits Campus Personal Navigator Challenge to submit their entries at www.tshimologong.joburg/challenge before applications close on 3 March 2017.

The Wits Campus Personal Navigator Challenge is the first in a series of four annual digital innovation challenges, called the CEFF Digital Innovation Challenge, led by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University with sponsorship from the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation (CEFF).

The first such challenge sets its focus on new ways to assist students with visual and physical disabilities, by providing them with a ‘personal navigator’ to help guide them from one campus location to another.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE, explains that in 1986 Wits University established the Disabled Students Programme with the aim of supporting students with disabilities. This programme, now called the Disability Rights Unit (DRU), has grown to assist over 1000 students and staff with a broad range of disabilities. He notes that the challenge for developers and innovators will be to create a system that safely guides students between locations using predefined accessible routes, bearing in mind the well documented inaccuracies of commercially available GPS systems.

“The system could be a simple standalone device that attaches to a walking cane or wheelchair or be a wearable device. This unique navigation system may work independently or in conjunction with relevant existing or future systems (software, apps, maps, etc.) to provide visual or audible directions and information to the student. To do this the proposed system might also use multiple sensors installed at key points on campus which will provide location information and alerts to a base unit installed on a walking cane, wheelchair or wearable device,” Dwolatzky says. Apart from coming up with an innovative solution those entering the challenge will be assisted in turning their idea into a viable start-up.

The Wits Campus Personal Navigator Challenge will see approximately 100 aspiring digital entrepreneurs benefit from further training and the opportunity to participate in a weekend-long hackathon. Following this, the top ten entrants will each be given three months’ membership in the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct incubation programme, and the top three an additional seven months’ membership. In addition, one start-up in will spend four weeks at one of the Tshimologong Precinct’s international partner hubs located in Canada, USA, Netherlands, UK or India.

“This initiative will encourage young developers to refine their skills in location technology while also benefitting their fellow students and the greater University community and we encourage aspiring digital entrepreneurs not to miss out on this great opportunity,” says Dwolatzky.

About the JCSE

The Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) is a three way partnership between government, academia and industry. Based at Wits University, the JCSE is multifaceted with various programmes and facilities positioning it as a focal point of a software development industry for South Africa and the rest of the continent. 

The JCSE strongly supports the City’s “Joburg 2030 Vision”, which sees Johannesburg becoming a World Class city with service delivery and efficiencies that meet global best practice. It supports this goal by promoting best practice in software development within an African context; growing the country’s capacity to deliver world class software; and developing research and training initiatives to strengthen the local software development industry.

Wits’ optics research among best in 2017

- Wits University

Research into optics and photonics by Wits physicists has been highlighted as some of the most influential in 2017.

Optics and Photonics NewsThe Optical Society of America (OSA), the leading international society for the field of optics, has named research into light and quantum communications by Professor Andrew Forbes and his team at Wits’ Structured Light Laboratory as one of the 30 most exciting peer-reviewed optics research to have emerged over the past 12 months.

The top research has been published in a special issue of OSA’s monthly news magazine, Optics & Photonics News.

OSA says a panel of editors reviewed 125 research summaries from scientists from around the world and selected 30 that they felt most ‘clearly communicated breakthroughs of interest to the optics community’, among them Forbes’ article, titled: Blurring the Classical-Quantum Divide.

Forbes and his team published this research earlier this year in Nature Physics, in a paper titled: Characterising quantum channels with non-separable states of classical light.

The research shows that sometimes Nature cannot tell the difference between the quantum and the classical (or real) worlds, and that a grey area does exist between the two worlds called classical entanglement. This has exciting implications for fast and secure data transfer in the future and will aid technological advances that seek to establish more secure quantum communication links over long distances.

About the Optical Society of America (OSA)

Founded in 1916, the Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts.

Energetic engineering at EIE Open Day 2017

- Wits University

The ‘Brainternet’, robotic arm, mosquito repeller, adaptive digital hearing aid, leaf recognition software – our future engineers show their stuff.

The School of Electrical and Information Engineering held its first Open Day in three years this week, showcasing 44 exciting laboratory projects completed by fourth year students did this year.

As part of the curriculum, these electrical and information engineering students paired up to use all the engineering skills and knowledge they had gained as undergraduates to design and build their projects.

This fourth year project by Irfaan Mohamed & Nabeel Seedat, titled: Grip control of robotic prosthetic hand using haptic feedback, drew quite a crowd. Here Irfaan (standing) demonstrate how the hand and sensors work by using Deepam Ambelal (sitting) as their testing subject.

“Staff members set the projects and vaguely specify what is required; and then the students have to plan the entire project, show what technology they are going to use, assign different tasks between them, and build the final project,” says the new Head of School, Associate Professor Estelle Trengove.

“Most of the projects have at least a bit of innovation in them and some of them are even prototypes that can be developed further,” she adds. Industry representatives and the School’s funding partners also attend the Open Day to see these innovations that could spark a new generation of technologies in future.

School of Electrical and Information Engineering Open Day 2017

Being appointed as the new Head of School earlier this year, Trengove has also set her sights on rethinking the curriculum in order to fit future engineers with the necessary holistic skills for a rapidly changing world.

The School’s curriculum is benchmarked against the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) outcomes, and its accreditation was recently successfully reviewed during the ECSA’s five-year-visit.

Says Trengove, “We will continue to meet and exceed the ECSA’s benchmark in the future. We do also need to introduce innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum that could mean some programme changes in future. It is very important for our students to have innovation and entrepreneurship skills in order to create a new generation of scientists and engineers that meet the needs of modern society.”

Africa app'tly rising

- Deborah Minors

There are over 300 tech hubs in Africa and maybe 52 or more in South Africa, one of which is the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein.

Here South Africa’s digerati develop radical tech to advance the continent.

Tshimologong incorporates the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and the Learning Information Networking Knowledge (LINK) Centre, an academic research and training body that focuses on digital innovation, digital transformation, and information and communications technology (ICT) policy and regulation.

Techknowledgy factory 

A partnership between Wits University, the JCSE, the LINK Centre, the City of Joburg and others, Tshimologong is an e-skills, software innovation and digital knowledge hub.  It provides a venue in which it is possible to research and nurture tech hubs – those “digital incubators that design futures for people”.

“In this way, tech hubs perfectly demonstrate the integration of tech and people. They are the veritable iHuman,” says Dr Lucienne Abrahams, Director and Senior Lecturer at LINK and Corresponding Editor of The African Journal of Information and Communications, LINK’s peer-reviewed journal.

“The people who inhabit Tshimologong are tech developers and tech entrepreneurs. The precinct offers facilities and training in coding and app design, mentorship, facilitating tech start-ups, a tech accelerator programme, and postgraduate degree programmes,” she says.

Game on!

Abrahams conducts research on institutions and economic sectors in the digital knowledge economy. Her doctorate explored the positioning of universities in the 21st Century knowledge economy. Her thesis describes the evolution of Tshimologong and its research and development mission as:

“A quantum innovation game, with multiple players playing multiple games of significant levels of difficulty at the same time, in ways that constantly interweave with each other. The probability of losing … appears to be low, but the win occurs over the very long term. The probability of winning the objective over a quantum set of games appears to be high.”

Neo Hutiri, a tech entrepreneur with a Master’s in industrial engineering from Wits, knows this game well. Hutiri won the 2016 #Hack.Jozi Challenge, an annual competition that Tshimologong hosts to find digital solutions to challenges faced by Joburg citizens. Hutiri’s Technovera innovation enables people with chronic conditions to collect their repeat medication quickly and efficiently.

"Africa has really interesting challenges and this makes it fertile for impactful social entrepreneurship. In my case, I was a patient who realised people lose time when collecting medication. My passion for the impact of technology keeps me hungry for innovation. An unmet need is the holy grail that entrepreneurs chase. It is that resolute belief in a problem that gets me out of bed every day – even when things are not going so well and the bank account is close to empty,” says Hutiri.

Disruption through innovation

Another player is Lehlonolo Ramongalo, MD of Figtory, a tech start-up incubated in Tshimologong. Figtory designs and builds intuitive business applications and business models that solve specific problems using creative approaches. 

“Johannesburg and Africa are problem-ridden, providing an environment where problem-solvers can create value for themselves and their clients,” says Ramongalo, who describes his entrepreneurial experience in Johannesburg as “a painful and rewarding process”.

Figtory’s business philosophy is disruption through innovation. “We do this through a process of empathy where we become the user or client. Through empathy we understand user pains and can start a process of taking the pain away,” he says.

Such an analgesic is Figtory’s innovation in agriculture. eGooma is a facilities management solution that enables any real estate asset type – an orchard of crops on a farm or a building – to be able to see, learn, measure different variables, and help its custodians make decisions using the web, mobile, cognitive computing and smart sensory technologies.

“One problem we are trying to address at scale with eGooma is to have real-time reporting of the amount of water and energy real estate asset types are using at runtime so that inefficiencies are identified quickly at the point of waste,” says Ramongalo.

Crafters, hackers, tinkerers and makerspaces

Aside from incubating start-ups, Tshimologong is a makerspace. This refers to an environment where ‘makers’, including crafters, hackers and tinkerers, congregate to innovate.

Makers are “digitally sophisticated hobbyists…building all kinds of custom objects” according to a paper by Dr Chris Armstrong, who has a PhD in media studies from Wits and is a Visiting Fellow at LINK.

His paper, The Maker Movement in Gauteng Province, South Africa, co-published for Open African Innovation Research (a collaborative research network of 15 African countries and Canada) argues that:

“Makers who gather to tinker and hack in the maker collectives of SA display a wide range of innovation practices. Our study revealed innovation modes in tinkering, hacking, DIY and organic innovation; innovation from poverty/necessity; process, incremental, and repurposing innovation. We found that the default position among Gauteng makers who gather to tinker and hack in the maker collectives of SA display a wide range of innovation practices.”

The rub of the tech hub

Tshimologong clearly now hosts a makerspace for crafters, hackers, and tinkerers while it simultaneously incubates innovation and continually investigates: ‘What’s next?’ But it wasn’t always so. This is Tshimologong today, but its evolution from a training centre in 2004 to an integrated research and development entity over a decade later proved as stimulating, yet as confounding, as tech itself. Those involved frequently locked horns as institutional agendas and resource priorities collided. 

“The evolution of the vision of the JCSE, which was set up to promote the growth and development of the local software engineering sector, to the Tshimologong Precinct, has been an incredible journey. We have seen a great deal of success over the past 12 years, and are now working to increase the size of the impact that we will make,” says Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE and founder of the Tshimologong Precinct.

Research entanglement

In her PhD, Abrahams advances the theory of research entanglement. This is a metaphor for how researchers at universities engage in research activeness and transition towards research intensiveness, and how this transition influences the position of the University in an emerging knowledge economy.

“The theory of positioning universities for research activeness and research intensiveness is a theory that gives substance to the broad notions of complexity and adversity in building university research,” says Abrahams, who argued that such adversity may have briefly inhibited those pushing for a new research direction in the digital knowledge sphere, now taking shape in the form of Tshimologong. However, research actors tend to push through these challenges as they are driven by “the attraction of complexity and adversity”.

Abrahams suggests that there needs to be a balance between research activeness and research intensiveness so that research endeavour is sustained and research volume and quality increases. However, the absence or discouragement of research entanglement at universities limit the opportunities for moving from research activeness to intensiveness. 

“Positioning universities for research activeness or research intensiveness requires active research entanglement of the actors and institutions in the games of adversity that are played out with respect to access to and competition for research resources; to contestation over research-oriented values; and to the possible trade-offs among academic, social or economic value created as outcomes of research,” says Abrahams.

Hutiri is a case in point: 

“Academia trained me to think critically about solving problems whilst my technical background helped me turn ideas into product. I continuously apply lessons from concepts I was exposed to at university. Your academic career is sometimes used to measure your ability to start and complete something. The networks one builds at University become so important when you start your business. These relationships open doors,” he says.

Africa rising?

Ramongalo offers a caveat:  “Africa is rising because there are so many problems to solve. There have been interesting developments out of Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria but limited impact in my view. If African tech companies do not rise and engage problems head on, we will have companies from other parts of the world coming here to solve the problems.”

Having incubated start-ups like Technovera and Figtory, Tshimologong is poised to research and nurture tech innovation that enhances and advances Africa – and Wits University – in the 21st Century digital knowledge economy.

Read more about digital innovation and the interface between humanity and tech in Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Interpreting brainwaves to give amputees a hand

- Deborah Minors

Biomedical engineers at Wits are researching how brainwaves can be used to control a robotic prosthetic hand.

Such a brain computer interface (BCI) will enable amputees and people with motor impairments to regain some hand mobility.

BCIs can use electroencephalograms (EEGs - brainwaves - to interpret human intentions from electrical signals in the brain and use these to control an external device such as a prosthetic hand, computer, or speech synthesizer.

The prosthetic robotic hand relies on EEGs extracted via electrodes on the skull, or electromyography (EMG) obtained from electrodes recording muscle signals, for information. A BCI will interpret these signals and translate them to instruct the movements of the artificial hand.

“I envisage a BCI capable of controlling a robotic prosthetic hand that will enable people with motor disabilities to write, hold a glass or shake hands,” says Abdul-Khaaliq Mohamed, Lecturer and PhD candidate in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits.

Mohamed coordinates a research group of six students studying different aspects of potentially controlling a robotic hand. Most BCI experiments to date have centered on basic hand movements such as finger taps, button presses or simple finger grasps.

Mohamed’s research group focuses uniquely on a combination of hand movements including wrist extension, wrist flexion, finger flexion, finger extension and the tripod pinch.

“In South Africa, stroke victims may benefit significantly from this technology,” says Mohamed. “Stroke afflicts an estimated 132 000 South Africans per year.”

Currently, a prosthetic hand costs around US$100 000 (about R1,35 million), an investment out of reach for most South Africans.

Thumbs-up for this research that will use 3D-printing to create a prosthetic hand for US$78 (R1 053), thereby increasing access to healthcare for many.

Talking tech and African languages

- Buhle Zuma

Is tech killing indigenous African languages? Prof. Leketi Makalela, head of Languages, Literacies and Literatures in the Wits School of Education talks back.

Discussions on the status of African languages portray a dim view. For centuries, African languages have been under threat as one conqueror after another has imposed their preferred language on various nations on the continent. Subsequently, African languages have low status in our institutions and continue to be marginalised in all spheres of power, including government quarters.

In South Africa, English continues as the lingua franca, despite government policies that protect and promote vernacular languages.

There have been warnings about the death of these languages. However, indigenous languages are far from extinct says Professor Leketi Makalela, Head of Languages, Literacies and Literatures in the Wits School of Education.

Professor Leketi Makalela

“Where government has failed, technology is bringing hope to the people,” says Makalela. “African languages were probably going to die, were it not for technology, social media and popular culture. Technology is going to take African languages forward and these languages are going to evolve to fit into the digital age and any future world shift.”

Ironically, this change is one of the major criticisms levelled against technology, and especially social media, where variations of spelling abound, and where the platforms are also implicated for contributing to the decline in literacy and writing standards.

“People are concerned about change and this has been an ongoing major debate in human language development. The great divide is about whether the change results in decay or progress. A conservative will say it is decay because there is nostalgia for the past and everything is being disorganised by modernity. This has to do with aging as well – the older you are, the more you want to keep things the same,” says Makalela, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies Journal and Chairperson of Umalusi Council’s Qualifications Standards Committee.

To put things into perspective, Makalela says the primary question that needs to be asked in such debates is: “What is the purpose of language?”

“We need to question what language is and why we have language as human beings before we look at the structure (syntax and spelling). People obsess about the aesthetics of the language and yet language is here for meaning-making. The ‘net speak’ and contraction of words are a natural evolution of language and a reflection of the time. The structure of language keeps changing because people are changing.”

One of the significant, laudable changes brought about by social media is that they break down linguistic barriers. Makalela believes we should celebrate that communication technology is contributing to the decolonisation of languages.

“The Balkanisation of African states in 1884 in Berlin was attached to the languages. The Bantustan policy of apartheid architect H.F. Verwoerd was based on supposed linguistic differences,” says Makalela. “African languages were separated intentionally, not because they were or are different, but because the strategy was to divide and conquer. Technology has now made it easy for linguistic groups to realise how similar they are than they were previously told.”

Communities such as #BlackTwitter, mother-tongue appreciation groups on Facebook and blogs where young creatives share works in their languages and culture are defying institutions and moving languages into the 21st Century. Local television programmes are also playing their part in promoting multilingualism with many creative works moving between three and more languages, recreating and reinforcing the South African linguistic reality.

“We cannot talk about economic development and social cohesion without taking into account the issues of language because languages are central to social cohesion. You can’t expect a Zulu and a Tswana person to socially cohere if there is no crossover of language,” he adds. “One of the barriers that must be removed to drive this growth is for linguistic groups to be open to the influence of non-mother tongue speakers,” explains Makalela.

Is technology killing African indigenous languages?

“There seems to be a sacredness and unwillingness to allow others to learn African languages, which often makes it closed to outsiders. If we really want our languages to flourish, we have to open the doors to non-mother tongue speakers so that there is nothing like KZN isiZulu vs Gauteng isiZulu (which is seen as weak isiZulu). In fact, it’s a time to redefine what we call standards.

English became a dominant language because it opened its doors to non-mother tongue users. The type of English used today is heavily multi-lingual with 80% of the words in the language not original English. In addition, 80% of users are not traditional mother tongue speakers. English thrives and lives on donations from other languages.”

Another area where Makalela would like to see transformation is the use of technology in the classroom to promote multilingualism. “While technology is often seen as eroding African values, accelerating moral degeneration and the loss of ubuntu, practice is suggesting that it is having an opposite effect on languages. Let us focus on creating shared meaning and understanding through opening up our languages and using technology to contribute towards fostering social cohesion in our diverse society.”

Can you read my mind?

- Deborah Minors

In research thought to be a world first, biomedical engineers at Wits are connecting a human brain to the internet in real time.

The "Brainternet" project streams brainwaves onto the internet. Essentially, it turns the brain into an Internet of Things (IoT) node on the World Wide Web. IoT refers to connecting any device with an on and off switch to the internet.

Brainternet works by converting electroencephalogram (EEG) signals (brain waves) in an open source brain live stream. A person wears a powered, mobile, internet accessible Emotiv EEG device for an extended period. During this time, the Emotiv transmits the EEG signals to a Raspberry Pi – a credit card sized little computer - live streams the signals to an application programming interface (code that allows software programmes to communicate), and displays data on a website that acts as a portal. This is currently an open website where the public can observe the individual’s brain activity.

Brainternet is the brainchild of Adam Pantanowitz, a lecturer in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, who supervised fourth-years Jemma-Faye Chait and Danielle Winter in its development.

“Brainternet is a new frontier in brain-computer interface systems. There is a lack of easily understood data about how a human brain works and processes information. Brainternet seeks to simplify a person’s understanding of their own brain and the brains of others. It does this through continuous monitoring of brain activity as well as enabling some interactivity,” explains Pantanowitz.

Adam Pantanowitz is a lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits

“Ultimately, we’re aiming to enable interactivity between the user and their brain so that the user can provide a stimulus and see the response. Brainternet can be further improved to classify recordings through a smart phone app that will provide data for a machine-learning algorithm. In future, there could be information transferred in both directions – inputs and outputs to the brain,” says Pantanowitz.

Improving the accuracy of TB testing

- Wits University

Wits scientists have developed technology that ensures the efficacy of equipment that tests for tuberculosis (TB).

Tuberculosis (TB) affects some 35-million people globally. The introduction of technology that tests for TB using molecular diagnostics was a game changer for national TB programmes.

The technology increased access to TB testing, which then improved diagnosis and treatment and ultimately inhibited further infection. However, when the World Health Organization endorsed this molecular diagnostic test, there was no quality assurance in place for checking the accuracy of the testing instruments.

A team of scientists from Wits, led by Professor Wendy Stevens and Professor Lesley Scott in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Haematology, in collaboration with Professor Bavesh Kana from the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, developed the SmartSpot technology. SmartSpot guarantees the quality of the molecular diagnostic tests.

In South Africa, SmartSpot has been used on all 289 GeneXpert testing instruments in the national TB programme since 2011. Over a year, SmartSpot showed that 2.6% of the TB tests were inaccurate, and that test modules needed replacing.

In the absence of SmartSpot verification, 78 000 test results out of the three million tests performed at the time would have been inaccurate. This would have led to an incorrect diagnosis. As a result, some patients would have remained undiagnosed and either died or infected others, while others would have been subjected to unnecessary, costly drugs with unpleasant side effects.

This technology, developed at Wits in collaboration with local and international partners, impacts significantly on the healthcare of thousands of people and has been exported to more than 30 countries, with more in the pipeline.

Read more about the interface between healthcare, humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Using high tech to tell the story of ancient man

- Wits University

Origin Centre's new Virtual Reality experience uses state of the art communications technology to tell the story of what makes us human.

A digital rendering of the inside of the Blombos cave that can be seen in the Virtual Reality experience.

The history of where we come from and what makes us human will come alive like never before when the Origins Centre, located at Wits University, launches its new Virtual Reality production at the Tshimologong Precinct on 14 September, and at the Origins Centre on 25th September, (a public holiday).

The production, which brings together cutting-edge digital technology with stories of ancient stone age technologies of our 2,6-million-year history, tells a complete story of our development into society, by using the same visual materials that are used by scientists in the research process.

“This is the first time that VR has been used in Origins Centre at Wits, and the first production of the archaeology and palaeontology stories that are told in the Museum, using photographs, text panels, casts of human ancestral skulls and real stone tools,” says Steven Sack, Director of the Origins Centre.

The production, which was made possible through a collaboration between Sack and Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of Tshimologong, has been facilitated by the Rock Art Research Institute, the Evolutionary Sciences Institute and the South African Rock Art Digital Archive, that are all located at Wits University. The National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences has supported two young researchers, Dr Tammy Hodgkiss and Lara Mallen, to lead  the content development.

“The VR experience immerses viewers in a journey through time, from the African early hominin fossil skulls, significant changes in ancient tool use, and the innovations of the Middle Stone Age, to the captivating spirit world of southern African San rock art. You will follow in the footsteps of the researchers who are solving the mysteries of Africa’s rich past,” says Dr Tammy Hodgskiss of the Evolutionary Studies Institute, and an expert in this field of research.

The Origins VR production will be used to update the material currently on display at the Origins Centre and will assist in bringing younger voices and women researchers into the story of what we know about rock art and the early modern human ways of living.

“Tshimologong is Wits University’s exciting new digital innovation precinct in Juta Street, Braamfontein. The VR production was developed by Alt-Reality, one of the start-up companies we are incubating. It will be launched as part of the annual Fak’ugesi Festival we host in Tshimologong,” says Dwolatzky, who has personally funded part of the production.

The production involved a collaboration between VR production house AltReality and archaeologists Tammy Hodgskiss (Evolutionary Studies Institute, Wits) and Lara Mallen (Origins Centre). The music score has been created by Jill Richards, with indigenous instruments performed by Mpho Molikeng.

Barry Dwolatzky (Director of Tshimologong) and Steven Sack (Director of Origins Centre) have had lengthy discussions about how to connect the work of Tshimologong with that of the Origins Centre and Dwolatzky has donated some of the funding himself to enable this production. The National Institute of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) also contributed through a programme at the Origins Centre that they have funded, which looks for ways to diversify narratives.

The VR installation will make part of a permanent display at the Origins Centre. It will launch at the Origins Centre on 25th September 2017.                                                                                                                                                                  

Details

Fak’ugesi launch

Date: 14 September 2016

Time: 12h30

Venue: Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub, Braamfontein

 

Origins launch

Date: 25 September 2017

Time: 10:00 – 16:HOO    

Venue: Origins Centre, Wits University

(Hu)man vs. Machine

- Schalk Mouton

In a world controlled and dominated by robots, is there still space for humans?

We've all seen this movie before: Man builds machine. Machine starts to speak. Man gets into trouble. Then, the variations start: Machine starts to cry (or grin wickedly). Machine saves man. Or kills him (and returns in the sequel to kill the man again).  

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and everyone is afraid. Computers, robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other yet-to-be invented technologies are about to change our lives.

In the near future, you may not have to drive yourself to work (because your car will do the driving, and you may not have a job anyway); your fridge will order your food (if it doesn’t already); and your car will book itself in for a service – and negotiate and approve the fee – without you even knowing about it. 

Researchers at Wits are finding more and more unique and interesting ways to employ technology and AI in the workplace and to improve people’s lives and well-being. The Wits Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems provides key support to mines undergoing mechanisation, while, in the Faculty of Health Sciences, researchers have found ways to control a robotic arm with the brain, or a wheelchair by using eye movement. They have also used the Vestibulo-Occular Reflex (an impulse our eyes use daily unbeknownst to us that fixates our vision while we move our head) to control the mouse cursor on a computer game.

In this increasingly technology-driven world, our future seems uncertain. With robots and machines doing more of the tasks that we are supposed to do – and in many cases doing it better – the question arises of where we fit into this future. Lists of jobs that become obsolete are published at increasingly frequent rates, and every week there are new jobs that are red listed. Are we turning into lap dogs, existing only to be served by – and to provide entertainment to – robots?

In a world controlled and dominated by robots, is there still space for humans?

While there are genuine concerns about possible job losses in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Professor Andrew Thatcher, Chair of Industrial and Organisational Psychology at Wits, says that we are naturally built to make use of technology, and there could be more potential benefits than threats in this new world. “Using technology is literally built into our DNA,” says Thatcher. “Introducing, designing and implementing technology is a very integral part of who we are as human beings. In fact, a large portion of people’s jobs is about coming up with the right technology, designing, building and implementing the new technology, and teaching people how to use different technology.”

While the automation of the workplace might cost some workers jobs, the mechanization of industrial workplaces, like mines, can benefit in a variety of ways, including a safer and healthier working environment; increased productivity and improved profitability; better opportunities for more fulfilling work; a more satisfactory working environment for women; and technological challenges that attract skilled people to the industry. Thatcher believes that the changes technology brings are a natural process and that while some jobs might be lost, new technologies will create much more jobs in the process.

“Change that technology brings have happened right through the ages. If you go right back to early humans, in the Palaeolithic age, we went from running around trying not to get eaten and picking and eating what fruits we could get hold of, to tool use, and that changed the different tasks that we undertook,” says Thatcher. “In fact, tool use is a very important part of our own human evolution, so as we go through the ages, we see tech changing. We don’t see the banging of two rocks together as being tech, but at the time that was advanced technology. Nowadays we don’t see computers as technology, but in the mid- to late 1970s it was radically changing the way work was being done. Computers created many jobs.”

Like Thatcher, Dr Christopher Wareham, a Lecturer in Bioethics and Moral Philosophy in the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics in the Faculty of Health Sciences, believes the revolution will benefit society. “There is an over-emphasis on potential harm,” he says.

Wareham doesn’t believe that our world will become a place where we become completely redundant and served by an army of robots. However, should we, at some stage, be in a position to build a robot well enough to have sufficient “human” abilities, we would be obliged to consider its interests in the same way that we consider the interests of humans. “It would be similar to creating a person or a child,” he says.

Wareham explains that on some definitions, you don’t have to be a human to qualify as a “person”, and not all humans automatically qualify as being persons. The definition of a person is one of the most controversial areas in moral philosophy. Wareham defines a person as an entity capable of “reflective self-control”. This requires, firstly, the ability to grasp and apply moral reasoning and secondly, the ability to regulate one’s behaviour in light of those reasons. “This is controversial, since it may exclude mentally impaired human beings and perhaps infants from being categorised as full persons,” he says.

By this definition, it may be possible for robots with the right abilities to be classified as persons. “It is important that we start looking at this type of vision of how we interact with robots,” he says. “If we create a new form of sentient being on the planet, we should treat that being in the same way we should behave towards other sentient beings. The current mistreatment of animals shows how we may go badly wrong in the unethical treatment of sentient beings. Hopefully, we will treat them better than we currently treat animals.”

This could include the right to a decent existence, but with that right there are responsibilities. With robots or cars having increasingly automated capacities, who would be liable should a robot kill someone? Or, more realistically, if a self-driven car runs someone over?

“This issue is mostly under discussion in most jurisdictions, and legal principles are still being developed,” says Professor Pamela Andanda from the Wits School of Law. “The common approach is to automatically hold the insurer liable if there is no evidence of defect, that would point to the default manufacturer’s liability, or failure of the owner to update the software, or authorising inappropriate use that would lead to the owner’s liability.”

But, back to the question: If there are going to be machines that do everything better than us, where do we fit in?

Both Thatcher and Wareham say that, as we are social beings, this is where our future lies. In being social.

“ATM banking is more accurate and quicker than a human bank teller, and we can do our banking over the phone. Yet, we still want to have someone at the other end of a phone line to complain to in order to get the sense that they understand,” says Thatcher. “Similarly, while a computer can fly an aeroplane much better, and it would probably be safer for computers to fly our planes, nobody would get into an aeroplane while knowing there is no pilot. We need to be assured that there is someone in control that values their own life as much as we value ours.”

Wareham believes that the new economy will become more social, with people filling roles that require social interaction, like bar tenders. But, is there enough of a market for that?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will create many new jobs, believes Thatcher. However, these jobs will not necessarily be where they are now. People might have to reskill themselves, or even move to another country. "If you move the job within the same country, it creates a certain set of problems, but you create another level of problem if you move it across national borders,” he says.

This is a particular concern for a country like South Africa, with low education levels and few tech skills. “What ends up happening is that the automation comes from the United States, Japan or Europe, which means that the people here in South Africa lose jobs because they are not involved in the design or implementation of the automation or the training of the automation,” he says. “As a society, we do not need to be scared of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but as a country we do need to be concerned about our role in the future of the global knowledge economy, to ensure that we are active creators and participants rather than passive users of new technologies.”

Read more about the interface between humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHumanedition.

Light to break bandwidth ceiling

- Wits University

The rise of big data and advances in information technology has serious implications for our ability to deliver sufficient bandwidth to meet the growing demand.

Andrew Forbes, Distinguished Professor in the Wits School of Physics and Head of the Structured Light Laboratory, and collaborators, are looking at alternative sources that will be able to take over where traditional optical communications systems are likely to fail in future.

“The team demonstrated over 100 patterns of light used in an optical communication link, potentially increasing the bandwidth of communication systems by 100 times,” says Forbes.

Traditional optical communication systems modulate the amplitude, phase, polarisation, colour and frequency of the light that is transmitted. Despite these technologies, it is predicted that a bandwidth ceiling will be reached in the near future.

“But light also has a ‘pattern’ – the intensity distribution of the light – that is, how it looks on a camera or a screen. Since these patterns are unique, they can be used to encode information,” he explains. “Future bandwidth can be increased by precisely the number of patterns of light that we are able to use. Ten patterns mean 10 times increase in existing bandwidth, as 10 new channels would emerge for data transfer.”

Andrew Forbes is a Distinguished Professor i the Wits School of Physics and Head of the Structured Light Laboratory

Currently, modern optical communication systems use only one pattern. This is due to technical hurdles in how to pack information into these patterns of light, and how to get the information out again. The team showed data transmission with over 100 patterns of light, exploiting three degrees of freedom in the process.

“We used digital holograms written to a small liquid crystal display and showed that it is possible to have a hologram encoded with over 100 patterns in multiple colours,” says Forbes. “This is the highest number of patterns created and detected on such a device to date. We have effectively shown that packing more information into light has the potential to increase bandwidth by 100 times.”

The next stage is to move out of the laboratory and to demonstrate the technology in a real-world system. The approach can be used in both free-space and optical fibre networks.

In a related study, Forbes and his fellow Wits physicists demonstrated that real-time error correction in quantum communications is possible. “This has tremendous implications for fast and secure data transfer in the future and will aid technological advances that seek to establish more secure quantum communication links over long distances,” says Forbes.

“Essentially, the research demonstrates that sometimes Nature cannot tell the difference between the quantum and the classical (or real) worlds and that a grey area exists between the two worlds called ‘classical entanglement’. By working in this grey area between the classical and the quantum, we can show fast and secure data transfer over real-world links.”

Read more about the interface between humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Researchers demonstrate quantum teleportation of patterns of light

- Wits University

Technique paves the way for high-bit-rate secure long distance quantum communication.

Nature Communications today published research by a team comprising Scottish and South African researchers, demonstrating entanglement swapping and teleportation of orbital angular momentum “patterns” of light. This is a crucial step towards realising a quantum repeater for high-dimensional entangled states.

The core element of our quantum repeater is a cube of glass. We put two independent photons in, and as long as we can detect two photons coming out the other sides we know that we can perform entanglement swapping.

Quantum communication over long distances is integral to information security and has been demonstrated in free space and fibre with two-dimensional states, recently over distances exceeding 1200 km between satellites. But using only two states reduces the information capacity of the photons, so the link is secure but slow. To make it secure and fast requires a higher-dimensional alphabet, for example, using patterns of light, of which there are an infinite number. One such pattern set is the orbital angular momentum (OAM) of light. Increased bit rates can be achieved by using OAM as the carrier of information. However, such photon states decay when transmitted over long distances, for example, due to mode coupling in fibre or turbulence in free space, thus requiring a way to amplify the signal. Unfortunately such “amplification” is not allowed in the quantum world, but it is possible to create an analogy, called a quantum repeater, akin to optical fibre repeaters in classical optical networks.

An integral part of a quantum repeater is the ability to entangle two photons that have never interacted – a process referred to as “entanglement swapping”. This is accomplished by interfering two photons from independent entangled pairs, resulting in the remaining two photons becoming entangled. This allows the establishment of entanglement between two distant points without requiring one photon to travel the entire distance, thus reducing the effects of decay and loss. It also means that you don’t have to have a line of sight between the two places.

An outcome of this is that the information of one photon can be transferred to the other, a process called teleportation.  Like in the science fiction series, Star Trek, where people are “beamed” from one place to another, information is “teleported” from one place to another. If two photons are entangled and you change a value on one of them, then other one automatically changes too. This happens even though the two photons are never connected and, in fact, are in two completely different places.

In this latest work, the team performed the first experimental demonstration of entanglement swapping and teleportation for orbital angular momentum (OAM) states of light. They showed that quantum correlations could be established between previously independent photons, and that this could be used to send information across a virtual link. Importantly, the scheme is scalable to higher dimensions, paving the way for long-distance quantum communication with high information capacity.

An experiment showing the entanglement of photons and an alphabet of OAM modes

Background:

Present communication systems are very fast, but not fundamentally secure. To make them secure researchers use the laws of Nature for the encoding by exploiting the quirky properties of the quantum world. One such property is entanglement. When two particles are entangled they are connected in a spooky sense: a measurement on one immediately changes the state of the other no matter how far apart they are. Entanglement is one of the core resources needed to realise a quantum network.

Yet a secure quantum communication link over long distance is very challenging: Quantum links using patterns of light languish at short distances precisely because there is no way to protect the link against noise without detecting the photons, yet once they are detected their usefulness is destroyed. To overcome this one can have a repeating station at intermediate distances – this allows one to share information across a much longer distance without the need for the information to physically flow over that link. The core ingredient is to get independent photons to become entangled. While this has been demonstrated previously with two-dimensional states, in this work the team showed the first demonstration with OAM and in high-dimensional spaces.

Paper Abstract:

High-bit rate long distance quantum communication is an mooted technology for future communication networks and relies on high-dimensional quantum entanglement as a core resource. While it is known that spatial modes of light provide an avenue for high-dimensional entanglement, the ability to transport such quantum states robustly over long distances remains challenging. To overcome this, entanglement swapping may be used to generate remote quantum correlations between particles that have not interacted, the core ingredient of a quantum repeater, akin to repeaters in optical fibre networks. Here we demonstrate entanglement swapping of multiple orbital angular momentum states of light. Our approach does not distinguish between different anti-symmetric states, and thus entanglement swapping occurs for several thousand pairs of spatial light modes simultaneously. This work represents the first step towards a quantum network for high-dimensional entangled states and provides a test bed for fundamental tests of quantum science.

Q&A about Watson, the iHuman supercomputer

- Refilwe Mabula

In 2011, a faceless, emotionless voice named Watson famously defeated two of the greatest champions of Jeopardy!, an American TV gameshow.

The victory of Watson, a cognitive computing system developed by IBM, wowed the Tech industry. Watson can answer questions posed in natural language. Watson can understand all forms of data, interact naturally with people, and learn and reason at scale. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the rise and more companies are relying on AI for cognitive solutions to complex problems.

Refilwe Mabula spoke to Andrew Quixley, IBM’s Watson Platform Sales Leader in Africa, to learn more about this super
system named after the tech giant’s first CEO, Thomas J. Watson.

How does Watson understand human language?

Watson’s ability to extract meaning from language manifests in three ways. Firstly, through understanding the intent of what somebody is saying, Watson can extract intention from a statement or question.

Secondly, Watson understands emotions.Watson is trained to detect a series of emotions and uses these to respond accordingly. Humans can respond intuitively to each other because we have emotions of our own and empathy. We know how to respond to frustration, for example, something a machine is usually unable to detect. Watson can, however.

Thirdly, Watson has a handle on humans through words. The words we use when we write indicate something
about our personality. Watson can take a handwriting sample or a sample of you speaking and determine your
personality from your word choice and verbal expression.

Which languages does Watson understand?

Watson is being trained to communicate with people in their native languages as a native speaker would. This means being able to understand idioms, metaphors, and turns of phrase unique to a language. Originally Watson reached an audience of 400 million English language speakers. Today Watson also understands Arabic, Brazilian, German, Italian,
Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish. Watson also has conversation

Watson also has conversation and language translation capabilities such as Dutch, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese, for companies looking to build conversational agents or chatbots.

How old is Watson?

In the ‘90s, we set ourselves a challenge of beating one of the world’s greatest chess players and we developed a
computing system called Deep Blue. The rise of big data – 2.5 billion gigabytes of data are created daily – and the world’s need to make sense of it ultimately resulted in Watson.

In competing in Jeopardy! Watson demonstrated that it was possible for systems to understand how human
beings communicate with each other. Watson is on track to reach 1 billion people by the end of 2017.

Where can we find Watson?

Watson is a cloud-based cognitive service that can be embedded in anything digital. Access Watson from your home, phone, or office – anywhere you have an internet connection. Learn more at www.ibm.com/watson.

Read more about the interface between humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Death of the chalkboard and the demise of the sage on the stage

- Deborah Minors

The launch of a high-tech eZone, eFundanathi – “Learn with Us”, is set to revolutionise teaching and learning at Wits.

In a vast hall that previously housed sewing machines, a student scribbles on a wall and Harry Potter emerges. Next door, in a former domestic science lab, students in hospital greens lounge on bright bean-bags and fixate on a wall-mounted monitor. Adjacent to them someone extracts a prosthetic limb from a 3D printer. In a keyhole-shaped pod,
two heads bob in muted debate while alongside, a couple wrestles with an X-Box. These aren’t lazy Millennials loafing – they are Wits students in the classroom of the future and the future is now.

Accessing a digital playground

The eZone and eFundanathi (learn with us) team is the brainchild of Paula Barnard, an Occupational Therapist and PhD candidate who lectures eLearning (educational technologies) at Wits. A joint initiative of the School of Therapeutic Sciences and the School of Education, the eZone is a physical learning space that uses cutting-edge technology and advanced eLearning tools to deliver education that prepares students for the 21st Century.

“South Africa needs trained healthcare and other professionals but escalating costs inhibit access for students who cannot afford fees and textbooks. Furthermore, increasing student numbers impact lecturer-student ratios and actual space. As a physical learning space, the eZone creates a platform for transformation and responds to the call for curriculum renewal and transformative pedagogy,” says Barnard.

The eZone is equipped with broadband Wi-Fi, 80 laptops, 20 iPads, and 20 Galaxy tablets. Here students can connect to Skype or Google Hangouts and interact with academic experts worldwide instantly. There’s a split projector on the wall that enables group learning by reflecting multiple images posted by students simultaneously, for comparison and discussion. There are GoPros for students to take into the field for assignments and other content development
so that they can edit the footage.

eLearning has been lauded internationally for dramatically transforming the teaching and learning space. Through eLearning, study costs are significantly reduced, student access to learning materials improves, and the teaching environment allows for rapid innovation.

Sibusiso Moya, a third-year occupational therapy student, says: “The eZone is a place where one can explore the
yet undiscovered gems of technology-based learning and medical practice – not the proverbial 3D-interactive image
in which one learns or attempts to learn from when faced with Anatomy. This is a space I feel that one can explore
other elements to their interests [and] not just the baseline degree. You can test the waters of an unaffordable interest.”

eLearning ebb and flow

Classroom configuration is central to eLearning. The eZone has a ‘cave space’ for solitary introspection while colourful bean-bags stimulate ‘cave opportunities’ for informal interaction. Hexagonal storage seating can be dislocated and relocated for fluidity of teaching and learning. The eZone walls are whiteboard marker friendly so Harry Potter can be erased quicker than you can say “Expelliarmus!”

“Furniture can be configured to different contexts so that students feel comfortable in their space. Concentration is enhanced when movement happens. What’s more, students are actively creating content rather than simply passively absorbing what a lecturer is saying,” says Barnard.

Professor Patricia McInerney is a nurse and Associate Professor in the Centre for Health Science Education. She co-published a paper on teaching and learning theories and teaching methods in the Health Sciences. McInerney is Acting Director of the Centre for Learning, Teaching, and Development (CLTD) at Wits.

“In some faculties, eLearning strategies are used as an adjunct to help students understand the material, and in others the sole method of delivery is online. While technology is great in helping students learn and in getting education to greater numbers, teachers must remain the human face behind the technology,” says McInerney.

Blended learning and the new pedagogy

The eZone marks a shift in pedagogy towards new models of applied knowledge and learning for a high-tech world. But people remain central. Blended learning integrates face-to-face and online learning activities to deliver a comprehensive curriculum. For Barnard, an Inspiring Fifty Women in Technology Africa 2017 nominee, there is more to it.

“The eZone allows for true connectivity where students can learn together, in a tethered community of practice, where the lecturer guides their learning path. They can access global experts instantly, live stream into clinical placements anywhere, and pose questions to each other or others elsewhere to develop new ideas and knowledge to meet the needs of our communities. It’s about taking learning out of the classroom and into the real world, even if you can’t leave the classroom,” she says.

Barnard’s PhD focuses on the integration and uptake of blended learning in undergraduate occupational therapy. In 2014, she co-authored a paper entitled The Influence of Blended Learning on Student Performance in an Undergraduate Occupational Therapy Curriculum.

“Change is scary, especially when technology, digital immigrants [lecturers] and digital natives [students] teach and learn. The body of knowledge is changing – a student is going to Google something you say in class and challenge you. This new pedagogy provides students and lecturers with the opportunity to learn, unlearn and relearn,” says Barnard.

Are lecturers obsolete?

“No. You’re still teaching and you’re still crafting the learning process. But now teachers must be more artful
at creating knowledge,” says Barnard. “We need to build continual curiosity in our students and that’s a learning experience that’s different to the sage on the stage.”

Read more about digital innovation and the interface between humanity and tech in Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Human rights in a digital world

- Reshma Lakha-Singh

Digital access itself does not untangle past inequalities. In many cases, it may even increase inequality.

Thandeka Mavuso drowns the sounds of the vacuum cleaner by listening with her earplugs to Kaya FM streaming on her mobile phone. She calls her nephew, Sibusiso, at 3pm every day, using WhatsApp, after the school transport drops him at home in Orlando East, Soweto. When the need arises, Thandeka transfers money to family members during the week, using her mobile phone. She has access to the uncapped WiFi in her employer’s home from Monday to Friday. Over the weekend, she goes cold turkey with data. It is a saving of R350 a month in data and airtime costs from her modest monthly salary.

The right to swipe

Access to the internet as a basic human right has become more relevant as key services that enable basic human rights increasingly work off the internet. As Thandeka’s lifestyle evolves, so too, must the definition and scope of her human rights. In Internet Freedom – a Positive Right to Internet Access, Indra de Lanerolle, leader of the South African Network Society’s Research Project at Wits Journalism, comments: 

“The Constitution protects the right to freedom of expression – a basic human right to communicate and to receive information and ideas. We have to consider that internet access is now a requirement for that right to be realised.”

De Lanerolle adds that there is a contradiction in freedom of expression as we begin to see both the opportunity of the
internet to extend these freedoms and the reality of the internet as constraining them. “Historically, services and jobs would be found in the newspapers. Communication networks have now converged around the internet and it is the means through which everything happens.”

Still dialling up...

Although digital access intends to help people break free from historical disadvantages, the opportunity for digital access cannot be disentangled from pre-existing social and economic inequalities. This is according to Professor Jason Cohen, Head of Information Systems at Wits and his colleagues Thomas Grace and Jean-Marie Bancilhon. In a paper titled Digitally Connected Living and Quality of Life: An Analysis of the Gauteng City-Region, South Africa, the authors use data collected from the 2013 Quality of Life survey conducted by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory to examine the relationship between quality of life and the extent to which individuals are digitally connected. The dataset covered 27 490 individuals living in the Gauteng City-Region and helped the researchers better understand the interface of connectivity with aspects of inclusion and exclusion.

“All things being equal means that being more digitally connected provides a better quality of life, but the likelihood
of being digitally connected is only if you earned more and had access to a disposable income. A signal to us in this data was that digital inequality co-exists with other forms of inequality,” says Cohen.

The devices for digitally connected living typically consist of personal computers and mobile technologies such as tablets, cellular phones or smartphones. Network infrastructure is needed to enable devices to connect with each other and this includes access to fixed-line broadband and fibre networks, and/or wireless networks which include WiFi hotspots and mobile networks.

“Having access to these technologies is a function of one’s existing socioeconomic power,” explains Cohen. “Those who are not connected are locked out of the advantages enjoyed by those who are connected. Government services, financial services, access to health information, and employment opportunities are all going online. There is the potential to widen inequalities. This does not mean that we must stop moving forward with digital access and innovation, but it does mean that access should not remain a function of one’s socioeconomic privilege.”

Digital privilege

Cohen stresses that existing socioeconomic conditions may impact the way a person is able to use technology. “Even with access, inequality can still widen if there are unequal digital literacy skill levels and unequal opportunities for how people use the internet and for what purposes. The problem is more complicated than we think.”

He adds that digital autonomy is another dimension of digital inequality. “Your ability to have unrestricted access that is not bound by time, proximity and money is another form of digital privilege. It becomes more difficult to embrace digitally connected living without digital autonomy. But, for many, access is restricted by location and by time. So the idea that people can just use technology to break through historical disadvantages is unrealistic.”

Access to digitally connected living is supposed to halt the perpetuation of social and economic inequalities and
provide opportunities for people to improve their quality of life. However, digitally connected living depends on – and cannot be disentangled from – pre-existing opportunities for social and economic inclusion.

#DataMustFall

In 2016, former Metro FM and 5FM DJs Tbo Touch and Gareth Cliff addressed Parliament’s telecommunications
and postal services portfolio committee about the high costs of data in South Africa. This resulted in a nationwide call for local mobile networks to decrease the price of their data. In June 2017, the #DataMustFall hashtag returned to Twitter, with calls for a social media blackout to protest the high costs of data.

The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services tasked the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and the Competition Commission to determine the extent of competition amongst mobile operators, as competition is the primary tool to reduce costs.

‘Internet for All’, an international project of the World Economic Forum, has partnered with the South African government to bring internet access to millions of South Africans through public-private collaboration. Aligned to government’s National Development Plan and South Africa Connect, it will address the barriers that prevent
universal internet access. The project is already operational in Argentina, Rwanda, and Uganda.

City of Joburg and City of Tshwane initiatives to provide WiFi hotspots have assisted in improving the quality of life of users. However, experts argue that initiatives around access alone are insufficient. Digital skills and autonomy of use must be addressed and differences in purposes of use should result from free choice, rather than socioeconomic circumstances.

Read more about digital innovation and the interface between humanity and tech in Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

The future of work

- Imraan Valodia

Tech advances are already impacting skilled white-collar and unskilled workers whereas the digital revolution affected mainly semi-skilled, blue-collar workers.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. Across the world, communities are adjusting to new ways of doing business,
consuming goods, socialising and conducting research through technology. The sheer speed and scope of continuous technological development probably mean that there is no stopping this new wave of development, but at the same time, it is crucial that we remain vigilant about the possible repercussions that may arise from introducing new technology. For our society, two issues – job security and inequality – are especially important.

As is the case with all new innovations, there are opportunities for interesting new developments that benefit humanity (technology could greatly assist in areas of health, conflict, and the environment for example) but also threats of bringing about significant negative consequences such as under-employment, large job losses, smaller proportions of the workforce having access to jobs, increased inequality and a rise in poverty.

The International Labour Organization has taken a particular interest in the labour market consequences of this revolution and has established a multi-year consultative project to focus on the Future of Work. This issue topped the agenda at a panel discussion in Geneva this year, where I raised the following points:

  • It is important to acknowledge that the experiences of technology are very different for developing and developed nations. Rich countries are having discussions around work-life balance and using technology to ensure that workers have more leisure time because of the flexible work arrangements that technology allows. This is unlikely to be the case for most workers in South Africa and most other developing countries. Given our extremely high levels of unemployment and the extent of low-paid jobs (almost half of workers in South Africa earn less than R3 500), it is very unlikely, except for a very small number of workers with high earnings, that the trade-off is between work and leisure. Instead, our society needs to provide much more, better-paid jobs.
  • Developments in society are controlled by us, through our policy and governance systems and by how we choose to use them. We cannot avoid technological advancements but we can decide how to maximise the benefits and minimise the drawbacks.
  • We have to acknowledge that technology will be disruptive. New advances are likely to result in extra costs for businesses as they adjust. There is also a chance that some of the advancements (particularly in the artificial intelligence arena) are going to replace human endeavours. Many of our large firms in the financial, mining and other sectors are likely to change the composition of their workforces over the coming decades. The focus must be on looking at innovative ways to ensure technology serves to support, rather than replace, workers.
  • We should carefully analyse what we mean by ‘work’. We tend to focus on paid work and completely ignore unpaid work, and the interactions between paid and unpaid work. The reality is that there is a gendered distribution of unpaid work, with a large number of women having to deal with the burdens of low-paid
    work and an unequal burden of unpaid care work.
  • In most developing countries, most jobs, especially for women, have over the last three decades been created in the informal economy. The conversation around technological advances must also look at work in the informal economy.
  • Technological change has different impacts on different groups. We need to understand how these new technological changes will impact our already high levels of inequality and understand what policies and mechanisms can ameliorate the costs on the most vulnerable sections of our population (who are
    unable to absorb these ‘shocks’), and how technology can lead to greater levels of equality.

This means that it is incumbent on us as academics, policymakers, and social partners to start urgently having conversations that talk to measures to protect and promote the Decent Work agenda. At the very least there should be measures to ensure that workers who are most vulnerable are protected by some basic standards. One of these is a national minimum wage that would guarantee an income which, although still below the living wage, is a significant increase for 47% of workers in the country in 2017. But there are other social measures such as a Basic Income Grant, which should be considered as protection mechanisms for the most vulnerable in society.

Wits has recently launched an interdisciplinary five-year project that focuses on inequality in South Africa. It seeks to:

  • identify the key areas where inequality shapes the life chances of individuals across their lives, such as education, health, spatial geography, food security, and the economy,
  • understand how power and inequality are produced and reproduced within these areas, as well as how power and inequality intersect across these areas,
  • imagine an alternative configuration of power that generates affirmative state action, provides greater equality of access to relevant resources, and fundamentally alters the structure of power in society, and
  • develop an agenda for inclusive growth of productive forces.

A key component of this project will be to analyse technological developments in the country and their impact on the working class and the poor. Given South Africa’s complex current labour market challenges, we as a society need to carefully consider this debate, engage with the research in the area, and develop plans for the future. Technological change is not a process that is independent of social norms and regulations. Instead, these social norms and regulations fundamentally shape both the process of technological change and its outcomes.

The worst response would be to assume a one-size-fits-all approach that is based on how wealthy countries adjust to
this new world work order. South Africa has a combination of serious structural and economic problems; massive inequality, high levels of poverty, and unemployment make us far more vulnerable to these inevitable changes. It also means that we need to start having these important conversations in order to ensure that we are the drivers, and not the responders, of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Professor Imraan Valodia is the Dean of the Wits Faculty of Commerce, Law, and Management. He is an NRF B-rated researcher and holds a doctorate in Economics.

The mud beneath the digital magic

- Robert Thornton

The bones of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, like every industrial revolution in the past, come from the dirt under our feet.

The gold that you see at the end of your charging cable is a good example. If you live in Johannesburg, dig a hole and you will almost certainly have gold in your spade. With the right skill, time, and knowledge, it is entirely possible to refine that to pure gold with nothing more than what you already have in your house and garden. Tens of thousands of people do this every day in Johannesburg, although you will only hear of them on the news when some of the so-called ‘illegal’ miners die underground. Without them, and those like them all over the world today, the digital world and the Fourth Industrial Revolution would struggle to exist.

The stuff that makes your cellphone do amazing things comes from the mud of rivers in the Congo and India, from the high mountains of Bolivia, and from the Amazon lowlands. The rocks that are scratched and blasted out of remote mines provide elements that few people have heard of – tantalum, tellurium, caesium, neodymium, and other rare earth elements. We all know about gold, silicon, titanium and other more common materials that make up the backbone of this new age, but these, too, are extracted from the Earth at great cost.

The 4th Industrial Revolution relies on mines and mineral deposits worked by hand by artisnal small-scale miners

A lot of it is ugly, unregulated, unprotected, more than dangerous and sometimes criminal. At present, we do not know how much of these essential elements come from the backbreaking and often lethal work of artisanal miners – people who work with little more than a spade, pick and bucket. Unless you know exactly what to look for, you will not see this industry that provides a living for hundreds of thousands across the Highveld and other gold-bearing regions. Our research shows that these manual methods manage to refine almost 100% of the gold out of the ore. Industrial processes are still not capable of doing this.

Indigenous African mining and metallurgical technologies have existed for more than a thousand years in southern Africa. We are exploring how contemporary artisanal and small-scale miners do this today and comparing this with what was done in the past. Its impact on people and societies is gradually coming into view. Government policy that continues to ignore it or seeks to criminalise it is increasingly short-sighted. This is as much a part of the southern African future as it was in the past.

Presenting both challenges and opportunities, artisanal and small-scale mining provides an increasingly substantial portion of the world’s supply. Artisanal mining and metallurgical technology compete successfully with highly-capitalised industrial mining. It requires almost no capital investment but requires hard work, skill, and courage. While underground extraction of ore attracts the most attention, the bulk of the labour is consumed in processing ore above ground by large communities of workers including men, women, and children.

In short, the Fourth Industrial Revolution relies substantially on mines and mineral deposits worked by hand with little more than Stone Age technologies. The products travel along secret networks that are much like the “Silk Routes” or spice trading networks of the ancient world. These materials move directly from teams of miners’ small villages into the global digital and technological economy.

The miners themselves are directly connected to global markets through their cellphones. They are highly aware of their own skill and value and negotiate prices for their products. While they are ‘illegal’ in terms of South African law which protects the big mines, they are certainly not criminal. They have pride and they are resilient in the face of police harassment and criminal exploitation.

‘High tech’ has evolved slowly from the first iteration of the theoretical digital computer in the mind of Alan Turning,
through the first computers built of vacuum tube ‘valves’, and ultimately through to the vast digital storehouses that make the global internet possible. But the complex chemistry and physics of the materials on which all of it depends still comes from human labour and the artisanal skill of people who are both willing and able to take it out of the Earth and provide it to the global markets.

Associate Research Professor Robert Thornton is an ethnographer and cultural and medical anthropologist. His current
research focuses on African indigenous knowledge and practices of traditional healing. His new research focus is ‘Metals, Magic, and Medicine’, which explores the history of traditional healing in the South African archaeological and ethnographic context. This involves studying early mining and high-temperature technologies in relation to ritual sites and healing practices.

Read more about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the interface between humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Tech as eyes and ears

- Refilwe Mabula

Wits alumnus, Elash Mistry was elated when he became the first blind person in Africa to be admitted as a fellow of the Actuarial Society of SA in 2017.

During his time at Wits, almost 20 years ago, Mistry was assisted by Rykie Woite, then of the Wits Disability Unit, who transcribed Mistry’s material from print to electronic format. Fellow students read and recorded Mistry’s lecture notes onto “ancient” cassette tapes and he would transcribe them into braille. This was tedious for Mistry and Woite because of the editing required to adapt the study materials. Mistry later used screenreading software and raised graphics that Woite created for him to access his notes, study, and write examinations.

Fast forward to 2017 when an array of advanced assistive technologies are available to improve the functional capabilities of students with visual, physical, learning, and hearing disabilities, and enable equal access to education. Dr Anlia Pretorius, Head of the Wits Disability Rights Unit (DRU) says technology is an integral part of her unit to facilitate easier learning for students with disabilities.

“Technology is changing the world and for our students with disabilities, it can be life-changing in that it can improve accessibility, break down barriers, allow access to information and provide greater independence. It forms a vital part of how the DRU is able to support our students and we are proud to have specialist computer centres at Wits, all of which are accessible and equipped with state-of-the-art assistive technologies,” she says.

Jermaine George, a blind fourth-year Bachelor of Music student, uses VoiceOver for his studies. This is a screen reader built into his MacBook, which converts text into speech and allows him to work on his computer. George, who has been blind since birth, is a “speed freak” who prefers technology to braille.

“Braille is a very slow medium and I need to get things done immediately. I don’t have time to sit and read something first and then process it, and then think about it and then do something about it. I just do everything electronically,” he says.

Although George is able to enjoy technology like sighted people, mobility on the large Wits Braamfontein East campus remains challenging for him and other students with visual and physical disabilities. To address this, the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits launched the Wits Campus Personal Navigator Challenge in 2017. The Challenge aims to find digitally innovative ways to assist students with visual and physical disabilities by providing them with a ‘personal navigator’ that guides them from one campus location to another. Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE, notes that most students at the DRU have mobility challenges and although most buildings on the Wits campuses have wheelchair ramps, it is still difficult for students with disabilities to move around.

“This unique navigation system may work independently or in conjunction with relevant existing or future systems with improved software, apps or maps, to provide visual or audible directions and information to the student. To do this, the proposed system might also use multiple sensors installed at key points on campus which will provide location information and alerts to a base unit installed on a walking cane, wheelchair or wearable device,” he says.

Andrew Sam, an Adaptive Technologist at the DRU, researches the latest ATs and trains students to use them. He says that although ATs for students with visual impairments have advanced, challenges remain for Deaf students.

“Supporting Deaf students with Sign Language is still difficult, as there are only a small number of interpreters who are qualified to sign at an academic level. Currently, technology is unable to reliably replicate Sign Language interpreting because, just as languages and dialects differ per region, the same applies for Sign Language,” he explains. “In addition to providing Sign Language interpreting, the DRU uses real-time captioning where spoken content is typed using a laptop and seen in real time by a student on another device like a tablet or smartphone.”

Assistive technologies used at the Wits Disability Rights Unit 

Blind/partially blind students: 

  • Screen reading software (Window-Eyes, Jaws, NVDA)
  • Screen magnifiers (ZoomText)
  • Braille displays
  • Braille embossers, printers and graphics printers
  • BraillePen (portable note taking smart device)
  • Software for Braille music
  • Eye-Pal reader (scanning device which converts printed text into speech)
  • Large print keyboards
  • Digital recorders

Deaf and hard of hearing students: 

  • Real-time captioning
  • Loop system (portable or permanent)

 Learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia): 

  • Read & Write (software reading and highlighting content on the screen)
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software (speech to text software)
  • Screen reading software

 Physical disabilities 

  • Eye-trackers (device which allows users to control the mouse with their eyes)
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software (speech to text software)
  • Motorised wheelchairs
  • Adjustable furniture

Read more about the interface between humanity and technology in Wits' new research magazine CURIOSITY, the iHuman edition.

Wits to host first Deep Learning Indaba in Africa

- Wits University

The Indaba will bring leaders in machine learning and artificial intelligence to Wits University to teach and mentor students, researchers and entrepreneurs.

The first Deep Learning Indaba will take place at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 10 – 15 September 2017.

Over five days, the Indaba will bring leaders in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence to Wits University to teach and mentor students, academics, researchers, technologists and entrepreneurs in the theory and practice of deep learning, one type of machine learning that uses deep neural networks and that is the basis of recent advances in text-to-speech systems, language translation and object recognition.

More than 300 attendees, hailing from 23 African countries, as well as from countries across the world, will participate in one of the largest machine learning teaching events globally. The Indaba aims to create a shared space to learn, teach, and to debate new developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and our African contributions to this scientific endeavour.

“Beyond the technical exchange, the Indaba will create opportunities for new research connections, to foster a better understanding of the variety of career paths in the field, and, we hope, through new friendships, perspectives and backgrounds, take the steps to realising a more diverse, racially-representative, and multicultural machine learning community,” says lead organiser of the Indaba, Shakir Mohamed, a Wits alumni and research scientist at DeepMind in the UK.

For Wits, the Indaba is an important opportunity to create a network of skilled individuals to solve problems and create new industries. “Remarkable centres of industry mushroom around strong, forward-looking research institutions such as Wits. There are many pressing challenges facing our continent and connecting with others throughout Africa and abroad helps the flow of knowledge into our country,” says Professor Ebrahim Momoniat, applied mathematician and the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Wits.

Deep Learning Indaba 2017

Speakers

The Indaba has attracted machine learning scientists from across the globe as speakers, including Nando de Freitas, Wits alumnus a lead research scientist at DeepMind. De Freitas is an authority in the field of machine learning, and in particular in the subfields of neural networks, Bayesian inference and Bayesian optimisation, and deep learning. He will be presenting a tutorial on aspects of convolutional neural networks at the Indaba.

George Konidaris, also a Wits alumnus, Assistant Professor at Brown University and Director of the Intelligent Robots Lab will also be teaching at the Indaba.  Konidaris is a leading researcher at the intersection of robotics and machine learning and will be speaking about reinforcement learning, one of the topics in machine learning that addresses how artificial agents can learn from experience.

Richard Klein, Wits lecturer from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, will be speaking about recurrent neural networks. “My primary interest is in using machine learning and computer vision to support education and teaching endeavours. Using machine learning to visually understand how an audience is reacting to a speaker can help improve the quality of presentations and assist lecturers and presenters to better connect with their audience.”

Here is the full list of the local and international speakers and their topics.

Machine learning in Africa

Given the increasing focus on machine learning, the Indaba aims is to stimulate the participation of South Africans, and Africans more generally, within the research and innovation landscape surrounding deep learning and machine learning. 

While African machine learning is a strong and varied field, African attendance and participation in internationally leading machine learning conferences is extremely low. This Indaba hopes to change as it is critical that Africans are the contributors, shapers and owners of the coming advances in machine learning.

Says Momoniat, “These are technologies that have the potential to empower our citizens and address many of the challenges facing our country and continent. The development of these skills needs to happen locally, to an international standard, so they can specifically target local problems. Conferences such as this are the key in forming and upskilling the local community of practitioners.”

New ultra-clean isotope geoscience laboratory opens up a new world of research

- Wits University

New laboratory will work closely with the University of Johannesburg to offer southern African scientists a local solution for isotope analysis.

Earth science research on the African continent just made a massive leapfrog into a new era with the launch of the state-of-the-art, ultra-clean Wits Isotope Geoscience Laboratory, known as the WIGL.

This laboratory, based in the School of Geosciences at Wits, offers scientists from a wide range of disciplines such as ecology, palaeontology, medicine and, of course, geosciences the opportunity to perform ultra-clean, contamination-free experiments that separate isotopes from Earth materials. “Isotopes, elements with variable numbers of neutrons, are incredibly powerful tools used to trace processes operating on the Earth,” says Dr Grant Bybee of the Wits School of Geosciences and Director of the WIGL. “Instead of shipping our samples to Europe at a huge cost in terms of time, money and resources, scientists in southern Africa will have a world-class facility on their doorstep.”

A student works in the new Geosciences Isotope LaboratoryThe elements and isotopes that this laboratory aims to separate are normally present in extremely low abundance in rocks, meteorites, fossils and water. “Elements like Pb, Sr, Cu, Zn are normally only present at the part per million or part per billion level in these materials and so it is crucial that we process these samples in an extremely clean and contamination-free environment,” says Bybee. “If not, researchers run the risk of contaminating precious samples with elements from the surroundings, obscuring the natural isotope signal of the samples.”

Normal air contains over 1 million particles cubic foot, but the complex air filtration system in WIGL, reduces this by about a million times to 1-10 particles per cubic foot. Along with a completely metal-free environment – everything in the lab is constructed of durable, acid-resistant, plastic – this air quality ensures that any sensitive samples processed in the WIGL remain contamination-free. “It would be an excellent place to work for those that suffer from allergies!” says Bybee. As you progress further into the laboratory, the environment gets cleaner and cleaner, ensuring that most sensitive chemical techniques aren’t jeopardised.

The laboratory took over a year to build, using high-tech components. Due to the sensitive nature of the laboratory, every single part had to be built from non-metallic material, and any unavoidable metal parts have to be carefully covered with plastic coating. In total, the WIGL cost just over R6 million to build, and was funded by Wits University.

The WIGL is made up of four separately sealed rooms, where the air quality and flow is carefully controlled. A working sample, like a crushed rock, would enter through the first room, where it would be weighed on an incredibly precise scale. It would then pass through a secure air-controlled hatch, where, in the second room, it would be dissolved in strong acid like hydrochloric acid and prepared for analysis in the third and fourth rooms. Special resins and chemical techniques allow the researchers to separate the elements of interest. Once this is completed, samples would be sent to an ultra-precise mass spectrometer at the Department of Geology at the University of Johannesburg, where the exact amount of each isotope would be measured. “The two labs at Wits and UJ have developed an incredibly strong collaboration aimed at advancing our understanding of Earth processes using high-quality isotope measurements,” says Bybee.

Wits Isotope Geoscience LaboratoryThe use of elemental and isotopic analysis is extremely important in geosciences, where scientists study the composition, age and processes operating on the Earth. However, isotopes are also highly effective in other scientific fields such as medicine – for example in the diagnosis of cancer and bone diseases – and in palaeosciences for establishing the origin, movement patterns and diets of now extinct animals, including our human ancestors.   

The WIGL builds on a strong a history of pioneering isotopic work at Wits University in which many ground-breaking techniques and ideas were generated. “This is a first for the geoscience community in South Africa and the WIGL team is geared up to facilitate and inspire the next generation of scientists to produce important, interdisciplinary science,” says Bybee.

SA students benefit from major digital electronics update at CERN

- Wits University

International scientists share knowledge with SA students and industry at a workshop, dedicated to the CERN electronics upgrade.

South African students and industry are benefiting from the major digital electronics challenge of upgrading the ATLAS Tile Calorimeter at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

The Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS detector covers the central region of the detector and it is designed to measure the energy and position of particles that result from high-energy proton-proton collisions provided by the LHC. The Tile Calorimeter detects particles called hadrons, which are copiously produced in high-energy proton-proton collisions.Scientists, students and industry leaders who attended the ATLAS Tile Calorimeter Upgrade week.Following the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, the LHC is developing a long-term plan to increase the intensity of the collisions. This is necessary to provide a lot more data with which to explore the Higgs boson and its coupling to other particles; the search for other bosons and other new particles. In 2016 the LHC delivered collisions with an intensity significantly surpassing the initial design. The LHC envisions major upgrades in the future that will increase the data available by about 100 times.

“The Tile Calorimeter will undergo a major replacement of its on- and off-detector electronics for the high luminosity programme of the LHC starting in 2026,” says Professor Bruce Mellado, who coordinates of the contribution to ATLAS by South Africa.

All signals will be digitised and then transferred to the off-detector electronics, where the signals will be reconstructed, buffered, and sent to the first level of the trigger at a rate of 40 MHz, or 40 million times every second. This will provide a better precision of the calorimeter signals used by the trigger system; will provide more information and will allow the development of more complex trigger algorithms.

Mellado and colleagues from the US and Europe organized the ATLAS Tile Calorimeter Upgrade week at iThemba Laboratories in Cape Town from March 15th to 17th, where scientists from around the world, working at the ATLAS experiment at CERN gathered to discuss the technicalities of the upgrade.

Sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation, the event provided a unique opportunity for local students and industry to gain information and knowledge from highly respected scientists from around the world.

“The ATLAS upgrade represents a major challenge in digital electronics that South African scientists and industry are profiting from,” says Mellado. “The generation and real-time processing of digital signals forms the first stage of what is usually referred to as the Big Data problem. In the process of pursuing this type of complex problems, South African students encounter the opportunity to acquire unique skills, which are brought to the country.”

Local industry also profits from these activities. Based on a design developed for the upgrade of the off-detector electronics of the Tile Calorimeter, South African industry was able to manufacture in 2016 the most complex electronics board in the country to date.

The production of the board was possible thanks to a concerted effort in investing and innovating that now enables local industry to produce complex boards more efficiently and affordably.

The workshop was kicked off with an open session chaired by Mellado. The first speaker was the Director of iThemba Laboratories, Dr. Faiҫal Azaiez, who welcomed the participants and gave an overview of his vision for the laboratory and its international projection. The Director emphasized the commitment to support the development of instrumentation for South Africa. Daniel Dock, Managing Director, TraX Interconnect (Pty) Ltd, gave a presentation on the history and capabilities of the South African electronics industry. Dock gave an overview of the complexities behind the manufacturing of high-density electronics board, with emphasis on the techniques that had to be developed to manufacture the board for the ATLAS Tile Calorimeter.

The open session was concluded by a colloquium by Dr. Oleg Solovyanov, the Project Leader of the ATLAS Tile Calorimeter. Solovyanov reviewed the most important features of the detector and plans for the upgrade.

Studying the making of smart cities

- Deborah Minors

Professor Ronald Wall is an economic geographer and urban planner and the Johannesburg City Chair in Economic Development at Wits.

The City of Johannesburg initiated and funded the Chair, which focuses on applied results and the provision of strategic knowledge to inform the City’s policy-making.

Wall’s research explores themes of urban and regional competitiveness, foreign direct investment, multinational corporations, smart city studies, happiness economics, food security, and inequality.

“I conduct international studies on urban and regional economic development focusing on the interdependence of globalisation and urbanisation,” says Wall.

He applies Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and statistical techniques to databases that are concerned with economic networks (trade, corporate ownership and investment flows) in thousands of cities, as well as the urban characteristics of these cities – innovation levels, governance, inequality, labour and infrastructure.

Wall’s work is unique not only because it focuses on cities in the developing world, but because it observes cities as integral parts of global and regional economic systems.

“This is important to a city like Johannesburg as the research provides a relative, comparative understanding of the city’s power and position within the global, African and South African economy.”

This enables one to trace Johannesburg’s changing competitiveness in the world economy, as well as compare the determinants of this to thousands of other cities.

Read more about research at Wits in Wits Research Matters.

Analysing data to inform public health

- Deborah Minors

Biostatistics is the analysis and interpretation of data generated in the biological and health sciences to inform clinical or health policy and practice.

Professor Tobias Chirwa is a biostatistician in the School of Public Health at Wits and Head of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

“In many African countries, there is a shortage of well-trained biostatisticians. The few people that are trained are often overwhelmed. To ensure that data is used to inform public health policy and practice for the benefit of the people in Africa, we need to prioritise training of African postgraduate biostatisticians who can provide the required analysis to a high standard,” says Chirwa.

Chirwa, who heads the School of Public Health at Wits from February 2017, is one of seven leading African researchers to receive a portion of a R70 million (£3.337-million) funding injection from the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development in the UK.

Funding to the amount of £46 million over five years was awarded through the DELTAS Africa scheme.

DELTAS is the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Initiative, which aims to establish world class research environments at African universities, and training opportunities for the next generation of researchers.

Wits leads the sub-Saharan African Consortium for Advanced Biostatistical Training. This group of African and northern institutions will use the funding to develop a network of biostatisticians who will deliver statistical courses for biomedical researchers, develop and implement statistical theory to analyse health data, and create the framework for improved biostatistical skills among health researchers and academics in nine African countries.

Read more about research at Wits in Wits Research Matters.

Designer proteins, the new generation of HIV vaccines being put to the test

- Penny Moore and Lynn Morris

South Africa has made tremendous advances in providing lifesaving antiretroviral therapy for HIV infected people.

The country has the largest treatment programme in the world.

Despite this, the HIV epidemic continues to ravage key populations, especially young women. In 2016 there were more than 270,000 new infections in South Africa – a figure which has been fairly consistent in recent years.

This continued spread of the disease suggests that treatment will not ultimately end this epidemic. An HIV vaccine remains an urgent need.

Many HIV vaccines have already been tested, using approaches that have led to effective vaccines for other infectious diseases. A trial in Thailand in 2009 was the first HIV vaccine to show some protective effect. But the 31% protection it offered was too low to warrant a wider roll out.

Follow-up trials to try and confirm the results in the Thai trial are now underway, including a large scale study of 5 400 volunteers in South Africa.

While the world waits for the outcomes of these trials, researchers have turned to new strategies based on lessons learnt from studying the immune system of HIV-infected people. For example, researchers now know, in extraordinary detail, how the immune system of some HIV-infected people is able to make rare antibodies, called broadly neutralising antibodies.

When tested in the laboratory these antibodies are able to block various strains of HIV from across the world. These are precisely the types of antibodies that a vaccine should ideally elicit. And scientists are using their findings as a roadmap to develop the next generation of HIV vaccines.

Three new vaccine concepts, all based on cutting edge protein engineering, will shortly, or have already entered human trials and have the potential to revolutionise the HIV vaccine field.

Kickstarting the immune system

All humans have millions of B cells in their bodies that produce antibodies and protect them from an infection. But only a small number of these B cells have the potential to produce the broadly neutralising antibodies that fight the HIV virus.

In the first new concept, high-tech nanoprotein engineering has enabled scientists to develop a designer protein called eOD-GT8. The protein is specifically engineered to trigger these rare B cells, and turn them into the broadly neutralising antibodies.

In studies in mice, this “designer” protein was able to kickstart the process and set the immune system down the right pathway to fight the virus.

Over the next year eOD-GT8 will be tested in small-scale trials in humans to determine whether targeting these rare B cells is an effective way to generate the right kind of HIV antibodies.

Making a good mimic of HIV

A second challenge in HIV vaccine design has been to make a good mimic of the HIV proteins that broadly neutralising antibodies recognise.

This approach, of presenting the immune system with a close mimic of viral proteins, has been the basis of most vaccines, including the polio and hepatitis vaccines.

But the challenge with the HIV protein that is targeted by broadly neutralising antibodies is that it rapidly falls apart when it is produced in a laboratory. As a result, it is not a good mimic. For the past 10 years, scientists have tried to come up with new ways of preserving the complex structure of this HIV protein.

Only recently, using an African virus isolated many years ago, vaccine researchers have finally learned how to biologically “glue” this envelope protein together using chemical bonds, resulting in a good mimic of the protein as it exists on the virus.

This stable protein, called BG505.SOSIP has shown promise in vaccine studies in monkeys, where we now see better antibodies than with previous proteins.

BG505.SOSIP will also soon be tested in small-scale trials in Africa and the US to see whether humans also recognise this protein, and make antibodies that would be able to block virus infection.

Training the immune system

The third new approach is based on how antibodies and HIV change over time in infected people. Research in South Africa and in the US has shown that antibodies become “broader” over many years, through an “arms race” between the virus and the immune system. As antibodies attempt to stop the virus, it mutates to escape and changes its coat.

Newly emerging antibodies learn to recognise the different coats the virus has tried. In doing so, some antibodies become experts at recognising every form of HIV. Eventually this leads to antibodies able to recognise viruses from across the world, the broadly neutralising antibodies that vaccines aim to elicit.

In a trial that started in August, scientists in the US are using this knowledge to vaccinate volunteers with four different coat proteins representing viral changes, in the same order seen in an HIV infected person. The hope is that this will train the immune system to recognise many different viruses, so that in the event of a future virus exposure, these antibodies will provide broad protection against HIV infection.

Towards an AIDS-free future

The next two years will therefore be a critical phase for HIV vaccines. Not only will we learn whether more traditional approaches, such as the Thai vaccine, can be improved enough to roll out.

The ConversationWe will also learn whether these three entirely new concepts, the result of years of research by scientists across the world, can reshape the HIV prevention landscape and, hopefully, take us closer to ending the HIV pandemic.

Penny Moore, Reader and DST/NRF SARChI Chair of Virus-Host Dynamics, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, CAPRISA Research Associate, University of the Witwatersrand and Lynn Morris, Medical Scientist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases; Research Associate at CAPRISA; Research Professor in the School of Pathology, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Virtual reality breathes new life into African fossils, art and artefacts

- Tammy Hodgskiss

More digital avenues are being added to South Africa’s museums – and now the country has its first full VR exhibit.

Digital technology has become an integral part of our everyday lives. So it was only a matter of time before the ways people interact with the past and ancient artefacts in museum settings became digital, too.

The problem is that technology can be extremely expensive. Many museums just don’t have the funding to obtain, develop and maintain fancy devices or interactive digital gadgets. Some big European and North American museums, which receive millions of visitors each year, have been able to afford virtual reality (VR) and various other digital technologies. These are an appealing and popular element of the visitor experience.

For example, you can tour the British Museum in London using VR. Visitors to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC can download an app to experience one of the exhibits in VR.

More digital avenues are being added to South Africa’s museums – and now the country has its first full VR exhibit. It will launch at the Origins Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on 25 September and will take visitors on a journey through hundreds of thousands of years of human history, art and innovation. I am a Middle Stone Age archaeologist and ochre specialist, and have been part of the team putting the exhibit together over the past four months.

Along the way, we’ve had to work out how to marry facts, interpretations, stories and technology. This hasn’t always been easy, but there have been a number of lessons along the way: most crucially, about the value of collaborative, interdisciplinary work to bring science to life.

Getting started

Steven Sack, the director of the Origins Centre and Professor Barry Dwolatzky, who runs the university’s Tshimologong Digital Precinct, were the exhibit’s initial champions. The precinct is a technology hub. Dwolatzky was so enthusiastic about the idea of VR at the Origins Centre that he personally donated money towards it. Armed with this and a grant from the National Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, we got started.

The next step was to develop VR hardware – headsets loaded in the content we went on to produce. For this, we had to look beyond academia and bring in a team from Alt-Reality, a company in Johannesburg.

My role was to provide guidance on my own areas of expertise, and to act as a link between the Origins Centre and Professor Chris Henshilwood, for whom I work at the university’s Evolutionary Studies Institute. It was one of the institutes that provided a great deal of content for the VR exhibit.

Lara Mallen, a rock art specialist who was the curator at the Origins Centre, was a crucial part of the project: her knowledge of the centre’s displays and her intricate understanding of the rock art was vital in developing the content.

I bugged many of my peers in the Evolutionary Studies Institute, Rock Art Research Institute and School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at Wits University as well as researchers at other institutions for their opinions and images. We also sourced video and digital content from their research that we could include in the VR exhibit. They were all intrigued and excited by the chance to share their work in a totally new, different form.

Then came the balancing act: what would work well in VR, how much content could we have and what was missing. It was a very organic and ever-changing process. We continually revised, cut and added content.

The visitor can chose what they want to see and what they want to learn more about. They can see (and hear) how people made stone tools and ground ochre 100,000 years ago, or they can be transported into a painted rock shelter while also being able to see the individual images right up close.

Telling stories in new ways

As an academic I wanted to make sure that we presented a factual yet exciting summary of the Origin Centre’s content. That wasn’t at all straightforward.

We had to decide what stories we chose to tell, how we wanted to tell them – and whether our interpretations were correct. Bringing the past into a digital space creates so much more overt space for interpretation and different narratives. Traditional museum panels explain what an object is and how old it is. The VR actually shows how it worked and the process archaeologists have used to find that out.

One of the most valuable aspects of this project has been the opportunity to diversify traditional narratives around archaeology. Women and children have been somewhat neglected in archaeological interpretations, especially since in the past most histories were written by (white) men. This has tended to present a simplistic picture of prehistoric societies: men hunting, women gathering.

But there was more to it than that. Stone tools had to be made; poison was collected on use on the tips. Fires needed to be built and ochre ground to create paint for ritual. VR gives more space to explain the answers and explore the nuances of prehistoric societies.

Collaborating with a team of researchers of different ages, backgrounds and genders means a more unbiased picture of the past can be created. The VR content allows anyone to interact with the artefacts – female, male, young and old. They can immerse themselves in it and draw their own conclusions.

The digital experience might also appeal more to younger people and hopefully bring more young visitors into the museum. But it’s accessible, enlightening and informative and older people will enjoy it too.

Collaboration is exciting

As a scientist, I think these kinds of interactive museum displays are vital in aiding deeper understanding and interest in a topic. The same applies to archaeological research.

The ConversationBeing able to manipulate or reconstruct artefacts and use them helps us to understand how and why they were used or created. Being in the team that has conceptualised and created the Origins Centre’s VR content has reminded me that collaborative and interdisciplinary work – even though sometimes tricky to start – can be so fulfilling and revolutionary.

Tammy Hodgskiss, Research Associate, Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In the age of the internet, censorship has acquired a new face

- Glenda Daniels

Abandon the naive thought that, with the internet and free flow of information, governments are retreating from repression of the media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) new report shows that governments, including “democratic” ones, have found other ways to try to control information.

The CPJ’s World Press Freedom Report 2017, released ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 and titled The New Face of Censorship, also shows that violence against journalists has spiked.

Censorship is now complex and no longer the crude practices of the past when newspapers were banned and editors thrown in jail in the manner of October 19 1977, South Africa’s Black Wednesday.

The latest CPJ report spells out how “new information technologies, for example, the global, interconnected internet; social media platforms; and smartphones with cameras were supposed to make censorship obsolete”. Instead, they have made it more complicated. Everyone is grappling with the same problems albeit in different contexts.

The report breaks the myth that the internet is free and can’t be controlled. Governments are using suppressing “hate speech” to suppress other information that shows them up.

The new technologies that also allow criminal and militant groups to bypass the media and speak directly to the public have made the world exceptionally dangerous for journalists reporting from conflict zones, according to the editor of the report, Joel Simon, who is the executive director of the CPJ.

In Simon’s book, The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, the strategies to control and manage information fall into three broad categories: repression 2.0, masked political control and technology capture.

In South Africa we are seeing technology capture at the SABC, with the battle for control over broadcasting. This is not a new story — the National Party controlled it prior to democracy. But now we are seeing ownership being used to do this, with TV channel ANN7 dedicated to promoting President Jacob Zuma and his political faction.

We are also experiencing increased electronic surveillance of cellphones and emails by the state security agency, journalists report.

Beyond the new, old ways of censorship still persist. For example, The New Face of Censorship report says:

       • Violence against journalists has increased, with 48 journalists killed in 2016 and eight killed so far this year.            The worst country listed is Mexico, followed by Syria and Iraq. The deadliest countries for journalists in 2016          were Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The most dangerous beats were war, politics and crime.

        • In Turkey, 19 journalists were jailed in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown.

        • In Thailand, a TV channel was suspended.

        • In Venezuela, the government recently suspended the broadcasting of CNN.

        • In Brazil, the judiciary appears to be in cahoots with government: a judge ordered the removal from                     websites of a story about the Brazilian president’s wife.

        • In China, journalists can and have been charged with, and jailed for, “inciting separatism” if they are caught           talking to foreign media. All journalists’ work goes through the government ministry in charge of media. So             censorship is part of life in China.

        • And in the United States, nine media outlets were denied access to an informal White House press secretary           briefing. Reporters in the US are harassed by online trolls, set by the precedent of the president, who                     regularly vilifies journalists.

        • In South Africa, the high court in Pretoria ruled in December that criminal defamation is constitutional, which            is a problem for freedom of expression. It was also noted that journalists are regularly attacked while                    covering protests.

This is the depressing scenario in which journalists operate around the world, minus one or two northern European countries such as Finland, which topped the World Press Freedom Index in 2016 for the seventh year in a row.

What is the best way to fight this, with a decreasing pool of professional journalists who are faced with fake news?

Stick with fact-based journalism. Leave opinion to the opinionistas, and mark it clearly on the comment and analysis pages. Check facts, check contributors and have tight systems in place to avoid damage to brands by hackery and fakery. When in doubt, refer to the Press Code on conflict of interest, right to reply and hate speech — although what the latter is appears to be up for grabs.

Glenda Daniels is a senior lecturer in media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on the Mail and Guardian website. 

Technology confirms theory about Earth’s oldest venomous species

- Julien Benoit

Baron Franz Nopcsa, a particularly colourful figure in the history of palaeontology, was right.

Nopcsa was an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who discovered and identified a number of dinosaurs and other fossils around the world. In 1933, during a trip to South Africa, he looked at the remains of a therapsid found a couple of years earlier by Robert Broom, a pre-mammalian relative called Euchambersia.

Nopcsa declared that this was probably the earliest venomous species ever recorded. But his theory couldn’t be confirmed or disproved because venom and venom glands don’t fossilise. That’s where technology comes in. I was part of a team at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand that collaborated with London’s Natural History Museum to test Nopcsa’s theory using CT scanning and 3D imaging techniques.

The results? Nopcsa was right, and at 255 million years old, Euchambersia is officially the oldest venomous animal that ever roamed the Earth.

Even more intriguing is that Euchambersia is related to early mammals, not to snakes (which is probably the creature you think of when it comes to venom). Actually, many existing mammals produce venom: among them shrews, some primates and the weird Australian Platypus. Numerous scientists have hypothesised that mammals were all venomous in the distant past but lost their venom producing glands along the way.

So how did we discover the truth about Euchambersia?

Uncovering Euchambersia’s secrets

Broom’s find is one of only two Euchambersia specimens ever discovered. Both were discovered in the same area, near the town of Colesberg in South Africa. One is kept at the Natural History Museum in London; the other at the Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg.

Each specimen was CT scanned at its respective institute, and the London data was sent to my colleagues and I in Johannesburg. CT scanning is a cutting edge technique that resembles medical imaging. It allows scientists to observe and “dissect” fossils digitally using computer software. Thanks to this technique, we can produce 3D models of previously unreachable internal structures.

With these virtual images of the internal anatomy of the only two known specimens of Euchambersia, we had in hand the most comprehensive dataset about this species that’s ever been gathered.

Analysing them, we made several fascinating discoveries. It emerged that Euchambersia had anatomical adaptations which were compatible with venom production.

First, there was a wide, deep and circular depression in the skull for a venom gland on the upper jaw. This was connected to the canine teeth and the mouth by a fine network of bony tubes and furrows. We also discovered previously undescribed teeth hidden in the vicinity of the bones and sediment that filled the skull. As is usual for fossils, the skull is filled with sediment and some teeth were preserved inside this sediment but hadn’t been spotted before. These were two incisors with preserved crowns and a pair of large canines, all ornamented with a sharp ridge.

A ridged dentition like this would have helped Euchambersia to inject venom into its prey. Pre-mammalian therapsids dominated terrestrial ecosystems well before dinosaurs even appeared. They diversified as herbivores and carnivores, large and small, burrowing and ground-dwelling species. As the earliest venomous species and a representative of this early wave of pioneering species, Euchambersia directly reflects the extraordinary adaptive capabilities of these mammalian forerunners.

In addition, since mammals might have been primitively venomous, Euchambersia would be one of the last remnant of this distant and toxic ancestry of ours.The Conversation

Julien Benoit, Postdoc in Vertebrate Palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Big award for ‘ace of the IT industry’

- Wits University

Professor Barry Dwolatzky honoured by his peers for his outstanding contributions to ICT sector.

Dwolatzky, the driving force behind Johannesburg’s new high-tech development, the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, has been honoured with the Distinguished Service in ICT Award.

The award was presented to Dwolatzky at the 38th Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) President's Awards held on Friday, 24 November 2016.

The award presented by the IITPSA in association with EngineerIT. According to article published online on ITWeb the award was presented to an individual 'who is seen as a role model and mentor, who has made an outstanding, career-length contribution to the SA ICT industry and who has shown a long-term commitment to the aims and objectives of the Institute'.

Dwolatzky, Professor of Software Engineering in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering and Director of Joburg Centre for Software Engineering, was praised for his contribution to ICT innovation and skills development.

Read the full ITWeb article: Barry Dwolatzky awarded for distinguished service in ICT

Also read the full EngineerIT article: Distinguished service in ICT awarded to industry ace

Location, location, location

- Wits University

Winners of GeoJozi Challenge will help solve Jozi’s street address problems and improve service delivery.

Three young, talented developers came out tops in the 2016 GeoJozi Developer Challenge – the first to be held through a partnership between the City of Joburg, Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and mapping software company, Esri South Africa.

This year’s challenge was aimed at developing digital location solutions that will best solve Joburg’s street address issues – a very crucial aspect for a city and municipality as an address specifies a point of service delivery and makes the city function better for everyone.

The winners

Professor Barry Dwolatzky with the three winners Methembe Dlamini (2), Thapelo Sekwena (1) and Absalom Mpanze (3)The first, second and third place winners are:

  1. Thapelo Sekwena, a junior software developer at SAAB. With partner Ganwell Banda they developed an app that uses a combination of gamification, crowd sourcing and augmented reality that simply asks users for addresses in exchange for rewards on places that need addressing or validation.
  2. Methembe Dlamini, a Masters student in Computer Science from the University of Johannesburg. His app deals with the need to locate a certain point even without knowledge of the exact address. By linking a person’s contact information with their current address, where they reside can be established.
  3. Absalom Mpanze, analyst developer at Standard Bank. His app’s intention is to take peoples’ footsteps to create a unique code for that place and point in time, which is shared. Every point is unique, as is the code, and it guarantees accuracy. Individuals use this code to accurately find addresses and will be prompted to name their streets if none exist.

Director for Corporate Geo-Informatics for the City of Johannesburg Marcelle Hattingh says, “Street addresses specify points of service delivery. They are essential for electricity, water, refuse, sewage, emergency services, land ownership, parcel deliveries, safety and security, being able to vote and countless other critical services and functions.

“Street addresses that are not clearly displayed or not displayed at all make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to deliver essential services to residents of the city. In some informal settlements, we still have areas where street addresses don’t exist at all.”

It's all happening at Tshimologong

GeoJozi is the next in a long line of collaborations Wits’ JCSE, based in the new Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, have had with the City of Joburg.

Barry Dwolatzky, Director of JCSE and Professor of Software Engineering in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, says Joburg is the centre of the digital economy in South Africa and in Africa, and the aim with the Tshimologong Precinct is to create a digital innovation hub where “we could bring together all the amazing innovative people in our city”.

“The JCSE has now twice run the #Hack.Jozi Challenge (an annual bootcamp for startups) and will be doing the third one soon. This is the first GeoJozi Challenge we ran and it has been a remarkable journey to see young people be innovative, creative, and energetic, and come up with these great ideas.”

It is not only the three top winners that have benefitted from this challenge. From 80 submissions, 10 contestants were chosen following a rigorous series of briefings, pitches and shortlisting.

Says Prof. Dwolatzky: “In choosing the top ten, the solutions that showed the entrants had more deeply understood street address challenges in our city were the ones that stood out. In addition, contestants that had done user requirement analyses and fieldwork offered more appropriate solutions.”

The 10 finalists have all completed an intensive period of Geographical Information System (GIS) training, as well as professional software practice, start-up and business modelling, and social media training.

More GeoJozi Developer Challenge solutions

  • A property game similar to Monopoly but which only uses real addresses
  • A system that helps to identify and name locations within informal settlements
  • The quick harvesting of crowd sourced addresses to enhance address databases
  • An app which allows users to navigate to locations without knowing the address or GPS co-ordinates
  • A voting and reporting system for people to vote for street names or to report address issues they encounter
  • An innovative address plate which is the key element of a system that sources and validates addresses and displays them on the address plate device
  • A system that provides verifiable and identifiable addresses located in informal settlements
  • A system which creates a unique code for a point in time which is shared and linked to a map layout to locate an address
  • The ability to use geo-caching to link a home owner’s identity to a set of coordinates specific to their address.

Fellow of light

- Wits University

Andrew Forbes elected as Fellow Member of a leading international optics and photonics association.

Professor Andrew ForbesThe Optical Society (OSA) in Washington, DC, this week announced that Forbes, Distinguished Professor and Head of the Structured Light Laboratory at Wits University, has been elected a Fellow Member of the association.

The OSA Board of Directors said Forbes is one of 96 OSA members, representing 19 different countries, who have been elected as the newest class of OSA Fellows.

“Fellow membership in OSA is reserved for members who have served with distinction in the advancement of optics and photonics,” the OSA said in a statement.

Elizabeth Rogan, CEO of the OSA, said Forbes is being honoured “specifically for significant contributions to structured light at the classical/quantum regimes, as well as directly at the source in the form of novel lasers, thereby serving as a role model for Africa.”

OSA Fellows are selected based on several factors, including specific scientific, engineering, and technological contributions, a record of significant publications or patents related to optics, technical or industry leadership in the field as well as service to OSA and the global optics community. As a reflection of The Optical Society’s global reach, 59% of this year’s Fellows reside outside the US.
 
“Heartiest congratulations to the 2017 OSA Fellows, who are excellent examples of optics and photonics innovators and will be outstanding representatives of The Optical Society,” said Alan Willner, 2016 President of The Optical Society and Steven & Kathryn Sample Chair in Engineering, University of Southern California, California, US. “The new Fellows join an illustrious group who has collectively had great impact on our field and society at large.”

Since taking up a Distinguished Professorship in the Wits School of Physics in March 2015, Forbes established the Structured Light Laboratory at the University where his team has already had some notable achievements: the creation of a vector microchip laser; the first demonstration of quantum interference in high dimensions; a new approach to packing information into light, which the group sent over free space (air) and optical fibre (glass), as well as bringing this cutting edge science back into teaching through the use of digital holograms to demonstrate some very basic physics and mathematics in a laboratory.

Forbes and his team are also exploring new techniques with optical communication that include researching how to pack information into light, transmit it over distance and then unpack the information on the other side. This year the team has shown that data can be transmitted with over 100 patterns of light, effectively increasing in the amount of information that can be 'packed into light'.

About The Optical Society

Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional organization for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders who fuel discoveries, shape real-life applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership initiatives, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of optics and photonics experts.

Tshimologong - Jozi's new digital playground

- Wits University

Wits is transforming Braamfontein into a young, vibrant precinct for its notable tech-savvy and innovative community.

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.

Building the city's technology ecosystem

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.

Open through membership

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.

2016 GeoJozi Developer Challenge

- Wits University

Partnering with Wits University, the City of Joburg launches a developer challenge to address issues.

With R300 000 in prizes to be won, the 2016 GeoJozi Developer Challenge is calling on developers with an interest in apps, maps, data, urban development, cities or technology to enter.

Developers, aged 30 or under, can help the City of Johannesburg to improve its systems of identifying streets, buildings, stands and dwellings across the 1,645 km2 municipality.

It is being run for the first time this year by the City in partnership with Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and mapping software company, Esri.

Developers need to register on www.geojozi.joburg by 31 August 2016.

Real-time data helps to manage cities better

Across the world, street addresses and location are used as fundamental tools for managing cities. But with rapid urbanisation, local governments face increasingly complex and fast-changing urban landscapes that need to be effectively managed and to serve their residents.

Marcelle Hattingh, Director of Corporate Geo-Informatics for the City of Johannesburg explains: “Street addresses specify points of service delivery. They are essential for electricity, water, refuse, sewage, emergency services, land ownership, parcel deliveries, safety and security, being able to vote and countless other critical services and functions.”

Prof Barry Dwolatzky, Director of JCSE at Wits University says: “As the world becomes more digitised, more real-time data about cities is becoming available. This data can help to manage cities better and make them smarter. A street address informs us of location, and that is where Geographic Information System (GIS) comes in. It’s all about a specific position or the coordinates on earth.”

Dwolatzky says that this creates exciting opportunities for creating smart cities, modern urban development and 21st century city management. The GeoJozi Challenge will be hosted in Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, the City’s newest high-tech address.

“We are calling on young Johannesburg-based software developers to work with the City to help improve the accuracy and visibility of street names and numbers of all properties, stands and informal dwellings throughout the City.”

The winning solution will earn its creator R150 000. Second and third places are worth R100 000 and R50 000 respectively. The winning ideas may also be implemented by the City of Johannesburg.

“Addresses and location are essential for the efficiency of a high functioning city. The City is calling for innovative solutions that will help the citizens realise the vital importance of street addresses and optimise the power of location,” says Hattingh.

Patrick McKivergan, managing director of Esri South Africa, says: “This initiative will encourage young developers to develop their skills in location technology. As the technology partner of the GeoJozi Challenge, Esri will be providing the location platform on which the GeoJozi contestants will develop their solutions. It will consist of toolkits for the development and data on which the contestants can base their solutions for the street addresses and location issues. We are right behind the City’s efforts to create location awareness. Entrants will also receive free training and great learning opportunities.”

Last year, the United Nations estimated that 71.3% of South Africa’s population will live in urban areas by 2030, nearly 80% by 2050. “This puts the need for innovative street address and location solutions into the spotlight,” says Hattingh.

Wits to lead national e-science consortium

- Department of Science and Technology

DST awards University a project to develop teaching and training platform for postgraduates.

Wits will lead a consortium to establish a national e-science teaching and training platform.

The platform is intended to develop suitable curricula and pedagogic interventions to advance the training of postgraduate students in the rapidly developing cross-discipline of e-science.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) made the announcement this week, saying it has awarded Wits with one of two projects as part of the department and its entity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), continued investment in growing the country's cyberinfrastructure by furthering the implementation of the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS).

According to the DST statement, the department will invest approximately R60 million over three years to establish the two projects: the national e-science teaching and training platform; and the regional data centre.

Regional data centre

The other consortium, led by the University of Cape Town, involves the establishment of an initial regional data centre (or node) – others could follow – that will eventually form a national network, supporting a wide range of data-intensive scientific activities as part of NICIS.

This data centre will be a shared resource, focused initially on astronomy and bioinformatics, supporting major initiatives such as the MeerKAT/Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the DST's Bio-economy Strategy.

Close cooperation

With the vast Northern Cape being home to mega astronomy initiatives like the MeerKAT/SKA and the Southern African Large Telescope, it is important to note that the province's new Sol Plaatje University will be involved in both consortia.

The university's strategic focus is on information technology skills development, and the province will benefit from these projects. The DST is keen to see the province's young people skilled as a result of such initiatives so that they can take up opportunities offered by the astronomy projects in the area.

“The DST believes cooperation of South African universities and research councils on such strategic matters is important for the country's future. The big data revolution involves a transition in which data becomes a new resource for economic development, and success or failure depends on the capacity to manage and manipulate massive volumes of data in order to extract information,” the DST statement reads.

Full media release. For more information, please contact, Veronica Mohapeloa, DST: 083 400 5750, Veronica.Mohapeloa@dst.gov.za; or Tendani Tsedu, CSIR Media Relations Manager:  082 945 1980, 012 841 3417 or mtsedu@csir.co.za.

Wits and Academic Partnerships agree to educate online

- Wits University

Wits signs a MOU with Academic Partnerships to increase access to education through online learning.

The demand for quality education and access to education in Africa is increasing, with few resources and infrastructure to accommodate qualifying students.

Online learning is important to South Africa because the demand for tertiary education in emerging economies is insatiable but access is a problem. 

The University of the Witwatersrand and Academic Partnerships (AP) in the USA, which partners with universities to increase access and revenue through online courses, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signaling their intention of participating actively in building online programmes.

The MOU was signed at Wits on 8 August 2016.

The introduction of online programmes at Wits aims to address some of the challenges of access to higher education in South Africa.

In June, the University launched its first three massive open online courses (Moocs) on the EdX platform, the first African university to do so.

These Moocs are: System Dynamics for Health Sciences; Research Methods: An Engineering Approach; and Results-Based Project Management: Monitoring and Evaluation.

Professor Andrew Crouch, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic who signed the agreement with AP on behalf of Wits says that the agreement to launch online programmes, rather than online courses is an exciting development for the University.

“Academic Partnerships is very reputable. There are partnerships in many parts of the world, and AP has experience in launching and sustaining online programmes,”says Crouch.  

The introduction of online programmes at Wits will enable the University to serve students across the globe through a highly efficient delivery system.

Randy Best, Chairman and Founder of AP says the partnership will benefit students, professors and the economy whilst making knowledge more accessible.

“The online programmes are going to play a critical role in the students’ life and enhance education. The programmes are also economical; there is no need to deal with infrastructure to support it. It makes the great knowledge of your professors far more available for more people,” says Best.

According to Crouch, the launch of the online programmes at Wits is awaiting final approval from a number of bodies, including the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Council for Higher Education as well as the South African Qualifications Authority.

It will take almost a year before the first online programme can be launched, as the programmes also need to be accredited.

The first online programmes will be in business and administration and these will be postgraduate programmes.

Other programmes which are currently being explored are in the education area and the health sciences. Only a few programmes will be online.

The introduction of online programmes will not replace current contact programmes. Rather, online programmes will increase access to courses where there are too many students and too few lecture halls and lecturers to accommodate all those students, says Crouch.

The quality of education for online students will also be important and has to meet Wits’ standards.

“The same entry requirements for our full- time students will be prescribed for our online students, so that we are ultimately assured of a proud Wits ‘product’.”

 

Innovation ecosystem opens door

- Wits University

New #IBMResearchWITS partnership to focus on big data, cloud computing and mobile tech.

Wits University and IBM Research today opened the IBM Research lab - the second in Africa, at the University's new technology innovation hub in the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein.

The researchers will focus on collaborations in the areas of data driven healthcare, digital urban ecosystems and astronomy.

Wits' Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, says the Wits-IBM partnership will focus on big data, cloud computing and mobile technology to support South African development priorities.

As part of a 10-year investment program through South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry and working closely with the Department of Science and Technology, the new research lab is based at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

The University was recently ranked amongst the top 10 in emerging economies by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

“The launch of the IBM Research laboratory is an exciting milestone in the move towards a new era of globally competitive research, innovation and entrepreneurship that will be emerging out of the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein. Wits is delighted to be collaborating with IBM. We look forward to seeing top talent congregate to address the continent’s most intractable problems and work on the world’s next game changing technologies,” said Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand.

The lab is located in the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein – an inner-city area which is today re-emerging as a vibrant Johannesburg district. The two-level, 900 square meter lab has a DIY maker space with electronic design equipment and a 3D printer.

Data Driven Healthcare

  • In support of the World Health Organization’s End TB (Tuberculosis) Strategy, IBM scientists are designing wearable sensor technology connected to the Watson Internet of Things to trace the spread of highly infectious, communicable diseases. This innovation will help healthcare organizations and health officials develop prevention strategies and respond effectively.
  • IBM scientists are developing cognitive learning approaches to transform cancer reporting, prevention and precision medicine in Africa. In a proof of concept study, IBM scientists have discovered a basic molecular link between cancer causing genes and those associated with metastasis, the cause of 90% of cancer related deaths*. Preliminary results from this work have been presented recently. Using anonymous, unstructured data provided by the National Cancer Registry in South Africa and in collaboration with the University of Witwatersrand Medical School, the team is developing cognitive algorithms to automate the inference of national cancer statistics in South Africa. This technology is expected to reduce a five-year time lag in cancer statistics reporting to real-time.
     
  • With the support of the City of Johannesburg, IBM scientists have collected 65 samples of microbes and bacteria from 19 bus stations across the city as part of the global Metagenomics and Metadesign of the Subways and Urban Biomes (MetaSUB) international consortium. Once the samples are processed the results will be available to city planners, public health officials and scientists who will use the data to help officials predict and prepare for future disease outbreaks and discover new species and biological systems.
  • In early September, scientists from IBM, H3ABioNet and the University of Notre Dame will host a hackathon on anti-malarial drug resistance and drug combination prediction.

Digital Urban Ecosystems

  • Building on IBM’s global Green Horizons initiative, researchers at the new lab are working closely with experts from South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to analyze historical and real-time data from environmental monitoring stations. Using machine learning and cognitive models, the data collected in the City of Johannesburg, the City of Tshwane and the Vaal Industrial Triangle will help provide more insight about air pollution and model the effectiveness of intervention strategies. The project has recently been extended to predict ground level ozone and air quality forecasting.
  • Commuters in the City of Johannesburg currently spend 35 minutes extra travel time per day due to traffic congestion, according to the TomTom Traffic Index. Unreliable traffic light infrastructure provides challenges to traffic light management in the city. Using real time anonymized traffic data from TomTom combined with Twitter, IBM scientists have developed a traffic optimization recommendation tool which can help city officials dispatch traffic volunteers, known locally as pointsmen, to the intersections where they are most urgently needed.
  • The City of Cape Town often battles with devastating wild fires, due to its unique topography and vegetation. Using data from The Weather Company, an IBM business, and the City of Cape Town's Open Data portal, IBM scientists have developed a cognitive dashboard. This can assess fire incidence risk and severity to help officials raise public awareness and prepare for emergency response.
  • The number of people living off-the-grid in Africa has grown by 114 million since 2000**. To help meet the energy needs of communities who are living remotely or would like to make use of renewable energy, IBM scientists have developed a mobile app which uses analytics to determine the solar requirements of users based on their energy needs and location.

Exploring the Universe  

  • In 2018 the, Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope, will be built in South Africa and Australia. IBM scientists are collaborating with SKA South Africa (SKA-SA) on the development of unsupervised algorithms which can make groundbreaking astronomical discoveries. Scientists expect to eventually apply the cognitive technology to other applications, including the development of new pharmaceuticals and genomics. IBM and SKA-SA have signed an agreement to explore the advancement of this technology and to lead some major developments in data science over the next decade.
     
  • IBM scientists in South Africa are joining NASA, the SETI Institute and Swinburne University to develop an Apache Spark application to analyze the 168 million radio events detected over the past 10 years by the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). The volume and complexity of the data requires advanced machine learning algorithms to separate noise from true signals of interest. These requirements are well suited to the scalable in-memory capabilities offered by Apache Spark when combined with the big data capabilities of the IBM Cloud and IBM Bluemix Spark.

Open Infrastructure, Sustainable Design

The new lab features an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform based on OpenStack connected to IBM Storwize for efficiently provisioning 80TB of storage for research projects.

The lab is located in the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein – an inner-city area which is today re-emerging as a vibrant Johannesburg district. The two-level, 900 square meter lab has a DIY maker space with electronic design equipment and a 3D printer.

Agile work spaces provide a collaborative environment for IBM scientists to train and mentor Wits students and local start-ups. Developer communities across Africa will also have access, at no charge, to a LinuxONE Community Cloud located in Johannesburg, which acts as a virtual R&D engine for creating, testing and piloting emerging applications via the cloud.

Wits researchers find techniques to improve carbon superlattices for quantum electronic devices

- Wits University

In a paradigm shift from conventional electronic devices, exploiting the quantum properties of superlattices holds the promise of developing new technologies.

Ross McIntoshResearchers at the Nanoscale Transport Physics Laboratory from the School of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand have found a technique to improve carbon superlattices for quantum electronic device applications. Superlattices are made up of alternating layers of very thin semiconductors, just a few nanometers thick. These layers are so thin that the physics of these devices is governed by quantum mechanics, where electrons behave like waves. In a paradigm shift from conventional electronic devices, exploiting the quantum properties of superlattices holds the promise of developing new technologies.

The group, headed by Professor Somnath Bhattacharyya has been working for the past 10 years on developing carbon-based nano-electronic devices.

“Carbon is the future in the electronics field and it soon will be challenging many other semiconductors, including silicon,” says Bhattacharyya.

The physics of carbon superlattices is more complex than that of crystalline superlattices (such as gallium arsenide) since the material is amorphous and carbon atoms tend to form chains and networks. The Wits group, in association with researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK, has developed a detailed theoretical approach to understand the experimental data obtained from carbon devices. The paper has been published in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group) on 19 October.

“This work provides an understanding of the fundamental quantum properties of carbon superlattices, which we can now use to design quantum devices for specific applications,” says lead author, Wits PhD student, Ross McIntosh. “Our work provides strong impetus for future studies of the high-frequency electronic and optoelectronic properties of carbon superlattices”.

A schematic atomic diagram of a quantum well made from amorphous carbon layers. The blue atoms represent amorphous carbon with a high percentage of diamond-like carbon. The maroon atoms represent amorphous carbon which is graphite-like. The diamond-like regions have a high potential (diamond is insulating) while the graphite-like regions are more metallic. This creates a quantum well as electrons Through their work, the group reported one of the first theoretical models that can explain the fundamental electronic transport properties in disordered carbon superlattices.

Bhattacharyya started looking at the use of carbon for semiconductor applications almost 10 years ago, before he joined Wits University, when he and co-authors from the University of Surrey developed and demonstrated negative differential resistance and excellent high-frequency properties of a quantum device made up of amorphous carbon layers. This work was published in Nature Materials in 2006.

McIntosh undertook the opportunity at honours level to measure the electrical properties of carbon superlattice devices. Now, as a PhD student and having worked extensively with theoretician Dr. Mikhail V. Katkov, he has extended the theoretical framework and developed a technique to calculate the transport properties of these devices.

Bhattacharyya believes this work will have immense importance in developing Carbon-based high-frequency devices.

“It will open not only fundamental studies in Carbon materials, but it will also have industrial applications in the electronic and optoelectronic device sector,” he says.

Superlattices are currently used as state of the art high-frequency oscillators and amplifiers and are beginning to find use in optoelectronics as detectors and emitters in the terahertz regime. While the high frequency electrical and optoelectronic properties of conventional semiconductors are limited by the dopants used to modify their electronic properties, the properties of superlattices can be tuned over a much wider range to create devices which operate in regimes where conventional devices cannot.

A schematic atomic diagram of a quantum well made from amorphous carbon layers. The blue atoms represent amorphous carbon with a high percentage of diamond-like carbon. The maroon atoms represent amorphous carbon which is graphite-like. The diamond-like regions have a high potential (diamond is insulating) while the graphite-like regions are more metallic. This creates a quantum well as electrons Superlattice electronic devices can operate at higher frequencies and optoelectronic devices can operate at lower frequencies than their conventional counterparts. The lack of terahertz emitters and detectors has resulted in a gap in that region of the electromagnetic spectrum (known as the “terahertz gap”), which is a significant limitation, as many biological molecules are active in this regime. This also limits terahertz radio astronomy.

Amorphous Carbon devices are extremely strong, can operate at high voltages and can be developed in most laboratories in the world, without sophisticated nanofabrication facilities. New Carbon-based devices could find application in biology, space technology, science infrastructure such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope in South Africa, and new microwave detectors.

“What was lacking earlier was an understanding of device modelling. If we have a model, we can improve the device quality, and that is what we now have,” says Bhattacharyya. 

 

About the Wits Nanoscale Transport Physics Laboratory

The Wits Nanoscale Transport Physics Laboratory (NSTPL) was established in 2009 under the leadership of Bhattacharyya when Professor João Rodrigues was the Head of the School of Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.  The department is known as a leading Physics school in the African continent, having one of the largest academic staff complements on a single campus.  Since the opening of the laboratory, the NSTPL has gone from strength to strength in establishing a facility that houses world-class fabrication and measurement equipment, an initiative strongly supported by research entities such as the NRF, CSIR, Wits Research Office and DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials. 

The NSTPL is well equipped with various sophisticated synthesis facilities, as well as a cryogenic micro-manipulated probe station to conduct sensitive quantum transport measurements at temperatures near absolute zero.  The NSTPL also houses a fully operational electron beam lithography scanning electron microscope, used to fabricate nanoscale devices based on these carbon materials. 

Some noteworthy current projects include the fabrication of spintronic devices using supramolecular Gd-functionalized carbon nanotubes, the fabrication of graphene field effect transistors and most recently the study of the unconventional superconductivity observed in boron-doped diamond.  The NSTPL group has also published a number of papers on theoretical investigations, led by Dr Mikhail Katkov and Dr Dmitry Churochkin, on the role of disorder on the quantum transport in carbon systems. These various topics form part of the broader direction the group has taken, that being, investigating the physics of carbon materials in the hopes of finding application in quantum information systems as well as detector devices valuable for space exploration. 

Light packing more data has potential to increase bandwidth by 100 times

- Wits University

African researchers demonstrate a 100x increase in the amount of information that can be 'packed into light'.

The rise of big data and advances in information technology has serious implications for our ability to deliver sufficient bandwidth to meet the growing demand. 

Researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are looking at alternative sources that will be able to take over where traditional optical communications systems are likely to fail in future. 

In their latest research, published online today (10 June 2016) in the scientific journal, Nature, the team from South Africa and Tunisia demonstrate over 100 patterns of light used in an optical communication link, potentially increasing the bandwidth of communication systems by 100 times.

The idea was conceived by Professor Andrew Forbes from Wits University, who led the collaboration. The key experiment was performed by Dr Carmelo Rosales-Guzman, a Research Fellow in the Structured Light group in the Wits School of Physics, and Dr Angela Dudley of the CSIR, an honorary academic at Wits.

Bracing for the bandwidth ceiling 

Traditional optical communication systems modulate the amplitude, phase, polarisation, colour and frequency of the light that is transmitted. Yet despite these technologies, we are predicted to reach a bandwidth ceiling in the near future. 

But light also has a “pattern” – the intensity distribution of the light, that is, how it looks on a camera or a screen. 

Since these patterns are unique, they can be used to encode information:

  • pattern 1 = channel 1 or the letter A,
  • pattern 2 = channel 2 or the letter B, and so on. 

What does this mean? 

That future bandwidth can be increased by precisely the number of patterns of light we are able to use. 

Ten patterns mean a 10x increase in existing bandwidth, as 10 new channels would emerge for data transfer. 

At the moment modern optical communication systems only use one pattern. This is due to technical hurdles in how to pack information into these patterns of light, and how to get the information back out again. 

How the research was done 

In this latest work, the team showed data transmission with over 100 patterns of light, exploiting three degrees of freedom in the process. 

They used digital holograms written to a small liquid crystal display (LCD) and showed that it is possible to have a hologram encoded with over 100 patterns in multiple colours. 

“This is the highest number of patterns created and detected on such a device to date, far exceeding the previous state-of-the-art,” says Forbes. 

One of the novel steps was to make the device ‘colour blind’, so the same holograms can be used to encode many wavelengths. 

According to Rosales-Guzman to make this work “100 holograms were combined into a single, complex hologram. Moreover, each sub-hologram was individually tailored to correct for any optical aberrations due to the colour difference, angular offset and so on”.

Packing more information into light has the potential to increase bandwidth by 100 times 

What’s next? 

The next stage is to move out of the laboratory and demonstrate the technology in a real-world system. 

“We are presently working with a commercial entity to test in just such an environment,” says Forbes. The approach of the team could be used in both free-space and optical fibre networks. 

About the project

The first experiments on the topic were carried out by Abderrahmen Trichili of Sup’Com (Tunisia) as a visiting student to South Africa as part of an African Laser Centre funded research project. The other team members included Bienvenu Ndagano (Wits), Dr Amine Ben Salem (Sup’Com) and Professor Mourad Zghal (Sup’Com), all of who contributed significantly to the work.

This project was supported by the African Laser Centre, a virtual centre funded by the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) to support research collaborations between African countries in the field of photonics. 

Paper abstract

Title: Optical communication beyond orbital angular momentum

Abderrahmen Trichili, Carmelo Rosales-Guzmán, Angela Dudley, Bienvenu Ndagano, Amine Ben Salem, Mourad Zghal and Andrew Forbes

Mode division multiplexing (MDM) is mooted as a technology to address future bandwidth issues, and has been successfully demonstrated in free space using spatial modes with orbital angular momentum (OAM). To further increase the data transmission rate, more degrees of freedom are required to form a densely packed mode space. Here we move beyond OAM and demonstrate multiplexing and demultiplexing of over 100 modes using the radial and azimuthal degrees of freedom. By creating wavelength independent holograms we are able to demonstrate this technique on a spatial light modulator. Our results offer a route to higher bit rates for next generation optical networks.

Let maths solve the problem

- Wits University

The DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Sciences is leading the charge.

South Africa is not in a strong position when it comes to mathematical expertise.

The Centre, inaugurated in 2014 under the directorship of Professor Fazal Mahomed, was established to bring together Mathematical and Statistical Sciences researchers from institutions across South Africa in order to focus on advancing disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research as well as to develop national capacity in these scarce fields.

The Centre currently involves 14 institutions from across the country.

“We can hopefully advance research in the areas that we represent in the country and acquire more PhDs, thereby obtaining a critical mass of researchers in the Mathematical and Statistical Sciences,” says Mahomed.

The average number of PhDs in Statistics departments at institutions in the country currently lies at a dangerous level.

“We need to drastically develop more statisticians as well as more mathematical scientists in general,” adds Mahomed.

Since its inception, the Centre has launched various programmes and workshops to attract more academics and postgraduate students to the mathematical sciences, while also being concerned with increasing the skills of mathematics educators.

“Mathematics education is fundamental. If our kids in school do not have a good basis in mathematics, we are in serious trouble. We need to interrogate how mathematics is taught or else our children will always have to play catch-up,” he explains.

The Centre specialises in pure and applied mathematics as well as statistics and computer science.

The Centre also looks for opportunities to network with experts across the globe to work on real world challenges that the country and local industry face - such as rhino poaching, climate change and dealing with the expected big data of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)- with the added aim of inspiring younger mathematical scientists to become actively involved in these projects.

“It is very exciting to work as a mathematical scientist at the moment, especially in South Africa,” says Mahomed.

“However, we need many more mathematical scientists to become involved in climate change issues and to focus on working on the mathematical models that arise nationally to help solve our problems.”

Inspired in his mathematical thinking by his grandfather and father at a pre-school age, Mahomed himself has built a distinguished career as a mathematician, publishing widely and serving as a supervisor to a number of postgraduate students.

“Mathematics is the backbone of science and therefore development and the future of the country relies heavily on increasing the mathematical ability of our people,” he says.

“Mathematics is becoming increasingly important in the world, especially for a developing country such as South Africa and the Centre will play a very important role in developing our country in the next few years.”

Optimisation production through process engineering

- Wits University

Researchers say there are still large gaps in our understanding of the associated utility systems in batch chemical processes.

Professor Thokozani Majozi holds the DST-NRF Chair in Sustainable Process Engineering at Wits.

“Our main research area is sustainable process engineering, within which we are addressing two broad areas - batch chemical processes and continuous processes,” explains Majozi, who’s PhD from the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology focused on the optimisation of multipurpose batch chemical processes.

More than 50% of South African chemical processes fall within the batch processing type. Ironically, none of the engineering undergraduate programmes in the country focus on this category of chemical processes.

In addition to handling time effectively, which is fundamental in the design and synthesis of batch plants, Majozi realised that there are still large gaps in our understanding of the associated utility systems in batch chemical processes.

These include water and energy.

“In general, batch processes use and generate smaller amounts of water and wastewater, respectively,” he explains.

“However, the nature of industries in which they are generally encountered, like pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, suggest that they have higher toxic levels in comparison to their continuous counterparts. Consequently, there is a need to develop dedicated techniques to optimise water use.”

On continuous processes, Majozi’s group has been focusing on debottlenecking utility systems, with emphasis on steam system networks and cooling water systems.

“Our approach is to look at the cooling tower and heat exchanger network as one unit because they work together and cannot be improved in isolation.”

“If you look at them together, all the evidence suggests you will ultimately get a better system,” he says. “We are also looking at power stations because one of the key units of operation is the cooling tower. 

After you have produced superheated steam to run your turbines, the steam is condensed back into water that is then recycled back into the boiler and supplemented by the makeup stream.”

The condensation step is extremely important for the efficiency of the system and the design of the cooling tower is fundamental. Majozi and his team are also exploring the overall efficiency of power generation facilities, including renewable energy options.

His team also focuses on Clean Coal Technology and how to optimise complex power generation systems to achieve maximum efficiencies. On the batch processes side, Majozi is addressing industry production efficiencies.

“The challenge is to help industry use their available capital optimally to meet their production targets for a range of products with different equipment requirements. This requires careful scheduling to meet the prescribed targets within prescribed time horizons,” he concludes.

Using gene therapy to combat HBV infection

- Wits University

Hepatitis B Virus causes between 600 000 and one million deaths per year, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Dr Buhle Moyo, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Molecular Haematology at Wits, is working towards the development of safe and effective gene therapeutics against the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV).

Moyo joined the Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit (AGTRU) in 2013 and her research focuses on using a re-engineered virus to deliver a therapeutic gene to the liver, the site of HBV infection.

HBV causes liver cancer and cirrhosis and causes between 600 000 and one million deaths per year, predominantly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Gene therapy technologies offer potential solutions for the effective management of intractable diseases and intensive research activities are underway to apply these technologies to HBV infection.

The AGTRU has developed a number of highly efficacious gene therapeutics capable of interfering with the life cycle of HBV. However, the biggest hurdle facing implementation of gene therapeutics in a clinical setting is the lack of an effective means of delivering the therapy to the target organ.”

The problem was that we needed to find a system to deliver the gene therapy safely and efficiently,” says Moyo.

“We’ve been working with using Adeno-Associated Viruses (AAVs) as a vector and we were able to re-engineer it successfully.”

AAVs are small viruses that infect humans. They are not known to cause disease and they are able to efficiently deliver their cargo and are easy to re-engineer. As a consequence, AAVs are commonly used in the field of gene therapy.

The AGTRU recently described the successful adaptation of a novel technology, Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs), to disable HBV.

The work was published in Molecular Therapy, the official journal of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, in 2013. These TALENs were engineered to bind and cut HBV DNA. Subsequent introduction of mutations at the cut site effectively disables the virus.

Moyo and the AGTRU team found AAVs are efficient vectors to carry the TALE-based therapies to the livers of mice.

The team is currently engaged in pre-clinical studies in mice to assess the efficacy of the delivery system and the gene therapeutics.

“We were able to show very effective delivery of the TALENs and have very promising results.  We are hoping to publish the results in a high-impact journal before the end of the year,” says Moyo.

Fibre has its limits too

- Wits University

Wits researchers in optical communications explore ways to drastically increase the optical fibre bandwidth.

Over the past five years, there has been a fivefold increase in internet traffic and this trend is expected to continue steadily, globally. Thus far, the demand for high bandwidth has been met by implementing optical fibre communication.

But soon the limit in the amount of data that can be communicated through fibres with current technologies will be reached. Research in the Structured Light group (School of Physics) at Wits, headed by Distinguished Professor Andrew Forbes, aims to explore ways to drastically increase the optical fibre bandwidth by utilising patterns of light.

Patterns have the ability to carry an infinite amount of information and presently represent a resource not used in optical communication

Bienvenu Ndagano is a Masters student trying to find novel ways to encode and transmit information through free space and optical fibres using patterns of light.

“I am looking at a property of light called orbital angular momentum, which causes light to twist.  The number of twists present in a beam of light can be counted and used to encode information in the same way a computer would count zeros and ones and translate them into bits of information,” explains Ndagano.

Together with his colleagues, he generates light with a twist by shaping a laser beam to give it a finite number of twists.

“We can either give it a single number of twists or multiple numbers of twists simultaneously. We send the shaped laser beam through an optical fibre and we analyse the output by counting the number of measured twists and comparing it to the number of twists generated at the input.”

Thus far Ndagano can measure the number of twists at the output with high fidelity when compared to the input.

“We applied our technique to send pictures through an optical fibre. By associating the colour of each pixel on a picture to a twist number, we were able to transform a picture into sequences of twisted light beams that were sent through the fibre and transformed back to pixels to recreate the picture.

Recently the group have demonstrated a free space, fibre, free space link using this twisted light.  The work, done in the Wits laboratory in collaboration with researchers from the University of Jena (Germany), was selected as a highlighted paper by the Journal of Optics (UK).  The work also won numerous student awards for Ndagano, most recently at the international conference of SPIE, Photonics West, in San Francisco (USA).

Gleeble to the rescue

- Wits University

Now Dr Lesley Chown can test new metals cost-effectively in her lab.

A Senior Lecturer in the Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Chown received the R13.5-million-Gleeble thanks to funding from the National Research Foundation and the University.

A Gleeble is a computerised simulator in which various performance parameters – such as strength, breaking point and heat qualities – of a specific material are measured.

Chown has a special interest in the structure and property relationships in metallic alloys and the continuous casting processes of metals.

The production testing and development of new metals and alloys are usually highly complex and expensive processes but a system like the Gleeble allows these processes to be tested in a cost-effective way in the laboratory.

A sample of material is heated and mechanically worked while various performance parameters of interest are measured and recorded for later analysis. After the simulation is done, the microstructure of the material may also be examined.

“You can realistically simulate large- scale industrial changes and you can use combinations of different heating and cooling cycles to simulate processes like the hot-rolling of steel,” explains Chown.

She works with Professor Lesley Cornish, Director of the DST-NRF Centre in Strong Materials at Wits, and Professor Tony Paterson, the Chair of Welding funded by the South African Institute of Welding.

Chown and her team will be using the Gleeble in collaboration with other academic institutions like the CSIR, industry partners and will develop human capital by training new students.

“We will also be supporting industry in process optimisation in thermo-mechanical processes and we will be roping in more postgraduate students. This will be a win-win situation for us and for the industry,” she adds.

Chown also has her heart set on blue sky research, where she will be experimenting with various titanium alloys to produce cheaper titanium alloys for land-based use.

She started her career at Iscor before moving to Mintek and then Wits. She has more than 15 years of experience working on an older version of the Gleeble.

Cooling high-speed computers

- Wits University

The School of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering is about to make headlines for the development of new technology to cool high-speed computers.

Under the leadership of Professor Ionel Botef, who recently set up Africa’s first Supersonic Spray Technology laboratory at Wits, the team has devised a micro heat sink for computers that could operate above 3GHz by using a process called cold spray technology.

The result is a porous copper micro heat sink that is 50 times smaller than those currently used and which could cool computers much more effectively. The research paper on the development of this technology by PhD student Agripa Hamweendo and Botef has led them to apply for a patent licence on the manufacturing process.

“We are currently busy with a paper for an ISI accredited journal but we are going to apply for a patent for the micro heat sink as a product itself too, before we submit the paper,” says Hamweendo.

“Postgraduate students have three other patents in the pipeline.”

The manufacturing process of the heat sink involves the cold spray technology, in which various powder materials are applied by bombarding the substrates at a high velocity of between 300 and 1 200 meters per second. The micro heat sink was created by spraying multiple layers of copper onto each other thereby creating multiple micro channels that serve as small ventilation shafts.

“The process can fabricate micro heat sinks with improved flow characteristics within micro channels, improved channel aspect ratios and multiple flow arrangements at the inlet and outlets,” explains Botef.

The cold spray process is highly versatile and can be used from the manufacturing of micro systems for electronics to the repair of large equipment such as the turbines in power stations.

Botef, who initially qualified as a mechanical engineer, is passionate about multidisciplinary studies and holds his PhD in Electrical and Information Engineering.

“That was the best decision that I have ever made as it gave me an opening into another world.”

When Botef first started out with the cold spray at Wits, he had to knock on the doors of his colleagues across campus to persuade them of the importance of the technology.

“Since then we have built an integrated Cold Spray and 3D Printing Laboratory and an academic team from various disciplines, including 37 postgraduate students from countries such as the Congo, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa,” he adds.

Botef has worked in the aerospace industry with the likes of Rolls-Royce.

He is widely published in accredited journals and is internationally sought after for his specialist expertise. “Our mission is to build capable people who can act at the right time and who make critical decisions timeously to make a real difference in the world,” he concludes.

3D technology brings a lost mammalian ancestor back to life

- Julien Benoit and Sandra Jasinoski

At the very beginning of the 1960s, a South African palaeontologist embarked on a series of ambitious works.

Dr A.S. Brink wanted to better understand the anatomy and evolution of humans’ pre-mammalian ancestors, the therapsids.

Brink worked with therapsid skulls found in South Africa’s Karoo region. He ground the skulls at thin and regular intervals to assess their internal cranial anatomy. The technique, known as serial grinding, was commonly used at the time.

As he neared the end of the process on one of the skulls Brink realised that he had uncovered a unique specimen. The skull represented a holotype, which is the single specimen used in the definition of any new species. But by then it was too late.

More than 50 years later, we were among a group of scientists who followed in Brink’s footsteps. Our task was to recreate this unique specimen. Technology has moved on enormously in the last half century, so we were able to use 3D renderings and 3D printing – and one of our mammalian ancestors was reborn.

Historical techniques

South Africa was a good place for Brink’s work. The country’s Karoo region is home to a wealth of therapsid fossils, making it an important place to study the ancestry of mammals.

Brink was not the first palaeontologist to use serial grinding. The technique emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. Before then scholars had to wait for the discovery of naturally preserved casts of internal structures, like the mold of the “fossil brain” of the Taung Child, Australopithecus africanus. Or they had to break fossils open.

With its introduction, serial grinding became the only fully controlled way to access the “interior” of fossils. Because of their abundance, South African therapsids were among the first fossils to be studied using this new, revolutionary approach. Sadly, their abundance turned out to be a curse.

Accidental destruction

In 1961, Dr Brink started the serial grinding study of a well preserved skull. At this stage, he thought the specimen belonged to a common form of therapsid.

But during the process, the sections revealed anatomical structures that suggested the specimen may actually represent a new species of fossil therapsid previously unknown to science. By then it was too late to save the fossil: it had already been mostly ground down. Brink tried to compensate by making a very thorough and accurate description and drawings of the specimen. He named it Scalopocynodon gracilis.

As in zoology, the designation of type specimens is the most critical step when naming a new species in palaeontology. This type specimen, called a holotype, is meant to serve as an anatomical reference for future comparative works. A new species can’t be recorded without a holotype. So this ground specimen was particularly important: it constituted the holotype of Scalopocynodon gracilis.

Sadly this valuable and irreplaceable piece of South Africa’s heritage and evidence of the evolution of pre-mammalian therapsids was lost. The irony is that it was destroyed by the very author of the species.

Scalopocynodon was considered dead and forgotten – until 2016.

Recreating our ancestor in 3D

Evolutionary Studies Institute, Wits University

It’s then that a team from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand retrieved some of Dr Brink’s drawings of the Scalopocynodon gracilis from 1961. These drawings represent each thin section ground by Brink. Their detail presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to virtually reconstruct the long lost specimen of Scalopocynodon gracilis.

The drawings were digitised. Then, using cutting edge software and innovative computer-based technology, every slice was digitally reassembled in a single stack. This allowed us to reconstruct a 3D model of the original skull. Afterwards a physical model of Scalopocynodon was printed in 3D so we could recreate a life-sized reconstruction of this specimen.

To our knowledge, this is the first time 3D technology has been used to recreate and print in 3D a serially ground fossil vertebrate (though it is quite often used in invertebrates palaeontology).

This is a great initiative for South African heritage conservation. These techniques can be used on other fossils lost through serial grinding.

Breathing new life

Recreating a fossil using 3D technology is painstaking work.

The 3D printed skull, serving as a holotype, could also help to breathe new life into this mysterious specimen. Taxonomists can now study it and one day might be able to say definitively that Brink was right: Scalopocynodon gracilis was indeed different from any other therapsid.The Conversation

Julien Benoit, Postdoc in Vertebrate Palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand and Sandra Jasinoski, Postdoc in Palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Internet freedom: why access is becoming a human right

- Indra de Lanerolle

How "free" is the internet in South Africa and the question of cost.

When most people think or speak about internet freedom, they are often concerned with the right, for example, to say what you want online without censorship and without being subject to the chilling effects of surveillance.

These kind of freedoms are sometimes called “negative freedoms” or “freedoms from…”. They address the right not to be interfered with or obstructed in living your life. But there are also “positive freedoms” — “freedoms to…”

Some constitutions – notably the US Constitution – only protect negative rights. But South Africa’s includes both negative and positive rights. Positive rights include, for example, the socio-economic rights to food and shelter.

In its Internet Freedom Index Freedom House ranks South Africa as “free” alongside the UK, Argentina and Kenya. The ranking is largely because Freedom House weighs negative freedoms above positive ones. But how “free” is the internet in South Africa? For most, it is positive internet freedoms that may be more urgent.

Freedom is access

The South African Constitution in the Bill of Rights does not explicitly protect internet freedom but section 16(1) states that everyone has the right to “freedom to receive or impart information or ideas”. This is a right for everyone and it is not just a freedom from interference – a “freedom from” – but also a “freedom to”: a right to be able to reach others and be reached by others. In this it follows Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In his book Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen describes freedom as “our capability to lead the kind of lives we have reason to value”. In many ways, the internet is extending such capabilities.

More people now go online daily than read a newspaper. They are able to read a much greater variety of voices than are seen in print or on television. And public services are offering improved responsiveness on social media.

But we are also seeing a new development – instances where internet access is now a requirement. Examples include:

  • registering a company,

  • The Gauteng Education Department now requires parents with children entering primary or high school to apply online. Previously they could apply at the local school, and

  • The South African Broadcasting Corporation has announced that it will no longer advertise its jobs in newspapers, directing job seekers to its own website.

Indications from government are that we are likely to see more such initiatives. The result will be that South Africans' ability to lead the kind of lives they value will become increasingly dependent on the physical, procedural, economic and social networks that we call “the internet”.

The question of cost

According to the All Media Products Survey (AMPS) of June 2015 fewer than half of South African adults had used the internet in the previous four weeks. More than half did not.

When we asked a representative sample of non-users in South Africa in 2012 why they hadn’t gone online, the main reason was that they had no device to connect with (87%). The second reason was that they didn’t know how to use it (76%) and the third was that it was too expensive (60%).

According to the survey, nine out of ten South Africans now use a mobile phone but only half of those now have access to smartphones. The most popular phone brand in South Africa is still Nokia. Most of the models in use have limited or no ability to connect to the net. And because only the better off have access to fixed lines at home or at work, the majority of South Africans, when they do get online, are dependent on mobile networks.

Mobile data is costly.

The International Telecommunications Union and the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation have set a goal for affordable broadband internet access. It is that entry level broadband should not cost more than 5% of average monthly income. Because of a flawed methodology they state in a 2015 annual report that South Africa falls well within that target. But digging into the figures shows how unaffordable the internet is for most South Africans.

Statistics SA sets an upper bound poverty line of R779 per month per person (in 2011 prices). Most – about 53% – of the South African population live on income below this, according to the last census. So this poverty line is more or less the average income in the country. The poverty line adjusted for inflation to 2016 would be R1 031.

Taking the international 5% of income goal gives a maximum budget of about R52 per month. On three major networks (which account for more than 95% of all mobile customers) 500MB – the amount of data they set as a minimum – of data costs between R85 and R105. So for the average South African 500MB per month is unaffordable. In fact mobile data prices would have to fall by about half to be affordable.

And is 500MB per month enough? It is enough for a lot of instant messaging, or say about half an hour a day of browsing the web or using Facebook. But it is not enough to participate in otherwise free online courses such as Kahn Academy that often rely heavily on video.

This is affecting usage. The most popular online activity is instant messaging using applications like whatsapp. But only one in five people download music online.

Could mobile data be much cheaper in South Africa? Evidence suggests that the answer is yes. Research ICT Africa’s price index shows that South Africa’s data prices are over 20% more expensive than Nigeria, Uganda and Mozambique and three times as expensive as Kenya.

It is also worth noting that the poor in South Africa pay much more for data than the better-off. If you have a fixed line in your home you can buy pre-paid data bundles for R7 per GB or even less, a small fraction of what mobile network users pay.

Free internet?

We could go further and ask if the internet could and should not only be cheaper but free? In some places and for some people it already is. That includes university students thanks to a network for tertiary institutions funded by the government. It also includes many residents in the metropole of Tshwane – including townships – where there are over 600 wifi hotspots offering 500MB of data per day at fast speeds for free.

Just as South African municipalities give poor households a minimum amount of 600 litres of water and 50kwh of electricity for free, they could extend this model to the internet.

As lawyers sometimes say, the right to freedom of expression is an ‘enabling right’ —- a right that enables people to access or defend other rights. In the same way the internet itself is now an enabling technology that is increasingly required to participate in social, political and economic life.

For many or most South Africans whether or not the Films and Publications Board interferes with their right to view video material online does not affect ‘their capability to lead the lives they value’ because they cannot afford to access video or audio content online. At present, defending ‘negative’ internet rights is protecting the rights of the few. We need to move to demanding the ‘positive right’ of affordable access if we want internet freedom for all.The Conversation

Indra de Lanerolle, Visiting Researcher, Network Society Lab, Journalism and Media Programme, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

WitsX launches new online course: Digital Transformation and the IT team

- Wits University

Wits University’s has released a new online course aimed specifically at IT and business professionals.

MOOC on Digital Transformation and the IT team

Digital technologies are no longer the exclusive domain of the IT department, and IT can no longer be viewed simply as a support function within organisations.

Wits University’s free, online learning platform, WitsX (on the edX platform), has released a new course aimed specifically at professionals in the information technology field.

The Digital Transformation and the IT team course will help IT professionals understand what digital transformation truly means, how it impacts organisations, how it changes the role of the IT team, and reorient their thinking to a digital business approach.

This course explores the movement from an IT paradigm to a digital business technology (BT) paradigm. It also provides a deep view of the environment of simultaneous chaos and order in organisations that are rapidly digitising. Finally, learners will learn about the impact that digital transformation has on the role of IT and CIO teams. This information is critically needed by both IT and business professionals who are reorienting themselves towards a digital business approach.

ABOUT WITSX ON EDX

In 2014 Wits University became the first African University to partner with edX, the online learning destination founded by MIT and Harvard to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) to a global learning audience.

The first three MOOCs on the WitsX platform was launched in 2016 and to date close to 48 000 students have enrolled for eight courses on the platform. Three more will be added to WitsX and will start running in the first half of 2019.

Africa is changing, radically, and digitisation is playing a pivotal role

- Wits Communications

The outcomes from the 2018 Fak’ugesi Festival and collaboration with the Wits Art Museum will be shown on Digital Imaginaries: Africas in Production in Germany.

The exibition will take place a the ZKM (Centre for Media Arts) in Karlsruhe, Germany opening from 16 November 2018 to 31 March 2019.

Most exciting is the announcement that both 2018 Fak’ugesi Digital Africa Resident Joshua Chiundiza and 2017 Fak’ugesi Digital Africa Resident Kombo Chapfika – both from Zimbabwe – have been chosen to present work as artists.

Digital Imaginaries: Africas in Production - an exhibition outcome of the 2018 Fak'ugesi Festival

Says Dr Tegan Bristow, Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival director, "We are very grateful to Pro Helvetia and the ANT Fund who annually support the residency in the development of young digital artists from the SADC Region.  There is clearly alot of incredible talent in the region that we hope to continue growing."

Outside of the residency artists, contributions from the 2018 Fak’ugesi Festival program include:

  • Outcomes from the Digital Spirit: Johannesburg augmented reality workshop led by Kim Arnaud Mukendi with participants Laura Seal, Antonio Marin-Pacheco, Arty Musoke, Chesway Theway, Mohau Moloke and Gerald Khumalo.
  • African Fractals at the Wits Art Museum contributors from Wits School of Arts, Digital Arts, Laura Seal and Nhlanhla Lucky Nkosi.
  • Presentation of  Towards a Vocabulary for Vernacular Algorithms from the Wits Art Museum exhibition Digital Imaginaries: Premonition with Alex Coelho, João Roxo, Russel Hlongwane and Dr.Tegan Bristow.
  • The ‘Phinda Pattern Code’ workshop that will be presented at the ZKM by Dr. Tegan Bristow.

About Fak'ugesi

Fak'ugesi - Joburg's one and only African Digital Innovation Festival will take place in September 2018, with the theme ‘Tap your Africa Source Code'. The 2018 festival will focus on bringing to the table important African visions and futures, by tapping into the sources of African tradition and culture alongside technology, creativity and innovation.  Explore how local culture can move and change the future of technology. What would you call a vernacular algorithm? What is algorithm in IsiZulu? In 2018 Fak'ugesi Festival calls on you to explore the algorithms, patterns and fractals of Africa! In digital art, music, games, VR, digital makers or the way you braid your hair.

Fak'ugesi, which means “Switch it on” or “add power” in urban Zulu, is focused on making young adults aware of digital innovation. It is an opportunity for young adults, with or without formal education, to learn or engage with tomorrow's technology.

According to an Impact Report commissioned by the British Council ConnectZA- Fak'ugesi is believed to be the most important digital creativity festival in Africa.

http://fakugesi.co.za/

Making SA’s techentrepreneurs future ready

- Wits University

Why we should stop chasing the Silicon Valley dream and rethink what Africa needs, especially in the incubator space.

The technology startup ecosystem in South Africa is changing rapidly.

More young entrepreneurs, corporates and the incubators such as Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, which helps propel entrepreneurs and grows the skills pipeline for the digital economy, have realised that accelerators and enterprise development programmes need to be more focused.

“Companies and corporates have to spend their enterprise development funding but they genuinely do not know what the intersection of software, hardware or content look like. At Tshimologong we have realised that too many incubators are trying to be too many things to too many people,” says Shaun David Randles, Enterprise Development Manager, Wits Tshimologong Precinct

“That is why we design programmes such as the IBM Startup Bootcamp, that can quickly calibrate these young entrepreneurs into the tune of the demand of the market,” Randles adds.

Shaun David Randles, Digital Enterprise Development Manager at Wits University's Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

Seven local and aspiring technology startups have been participating in the IBM Startup Bootcamp, a four-week programme designed to enable the development of Growth Stage Tech and Digital Startups.

The bootcamp also culminated in an investment proposal and pitch whereby the winning participants competed to win up to R800k in required products and services. The overall winning team was FIXXR – an online platform that connects car owners to mechanics through GPS to have their car serviced at client's preferred address.

Why a bootcamp?

Randles has been very meticulous about the bootcamp’s design. He analysed some of the most successful incubators internationally, and then curated content and sessions to resonate with local startups and their needs.

“With this bootcamp, our aim is to help technology entrepreneurs accelerate their businesses quickly. The programme starts off by introducing the startups to their business model, and from the first day we pair each startup with a business coach and a technology coach. These two coaches then independently unpack, diagnose, evaluate, pick holes and hack the startups assumptions, their biggest constraints and risks,” Randles explains.

Adding public masterclasses facilitated by IBM staff, the startups are also being exposed to the latest technologies available by learning from experts in Blockchain, Cybersecurity, Internet of Things, Automotive Cognitive Processes and many more.

Creating the right technology ecosystem for South African startups and techtrepreneurs is also vital if the country wants to compete with other African tech giants such as Kenya.

Speaking during a panel discussion presented at the bootcamp recently on the challenges facing South African digital and technology entrepreneurs, Nokwazi Mzobe – author, consultant, adjunct lecturer, facilitator and founder of Motoyana, a boutique consulting and media agency – said budding entrepreneurs do not understand and are not being exposed to the different technologies available out there.

“When we talk about the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality; the knowledge of what technologies are available is out there but people are not sure where they can access this knowledge,” she adds.

Dr Jabulile Msimango-Galawe, Shaun Randles, Nokwazi Mzobe and Tsabi Molapo at the panel discussion during the IBM Startup Bootcamp at Wits' Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.

Dr Jabulile Msimango-Galawe, lecturer in the Wits Business School who teaches Entrepreneurship and Decision Science cautions though, that too many young entrepreneurs think only about the app they want to design and not if this is of any value add to their proposed market.

“Young entrepreneurs need to be taught not to think about the product or app first but what problem they want to solve in their community. They need to be guided to first find the problem and then come up with a solution that would best serve the community - a product or service (whether an app or other technology) that can be provided to the community, that you can put a value to and that people will be willing to pay for,” said Msimango-Galawe.

Randles agrees, “Our biggest focus in the programme is our entrepreneurs’ productivity in their progress on validating their customer. We help them pinpoint who their real customer is and help them understand what the costumers pain point is, otherwise they are just building tech that nobody wants to buy. It is about validating whether the customer really exists, because many young entrepreneurs today are building solutions that nobody actually wants to pay money for”.

About the programme

The Startup Bootcamp is an initiative of the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP), one of 3 streams of IBM SA Equity Equivalence Investment Programme (EEIP). The EDP is focused on the enablement of entrepreneurs and businesses with a highly specialised ICT focus in globally relevant areas of technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Internet of Things and Cybersecurity, amongst other things.

Siemens launches Digital Mining Incubator

- Wits University

Digital technologies to boost skills and transform South Africa’s mining processes.

Students explore the Digital Mining Incubator launched by Siemens at Wits

The Digital Mining Incubator (DMI), a partnership between global technology powerhouse Siemens and Wits University was launched on Monday, 19 November 2018.  The DMI will serve as a hub that enables development of SA’s next generation of digital mining experts contributing to the University’s mission to develop relevant skills for our changing economy and mining industry.

Sabine Dall’Omo, Siemens CEO for Southern and Eastern Africa says, “Our partnership with Wits and Tshimologong is about advancing the digital opportunities that mining offers our youth. Failing to position the mining sector in South Africa within discussions about the fourth industrial revolution means remaining stagnant on the path towards industrialization. It’s like being back in the 80’s watching black and white television and constantly trying to reposition the bunny aerial to get rid of those blurry lines, all while living in the year 2018. This is not where you want to be.  

The DMI is located at the Tshimologong Precinct, an innovation hub on the University’s Braamfontein campus.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of Wits University’s JCSE (Joburg Centre for Software Engineering) and Founder of the Tshimologong Precinct, says, “Having Siemens open a digital incubator dedicated to promoting innovation in mining is a very significant landmark in bringing the benefits of 21st Century digitalisation to one of the most critical sectors in the South African economy. The DMI will provide a dedicated platform for developing innovative solutions to some of our Mining Industry’s greatest challenges including health and safety, environmental protection and improved productivity.”

“At Siemens we believe that there needs to be genuine investment towards the localization of technology and the development of digital talent to enable a strong, future-oriented workforce. The integration of digitally adept youth into the world of work will not only inspire new ideas, it will also transform and advance industries” concludes Sabine.

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Siemens boosts search for sustainable energy

#4IRSA – Creating the future we want

- Wits University

First round table set the stage for South Africa to formulate a collective response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

How can South Africans create the future that we want to create within our means?

This is the question at the heart of #4IRSA, a partnership between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand (Wits University), Johannesburg (UJ) and Fort Hare.

Launched in September, #4IRSA is a vehicle to “stimulate and shape an inclusive and diverse fact-base dialogue on the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) on South Africa and our response therein,” said Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research at Wits University.

He was opening the #4IRSA partnership’s first round table discussion on Friday, 16 November 2018, at BCX Technology Park in Centurion, Pretoria. This round table was a frank and open discussion between the #4IRSA partners and government departments, research entities, corporates, and other stakeholders.

“There are many unconnected, divergent conversations about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the impact thereof happening at different levels in South Africa but it has to reach a point of convergence,” Vilakazi added.

These conversations are already happening in industry, business, government and society, and #4IRSA want to bring the academic rigour to those discussions.

“Today we cannot prevent the advances of technology but 4IR is no longer just about ICT or technology,” added Siyabonga Mhlangu, Managing Executive for Regulatory Affairs and Government Relations at Telkom. “We have to bring in universities that have the research tools and networks, and the credibility and stability to form some permanence in our collective response. We need to understand where we are today; and share the data that sits in different sectors and the different action plans. This will inform our priorities: Is our urgency health care? Or mining and manufacturing? How do we make sure that in future we become better than we are today?”

How do we develop a coherent response from all the critical conversations taking place in SA?

“Many conversations are somewhat emotional and not fact-based (such as the threat of machines to jobs),” says Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair in Digital Business in the Wits Business School and Secretary of the #4IRSA partnership.

“#4IRSA’s approach is to be human-centered: What is the impact on society; on the economy; on policy; on the way people live, feel, think and perceive themselves? Our partnership started off by establishing a Secretariat and starting some research,” said Armstrong.

Professors Zeblon Vilakazi and Brian Armstrong at the first #4IRSA round table.

This research has culminated into five themes that #4IRSA will focus on in future discussions, collaborations and research:

  • Employment and Jobs
  • Inequality and Concentration
  • Society, State and Citizen
  • Opportunities
  • Critical Success Factors

The five themes that #4IRSA will focus on

“Now we are in the broadening participation phase: getting government involved. Going forward we are planning of a series of rolling workshops and individual engagements  across our industry sectors – as well as with labour, academia, civil society, and global organisations – to get as broad a participation as we can over the next few months,” he added.

Drawing from the 4IR research expertise in the partner universities – Wits, UJ and Fort Hare – the partnership will also be reaching out to other partners in the Higher Education and research space.

“We will be producing a number of collaborative research and position papers encouraging everybody to contribute to the narratives and positions on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The research will be curated and archived on a digital platform,” Armstrong elaborated.

After these discussions #4IRSA will focus on its core ideal: a two-summit approach that will set the country onto its future course.

Moving forward, a “Summit of Principles” is envisioned to formulate the national agenda and understand what are the big issues that should be embed in the national discourse and kick off the elaboration phase where the collaborators will start to develop the researched-based responses.

And ultimately, the “Summit of Declaration” will be the convergence of all the various responses into a common understanding between different sectors and the government to show what are the important issues South Africa should focus on; how the country can take advantage of what is needed to be done; and how South Africans can harness all our energies into achieving these goals.

“This wave of change is coming and we cannot control it. But what is important is how we respond to it,” said Armstrong.

10 years of SA-CERN

- National Research Foundation

Collaboration on Fundamental Physics celebrates a decade, of among others, Wits’ involvement in accelerated technology development.

The 10-year celebration of the partnership between the South African physics community and CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, is being celebrated at the iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator-Based Sciences (iThemba LABS) in Cape Town, from 19 to 21 November 2018.

The event attracted a full house on its first day, with the French and Swiss Ambassadors to South Africa, the Vice-Chancellors of the Universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand, and a number of internationally renowned physicists attending.

Wits' team of researchers and academics at SA-CERN, with Professors Zeblon Vilakazi, Adam Habib and Bruce Mellado

IThemba LABS, a research facility funded by the Department of Science and Technology through the National Research Foundation, employs senior scientists dedicated to the SA-CERN programme and offers world-class infrastructure and administrative support.

The research programme in fundamental physics at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has brought many opportunities for South Africa's science community.

Founder of the SA-CERN Programme, Prof. Zeblon Vilakazi, said the partnership received support at the highest levels, with a recent visit from the Minister of Science and Technology, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

Professor Vilakazi said that, since the launch of the programme, South Africa had established a solid presence at CERN. Over the past decade, SA researchers have contributed to major breakthroughs at the global facility, including the historical discovery of the Higgs boson particle in 2012.

Dr Zinhle Buthelezi, a Senior Researcher at iThemba LABS, who benefited from the collaboration at postgraduate level, said that the experience had been life-changing, and praised the Department of Science and Technology for funding the SA-CERN initiative. She also welcomed the Department's expansion of the initiative to include software and hardware engineering, which holds huge benefits for local students.

The Department's Deputy Director-General: Research Development and Support, Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, said that the initiative has contributed significantly to the growth of the physics community in South Africa.  South African papers in the sub-fields of nuclear, particle and field physics increased to between 2,5 and 3 times the global average, while the overall standing of work in applied, fluid, plasma, atomic and mathematical physics remained unchanged. Racial demographics have also improved, although gender representivity remains skewed in favour of men, with only 12% of publications attributed to women.

Dr Auf der Heyde said that the partnership between CERN and South Africa, as well as between South Africa and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia, had contributed to strengthening nuclear-related physics in South Africa.

The partnership with CERN has also accelerated technology development, enhancing both technological and social innovation, and providing advanced scientific training for new generations of scientists and science managers.  Partnerships around global infrastructures such as CERN allow South African research to benchmark itself against its global partners and rivals, thereby establishing an objective perspective on its standing in the global world of science.

The human capital development aspect of the collaboration has also been significant.  Currently, about 29 senior researchers, 13 postdoctoral fellows and 50 master's and doctoral students from South Africa participate in two LHC experiments, namely, on ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) and ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus).  Several participate in the research activities at the radioactive ion beam facility ISOLDE (Isotope Separator On-Line Device). South Africa also has seven senior researchers, two postdoctoral fellows, and 12 MSc and PhD students that collaborate with the LHC Theory Group.

Over the past three years, the total number of postgraduate students has increased from about 30 to over 50, and is expected to grow to more than 80 in the next few years. The master's and doctoral degrees are of the highest international standing and all students who have graduated so far have been able to find employment in South African universities and research councils, as well as various private sector institutions (including some in the financial services sector). Owing to the CERN collaboration, there have been instances where South Africa has retained skilled scientists that might otherwise have been lost to the African Science Diaspora.

Black student representation is expected to increase from 35% in 2014 to 65% in 2019, and women representation is expected to increase from 30% in 2013 to 50% in 2019. These targets are further supported by an aggressive science awareness campaign that will showcase the SA-CERN programme at previously disadvantaged universities.

Dr Auf der Heyde said that there were ongoing discussions with the National Research Foundation about bursaries dedicated to the SA-CERN programme.

The number of visits for students (including postdoctoral fellows) is expected to treble from 2013 to 2019.  Being part of a large collaboration exposes students and researchers to an international group sharing a very high standard of science, and the most advanced techniques and latest advances in software.

The growth experienced in academic, technical, and scientific staff and postdoctoral fellows who have been through the SA-CERN programme over the past few years of this partnership bodes well for growing South Africa's national competence to manage and promote a wide range of computationally and theoretically intense domains and projects, such as the Square Kilometre Array project, the Centre for High Performance Computing (and the SA-GRID initiative), the Radioactive Ion Beam project at iThemba, and the High Throughput Electronics Facility project at the University of the Witwatersrand.  

These projects and others have benefited from an infusion of skills from students trained at CERN and researchers participating in CERN experiments, it is expected that this valuable cross-over of skills will continue.

Shedding a new light on optical trapping and tweezing

- Wits University

Wits physicists demonstrate a new device for manipulating and moving tiny objects with light.

When you shine a beam of light on your hand, you don’t feel much, except for a little bit of heat generated by the beam. When you shine that same light into a world that is measured on the nano- or micro scale, the light becomes a powerful manipulating tool that you can use to move objects around – trapped securely in the light.

PhD student Nkosi Bhebhe works on an experiment in the Structured Light Laboratory at Wits University: Credit: Wits University.

Researchersfrom the Structured Light group from the School of Physicsat the University of the Witwatersrandin Johannesburg, South Africa, have found a way to use the full beam of a laser light, to control and manipulate minute objects such as single cells in a human body, tiny particles in small volume chemistry, or working on future on-chip devices.

While the specific technique, called holographic optical trapping and tweezing, is not new, the Wits Researchers found a way to optimally use the full force of the light – including vector light that was previously unavailable for this application. This forms the first vector holographic trap.

“Previously holographic traps were limited to particular classes of light (scalar light), so it is very exciting that we can reveal a holistic device that covers all classes of light, including replicating all previous trapping devices,” Professor Andrew Forbes, team leader of the collaboration and Distinguished Professor in the School of Physics where he heads up the Wits Structured Light Laboratory.

“What we have done is that we have demonstrated the first vector holographic optical trapping and tweezing system. The device allows micrometer sized particles, such as biological cells, to be captured and manipulated only with light.”

The final device could trap multiple particles at once and move them around just with vector states of light. The experiments for this study were performed by Nkosi Bhebhe as part of his doctoral studies. The work is published in Nature’s on-line journal, Scientific Reports.

In conventional optical trapping and tweezing systems, light is focused very tightly into a small volume that contains small particles, such as biological cells. At this small scale (typically micro- or nanometres) the forces that the light can exert are significant, so particles can be trapped by the light and then controlled. As the light is moved, the particles will move with it. This idea won American scientist Arthur Ashkin the 2018 Nobel prize in Physics. Originally the light was controlled mechanically with stages and mirrors, but the idea was later improved on by moving the light around holographically, that is, by using computer generated holograms to control the light without moving parts, thereby controlling the particles. Until now only special classes of laser beams, called scalar beams, could be used in such holographic traps.

In their paper titled: A vector holographic optical trapthe Wits researchers showed how to create and control any pattern of light holographically, and then used this to form a new optical trapping and tweezing device.

“In particular the device could work with both the traditional laser beams (scalar beams) as well as more complex vector beams. Vector beams are highly topical and have found many applications, but no vector holographic trap was possible until now,” says Forbes.

The Wits researchers demonstrate their new trap by holographically controlling both scalar and vector beams in the same device, advancing the state-of-the-art and introducing a new device to the community. The group expects the new device to be useful in controlled experiments in the micro- and nano-worlds, including single cell studies in biology and medicine, small volume chemical reactions, fundamental physics and for future on-chip devices.

Having previously shown that it is possible to create hundreds of custom light patterns from one hologram, the research brings together their prior work on holographic control of light with the application of optical trapping and tweezing.

We are facing our biggest leadership challenge yet

- Wits University

It is not the robots that will take our jobs but a crisis of imagination and leadership, says futurist Valter Adão.

Speaking at the second workshop held by the newly established Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA), an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, Valter Adão, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Deloitte Africa said in the Digital Age the fear of losing our jobs are both “rational and emotional”.

While the odds are stacked against South Africa to successfully navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – such as the current unemployment rate of 27.7%, low productivity and inequality – our biggest challenge is not the impact of exponential technological advances but rather a crisis in leadership.

“It is not the technology that is creating our job losses but our inability to make the shift, for a variety of reasons, into this new automated economy and be globally competitive. There is nothing preventing us from this shift but a crisis of imagination and leadership,” he said.

Valter Adão, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Deloitte Africa, addressing the #4IRSA ICT Workshop.

The future of work was a key theme during this one-day workshop, facilitated by the #4IRSA Operational Committee and Deloitte South Africa, for representatives of the ICT sector: from fixed and wireless telecommunications operators; IT systems integrators and service providers; industry associations; OEMs; global digital companies and OTTs; local entrepreneurs; the regulator, and the Department of Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services.

Adão said all sectors are in the path of change brought about by the 4IR, especially the ICT sector where some the biggest and fastest changes are happening.

However, the Digital Age is not about technology alone. While technology might be ‘the enabler’ of the 4IR, Adão said our focus has been on ‘predicting’ what these changes will be even though we can now only predict about 18 months into the future (then things change again). “To steer technological change, we have to move away from ‘predicting’ what will come to ‘navigating’ what is happening,” he said.

This is where the ICT sector plays crucial role as contributors and enablers to navigate the Digital Age.

The Future of Work

“Job losses and shifting jobs are inevitable and part of the natural progression of economies,” Adão said, “However, with the 4IR we need jobs to enable the exponential technologies created today. These new jobs that will be created are going to be jobs that leverage new technologies, such as jobs in machine learning, robotics and so on.

“But these new jobs that will be created are jobs that will benefit the privilege few; those with skills, the means and access to continued education. And this is where the opportunity lies. These new technologies (and access to it) are now moving away from the domain of the rich and large organisations and can be in the hands of very, very basic entrepreneurs; like someone sitting in a shack or in a rural area who now access exponential technologies,” he said, giving examples of the impact disruptive technologies like Uber have had on local economies.

These skills are not present in the South African economy at the moment and that is where our biggest challenge lies: to develop the skills required to compete in this digital economy.

Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, echoed this:  “We cannot stop the advances in innovation and technology but it should not be an exclusive space for the elite. We must develop these high level skills in great numbers”.

Professor Adam Habib, Wits University Vice-Chancellor, addressing the #4IRSA ICT Workshop.

Coherent, collective response

Framing the workshop group discussions, Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair in Digital Business in the Wits Business School and Secretary of the #4IRSA Partnership, introduced the three themes that all sector workshops, including the ICT workshop, will discuss:

“#4IRSA wants to help frame the challenges facing South Africa in the Digital Age and find a coherent, collective response for the country,” he said.

Professor Brian Armstrong, Secretary of the #4IRSA Partnership.

About the workshops

The first workshop held in November 2018 that focused on the Public Sector, with representatives from various government departments and research entities committing to share processes more widely and seek better coherence between the various parties’ 4IR initiatives.

The next sector workshops will focus on:

  • Heavy Industry, Mining and Infrastructure
  • Agriculture, Foodstuffs and Health Products
  • Financial and Business Services
  • Manufacturing

For the latest news on Wits University’s involvement in the #4IRSA Partnership, visit http://www.wits.ac.za/future/and for news from the #4IRSA alliance, visit https://4irsa.org/.

Follow the conversations on Twitter:

  • @Wits_News
  • @4IRSA
  • #4IRSA

Participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

About the #4IRSA Partnership

Stimulating dialogue, insight and action to shape a #4IR response for South Africa – Brian Armstrong, Secretary of the #4IRSA Partnership

The Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA) is an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare.

Its purpose is to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

The 4IRSA Partnership recognises that there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa: in government, industry, academia and society at large.

However, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent, and indeed there is a high level of unawareness of each other between these processes. The 4IRSA Partnership aims to provide a platform for all these processes and stimulate shared conversation, so that they become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them, moving from fragmented divergence towards complementarity.

Following a host of workshops early in 2019, the next steps will be:

A Summit of Principles (SOP) is scheduled for end of March 2019. This will include representatives of all of the above industries, related government departments, labour and other stakeholders. The objectives of the Summit of Principles are: to build alignment, participation and momentum for the 4IRSA process; share sector workshop outputs; agree on key areas for further research and deliberation; and agree on a framework for further action and the roadmap towards the Summit of Declarations.

The Summit of Declarations is anticipated to be held in the 4th quarter of 2019. The objective of the Summit of Declarations are: to consolidate all workstream reports into a comprehensive national response; for all stakeholders of each sector represented to table and commit to a short, medium and long term response by that sector to the 4th IR, in the form of a declaration for that sector; to agree monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; to agree further areas of dialogue and research.

South African-Scottish research team demonstrate fractal light from lasers

- Wits University

Team confirms a 20-year-old prediction that “nature’s geometry” could be recreated by the use of laser technology.

We’ve all seen it before. The beautifully painted butterfly that appears when you spread open two sheets of paper, after covering them with paint and pushing them together. The geometrically shaped patterns of a shell of a tortoise, or the construction of the shell of a snail; the leaves of a succulent plant that repeat themselves over and over again, to create an intricate pattern; or the frost pattern on the windshield of a car after standing outside in winter.

Several patterns of fractal light, created by a laser in the Wits Structured Light Laboratory. Credit: Wits University.

These patterns are all examples of fractals, the geometry of nature. Fractals are the complex shapes that we see every day in nature. They have the distinctive feature of a repeating geometry with a structure at multiple scales and are found everywhere – from Romanesco broccoli to ferns, and even at larger scales such as salt flats, mountains, coastlines, and clouds. The shape of trees and mountains is self-similar, so a branch looks like a small tree and a rocky outcrop like a small mountain.

For the past two decades, scientists have predicted that you could also create fractal light from a laser. With its highly polished spherical mirrors, a laser is almost the precise opposite of nature, and so it came as a surprise when, in 1998, light beams emitted from a class of lasers were predicted to be fractals. Now a team from South Africa and Scotland have demonstrated that fractal light can be created from a laser, verifying the prediction of two decades.

Reporting this month in the Physics Review, the team provide the first experimental evidence for fractal light from simple lasers and add a new prediction, that the fractal light should exist in 3D and not just 2D as previously thought.

Fractals are complex objects with a “pattern within a pattern” so that the structure appears to repeat as you zoom in or out of it. Nature creates such “patterns within patterns” by many recursions of a simple rule, for example, to produce a snowflake. Computer programmes have also been used to do so by looping through the rule over and over, famously producing the abstract Mandelbrot Set. 

The light inside lasers also does this: it cycles back and forth, bouncing between the mirrors on each pass, which can be set to image the light into itself on each round trip. This looks just like a recursive loop, repeating a simple rule over and over. The imaging means that each time the light returns to the image plane it is a smaller (or bigger) version of what it was: a pattern within a pattern within a pattern.

Fractals have found applications in imaging, networks, antennas and even medicine. The team expects that the discovery of fractal forms of light that can be engineered directly from a laser should open new applications and technologies based on these exotic states of structured light.

“Fractals is a truly fascinating phenomenon, and is linked to what is known as “Chaos”,” says Professor Andrew Forbes, from the University of the Witwatersrand, who led the project together with Professor Johannes Courtial of the University of Glasgow. “In the popular science world, Chaos is called the “butterfly effect”, where a small change in one place makes a big change somewhere else, for example, a butterfly beating its wings in Asia causes a hurricane in the USA.  This has been proven to be true.”

In explaining the fractal light discovery, Forbes explains that his team realised the importance of where to look for fractals in a laser. “Look at the wrong place inside the laser and you see just a smeared-out blob of light. Look in the right place, where the imaging happens, and you see fractals.”

The project combined theoretical expertise from the Glasgow team with experimental validation in South Africa by Wits and CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) researchers. The initial version of the experiment was built by Dr Darryl Naidoo (of the CSIR and Wits) and completed by Hend Sroor (Wits) as part of her PhD.

“What is amazing is that, as predicted, the only requirement to demonstrate the effect is a simple laser with two polished spherical mirrors. It was there all the time, just hard to see if you were not looking at the right place,” says Courtial. 

Why screen time needs to be limited

- John J Reilly, Anthony (Tony) Okely, Catherine Draper and Mark S. Tremblay

High levels of screen time, among babies, children and adolescents, are associated with potential harm.

There is increasing concern about the amount of time children and adolescents are spending in recreational screen time. There’s also increasing controversy over whether or not screen time is actually harmful.

Since 2016, we (researchers who’ve contributed to the development of the 24-hour movement guidelines for children and adolescents) have led a number of wide-ranging reviews of the scientific evidence on the impact of screen time from infancy to early adulthood. We examined whether or not the amount of recreational (spare time, non-educational) digital screen use influences health. These included risks such as obesity, reduced sleep, low physical fitness, anxiety and depression. We also looked at the impact of recreational screen time on social and emotional as well as cognitive and language development, well-being and educational attainment.

These reviews demonstrated that high levels of screen time, now typical among children, are associated with potential harm. And they showed clearly that less recreational screen time is better for avoiding obesity, and for promoting sleep, physical fitness, and cognitive, social and emotional development.

Over the past three years the evidence reviews generated authoritative guidelines nationally in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the UK and internationally.

We were all involved in the development of global guidelines for zero to four year-olds for the World Health Organisation (WHO). These guidelines all recommended that recreational screen time should be limited in infancy, childhood and adolescence.

Technology, screens and art. © Wits University

Limiting screen time

Guidelines from Canada, Australia, and South Africa recommend that recreational screen time should be avoided in the under two’s, limited to one hour per day in two to four year-olds, and to two hours per day in five to 17 year-olds.

Based on our collective experience in developing these guidelines it’s clear that these limits on recreational screen time are needed for a number of reasons.

First, the evidence suggests strongly that limits are required. The recommendations to limit screen time were based on a rigorous, widely-accepted, and evidence-based approach. This included systematic reviews, critical appraisals of the evidence, national and international consultation and review, and transparent reporting.

Second, less recreational screen time is clearly better. There is evidence in support of the specific time limits recommended and our wide consultation with stakeholder individuals and organisations – including parents and families – suggests that they find time limits helpful.

Third, our recommendations that recreational screen time should be limited are consistent with other recent and thorough reviews of the evidence conducted by authoritative bodies such as the WHO and the World Cancer Research Fund. These reviews highlighted the important role of recreational screen time in the development of obesity, many cancers and myopia.

Our specific recommendations are also consistent with those made by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Taking a laissez-faire approach to screen time would be to ignore the wider context. This is that modern childhoods are characterised by low physical activity, excessive sitting and time indoors. Children and adolescents also suffer from poor motor skills, high levels of myopia, increased risk of type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

And as new forms of screen time emerge, a precautionary approach is required – some limits on recreational screen time would be prudent until it is clear that there are negligible harms.

Still time to act

Some argue that the “genie is out of the bottle” in relation to screen time. But this is defeatist. The same arguments could have been made in relation to control of tobacco and alcohol and sugar. But it is now accepted that unlimited exposure to these substances isn’t compatible with public health. And constraints are accepted as essential.

In addition, in many parts of the world the genie may not yet be out of the bottle. In many low- and middle-income countries exposure to recreational screen time may still be relatively low among children.

There is also scope to prevent excessive screen time in babies and young children, acting before adverse, or at least sub-optimal, lifestyle habits become established later in childhood or adolescence.

Screen time harms can be indirect as well as direct – recreational screen time increases with age and as it does it displaces more beneficial forms of sedentary behaviours such as reading. Screen time also displaces physically active play, and sleep.

Recreational screen time may seem to be an inevitable part of modern life. But even from infancy and early childhood, we should all be concerned about the potential for harms – at least until new, robust evidence demonstrates no harm. The most prudent approach would be cautious, attempting to follow recent evidence-based guidance that recreational screen time should be restricted.The Conversation

John J Reilly, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health Science, University of Strathclyde ; Anthony (Tony) Okely, Professor of Physical Development, University of Wollongong; Catherine Draper, Senior Researcher, University of the Witwatersrand, and Mark S. Tremblay, Professor of Pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New research shows lasers can create fractals

- Andrew Forbes

Wits researchers prove the long-held theory by making the first direct observation of fractal light from lasers.

A cross section of a fractal pattern, created by a laser in the Wits Structured Light Laboratory. © Wits University

We all appreciate the beauty of Nature, whether it be cloud patterns, mountain ranges or coastlines. These structures have complex shapes that at first appearance are hard to quantify: how could we describe them in a “scientific manner”?

Some decades ago the idea arose that very complex structures could be produced by very simple iterative rules: that is, a simple rule repeated over and over may explain much of Nature’s complexity, revealing its hidden symmetries in the process.

Computers are ideal for simulating such tasks – repetition is their forte. Using computers, mathematicians began to produce beautiful abstract creations. Today we know these as fractals.

Nature uses this iterative process – a simple starting shape and a simple repeating rule – to create many of the complex structures we see around us, from ferns to sea shells.

A zoomed in version of a famous computer-generated fractal, the Mandelbrot Set. Andrew Forbes

So, nature can produce fractals; computers can, too. Could light be a fractal? The answer was known to be yes. If light was passed through a fractal-like object then it too became fractal. Then, about two decades ago, scientists predicted that simple lasers may also be able to produce fractals.

Now that prediction has been fulfilled. I lead a group at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa that works on structured light, including lasers. Working with colleagues at the country’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and in Scotland, we have made the first direct observation of fractal light from lasers.

This is exciting for two reasons. First, there’s a certain satisfaction in unravelling mysteries in science, advancing our knowledge. Second, such discoveries often lead to new technologies. Our group’s research aim is to create custom lasers with the ability to output any desired pattern. Doing so will see lasers find even more applications than they do today. Fractals have already been used in digital processing, imaging and even medicine. So we are excited about the possibility to offer a laser to deliver such exotically structured light.

Making laser fractals

A laser can be considered as nothing more than a box made of two mirrors so that light bounces back and forth between the two mirrors, leaking a little out from one end – the laser light. The iterative rule here is simple: the light goes back and forth between the mirrors over and over again.

But mirrors are highly polished surfaces with no evident structure, suggesting a rather bland output. Indeed, this is what we mostly see: blobs of light from our laser pointers, for example. So it was somewhat perplexing to think that this “box” could produce a complex light field that is fractal.

We looked carefully at the prediction from 20 years ago and released that to see the fractal you would have to actually look inside the box. That’s because paradoxically, the light that comes out of the box would not be fractal. The trick was to design the optical system to see inside the laser – and in particular to see a very specific place, the common imaging plane.

The mirrors have such a plane because they are curved, like parabolic satellite dishes, and as with those dishes which focus to the detector, so the curved mirrors focus to a plane. Since the two mirrors face each other it is possible to adjust their separation so that where they focus coincides: the common imaging plane.

To understand why, imagine that the light begins at this plane and travels from left to right, bounces off the mirror, goes all the way back to the other mirror, bounces off, and then returns to the starting plane. At the imaging plane the returning light is a magnified version of the initial light. This keeps happening, and the light becomes either smaller or bigger after each return trip.

This repetition results in patterns within patterns within patterns: fractal light from lasers.

One of the tests for a fractal structure is to zoom in: if you see complexity and repeating images at various magnifications you have a fractal structure. It is as if the pattern keeps repeating no matter how far in you go.

Next steps

All the images we have seen so far are 2D: they are images on a screen rather than 3D objects that would look like a hologram.

This means that while the mystery of 2D fractals in lasers is now resolved, there is a new prediction to test. In our simulations of the laser we found that there might be fractal structure along the axis of the box, in the direction that the light is travelling in. This would imply that 3D fractals are possible in lasers.

To verify this would require a far more precise experiment, the subject of ongoing research in our group.

This is the nature of science: answering old questions inevitably results in new, more complex questions to be answered. So, although one chapter is closed, another remains completely unwritten.The Conversation

Andrew Forbes, Professor, University of the Witwatersrand. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wits’ supercomputing students win big

- Wits University

Our teams excel in Centre for High Performance Computing Student Cluster Competition.

Wits students in the Schools of Electrical and Information Engineering (EIE), and Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM), won various awards in the 2018 Centre for High Performance Computing Student Cluster Competition and the South African National Research Network Cyber Security Challenge 2018.

The competitions were held during the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC)’s 12th National Conference hosted in Cape Town in December where undergraduate student teams from participating universities across the country battled it out to build the small High Performance Computer (HPC) clusters on the exhibition floor from hardware provided by the CHPC and industrial partners. The teams also had to run various performance benchmarks on the clusters as well as an actual simulation and machine learning workload. Essentially, the students vied to build the fastest computer and secure their spot in the 2019 International Supercomputing Conference to be held in Germany.

Supercomputing students win big in 2018 Centre for High Performance Computing Student Cluster Competition.

The students from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering (EIE) who excelled were:

  • Hassaan Hameed, Basheq Tarifi, Nathan Jones (second-year biomedical engineering students) and Sansha Gupta (second-year electrical engineering students) won the team award for the most innovative team.
  • Third-year information engineering students Anita de Mello Koch, Kaamilah Desai, Brendon Swanepoel and Nicholas Kastanos won the best teamwork award.
  • Third-year information engineering students Anita de Mello Koch and Kaamilah Desai were also selected as two of the six-member team to participate in the 2019 International Supercomputing Conference to be held in Germany later this year.
  • Third-year information engineering student Rashaad Cassim was named one of the winners of the social engineering competition in the South African National Research Network Cyber Security Challenge that ran concurrently with the CHPC’s Student Cluster Competition.

The students from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM) who excelled were:

  • The team consisting of Jamie Burns, Thato Moeng, Kilolo Muaku and Meghan Sinclair-Black too third place in the CHPC’s Student Cluster Competition.

Mathematical Sciences Support is the Wits coordinator for the CHPC HPC Ecosystems Project, a training initiative for High Performance Computing (HPC) skills in the SADC region. The HPC Ecosystems Project feeds into the CHPC's training program for Square Kilometer Array (SKA) readiness.

Many of the participants entering the competition prepared for the competition on old decommissioned HPC equipment donated to Wits by the HPC Ecosystems Project and Innovent for the purpose of student training. A team of previous worldwide champions lead by Avraham Bank provided hands-on training and teaching, while Brian Maistry, Scientific & Research Systems Manager in Mathematical Sciences, provided coordination and infrastructure support. The training venue was provided by TW Kambule Mathematical Sciences Laboratories, which supports HPC training and course activities. 

The HPC Ecosystems Project is open to all interested Witsies. To get involved, please contact Professor Turgay Celik from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics.

Wits hosts unique e-Science teaching platform

- Wits University

Wits is the hub of a unique cross-disciplinary postgraduate e-Science training platform.

In 2016, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) identified the need to establish a multi-institutional National e-Science Postgraduate Teaching and Training Platform (NEPTTP). This platform exists to develop human capital with the knowledge and skills to conduct cutting-edge research in the field of e-Science – in line with the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap (SARIR), the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and others. 

The DST, through the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) funds the platform, comprised of six universities. Wits University is the administrative hub of a consortium that includes the Universities of Limpopo, North-West, Pretoria, Sol Plaatje, and Venda.

Launched in 2017, the first cohort of around 30 students enrolled for the Master of Science in e-Science and the Master of Arts in e-Science degrees in 2018. These programmes are unique because they traverse faculties – students come from disciplines including Computer Science, Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Actuarial Sciences, Physics, Social Sciences, and Public Health.

The 2019 cohort includes 30 students from Wits and the Universities of Limpopo, Pretoria and Venda.  The first year of the degree consists of coursework, offered at Wits, and in the second year requires a research report (completed at students’ home institution). 

NEPTTP is currently in discussions with various public and private partners including the Gauteng Department of e-Government, the Gauteng Department of Health, as well as financial institutions, and international partners, in order to facilitate an internship programme for graduating students.

“We foresee the demand for such degrees increasing exponentially over the next few years,” says Turgay Celik, NEPTTP Director and Professor in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits.

#4IRSA Digital Economy Summit 2019 dates announced

-

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Partnership for South Africa (#4IRSA) hosts a Digital Economy Summit in Johannesburg in June 2019.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Partnership for South Africa (#4IRSA) is pleased to announce the dates for the Digital Economy Summit 2019, following a directive of the national Cabinet on Friday, 15 February 2019.

#4IRSA is a partnership of some of South Africa’s premier public and private institutions. Its founding partners are the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Service (DTPS), Telkom SA SOC Ltd, and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Fort Hare.

The sole aim of #4IRSA is to stimulate dialogue and to serve as a catalyst to develop a coherent national response to the ongoing changes happening in our country and around the world, due to new technologies, business processes and production methods. These changes are often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, industry 4.0, and the new digital economy.

In pursuit of this goal, #4IRSA will host a Digital Economy Summit in Johannesburg to take place on Friday, 5 July, and Saturday, 6 July 2019. The summit will bring together representatives from industry, government, academia, labour, the research sector, the investor community, international experts and other critical stakeholders.

The objective of the summit is to create a platform through which to craft the strategies, investments, policy directions and other interventions necessary for South Africa to exploit the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0.

In its statement, the Cabinet affirmed the primacy of this goal for South Africa to meet its economic and developmental ambitions:

“The global move towards technology inspired by the 4IR brings with it new opportunities to build our society and economy. To remain at the forefront of new technological trends, the country will host the Digital Economy Summit in June 2019. The summit is convened under the banner of the #4IRSA Partnership.

The #4IRSA Partnership aims to address the challenges facing South Africa in the Digital Age, to find a coherent and collective response for the country.”

The #4IRSA Partnership is pleased to have its work and efforts recognised and by endorsed by the national government at such a high level. This gives encouragement and affirmation that the efforts of our founding partners, though still at a nascent stage, have provided the necessary ignition to ensure success of the #4IRSA initiative. The government’s support will also give the process the boost needed for it to become a truly national collaborative effort.

NEXT STEPS

A series of sector-specific workshops are being held in the lead up to the summit. Workshops for the ICT and public sector have already taken place, and three more are planned. All entities that wish to be part of this process, should contact #4IRSA via the contact details provided below.

Invitations for attendance and participation in the Digital Economy Summit will be extended to all relevant stakeholders. Further communication regarding the conference programme and list of speakers will be shared in the coming weeks.

The #4IRSA Partnership looks forward to welcoming all stakeholders to the country’s first ever Digital Economy Summit to take place on Friday, 5 July, and Saturday, 6 July 2019.

The brain as a network device

- Wits University

Research by Wits biomedical engineers that incorporates the human brain as part of a computer network is believed to be a world-first.

Researchers in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits have connected two computers through the human brain and successfully transmitted words like ‘hello’ and ‘apple’, passively, without the user being aware that a message is present.

This research of incorporating the human brain as part of a computer network is believed to be a world-first. Dubbed ‘BrainConnect’, the proof-of-concept innovation is under review for publication in the journal Communications in Information Systems

“We don’t know of anywhere else where the brain has been used to connect two disconnected computers,” says Adam Pantanowitz, lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits and co-author of the paper with Wits alumni Rushil N. Daya and Michael N. Dukes. 

This presents an interesting theoretical system with a human literally being “in the loop”.

Morse code via light signals

BrainConnect links light, signal transmission, the visual cortex of the human brain, and two computers. It works by attaching a device to a person’s head, which links the two computers. The person passively stares at a flashing light whilst a word, for example, ‘apple’, is encoded in the light signal.

The flashing light stimulates the visual cortex in the brain and an electroencephalogram [EEG – a test that detects electrical activity in the brain] wirelessly transmits information to a second computer, which decodes the signals to appear on the second computer.

“You can think of it like Morse code via light signals,” says Pantanowitz.

BrainConnect can decipher up to 17 symbols at a rate of four seconds per symbol. The more relaxed the person is, the greater the potential to invoke a response through this ‘steady state visually evoked potential’ (SSVEP).

Pantanowitz and Dukes demonstrated BrainConnect live on MNet’s Carte Blanche on Sunday, 24 February. They wired-up presenter, Claire Mawisa, and showed how BrainConnect transmitted words through the brain, while using the brain to connect to the internet in real time (Brainternet). 

Although BrainConnect is fledgling research, Pantanowitz says this brain-computer interface [BCI] may have applications in eye-gaze devices.

“BrainConnect works simply through a light stimulus of the visual cortex. Similar eye-gaze devices serve as assistive tech to empower motor-impaired people or paraplegics. This opens up research questions about the uniqueness of brain signatures," he says. 

“Indistinguishable from magic” 

Pantanowitz cites futurists who predict greater human-tech integration by 2030. The Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR] is already a feature of 21st Century society – human beings are already deeply connected to tech through smart phones and other close-contact devices. Research in South Africa and Africa similar to this engineering innovation at Wits University has the potential to advance 4IR. 

“Africa’s challenges need unique solutions. The brain research is being conducted under what’s known as a ‘frugal innovation’, where low-cost equipment and innovative approaches keep costs down,” says Pantanowitz. 

Another of his similarly frugal innovations was a basic robotic hand, the prototype of which cost just R1 800 in South Africa, compared to a budget of close to a million Euros for a similarly functioning device in Europe. 

Pantanowitz says, “There is potential for us in Africa to advance brain-computer interfaces and other assistive technologies. As science-fiction writer Arthur C Clark observed, ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’.”

Wits students create genetics app

- Wits University

Wits science students have created an app to teach people the basics about genetics.

The SCOP Genetics app was launched at the African Society of Human Genetics meeting in Kigali, Rwanda in September 2018. 

Click here to download the free SCOP Genetics app for Android developed by Mahtaab Hayat, Jorge da Rocha, Heather Seymour, and Natalie Smyth.

These postgraduate students in the Wits Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience (SBIMB) and the Division of Human Genetics in the School of Pathology run the Wits Human Genetics Community Outreach Programme (SCOP).

Part of this student-developed and student-run initiative is to visit local schools and deliver presentations about how genetics works, how it is studied, how genetics can treat disease, identify individuals, and develop precision medicine. 

“We visit schools and give presentations educating learners on the basics of genetics and genetics research in action. We found that the learners were intrigued. They asked many questions and definitely showed an interest in learning more. We thought [an app] would be a great interactive way that schoolchildren can learn in their own time and in a way that’s easily accessible,” says Hayat, also a PhD candidate in Human Genetics.

Extract your own DNA at home

The app is designed as a library containing simple explanations of genetic concepts. It is a beginner’s guide to the science of genetic concepts and provides information via SCOP video presentations. Concepts are described mainly with pictures and the language is simplified to enhance accessibility. The app is divided into Basics, Advanced, and Real World Examples: 

  • Basics explains the concepts of inheritance (getting DNA from our parents), what cells are and where the DNA is within them, and how genes work.
  • Advanced provides more information about chromosome structure in humans, how differences in genes lead to different features, how we can design medicine to fit our genes, and a safe experiment to show you how to extract your own DNA at home.
  • Real World Examples highlights major studies that form the foundation of genetics studies (including exciting African projects) to inspire learners by showing that they could do this incredible work too. 

Coding 101 to teach Genetics 101

The SCOP team designed and wrote the content for the app themselves after teaching themselves to code in HTML5 with some basic CSS.

Wits SCOP Genetics app developers L_R Mahtaab Hayat, Jorge Da Rocha, Heather Seymour, Natalie Smyth

“These languages are great to code cross-platform apps, so we hope to have our app available on iOS devices soon. We even have plans to get our app translated into other South African languages,” says Da Rocha, also a PhD candidate in Human Genetics.

Genetics is what makes individuals unique and knowing what you inherited from your parents, which traits you share with your siblings, and the diseases you are susceptible to is increasingly compelling to people.  

“There are so many new ways in which people are learning more about these sorts of concepts. We hope the app will help high school learners better understand the topic of genetics in the Life Science syllabus and help the public understand the implications of inheritance of traits and disorders and thus help inform decision-making that involves genetics,” says Hayat.

Click here for info on the SCOP Genetics App on Android.

Download the SCOP Genetics app for Android.

Economic growth impaired by poor ICT data

- 4irsa.org

Academics and business must partner to help government understand what skills pupils and workers require for 4IR.

Technology, 4IRSA, data, artificial intelligence, ICT, computers

Data on information and communication technology (ICT) is sorely lacking in South Africa, even though it is generally recognised that the sector is instrumental in helping build a sustainable economy and social cohesion.

According to a report, this continues to result in fragmented policy because it is based on flimsy and obsolete information, and therefore, its effectiveness cannot be properly measured.

To exacerbate matters, the country’s schooling system continues to produce poor math and science results, and exposure to the ICT sector is minimal.

The report is compiled by the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), which is a University of Witwatersrand partnership with government and industry, and the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA).

The document, which is the JCSE’s ninth edition of its survey of skills trends in the ICT sector, says the state of the South African economy continues to restrict growth in the demand for ICT skills as the sector’s clients limit their budgets.

The sector contributes more than R250bn (approximately 6%) to the country’s GDP. Good growth in the agriculture sector in the second quarter of 2017 reversed the recession of the previous two quarters, but this was short lived as the country again retreated into recession in 2018.

John-David Lovelock, who is from international information technology research and advisory company, Gartner, forecasted that South Africa’s IT spend would reach R276bn in 2018, up 4,3% from 2017.

While the report acknowledges President Cyril Ramaphosa’s commitment to speed up processes to develop the sector, it says that until there are concrete developments, South Africa will continue to lag its peers in Africa – notably Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Egypt – who continue to derive the benefits that technology adoption adds to economic growth and social development.

“Unacceptable delays in implementing policies, such as the migration from analogue television signals and the rollout of broadband networks, continue to frustrate the potential contribution of the ICT sector to the overall economy,” the report reads.

“We emphasise again our concern at the slow pace of improvement in South Africa’s basic education for the majority of pupils. Exposure to and familiarity with ICTs for all learners is essential, in order to equip them to adapt the modern tools to their daily lives.”

It says that while there have been some laudable initiatives such as the use of tablets in Gauteng schools, they are yet to reach a sustained, critical mass for all grades of school-goers. Also, of over one million pupils entering the schooling system each year, only half will write matric and less than 20% will be able to enrol for tertiary studies.

The lack of overall market growth is also being aggravated by a continuing restriction of the skills pipeline due to pupils performing poorly in maths and science.

The JCSE says it is concerned that a prolonged failure to improve the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) output will have a dire impact on the country’s ability to counter the growing risk of cybercrime attacks, which is estimated as costing R1bn each year, as well as its capacity to maintain a competitive and innovative ICT industry.

The report says one of the chief concerns is that too many state entities have disparate views on their roles in regulating, acquiring, implementing, promoting and utilising the broad range of elements that come under the ICT umbrella. This has resulted in resources being wasted and no holistic view.

“…we continue to suffer from a lack of current, coordinated data about the so-called ICT sector in South Africa. “So-called” because it is almost impossible to define where the creation and implementation ends and the embedded use and further development of ICTs begins,” the document reads.

It says there is a critical need for academia and business to partner in influencing the government’s understanding of future skills, so that all three spheres can invest in the development of people, to prepare them for the changed roles that will come from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

#4IRSA - a Fourth Industrial Revolution partnership between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare.

Closing the skills gap

Despite the failure of the schooling system, the JCSE says it is pleased to observe many private sector initiatives to address the skills gap.

“Although one could argue that this is self-interest, most of the programmes reach beyond the needs of a vendor to support its products and offer genuine skills upliftment and employment opportunities.

Also, the JCSE has continued its partnership with BankSETA, which has funded 50 students through the Digital Skills Pipeline Programme, a two-year initiative to improve employability of matriculants and graduates. They are being taught scarce IT skills and exposed to realistic project experience.

Three universities have partnered with Amazon Web Services to offer a specialised cloud-computing focused curriculum. Others may join the programme later.

The government has committed to train one million young people between 2019 and 2030 to become data scientists.

“On the face of it, this is a very welcome initiative, but examination of the numbers causes some doubts about the feasibility of the programme. As Moira de Roche (a director of IITPSA) commented, ‘One can’t just churn out data scientists; instead they need some specialist skills which are only built by experience of about five to eight years’.”  

Telkom-owned IT services company BCX’s Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) is teaching students how to solve real world problems during a one-year engagement, using the latest data science tools and methodologies. But the report says the initiative is nowhere near the scale the government envisages.

The JCSE says it agrees with the prevailing opinion that reaching even a tenth of this ambitious goal will be very tough. The EDSA is offering 300 or 400 internships over 2018/2019.

It says that hopefully there will be more realistic results from the launch of Microsoft Azure data centres, which intend to add 53,000 new jobs by 2022, with an additional 112,000 generated through other cloud services.

Practitioners to fill these jobs must be appropriately skilled. Microsoft claims its programmes can train school leavers to the level of software engineer or data scientist.

According to a master plan developed by the ICT sector, it wants to work with the government to introduce new legislation and policies for ICT to become a formal part of the school curriculum to support the digital economy.

Its measures for success in this regard are the inclusion of an ICT relevant curriculum by next year, STEM subjects digitised by 2020, and a common platform for learning by the same year.

This article was first published on https://4irsa.org/ - the official website of the 4IRSA alliance between the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, Telkom and the Department Of Telecommunications & Postal Services (DTPS) that aims to stimulate dialogue, understanding and action to shape a coherent 4IR plan for South Africa.

Africa cannot afford to take the back seat in one of the most important pursuits of modern science

- Benjamin Rosman

The continent needs its own experts to harness Artificial Intelligence towards our local challenges and priorities in Africa.

Behind buzzwords such as “data science” or “fourth industrial revolution” that we are constantly being bombarded with, is the promise of major disruption to every aspect of our lives, powered by the engine of Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

The technology underlying AI is the field of machine learning, which lies at the intersection of computer science and statistics, and is concerned with the question of how computers can learn to improve their own performance over time, by being exposed to an increasing amount of data. 

This stands in stark contrast to former generations of software, which relied on humans to programme every fine detail of how they should operate, by hand. Several breakthroughs in this field in recent years have led to a plethora of exciting applications, including real-time translation between languages, automatic captioning and tagging of images, diagnosing cancers from medical tests, and autonomous driving. 

Access to all 

The potential benefits of this technology are numerous, and look to drive change at every level of society. Among the most important is the democratisation of critical services such as healthcare and education, with the ultimate aim of providing personalised interventions to every individual. This includes tools to treat or even eradicate a far greater number of diseases than ever before, at affordable rates. The same innovations are poised to offer greater transparency of governance, improve corporate and political decision-making, and enable more efficient logistics. 

With these great opportunities comes the need for South Africa and Africa to play a part in developing and customising these tools, shaping them to deal with our realities, and not just reusing them off-the-shelf as developed in other parts of the world. 

AI hints at the possibility of solving some of the greatest challenges we face as a species, if we get it right, and one of the greatest threats to our existence, if we fail to preempt the ramifications. 

We need our own experts to harness these technologies towards our local challenges and priorities in Africa. We cannot afford to take a back seat in one of the most important pursuits of modern science. If the aim is to target a number of flaws in society, then we should be at the helm. 

Young African scientists and technologists leading the way 

Fortunately, we already have a number of highly skilled teams of researchers within our borders. The School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at the University of the Witwatersrand has specifically been piloting the growth of our local research agenda. 

Our researchers have already received much international recognition from the likes of Google and Huawei, and are the only team of African researchers to be publishing regularly at all major international machine learning, AI, and robotics conferences. 

Under the RAIL lab (Robotics, Autonomous Intelligence, and Learning lab), our researchers are  making an impact in areas ranging from fundamental questions around how robots can organise their knowledge of the world to modelling the interaction between humans and machines, and applications of these ideas to the education and healthcare spaces. 

Looking slightly further afield, the Deep Learning Indaba movement is a recent example of the talent that is already being cultivated on the continent. Founded by several Africans, based locally and abroad, this is already the largest week-long machine learning summer school in the world. 

Over the last two years, this meeting has brought together almost 1,000 of the most ambitious and skilled machine learning practitioners and researchers from across the continent, to learn from each other and high-profile international speakers. This expanded to encompass 13 satellite events in countries across the continent with our IndabaX programme, reaching over 1,000 more attendees in 2018, with events due to be held in 27 African countries, half of the continent, in 2019.  The aim of these events is to not only train, but to celebrate the inspiring range of research projects, community and industry developments, and startup companies harnessing these cutting-edge technologies in Africa. 

It is clear that we are approaching a watershed moment in our technological development, with the potential to benefit millions across society. It is important that we move forward with our collective eyes open, and are training enough smart young people to guide us in the right direction. It is a really exciting time, and when I see the calibre of young scientists and technologists, I am very optimistic about our future. 

Benjamin Rosman is a Senior Lecturer and researcher in robotics, artificial intelligence, decision theory and machine learning in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits University. He also runs the Robotics, Autonomous Intelligence and Learning Laboratory at Wits University and was a co-organiser of the first Deep Learning Indaba in Africa held in 2017. The same year he received Africa’s only Google Faculty Research grant for his research focusing on decision making in autonomous systems. A Wits alumnus with a BSc (Honours) in Computer Science and a BSc (Honours) in Computational and Applied Mathematics, Rosman also holds a MSc in Artificial Intelligence and a PhD in Informatics from the University of Edinburgh.

Make apprenticeships sexy again

- Wits University

South Africa 4IR-readiness and the case for tech-savvy artisans.

The future of work for South Africa and Africa in the Fourth Industrial Revolution raises pressing questions about the skills gap that is already noticeable in many sectors and industries: Are we educating and training enough artisans, crafts and technical people to address our 4IRSA-needs, or are we just only churning out degree-qualifying people that South African cannot afford?

This was a central theme during the breakaway session of the 4IRSA Partnership’s workshop with representatives from the Mining and Manufacturing sector – two sectors that are being heavily transformed in the digital age.

4IRSA (Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa) is an alliance between the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and Telkom and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS). It has held four workshops to date that aim to gather broad insight from South Africans with the purpose to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa.

The mining and manufacturing sectors are entering the 4IR-phase of heavy disruption over the next few years that will dramatically change the nature of how these industries work, do business and the skills they required to be competitive.

Andrew Lane, Deloitte Africa’s Energy & Resources Leader (left) facilitating the breakaway session at the 4IRSA Mining & Manufacturing Workshop.

With mobility, automation, digitisation, artificial intelligence, big data and many other new technologies both creating and decreasing opportunities in the mining and manufacturing sector, we “urgently need to rethink our skills training and education,” said Andrew Lane, Deloitte Africa’s Energy & Resources Leader, who facilitated the breakaway session.

Kavitha Prag, Associate Director, Capital Projects, Deloitte SA, echoing the contributions from those in the mining and manufacturing sectors, said that vocational skills will be highly sought-after skills in future: “We need to make artisan careers sexy again, and create tech-savvy artisans, traders, craftspeople that can add value to our industries”.

To do this, focus now has to move to South Africa’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges that need to be properly skilled with quality educators who can provide excellent training. Companies and industries also need to be roped in again to offer apprenticeships to young women and men who can qualify as artisans (welders, toolmakers, plumbers, electricians, among others) or technicians in various sectors.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Readiness for the Future of Production Report 2018 (PDF) while “the ability to innovate is one of South Africa’s greatest strengths (as the country it has a strong innovation culture and entrepreneurial activity is supported by a sophisticated financial sector), human capital remains the most pressing challenge in preparing for the future of production”.

Coherent, collective response

Framing the workshop group discussions, Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair in Digital Business in the Wits Business School and Secretary of the #4IRSA Partnership, introduced the three themes that all sector workshops, including the Mining & Manufacturing workshop, will discuss:

“#4IRSA wants to help frame the challenges facing South Africa in the Digital Age and find a coherent, collective response for the country,” he said.

About the workshops

The first workshop held in November 2018 that focused on the Public Sector, with representatives from various government departments and research entities committing to share processes more widely and seek better coherence between the various parties’ 4IR initiatives.

The next sector workshops will focus on:

  • Heavy Industry, Mining and Infrastructure
  • Agriculture, Foodstuffs and Health Products
  • Financial and Business Services
  • Manufacturing

For the latest news on Wits University’s involvement in the #4IRSA Partnership, visithttp://www.wits.ac.za/future/and for news from the #4IRSA alliance, visit https://4irsa.org/.

Follow the conversations on Twitter:

  • @Wits_News
  • @4IRSA
  • #4IRSA

About the #4IRSA Partnership

The Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA) is an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).

Its purpose is to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

The 4IRSA Partnership recognises that there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa: in government, industry, academia and society at large.

However, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent, and indeed there is a high level of unawareness of each other between these processes. The 4IRSA Partnership aims to provide a platform for all these processes and stimulate shared conversation, so that they become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them, moving from fragmented divergence towards complementarity.

Following a host of workshops early in 2019, the next steps will be:

A Summit of Principles (SOP) is scheduled for later this year. This will include representatives of all of the above industries, related government departments, labour and other stakeholders. The objectives of the Summit of Principles are: to build alignment, participation and momentum for the 4IRSA process; share sector workshop outputs; agree on key areas for further research and deliberation; and agree on a framework for further action and the roadmap towards the Summit of Declarations.

The Summit of Declarations is anticipated to be held in the 4th quarter of 2019. The objective of the Summit of Declarations are: to consolidate all workstream reports into a comprehensive national response; for all stakeholders of each sector represented to table and commit to a short, medium and long term response by that sector to the 4th IR, in the form of a declaration for that sector; to agree monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; to agree further areas of dialogue and research. 

The year ahead: From legal rights for robots to a Cyber 9/11

- Wits University

Artificial Intelligence will be maturing over the next 18 months with Africa becoming ground zero for 4IR disruption.

Africa as the Cradle of Humankind has also been the ‘Cradle of Innovation’ where our earliest ancestors were the first techies on the planet, developing stone tool technologies and early culture.

Now, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) we are seeing Africa as ideally placed to be the ‘Cradle of Disruption’ in digital innovation, says Philip Kiracofe, adventurist and CEO/co-founder of Startupbootcamp Africa.

He was speaking at the 5th 4IRSA Partnership workshop for representatives from the financial services and business sectors held in Sandton on 2 April 2019.

4IRSA (Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa) is an alliance between the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and Telkom and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS). It has held four workshops to date that aim to gather broad insight from South Africans with the purpose to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa.

2019 and beyond

In his keynote address, Kiracofe shared predictions around the 4IR and how South Africans can respond, relying on the State of Tech 2019 – an annual report compiled by Startupbootcamp, the world’s largest network of multi-corporate backed accelerators, predicting the top strategic technology trends for the coming year.

[Slideshow: https://issuu.com/startupbootcamp/docs/state_of_tech_final_issu-compressed]

Startupbootcamp's State of Tech 2019 report

AI hits critical mass

“Artificial Intelligence will fully mature in 2019 and hit critical mass,” Kiracofe said. There is already heavy corporate research and development (R&D) spending globally on AI technologies, automation and robotics.

“The industrial robotics industry market will this year reach $135 billion globally; and there are already 25 000 collaborative robots, or cobots, working side-by-side with humans in factories around the world. By 2021 the virtual assistant market will be worth $16 billion.”

Kiracofe said robots are now such an integral part of our lives that the International Federation of Robotics has developed a new Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for “robot density”, measuring: the number of robots per 10 000 workers in a country or ecosystem:

  • The global average for “robot density” in 2018 were 74 robots per 10 000 workers;
  • In Europe, the average is about 99 robots per 10 000 workers;
  • In South Korea, that average is staggeringly 631 robots per 10 000 people.

“As AI gets more intelligent it is learning faster than we can anticipate and learning in ways we do not necessarily understand. The problem is that this can lead to AI making decisions that we no longer understand. One of the trends we are seeing is efforts now to design “explainable AI” into AI, asking: ‘Please help me understand how you came to that decision’.”

Startupbootcamp's State of Tech 2019 report, predicting AI to reach critical mass in 2019.

“We are now at that precedent where the AI is far beyond where we can anticipate and we are seeing that AI is making ethical decisions, therefor, our prediction for 2019 is that AI and robots will gain legal rights.”

Kiracofe said the European Parliament is already debating rules and regulations that relate to legal rights for AI and robots. One of the concerns, for example, is a Tesla self-driving car finding itself in a situation where it has to make an ethical choice between ‘do I protect the driver or do I protect a pedestrian’?

These kinds of decisions and the ethical and legal implications are being debated currently from a regulatory perspective and “we believe that by the end of this year we will begin to see those rights being formalized”, said Kiracofe.

A Cyber 9/11

From satellites to smart cities to smartphones, massive troves of data will be generated at a scale that has never dealt with. This will lead to new business models across sectors but worrying it also increases concerns around cybersecurity.

“Roughly one percent of the entire world’s GDP is being lost to cybercrime. In 2017 the damages from cybercrime was about $600 billion, and this is going to increase to close to $6 trillion by 2021,” the data in the report predicts.

Long gone are hackers in T-shirts in dark rooms. “We are now seeing cyber mercenaries and data mafias banding together in organised crime, as well as state actors employing cyberattacks that are much more professional and institutional,” said Kiracofe. “We are seeing cyber-units from state actors infiltrating into factories. In the hardware that is used by Amazon and Apple, and other large corporations, we are finding embedded chips that are smaller than a size of a pencil tip that are doing things that we do not yet know.”

He added that event the press release has become a weapon in our #FAKENEWS world. “Last year there was over a $100 million made in cyberattacks by individuals who benefitted through stock price movement as a result of fake press releases that were distributed through major news networks and PR wire services.”

Startupbootcamp's State of Tech 2019 report, predicting a Cyber 9/11 attack in 2019/2020

Our prediction is the likelihood of Cyber 9/11 in the next 12 to 18 months. This cyberattack(s) on the scale of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, can lead to catastrophic failure in either infrastructure, or the banking sector, or national communications networks, or even crippling a region’s electricity grid,” he said.

Optimising real-time

Other predictions include moving to a sensor-based economy where not just the devices themselves become ambiguous but the data becomes so massive that and overwhelming that protecting everyone’s data now becomes an existential necessity.

“Where going to see that these sensors embedded in really in every aspect of our cities and our communities; and that these sensors are recording every element of life across the board. And that data-driven algorithms that make those decisions and determination are going to be far beyond what we as humans or at lease individuals can decide. There is going to have to be a collaborative relationship with AI that is helping us to do this,” Kiracofe said.

About the workshops

4IRSA is hosting various workshops to get industry input into how the country can shape its future.

Previous sector workshops include:

For the latest news on Wits University’s involvement in the #4IRSA Partnership visit http://www.wits.ac.za/future/and for news from the #4IRSA alliance visit https://4irsa.org/.

Follow the conversations on Twitter:

  • @Wits_News
  • #Wits4IR
  • @4IRSA
  • #4IRSA

About the #4IRSA Partnership

The Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA) is an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).

Its purpose is to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

The 4IRSA Partnership recognises that there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa: in government, industry, academia and society at large.

However, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent, and indeed there is a high level of unawareness of each other between these processes. The 4IRSA Partnership aims to provide a platform for all these processes and stimulate shared conversation, so that they become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them, moving from fragmented divergence towards complementarity.

Following a host of workshops early in 2019, the next steps will be:

A Summit of Principles (SOP) is scheduled for later this year. This will include representatives of all of the above industries, related government departments, labour and other stakeholders. The objectives of the Summit of Principles are: to build alignment, participation and momentum for the 4IRSA process; share sector workshop outputs; agree on key areas for further research and deliberation; and agree on a framework for further action and the roadmap towards the Summit of Declarations.

The Summit of Declarations is anticipated to be held in the 4th quarter of 2019. The objective of the Summit of Declarations are: to consolidate all workstream reports into a comprehensive national response; for all stakeholders of each sector represented to table and commit to a short, medium and long term response by that sector to the 4th IR, in the form of a declaration for that sector; to agree monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; to agree further areas of dialogue and research. 

4IRSA announces 1st Digital Economic Summit for SA

- Wits Unversity

"We are the pioneers who can reimagine how digital innovation can transform our world.”

"We need to reimagine human life and what it means to be human in the 21st Century,” Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of Wits University said in welcoming delegates to the launch of the @4IRSA Partnership’s first #DigitalEconomicSummit to take place on Friday, 5 July 2019.

Wits University is a founding partner of 4IRSA, a partnership that aims to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in South Africa.

Professor Adam Habib, Wits University Vice-Chancellor, addressing @4IRSA Digital Economic Summit media launch.

“We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power,” Habib said. “Whilst it is important to address the challenges of our past, it is equally important that we prepare for a collective and common digital and technological future so that we can determine how it will impact on us as a society.”

Taking place at the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub in Braamfontein, the launch was also an opportunity for the 4IRSA Secretary General Brian Armstrong, who is also a Professor of Digital Business at the Wits Business School, to update government, partners and the broader society about the work that the 4IRSA partners have done the past few months.

“The 4IRSA partnership is really important because it is a spontaneous and growing alliance between enthusiastic and concerned partners in industry, academia and government, together with social actors and citizens, who are committed to working together to develop a coherent, inclusive national response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in South Africa,” Armstrong said.

The 4IRSA partnership was founded by the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Fort Hare, with Deloitte Africa joining as a facilitation and knowledge partner and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services as the public sector partner.

As the initiative grows, it will include more participation from government, labour, business, civil society and researchers. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams addressing @4IRSA Digital Economic Summit media launch.

Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who is currently overseeing the merger of the Departments of Telecommunications and Postal Services with the Department of Communications, delivered the keynote address and introduced the newly appointed Commissioners on the #4IRCommission who also attended the launch.

“As we unpack the critical components of 4IR, it is important that people are placed at the centre of the conversation. As government, this is woven into all our 4IR interventions, and as such, we have been deliberate in seeking collaborative efforts that build a capable 4IR army. In the same breadth, we must ensure that we create and own solutions that respond to our unique requirements as a country. Lastly, it is imperative that all sectors find expression in the 4IR conversation,” says Ndabeni-Abrahams. 

On show at the launch were 4IR technologies being developed at Tshimologong: a 3D printer printing the 4IRSA logo; a robot crane made from drone recycled material; and a hydroponic garden.  Run by Wits University, Tshimologong, which means “new beginnings” in Setswana, is an incubation hub for digital entrepreneurs, the commercialisation of research, and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youth.

From the 4IRSA partners

Telkom Group CEO Sipho Maseko hailed 4IRSA as a potential economic and developmental game-changer for the country. “The 4IRSA Partnership may be the most important collaboration between the government, public institutions and the private sector in South Africa right now.  Its potential impacts are transformative both economically and politically. As a leading ICT player with significant public ownership, and as a committed corporate citizen, Telkom is passionate about addressing today's challenges to ensure tomorrow's prosperity. We therefore have to be a participant and a full partner in 4IRSA. We encourage everyone else to do the same,” he said. 

Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko addressing @4IRSA Digital Economic Summit media launch.

The universities of Johannesburg and Fort Hare re also focusing research attention on 4IR, with a number of different projects and courses. ‘’Industry 4.0, as the 4IR is also known, is changing the world of work, because artificially intelligent machines now perform tasks that were traditionally performed by human beings. The consequence of this change is that the world of work is shrinking. Economic inequality will also increase, which will result in social instability. This will in turn undermine democracy,” said the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala.

UFH believes that the 4IRSA collaboration is central to the way we reimagine higher education and its purpose. “Our staff and our students have a critical role to play in shaping as well as in responding to the significant and sweeping changes to the current order and the way we work. Our research-based engagement with our partners on the possibilities and implications of 4IR, therefore, is at the core of realising our vision to be a vibrant, equitable and sustainable African university, committed to teaching and research excellence at the service of its students, scholars and the wider community,” says UFH Vice-Chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu. 

Deloitte, which has played a pivotal role in workshops with different sectors of the economy in the lead up to the summit, says it is proud to be a part of the initiative. “One of the shared goals of building a trustworthy and sustainable society is about making business work for people and, therefore, we must appreciate the mutual value we realise in our collective success. First and foremost, we are citizens of South Africa Inc and when SA grows, we grow. So as a stakeholder in this dialogue we want to ensure that we have evidence-based conversations that lead to meaningful outcomes in our communities,” said Deloitte Southern Africa Managing Director Thiru Pillay.

About @4IRSA

For the latest news on Wits University’s involvement in the #4IRSA Partnership visit http://www.wits.ac.za/future/and for news from the #4IRSA alliance visit https://4irsa.org/.

Follow the conversations on Twitter:

  • @Wits_News
  • #Wits4IR
  • @4IRSA
  • #4IRSA

About the @4IRSA Partnership

The Partnership for the 4th Industrial Revolution in South Africa (#4IRSA) is an alliance between Telkom and the Universities of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Fort Hare, and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).

Its purpose is to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue to shape a coherent national response to the 4thIndustrial Revolution in South Africa. It aims to complement and support other national activities relating to the 4IR, most notably the Presidential Commission on the 4IR.

The 4IRSA Partnership recognises that there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa: in government, industry, academia and society at large.

However, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent, and indeed there is a high level of unawareness of each other between these processes. The 4IRSA Partnership aims to provide a platform for all these processes and stimulate shared conversation, so that they become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them, moving from fragmented divergence towards complementarity.

Following a host of workshops early in 2019, the next steps will be:

A Summit of Principles (SOP) is scheduled for later this year. This will include representatives of all of the above industries, related government departments, labour and other stakeholders. The objectives of the Summit of Principles are: to build alignment, participation and momentum for the 4IRSA process; share sector workshop outputs; agree on key areas for further research and deliberation; and agree on a framework for further action and the roadmap towards the Summit of Declarations.

The Summit of Declarations is anticipated to be held in the 4th quarter of 2019. The objective of the Summit of Declarations are: to consolidate all workstream reports into a comprehensive national response; for all stakeholders of each sector represented to table and commit to a short, medium and long term response by that sector to the 4th IR, in the form of a declaration for that sector; to agree monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; to agree further areas of dialogue and research. 

DigiMine strikes gold

- Wits University

Sibanye-Stillwater commits additional R30 million to further mining 4.0 research and development.

Mining company Sibanye-Stillwater has committed an additional R30 million over the next three years towards technology and innovation research at the Wits Mining Institute’s Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine).

Announced by Alex Fenn, Sibanye-Stillwater’s technology and innovation unit manager, at the second two-day DigiMine Seminar, the funding is in recognition for the research and development output already shown by DigiMine.

“Sibanye-Stillwater extends its commitment by an additional R10 million per year over three years towards technology research and innovation at DigiMine,” Fenn said.

The funding will be directed towards five core focus areas:

Alex Fenn, Sibanye-Stillwater’s technology and innovation unit manager, addressing the DigiMine Seminar

Fenn also read a comment from Neal Froneman, Sibany-Stillwater CEO: “This commitment represents Sibanye’s recognition of the criticality of fundamental and applied research, bridging the gap between research and commercialisation, as well as talent and educational development to its technology and innovation strategy. We look forward to the outcomes of the programme as key enablers of our vision of superior value creation for all of our stakeholders through responsible mining and beneficiation of our mineral resources.”

Professor Fred Cawood, Director of the WMI, said the Digital Mining Incubator at Tshimologong helps startup businesses in the digital mining space. “Innovators come to the incubator and if their idea makes sense, we link them up with research and development corridors in the University, such as DigiMine, to develop and roll out their idea for industry.”

Together with DigiMine, the Incubator’s aim is to develop mining-related skills and tools to effectively transform and develop South Africa’s 21st Century mining sector.

The DigiMine Seminar focused on DigiMine and Partner Technologies for 21st Century mining, and attracted mining houses’ and sector representatives who are interested in digital mining as applied to the underground environment. They gained first-hand insight into DigiMine's research agenda, research outcomes and state-of-the-art technological systems for the mining industry. The Seminar is also part of the DigiMine Short Course programme during which participants could qualify for a Wits Attendance or Competence Certification at NQF Level 7.

Presentations by postgraduate research students, as well as DigiMine past and current research and partner presentations and demonstrations of their system solutions gave attendees an in-depth view of how Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies are disrupting and transforming the mining industry.

Professor Fred Cawood, Director of the Wits Mining Institute, opening the second DigiMine Seminar.

Cawood said due to South Africa’s extremely deep underground mining practices, the focus at DigiMine is to make mining safer and sustainable using digital technologies.

This second DigiMine Seminar focused on the enablers for digital mining in South Africa:

  • Developing wireless communications systems to communicate in near real-time;
  • Improving surveying, mapping and navigation to know where who and what is in the mine, and to plot it in real-time on the mine map;
  • Create understanding and knowledge of how sensors can help to understand and detect risks for health, safety and security in mines;
  • Develop system and data integration for smart mining and decision-making.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution has a significant impact on the way mines are financed, designed, operated and maintained. I often hear mining is slow to take up technologies but in the past mines have been fast to take up new technologies and were some of the first industries to adopt digital technologies,” Cawood said.

“What makes it difficult in the South African mining environment is our harsh conditions underground; our unique ore bodies; the depth of our working; and the skills set of the people that are working with these systems.”

He said digital is “the ‘e-language’ to support profitable, safe and intelligent mining. We have been developing technologies that work well above ground but we need to focus on what is required to extend these digital systems into our deep underground mining environment to enable real-time decision making.”

About the Wits Mining Institute

The Wits Mining Institute (WMI) in the Faculty of Engineering and the Build Environment is a platform of long-established expertise in mining-related fields of study, dedicated to expedite the emergence of a 21st Century model of mining that is both sustainable and competitive. The future role of mining in the social economy depends heavily on innovation in every associated dimension. This includes extractive technologies, the full range of up-side and down-stream economic linkages, the distribution of socio-economic benefits, health and safety, environmental externalities and post-mining economic sustainability, while also establishing an enabling environment for the industry’s future. The primary focus of WMI is applicable research of the highest quality addressing multi-disciplinary and complex questions. The WMI seeks to influence the world through generating new knowledge, influencing policy, building strategic partnerships and leading society.

About the Sibanye-Stillwater Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine)

DigiMine is a one-of-a-kind facility in which the Chamber of Mines Building on the Braamfontein Campus West has been converted into a simulated mining operation, complete with a mine surface (using the flat roof of the building), a vertical shaft (using a stairwell in the fourth quadrant of the building) and a mock underground mine with control room in the basement.

DigiMine is equipped with digital systems to enable research for the mine of the future; our research agenda is to transfer surface digital technologies into the underground environment, enabling a mine to automatically observe, evaluate and take action. The ultimate objective is to use technology to put distance between mine workers and the typical risks they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Software licence donation advances Geosciences

- Wits University

Petroleum Experts Ltd has donated an academic software licence worth R25m to the School of Geosciences.

The School of Geosciences has acquired MOVE software, the global standard in the minerals exploration, mining, and environmental geosciences for analysis of structural geological data collection, analysis, 3D visualisation and modelling.

The donation by Petroleum Experts Ltd of 10 academic licences for use in research and student training has been made on a renewable licence agreement and is valued at approximately R25m.

Dr Matthew Brayshaw joined the School recently from the mining industry where he used the software in mine exploration.

Dr Tshibubudze and Matthew Hales

“I found the MOVE software to be incredibly useful in stress mapping related to targeting mineralization prospectivity in hydrothermal gold deposits. The ability to integrate my structural observations with other geological and geophysical datasets on a single platform and at varying scales was particularly beneficial and is something that I am continuing into my research,” he said.  

Brayshaw has secured funding for several ruggedized tablets that can withstand the rigours of geological fieldwork. These tablets will be used for data collection and then linked to the campus-based MOVE software suite.

Dr Asinne Tshibubudze, senior lecturer in the School, co-leads the West Africa Craton Exploration Initiative (WAXI). WAXI creates integrated digital geological and geophysical datasets across multiple countries in West Africa that can then be interrogated by mineral exploration teams. Tshibubudze said he was looking forward to using the MOVE software to train students.  

“Having personally experienced the benefits of digital mapping technologies within the project [WAXI], I am excited to have the opportunity to train our local and international students in modern mapping techniques that can be applied in the African context.”

Professor Roger Gibson, Head of the School of Geosciences, expressed his gratitude to Petroleum Experts Ltd for the generous donation, which comes at a time when the School is completing a significant overhaul of its undergraduate curriculum which, inter alia, aims to develop stronger data management and interpretation skills in students.

“This donation comes at an opportune time when we are strategizing about how to accommodate the accelerating technological innovation within our discipline. Our teaching team is already hard at work looking at ways to incorporate the MOVE software into our senior undergraduate and postgraduate courses so that our graduates can take their places with confidence in the modern workplace that is experiencing massive technological disruption,” he said.  

The "big data mess" and how to clean it up

- Wits University

A rethink of operational processes as a complex system, and the application of machine learning as an adaptive analytical framework.

Phumlani Nhlanganiso Khoza, 3rd year PhD student and Associate Lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics

A new research and design laboratory at Wits University with a unique commercialisation component to develop bespoke business solutions is rethinking how big data and advanced analytics impact on operational processes in organisations.

Founded in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM), the new Scilinx Research laboratory and the Scilinx Studio [please note this website is currently only accessible from outside the Wits University network] is a cross-disciplinary research unit with a novel approach to operations research.

The Scilinx-approach: Advancing Operational Frontier is to give businesses and organisations direct access through its commercial arm, the Scilinx Studio, to a dedicated research team with the relevant expertise who can develop tailored cutting-edge and cross-disciplinary business solutions in the Scilinx Research laboratory.

Through custom-built machine learning enabled tools, its work is a revival of operations research – the application of advanced analytical methods to solve organisational problems. Using this approach, there is a direct connection with the nuts-and-bolts of organisational processes.

“Big data mess”

The brainchild of Phumlani Nhlanganiso Khoza, 3rd year PhD student and Associate Lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, Scilinx was conceptualised out of a growing need that businesses and industries require high level specialised expertise to develop solutions for their agile, freely evolving operational systems and processes.

“There is a need to design tools that can extract insights while a system is naturally evolving and use these insights to improve performance, productivity and give the business a competitive edge,” says Khoza.

While this sounds easy and self-evident in principle, the emergence of big data has resulted in complex data sets or “big data mess”: large collections of data from varied sources with no prescribed structure.

“This is making it difficult for organisations to create a holistic view of all of its data. Incomplete data leads to inaccurate analysis and very few organisations know the extent to which their analysis and projections are based on incomplete data,” Khoza explains.

Big data sets and unstructured data have completely disrupted how we deal with more complex organisational processes in dynamic environments. “That is why we need cutting-edge research that advances operational frontiers in organisations, primarily by improving information flows,” says Khoza.

In the Scilinx Research laboratory, an interdisciplinary research team conducts fundamental research in operational complexity by using design thinking to solve business problems and propose innovative solutions.

Traditionally, operations research is conducted to improve performance of organisations and businesses by using an engineering approach to problem-solving. The basic assumption in an engineered system is that its behaviour can be fully specified, and thus controlled as a result of this type understanding. In reality, rarely do decision-makers fully know what the system can do, and what a new element or interaction pattern will lead to. Fundamentally, as interconnectedness is strengthening, knowledge of what the predictive outcome will be is increasingly losing efficacy.

“This is not the reality in solving real business problems today,” says Khoza. “Operational systems are constantly subjected to evolution and change due to human factors such as the behaviour of business operators and clients. When dealing with people and business processes you do not really know what is going to happen when you change an element in the process,” says Khoza. All of this is motivating for new ways to process design, and risk management.

Homegrown technologies

“Therefore, Scilinx is using the iterative bottom-up approach from design thinking, where the basic question is how to experiment and learn. You allow the system to operate as a natural system, and let it evolve. As the data gets messy and tangled, you grow technologies that are able to keep up with the messiness of the data.”

“For instance”, Khoza continues, “there is a saying that data scientists spend about 80% of their time cleaning up data, which is not really what they should be doing. We should be asking how to efficiently handle these types of problems”. To extract operational insights from unstructured data can be a time consuming and costly endeavour.

“One of the big problems with data is that you need to source data from people, so there’s still a considerable amount of data engineering work to be done in organisations. In a company, the data that is needed to perform analytics can sit in emails, spreadsheets, someone’s folders, it could be news feeds or social media feeds, and in many more platforms. Thus, one of our core research pillars is the development of machine learning tools that are coupled with well-defined data pipelines. The objective is to quickly and effectively extract the relevant insights and express them in formats that make it possible for various stakeholders, especially executives, to understand the behaviour and structure of their organisations. Our approach to this is the development of semantic networks, and we currently have research projects related to financial markets and Twitter information flows that are based on the construction of these semantic networks.”

The end of the age of silo organisations

The Scilinx Studio is an example of an organisational network where academic researchers and industry partners can come together to form collaborative links to accelerate experimentation in process and technological innovations.

“Firstly, there is an emerging approach to collaborate with domain-expert teams in academic institutions as a means to build organisational capacity and deepen specialisation. Scilinx Studio is drawing on expertise from various disciplines and Faculties at Wits University and beyond, in undergraduate and postgraduate studies. The fluid nature of these relationships makes it possible to not only de-risk experimentation for industry partners, but also enhances their agility while also maintaining attractive operational costs.”

 “Secondly, organsational competitive advantage should be a top priority in interconnected markets, and this cannot be achieved through the adoption of non-differentiating best practice methods. Scilinx Studio offers bespoke research solutions, and research insights that enjoy limited circulation. These informational offerings are a basis for proprietary strategies.”

“And thirdly, on the research front, our efforts at Scilinx Research are ongoing as we try to understand new problems and develop viable solutions that can be prototyped as well. Our objective is not just to discuss ideas, but to develop functional technologies,” explains Khoza.

Call for collaboration

Going forward Khoza says through the Scilinx Studio, his team is currently reaching out to organisations across all sectors to offer its services to advance operational capabilities through cutting-edge research and bespoke business solutions.

The areas of focus are risk management, computational finance, and operational complexity as a general framework to enhance operational effectiveness. Current research initiatives cover the mining sector, financial markets, and the development of advanced insight-generating operational technologies.

Later this year, Scilinx Research and Scilinx Studio will be organising a closed event to showcase its innovation, research and prototypes to company, corporate and industry representatives.

Visit the Scilinx website: http://scilinx.wits.ac.za/ [Please note this website is currently only accessible from outside the Wits University network]

Follow on Twitter: @ScilinxResearch

First 5G training in SA for ICT postgrads at Wits

- Wits University

Huawei South Africa has launched free 5G training for ICT postgraduates at Wits University.

Huawei South Africa has launched free 5G training for ICT postgraduates at Wits University.

The inaugural event kicked off at Wits University in Johannesburg and at the University of Pretoria (UP) this week. The course is part of Huawei’s ICT Talent Ecosystem programme, which aims to grow and support ICT skills training and skills transfer in South Africa, especially in the latest technologies of 5G, artificial intelligence, cloud and data services. There are also plans to expand the programme across the country.

5G is seen as the key technology of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), which is changing the way we live, work, play and consume services. The 4IR is a key focus for the future growth and development of South Africa’s economy. (See Wits’ 4IR-related research by visiting www.wits.ac.za/future/.)

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research at Wits, said at the launch that “skills, knowledge, innovation and creativity would be the cornerstones for development in the 4IR. Wits encourages industry and stakeholder partnerships that invest in our students and our future. I would like to acknowledge the leadership of Huawei South Africa for their vision in planning, not just for the balance sheet and the bottom line, but also for the development and growth of human capital.”

Huawei is widely acknowledged as the global leader in 5G technologies, and is the only equipment provider with end-to-end 5G products and solutions, including 5G CPEs for commercial use and 5G smartphone devices.

Huawei Deputy CEO Kian Chen said research shows that 70% of all jobs are forecast to have an ICT component by 2020.

“As South Africa moves into the 4IR, no one must be left behind. Most future applications in the 4IR era will run in a 5G network and environment. That is why it is our privilege to start this 5G skills transfer in South Africa, and we are glad to partner with Wits and UP to offer South Africa’s first 5G training for ICT students,” said Chen.

 “We believe that South Africa’s talented young people have the potential to mature into world-class experts. By enhancing industry-academic cooperation, we, as an international ICT company, hope to make our contribution to achieving the country’s development goals,” concluded Chen.

Equipping Wits’ ICT students for future jobs

- Wits University

Leading Chinese telecommunications company injects more than R1 million towards student funding at Wits.

The scholarship boost to Information Science students will allow them to pursue their dreams with this donation of R1 150 000 by ZTE South Africa, a multinational telecommunications equipment and solution company with headquarters in Shenzhen, China.

From left: Jerry Zhou, Nontsikelelo Harmse, Professor Adam Habib, Ambassador Lin Songtian

Speaking at the handover ceremony on 31 May 2019, Professor Adam Habib, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, thanked ZTE South Africa saying the funding cements a strategic partnership with the University.

“Your contribution of scholarships to our students in the ICT and telecommunications field is at one level a scholarship, and at another level it is developing a whole series of students who would not have been able to have the resources to get the human resource skills. It is the building of transnational partnerships,” he said.

Habib added that both China and Africa needed to come together to collectively address the multinational and transnational challenges we face through strategic partnerships.

“Every single one of our challenges, is multinational, it is transnational. It is not necessarily national itself. If we are going to address these challenges, we need multinational teams of researchers, business people, academics, activists and communities that begin to address the challenges of our times. If we do not cohere as a collective human, if we do not come together as a human community, we will never be able to address the challenges that we confront. This is why this partnership with China is so important.”

Jerry Zhou, CEO of ZTE South Africa said they are proud to collaborate with Wits to unlock opportunities for talented students.

“We are very excited to have this opportunity to make a contribution to education, which is fundamentally one of the key factors for the growth of South Africa in the future,” said Zhou.

The scholarship donation is part of ZTE’s obligation to fulfil its corporate social responsibilities. The company has offered support to various sectors such as education, health care, technology and skills development. Speaking ahead of Youth Month celebrated in South Africa in June, Zhou said empowering young people by investing in them is a key focus for ZTE.

“Today South Africa is going through an important era and stage of transformation and we strongly believe that our future lies with the youth of our generation and we need to empower them with training, skills development and technology transfer. A high-skilled workforce such as IT and telecommunication professionals are extremely scarce, and as part of our corporate responsibility, we wish to participate in the vision of South Africa’s youth, which is ‘preparing the youth for future jobs.”

ZTE has been sponsoring Wits students since 2017. Over 15 students are now beneficiaries of the funding from ZTE. One of the beneficiaries of the scholarship, Nontsikelelo Harmse, said she is honoured to be awarded the scholarship and recognised among several other ICT students in the country. An honours student in Information Sciences, Harmse says she enjoys the constant innovation and creativity in the field because the world is going digital.

Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian, who was at the ceremony, said “to invest in education and human resource development is to invest in the future.”

Songtian added that the Chinese came to invest in Africa’s infrastructure to prepare it for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Wits enters the quantum computing universe with IBM Q

- Wits University

IBM expands its quantum computing program with Wits as its first partner in Africa on the IBM Q Network.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) has announced the expansion of its quantum computing efforts to Africa in a new collaboration with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in South Africa. Wits University is the first African partner on the IBM Q Network and will be the gateway for academics across South Africa and to the 15 universities who are part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

Dr Solomon Assefa is the Vice President | IBM Research: Africa & Emerging Market Solutions (left) with • Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at the University of the Witwatersrand with a 3D printed IBMQ quantum computer 

“This is the latest outcome of the joint partnership between IBM Research and Wits, which started in 2016 when IBM opened its second lab in Africa at the Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Johannesburg. To expand the IBM Q Network to include Wits will drive innovation in frontier-technologies and benefit African-based researchers, academics and students who now have access to decades of quantum computing capabilities at the click of a button,” said Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs.

[Also read: Becoming Quantum Ready in Africa]

Quantum computing promises to be able to solve certain problems – such as chemical simulations and types of optimization – that will be beyond the practical reach of classical machines. IBM first made quantum computers available to the public in May 2016 through its IBM Q Experience quantum cloud service and has doubled the power of its quantum computers annually since 2017. 

IBM also established the IBM Q Network™, a community of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions and research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science.

Researchers at Wits will investigate the use of quantum computing and machine learning in the fields of cosmology and molecular biology with a specific focus on HIV drug discovery. The teams will also jointly study quantum teleportation, a field pioneered by IBM Fellow Charles Bennett. 

“For Africa to remain competitive for the coming decades we must get the next generation of students quantum ready,” said Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research - Africa. 

As part of the partnership between IBM and Wits, scholars from 15 universities ARUA universities including: Addis Ababa University; University of Ghana; University of Nairobi; University of Lagos; University of Ibadan; Obafemi Awolowo University lle-Ife; University of Rwanda; University Cheikh Anta Diop; University of Cape Town; University of Kwa-Zulu Natal; University of Pretoria; Rhodes University; University of Stellenbosch; University of Dar es Salaam and Makerere University, will have the opportunity to apply for access to IBM Q's most-advanced quantum computing systems and software for teaching quantum information science and exploring early applications. To gain access to the IBM Q quantum cloud service, ARUA scholars will be required to submit quality research proposals to a scientific committee of Wits and IBM experts for approval. 

“Having access to IBM Q is pivotal for Wits University’s cross-disciplinary research program and allows our researchers in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and in the broad natural sciences, including in laser technology, quantum optics and molecular design, to leverage the next level of discovery research. It’s envisioned that the first results from this collaboration will be forthcoming in the next two years,” said Vilakazi.

Qiskit Camp 

IBM's recently unveiled IBM Q System One, is the world's first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use.

IBM's most advanced universal quantum computing systems available through the IBM Q Experience platform. More than 10 million experiments have run on the IBM Q Experience and users have published over 160 third-party research papers. Also, developers can work with Qiskit, a full-stack, open-source quantum software development kit, to create and run quantum computing programs. 

To further increase skills development, IBM Q is hosting an invite-only Qiskit Camp in South Africa this December for 200 quantum researchers and computer scientists where they will learn in an immersive environment and receive hands-on training. 

For more information about the IBM Q Network, as well as a full list of all partners, members, and hubs, visit https://www.research.ibm.com/ibm-q/network/ 

The agreement with Wits was signed in April 2019.

IBM Q Lab. ©Connie-ZhoU_IBM

ABOUT THE PARTNERS

IBM Q is an industry-first initiative to build commercial universal quantum systems for business and science applications. For more information about IBM's quantum computing efforts, please visit www.ibm.com/ibmq. IBM Q Network™ and IBM Q™ are trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation. 

Wits University is as a leading university, ranking first or second in Africa in all major global rankings, is transforming society and impacting positively on humanity through its commitment to academic and research excellence, and social justice. Whilst training scholars to explore frontier discovery research and innovation in science, technologies such as artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning, Wits is always mindful of how it will impact humanity, the future of our work and how we live, and our morals, ethics and values. 

The African Research Universities Alliance, inaugurated in Dakar in March 2015, brings together 16 of the region’s leading universities from different countries and different historical backgrounds, in a network with a common vision: to expand and enhance significantly the quality of research done in Africa by African researchers. This new network, from inception, was intended to be different from any other regional university networks. The difference was to come largely from the approach to be employed, namely bringing together a number of peer African institutions that were willing to work together by pooling their own limited resources, with a view to generating a critical mass that could more effectively support their limited, but growing numbers of researchers. Underlying this was the conviction that they could thereby leverage this effectively for additional resources from outside.

Becoming quantum ready in Africa

- Ismail Akhalwaya, Solomon Assefa, Zeblon Vilakazi

With rapid progress over the last couple of decades we are entering a new era of computing and Africa needs to act now.

Dr Ismail Akhalwaya and Dr Solomon Assefa from IBM, with Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at the University of the Witwatersrand (right)

Classical computing has served society incredibly well. It gave us the Internet and cashless commerce. It sent humans to the moon, put robots on Mars and smartphones in our pockets. But many of the world’s biggest mysteries and potentially greatest opportunities remain beyond the grasp of classical computers forever.

To continue the pace of progress, we need to augment the classical approach with a completely new paradigm, one that follows its own set of rules. It’s called quantum computing.

Quantum Computing is a radically new way of performing computer calculations. For certain problems, it is exponentially faster than classical computers. To understand what exponentially faster means it helps to bear in mind that even a classical computer made up of all the electrons in the universe could not match a Quantum computer.

This is made possible by controlling and manipulating the electrons under very specialised conditions (including under extremely cold conditions, close to absolute zero, -273.15 C). This quantum mechanical control includes three essential concepts: superposition, exponential combinations and measurement.

Quantum computers are built on the principles of quantum mechanics, the complex and fascinating laws of nature at the microscopic level. These laws have always been there but their weirdness can only be harnessed under extremely delicate conditions outside of which the strange effects remain mostly hidden from view.

By harnessing such natural behaviour, quantum computers can run new types of algorithms to potentially solve previously “unsolvable” problems in optimisationchemistry and machine learning.

With rapid progress over the last couple of decades we are entering a new era of computing and Africa needs to act now. We need to educate, we need to skill up and we need to brainstorm around the most pressing African use-cases.

Why quantum computing is important for Africa

It is widely believed amongst scientists that Africa is the cradle of humankind. Humans first appeared between around 300,000 and 200,000 years ago, but only left Africa around 70,000 years ago (to select the largest of multiple waves of migrations).

During these periods and up to the present day, genetic diversity has been increasing, with the net result that Africans still have more diversity than the rest of the world combined. Such diversity is a treasure chest of genetic information. This includes the ability to more easily infer the role of different genes (by averaging over more varieties) and also discovering natural immunities to diseases.

Furthermore, in the age of personalised genetic medicine, solutions for one population group don't necessarily help another. This all points to the need for us Africans to mine the jewels of our own genetic heritage using the latest techniques for genetics and drug discovery. Quantum computing promises to open exciting new avenues of research in this area.

Our genetic heritage is only one surprising natural resource that Africa has -- another is the clarity of our night skies at high altitudes. This won Southern African countries the prestige of being selected to host the future world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

African and global scientists who come to Africa to use the SKA should participate in the processing and interpretation of SKA data on African soil, with all the local spin-off benefits coming to Africa. Indeed, this is part of the reason for having local supercomputing facilities on the continent. Quantum computing also promises to solve physics simulation and pattern discovery problems relevant to the SKA that complement the power of the classical supercomputers. The quantum computing expertise that must be fostered to fulfill the goal of beneficiating the raw data would also have local spin-off benefits for Africa.

The last African-specific reason justifying investment in quantum computing is the future security implications. Quantum computers have the long-time horizon potential to crack certain types of encryption we use to safeguard transactions. There are classical solutions to being Quantum-safe and it would be prudent if Africa had local expertise. Such advice would steer the middle path between complacency and unwarranted hype and alarm.

An IBM scientist work in the IBM Q computation center_©Connie ZhoU_IBM

Africa’s Got Talent

Sometimes the question is posed, that while the vision to diversify and nurture local expertise may be well founded, do we have the raw talent? Fortunately, in South Africa we have a history of innovation in quantum physics to draw upon (for example, the Nobel prize for the invention of the CAT scan) and even recent surprising successes in the already mentioned supercomputing field, which is strongly intertwined with quantum computing. Over a recent four-year period, the South African Supercomputing teams were three-time world champions in the International Supercomputing Competition.

One of the most promising indicators that Africans should move quickly and invest in nurturing the skills around the burgeoning field of quantum computing is that there is already a long history of academic activity in South Africa. For example, the Chris Engelbrecht Summer School in Theoretical Physics has had as its main theme, Quantum related fields, since the 1980's and there are well established research groups, including those led by: Professor Andrew Forbes, Wits University; Professor Francesco Petruccione, University of KwaZulu-Natal and Professor Hermann Uys, Stellenbosch University.

This is what gave IBM and Wits the confidence to bring quantum computing to Africa, to enable African researchers to keep abreast with cutting edge developments in this extremely promising technological field. And by leveraging the African Research Universities Alliance and its additional 15 university members we can be bold and optimistic.

To jumpstart the learning and community building process IBM Q is hosting an invite-only Qiskit Camp in South Africa this December for 200 quantum researchers and computer scientists where they will learn in an immersive environment and receive hands-on training.

In summary, my fellow Africans, let's get quantum ready.

  • Wits University recently became the first African partner on the IBM Q Network and will be the gateway for academics across South Africa and to the 15 universities who are part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).
  • Dr Ismail Akhalwaya is a Research Scientist at IBM Research, Quantum
  • Dr Solomon Assefa is the Vice President | IBM Research: Africa & Emerging Market Solutions encompassing the South African and Kenyan labs
  • Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at the University of the Witwatersrand

Structuring SA’s digital government: the road not traveled?

- Lucienne Abrahams and Mark Burke

The potential capabilities afforded by digital technologies should not be ignored in the current stage of design of the future government administration.

Speculation about the future composition and organisation of  the government in SA as a crucial state capability to shift the development path of society towards a more equal, inclusive and sustainable one, is rife at the moment. With about a week to go before President Cyril Ramaphosa announces his Cabinet, which will give an indication of his thinking on the reconfiguration of the state, various ideas have been put forward.

There is some speculation that the configuration of the government will merely revert to the composition before the process of unbundling and fragmentation that took place in the past 10 years. It is understandable that political motivations will dominate the decision on the composition of the Cabinet and government departments. Tough political bargaining, aimed at bringing on board the most important constituencies of the governing party, while also providing a level of legitimacy and stability for anchoring the new administration, will leave an indelible mark on the choices made.

However, the composition of the government cannot be left to only politics if there is to be a developmental commitment to building a capable state. It must also take account of the changing conditions under which this administration will come into being and must, by design, be congruent and responsive to major developments impacting the ability of the government to perform.

One of the most dramatic influencing factors to emerge since the turn of the 21st century is the extent to which digital technologies now shape our lives. Increasingly, they are impacting the very notions of identity, the relationship that citizens have with the state, the nature of policy-making, and the opportunities and constraints for delivery of services. Digital technologies now afford governments the opportunity to develop new, and strengthen existing, capabilities necessary to address some of the most intractable challenges in our society.

For instance, big data has the potential to better target distinct packages of social insurance to the most marginalised in society, with predictive analytics capable of modeling cause and effect to channel support to the most effective forms of social insurance. In healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI) can assist in diagnostics, estimating the probability of disease outbreaks, and monitoring specific illnesses, for example.

The value of these kinds of digital technologies can only be harvested optimally for policy-making and service delivery when large scale data sets are established in ways that enable databases to interface with each other to form cross-departmental digital platforms. Such digital platforms provide the foundation for sharing data and services across previously independent (but now inter-dependent) government departments and entities. These ideas have found traction over the past few years in terms of thinking about government-as-a-platform (GaaP).

Our purpose here is not to promote specific paradigms of technology use in government, or advance some form of technological determinism; rather, it is to suggest that the potential capabilities afforded by digital technologies should not be ignored in the current stage of design of the future government administration.

Digitisation must lead to digitalisation

Historically, SA’s dominant focus for digital government formation has been on automation. This is a necessary process by which analogue and paper-based processes in government are digitised. Once digitised, such information and processes have the potential to contribute to the digital transformation (digitalisation) of government.

In addition to the focus on automation in government, there have also been a few large-scale investments in systems aimed at the consolidation of databases into standardised single platforms such as the automated biometric identification system (Abis) and the home affairs national identification system (Hanis). The integrated justice system (IJS) brings together eight departments, agencies and authorities in the criminal justice value chain to produce an integrated digital platform to manage the information exchanges across the criminal justice system.

The effective formation of such digital platforms requires, among other things, integration across individual departmental boundaries, which represents a significant challenge to organisational autonomy, accountability and inter-operability. While the technical infrastructure is available to link systems across organisational boundaries through networks, the institutional infrastructure — including incentives, procedures, and cultures that underpin the required inter-operabilit — needs much greater attention.

The barriers to integration exist mainly because the design of government is based largely on the outdated Weberian model of state organisation developed in the 18th century, not allowing for the greater flexibility needed today. In this model, governments are arranged as organisational units concerned with the provision of services to meet specific needs, such as education, healthcare and welfare, or support for economic sectors, such as agriculture, mining and various branches of industry.

This organisation is framed by a reductionist and rationalist worldview, in which problems can only be understood by reducing them into elementary building blocks that can be addressed independently. Sectoral interests and practices thus dominate government programmes, trapping them in modes of operation that are confined to narrow, sectorally focused approaches to problem-solving. This limits the flexibility necessary to respond to continuously changing ways of living and doing business.

In this next period, the major challenge for the government is not the technical infrastructure, but instead, the re-organisation of the institutional arrangements that make possible a citizen-centric approach to policy-making and service delivery. Yet, it is the re-organisation, interconnection and integration made possible by networked digital infrastructure that policy makers least consider in the organisation of the state.

The path to a digital government is not without risk. Privacy, data integrity and cyber-security are some of the key risks on this path. These risks need to be weighed up against the capabilities afforded by new and, at times, disruptive, digital technologies. But can SA afford not to take advantage of the capabilities afforded by digital technologies in the re-organisation of government?  Rehashing a mode of organisation fit for the 20th century is unlikely to enable government to cope with the complex governance and service challenges of this century.

The composition of the Cabinet and the next administration provides a first opportunity for considering how to embed new modes of organisation in the form of post-Weberian networks, ecosystems and platforms, to inform the future organisation of government. Not taking this opportunity will, in future, come to represent the road not traveled towards effective structuring of government administration and service delivery, for addressing inequality, poverty, sustained low economic growth and unemployment.

Dr Lucienne Abrahams is director at the LINK Centre, Wits University; and Mark Burke is a visiting researcher and convenor of the Frontiers of Digital Government Programme: LINK Centre, Wits University. This article was first published in Business Day.

SA students win world supercomputing competition once again

- Wits University

Wits students are part of South African team to take first prize at the International Supercomputing Conference.

Third-year information engineering students, Anita de Mello Koch and Kaamilah Desai from the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, are part of the six-member team that participated in the 2019 International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt, Germany, last week.

This is the fourth time a South African team has won the International Student Cluster Competition at the ISC High Performance conference. The undergraduate team also included four students from the University of Cape Town – Stephan Schröder, Dillon Heald, Jehan Singh and Clara Stassen.

Team South Africa has won gold at the International Student Cluster Supercomputing Competition in Germany. ©CHPC

The SA team, made up of 50% men and 50% women, walked away with the highest overall score against teams, among others, from the USA, UK, China, Taiwan, Spain, Switzerland, Estonia and Singapore.

The ISC’ International Student Cluster Competition is regarded as the premier international high-performance computing student competition. South Africa won the competition on debut in 2013 and repeated the feat in 2014 and 2016, coming second in 2015 and 2017.  The South African team is one of few that consist entirely of undergraduate students, and of different students each year.

“It is great that South Africa do so well in this competition and that we can show we are at the forefront of this technology. You are not necessarily exposed to supercomputing in your studies and this is a great way to get introduced to the field. It was also amazing to attend the conference where we learnt a lot from the greatest minds in supercomputing,” says De Mello Koch.

In December last year, the team members represented their individual universities during the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC)’s 12th National Conference hosted in Cape Town. Wits students in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering (EIE), including De Mello Koch and Desai, and from the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics (CSAM) won various awards at this conference.

"I am tremendously proud of Anita and Kaamilah. Their achievement shows that our students are able to compete with the best in the world at the cutting edge of information technology," says Professor Estelle Trengove, Head of School: School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits University.

 

Supervised by team advisors and computer engineers David Macleod and Matthew Cawood of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), the SA team took first place with the highest overall score for all the benchmarks they were given. Macleod, CHPC’s Advanced Computer Engineering Lab, said in a statement the team’s winning formula is to have dedicated students and sponsors. “Our sponsors are excellent and allowed the team to choose equipment without restriction or compromise. In turn the students put in a lot of time and effort before the competition and arrived at the competition well prepared.”

The Department of Science and Technology said in a statement that this “competition is one way that proves that South Africa will be able to fully participate in this new technological era and assist citizens to live better”.

“The skills that South Africa is building in supercomputing will help the country deal with the disruptive technologies that the fourth industrial revolution is promising,” said Dr Daniel Adams, Acting Deputy Director-General for Research Development and Support at the DST.

South Africa takes a quantum leap and joins the race

- Zeblon Vilakazi

Quantum technologies are exploding and no longer the purview of laboratory experiments only.

The race is on for governments and private industries to adopt its most promising and robust ideas into applications. Already a billion-pound (R18-billion) industry in the UK, most developed countries and a few BRICS states have already invested millions of euros in quantum technologies. Should South Africa follow suit?

Co-ordinated and competing international efforts to develop quantum technologies are systematically leading the birth of a new high-tech industry. Early estimates show the current market value for components supplied to primary researchers in quantum technologies is around £100-million (R1.8-billion).

In May, a leading scientific journal, Nature, reported that the European Commission has quietly announced plans to launch a billion euro (R16.2-billion) research project to boost a raft of quantum technologies on the continent – from secure communication networks to ultra-precise gravity sensors and clocks. In Asia, Chinese scientists are nearing completion of a 2 000 kilometre-long quantum-communication link – the longest in the world – to send information securely between Beijing and Shanghai. US technology giants such as IBM, Google, Microsoft and Lockheed Martin are leading the quantum computing field with huge investments in related hardware and software development.

These advancements are further making the case for South Africa to become an active participant and not just passive recipient in shaping and driving some of the cutting-edge knowledge and technological quantum developments that have largely been concentrated in Europe, North America and North Eastern Asia.

Last week Wits University and IBM announced a new collaboration that makes Wits the first African partner on the IBM Q Network. Wits will act as the gateway through which its own researchers, as well as scholars from South Africa and the 15 universities in the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), can gain access to the 20 qubit-IBM Q quantum computer with its advanced quantum computing systems and software for teaching quantum information science and exploring early applications. This is no mean feat indeed, as it positions South Africa at the cutting edge of developments in this frontier field of computing.

Dr Solomon Assefa is the Vice President | IBM Research: Africa & Emerging Market Solutions (left) with • Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at the University of the Witwatersrand with a 3D printed IBMQ quantum computer

Advances in the engineering of quantum states have given rise to the “second quantum revolution” with the arrival of new technologies, such as enhanced medical imaging, efficient light harvesting materials (clean energy) and secure optical communication networks (cybersecurity). These advances also led to the development of exponentially faster computers (quantum computers) that are closely integrated with diverse technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning and considered a core security component of devices that will fuel the fourth industrial revolution.

Quantum research in South Africa over the past decade has produced significant results and, in some cases, has been world leading. The benefits offered by the leap in quantum computing technology advances are critical if the country is to continue to be part of this new wave of research.

In announcing the IBMQ/Wits partnership last week, Dr Solomon Assefa, Vice President for IBM Research: Africa & Emerging Market Solutions encompassing the South African and Kenyan labs and recipient of a MIT Technology Review award for “Top Young Innovator under 35”, said: “To remain competitive for the coming decades we must get the next generation of students and researchers quantum ready.”

One of the most promising applications of quantum computing will be in the area of chemistry. In the South African context, early interest in this field is in HIV drug delivery research. Researchers in molecular and cellular biology at Wits are specifically focusing on understanding the virus’s C-subtype, the most prevalent and frequently transmitted HIV subtype in sub-Saharan Africa that has been suggested to account for greater than 95% of infections in South Africa. Molecules obey the rules of quantum physics, and in order to model a molecule in nature you need instrumentation that behaves and follows the rules of that particular molecule. Researchers are exploring how to use quantum computing to do just that.

On a global scale, Wits physicists have already shown that real-time error correction in quantum communications is possible and access to IBM Q Network will significantly enhance the leading research conducted at the Wits Structured Light Laboratory, among other research groups in South Africa.

Far from being a leap of faith, investment in quantum technologies in South Africa is crucial if we want to leverage the next level of discovery research that can help us to address the country’s most intractable problems. Just as crucial is the digital economic potential that quantum computing holds for technology start-ups in the hardware and software development fields.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits University. This article was first published in the Daily Maverick.

Embrace 4IR to address poverty, inequality and unemployment - Ramaphosa

- Wits University

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the keynote address at South Africa’s first #4IRSA Digital Economy Summit.

Professor Adam Habib, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at the @4IRSA Digital Economy Summit

Our nation is forging a digital compact that is a critical contributor to our development as a nation – a digital compact with economic, justice and social benefit and innovation at its heart,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa at the first Digital Economy Summit (4IRSA) hosted by the 4IRSA Partnership in Johannesburg. 

“The digital compact is an important component of the new social compact to which I referred during my recent State of the Nation address,” he added. 

Wits University is one of the founding members of the 4IRSA - an alliance with the Universities of the Johannesburg and Fort Hare, Telkom, private sector partners Deloitte, Huawei and Vodacom, and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies – that aims to accelerate the development of an inclusive, coherent, national response to the 4IR for South Africa, based on research. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Professor Adam Habib at the @4IRSA Digital Economy Summit

Addressing the gathering of key constituencies from the public and private sectors, academia and civil society, Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, said South Africa needs to ‘reimagine human life and what it means to be human in the 21st Century’. 

“We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, some which we may not yet have encountered and work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing to create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power. We are the pioneers who can reimagine how digital innovation can transform our world,” Habib said.

Follow #Wits4IR & visit www.wits.ac.za/future/ for our contribution to #4IRSA

Developing a unique Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) blueprint for South Africa

“The Summit was convened to stimulate and facilitate an inclusive national dialogue on the 4IR in South Africa. While there are several 4IR-related processes and dialogues underway in South Africa in government, industry, academia and society at large, these are, in the main, fragmented, eclectic and divergent. The Summit provides a platform for all these conversations so that they can become mutually visible, thereby facilitating progressive coherence between them,” said Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair of Digital Business at Wits University and Secretary of 4IRSA.

Dr George Friedman in conversation with Professor Brian Armstrong at the @4IRSA Digital Economy Summit 

Opening the event, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and we must take action to prepare our nation fully for the new economy and new society.  We need a national strategy and South Africa must take a lead in order to ensure that we collectively harness the opportunities and navigate the challenges brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” 

His talk was followed by internationally renowned geopolitical forecaster, international affairs strategist and best-selling author, Dr George Friedman, who provided a global view on 4IR, saying that, in South Africa, he foresees this period of instability and tension evolving into new growth in two directions -  4IR and upward mobility for South Africans. 

While unpacking what 4IRSA is and the objectives of the Digital Economy Summit, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib, said: “We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, some which we may not yet have encountered. We need to work across sectors to develop the technology required for us to leapfrog across eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing, create a new world order that prioritises humanity before profits and power.” 

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said: “The Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies has taken a conscious decision that at the heart of the 4IR conversation, is a people-centred response that speaks to jobs, skills and broad economic participation.  As such, we have endeavoured to ensure that skills development is an important pillar to position the nation for the 4IR. To this end, we recently commissioned a digital skills study that revealed that skills in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Cybersecurity, Digital Communications, Digital Modelling, Machine Learning, Mechatronics and Cloud Computing will equip South Africans for future occupations.  That is why we have developed initiatives such as the ‘Building a capable 4IR Army’ programme to ensure that our communities, especially the youth, are equipped to take advantage of new digital technologies, unlock future jobs and drive competitiveness.” 

She added: “The impending 5G world and the reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution requires us to ensure that the digital divide does not expand; that there is real transformation in terms of access to affordable ICT infrastructure and services; and that there is a clear long-term and sustainable programme to promote the 4IR.” 

The President concluded the morning’s talks by saying: “Given what we know today about the potential benefits of what the Fourth Industrial Revolution can yield, we must embrace this historic conference of human insights and engagements, artificial intelligence, and technology, to rise to the challenges and enable us to address poverty, inequality as well as unemployment, which is the biggest triple problem that we face in our country. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are going to be early adopters and we are going to be ahead.” 

In a first for South Africa, Ramaphosa’s address was broadcast live via a hologram to an audience in the Rustenburg Civic Centre. This was the first ever live holographic broadcast of a Head of State and a sign of South Africa’s readiness to be a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

“The Digital Economy Summit brought the Fourth Industrial Revolution to the national highlight – unique to this event was the holographic approach of projecting our beloved President in two places at the same time! This demonstrates the advancing nature of 4IR and associated jobs – jobs redefined. Through artificial intelligence, a broader approach for spectrum allocation, a people-centred approach, there is real prospect of engaging with data differently, for new economic stimulus, and for productivity enhancement. The approach must however ensure that 4IR serves people broadly that inequality is reduced through this industrial revolution,” said Professor Saurabh Sinha, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Internationalisation at the University of Johannesburg. 

Telkom Group CEO, Sipho Maseko shared: “Our dialogue today is laying a firm foundation for action that will uplift South Africa, therefore decisions that we make now will shape our social and economic landscape for decades to come. The digital economy requires us to challenge our preconceived beliefs and the way we have done things for generations. But the potential payoff, of an economy that is more inclusive, that lifts people out of poverty, that connects communities and builds a stronger society, is well worth the challenge.” 

About 4IRSA

The Fourth Industrial Revolution South Africa partnership (4IRSA) is an alliance between partners from the public and private sectors, academia and civil society. The 4IRSA partnership seeks to develop an inclusive, coherent, national response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution for South Africa, based on research. It is a platform that creates space for stimulating dialogue, understanding and action to shape a coherent 4IR plan for South Africa. 

For information, images, videos and speeches, visit https://4irsa.org.

Building real world solutions in Minecraft

- Wits University

Students in the School of Therapeutic Sciences and the School of Education at Wits competed to build a world in online game, Minecraft.

Competitors had to create a world in Minecraft Education edition that depicted their field. See competition and prize giving photos here.

Minecraft is a “sandbox” game, which refers to a video system with defined rules that the players can interact with but with which they have complete freedom to create unique online worlds.

“Wits University is the first and currently the only higher education institution in South Africa actively using MineCraft Education Edition for teaching and learning. While there is a nursing programme in Singapore using MineCraft Education Edition, we believe we are the only other health sciences environment worldwide using MineCraft for education purposes,” says Dr Paula Barnard-Ashton, eFundanathi manager.

Wits was the only higher education institution to participate in Microsoft’s worldwide MineCraft May Challenge. Three Wits staff teams – WitsBITS, Tshimologong, and eFundnathi – and 15 individual Wits students competed in the #MineCraftEEMay Challenge on 29 May 2019, which took place in the eFundanathi eZone on Wits Education Campus.

Education student Yadir Purmasir won first prize in the Individual Challenge. His world, “The Order of the Stone Academy” was a school that teaches students in various subjects for them to excel in the world of Minecraft. Click here for a Microsoft Sway of Purmasir’s winning entry.

Scenes from world created by #Minecraft Education Edition challenge winner, Yadir Purmasir, an Education student whose world depicted a school that teaches students in various subjects

Nursing Education postgraduate, Zelda Laurie took second place for her creation of the world of a stomach. This anatomical game requires players to build a stomach and then stomach and respond to challenges such as ulcers, inflammation. Click here for a Microsoft Sway of Laurie’s Minecraft for Anatomy entry.

Education student, Brogan Fiddes placed third for his School of Minecraft. Fiddes aimed to create a school that had a small carbon footprint, while still being appealing to all who enter. The School of Minecraft combines traditional real world schooling with schooling specifically for the Minecraft players. Click here for a Microsoft Sway of Fiddes’ Minecraft for Education.

Mathematics and Computer Science student Nqobile Mhlanga won the Audience Vote for creating a maze as a mathematical challenge. Pharmacy student Previn Ramiah in the Wits Advanced Drug Delivery Platform (WADDP) won the Social Media Challenge for his adaptation of a chemistry lab, which linked concepts and chemical reactions in a virtual world cost-effectively and with decreased environmental impact.  

Nursing Education lecturer Lizelle Crous, MasterSkill representative Roelof De Bruyn, and Xoliswa Mahlangu of Future Nations School were judges. Microsoft SA donated an Xbox to eFundanathi, which awarded it as the first-place prize. Acer sponsored an i5 laptop for second-place prize and Masterskill sponsored a number of R1000 vouchers for the Microsoft Technical Associate Exams. Glenda Miles and Samantha Morris from Microsoft attended the prize giving, as did Lindani Mngomezulu from Acer, and Roelof De Bruyn from Masterskill.

Wits will continue to leverage creative technologies to advance blended teaching and learning. “We are using Mineraft Education Edition in the Master’s in Nursing Education programme and building a scenario world for second-year undergraduate students in Occupational Therapy to understand ‘fetching water’ in rural South Africa as an occupational performance action,” says Barnard-Ashton

Neglected challenge of the 4IR debate

- Eleanor Fox and Imraan Valodia

The roles and practices of companies like Google and Facebook must be investigated.

There has been a lot of talk among policymakers and within society about the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) — the rapid growth in digital and artificial intelligence technologies that are fundamentally changing our lives.

Most recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the 4IRSA initiative to focus attention on adapting our economy to these technological changes. Much of the discussion on this has focused on two issues: how technological change can boost economic growth; and what the likely impacts of the new technologies may be on employment. These are, of course, very important issues for SA.

There is, however, a third issue in this debate, related to issues of competition and economic power, that is equally important for SA, and this issue has, to date, received very little, if any, consideration. The issues we need to start thinking about include:

  • New technologies make it possible for some companies to gain dominance in some markets because more and more people use the product of one platform, to link up with their friends, customers and supplies. We all use Google for searching and that makes all of our lives a lot easier, but it is worth recalling that not too long ago we used a lot of different search engines, including some South African ones such as Ananzi. Is it acceptable that Google’s leveraging of its technological leadership has pushed domestic search engines such as Ananzi out of the market? No doubt, Google makes life a lot easier and it does so at no out-of-pocket costs to us. Might we be paying for this in other ways?
  • Is it acceptable that Google collects data on our searches (we pay nothing for using its search technology) but then directs particular advertising at us? Is it acceptable that the advertising that is directed to us when we search is biased in a manner that maximises income for Google? Or, more problematically, is it acceptable for Facebook to collect information from our Facebook posts and friendship networks and sell this information to political parties so that parties can more effectively target their election campaigns? New digital technologies and artificial intelligence-based algorithms are now making information a very valuable resource which is shaping our economy, and our brains, in very fundamental ways — much of this is information that is collected while we use so-called “free” services such as Google and Facebook. 
  • Is it acceptable that companies like Google and Facebook can and sometimes do use their power as “gatekeepers” of their platforms to disable rival companies who use their platforms? Given how much power they have, should they be required to carry information of their rivals?

The 4IR is forcing us to ask some quite fundamental questions about market power, big firms and market dominance, fair prices, whether something that is free is indeed free.

These questions have been the subject of quite intense debate in competition law and economics, and even in the political sphere — where the answers to these questions differ quite fundamentally in the US and the EU.

In the EU, its competition authority recently fined Google €2.4bn for anticompetitive behaviour in its comparative shopping service. Over 90% of all searches on the internet are done using Google. Google also has interests in goods and services that people purchase when they search, including shopping.

Google was fined because it changed the algorithm that displays search results from a neutral algorithm to one that favours search results that it has interests in — essentially, the search results now prioritises Google’s own shopping companies, and demotes that of its rivals much lower in search results. Since no one looks beyond the first page of two in a Google search, Google’s rivals are effectively excluded in the search results. The EU competition authority argued that this behaviour is anticompetitive and illegal.

Google was also fined €4.3bn — the largest competition law fine in history — in another case for forcing cellphone manufactures who use its Android software to preload its browser (Chrome) and search facility (Google Search). These, and a third case have had significant political implications with US President Trump accusing the European authorities of bias against American companies. All of these cases are on appeal and it will be very interesting to see what the final outcome will be.

Last week the EU competition authority announced that it is now investigating Amazon for possible anticompetitive conduct. Amazon uses its online platform to sell its own products. Its platform is also used by independent sellers. The essence of the allegation against Amazon is that it collects information about these independent retailers, and may be using this information against its rivals.

There are similar cases against Facebook about how it accumulates and sells information — in some cases of people who don’t even use Facebook. 

Another interesting question is how large digital companies are purchasing virtually all smaller tech companies that may blossom into being competitors. The economic question here is whether these mergers and acquisitions entrench power over information and remove small companies from the market before they become competitive rivals.

A good example of this is Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp. How many other startups, which may provide much better goods at cheaper prices, or may compete on terms such as data privacy, are being removed from the market by these “killer acquisitions” before they can grow and compete against the dominant players?

Public debates about new technology and the 4IR should be paying much greater attention to these questions. We have not yet had any big cases of this sort related specifically to the domestic market, but these issues will become more and more important as technology changes how we live and how the economy operates.

• Eleanor Fox is the Walter J Derenberg Professor of trade regulation at New York University School of Law. She is an expert in antitrust and competition policy. Professor Imraan Valodia is Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management at Wits University and a member of the Competition Tribunal of SA. This article was first published in Business Day.

Technology can make collecting and analysing evidence for policy easier

- Neal Robert Haddaway, Carina van Rooyen, Martin Westgate and Witness Mapanga

There is more and more research being produced around the world every day. In total, about 3 million articles are published every year.

There is more and more research being produced around the world every day. In total, about 3 million articles are published every year.

That’s a lot of information, and a lot of evidence. But humans are finding it increasingly harder to read, analyse and assess so much data when trying to understand a particular topic, a process called evidence synthesis. This involves converting large bodies of scientific research – articles, reports and data – into reliable and digestible evidence that can inform management or policy.

So if humans might struggle to cope with the increasing volume of evidence needed to build effective, solid policy, what’s the solution? We think technology is the key. With accessible software tools and workflows, machines can be left to do the laborious work so that people can focus on planning, thinking and doing. That’s what prompted two of us (Neal and Martin) to create the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon series.

This initiative was launched in 2017 to bring together world-leading and emerging researchers, practitioners and software developers to produce new Open Source tools and frameworks that support evidence synthesis. There have been three hackathons since then – two in Stockholm, and one in Canberra. They’ve drawn participants from 13 countries on six continents and led to 19 projects being initiated.

One such project is metafor automated reports, which automatically writes methods and results text for a particular statistical model (meta-analysis). This ensures that all the relevant information is included in any report in a consistent and reliable way.

Other projects include tools that help researchers visualise databases of studies to help identify gaps in global knowledge, and those that extract information from documents, like important data that describe the study location or its findings. We have also produced discussion papers that introduce new ways to think about evidence synthesis.

The hackathons, and other digital projects of this nature, are one way of creating a community of practice which together produces freely accessible tools and workflows. This helps to ensure the tools can speak to each other and reduces the risk of lots of different tools being produced that do the same thing.

In practice

Many of the outputs produced at the hackathons are already being used by researchers. One example is EviAtlas. This is a tool for producing maps of evidence unearthed during systematic literature reviews. It converts a database into a set of attractive, interactive figures and tables that show patterns in the “evidence base” and where knowledge gaps and clusters might exist.

It also allows users to produce free, interactive websites displaying the nature of the evidence on a geographical map. This is something that would previously have been expensive and highly complex.

So, for instance if you wanted to know what research had been conducted on the impacts of buffer strips around farmland in temperate ecosystems in Africa, you could quickly and easily explore this interactive map to find out.

EviAtlas interactive web site. ESHackathon

Evidence synthesis, much like the primary research studies that the process is based on, can sometimes ignore specialist evidence from Africa – perhaps because researchers do not know the literature landscape as well as that from North America and Europe. Similarly, developing policies based on examples and evidence from developed world contexts doesn’t work for countries with very different contexts. That’s why it’s so encouraging that there’s a growing African presence at the hackathons.

African participation

Earlier in 2019, the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon was able to host three participants from the African continent, thanks to funding from the University of Johannesburg through the Africa Centre for Evidence.

The three participants were integral to the discussions and coding work at the hackathon, and were instrumental in its success.

Two of the participants were experienced software programmers Christopher Penkin and Mandlenkosi Ngwenya. They produced a tool to keep track of and save web-based searches for research. Until now, this has been almost impossible to do in evidence syntheses.

The tool, which is in the final stages of development, is a Chrome browser extension that logs user search information and downloads it into a central database. Internet searches are notoriously difficult to keep track of and report transparently, but this tool does the reporting for you, and also automatically saves all your search results in one place.

This represents a huge step forward in transparency, efficiency and repeatability, and an important gap in the methodology until now. All of this is crucial for rigorous evidence synthesis.

The third attendee from Africa, Witness Mapanga, is an evidence synthesis specialist. He worked with other top researchers on projects to build a brighter future for evidence use in policy. This work is due to be published by the end of the year.

Building communities

We’re planning a number of hackathons in 2019 and beyond – one of them in South Africa in 2020. Doing this will hopefully highlight what resource-constrained environments need from evidence synthesis and what they can produce.

In the long run, hackathons and similar events can be used to build communities of practice: networks of researchers, data scientists, and software developers focussed on driving progress towards a sustainable future. The Evidence Synthesis Hackathon represents a novel but increasingly important part of this new movement.

Mandlenkosi Ngwenya and Christopher Penkin contributed to this article.The Conversation

Neal Robert Haddaway, Research Fellow, Africa Centre for Evidence, University of Johannesburg; Carina van Rooyen, Senior researcher at the Africa Centre for Evidence, University of Johannesburg; Martin Westgate, Research Fellow in Ecology & Evidence Synthesis, Australian National University, and Witness Mapanga, Health Systems and Policy Researcher, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Legitimation Code Theory Conference a success

- Ufrieda Ho

The third international LCT (Legitimation Code Theory) conference hosted at Wits was huge success with 160 delegates in attendance and 98 papers presented.

Sixteen countries, 160 delegates, 48 universities and over 98 papers presented – this was the success story by numbers for the third international LCT (Legitimation Code Theory) conference that Wits hosted at the beginning of July on the Parktown Education Campus. 

But the bigger success of the third iteration of the biennial LCT conference has been the maturing adoption and application of the LCT framework and LCT principles. LCT is seen as way to deepen understanding of the essential nature of knowledge and to use the LCT “toolkit” for analysis to reform teaching and learning with the aim of making people become more successful.

Generic coding

LCT is still a relativity young field at about 20 years old but is also seen as a fast-growing, multi-disciplinary approach to transform primarily education, even though it can be applied to a range of fields.

Chief proponent of LCT is Professor Karl Maton of the LCT Centre for Knowledge-Building from the University of Sydney. Maton who presented a keynote speech at the conference said: “LCT scholars and educators empowers people with the tools to know the ‘rule of game’ as explicit knowledge and also to change the game in ways that benefit us all”.

For Wits’ Professor Lee Rusznyak, LCT has the potential to play a role in achieving the aims to decolonise education and to make learning and access to knowledge– including through universities – less alienating and more inclusionary.

Rusznyak said Wits’ role as host of LCT3 has successfully connected participants from around the world to share their wide-ranging research. She added: “I have been impressed by the commitment to rigour, the use of theory to improve context and our collective question to break down and understand knowledge in our quest for social justice,” said Rusznyak.

The next LCT conference is scheduled to take place at Wollongong University in Australia in December 2021.

Huawei awards bursaries to Wits postgraduate students

- Wits University

Huawei South Africa has donated almost 2 million in scholarships to ICT and Engineering postgraduate students at Wits.

Every year South Africa and the world celebrates Nelson Mandela’s birthday on the 18th of July with a call to action to effect positive change. Huawei South Africa has kicked off its Mandela Month programme of supporting youth in ICT with a bursary donation of almost two million rand to benefit nine academically deserving postgraduate students studying IT and Engineering courses at Wits.

“This year Huawei is focused on various information and communications technology (ICT) youth skills for youth as we approach the much talked about Fourth Industrial Revolution and digital economy,” says Huawei Deputy CEO Kian Chen.

Huawei ICT Talent Ecosystem

The bursary programme is part of Huawei’s wider ICT Talent Ecosystem, which aims to grow and support ICT skills training and skills transfer in South Africa. Last month Huawei partnered with Wits to launch a free 5G training course for post graduate ICT students.

“Wits is an important academic partner for Huawei with a shared vision for the fourth industrial revolution in which technologies like 5G, AI and Cloud will shape economic and social development. We therefore want to support students who are studying these courses to so that they can positively contribute to growing the local digital economy,” said Chen.

He added, “we believe that South Africa’s talented young people have the potential to mature into world-class experts. By enhancing industry-academic cooperation, we, as an international ICT company, hope to make our contribution to achieving the country’s development goals.”

Wits and Huawei championing research and innovation

Speaking at the bursary awards ceremony held on 17 July 2019, Wits Director of Postgraduate Affairs, Professor Robert Muponde said Huawei's commitment to research and development resonated with Wits’ own vision of creating and championing globally significant research and innovation. 

“Wits has taken the strategic decision to be a 45% postgraduate university by 2022 precisely because of the realisation that the future lies in the hands of those who can create skills that count. Huawei has made a breakthrough with practice that drives conversions of knowledge beyond expectations, said Professor Muponde.  

He concluded by encouraging the bursary recipient’s to make their impressions on the future by embracing the opportunity to create lasting value, empower others and become innovators.

A step closer to a childhood dream

For Simamkele Madikwa, a master’s student in Project Management and Construction, Huawei’s financial assistance means she is able to fund her studies, bringing her a and is a step closer to realising her childhood dreams of being involved in infrastructure build. 

“I had no plan of how to pay for my master’s this year, I just had enough to register, it was serendipity that Huawei happened to be interviewing for its bursary programme earlier this year, I tried out and was successful. I come from a rural village near the small town of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape. Growing up I was always fascinated by building and construction, I saw that as a sign of progress and improvement. I am looking forward to bringing connectivity infrastructure to more people in areas like the one I grew up in,” she says.

In his closing remarks at the ceremony, Chen quoted Nelson Mandela in his 1996 speech when he told guests at the launch of Academy of Science of South Africa: “On your shoulders rest the challenge of giving science a face that inspires our youth to seek out science, engineering and technology ….”

“Mr. Mandela’s words still ring true today, two decades later. Huawei is up to the challenge and looks forward to giving many more young people like Simamkele Madikwa a stepping stone to success so she can make her contribution in ICT,” concluded Chen.

 

Sibanye-Stillwater donates R50m worth of seismic data to Wits

- Wits University

Sibanye-Stillwater has donated their 2D/3D reflection seismic data worth R50m to the Wits Seismic Research Centre of the School of Geosciences.

The data will be used by Wits geophysicists and postgraduate students for training and research purposes. The seismic data was acquired between the 1980s and 2000s for gold exploration at their mining operations in the Witwatersrand basin.

Professor Musa Manzi, Director of the Seismic Research Centre, said this donation from Sibanye-Stillwater is extremely important for research and postgraduate student projects. “Seismic data has the capability to provide excellent images of the Earth’s subsurface structure. For accurate structural analysis, an effort should be made by geophysicists to improve the quality of old data. For example, our students will use the state-of-the-art software packages donated to the Centre by major international companies and develop new techniques to re-process these old seismic datasets to improve the imaging of deep-seated mineral ore deposits and to mitigate hazards (e.g., methane explosion and seismicity) faced by miners in deep underground gold mines. Furthermore, our research may also help mining companies improve their mining methodologies, thus reducing costs in a poor economic climate,” he said.

Kenneth Rapetsoa (MSc Candidate), Michael Westgate (PhD Candidate), Mpofana Sihoyiya (MSc candidate), Prof. Musa Manzi (Director, Wits Seismic Research Centre), and Philip Staley (Senior project geologist, Sibanye-Stillwater)

The Wits Seismic Research Centre in the School of Geosciences was established in 2015 by Professor Manzi to assist in easing the significant shortage of skills in geophysics in Africa. The Centre specialises in providing world-class geophysical training to undergraduate and postgraduate students from across Africa (and beyond) who are pursuing careers in the minerals industry, oil and gas exploration, and academia. The Centre’s fundamental, innovative and outstanding contributions to science are concerned with the development and application of sophisticated mathematical seismic techniques to gain a deeper understanding of Earth processes, and particularly in exploring for mineral deposits and oil and gas reservoirs in sedimentary basins across Africa.

One of the most essential components of successful mineral exploration, is reflection seismic surveying, which indispensable for oil and gas exploration. Data gathered through seismic surveys allow geophysicists to visualise the subsurface of the Earth using waves of sound to image geologic structures. The data assists mining companies to determine the location of deep-seated mineral ore and hydrocarbon deposits, and improve mine safety. The 2D/3D reflection seismic data donated to the Centre will enable students and academics to conduct impactful research in this field.

Mr Johan van Eeden, Unit Manager at Sibanye-Stillwater, and Mr Philip Staley, Senior project geologist at Sibanye-Stillwater, highlighted the importance of the mining industry in utilising latest technology developments in seismic processing through close relationships with academic institutions. They stated, “The donation of this nature is instrumental for building  sustainable relationship with corporate institutions and academia in the country, and for the support of innovative research that may improve optimisation of orebody extraction at the their mining operations.”

The Centre has had a significant success with recruiting postgraduate students with the requisite high-level skills to utilise the donated software and datasets, so that the Centre becomes a world-leader in the field as well as the premier training facility on the continent. The Centre currently hosts more than 25 postgraduate students (MSc and PhDs) who are conducting their research on various scientific topics related to minerals, oil and gas exploration, as well as on mine safety.

In addition to this donation, the Centre has already received generous software and other petroleum data donations from local and international oil and gas companies, which shows that companies are supportive of research, capacity building and student training in Africa. These make the Centre unique in Africa and a platform of great benefit as they promote research opportunities in both hard rock mining, and in oil and gas related problems. The hydrocarbons-based research at the Centre is also important since South Africa’s prospects and potential for further oil and gas discoveries remain exceedingly positive.

You and Big Brother @Home online

- Amy Musgrave

Technology and surveillance cause a sense of moral panic, but such scrutiny has the potential to enhance society.

Cyber security, surveillance | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

The tension between cyber phobia and cyber euphoria is one of the enduring questions of the technological age. And as the technologies of the modern world become more powerful – even more intrusive – the question becomes even sharper. 

“There is a global sense of moral panic about technology and surveillance,” says Keith Breckenridge, Deputy Director at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) and a history professor with a special research interest in information systems and surveillance. 

Personal space invaders 

This sense of moral panic is surely linked to the way in which today’s technologies intersect – and even take over – the most personal spaces in our everyday lives. Many of the technologies that resulted from the second industrial revolution during the early 20th Century carried with them a limited invasive capacity. This was the case even when these innovations were developed for mass consumption, and thus entered our homes. 

So the motor car, the telephone, the television set and video recorder became commonplace in the developed world, but they each belonged to a single identifiable place in the home. The car in the garage, the TV and VCR in the lounge, the phone in the study. The user could leave them in their designated place. Technology had also not yet broken down the distinction between home and office, work and leisure, or personal and public. 

Convergence calamity 

Modern tech is different and this altered relationship in the interface of the individual-to-consumer technology is perhaps the main distinguishing feature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and arguably a key driver of 21st Century techno-anxiety. 

It does not help the sense of moral panic that consumer tech also obliterates the distinction in the use of the various devices we own and operate, thus increasing the individual’s dependence on these devices. TV and recorder, phone, messaging, watch and office capabilities can now be had from a single device. Home, work, and play now also exist seamlessly, challenging established notions of work/life balance. 

Surveillance capitalism 

But is the sense of dread justified? Breckenridge thinks this anxiety has a lot to do with the fear of surveillance, which modern tech makes easier. Fear of surveillance is based on the notion that the state – or large corporations today – are gunning for maximum control of our personal information for dubious purposes. 

He cites the example of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Shoshana Zuboff’s 2018 book about the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control our behaviour. “Zuboff vividly brings to life the consequences as surveillance capitalism advances from Silicon Valley into every economic sector.” 

But Breckenridge makes the point that states still collect more information than any corporation, despite the data collection and storage capacity of the mega corporations of the internet age. This is especially true of the developed ‘mega-states’, such as the US, China, and the European Union governments. And, he adds, there is nothing wrong with states collecting as much information as possible, even through surveillance systems. “Every just society has and relies upon vast systematic surveillance,” he says. 

Surveillance for citizen services 

To understand and appreciate the point, it’s perhaps necessary to shift from the popular understanding of ‘surveillance’ – with its connotations of spying, intrusion and invasion of privacy – towards what Breckenridge means by it: the collection, collation and categorisation of citizens’ information to enable the state to deliver services efficiently. 

One example is the developed welfare states of the Scandinavian countries, where citizens are required to notify local authorities within a certain period of relevant changes in their personal and family circumstances, such as moving to a new house. This allows better state planning and services such as schooling and healthcare. 

The surveillance state, according to Breckenridge, works best as a trade-off between the individual and the state: you give the state maximum information about yourself and your personal circumstance, in return for socio-economic “goodies” (social grants, health, education, safety), in other words a state that takes care of basic needs. 

In the South African context, better surveillance of citizens’ movements and lives will allow the state to be more efficient at paying out social grants, as well as tracking how the money the state pays out is spent, which is critical knowledge to have when planning local economic development. 

  • Amy Musgrave is a freelance journalist.
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office
  • Read more in the seventh issue, themed: #Ekhaya (isiZulu for ‘home’) about our homegrown research that crosses borders and explore the physical spaces we inhabit, where we feel we belong, where we’re from and what we identify with, including the physical/psychological space we may return to – or reject.

An eye on assistive tech at home

- Deborah Minors

Eye-gaze devices as assistive tech have the potential to empower people with disabilities by improving their independence at home.

Wits biomedical engineer Adam Pantanowitz discovered he had a neuromuscular condition as a teenager. Since then, the Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering has researched the potential of technology to empower people with disabilities. In particular, he has explored the untapped potential of the brain through brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Adam Pantanowitz, Wits biomedical engineer. ©Lauren Mulligan | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/ 

The brain as a network device 

In February 2019, in an experiment believed to be a world first, Pantanowitz and colleagues incorporated the human brain as a computer network. Dubbed ‘BrainConnect’, the proof-of-concept innovation is under review for publication in the journal Communications in Information Systems. 

The researchers connected two computers through the human brain and successfully transmitted words like ‘hello’ and ‘apple’, passively, without the user being aware that a message is present. 

“We don’t know of anywhere else where the brain has been used to connect two disconnected computers so this presents an interesting theoretical system with a human literally being ‘in the loop’,” says Pantanowitz, co-author of the paper with Wits alumni Rushil Daya and Michael Dukes. 

Morse code via light signals 

BrainConnect links light, signal transmission, the visual cortex of the human brain, and two computers. It works by attaching a device to a person’s head, which links the two computers. 

The person passively stares at a flashing light whilst a word, for example, ‘apple’, is encoded in the light signal. The flashing light stimulates the visual cortex in the brain and an electroencephalogram [EEG – a measurement that detects electrical activity in the brain] wirelessly transmits information to a second computer, which decodes the signals to appear on the second computer. 

“You can think of it like Morse code via light signals,” says Pantanowitz. BrainConnect can decipher up to 17 symbols at a rate of four seconds per symbol. The more relaxed the person is, the greater the possibility of invoking a response through this ‘steady state visually evoked potential’.

Visionary assistive tech 

Although BrainConnect is fledgling research, Pantanowitz says this brain-computer interface may have applications in eye-gaze devices, which allow for the control of the environment by detecting where gaze is focussed. 

In a similar project, Wits students Kimoon Kim and Chelsey Chewins worked with Pantanowitz to create an eye-tracking system to interface more naturally with a computer. This project enables you to control your computer using a mouse that you control with your eyes. 

“BrainConnect works through light stimulus of the visual cortex. Similar eye-gaze devices already serve as assistive tech to empower motor-impaired people or paraplegics,” he says.  

Frugal innovation in Africa 

He cites futurists who predict greater human-tech integration by 2030. The Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR] is a feature of 21st Century society – human beings are now deeply connected to tech through smart phones and other close-contact devices. Research in South Africa and Africa, similar to this engineering innovation at Wits University, has the potential to advance 4IR

“Africa’s challenges need unique solutions. The brain research is being conducted under what’s known as a ‘frugal innovation’, where low-cost equipment and innovative approaches keep costs down,” says Pantanowitz.

Jemma Faye Chait, brain-computer interfaces ©Lauren Mulligan |   www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/ 

Robotic hands and Brainternet 

Another of his similarly frugal innovations was a basic robotic hand, the prototype of which cost just R1 800 in South Africa, compared to a budget of close to a million Euros for a similarly functioning device in Europe. Pantanowitz and Wits students Graham Peyton and Rudolf Hoehler created a device with similar intentions to the European model, using the same technology of gazing at light to turn the device off and on. 

Pantanowitz previously also pioneered 'Brainternet', where he connected the human brain to the internet in real time and streamed brainwaves onto the internet. He says that for people with epilepsy, for example, Brainternet could potentially predict the next seizure. “If they get into a particularly bad space, they could alert their friends and family without them being able to do so physically.” 

Pantanowitz says, “There is potential for us in Africa to advance brain-computer interfaces and other assistive technologies, which could empower people with disabilities to control their environments with greater ease, and their homes are one context in which this can be life-changing.” 

  • Deborah Minors is a Senior Communications Officer in Wits Communications and Sub-Editor of Curiosity. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office
  • Read more in the seventh issue, themed: #Ekhaya (isiZulu for ‘home’) about our homegrown research that crosses borders and explore the physical spaces we inhabit, where we feel we belong, where we’re from and what we identify with, including the physical/psychological space we may return to – or reject.

New research initiative will be announced at this year's AI Expo Africa

- Wits University

Major machine learning research initiative will serve as a model for innovation and growth in Africa.

AI Expo Africa

Wits University is pleased to announce it will be sending a high-level delegation to this year’s AI Expo Africa where it will launch a major research initiative that is intended to bring about a step change in scientific research and commercialisation in Africa.

The AI Expo Africa is the largest business focused Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data Science community event in Africa, and takes place on 4 and 5 September in Cape Town.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs, will be leading the delegation that includes Professor Brian Armstrong, Head of the BCX Chair in Digital Business at Wits Business School and the first Secretary of the 4IRSA-initiative, and Professor Dean Brady, Director of the Molecular Science Institute.

In addition to launching the initiative, Professor Armstrong will participate on a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) panel to discuss how this new initiative will serve as a model for 4IR innovation and growth in Africa. 

Read more about Wits’ contribution to 4IR research and innovation here: www.wits.ac.za/future/

The AI Expo was chosen as the launch event for the initiative due to its collaborative nature spanning academia and industry throughout Africa. Some of the attendees to join the Wits delegation at this year’s conference include the Ambassador of France to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud, and the Head of the AI for Good Global Summit.

DETAILS AND BOOKINGS:

Wits superheroes at Sasol TechnoX 2019

- Wits University

What do you need to become a superhero? Certainly not superpowers, we can all be superheroes according to a team of Witsies.

Wits at Sasol TechnoX 2019

What do you need to become a superhero? Certainly not superpowers, we can all be superheroes according to a team of Witsies.

The Wits team dubbed Wits Avengers, has landed at the Secunda Club Grounds, the base of the Sasol TechnoX 2019 where they are showcasing the life-changing impact of science and what can be achieved.

Armed with real life experiments and experiences, the Wits Avengers are showing masses of school learners the beauty of science careers.

TechnoX is South Africa’s largest career guidance exhibition with a focus on educating learners about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The expo coincides with National Science Week and drew 22 000 visitors in 2018.

The Wits delegation, led by the Schools Liaison Office, includes Wits academic scientists, students and Wits alumni from STEM related faculties who are united in the mission to win hearts and minds at the expo.

“This is an important space for us because the country’s young minds visit the expo. If you as an institution are not here then you missing on top talent.

Through the Wits Avengers we are demonstrating to kids that we have real life superheroes, saving lives and creating technology that is helping the human race”, says Sershin Naicker, Head of the Schools Liaison Office.

Considerable effort goes into Wits’ presentation at the expo. As a result, the throngs of visitors have for two consecutive years voted Wits as the “Best University” for having the most exciting and informative exhibits.

Follow the Wits Avengers on twitter via @WitsUniversity

Sasol TechnoX finishes on Friday, 2 August 2019.

 

 

Technology and creativity by Africans for Africa

- Fak'ugesi Festival

Cultural Economies Conference at 2019 Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival.

A Cultural Economies Conference will take place on 5 and 6 September 2019, presented by the Goethe-Institut South Africa in Johannesburg’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, as part of the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival running from 30 August to 8 September 2019.

Cultural Economies Conference at Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival 

The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival will explore and celebrate technology and creativity by Africans for Africa. This year, the Festival has cast its central theme as ‘Own Your Force’ which invites digital makers in Africa to stake their claim on their talent, industry and creative economy. 

In the spirit of this year’s Festival theme, the Cultural Economies Conference will bring together a spectrum of contributors within the cultural and creative industries (CCI). From practitioners to policy makers, the programme will critically engage with the ecosystems and economies of local and continental CCI contexts. 

The Cultural Economies Conference will feature future-focused and solutions-driven sessions that unpack the possibilities that tech and innovation offer the creative sector, with interrogation of topics such as the changing nature of storytelling and blockchain as highly anticipated highlights. “Stakeholders from across the CCIs are invited to take part in this exciting opportunity for engagement; in the hopes that they will be able to gain insight into the thinking of the CCI around their practice, realities and visions, particularly from an African and future-focused perspective,” explains Cultural Economies Conference project Manager Bandile Gumbi. 

Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival director Dr Tegan Bristow adds, “We are looking forward to welcoming some of the continent‘s leading digital thinkers and practitioners to share with us at this year’s event.” Just two of Africa’s leading lights joining the Cultural Economies Conference in 2019 are C.J. Obasi and Babusi Nyoni. Hailing from Nigeria, Obasi is film director, screenwriter and editor. He is best known for his debut feature, a zero budget film titled Ojuju, which premiered at the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in November 2014, and won the award for Best Nigerian Film and earned Obasi the Trailblazer of the Year award in March 2015, at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards. Zimbabwean-born Babusi Nyoni is design strategist and innovator currently living in Amsterdam. In 2016 he created what Forbes magazine described as “the world’s first AI football commentator” for the UEFA Champions League final on behalf of Heineken. More recently, Nyoni created an app for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease using computer vision. The findings we presented of which were presented at Oxford University on the Skoll World Forum stage in April this year. 

As a conference through line, Colliding Ecosystems explores the spaces of increasing overlap between the creative and digital industries; in particular taking into account the different contexts and ecosystems in which entrepreneurs need to be able to operate effectively. Economies Of Trust considers what these ecosystems are and need to be, in order to support ‘makers’, who often find themselves needing to both produce within, as well as be, the ecosystems for their work. The conference will also interrogate socially orientated vs traditionally capitalist approaches in the context of (intellectual) property ownership and the crossover between the fourth industrial revolution and the cultural and creative industries. In a session looking at Ecosystems of Tech-Knowledge-y, a panel of practitioners will offer their scene-setting perspectives on the intersections between the CCI and digital ecosystems. A look at the legal, policy and communications Frameworks in which these sectors are required to operate hopes to clarify perspectives on pertinent issues. 

In addition, deeper consideration of the Changing Currencies operating in these new economic contexts requires looking at social (as) currency in the 4IR, and the investment required to operate in these changing marketplaces. These ideas are mined in a conversation around ‘Communications as the currency of the digital economy’. A session on ‘Storytelling as Africa’s value proposition’ will unpack suggestions for dismantling power structures and hierarchies of visual storytelling across genres and media. Additional engagement will be driven by tech-facilitated creative solutions and mechanisms for digital innovation for the creative sector; including how tech solutions are changing the game, using blockchain, smart contracts and digital copyright solutions. 

Lesley Williams, CEO of Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, which will host the Fak’ugesi Festival for a sixth year says the precinct is a natural meeting point for the digital arts community in Africa and across the globe. “This is where African digital artists interact with counterparts from around the world, collaborate around best practice and create something truly memorable,” she says. 

For more information on the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival visit www.fakugesi.co.za. Tickets available via Quicket.co.za - conference pass, including general festival access: R300 (R150 for students) 

The 2019 Cultural Economies Conference is supported by, and presented on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GmbH)) and the Goethe-Institut to promote the emerging market of cultural and creative industries in Africa and in the Middle East.

About Fak’ugesi

Fak’ugesi - Joburg’s one and only African Digital Innovation Festival will take place from 30 August to 8 September 2019, with the theme ‘Own Your Force’. The 2019 festival will focus on bringing to the table important African futures, by tapping into the sources of cross sector collaboration and culture alongside technology, creativity and innovation in new environments of trust, ownership and cultural equity in the fourth industrial revolution.  Attend to explore how local culture can move and change the future of technology. 

Fak’ugesi, which means “Switch it on” or “add power” in urban Zulu, is focused on culture, technology and innovation in Africa. It is an opportunity for young adults, with or without formal education, to learn or engage with tomorrow’s technology. 

According to an Impact Report commissioned by the British Council ConnectZA- Fak’ugesi is believed to be the most important digital creativity festival in Africa.

More information: http://fakugesi.co.za/

Fak'ugesi and Smart City Office - a natural fit

- Fak'ugesi Festival

The 2019 Fak’ugesi Festival has partnered with the City of Johannesburg’s Smart Cities Office to bring an exciting African-centric programme line-up.

The partnership highlights the importance of identifying local solutions for local problems, while also supporting the work of five talented individuals to take their ideas and prototypes even further through the joint support of the Smart City Office and Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct

MMC for Finance, Counsellor Funzela Ngobeni, stated that “In the upcoming years, the City’s Smart City objectives will become evident as the City, through its core departments, begins to transition to more innovative and efficient means of engaging our citizens. The City has to implement new ways of engaging and solving problems for its ever-growing population and improving the efficiency and reliability of citizen interface with the City. While solutions may not always be technological, they will always be innovative and Smart.” 

The Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival was founded in 2014 as a collaboration between the Tshimologong and the Wits School of Arts’ Digital Arts Department. The spirit of collaboration in celebration of all things digital continues as the City of Johannesburg’s Smart City Office recognises the important influence of African and South African culture on true innovation in the 4th Industrial Revolution, curtailed to local realities. The partnership is a natural fit as the 2019 festival has cast its central theme as ‘Own Our Force’ which invites digital makers in Africa to stake their claim on their talent, industry and creative economy. 

Lawrence Boya, Head of the Smart City Office, noted that the City seeks to work with Tshimologong, and the talented ideas identified during the Fak’ugesi Festival. “The aim of the Smart City Office is to support five individuals who come up with solutions relevant to the Challenges faced by the City of Johannesburg, as a municipality or as a collective of citizens. We hope to see solutions that are not common in Europe, the US or even China, which address African or specific South Africa problems. Something unique to our Nation or City.

 Fak'ugesi Africa Digital Innovation Festival

Tshimologong, in the youthful and dynamic heart of Johannesburg in Braamfontein, will once again host this year’s inspiring Festival line up and will also be the home of future digital solutions as proudly supported by the City of Johannesburg. The strategic partnership between the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival and the City of Johannesburg’s Smart Cities Office will see the establishment of incubation support for prototypes and new developments from three exciting Fak’ugesi Festival initiatives including: 

Blockchain Hack-a-thon for Creative Industries: In a collaboration between Fak’ugesi Festival, Animation SA and the City of Johannesburg, a brains trust and hack-a-thon will propose and porotype a new blockchain solutions to support South African culture and technology. 

Cross-Sector Game Jam: A special focus at Fak’ugesi Festival 2019 that looks at how to bolster and support work across digital creatives sectors into gaming and gamification, music, user experience design, animation and screenwriting. This game-jam is set to change the way local digital industry works. The City of Johannesburg is proud to lend its support to this initiative as Joburg grows as a centre of creative work on the African continent. 

SUPERPOWER! Johannesburg: working with UK-based Singaporean architect and technologist, Ling Tan, is a hands-on development workshop focusing on wearable technology and citizen data collection. Tan will be working with UJ Industrial Design students to explore how wearable technology can be used to help citizens and communities in need by collecting data about their environments and quality of life to share with government institutions and research organisations like the Gauteng City Region Observatory. 

Over and above these three key initiatives, the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival will also host a series of special exhibitions that speak to the concerns of the Smart City. The first is a poster exhibition by UJ Multimedia students that address speculative design for African Smart Cities, the second is a series of four films by acclaimed young South Africa artists Franois Knotze on the effects of eWaste on cultures and societies in Africa.

About Fak’ugesi 

Fak’ugesi - Joburg’s one and only African Digital Innovation Festival will take place in September 2019, with the theme ‘Own Your Force’. The 2019 festival will focus on bringing to the table important African visions and futures, by tapping into the sources of cross sector collaboration and culture alongside technology, creativity and innovation. Explore how local culture can move and change the future of technology. 

Fak’ugesi, which means “Switch it on” or “add power” in urban Zulu, is focused on culture, technology and innovation in Africa. It is an opportunity for young adults, with or without formal education, to learn or engage with tomorrow’s technology. 

According to an Impact Report commissioned by the British Council ConnectZA- Fak’ugesi is believed to be the most important digital creativity festival in Africa. 

http://fakugesi.co.za/ 

About Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct 

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is one of Johannesburg’s newest high-tech addresses 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 takes place. The Precinct was launched in September 2016 with strategic support from major companies including Microsoft, Cisco, TIA, Teraco, BCX, ACSA and MMI. Gauteng Province through its Department of E-Government and the City of Johannesburg have also provided significant support. The Precinct also houses the prestigious IBM Research’s Lab Africa – one of only 12 such facilities in the world. Website: www.tshimologong.joburg

Digital makers invited to ‘Own Your Force’ as Fak’ugesi

- Fak'ugesi Festival

Cross-sector digital creative technology at 2019 Fak’ugesi Festival – Africa’s best creative digital workshops, talks, pitches and digital art exhibitions

From 30 August to 8 September 2019 the Fak’ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival  will return to Johannesburg to explore and celebrate technology and creativity by Africans for Africa.  Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, in the youthful and dynamic heart of Braamfontein, will once again host this year’s inspiring programme. The 2019 Festival is also made possible by sponsorship from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), which includes a grant from AFD that enables Tshimologong to expand its activities to incorporate audio visual content creation.  

The Tshimologong Precinct alongside Wits Theatre and the BKhz Gallery will host this year’s mind-bending line up of hack-a-thons, game jams, aniMarathons, workshops, digital art, creative pitches, exhibitions as well as a special conference on creative economies and digital innovation. 

In total, Fak’ugesi Festival will offer 15 creative technology workshops across the week, starting with the Festival’s annual Making Weekend (31 August to 1 September) right until closing weekend on 7 September 2019, including an array of exciting talks, exhibitions, and meet-ups in between.

Fak'ugesi Festival 2019 | http://fakugesi.co.za/  

As part of a cross-sector evolution, with the aim of supporting cross sector development and exploration in the digital industries in South Africa, Fak’ugesi Festival is hosting four cross sector workshops. These include Screenwriting for games, Animation for games, Music for games and UX for games which then lead into a two-day Cross-Sector Game Jam that aims to see screenwriters, animators, musicians and other creatives join forces to prototype and develop new games.  

Fak’ugesi 2019 workshops will also feature not-to-be-missed guest workshops by local and international visiting artists. The following are for those who love digital creativity: 

Those inclined towards the business side of the creative enterprise can join the Creative Pitch Training led by Tshimologong Innovation Precinct’s own Khwezi Fudu Cenenda, or a special partner workshop by Harare-based ComeXposed for their Creative Enterprise Workshop

In keeping with the spirit of collaboration across diverse disciplines, this year will see  Fak’ugesi Festival team up with AnimationSA in a very special full day Animation Master Series, specifically designed for Animation producers and studios, both small and large. 

In the annual games-focused partnership with the Wits Digital Arts Department comes the Fak’ugesi Arcade,  which in 2019 is made up of specialist workshops and cross-sector engagements, including guest artist Mark Lustigman from Darjeeling Studios in France on  Using Cultural Heritage to Design Games & local super stars Alphabet Zoo together with Wits Game Design on Zines for Urban Games. Fak’ugesi Arcade also presents an opportunity for indie developers to pitch to a brand new African traveling platform Masidlale Fak’ugesi and a special Global South Focused “Ludus Lekgotla” of games-related talks linked to the Fak’ugesi Arcade opening on 3 September 2019. 

This year the Fak’ugesi Festival will once again showcase an incredible line up of digital arts exhibitions that will run for the full duration of the Festival, from 30 August to 8 September. Just some art exhibition highlights include: Francois Knoetze with his newly completed Core Dump film series on electronic waste; the Fak’ugesi Digital African Residency Exhibition of emerging digital artists from Southern Africa; a series of live AR Poetry Works by “Giving Poetry Wings”; Arts Research Africa Resident artist Russel Hlongwane with Ifu Elimnyama and a very special collection of VR from Southern Africa title Southern VR with Electric South, Eden Labs, TMRW Gallery and the Centre for the Less Good Idea

For a snapshot of the program highlights visit: What's happening at Fak'ugesi 2019.

About Fak’ugesi

Fak’ugesi - Joburg’s one and only African Digital Innovation Festival will take place in September 2019, with the theme ‘Own Your Force’. The 2019 festival will focus on bringing to the table important African visions and futures, by tapping into the sources of cross-sector collaboration and culture alongside technology, creativity and innovation.  Explore how local culture can move and change the future of technology. 

Fak’ugesi, which means “Switch it on” or “add power” in urban Zulu, is focused on culture, technology and innovation in Africa. It is an opportunity for young adults, with or without formal education, to learn or engage with tomorrow’s technology. 

According to an Impact Report commissioned by the British Council ConnectZA- Fak’ugesi is believed to be the most important digital creativity festival in Africa. 

http://fakugesi.co.za/ 

About Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is one of Johannesburg’s newest high-tech addresses 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 takes place. The Precinct was launched in September 2016 with strategic support from major companies including Microsoft, Cisco, TIA, Teraco, BCX, ACSA and MMI. Gauteng Province through its Department of E-Government and the City of Johannesburg have also provided significant support. The Precinct also houses the prestigious IBM Research’s Lab Africa – one of only 12 such facilities in the world. Website: www.tshimologong.joburg

School of Chemistry launches new AI research initiative for Africa

- Wits University

Africans should be the contributors, shapers and owners of the coming advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi.

(From left) The Cirrus Initiative team: Professor Dean Brady, Gregg Barret, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Taariq Surtee, Dr Roy Forbes and Dr Dean Barrett

The Molecular Sciences Institute (MSI) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa, in partnership with the Cirrus Initiative, today announced plans for a new artificial intelligence (AI) research operation in Africa.

Announcing the Cirrus Initiative during the 2019 AI Expo Africa in Cape Town, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs, said Wits is one of the leading institutions in machine learningand data science research in Africa, and that this collaboration will boost the University’s efforts as it envisions a step change in the research and application of AI in the region. 
 
Hosted by the MSI in the Wits School of Chemistry, the newly formed Cirrus Initiative will focus on the analysis of research data in chemistry, with a view to collaborate with physics, technology and engineering projects using machine learning.
 
School of Chemistry laboratory. CREDIT: WITS UNIVERSITY
 
Advances in AI and its application in addressing the challenges facing Africa have the potential to drive innovation in academia and industry and shape future societies. There is a growing need for talent, infrastructure and funding to support such innovation and to fully realise the opportunities presented in our technology and data-driven world.
 
“To become competitive in this new wave of innovation fuelled by AI and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and with the substantial accumulation of resources and investments in new technologies in North America, Europe and Asia, require efforts in southern Africa on a magnitude far greater than any previous endeavour spanning academia and industry,” says Vilakazi.
 
Cirrus aims to create a collaborative university and industry platform supporting an ecosystem that fosters innovation and entrepreneurialism. As the host university, Wits will lead the Cirrus Initiative’s cooperation efforts with universities, institutes, Centres of Excellence and research groups in Africa.
 
While Cirrus will initially focus on the research and application of AI in chemical, physical and biological systems, its capability will be extended to the benefit of other fields to foster the growth of a strong scientific ecosystem on the continent. Numerous direct and indirect employment opportunities for scientists and engineers will also be created.
 
“Combining Africa’s vibrant talent with the building of a globally competitive platform for leading scientific research and application will drive innovation and undoubtedly foster economic development in the region. In our pursuit of knowledge creation, it is also critical that Africans are the contributors, shapers and owners of the coming advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” says Vilakazi.
 
As part of the effort to foster collaboration, Cortex Group have entered into a cooperation agreement with the Cirrus Initiative to lead the establishment of Cirrus FOUNDRY Cape, an operation focused on developing start-ups and helping them move from ideation to commercial operation. Their team has been at the forefront of collaborative AI efforts in Africa and by working with Wits and Cirrus will be able to unlock even more opportunities.

X-ray crystallography, as done in the School of Chemistry, has been fundamental in the development of many scientific fields. CREDIT: WITS UNIVERSITY

About the Cirrus Initiative

The Cirrus Initiative includes:
  • The creation of a cooperation program: Supporting interdisciplinary cooperation spanning academia and industry around the world through its network, boosting the application of AI technologies and ensuring the transformative potential benefits for the region.
  • Adding State-of-art computing to the current research infrastructure: Supported by teams of hardware, software, machine learning and data engineers. It will bring together engineering teams, researchers, computing infrastructure and extensive scientific instrumentation to enable a step change in research efforts of academia and industry in the region.
  • Building Open Learning: Ensuring inclusive participation, the dissemination of knowledge and ideas and the development of the next generation of AI researchers.
  • The Cirrus FOUNDRY and Cirrus FOUNDRY Fund: The Cirrus FOUNDRYwill create a collaborative environment connecting start-ups to students, researchers, faculty, corporate partners and capital concerned with real world AI innovation. It will ensure that start-ups have the necessary resources, people and skills to better tackle the challenging problems across a range of industries and drive innovation toward significant impact on society. Importantly, the Cirrus FOUNDRY will specialise in fostering support for early stage innovations and in helping start-ups make the transition from science to real world application. Through the Cirrus FOUNDRY Fund, funding provided to start-ups will ensure that they are not wholly dependent on outside capital and will increase the short-term success of the start-up by bridging the “Valley of Death” – the challenge of turning a start-up idea or scientific research into a large-scale commercial application.
The Cirrus Initiative will also initiate several research assistance programmes, including:
  • A Research to Communication programme
  • An Open Learning programme
  • A Residency programme
  • A PhD Internship programme
  • A Postdoctorate programme
  • An Assistantship programme

Researchers in the School of Chemistry

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at Wits

Wits University has a number of highly skilled artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) researchers piloting the growth of this field in Africa and has the only researchers on the continent to publish regularly in all major international AI, ML and robotics conferences.

AI/ML and Data Science are two of 15 areas of research excellence at Wits. In its pursuit to create a strong research community that can find African solutions to AI challenges, Wits has several interdisciplinary collaborations in AI/ML education, research and innovation. 

Highlights: 

Stay updated with the latest research news in AI/ML and technology/digital innovations at Wits University, by: 

Can robots decide on right and wrong?

- Gillian Anstey

The '4IR: Philosophical, Ethical, Legal Dimensions' conference explored the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

4IR is a buzzword frequently devoid of meaning but the conference, presented by the Wits Institute of Data Science and the National e-Science Postgraduate Teaching and Training Platform, provided a platform to delve deeper into the implications of 4IR technologies. 

Do machines have moral agency, that is, can they make decisions based on right and wrong? Yes, in a functional sense they do, argued Fabio Tollon of Stellenbosch University’s Department of Philosophy. 

Should hackers who break into computer systems of their own accord and expose weaknesses be paid for doing so? No, argued Yonnique Goliath, a strategist at Youth Employment Service completing her Masters degree on the subject at Wits. 

Brazil does not have proper legislation to deal with the fake news spread during President Jair Bolsonaro’s 2018 electoral campaign, including political WhatsApp messages masterminded in Spain, lamented Adjunct Professor Nathalie Cadena of Brazil’s Federal University of Juiz de Fora. 

Those were just some of the topics explored by 16 speakers from a total of 32 delegates who attended the 4IR: Philosophical, Ethical, Legal Dimensions conference at the TW Kambule Mathematical Sciences Building on West Campus from 3 – 5 September.

A special 2020 issue of the Springer journal, Philosophy & Technology, will feature selected papers from the conference. It will be guest edited by conference organiser, Helen Robertson of the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, who also presented a paper. 

Professor Rod Alence, Head of the Department of International Relations at Wits, set the tone for how the outlandish becomes commonplace in industrial revolutions when he welcomed the delegates by speaking about watching Terminator 2 in Accra, Ghana in the early 1990s. The film features a cyborg who turns into molten metal but the part that drove the audience wild was when a young boy seemingly walks up to a wall and withdraws cash  - they had never seen an ATM before. 

The movies RoboCop, Dr Strangelove, The Island, Minority Report and Surrogates also popped up during the conference; in the world of 4IR what was sci-fi then, is closer to reality today. 

As Karabo Maiyane, a lecturer at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pretoria, said in his paper on lethal autonomous weapons: “As far as we know they have not been deployed  -  not that they have not been created". 

Brent Mittelstadt, a Research Fellow and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in data ethics at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, and a member of the UK National Statistician’s Data Ethics Advisory Committee, presented the keynote address via a video link-up. 

Titled: Data Ethics: From Principles to Practice, it showed how data has changed professions such as medicine. Mittelstadt said when he sees a doctor he expects the doctor to be "doing data entry and looking at the screen for most of the time’’. 

He compared developing artificial intelligence with medicine as it is ‘’the most prominent example we have of attempting to go from high level principles down to practical recommendations’’. 

But "will a principled approach to ethics actually work in the context of AI?" He believes not. 

He said medicine promotes health and wellbeing which is what patients also want "so there is this fundamental alignment of common aims" which encourages trust. 

"I don’t think we can say the same for AI,’’ he said, because it is often developed by institutions whose responsibilities are to shareholders, not users. "There is no real equivalent of the ‘patient’ in AI,’’ he said, so ‘’ethical decision-making in AI will often be adversarial rather than cooperative’’. 

He presented a list of global initiatives addressing AI ethics – and scrolled down one screen image after another to reveal a total of 84, as at June 2019. 

”Many countries are producing a national strategy because they see AI both as an opportunity and a risk," Mittelstadt said. 

John Ostrowick, a director at SA’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development but who spoke in his personal capacity, said the South African government is very aware of 4IR.  

It has established an advisory commission which will create a report on what to do about 4IR and most departments are ‘’working on plans’’. 

He produced stats from international strategy consulting firm Roland Berger which showed the likes of China, Britain and Germany each spending about 2b-euros on 4IR. In contrast, SA has spent only a few million rand, he said. 

"In other words we haven’t exactly taken it seriously enough," said Ostrowick who feels the state is not showing awareness of 4IR threats such as bioengineering.

The future is innovation

- Wits University

"Wits and Tshimologong are the pioneers driving Gauteng to a modern economy in the new age of the digital revolution," said Premier David Makhuru.

The Gauteng Premier was leading a delegation of the provincial government who recently visited Wits University's Tshimologong Digital Innovation Hub and the IBM Research lab next door to see first-hand how this Precinct in Braamfontein is developing tech and digital skills, incubating start-ups and driving innovation.

Hosted by Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits, and the founder and creater of the Tshimologong Precinct, Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Makhuru was accompanied by Gauteng MECs Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko (Finance and eGoverment) and Dr Kgosientso Ramokgopa (Economic Development, Environment and Agriculture).

Setswana for “new beginnings”, Tshimologong is Johannesburg's newest high-tech hub where the incubation of digital entrepreneurs, commercialisation of research and the development of high-level digital skills for students, working professionals and unemployed youth takes place.

The future is innovation 

In his address, Makhuru said this is the first time he is visiting Tshimologong and he is very impressed "to see the results and outcomes of the vision that Professor Dwolatzky - the driving force behind the Tshimologong Precinct - has for Braamfontein, Johannesburg and Gauteng".

"The Provincial Government is working with Wits and others to build an innovation corridor that will stretch from Braamfontein to Auckland Park. Tshimologong is already doing great work in the development of skills for our future; and is a key contributor to the concentration of innovation in the province. As a central innovation corridor, the Precinct feeds into the collaborative vision we see for Gauteng’s digital economy," said Makhuru.

SA's Tech Village: A nerve centre for innovation and incubation

Joining the delegation, Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits, shared Wits' vision for Braamfontein, saying Tshimologong is where "we incubate new digital entrepreneurs, create new startups in fields such as fintech, hightech, socialtech, miningtech and more. Tshimologong is the place where new ideas are created and where, collectively, we find innovative solutions to the challenges facing our society". 

Makers and innovators

The delegation also visited Tshimologong Makerspace where a group of intrepid inventors are hosted in the App Factory. The space seeks to promote and enable access to innovation through collaborative making, training, upskilling and experimentation/purposeful play (R&D - Research and Development).

Some of the practical engagements housed in the space include Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as 3D printing (prototyping & customisation), laser cutting, IoT (Internet of Things), electronics and robotics; Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR); and design for digital fabrication. 

South Africa becomes quantum ready

Following the visit to Tshimologong, the delegation moved on to the IBM Research Lab next door to learn more about how Wits is collaborating with IBM on quantum computing research, big data, cloud computing and innovation in health care, digital urban ecosystems and astronomy.

This year, Wits University became the first African partner to join the IBM Q Network and will be the gateway for academics across South Africa and the 15 universities who are part of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) to gain access to the IBM Q quantum cloud service.

“Having access to IBM Q is pivotal for Wits University’s cross-disciplinary research program and allows our researchers in quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and in the broad natural sciences, including in laser technology, quantum optics and molecular design, to leverage the next level of discovery research. It’s envisioned that the first results from this collaboration will be forthcoming in the next two years,” said Professor Zeblon Vilakazi.

It also places Wits at the centre of the quantum computing revolution in Africa.

"Far from being a leap of faith, investment in quantum technologies in South Africa is crucial if we want to leverage the next level of discovery research that can help us to address the country’s most intractable problems. Just as crucial is the digital economic potential that quantum computing holds for technology start-ups in the hardware and software development fields. One of the most promising applications of quantum computing will be in the area of chemistry. In the South African context, early interest in this field is in HIV drug delivery research." - Professor Zeblon Vilakazi

Read more about Wits' efforts in quantum computing.

Wits researcher wins international award for infection control innovation

- Wits University

Wits academic Michael Lucas took top honours at the International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control in Switzerland, 10-13 September 2019.

Lucas won the prestigious Prix Hubert Tuor Innovation Award for his Antimicrobial Coating Technology.

The technology, now in its fifth year of development, is a novel solution to address the problem of nosocomial infections. These infections, acquired during hospital stays, are a significant and persistent issue faced by hospitals across the world.

“Infection control is an ongoing challenge in hospitals. Surface contamination and subsequent microbial transmission are known contributors to this. My design for a self sanitizing surface coating serves to address this growing problem, and the results are very promising. These antimicrobial coatings can be applied to high contact surfaces where there is a risk of contamination, including medical facilities, food processing plants and public transport surfaces,” says Lucas. 

Metal coated plastics are an emerging field of research and development with a wide range of applications. The distinguishing features of Lucas' research include the novelty of multi-step and multi-process additive manufacturing through the use of cold spray and polymer 3D printing. These manufacturing techniques offer design freedom and manufacturing versatility. This means that manufactured parts can be retrofitted into existing hospital surfaces.

The coatings are made up of various metals with known antimicrobial properties, including combinations of copper, silver and zinc. The uniqueness of Lucas' innovative way of depositing the coatings is a competitive advantage that Wits University is protecting through a patent.

“Research is a process of exploration and it's this aspect that appeals most to me. I enjoy problem solving and seeing the application of research,” says Lucas. 

The most promising particle-embedded cold spray polymer metallised coatings were found to be effective self-sanitising surface coatings. Under simulated touch-contact conditions copper coatings on various polymer substrates, for example, repeatedly achieved complete microbial elimination within only a 15 minute contact period. These tests were conducted under laboratory conditions against a variety of dangerous pathogens that are found in hospital high contact surfaces including a multi-drug resistant Staph strain. Thus, the potential of these coatings for the mitigation of surface contact transmission of infections was confirmed.

Preliminary pilot studies validated this, using coated security access cards and a custom coated smartphone cover exposed to various healthcare associated environments within the University of Witwatersrand’s Medical School and adjacent Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital.

Commenting on receiving the Prix Hubert Tuor Innovation Award at the International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control for his Antimicrobial Coating Technology, he says: “This is a medical conference, so to bring in an engineering aspect set my research apart. Most of the other innovation-related research presented at the conference pertained to hand hygiene and related technology. Environmental contamination and particularly surface contamination were agreed to be of high importance. I believe that the preliminary results of an approach to contamination control present notable advantages, which set my research apart.”

Michael describes the process of participating in the conference as an incredible journey, from identifying the conference as uniquely relevant to his research, submitting an abstract and being accepted, to the material and finally presenting it.

“My late supervisor, Professor Ionel Botef, was the primary instigator for this opportunity. His belief in me and my research has instilled the confidence to embrace the challenge. Winning this award is the culmination of the past five years of technology development and I see it as a stepping stone onto future opportunities.

“The next steps include verifying the safety of the coatings for the intended application and to assess the coatings’ efficacy in real world hospital high contact surface environments. This would be the start of taking the technology to market,” says Michael, adding that he sees an opportunity to turn his technology into a viable startup business.

The development of the technology is ongoing, having started during Lucas' undergraduate research project and continuing into his doctoral studies. Together with the now late Professor Ionel Botef from the Schoo l of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering, Lucas has worked on further developments with Professor Sandy van Vuuren in the Wits Pharmacy and Pharmacology department. Financial assistance has been provided by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Strong Materials (CoE-SM) and SITA Information Networking Computing UK. 

Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (Mechanical Engineering) from WITS in 2016. Before graduating, he was asked to present his undergrad research into biomaterials via cold spray and 3D printed polymers at the 2015 Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering (MIA) annual valediction. He was subsequently awarded the best presentation in the Mechanical Engineering programme by the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers (SAIMechE). Due to the novelty and sophistication of the develooment, Michael’s Master's in Engineering was upgraded to a PhD research study under the title: Antimicrobial surface coatings via cold spray and 3D printing technologies, which he is currently completing at WITS University. 

Tumi Ngqondo, Innovation Support Manager at WITS Commercial Enterprise, which assists WITS’ innovators with fundraising, business case development and spinning out companies, says: "We are delighted for Michael and look forward to supporting him as he takes the next steps to finalise development and commercialise the technology."

Enabling the future by decoding the past

- Curiosity

The eighth issue of Wits University’s research magazine, Curios.ty is themed: #Code, and is available download or read online.

#Code refers to any systems, letters and symbols that have meaning, are representative and govern behaviour. Today it is also associated with computer coding, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Curiosity 8: #Code | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/In this issue Wits researchers explore not only these Fourth Industrial manifestations of code, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti.

We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics.

Highlights

  • Are we just walking data sources for the benefit of giant multinationals? [Page 8]
  • How knitting won a war [Page 18]
  • Gene editing: Designer babies could spell disaster for future generations [Page 24]
  • Gayle – A South African language (or code) of secrets [Page 36]
  • Data domination by Big Tech, such as GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), has ominous implications for economies and privacy globally [Page 46]
  • How to win the lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics [Page 48]

About Curiosity

Curios.ty is a print and digital magazine that aims to make the research at Wits University accessible to multiple publics. Available on the Wits website here: http://www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

Copyright and to republish our articles

© All material in this publication is copyright and all rights are reserved. Reproduction of any part of the publication is permitted only with the express written permission of the Head of Communications at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. For permissions, send an email to curiosity@wits.ac.za.

Follow us on:

For the latest Wits research news, visit: http://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/research-news/ or www.wits.ac.za/future/Contact Wits Communications should you require more information or visit our media section for more on our experts and latest media releases.

Structured light promises path to faster, more secure communications

-

Quantum mechanics is embracing patterns of light to create an alphabet that can be leveraged to build a light-based quantum network.

Structured light is a fancy way to describe patterns or pictures of light, but deservedly so as it promises future communications that will be both faster and more secure.

Quantum mechanics has come a long way during the past 100 years but still has a long way to go. In AVS Quantum Science, from AIP Publishing, researchers from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa review the progress being made in using structured light in quantum protocols to create a larger encoding alphabet, stronger security and better resistance to noise.

“What we really want is to do quantum mechanics with patterns of light,” said co-author Professor Andrew Forbes from the School of Physics at Wits University. “By this, we mean that light comes in a variety of patterns that can be made unique - like our faces.”

Since patterns of light can be distinguished from each other, they can be used as a form of alphabet. “The cool thing is that there are, in principle at least, an infinite set of patterns, so an infinite alphabet is available,” he said.

The creation of hybrid entangled photons by combining polarisation with a “twisted” pattern that carries orbital angular momentum.

Traditionally, quantum protocols have been implemented with the polarisation of light, which has only two values - a two-level system with a maximum information capacity per photon of just 1 bit. But by using patterns of light as the alphabet, the information capacity is much higher. Also, its security is stronger, and the robustness to noise (such as background light fluctuations) is improved.

“Patterns of light are a route to what we term high-dimensional states,” Forbes said. “They are high dimensional because many patterns are involved in the quantum process. Unfortunately, the toolkit to manage these patterns is still underdeveloped and requires a lot of work.”

The quantum science community has made many recent noteworthy advances, both in the science and derived technologies. For example, entanglement swapping has now been demonstrated with spatial modes of light, a core ingredient in a quantum repeater, while the means to securely communicate between nodes is now possible through high-dimensional quantum key distribution protocols. Together they bring us a little bit closer to a fast and secure quantum network.

Similarly, the construction of exotic multi-party high-dimensional states for quantum computer has been realised, as has enhanced resolution in ghost imaging (produced by combining light from two light detectors). Yet it remains challenging to break beyond the ubiquitous two photons in two dimensions for full control of multiple photons entangled in high dimensions.

“We know how to create and detect photons entangled in patterns,” said Forbes. “But we don’t really have good control on getting them from one point to another, because they distort in the atmosphere and in optical fiber. And we don’t really know how to efficiently extract information from them. It requires too many measurements at the moment,” he added.

Forbes and his co-author, Isaac Nape helped pioneer the use of hybrid states - another big advance. Old textbook quantum mechanics was done with polarisation.

“It turns out that many protocols can be efficiently implemented with simpler tools by combining patterns with polarisation for the best of both worlds,” said Forbes. “Rather than two dimensions of patterns, hybrid states allow access to multidimensional states, for example, an infinite set of two-dimensional systems. This looks like a promising way forward to truly realize a quantum network based on patterns of light.”

The article, Quantum mechanics with patterns of light: Progress in high dimensional and multi-dimensional entanglement with structured light, authored by Forbes and Nape can be accessed at http://aip.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1116/1.5112027.

WitsQ to hold first Summer School

- Wits University

The WitsQ Quantum Computing Summer School takes place from 2 - 10 December at the Science Stadium.

Wits University, together with IBM Research, the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, the Wits Institute for Data Science, and the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) will host its first Quantum Computing Summer School.

REGISTER HERE: http://www.wits.ac.za/quantum-computing/summer-school/ (Registration closes on 22 November 2019 and residence room bookings close on 15 November 2019)

#WitsQ - Quantum Computing at Wits University

Aimed at undergraduates, postgraduates, academics, researchers and members of industry who are interested in Quantum Computing, the Summer School will be an opportunity to produce and facilitate research that incorporates quantum computing.

In June, Wits became the first African partner on the IBM Q Network – a  community of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions and research labs working with IBM to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science.

The Summer School has space for 300 attendees and is open to anyone who have the following prerequisites:

  • Good Mathematics: Complex Linear Algebra
  • Understanding of the properties of quantum mechanics: e.g. superposition, entanglement, interference
  • Some programming experience: Python is preferable

Attendees will be in introduced to quantum computing; to its theory as well as to:

  • Qiskit and IBM Quantum Computers
  • Basic Quantum Algorithms
  • Advanced Quantum Algorithms
  • Applications of Quantum Computing
  • Understanding the hardware of Quantum Computers

The school will run from 2 December - 10 December 2019 at the Wits Science Stadium, Braamfontein Campus West, Johannesburg.

Following the Summer School, IBM Q will be hosting an invite-only Qiskit Camp Africa in South Africa (11 – 14 December 2019) for 200 quantum researchers and computer scientists. Qiskit is a full-stack, open-source quantum software development kit to create and run quantum computing programs.

 For enquiries, contact Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director: Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, at info@jcse.org.za.

South Africa is one step closer to processed titanium alloys

- Michael Oluwatosin Bodunrin

Low-cost titanium alloys in South Africa could be used in non-aerospace sectors, such as car parts, medical devices, implants, jewellery and kitchen appliances.

Wits to host human capacity development workshop in big data and artificial intelligence

- Wits University

The two-day workshop will be part of the National Conference of the Centre of High Performance Computing.

The Wits Institute of Data Science (WIDS) and the Wits Institute for Collider Particle Physics (ICPP) have partnered to organise a workshop on Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.

The workshop will take place during the National Conference of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), to be held at the Birchwood Conference Centre, Kempton Park from 1 to 5 December. The conference will gather about 500 researchers, students and representatives from industry partners, in what has become one of the largest events of its kind in South Africa

The two-day workshop, which will make part of the conference, will include a few introductory lectures pertaining to Machine Learning and the handling of Artificial Intelligence with a large variety of data sets, including the Big Data problem. It will also include a hands-on session using standard tools, including the use of Python, TensorFlow and other open source packages.

The first day will be devoted to an introduction to Machine learning that will include notions and algorithms, such as linear and logistic regressions, gradient descent, support vector machines, decision trees, boosting and clustering. Lectures will be followed by a hands-on session with exercises in text analysis, image classification and recognition.

The second day will build on the material covered during the first day, where the Big Data problem will be defined. Lectures will cover the symbiosis between Big Data and Artificial Intelligence driven by Big Sciences. The session will cover practical problems in anomaly detection.

WIDS contributes to running of the DSI-NICIS National e-Science Postgraduate Teaching and Training Platform (NEPTTP) which is a multi-institutional platform. The NEPTTP aims to develop qualifications, curricula and pedagogic interventions to advance training of postgraduate students across disciplines in e-Science.

The ICPP is a member of the South Africa – CERN program, funded by the DSI and hosted by the NRF’s iThemba LABS. The SA-CERN program facilitates knowledge and technology transfer in High-Tech, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence to South Africa from the European laboratory, CERN.

Lectures and discussions will be led by Professors Turgay Celik, Deepak Kar, Bruce Mellado and Terrence Van Zyl from Wits University, who will be assisted by Dr Xifeng Ruan and other researchers.

“Meeting the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution requires collaboration across disciplines. This includes mathematicians, computer scientists, statisticians and physicists,” says Dr Happy Sithole, Director, Centre for High Performance Computing and Center Manager, National Integrated Cyber-Infrastructure at CSIR-NICIS

“Big Sciences play a pivotal role in the dissemination of knowledge and provides a platform for skill and human capacity development in areas that are invaluable to a modern economy,” says Bruce Mellado, the Director of the ICPP.

“Data Science and Artificial Intelligence are amongst the major foundational blocks of the nation’s 4IR initiative. NEPTTP and WIDS continuously make significant contributions towards forming and strengthening those foundational blocks,” says Turgay Celik, the Director of the NEPTTP and the WIDS.

More information about the conference and how to register can be found here.

Enabling the future by decoding the past

- Curiosity

The eighth issue of Wits University’s research magazine, Curios.ty is themed: #Code, and is available download or read online.

#Code refers to any systems, letters and symbols that have meaning, are representative and govern behaviour. Today it is also associated with computer coding, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Curiosity 8: #Code | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/In this issue Wits researchers explore not only these Fourth Industrial manifestations of code, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti.

We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics.

Highlights

  • Are we just walking data sources for the benefit of giant multinationals? [Page 8]
  • How knitting won a war [Page 18]
  • Gene editing: Designer babies could spell disaster for future generations [Page 24]
  • Gayle – A South African language (or code) of secrets [Page 36]
  • Data domination by Big Tech, such as GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), has ominous implications for economies and privacy globally [Page 46]
  • How to win the lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics [Page 48]

About Curiosity

Curios.ty is a print and digital magazine that aims to make the research at Wits University accessible to multiple publics. Available on the Wits website here: http://www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

Copyright and to republish our articles

© All material in this publication is copyright and all rights are reserved. Reproduction of any part of the publication is permitted only with the express written permission of the Head of Communications at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. For permissions, send an email to curiosity@wits.ac.za.

Follow us on:

For the latest Wits research news, visit: http://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/research-news/ or www.wits.ac.za/future/Contact Wits Communications should you require more information or visit our media section for more on our experts and latest media releases.

Decoding Wits’ innovations the past 100 years

- Zeblon Vilakazi

EDITORIAL: It is only through understanding yesterday that we can shape today and create tomorrow.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs.   ©Lauren Mulligan | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a physicist with a keen interest in history and the history of technological developments in particular. I am a firm believer that we learn from the past to build our collective futures. As Wits approaches its 100th anniversary, the timing is appropriate to decode some of the University’s innovations that open up endless possibilities in the 21st Century. 

Take our advances in moving from binary to quantum computing as an example. In the 1960s, Wits was the first university to host an IBM mainframe computer in Africa (p. 50). Today, Wits is the first African partner on the IBM Q Network, enabling academics across Africa to enter the quantum computing universe. Quantum computing is exponentially faster than classical computing and promises to solve problems – from chemical simulations to reducing the time for drug discovery.

Curiosity 8: #Code | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/ 

This issue of Curios.ty, themed CODE, explores how we decipher and create meaning out of systems, letters and symbols. For those caught in the hype of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, CODE is associated with computer coding, big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning – all areas in which Wits leads currently. Read about Wits’ 4IR efforts on pages 6, 8 and 12. And yes, it’s good for your kids to learn to code (p. 16). 

This issue also explores CODE-related climate change modelling (p. 30), decoding knowledge and languages (pages 14 and 42), mathematics as a universal code (p. 34), decoding political texts (p. 43), data dominance (p. 46), and representation in the arts (pages 38 and 40). We delve into issues around data privacy, ethics, governance and access in a hyper-connected world (pages 8 and 24). Transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research approaches are evident in many of these stories. 

Wits is renowned for its world-firsts such as bouncing the first radar of Northcliff Hill after World War 2 began, but today I found the story on how knitting won the war through Morse code particularly intriguing (p. 18). The first medical school in Johannesburg opened its doors in 1919 (three years before Wits was inaugurated) and amongst its eminent alumni is Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner, recognised for his work on genetic codes and molecular biology. At Wits today, scientists build on this legacy through advances in precision medicine (p. 24) and revolutionising the treatment of haemophilia, a genetic blood disorder (p. 26). 

There are hundreds of such stories to tell but too many to reflect on these pages alone. Let’s start the conversation ahead of 2022 as it is only through understanding yesterday that we can shape today and create tomorrow.

Surfing the data tsunami tomorrow

- Shaun Smillie

Humankind is facing an ever-growing data tsunami that could swamp us as a species – or provide us with unheard of opportunities.

Technology, 4IRSA, data, artificial intelligence, ICT, computers

We have entered an age where information is being released at increasing rates. Ninety percent of all data generated in the history of humankind were produced in just the last two years. Mining and analysing this data will require new technologies and skill sets, and this is where universities like Wits hope to play a role. With new technologies come the promise of jobs, medical breakthroughs, and scientific discoveries. And it is all so new. 

"Data analysis and data science were not fields of study 15 years ago, so some of the jobs to be created by this technology do not exist," explains Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits. "So the future of data is about the future of jobs."  

Managing mass info in Africa 

Vilakazi’s mandate is to both position Wits for this future and help South Africa and Africa leverage it. 

There have already been projects where South African scientists have had to tackle big data. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in the Karoo is now generating more data than the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. And the SKA is still in its infancy and promises to spew out even more data in the decades to come. “So there has to be a future where we need to be thinking how we manage this data,” says Vilakazi 

As a species, humans are not neurologically wired to process all this information. Adam Pantanowitz, a biomedical engineer in the Wits School of Electrical and Information Engineering, says, “Dealing with data in the future is going to be a challenge and an opportunity, and one of the main ways we are going to tackle this is through machine learning and artificial intelligence [AI].”  

Both these technologies will enable us to process and make sense of vast amounts of data. Wits has joined several projects across the continent to deal with the data management challenge. In 2019, Wits became the first African partner on the IBM Quantum Computing (IBM Q) Network, which will include 15 African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) partners. This network will enable researchers to use quantum computing and machine learning in fields such as cosmology, molecular biology and HIV drug research.   

Wits University is also a founding member of the 4IRSA, which aims to help South Africa respond to the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, through research. By harnessing data and utilising it to its full potential, Pantanowitz believes the spin-offs will be immense.   

“A huge belief I have is that the most successful cities, nations and continents of the future will be those that will be able to sense their environment and create feedback loops that act rapidly on that environment,” he says. “We would be able to make better decisions from a resourcing and governance perspective.”   

The African advantage 

Although it may appear that Africa – with its lack of infrastructure and digital divide – is ill prepared for such a future, this might be to the advantage of the continent, believes Vilakazi 

“Being behind means you can leapfrog, so we must take advantage of our disadvantage,” he says. “There has been a lot of work over the last decade. Cables are being laid across the entire African continent, and we are experimenting with new protocols of wireless transmission, like 5G tech.”  

Networks have also been established across the continent to share knowledge and help Africans develop their own technologies. Dr Benjamin Rosman, a Senior Lecturer in the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, is a founding member of the Deep Learning Indaba programme. “The programme aims to increase African participation and contribution to the advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning,” he says.  

Participation has grown remarkably over the last couple of years, but being able to leapfrog existing technology means having something with which to replace it. In the Wits School of Physics, scientists are working on something that could one day transport huge packets of data.  

Professor Andrew Forbes and his team at the Structured Light Laboratory at Wits are working on using light patterns to increase the bandwidth of communications systems one hundred-fold. These patterns, because they are unique, can be used to encode information. This communication system will work over  “free space” – meaning through the air – so no infrastructure, such as cabling, is needed.

“We have trialled it in the laboratory and it all works. Now we have a local company that has ceded their IP [intellectual property] to us and we plan to use this IP as a platform to build a practical device,” says Forbes. “We are hoping in the next few years that we would have taken the lab demonstration through to a device that can then be commercialised.” 

With the ever-increasing utilisation of data come issues of ethical use. Already there are allegations of elections being swung through the information gleaned from millions of social media accounts.   

Rosman is working on the ethics around AI in collaboration with the Wits Philosophy Department. 

“We have been looking at what should be happening with AI in Africa. There are a lot of questions on what kind of expectations people should have, what should be taken into consideration when these systems are built,” he says.   

Another issue is that of culture. “It is important to get more involvement from society, and for people who think about societal norms and values and ethics to get involved in these conversations, otherwise they are just kind of implicitly dealt with by whoever designed the system,” he says.  

Ultimately, it is going to come down to just how we are going to deal with that data tsunami and if we learn to surf that wave to a brighter future.

  • Shaun Smillie is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics.  

Fair trade: Your soul for data?

- Retha Langa

In an increasingly data-driven world, are we just walking data sources for the benefit of giant multinational corporations?

Every single minute, there are 3.8 million search queries on Google; 4.5 million videos watched on YouTube; almost $1 million spent online; 41.6 million messages sent via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger – and these are a fraction of the interactions that currently happen online.  

As we go about our daily lives – sharing our personal experiences on social media, asking Siri to set our alarms, and counting how many steps we walk on our wearables – we are essentially becoming walking data points, where our information is collected and analysed to predict behaviour. Where will it end?  

Professor Turgay Celik, Director of the National e-Science Postgraduate Teaching and Training Platform (NEPTTP) and the Wits Institute of Data Science (WIDS), predicts that in the next 10 to 15 years, humans will be “directly connected to cyber space without using devices. Your brain will be directly connected to the internet,” he says.   

Wits Biomedical engineers have already connected a human brain to the internet in real time. This Brainternet project essentially turned the brain into an Internet of Things node on the World Wide Web. 

In 2019, the same team connected two computers through the human brain and transmitted words like ‘hello’ and ‘apple’, passively, without the user being aware that a message was present. 

“Do we really need to have our physical bodies to experience life, or do we only need to have our own brain?” asks Celik. “We will be seeing the systems creating those virtual environments to give humans an experience of nature. You want to go and see the osean, but do you really need to physically go there? Can I stimulate a part of my brain to give me that experience?” 

Android rights and the Big Other 

Dr Christopher Wareham, Senior Lecturer in the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits argues that we need to think about the implications of such technological developments from the perspective of artificial agents. These “digital beings” will potentially have lives – and rights – of their own.  

“Traditionally the focus on this question is very much on the other side of the issue: How are we going to stop them from harming us? There is very little work that looks at it from the other side. How are we going to prevent humans from harming this being, experimenting on it? Should there be laws that protect this type of being?”   

The developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) already significantly affect how we live our lives today. American academic Shoshana Zuboff coined the term ‘surveillance capitalism’ in 2014. Surveillance capitalism depends on “the global architecture of computer mediation… [which] produces a distributed and largely uncontested new expression of power”. Zuboff christens this the “Big Other”. Currently, the “Big Other” includes Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.  

Surveillance capitalism 

Writing in The Guardian, Zuboff explains, “The logic of surveillance capitalism begins with unilaterally claiming the private human experience as free raw material for production and sales. These experiences are translated into behavioural data. Some of this data may be applied to product or service improvements, and the rest is valued for its predictive power. These flows of predictive data are fed into computational products that predict human behaviour.”   

Surveillance capitalism is a “real issue”, says Professor Brian Armstrong, Chair in Digital Business at the Wits Business School. “In my view, a very big concern is around the whole idea of social scoring.” This refers to the practice of developing a social rating system to establish if a person is a fit and proper member of society, in terms of their “social score”.   

In China, private companies are already operating social credit systems, as is local government in pilot projects. The plan is to develop a nationwide system that scores the individual’s behaviour, including giving citizens a score and adding rewards and penalties for specific actions. For example, if you donate to charity, you score points but you lose points for traffic violations.   

But one need not look as far as China for Big Brother-style surveillance. In Johannesburg, thousands of surveillance cameras already monitor motorists and pedestrians 24/7. In June, the Financial Mail reported that Vumacam – a subsidiary of internet fibre company, Vumatel – had installed more than 1 200 surveillance cameras to combat crime. By 2020, the number of cameras will increase to over 10 000.   

Local security companies can access the Vumacam live feed and, as the artificial intelligence system learns what a typical day in a neighbourhood looks like, it will flag behaviour that is out of the ordinary for that area. Dr Helen Robertson, who lectures Data Privacy and Ethics in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, refers to the battle between our right to safety and our right to privacy that such forms of surveillance bring to the fore. 

“It strikes me as plausible that we think our claims to safety have increased weight in contrast with our claims to privacy. If the relevant algorithms are going to identify abnormalities in the footage, we need to keep in mind how good these algorithms are or aren’t.” 

Security cameras | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/  

Safety vs. privacy 

Our views on privacy have not only been impacted by safety concerns. The pervasiveness of social media has also played a role. Robertson says that the average person is willing to share a lot more about their private lives today compared to a few decades ago. These evolving views are not necessarily problematic. “It might simply be a matter of one society’s convention in contrast with another society’s convention, and how they tend to feel with regard to how much they are willing to share.”  

Celik believes that privacy will become personalised, with individuals being able to define how much privacy they want for themselves.   

Our autonomy is another area influenced by the online world. Wareham argues that a lot of micro-targeted advertising and political messaging is designed specifically to degrade our autonomy. “If you do a Google search now, you’re not going to get an unbiased sample of information … you’re going to get information that Google has catered for you to get ... these sorts of micro-targeting … want to trigger you through nudges to behave in certain non-rational ways.”   

The question then becomes about who decides what you read, listen to, or watch, and who makes the decisions on what content is “appropriate” for a specific digital platform, and what is not.  

Towards tech that teaches 

Data-driven advancements are, however, not all doom and gloom. “Data in itself is not agnostically good or bad, but it is what we do with it. It can be abused, or it can be used for very positive purposes,” argues Armstrong, adding that education is one area in which South Africa could benefit immensely.   

“If we were able to use learning management systems more efficiently to see how students are learning, to see what material they are struggling with … to learn what teaching styles work best, we can individualise the learning experience.”   

In China, AI-enabled education has already blossomed with tens of millions of students using some form of AI to learn. This includes tutoring platforms where algorithms curate lessons and adapt the curriculum based on an individual’s understanding of specific concepts, reports MIT Technology Review.   

Protecting personal data 

Staggering amounts of data are generated daily, but who owns all this data? Robertson points out that there is currently no consensus among ethicists about this thorny issue.  

Some argue that the data subject owns the data. Others say that the data processor who uses his/her resources to create and analyse a dataset has ownership rights, while some argue that in certain cases, such as medical research that benefits society, the public’s need for medical treatment and breakthroughs mean that data belong to the public.   

These different claims to ownership “add a lot of ethical greyness”, says Robertson. “The ownership of data is particularly difficult. It is an object that can be traded, but at the same time, it has a reference to an individual, something like other artefacts do, such as photographs. The rights certainly seem to pull in different directions.”   

In the near future, South Africans will have considerable legal power regarding the protection of their data. The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) aims to protect the right to privacy, while enabling the social and economic benefits that result from the free flow of information. POPIA stipulates conditions under which personal information must be processed lawfully, although there are exceptions.   

These conditions include that personal information “must be collected for a specific, explicitly defined and lawful purpose”. Further processing of personal information can only take place if it is in line with the purpose for which it was originally collected. Most sections of the Act have not yet commenced. The announcement of a commencement date is expected before the end of 2019, after which companies will have one year to comply.   

Verine Etsebeth, a Senior Lecturer in the Wits School of Law who specialises in data protection and information security law, says the POPI Act is long overdue. “The sooner it is in practice, the sooner it can come before our courts and we can have precedents set,” says Etsebeth. “It is going to be survival of the fittest. If your competitor complies and you don’t, you won’t be able to retain your customers. Companies will realise just how much their reputations are worth.” 

Digital disempowerment 

Despite the excitement over technology’s potential to solve some of our most complex problems, many South Africans are still excluded from these advances. Only 40% of Africa’s population has access to the internet compared to 61% for the rest of the world. In South Africa, internet penetration currently sits at 56%.   

“In today’s world, digital disempowerment is one of the most profound forms of disempowerment,” says Armstrong. “Digital disempowerment comes in three levels. The first is do you have access, secondly do you use it, and thirdly are you engaged, transacting and impacted? In South Africa, you don’t have access if the networks don’t cover where you are, or if you can’t afford the mobile device … or if you can’t afford the price of data. In all of those areas we have a challenge.” 

  • Dr Retha Langa is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics.  

Plugging digital leaks

- Tamsin Oxford

Data are gathering in pools and lakes. As we dip our toes into these murky waters, we see a sign that says, ‘Here be dragons…’

The Scilinx Research team. ©Lauren Mulligan | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

The student standing in the corner tapping updates onto her Instagram profile. The tutor sending a quick WhatsApp to his wife, ‘Sorry, I’m going to be late’. The accountant uploading documents to the company intranet. Marketing releasing the monthly newsletters. Each individual adding another byte to the data lakes pooling in virtual space, filled with structured and semi-structured data that teases insight and value but never quite seems to deliver.  

Oceans of info 

This data is supposedly capable of helping decision makers gain granular insight into their business yet the nature of data is constantly changing in both how it is captured, why it is analysed, and what value it can deliver. It’s an evolution from hastily scribbled notes about the good, the bad and the organisational ugly into digital archives that have swollen with information that has no context or relevance and yet whisper about possibility.  

“The computer revolution made it economical for data to be stored in increasingly complex and ever expanding data storage solutions,” says Phumlani Khoza, Associate Lecturer, School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics and leader of Scilinx Research, a business solutions design and research laboratory.  

“The problem is that data hasn’t been strategically recorded in such a way as to deliver a specific economic value, or considered in light of ‘If we do X with the data, then we will achieve Y’. Instead we now have tons of data and no clear vision or idea on what to do with it or how to get it to share its most valuable secrets.” 

Potential in the pool 

Khoza teamed up with 10 other researchers to develop Scilinx Laboratory and Scilinx Research with the goal of advancing the operational capabilities of organisations through a hybrid structure that targets the generation and application of value-creating research insights. In short, brilliant minds applying themselves to the data conundrum, working to pull out its potential from the mess that relentless data collection has left behind. The goal is to create intelligent networks that define the next generation of analytics and how data relationships are interpreted across multiple data platforms and sources. 

At the peak of the big data hype, people were trotting in with fancy algorithms and mathematical constructs supposedly designed to whisk out insights from within these lakes of data. Yet what they saw, what they found, didn’t make much sense. The problem wasn’t the data but the questions that people were asking. Pipelines built to carry data insights into stressed executive offices literally leaked insights from every conduit but they lacked relevance. Where was the insight that would help the business make a decision that would positively impact bottom line or customer engagement?   

Data conundrum 

“Businesses were told that if they built these data centres and gained access to all this computational capacity that they could extract economic value from this data,” says Khoza.  

“But when it came time to do this extraction, it couldn’t be done. The off-the-shelf solutions were incapable of dealing with the heterogeneity [differences] of the data. These collections of data across email, social media, and operations, that were different dependent on the organisation, were impossible to unify into single solutions. You cannot interpret the data-powered insights from a supply chain company against one that operates in financial services.” 

What happened next? Companies started to invest into the potential abilities of emergent technologies such as machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) – technologies capable of deep diving into the data and scouring the murky depths for even the tiniest grain of relevant insight. These technologies are essentially the pen needed to connect digital dots. Yet they too slip at one hurdle – context. Is the data generated for the marketing department being interpreted by a data scientist who understands what marketing needs?  

Science-link solutions 

Scilinx combines machine learning and science to find out what is happening,” says Tresia Holtzhausen, a member of the Scilinx Research team and a lecturer at Nelson Mandela University. “Everything around you is a system and these systems can be represented by networks and managed by ML and AI. We examine where we can improve and optimise data interpretation, using techniques that are not embedded in traditional mathematics but that emphasise the connection to maths and network science, to find out where to make the most improvement and to see what’s happening underneath the waters of big data.” 

There is so much information. Vast quantities of data with no context, no point of reference, all gathered relentlessly from the moment that someone said, ‘Gosh, maybe this could be useful one day.’ 

Through the Scilinix Research work, the team has developed a prototype that can pull data from multiple sources such as twitter, PDF documents, and emails, and build a picture of what is going on. 

“We are taking particular datasets and applying a range of ML techniques, some we have developed from scratch, and seeing the results we get, then working out a systematic approach to integrate them,” says Khoza. “We draw a narrative across varied datasets and unlock the relationships hidden within.” 

This research combines the information to create analysis that allows the business to make systematic and relevant decisions. It helps the organisation to pull together data from multiple sources and spaces to create a coherent picture. From the broken cash machine (backend alerts) to the outraged consumer (tweets of fury) the data is collated with context and relevance to present an outline of the real business situation.  

“Nobody has the right answer – we are all partially right and partially wrong,” concludes Khoza. “If, together, we can erase our biases and create a more accurate representation, then the data have inordinate value. Data allow us to understand why things happen, what people do, and why things have gone wrong. It allows for the business to change and improve, to adapt to what the market wants. As we become increasingly adept at adding context to the data and asking it the right questions, the more we will see how everything is connected.” 

The data mess is tidied up not with a plug in a panic, but by dropping a stone into a lake and watching the ripples as they expand outwards and influence markets, businesses, individuals and insights. There, within those myriad mixes of sentiment and data lay the answers the business seeks, not trapped in numbers but revealed in relationships. 

  • Tasmin Oxford is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics.  

Do kids need to code?

- Ufrieda Ho

Preparing for a digital revolution is as much about getting the basics right as it is looking to the future.

Children and coding, education and learning | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and greater automation is on the horizon. But, says Mitchell Cox, a Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits, the dreams of AI and the 4IR are not the things to worry about, if we lay the foundation of teaching and learning that builds the critical skills of problem solving, reasoning and logic.  

Reading, writing, reasoning? 

Back to basics, he says, can start with setting the foundation of maths skills at a primary school level. It’s the first building block of computer programming or “coding”, Cox says.  

Maths presents a way to break down complex problems into components, allowing us to organise our thoughts and processes to allow solutions to be constructed – it’s a thought process at the heart of coding, which in turn is at the heart of making computers do what we want them to do for us.  

Programming is not likely to become obsolete in the near future, but it will certainly evolve and become more sophisticated, as the relationship between people and machines evolves and become more sophisticated. 

“Programming is never going away; programming gives the instructions to computers to perform more of the mundane, routine tasks. Automation frees people up to do more creative things, solve other problems or even become more sophisticated programmers,” he says.  

Coding for communication 

Cox also believes that basic proficiency with code is a useful skill for everyone to have, regardless of age or discipline, especially in an era of hyper-customisation or personalisation of devices and apps.  It’s the difference, he says, between using more of the functionality of an Excel spreadsheet or getting better results from a Google search. He calls it “speaking Google” fluently.  

“Speaking” to computers is one element of building skills for the future. The other is better communication. Cox says that communication allows for better collaboration across disciplines and that the ability to factor in different perspectives allows creativity to flourish.  

“It’s why we teach in a way that’s that not about giving students all the answers or all the ways to find answers. Allowing them to figure out things for themselves, to follow their own leads, teaches them adaptability and resourcefulness, which are the skills they will need to survive,” he says. 

Empowering humans 

Preparing the next generation at foundation phase level are the likes of school teacher Dorian Love. He teaches coding at a private all-girls school in Johannesburg and believes coding skills recalibrate the power balance between people and computers in human beings’ favour. 

“For me it is about finding the most humanising approach so humans determine how machines serve us,” he says. Love completed his Master’s at Wits University researching the role of knowledge in Information Communications and Technology (ICT) integration at his school, through the principles of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT – a sophisticated framework for exploring practices in terms of their organising principles or ‘legitimation codes’). 

Love says it’s as much about making all teachers less afraid of technology as it is about convincing girls to become interested in coding. Demystifying coding and showing its real life implications can help close the gender gap that still exists in the world of tech.  

“I tell the girls that men still dominate when it comes to things like developing computer games and, because men and women experience colour differently, men get to decide on the colours, even in games. It’s one way to get them [girls] thinking about why having coding skills can mean women have a greater say in the world,” he says.  

Digital future potential 

Lesley Donna Williams, who heads up Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, says coding introduced at school level allows young people to have an extra “language”, even if they choose not to become programmers.  

“It’s a bit like you may never know what’s going on inside your TV that makes it work, but you want to know how to use the remote so you can get to the channel that you want,” she says. Williams adds that the current panic – about the digital divide and people who don’t code falling through the cracks – is not productive. 

“We need to create a way of thinking that allows people to use technology as an enabler. We need to help children find their unique value and to think like entrepreneurs in using this unique value, together with technology. For that, we all need to be continuous learners, be agile and be attuned to the world around us – we should be connecting more across the continent right now for digital innovation.”  

It means there’s work to be done in the present and opportunities in the moment that need to be seized so that our digital future is to be one that holds more potential for more of us.  

Says Williams: “While there will be job losses in digital transformation, new unknown industries will be birthed giving rise to new forms of employment. We need to focus on developing adaptable skills, because technology will keep becoming obsolete. Coding as a language needs to penetrate the ranks of the education system so we bridge the ever increasing digital divide that low-income communities are not accessing.”

  • Ufrieda Ho is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

How knitting won the war?

- Stacey Rozen

Craftivists have been savvy cryptographers for aeons longer than any computing geek.

Knitting as code | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

An undercover operative dodging adversaries on a secret assignment makes for a gripping spy novel. Yet, this intriguing yarn about codes and craftivism is a real-life story. During World War II, a secret agent, perceived to be an innocent grandmother, was stealthily observing while clicking her knitting needles. 

Granny’s stereotypical feminine façade hid encoded espionage messages knitted into fabric. The Belgian resistance had recruited her to record the type and time of trains passing her kitchen window overlooking the railyard.  

Granny was a learned artisan with the technical prowess to transform stitch alphabets and patterned configurations into data for intelligence gathering – hidden to the uninformed eye yet decipherable to those privy to steganography [the technique of hiding secret data within an ordinary, non-secret, file or message].  

The Office of Censorship banned the postage of knit and crochet patterns abroad, suspecting they held coded classified communications. Yet, it was the knitted garments themselves encoded that the censors never spotted. 

Code name: Paulette 

British spy and proficient knitter, Phyllis Latour Doyle, parachuted into Normandy under the code name Paulette. No ordinary coder, Paulette had handicraft skills she inherited from generations of knitters in her family that resulted in her becoming a brave craftivist with the ability to code in dangerous contexts. She knitted encoded information into scarves and beanies while riding a bicycle through enemy territory. Seventy years later, the 93-year-old heroine received the Legion of Honour in recognition of her courage in assisting the Allied forces. James Bond is an amateur sleuth in comparison. Perhaps he should take up knitting … 

Charles Dickens was inspired by knitting codes to create the fictional character, Madame Thérèse Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities. As a tricoteuse, Madame Defarge encoded the name of the beheaded in her knitting as the guillotine fell at public executions during the French Revolution. A gory story captured through the hands of a craftivist. 

Even though the term craftivism was only coined by sociologist Betsy Greer in 2003, brave women have been craftivists for centuries. The earliest woven fabric, created using a technique called nalebinding, was found at Dura-Europos archaeological digs and dates back to 265AD.  

Knit-as-code 

Computer code is a descendant of knit and crochet code. The analogue code of threaded fibre and the digital code of Internet fibre co-create. Similar to the 0s and 1s of binary computerese, there are two stitches in knitting: knit and purl. An index variable with incremented and decremented operations echoes a knitted row with increased and decreased stitches. Knit and crochet patterns are like computer programmes: input a thread of yarn and output a sweater.  

Morse Code knitters use a single purl stitch for a dot and three in a row for a dash creating short and long coded signals. The compiler is the craftivist. Knit-as-code is being formally researched by Dr Elisabetta Matsumoto in her physics lab at Georgia Tech. She investigates yarn as a programmable material with stitch patterns more complex than the ones and zeroes of binary.  

Granny’s knitted espionage secrets were mathematical topologies of slipknots, which makes a grandmotherly Elder a highly qualified tutor at Knit to Code, an organisation using knitting as a teaching simulator for computer coding. Both media use the same logic: Learning to knit assists in learning to code. So, contrary to popular belief, Granny is actually on par with her millennial granddaughter’s generation of computer fundis [experts]. 

The preservation of traditional handicraft skills for craftivism continues today. Susan Hewes is an extreme handcrafter with two Guinness World Records: the first for knitting the longest scarf and the second for crocheting the longest chain… both whilst running marathons! That’s an incredible feat in coding-while-multitasking and raising money for Alzheimer’s research. 

Yarns the tellers of us 

Another layer of code allows handicrafts to carry personal and collective narratives embodied with thought and emotion. The suffragettes, protesting for women’s right to vote, had colour codes for their embroidery threads – purple for dignity, white for purity and green for hope. From Pussyhats, handcrafted to raise awareness about women's issues in the USA, to protest banners handcrafted by Story Scarves to stop gender-based violence in Soweto, craftivism artefacts hold coded clues inciting mindful dialogue in the social fabric of our lives, globally. 

Some of these stitched stories are invisibly submerged awaiting decoding. The coded fabric’s significance is in its potential to make meaning. Human beings have an innate ability to decipher these meaningful codes. Craftivism is indelibly shaped by code that make our yarns the tellers of us.

  • Stacey Rozen is a story-weaver, craftivist, creative arts practitioner and interdisciplinary designer. She will graduate with an MA from Wits in December 2019. Her dissertation focusses on craftivism and the use of handicrafts to inspire social change. She is currently working on a series entitled Our Yarns are the Tellers of Us, which delves into the synergy between analogue and digital craftivism for personal and collective narratives. She was director of Story Scarves, a craftivism project for young women in Soweto.  
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

Editing disease in South Africa

- Beth Amato

Gene therapy – there is a long road ahead to mainstream techniques and ensure that the technology is cost-effective.

Gene editing | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

Consider the following scenario: a young South African woman, whose mother developed breast cancer, wants to have a baby. But because breast cancer is often hereditary, the young woman gets tested for the pathogenic BRCA1 gene, a mutation that causes breast cancer. Her result is positive so the woman decides to have a baby via in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – a more precise way to control what the baby inherits.   

After undergoing the process, a few embryos are created. Let’s imagine the male embryos aren’t viable, and that two female embryos are healthy. However, both female embryos test positive for the pathogenic BRCA1 gene. How does one eliminate the chances of developing breast cancer? One way is to edit the genome of the embryo. 

Ethical by design 

Human genomes comprise the entire set of genes within an individual and encode a series of messages within the DNA sequence. A scientist, with molecular scissors, could chop and change the sequence to alter the message it relays. If this is done with this embryo, it may grow into a woman free from breast cancer and its consequences.    

Germline editing – the process of changing the genetic code of an embryo – is no longer relegated to the pages of a 1970s science fiction novel. In 2017, a Chinese scientist, He Jankui, used genome-editing technology, CRISPR-Cas9, to produce twin girls (through IVF) that were naturally immunised against HIV. Jankui crippled the production of the protein CCR5, which HIV uses to drive an infection. 

Germline editing has been widely criticised by scientists, including US scientist Jennifer Doudna, who helped develop the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique. Molecular scientists and ethicists at Wits University are wholly against germ cell editing, and the misuse of powerful gene editing technology.  

Professor Ames Dhai, Director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, says that the making of the so-called designer CRISPR babies could spell disaster for future generations and, indeed, this experimentation has been banned in many countries. “We don’t have enough information about the effects of germ cell gene editing. If you chop something out, we need to know what effect that has on other systems in the body,” says Dhai.   

Antidotes for Africa 

The use of CRISPR-Cas9 and other gene editing technology is powerful, however, if used to recode somatic cells – these being any cell in the body that are not gametes (sperm or egg), germ cells (cells that go on to become gametes), or stem cells. Dr Stuart Ali, director of Precision Medicine for Africa, says somatic cell gene editing is particularly useful in targeting viral and bacterial infections, and doesn’t affect the human genome.  

Somatic cell gene therapy research (which includes gene editing technology) in South Africa is focused on “high burden” diseases, such as HIV,  hepatitis B, tuberculosis (TB), and cancer.  

Research Professor at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Wits and President of the South African Medical Research Council, Glenda Gray, says that there could be a “serendipitous breakthrough” in curing HIV with gene editing technology, and that this could happen within the next decade at the current rate of scientific innovation.   

“Gene and cell therapies present novel alternatives to disease management, offering the promise of a single treatment and a lifelong cure,” says Professor Patrick Arbuthnot, Director of the Antiviral Gene Therapy Research Unit (AGTRU) at Wits.  

AGTRU is currently researching a cure for hepatitis B, a contagious virus that wreaks havoc on the liver. The team uses CRISPR-Cas9 and TALENS gene editing technology to disable the virus. “We deliver the CRISPR-Cas9 system to the liver, hone in on the hepatitis B virus to deactivate the DNA, and halt the infection process,” says AGTRU Associate Professor Abdullah Ely. TALENS (Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases), on the other hand, are enzymes that can be coded to cut DNA sequences, thus inactivating the hepatitis B virus. 

Tuberculosis is another disease burden in South Africa. The bacteria that cause TB have a very thick cell wall, which prolongs the duration of treatment. “These cell walls are like thick armour capable of blocking the strongest of drugs,” says Professor Bavesh Kana, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Biomedical TB Research at Wits.  

Gene editing technologies can weaken this cell wall. “Ultimately we’d like to inactivate the enzymes responsible for building the bedrock of the cell,” says Kana. He notes that TB treatment has come a long way in South Africa, with shortened treatment regimens and a better understanding of managing the effects of TB, such as reducing inflammation in damaged lung tissue.   

Cancer is the toughest disease to treat with gene editing technology, notes Professor Paul Ruff, Head of Medical Oncology at Wits and the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. “There are so few cancers with a specific gene. In addition, cancer is very clever, outsmarting many attempts to cure it,” says Ruff.  

Currently, the pillars of cancer treatment have been surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. However, cancer research is advancing each year – a patient’s own immune cells can even now be engineered to treat cancer. “While modern immunotherapy [a component of the gene editing field] is an exciting field, it’s prohibitively expensive,” says Ruff.  

Universal health coverage 

The health budget is stretched in South Africa, and not enough is done to address the systemic injustices in the healthcare system, say Dhai and Kana. “The debate needs to be about how to provide universal and quality healthcare to everybody, not just to the 20% who can afford it,” says Dhai. “I am not saying we must halt science – I am saying we need to place social justice first.”  

This is why AGTRU is pioneering accessible and affordable technology. “We need our work to serve everybody and to tailor what we do to ensure scalability,” says Ely. This will change the health landscape in South Africa. Gene therapy is able to treat a wide range of diseases previously thought untreatable.  

“Our view is that the need for gene therapeutics is immense, particularly in a country like South Africa. The cost of living with HIV, for instance, needs to be assessed against that of a possibly expensive, yet single therapeutic cure. If gene technologies become mainstream, costs will be significantly reduced,” says Arbuthnot. “South Africa must prioritise this so we can reap the benefits of this very promising medical intervention. While not a panacea, gene therapy holds significant promise to combat intractable medical problems. We feel strongly that South Africa needs to invest in these promising technologies to gain maximum benefit rather than relying on researchers in the developed world.” 

Wits University haematologist, Professor Johnny Mahlangu is leading research set to revolutionise the treatment of haemophilia, a genetic blood disorder. Gene therapy for haemophilia offers a single administration of the therapeutic to potentially produce a lifelong cure and in so doing to overcome many of the shortcomings of traditional replacement therapy.  

Haemophilia gene therapy in South Africa is burgeoning, with several FVIII and FIX programmes having started. Two South African patients who received gene therapy for severe haemophilia in Europe are currently being followed up locally. A regional gene therapy infusion centre has been set up in Johannesburg, and patients for several gene therapy studies are currently being recruited. Participation of patients of African origin in gene therapy is particularly important, as they have generally been under-represented in global gene therapy studies.   

Professor Michèle Ramsay, Research Chair and Director of the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at Wits has been selected to serve on an international commission to develop principles, criteria and standards for the clinical use of genome editing of the human germline, should it be considered acceptable by society. The Commission, convened by the UK’s Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, and the US National Academy of Medicine, comes at a time when reports of the first genetically edited babies were publicised at the end of 2018. The Commission’s final report will be issued mid-2020.

  • Beth Amato is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics.    

Diagnosing the dead and predicting mortality

- Shaun Smillie

A new generation of apps could soon help health professions to decode the causes of death, and predict the likelihood of dying.

Diagnosing the dead | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

Two academics in the Wits Institute of Data Science are investigating the use of machine learning (ML) to sift through masses of data and, through coded algorithms, identify patterns that will give health practitioners real time lifesaving information.   

Dr Dineo Mpanya is a PhD candidate in the Division of Cardiology at Wits. She is a specialist in Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging and is passionate about cardiovascular research.  

Mpanya is working on a project that, if all goes well, will assess a patient’s probability of being hospitalised or dying as a result of heart failure.  

Heart failure is a common pathway for most heart conditions such as hypertension and coronary artery diseases.  

“Machine learning refers to the ability of the computer to learn without any form of explicit programming, meaning that the computer analyses pre-existing data, learns patterns and subsequently makes predictions,” explains Mpanya. 

Her project involves mining data collected since 2009 in the Division of Cardiology at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. These data were captured electronically from patients who were admitted to the hospital with heart conditions.  

Mpanya plans to use this data to create a risk model that predicts a patient’s likelihood of mortality and hospitalisation. 

“This risk stratification is important because if a patient is at a high risk of mortality, then such patients can be seen more frequently at a hospital, optimising therapy,” says Mpanya. 

“Already we have such a high burden of patients with heart diseases in South Africa and there aren’t enough cardiologists. So, with my model, once you have risk stratified the patients, those that are at low risk will be seen less frequently and may  even be seen by doctors at a primary or secondary health care level. And those that are high risk will be seen by specialists.” 

South Africa has a growing cardiovascular disease epidemic and one of the biggest problems facing doctors is identifying those at risk.  

Recent statistics show that one out of three South Africans over the age of 15 has hypertension (high blood pressure), which puts them at risk of a heart failure. Most don’t even know they have hypertension. 

This risk calculator, Mpanya hopes, will take the form of an app.  

“So, if you are in a rural area and you are treating a patient and you don't know what is wrong with them, that risk calculator will tell you that patient is high risk and send them to a hospital,” she says. 

The app will work by requesting a doctor to input details such as the patient’s demographic and clinical parameters and thereafter will estimate the probability of mortality and hospitalisation.  

Pathological patterns 

While Mpanya’s work deals with the prevention of mortality, her colleague Michael Mapundu is using machine learning to diagnose the deceased. 

Verbal autopsies are often used as a method to establish cause of death in low- and middle-income countries. Most of the world’s annual deaths are undocumented, meaning there are no autopsies. 

How verbal autopsies work is that health professionals will gather information about the deceased, collected from those who knew them and from learning about the circumstances around their death. The World Health Organization has a set of guidelines governing how verbal autopsies should be performed. 

The Medical Research Council/Wits Agincourt Health and Social Demographic Surveillance System has been performing verbal autopsies in north-eastern Mpumalanga. It is this data, collected between 1993 and 2015, that Mapundu is using in his research. 

Through machine learning, this data and future data could alert authorities to disease patterns that they are not seeing in hospitals and clinics. 

“Those verbal autopsy narratives, they have a diagnosis which is labelled by an expert who might be a doctor,” says Mapundu, in the Wits School of Public Health. “From these narratives a possible cause of death might be added and that gives us a label that you can use to train our machine in order for it to possibly predict a possible cause.”  

As with Mpanya, Mapundu envisions an app that will be web based, easy to access and work in a rural setting.  

“It will have real time classification where a user can feed data and those narratives can be automatically classified by our machine learning model,” he explains. 

Machine learning prediction models are in use in the Global North, but their introduction here in South Africa promises to save lives through data gleaned from the living and the dead. 

  • Shaun Smillie is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

Recreating Earth through code

- Schalk Mouton

The first Earth System Model developed and based in Africa are creating one of the most reliable and most detailed modulations of climate change.

Earth and maps | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

What does it take to recreate Earth? A couple of thousands of line of code, throw in some data from all the weather stations around the world, and a supercomputer. 

Add to that mix a specialist climate model developer such as Professor Francois Engelbrecht from the Wits Global Change Institute and you’ve got the first Earth System Model developed and based in Africa, which is to contribute to the World Climate Research Programme’s Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Six (CMIP6). 

Engelbrecht, who joined Wits in January 2019 after working at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for a decade, is working to build a mathematical model of Earth, including all the atmospheric, oceanic, land and carbon cycle processes and their interactions, in order to be able to project the impacts of future climate change in Africa and across the globe. Towards this end, he is working in close collaboration with scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia, the CSIR in South Africa, the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of Venda. 

“Coding is part of my life. I code every day,” says Engelbrecht, who is one of only a handful of climate model developers around.

How to build an Earth System Model 

Building an Earth System Model is no simple task. To do this, Engelbrecht needs to process data from 50 layers of Earth’s atmosphere, which is approximately 50km deep; the ocean from its surface to the bottom, divided into 30 layers and the land, divided into six layers to simulate soil moisture and temperature. 

An Earth System Model provides a numerical sampling of all the physical processes occurring in the three-dimensional coupled ocean-atmosphere-land system. He also needs to include ocean and atmospheric chemistry, including the effects that the carbon cycle has on the climate system. 

“Both the ocean and the land are large sinks (absorbers) of carbon. There are also natural processes that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We need to see how these processes work and model how the carbon cycle will impact climate in the future in the presence of increased carbon dioxide emissions emanating from our dependence on fossil fuels for energy,” says Engelbrecht. 

An Earth System Model is based in a set of mathematical equations that describe how Earth changes over time to changing radiative forcing (for example, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide). That is, when the laws of physics is applied to the atmosphere, one obtains a set of partial differential equations. These equations can be solved numerically to get a picture of our future climate.  

“The moment that you work with these types of data and numerical mathematics, you need a supercomputer to process it,” says Engelbrecht.  

“The mathematical model breaks up the atmosphere in a number of layers, and the Earth in horizontal grid points. The larger the computer, the more grid points you can add, which makes the model more accurate.” 

Accessing hte power of supercomputers

Engelbrecht only in recent years gained access to a supercomputer with sufficient processing power to undertake these computationally expensive simulations and process the enourmous  of data. This is the Lengau cluster of  the Centre of High-Performance Computing (CHPC) of the Department of Science and Technology based in Rosebank, Cape Town. A single climate simulation requires the use of hundreds to thousands of processors on the cluster, applied in parallel to solve the intricate equations of the Earth system. 

Even on the fastest supercomputers of the world, the spatial resolution of Earth System Models remain limited to about 100 km in the horizontal. In a recent development, Engelbrecht and his colleagues are also moving into the world of Artificial Intelligence, to utilise specially engineered algorithms that can represent the finer details of the system at spatial scales not directly resolved by the Earth System Model. 

“Traditionally the representation of fine-scale processes in Earth System Models was based on conventional statistics informed by field observations of how the fine-scale processes relate to the large-scale flow features of the ocean and atmosphere. Machine learning allows for more complex and thus more realistic relationships to be formulated between fine-scale and larger scale flow features in the climate system,” Engelbrecht states. 

Engelbrecht, who did his PhD in numerical meteorology at the University of Pretoria leads the development of the global ocean model applied within the Earth System Model. The CSIRO provides to the system sophisticated global atmospheric and land-surface models, while the CSIR is providing and developing the carbon cycle model and atmospheric chemistry applied within the Earth System Model. 

In order to describe an initial state of the ocean and atmosphere to the Earth System Model, Engelbrecht and his colleagues use information from weather stations all over the world, which is compiled and shared through the World Meteorological Organisation. 

Engelbrecht points out that understanding the climate and carbon cycle of the Southern Ocean and the dynamics of the Antarctic sea-ice and ice sheets is critical to the reliable projection of future climate change.  

“The Southern Ocean is a massive carbon sink, and we (South Africa, through the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observatory (SOCCO) of the CSIR), have the best knowledge in the world about the Southern Ocean chemistry and physics, which makes our Earth System Model incredibly relevant for the rest of the world,” says Engelbrecht. “Our model is built through the lens of Southern Ocean and African climate processes.” SOCCO of the CSIR and UCT’s Marine Science Institute are therefore important partners in the development of the Earth System Model.  

“A National Research Foundation Earth System Science Research Programme (ESSRP) project is providing important initial momentum to this collaboration,” says Engelbrecht. 

Building an Earth System Model is a completely interdisciplinary task, involving experts from a variety of fields, including climatologists, oceanographers, ecologists, mathematicians, physicists, chemists and computer scientists. Engelbrecht intends to increasingly attract experts in all these fields to work together in building and improving the African-based Earth System Model. 

“One of the reasons I came to Wits was to expose the Earth System Model development process to colleagues whom have leading expertise in oceanography, climatology, numerical mathematics, high-performance computing and artificial intelligence so that we can collaborate and jointly contribute to this truly multi-disciplinary field. We have already assembled at the GCI and the Wits Schools of GAES and APES a strong group of post-graduate students that will have the opportunity to work in this exciting multi-disciplinary field, while contributing their novel thinking to the Earth System Model,” he says.   

“We are creating one of the most reliable and most detailed modulations of climate change for Africa. If we can reliably project  our likely climate change futures in Africa, then we can estimate risks to aspects such as water security, agriculture, biodiversity, and human health, and take timeous action through climate change adaptation and mitigation projects.”

  • Schalk Mouton is a Senior Communications Officer in Wits Communications. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

Lingua franca of mathematics

- Shaun Smillie

Speaking to visitors from outer space would one day require a common language and one not found in a dictionary.

One day, when extra-terrestrial aliens finally make contact with us Earthlings, we’ll need to communicate. Such an historic occasion will demand that we make a good impression, and that might mean leaving the introductions to a mathematician or a physicist.  

“The natural place to start conversing with aliens would be to use mathematics because it is universal,” says Professor Vishnu Jejjala in the Wits School of Physics. “Aliens might not have the same biology as we do. We are carbon based, they could, for instance, be silicon based. Who knows? But whatever their physiology is, the mathematics that we have is exactly the same as the mathematics that aliens have.” 

The persistence of Pi

DEFINING Pi: Pi (π) describes the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter. Pi’s decimal representation (3.14…) never ends and never settles into a permanently repeating pattern. The Guinness World Record for a person to memorise the value of Pi is 70,000 digits.

Across the universe, the same numbers keep cropping up in unexpected places, much like an invisible code that appears to unite unrelated principles. The famed mathematical constant, Pi (or π), which describes the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter (with a value of 3.14…) is one example.

Another example is the so-called ‘Golden Ratio’ – also known as the Divine Proportion – which is expressed not only in the geometric shapes of nature (such as in the shape of the Whirlpool Galaxy, Nautilus shells and hurricanes) but also in many human creations. The Pyramids of Giza were allegedly built using the Golden Ratio, and artist Leonard Da Vinci apparently used its eye-pleasing proportions to paint the iconic Mona Lisa.

The Golden Ratio, also known as the Divine Proportion. | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/    

Wits Emeritus Professor Francis Thackeray and the late Professor Jan Boeyens suggest that there’s a strong case that the Golden Ratio (1.61803...) can be related to not only aspects of mathematics, but also to physics, chemistry, and biology. The Golden Ratio could even be identified in the topology of space-time, Boeyens claimed. 

Universal language 

Jejjala explains that numbers such as Pi and the Golden Ratio recur because the language we use to analyse physical phenomena – mathematics – is in itself a universal language. 

“As a physicist, I work on various problems and the same sort of numbers appear in various places. It is not just the same numbers appearing, it is also the same equations that are appearing; the same phenomena that manifest in vastly different situations.” Pi, for instance, appear everywhere because circular forms appear in various places in nature, says Jejella. “Pi is just a reflection in phenomena in which these things happen.” 

Other examples of where numbers appear across a variety of disciplines appear in periodic phenomena. 

“The infection rate for disease might be one example. Such periodic behaviour is characterised by trigonometric functions, like sine or cosine. The period for such a function is 2Pi, which relates back to the circle [the circumference of a circle is 2PiR].” 

Various other phenomena are exponential. The half-life of radioactive isotopes, the inflationary phase of the cosmos, the population growth of various organisms are all described as “e” raised to the power of something. 

“The number ‘e’ – or Euler’s Number, which is approximately 2.71828, pops up everywhere, like in calculations of compounding interest and probability theory, while other numbers, such as the Euler-Mascheroni constant, the zeta function evaluated at special points and the Golden Ratio that all appear in different contexts.” 

E.T.phone home 

So, because mathematics is universal, it would be the natural lingua franca for a conversation with Martians. But what form would such a conversation take? How would we say hello?  

“The conversation might start with teaching each other prime numbers,” says Jejjala. “The distribution of prime numbers is described by Riemann's zeta function. The famous Riemann conjecture states that all of the non-trivial zeroes of the zeta function have real part equal to 1/2. No one has been able to prove this statement. We could, for instance, describe the function in terms of the prime numbers and ask the aliens for help.” 

Mathematics has been described as “unreasonably effective at describing the natural world”. The fact that everything in nature works so well (through mathematics) have had philosophers, mathematicians and physicists puzzled for years, but, up until now, there are only partial answers.  

“In the end, it seems that every bit of mathematics has some utility in physics,” says Jejalla. “The second thing to note is that there are only certain equations we can solve. So we are bullying whatever we thought into one of the equations we can solve.” And while progress is slow in deciphering newly discovered equations that could advance our understanding of the world, Jejalla believes we are on the right track. 

“One of the key insights in science is that the same patterns appear in many places and the methodologies for describing those patterns is largely the same irrespective of the subject. This is how we translate developments in one area to other areas.” 

  • Shaun Smillie is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

Reptile laundering

- Delia du Toit

PhD candidate Shivan Parusnath plans to use social media and machine learning to help stop illegal reptile trade on global scale.

In 2017, a man who had travelled to South Africa from Japan was caught by Malmesbury police with 48 lizards he had poached from the wild and intended to smuggle out of the country. His sentence was 13 years imprisonment or a R1 million fine. A month later, another Japanese man was caught for the same offence, and a few months after that, two German men.  

Parusnath, a PhD candidate in the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at Wits, plans to help clamp down on the rampant illegal reptile trade, starting on social media.  

His research on a threatened reptile species has already led to changes in the South African legislature. 

His post-doctorate, for which he is currently procuring funding, will focus on the sale of South African reptiles on online forums, social media, and at international reptile fairs. His initial research reveals how crucial this study will be. 

Parusnath’s documentary on sungazersSaving Dragons, recently won the Simon Mabhunu Sabela Award for Best Environmental Conservation film from the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission 

 

“Without much difficulty, I found several reptile trade groups selling South African reptiles on social media. I’ve even done some searches on the dark web, which came up empty-handed. Chances are that social media already provide such an easy means to conduct illegal trade that using the dark web isn’t even necessary,” he says – the dark web, often used for illegal trade, refers to websites that exist on encrypted networks and cannot be found through traditional search engines 

Although some platforms have banned the sale of live animals, the rules are not always enforced. “There are many loopholes, such as creating secret groups on Facebook, or pretending to ‘rehome’ animals – those in the market will know that it’s code for a sale, and will contact the person privately,” explains Parusnath 

Getting a better idea of the species being sold in this manner, and in what quantities, will help inform legislature and scientific authorities to better protect species threatened by trade.  

Besides manual searches and visiting international trade shows, Parusnath also employs machine learning for his research. After feeding an algorithm with training data (images of reptile species to be searched for), the software will be able to access data on which species are being sold online, where they are sold, and at what price, and even identify false keywords or guises used to cover up sales.

Sungazers. © Shivan Parusnath | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/   

Genetic barcodes 

 Parusnath has so far concentrated most of his research on sungazer lizards (Smaug giganteus), named for their upward-arching stance when basking in the sun. Over the past decade, several of these vulnerable lizards were shipped or smuggled from South African shores into the hands of exotic reptile collectors, fetching thousands of dollars each. The biggest markets are in Europe, Japan and the USA.  

In his PhD, Parusnath focused on investigating the genetic structure of the species by ‘DNA barcoding’ almost 200 sungazers in 13 different colonies in Mpumalanga and the Free State – their only natural habitat. This was done using microsatellites, special genetic markers he developed especially for the sungazer 

“Microsatellites allow one to understand more about the population and social structure of a species in the wild. You can, for example, determine if a baby belongs to a certain parent, if two animals are first cousins, or if they are not related at all. You can then use this information to learn more about their social behaviour, for example if babies and parents live together in a burrow or not,” says Parusnath 

Secondly, the information can be used in regulating trade in the species. Sungazers are listed on CITES Appendix II, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals, and species on this list may only be traded if bred in captivity. Microsatellites can help clarify whether animals were indeed bred in captivity when a trader applies for a permit.  

The technology is so effective that it’s been used to identify poaching hot spots for elephants. When a detailed enough network of DNA barcodes is collected from across a species’ distribution, it can be used to determine where an animal came from. Parusnath’s network is already big enough to determine if a confiscated sungazer came from the East or West Free State, for example.  

Code Red 

For his Master’s, Parusnath reassessed the conservation status of the species, which was last done in 1978. Sungazer populations had declined 30% since the last assessment, and they’re at the same level as rhinos on the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (Nemba) list of Threatened or Protected Species.  

His research led to the finding by the South African scientific authority that trade in wild-caught sungazers would be detrimental to the species. A legislative change followed, and trading in sungazers now requires proof of captive breeding before a permit is issued, effectively stopping what is known as reptile laundering, where wild-caught animals are sold under the guise of captive breeding.  

Parusnath is also a professional photographer with a number of awards under his belt and uses his wildlife images to educate and raise awareness. “A good photo can make people see an animal differently, and make even spiders, snakes and scorpions more relatable. Some scientists judge their career on the number of papers they’ve published. For me, it’s about making a difference.”

  • Delia du Toit is a freelance journalist. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

Data and dominance

- Imraan Valodia

COLUMN: Data domination by Big Tech, both nationally and internationally, has ominous implications for economies – and privacy.

The so-called 4th Industrial Revolution, the associated growth in artificial intelligence (AI), and the use of data science has become a key feature of our current economy. 

The data aspect has seen a number of universities, including Wits University, developing new programmes that combine data science with finance, health, engineering and related fields.  

While there is potential for these developments to generate new sources of economic growth, there are some concerns too, which policymakers need to address.  

One concern has been the use of data by technology giants like Google and Facebook, and the associated concerns about privacy, use of data without consent, and, as the notorious Facebook-Cambridge Analytica case shows, concerns about the political use of data and AI.  

Exclusion by domination 

An area that has not received much attention – at least in public debates about data-related issues – is the fact that data collection and its use (or misuse) may be creating conditions in some instances for firms that dominate economic activity to exclude other players in the market, especially new and innovative entrants. Competition economists and lawyers have been grappling with these issues for a number of years. 

In June 2019, the United States Federal Trade Commission announced that it was investigating a potential anti-competition case (or antitrust case, as the US refers to it) against Amazon, which has a market share of almost 50% of all online sales in the USA. It operates both as the provider of a platform for online sales, and as a retailer in its own right, using its own platform to sell goods. Third parties also use the Amazon platform to sell their goods.  

The allegation against Amazon is that it may be using the data generated on its platform to exclude its retail competitors that sell their products on Amazon’s platform. The problem is that third party retailers have no option but to use Amazon’s platform.

GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/  

GAFA gang 

The Amazon case follows a number of other similar cases in the European Union (EU), where the region’s competition authority recently fined Google 2.4 billion Euros for anti-competitive behaviour in its comparative shopping service. 

Google is used for over 90% of all internet searches. Google also has interests in goods and services that people purchase when they search using Google’s shopping search facility.  

Google was fined because it changed the algorithm that displays shopping search results from a neutral algorithm to one that favours search results in which it has interests – essentially, the search results prioritised Google’s own shopping companies and demoted those of its rivals to much lower in the search results. Since no one looks beyond the first page or two in a Google search, Google’s rivals were effectively excluded in the search results.  

The EU competition authority argued that this behaviour is anti-competitive and illegal. Furthermore, in the largest competition law fine in history, Google was fined 4.3 billion Euros for forcing cell phone manufactures that use its (supposedly free) Android software to preload the Google browser (Chrome) and search facility (Google Search).  

The EU is also investigating Facebook for anti-competitive behaviour. The German competition authority has banned Facebook from combining users’ data across its own platforms without their consent, because this places Facebook in a position to exclude its competitors from competing fairly.  

These and similar cases against the so-called GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) raise important questions about the use and abuse of data in the economy. Many of these cases are on appeal and it will be interesting to see the outcome.  

Killer acquisitions 

From an economic perspective, the developments in these cases raise policy questions. One is the question of ‘killer acquisitions’ – are large digital companies purchasing virtually all smaller tech companies that could blossom into competitors?  

The economic question here is whether these mergers and acquisitions entrench power over information, and remove small companies from the market before they become competitive rivals? For example, when Facebook purchased WhatsApp, Facebook argued that the companies operate in different markets and it would be impossible to combine data from these markets. The reality has proven different. 

A number of these data industries are characterised by what economists call a ‘two-sided market’ – these are markets with two distinct user groups. Credit cards are a good example of a two-sided market – card holders and merchants engage and trade through an intermediary’s platform. The rise of data has created a number of these platforms.  

The competition policy challenge is that these two-sided markets often ‘tip’ – that is, a number of firms compete in the market but, at some point, the market tips so that only one player – or a few players – come to dominate the market. Google’s dominance of the search industry exemplifies such a tip.  

Big Tech bullies 

The difficulty from a policymaker’s perspective is that there is a lot of innovation and competition in these markets to begin with, but once the tipping point has been reached, one firm or a group of firms then dominate the market and may well be stopping smaller, innovative firms from growing. And, they may well be acquiring and ‘killing off’ very innovative new competitors, thus reducing the rate of innovation and technological development.  

The challenge is the difficulty in predicting the ‘tipping point’. So often these challenges have to be dealt with when firms are already dominant and possibly abusing their dominance of data.

  • Professor Imraan Valodia is Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management. He holds a doctorate in economics and his research interests include inequality, employment, and competition policy. He led the establishment of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits and he is a part-time member of the Competition Tribunal. He advised the Minister of Economic Development on amendments to the Competition Act, legislated in 2019. In 2016, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Valodia to chair the Advisory Panel on the National Minimum Wage, introduced in 2019. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

When computers came to Wits

- Deborah Minors

The University bought its first computer from IBM 59 years ago. Today, Wits and IBM are partners in quantum computing.

Computer museum at Wits | www.wits.ac.za/curiosity/

In 1960, Wits was the first university to have a computer in South Africa. Professor Guerino Bozzoli, Vice-Chancellor from 1969 to 1977 purchased an IBM Model 1620 Mark 1. At this time, International Business Machines (IBM) sold computers to universities at an 80% discounted rate so that IBM could dominate the fledgling computer market. 

The computer required its own room and a special cooling plant. Data were fed into the computer by means of a punched tape and the output printed on a telex machine. The capability of the IBM 1620 Mark 1 was approximate to a then R50 calculator. Dr Derek Henderson was director of the Wits Computer Centre and the first Professor of Computer Science at any South African university.   

 The Wits Computer Centre was firmly established by the mid-1960s. A card machine soon replaced the punched tape input and a fast electronic printer was acquired. Later, an upgraded IBM System 360 could very quickly solve simultaneous equations, which enabled Wits to service business and industry.   

By 1988, the Collins Dictionary of Computing published that year declared ASCII “the most important code for microcomputing purposes” and noted that ‘modern’ programming languages and terminals made coding sheets largely obsolete.  

Fast-forward to the 21st Century and in June 2019, Wits University and IBM announced a new collaboration that makes Wits the first African partner on the IBM Q Network. This enables Wits to access the 20 qubit-IBM Q quantum computer. 

Today, the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits has invested in preserving the remnants of the original mainframe computer. This and other old Wits computers are preserved in the Computer Museum, which is part of the TW Kambule Mathematical Sciences Laboratory in the Science Stadium on Braamfontein Campus West.  

Sources: 

  1. G.R Bozzoli (1995), A Vice-Chancellor Remembers, The Computer Era and The Nineteen Sixties, pg. 94-97, Wits University Press  
  2. Ian R. Sinclair (1988), Collins Reference Dictionary Computing, Code, Code Conversion, Coding Sheet, pgs.48-49, Collins  
  3. Mr Shunmuga Pillay, Manager: Scientific and Research Systems, Mathematical Sciences and Curator, Wits Computer Museum  
  • Deborah Minors is a Senior Communications Officer in Wits Communications. 
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced byWits Communications and the Research Office.  
  • Read more in the eighth issue, themed: #Code how our researchers are exploring not only the Fourth Industrial Revolution manifestations of code, such as big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, but also our genetic code, cryptic codes in queer conversation, political speak and knitting, and interpreting meaning through words, animation, theatre, and graffiti. We delve into data surveillance, the 21st Century ‘Big Brothers’ and privacy, and we take a gander at how to win the Lottery by leveraging the universal code of mathematics. 

Information Security is a leading skills priority

- JCSE

The 10th ICT Skills Survey shows that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is still waiting in the wings.

Wits University's Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) in partnership with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), have released their findings of a survey of skills trends in the South African ICT sector. This is the tenth edition of the JCSE’s Skills Survey.

The survey sketches a mixed future for the ICT landscape in South Africa should current trends persist. “Although many stakeholder groups are making concerted efforts to improve the competency and employability of young people through some excellent initiatives, the results tend to be counted in terms of hundreds or maybe thousands of candidates when what is needed is opportunities for tens or even hundreds of thousands in the digital economy,” says Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE.

Professor Barry Dwolatzky

With the aim of identifying current ICT skills priorities and gaps to assist business leaders and policy makers to develop strategies for growing and retaining digital skills, this year’s survey report also calls for urgent coordination between public and private sector activities, so that there is a clear relationship between forecasted skills needs and the pipeline to fill those needs.

This is particularly true for South Africa’s stated 4IR ambitions, as underpinned by the recent appointment of a Presidential Commission on Fourth Industrial Revolution and the launch of the 4IRSA initiative. “4IR is used, in South Africa at least, as a catch phrase referring to all aspects of digital adoption and transformation, only some of which relate to cutting-edge ‘revolutionary’ innovations. Much of what is spoken and written about in relation to 4IR is part of an ongoing process of evolutionary digital transformation,” notes Dwolatzky.

The 2019 results show Information Security as a leading skills priority followed by a cluster of second level priorities made up of Big Data/Data Analytics, Software as a Service/Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Application Development. “Once again the survey has highlighted the poor state of education in South Africa and in particular the very low number of learners achieving competence in STEM subjects. There are many initiatives attempting to address this issue, but they tend to be in relatively small pockets and are not resolving the underlying lack of appropriate curriculum, relevant teaching materials and skilled teachers,” says Dwolatzky.

“One disturbing trend given South Africa’s high unemployment figures, particularly among the youth, is the dramatic rise in employers recruiting overseas. This is unfortunate as it shows South Africa is not making inroads into the opportunity to skill and employ locally. In addition, companies tend to train for basic or entry level skills as opposed to the skills required for 4IR,” adds Dwolatzky.

He notes that at a more foundational level, several of the SETAs have highlighted the problems in the education pipeline, where South Africa is (so far) tackling the critical need for vast improvement in curricula for STEM subjects and in learning methodologies in only fits and starts. “On the positive side, survey respondents were asked a new question this year – do they feel a responsibility to assist their employees to reskill to meet the challenges of the new era of digitalisation? To which the answer was an overwhelming ‘yes’. The common thread is the urgent and persistent need to raise the game in the education pipeline and it is incumbent on the private sector to drive the required changes through partnership with government and expansion of the many initiatives taking place.”

The 2019 report has once again emphasised that the average South African ICT practitioner continues to perform multiple task sets, with only a few identifying their role as specialist in nature. Dwolatzky says this is a red flag as it is unlikely a practitioner can maintain focus on specific objectives while juggling several major responsibilities all at once. This ongoing trend also leads to over-dependence on the individual concerned, who may be perceived as irreplaceable, and more attractive to overseas recruiters. “There is a glaring gap between unskilled and multi-skilled practitioners and that’s where one of the industry’s most pressing challenges lies.”

“Fundamentally, recognition by policy-makers and industry strategists that South Africa must rapidly acquire the skills to take advantage of the shift in production and business practices is only a tiny step towards putting that knowledge into the hands of people who can turn it into economic value,” says Dwolatzky.

For further insights, the 2019 ICT Skills Report can be accessed here: https://www.iitpsa.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019-JCSE-IITPSA-ICT-Skills-Survey-v1.pdf

About the JCSE

The Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) is a three way partnership between government, academia and industry. Based at Wits University, the JCSE is multifaceted with various programmes and facilities positioning it as a focal point of a software development industry for South Africa and the rest of the continent.

The JCSE strongly supports the City’s “Joburg 2030 Vision”, which sees Johannesburg becoming a World Class city with service delivery and efficiencies that meet global best practice. It supports this goal by promoting best practice in software development within an African context; growing the country’s capacity to deliver world class software; and developing research and training initiatives to strengthen the local software development industry.

About the IITPSA

IITPSA (Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa), formerly Computer Society South Africa (CSSA), is a professional body, recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). Established in 1957, the Institute has a long and proud history of service to, and representation of, South Africa’s ICT professionals and practitioners, attracting a broad and active membership from all levels of the ICT Industry.

Wits innovation set to light up lives

- Wits Enterprise

PeCo Power, a new spin-off company, is a home-grown electrical off-grid solution that will radically change lives and impact local communities.

An innovation out of Wits University’s School of Electrical and Information Engineering (EIE) has reached commercialisation stage and will soon find its way into rural and un-serviced communities, with the promise of deep social impact.  

The Personal Consumer grid innovation is essentially a home electrical grid solution, to easily integrate renewable energy sources along with batteries and appliances, for the electrification of households in Africa. This expandable solution ensures that as a household can afford more solar panels or wind generators, batteries or 12 V appliances, these components are easily added to the system, with no need for a trained person to undertake these changes to the system.

The PeCo Power team: Mohammed Raees Dangor, Professor Willie Cronjé, Muhammed Aswat and Dorian Wrigley 

Over the past four years, Professor Willie Cronje from the Electric Power Research Group in the EIE has led research into the solution to help address the challenge of electrification for homes that do not have access to a utility power grid.  

Almost one billion people worldwide need off-grid electrification and in Africa this problem is the most severe. In South Africa, at least 10% of the population is unlikely to be connected to the grid in the foreseeable future. This percentage is larger in other African countries.  

The low load demand and dispersed nature of rural settlements (less than 38 people per square kilometer on average in Africa), as well as excessive and rising infrastructure costs, mean that extending conventional electricity networks is no longer viable to many rural areas. At the same time, there is a call to improve health and safety through mitigating the serious fire risk associated with the use of paraffin, candles and wood. In addition, the use of renewable energy sources addresses the need for reducing the carbon footprint.  

“Current off-grid solar home solutions do not accommodate multiple or different types of power sources, and multiple or different types of batteries. They restrict the number of loads i.e. appliances that can be connected. The Wits solution, which works on 12V direct current, can accommodate multiple loads, power and battery components and no central controller, or configuration by a technician is needed: each unit self-configures as the ‘grid’ is expanded in a plug-and-play approach. We are now at the exciting commercialisation stage: after four years in the making, the technology is proven and a company has been formed to bring it to market,” says Prof Cronje. 

Commercialisation  

Wits, through its Technology Transfer Office, assisted Cronje and his team, to obtain a Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) seed-fund grant for part of the research and development and then assisted in starting the commercialisation.  

This led to the establishment of a new spin-off company PeCo Power (Pty) Ltd (“Peco Power”) in October 2019. Umbono Natural Resources (Pty) Ltd (“Umbono”) became the commercial partner because of its strong alignment with Wits’ mission to provide workable solutions to African challenges such as electrification, and further because of its commercial experience, and networks in the independent power producer (IPP) sector. Umbono brings capital and experience to the venture through their hands-on involvement in the development process.

The PeCo Power grid has been installed and tested at the Wits Rural Facility in Limpopo.  

With the assistance of Umbono, the team has concluded a pilot, and the learning gained from it will be used to finalise the system design so that the technology is commercially ready. PeCo Power has been established, and the intellectual property developed by Wits and Umbono will be transferred to it. This will enable it to continue the joint development and commercialisation process, whilst leveraging the partnership between Wits and Umbono to attract additional investment into PeCo to establish distribution partnerships. 

“In Wits we have found a local, research-grounded and innovation-driven partner who is supportive of our fledgling PeCo Power company. Basing the team at the Goldfields Lab on Wits’ Braamfontein Campus West, will continue to provide the much-needed technical incubation as we move towards full commercialisation. We are extremely excited to see a home-grown solution, to real community problems, ultimately impact and radically change lives, says Kerwin Rana, Chief Executive - Umbono. “Umbono is privileged to be a key commercialisation and funding partner in this remarkable Wits innovation, which is squarely aligned with our desire to positively impact local communities.” 

Due to ease of use and scalability, the PeCo Power home grid solution has applications in several markets: 

  • Rural e.g. households and small businesses that are far from the electricity grid; 
  • Urban off-grid e.g. high-density informal settlements; 
  • Camping and off-roading; 
  • Emergency Services such as when NGOs, relief organizations and government organizations require bulk distribution of power, e.g. where a natural disaster has cut off access to electricity. 

Muhammed Aswat, Wits alumni and Engineering Manager at PeCo Power, says: “When I started working with Prof Willie Cronje on this solution as an undergraduate student, I was inspired. We have an opportunity to make a real impact in communities by literally lighting up lives throughout Africa whilst creating jobs and driving local economy through PeCo Power. Mohammed Raees Dangor, PeCo Power-Business Development, and I are the first employees and shareholders of PeCo Power through the Wits’ benefit sharing policy. I am really grateful to Professor Cronje, Wits and Wits Commercial Enterprise for availing this opportunity to us".   

Acknowledgements:  

  • The completion of the PeCo Power field prototype was made possible through a WITS-Technology Innovation Agency Seed Fund project managed by WITS Enterprise’s Innovation Support Unit.  
  • SABERTEK as manufacturing partner. 
  • EIE as the School in Wits providing infrastructure and administration support. 
  • Patent funding support was provided by the Intellectual Property Fund, managed by the National Intellectual Property Management Office at the Department of Science and Innovation. 

Engineering pivotal moves

- Wits University

Top marks are due for a bionic hand engineered by Wits University postgraduates, who have made mobility more accessible to the 1 million amputees in SA.

Their 3D-printed hand is not only light in weight, but light on the pocket, as it drops the cost of this prosthetic from around US$100 000 to US$78.

Biomedical engineers at Wits have researched how brainwaves can be used to control a robotic prosthetic hand. The impact is far reaching as such a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) will enable amputees and people with motor impairments to regain some hand mobility. 

“In South Africa, stroke victims may benefit significantly from this technology,” says Abdul-Khaallq Mohamed, Lecturer and PhD candidate in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits. “Stroke afflicts an estimated 132 000 South Africans per year.” 

Currently, a prosthetic hand costs around US$ 100 000, an investment out of reach for most South Africans. This research will use 3D-printing to create a prosthetic hand for US$ 78, thereby increasing access to such healthcare for many. 

Mohamed coordinates a research group of six students studying different aspects of potentially controlling a robotic hand. Most BCI experiments to date have centered on basic hand movements such as finger taps, button presses or simple finger grasps.

Biotech of interpreting brainwaves

“I envisage a BCI capable of controlling a robotic prosthetic hand that will enable people with motor disabilities to write, hold a glass or shake hands,” he explains. The Wits-based research group focuses uniquely on a combination of hand movements including wrist extension, wrist flexion, finger flexion, finger extension and the tripod pinch. 

BCls can use electroencephalograms (EEGs) brainwaves to interpret human intentions from electrical signals in the brain and use these to control an external device such as a prosthetic hand, computer, or speech synthesizer. 

The prosthetic robotic hand relies on EEGs extracted via electrodes on the skull, or electromyography (EMG) obtained from electrodes recording muscle signals, for information. A BCI will interpret these signals and translate them to instruct the movements of the artificial hand.

The brain as a network device 

Other life-changing research within biotech and engineering is being done at the globally ranked university, which has over 97% of its graduates employed within six months of graduation. This includes engineering advancement by Wits biomedical engineer Adam Pantanowitz and his teams.

Pantanowitz discovered he had a neuromuscular condition as a teenager and since then, the Lecturer in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering has researched the potential of technology to empower people with disabilities. In particular, he has explored the untapped potential of the brain through Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs).

In February 2019, in an experiment believed to be a world first, Pantanowitz and colleagues incorporated the human brain as a computer network. Dubbed ‘BrainConnect’, the researchers connected two computers through the human brain and successfully transmitted words like ‘hello’ and ‘apple’, passively, without the user being aware that a message was present. 

Morse code via light signals

BrainConnect links light, signal transmission, the visual cortex of the human brain, and two computers. 

It works by attaching a device to a person’s head, which links the two computers. The person passively stares at a flashing light whilst a word, for example, ‘apple’, is encoded in the light signal. The flashing light stimulates the visual cortex in the brain and an electroencephalogram (EEG) – a measurement that detects electrical activity in the brain, wirelessly transmits information to a second computer, which decodes the signals to appear on the second computer. 

“You can think of it like Morse Code via light signals,” says Pantanowitz. BrainConnect can decipher up to 17 symbols at a rate of four seconds per symbol. The more relaxed the person is, the greater the possibility of invoking a response through this ‘steady state visually evoked potential’.

Seeing visionary assistive tech

Although BrainConnect is fledgling research, Pantanowitz says this BCI may have applications in eye-gaze devices, which allow for the control of the environment by detecting where the gaze is focused.

Published in the Wits University Press Office on Daily Maverick.

Join one of the leading postgraduate teams of researchers at Wits University and position yourself at the top of engineering and biotech fields. For more information about the world-changing work being done by Witsies, go to www.wits.ac.za/future/ and www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/research-news/

Wits leads Quantum Computing National Working Group

- Wits University

“Investment in quantum technologies in South Africa is crucial if we want to leverage the next level of discovery research,” says Professor Zeblon Vilakazi.

Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits University, will be chairing the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) National Working Committee to develop a Framework for Quantum Computing and Quantum Technology (NWG: QC&QT) driven research and innovation in South Africa.

Vilakazi, who was instrumental in Wits becoming the first African partner on the IBM Q Network earlier this year, together with the Director: Research Development at Wits, Dr Robin Drennan, form part of the NWG: QC&QT that also comprise of representatives from various higher education and research institutions in South Africa, as well as from IBM Research – Africa. 

Says Vilakazi: “Countries such as the US, China, from the European Union, Singapore, Japan and many others have invested billions in the development of quantum computing and associated technologies. Quantum computing technologies are the next accelerated technologies that will spawn new research, new technologies, and new industry almost at the same scale as the rapid technological advances of the past 20 years.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, DVC: Research & Postgraduate Affairs, and Chair of the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) National Working Committee to develop a Framework for Quantum Computing and Quantum Technology (NWG: QC&QT)  

It is most appropriate that the DSI are putting together a team of leading scientists and researchers to advise on South Africa's responsiveness to this fast-developing technology. 

According to the DSI, at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (41R) is the emergence of cyber-physical systems, which are based upon the ability to collect massive amounts of data, manipulate and analyse it efficiently, and transfer it fast and securely. Quantum technologies have the potential to realise this vision. 

The initial focus of the NWG: QC&QT will be as follows: 

  • To determine what the current state of QC and QT in SA is. The NWG will address the current landscape of QC and QT, identify challenges and opportunities, leverage and collaborate with existing initiatives, and engage the quantum community at large; 
  • To conduct a SWOT Analysis of QC and QT in SA, in terms of (a) human capital and research capacity development, (b) technology capacity and capability development, (c) availability and need for research and innovation infrastructure, (d) partnerships and networks, (e) collaborative platforms and {f) institutional landscape; and 
  • Based on the outcomes of the SWOT Analysis and scoping of the institutional landscape, the NWG: QC&QT will (i) scope where the path to the future lies as it pertains to QC and QT; (ii) identify priority areas for SA to focus on in the next ten years in order to align with the DSl's Decadal Plan (currently under development), (iii) set indicative targets for HCD; research, technology and innovation (RTI) investment; RTI infrastructure requirements, (iv) identify potential African and international partners to accelerate and strengthen the Qc and QT RTI capacities and capabilities in SA; and (v) clearly articulate synergies and alignment with the DSl's Converging Technology Platform initiative with special reference to the creation of relevant instrument/s and the establishment of an appropriate platform/s for this endeavour. 

Vilakazi says the actual Secretariat support for the NWG: QC&QT will be provided by Wits University that already has expertise in this field. “One of the world-leading experts in quantum technologies and lasers, Distinguished Professor Andrew Forbes from the Structured Light group in the Wits School of Physics is one of the key members of the team. Quantum computing researchers from the Universities of KwaZulu-Natal, Stellenbosch and Pretoria, and other universities are also involved.” 

“One of the key challenges in our current economic climate will be around the resources and how to liberate the necessary resources and focus on how this key, strategic investment ought to be made by prioritising certain areas and consolidating where possible,” says Vilakazi. 

It is a sense of pride for Wits that is right at the centre of this fast-evolving project which we hope, by the end of March next year, will yield something that will shape the way government and other universities think around the quantum technologies.” 

In December 2019 Wits University presented its first Quantum Computing Summer School (#WitsQ), followed by IBM Q’s Quiskit Camp in South Africa.

Read more about our new technologies research at www.wits.ac.za/future/ 

The digital economy is becoming ordinary. Best we understand it

- Brian Armstrong

The digital economy will, soon, become the ordinary economy as the uptake - and application - of digital technologies in every sector in the world grows.

The digital economy has been getting a lot of attention, with increasingly strong headlines offering apocalyptic as well as breathtakingly exciting scenarios. Some warn of job losses due to automation, some wonder at the things digital technology can do. And then there’s real scepticism about whether this will translate into delivering to people who need it most.

With all of this discussion, however, there is seldom an explanation of what the digital economy actually is. What makes it different from the traditional economy? Why we should care about it?

The digital economy is a term that captures the impact of digital technology on patterns of production and consumption. This includes how goods and services are marketed, traded and paid for.

The term evolved from the 1990s, when the focus was on the impact of the internet on the economy. This was extended to include the emergence of new types of digitally-oriented firms and the production of new technologies.

Today the term encompasses a dizzying array of technologies and their application. This includes artificial intelligence, the internet of things, augmented and virtual reality, cloud computing, blockchain, robotics and autonomous vehicles.

The digital economy is now recognised to include all parts of the economy that exploit technological change that leads to markets, business models and day-to-day operations being transformed. So it covers everything from traditional technology, media and telecoms sectors through to new digital sectors. These include e-commerce, digital banking, and even “traditional” sectors like agriculture or mining or manufacturing that are being affected by the application of emerging technologies.

Understanding these dynamics has become non-negotiable. The digital economy will, soon, become the ordinary economy as the uptake – and application – of digital technologies in every sector in the world grows.

I have been part of a team of researchers looking at what this means for a society like South Africa. In particular, we have been focused on looking at what the proliferation of the digital economy means for inclusion – making sure that everyone can access it – and economic opportunities.

But the first step was to get absolutely clarity on what this multifaceted phenomenon is.

The digital core

At the centre of the digital economy is a ‘digital core’. This includes the providers of physical technologies like semiconductors and processors, the devices they enable like computers and smartphones, the software and algorithms which run on them, and the enabling infrastructure these devices use like the internet and telecoms networks.

This is followed by ‘digital providers’. These are the parties that use these technologies to provide digital products and services like mobile payments, e-commerce platforms or machine learning solutions.

Lastly, there are the ‘digital applications’. This covers organisations that use the products and services of digital providers to transform the way they go about their business. Examples include virtual banks, digital media, and e-government services.

A concrete example helps paint the pictures. Consider a typical agriculture value chain: a smallholder farmer needs inputs (like financing) to produce and then sell crops to, say, processors or directly to consumers. Today smallholders can obtain financing through their mobile phones from digital financial services providers rather than physically visiting a bank. These digital financial services are able to assess the risk of lending to the farmer by building a profile using AI algorithms in conjunction with alternative data sets, such as mobile phone usage or satellite farm imagery.

Then there are the mobile applications that can help farmers produce better crops. They can provide advice on the best time for planting, soil quality and dealing with pests. It means that a farmer no longer has to rely on face-to-face advice from friends or agro-dealers.

Another example in the agriculture arena is the ability of farmers to rent tractors. Known as asset-sharing platforms, these enable farmers to gain access to a tractor they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford.

Digital versus traditional

So what makes the digital economy different to the traditional economy?

Firstly, digital technologies allow firms to do their business differently as well as more efficiently and cost-effectively. They also open up a host of new possibilities. Take navigation apps. No team of people would ever be able to provide real time, traffic-aware navigation in the way that smartphone apps do.

This means that products and services can be offered to more consumers, particularly those who couldn’t be served before.

Secondly, these effects are giving rise to entirely new market structures that remove, among other things, transaction costs in traditional markets. The best example of this is the rise of digital platforms such as Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. These companies connect market participants together in a virtual world. They reveal optimal prices and generate trust between strangers in new ways.

Lastly, the digital economy is fuelled by – and generates – enormous amounts of data. Traditionally when we made purchases in a brick-and-mortar store using cash, no-one was keeping an account of our personal consumption or financial transactions on a large scale. Now, ordering online and paying electronically means that many of our consumption and financial transactions generate electronic data which is recorded and held by someone.

The collation and analysis of this data provides enormous opportunities – and risks – to transform how a range of economic activities are performed.

The digital economy is with us. Yet the boundaries between digital and traditional are blurring as technological change permeates every facet of of modern life. We all need to understand the nature of this change to be able to respond at every level: society, corporate and personal.

The South Africa in the Digital Age initiative has been convened by Genesis Analytics in partnership with the Gordon Institute of Business Science and the Pathways for Prosperity Commission at Oxford University. A multi-stakeholder initiative, it has developed a forward-looking digital economy strategy for the country.The Conversation

Brian Armstrong, Professor in the Chair of Digital Business at the Wits Business School, University of the Witwatersrand. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fibre communications on steroids: Wits student breaks the code

- Wits University

A team from Wits (South Africa) and HUST (China) show that multi-dimensional quantum communications with twisted light is possible down legacy fibre networks.

A PhD student at Wits University, along with colleagues from Wits and Huazhang University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, found a way to transfer data securely across optical fibre networks.

Wits PhD student Isaac NapeThe team, led by Wits Professor Andrew Forbes, have demonstrated that multiple quantum patterns of twisted light can be transmitted across a conventional fibre link that, paradoxically, supports only one pattern. The research, published in Science Advances, opens up the way to securely transport data across fibre networks, using multiple dimensions of light. Combined with the qualities of entangled quantum light, this data transfer can also now be done in a highly secure manner, which was previously not possible.

“Our team showed that multiple patterns of light are accessible through conventional optical fibre that can only support a single pattern,” says Wits PhD student, Isaac Nape, one of the leading PhD students on the team. “We achieved this ‘quantum trick’ by engineering the entanglement of two photons. We sent the polarised photon down the fibre line and accessed many other patterns with the other photon.

Entanglement is when a pair or group of particles (such as photons) interact in such a way that the quantum state of each of the particles cannot be described independently of the state of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance. In other words, qualities such as the handedness (like left or right) of the one entangled particle will directly affect its entangled counterpart.

In this case, the researchers manipulated the qualities of the photon on the inside of the fibre line, by changing the qualities of its entangled counterpart in free space.

“In essence, the research introduces the concept of communicating across legacy fibre networks with multi-dimensional entangled states, bringing together the benefits of existing quantum communication with polarised photons with that of high-dimension communication using patterns of light,” says Forbes.

In the last few decades, quantum entanglement has been extensively explored for a variety of quantum information protocols, notably making communication more secure through Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).

Using so-called “qubits” (2D quantum states) the information capacity is limited but it is easy to get such states across fibre links using polarisation as a degree of freedom for the encoding.

The spatial pattern of light is another degree of freedom that has the benefit of high-dimensional encoding. However, while you can use many patterns of light in communications, this requires custom fibre optical cable, so it is unsuitable to already existing networks. 

“Our team found a new way to balance these two extremes, by combining polarisation qubits with high-dimensional spatial modes to create multi-dimensional hybrid quantum states,” says Nape.

“The trick was to twist the one photon in polarisation and twist the other in pattern, forming ‘spirally light’ that is entangled in two degrees of freedom,” says Forbes. “Since the polarisation entangled photon has only one pattern, it could be sent down the long-distance single-mode fibre, while the twisted light photon could be measured without the fibre, accessing multi-dimensional twisted patterns in the free-space. These twists carry orbital angular momentum (or spin), a promising candidate for encoding information.”

The team demonstrated transfer of multi-dimensional entanglement states over 250 m of single-mode fibre, showing that an infinite number of two-dimensional subspaces could be realised. Each subspace could be used for sending information, or multiplexing information to multiple receivers.

“A consequence of this new approach is that multiple patterns of light can be used in the fibre, but two at a time. It is a compromise because you can still get to “infinity” but by adding 2+2+2 … rather than in just one step,” says Forbes. Importantly, high-dimensional states are unsuitable for transmission over conventional fibre networks, whereas this new approach allows legacy networks to be used.

Wits team and industry closer to final LVPS prototype

- Wits University

Team visits Jemstech to view progress on first SA-made prototype for Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS Detector at CERN.

A team of scientists from Wits University’s High-throughput Electronics Laboratory within the Institute for Collider Particle Physics (ICPP) recently visited Jemstech, a turnkey Electronics Manufacturing Services provider, to discuss the production of the second and close-to-final prototype of the Low Voltage Power Supplies (LVPS).

Jemstech has populated the electronics boards for the first prototype made in South Africa of the LVPS for the upgraded Tile Calorimeter of the ATLAS Detector at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, is housed. (*)

The LVPS will power the future on-detector electronics of the Tile Hadronic Calorimeter – one of components of the ATLAS calorimetry system – that is being designed for the Phase-II upgrade of this detector.

South Africa is responsible for the production of over 1000 of these boards, where the printed circuit boards (PCBs) designed at Wits are manufactured by Trax Interconnect in Cape Town and then passed to Jemstech for population.

The Wits team in charge of the South African production is composed of Edward Nkadimeng, Nkhosiphendule Njara, Thabo Lepota, Ryan McKenzie, Charles Sandrock, Roger van Rensburg and Bruce Mellado. They are part of the ICPP in the Wits School of Physics.

Wits Institute for Collider Particle Physics (ICPP) team visits Jemstech

“We discussed quality control issues, details of the bill of materials and other components as well as the implementation of Artificial Intelligence in the process of quality control assessment,” says Professor Bruce Mellado, Director of the ICPP.

The Wits Institute of Collider Particle Physics (http://hep.wits.ac.za) leverages activities to deliver world-class training to South African post-graduate students and to provide technology transfer to the country in areas that are badly needed. It develops projects in Big Data and Artificial Intelligence with the CERN, and with industry.

(*) Calorimeters measure the energy a particle loses as it passes through the detector. It is usually designed to stop entire or “absorb” most of the particles coming from a collision, forcing them to deposit all of their energy within the detector.

Wits switches to remote online teaching and learning from 20 April 2020

- Wits University

Wits institutes an emergency remote teaching and learning programme as one measure to help minimise the time lost in the academic project.

Dear Colleagues and Students

We are living through an unprecedented era which has tremendous implications for humanity and for us as the Wits community. We know that through our collective efforts we can stave off the coronavirus, and that through physical distancing, testing and quarantining, we can flatten the curve and eventually overcome the disease. But what we do not know, is exactly how long this will take and the exact nature of the resources that will be required.

In Sesotho: Read the Sesotho translation or listen to the audio below.

In IsiZulu: Read the IsiZulu translation or listen to the audio below.

Our collective challenges

As the Wits community, we are thus left with some difficult options – wait out the pandemic (and potentially lose the 2020 academic year) or switch to emergency remote teaching and learning alongside a range of other contingency and continuity plans. After consultation with our various constituencies, we have opted for the latter.

We are cognisant of the tremendous effort that has been expended by academics and professional and administrative staff in recent weeks, who have tirelessly prepared online material, who have learnt to switch between pedagogies, and who now have a better understanding of our learning management systems.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of the anxiety and uncertainty that this mode of learning presents for both our colleagues and students. The world as we know it is in flux, and it will take our collective courage, dexterity and commitment to fend off the effects of this pandemic and to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning.

We are aware that the playing field is uneven and that whilst many in society and our community enjoy greater levels of privilege, the consequences of the pandemic have illuminated and amplified the existing inequalities in our society – with the poor, marginal, precarious and under-resourced disproportionally experiencing its fallout. We understand that our emergency remote teaching and learning plan has to take into consideration the different learning environments of our students and their access to learning resources, appropriate devices and data.

Our success is dependent on how we respond as a community – our Senior Executive Team members have to be agile enough to ensure that requisite plans and resources are in place to switch to the emergency remote teaching and learning programme. Our Deans, Heads of Schools, academics and professional and administrative staff have shown that they are able to adapt to a changing environment and are now going beyond the call of duty to ensure student success. Our students will have to exercise their own agency and will have to make an extraordinary effort to adapt to remote online learning with the requisite support from faculties, particularly over the next few months. We acknowledge the importance of the University to provide support but it is also important for our students to develop their own agency to overcome the challenges that confront us today.

Wits re-opens online on 20 April 2020

The next few days (15-19 April 2020) will be used to transition to the online environment with the University officially opening for the second block on 20 April 2020. The almanac has been revised but is dependent on how the crisis unfolds in the months ahead. To be clear, the University is not transitioning to a permanent online modality for all courses, nor are we becoming a correspondence institution. We are instituting an emergency remote teaching and learning programme as one measure that will help us to minimise the time lost in the academic project.

We are clear that the emergency remote teaching programme will not serve as a comprehensive solution to our current challenges. There are specific disciplines that may be patient-based, laboratory-based, studio-based or involve creative practices that cannot be undertaken online. In these instances, we will have to explore high intensity immersion classes when we resume contact teaching, resequencing the academic year to allow for theory to be taught online upfront followed by the practical and laboratory-based components later in the year, and perhaps even recalibrate the almanac.

Access to devices, data and learning resources

Multiple surveys across the institution have revealed that between 10% and 15% of students do not have access to appropriate computing devices, adequate access to data or conducive learning environments. To this end, we are putting in place the following measures to ensure that the majority of students are able to learn remotely:

Wits has established a Mobile Computing Bank (MCB) which will enable qualifying students who do not have access to appropriate mobile learning devices to loan basic devices from the MCB. These basic computing devices will be suitable for educational purposes and will be pre-loaded with the required learning resources before being delivered via the South African Post Office to students who absolutely need them. The cost of the device will be added to students’ fee accounts and will be reversed if the device is returned in good order at the end of the 2020 academic year. The students most in need will be prioritised when devices are allocated.

The University has finalised an agreement with four telecommunications service providers: Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C to zero-rate Wits’ library and learning management sites from 15 April 2020. The full list of zero-rated sites is available via this link:https://www.wits.ac.za/mywits/zero-rated-data-to-students-and-applicants/ 

We are working through Universities South Africa to reach agreement with telecommunications service providers to ensure that other products and sites like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other learning sites are either zero-rated or reverse billed to the University. These sites may have to be accessed via the Wits VPN. Negotiations are underway and we will keep the University informed of these matters in the coming days.

In cases where students do not have access to any device or data, other options are being explored, including the possibility of using the South African Post Office to deliver paper-based material to our students. Additional support will be made available for students when contact teaching resumes, and particularly for students who will have had difficulty in transitioning to online learning. It may be necessary for face-to-face lectures to be extended through the September and December vacation breaks and for some cohorts, to extend the academic programme into 2021.

Students who have queries related to the academic programme should contact their respective schools. Students who do not have access to adequate mobile computing devices and cannot secure them elsewhere, should contact the following Faculty representatives:

Commerce, Law and Management: Tshepiso.Maleswena@wits.ac.za

Engineering and the Built Environment: FacultyRegistrar.EBE@wits.ac.za

Health Sciences: Henda.VanDerWalt@wits.ac.za or Morne.Greyling@wits.ac.za

Humanities: help.humanities@wits.ac.za

Science: SSSC.Science@wits.ac.za

Postgraduate research

As per the communique sent to all postgraduate students on the 6th of April 2020, those students pursuing their Masters or PhD degrees should engage directly with their supervisors to ensure that their research continues. A list of the library sites that have been zero-rated has already been shared with all postgraduate students. In cases where patient-based, studio-based or laboratory-based work is required, these matters should be discussed with the supervisor, Head of School and/or Dean of the respective Faculty. 

Conclusion

The next few weeks are going to be challenging for us as a country and as a University. We have no choice but to stand strong in order to overcome this common invisible enemy. We should galvanise our resources to achieve one common goal – to see our students succeed and complete the academic year, despite the inequalities that pervade our society. In so doing, we will develop the high level skills to rebuild our country and produce the problem-posers and problem-solvers needed to tackle the complex problems that confront our society.

We will emerge from this crisis – stronger and more resilient than ever. This is a complex challenge that will require multiple responses from all of us. Let us use this time to find each other and to work together towards a common goal for our students, our staff and our common humanity.

Keep healthy and stay safe.

SENIOR EXECUTIVE TEAM

14 APRIL 2020

Wits COVID-19 dashboard goes continental

- Wits University

New features added as inter disciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration data on the pandemic grows.

Wits University’s COVID-19 South Africa Dashboard has grown with new data features, including snapshot views of how the pandemic is spreading in Africa, as well as statistics showing world trends, being added. (As featured in this article in TIME Magazine.)

The dashboard, launched on 22 March, by Professor Bruce Mellado from the Wits School of Physics and Senior Scientist at iThemba LABS, has gained momentum with a number of volunteers from different disciplines working 24/7 to develop and maintain the dashboard. Wits university is working in collaboration with iThemba LABS of the National Research Foundation.  

Covid-19 Dash board

The visualisation of large quantities of data on the pandemic is a critical step in the analysis of that data. It provides an essential input for analysts to develop the first intuition with which to devise models. The relevance of the visualisation that the dashboard provides is therefore significant.

“The design, development and updating of the dashboard requires a large collaborative effort,” says Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE). “I am assisting in the coordination of the project. Under Bruce Mellado’s leadership a team of highly dedicated and motivated student volunteers, drawn from a variety of disciplines, is working to develop and maintain the dashboard. Although all of us are locked down and working from home, a strong team spirit has developed. I find it interesting that few of us have actually met." 

The dashboard is maintained daily and updated within minutes of Government’s announcements on the latest statistics. It provides historical data of relevant parameters, provincial and other breakdowns and it has undergone a number of upgrades since its release.

“Many of the upgrades have been requested by scientists and journalists from all over the country to improve the presentation of the South African data. Currently the site averages about 10 thousand views a day,” says Mellado.

One of the upgrades performed on the dashboard is the addition of a dashboard for the African continent that includes a detailed account of total cases, mortality and recoveries for all African counties. This addition has triggered a collaboration with the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) to develop the first COVID-19 dashboard for Botswana, using data from the National Emergency Operation Centre of Botswana.

“This adds a new and important dimension to our existing collaborations with Wits and iThemba LABS,” says Professor Gregory Hillhouse, Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at BIUST.

“It is gratifying to see that one of our MSc students who has been trained at iThemba LABS, Mr Otsile Tikologo, is actively involved with this project.”

Another upgrade illustrates the global analysis of the spread in the conditions of containment (or “lockdown”) using epidemiological models. A number of countries have been selected for which containment measures have led to significant reduction in the rate of spread.

Data analysis and statistical treatment of this feature are performed using a frequentist framework. For this purpose the data processing framework ROO