Wed, Sep 29, 2021

Home Blog

Mining Sector Critical To South African Economy Rebuild

smart mining. Red ivory /

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe says the mining industry is playing a critical role in “saving” the economy during the country’s ongoing COVID-19 induced lockdown.

Mantashe was speaking during the opening of the two-day Mining Investment Conference held in Limpopo.

The Minister said the decision to allow mining to continue during different phases of the COVID-19 induced lockdown is proving to be decisive in the recovery from the devastating impact the virus has had on the economy.

“Mining is doing well…and has played a very important role in saving the economy. The commodity prices are expected to do well throughout the year…due to work done by government working in the sector. During the hard lockdown, the country was able to take advantage of the commodity boom amidst global supply shortages,” he said.

The Minister said in March, April and May this year, mining production grew by at least 20% for each month, year on year.

Total mineral sales increased by at least 50% in each month during the same period, with commodity prices helping the sector to contribute more to the country’s GDP.

“When we opened mining at level five [of lockdown]…we said coal mining must produce. We said open cast mining must produce at level four and we said all mines must produce at level three. Many people said…we are going to bring miners back and spread COVID-19. But we said if we don’t bring them back and test them, we won’t be able to quantify the problem.

“But we took the decision to open up mining and it is reflecting now in the performance of the mining industry during lockdown and pulling everybody out of the morass that everybody is in now,” Mantashe said.

He said te mining  industry – which has been one of South Africa’s bedrock sectors for decades – has the potential to contribute 12% to the country’s total GDP going into the future.

“In the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction  Plan, mining has been leading for various quarters now and it must continue doing so because it is a sector that is reliable and that you can actually depend on,” he said.

The Minister said in order for mining to grow even more, small scale miners must “be given space to grow” in the sector.

“The problem that we have in many provinces is that instead of developing small scale mining in an orderly manner…a group of people are organised to disrupt mining. If we do that, we are not going to grow mining, we are going to destroy it.

“Let’s get small scale mining organised [and] supported. I have had a discussion with small business to say they have a role to play…so that people establish themselves and build wealth,” he said.

Mantashe said his department has identified the North West, Northern Cape and Limpopo as areas where mining can see exponential growth without taking away the contributions of other provinces.

“We believe that [these three] provinces can be developed into massive headquarters of mining in the country… As small as they look, they have a lot of potential.

“These three are the headquarters…we must be able to say it’s a mining province and be able to come here and have head offices of mining companies [in these provinces] and not operate from Gauteng. We must have head offices and processing plants [in these provinces]. If we do that, we will grow the economy,” he said. –

Africa’s Crypto Exchange Yellow Card Raises R227 Million Expansion Funding

Yellow Card
Yellow Card logo

Pan-African cryptocurrency exchange, Yellow Card, has announced a $15 million or R227 million Series A, the largest ever by an African cryptocurrency exchange, to ramp up hiring and continue its expansion across the continent. The round was led by Valar Ventures, Third Prime, and Castle Island Ventures with participation from Square, Inc., Ventures, Coinbase Ventures, Polychain Capital, BlockFi, Fabric Ventures, Raba Partnership, MoonPay, GreenHouse Capital, and more.

Chris Maurice, co-founder and CEO of Yellow Card, expressed the significance of this round of investment for Yellow Card’s future.

“Our mission has always been to make cryptocurrency accessible anywhere and everywhere across the African continent,” Maurice said.

“Now, we have the backing to make that a reality, alongside an amazing team of investors who share our vision.”

Since launching in Nigeria in 2018, the U.S. and Africa-based Yellow Card team has sought to make cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and USDT Stablecoin accessible to anyone in Africa. The company now has the largest geographical footprint on the continent, with a presence in 12 countries, 110 employees across 16 countries, and a nearly 30X increase in users across Africa since the start of the Pandemic.

“Africa is poised to benefit tremendously from cryptocurrency’s potential to transform financial services,” Valar Ventures’ James Fitzgerald said.

“We believe in Yellow Card’s vision of a Pan-African cryptocurrency platform. What cemented the deal is their multi-national team, which we believe has the local knowledge, technical expertise, and unequivocal passion to address the basic financial services needs of the continent.”

This news comes on the back of a new report from Chainalysis, which listed six African nations in the top 20 on the Global Crypto Adoption Index. Yellow Card wants everyone to know that Africa should be seen as a prominent region for crypto adoption.

“This raise is a validation that Africa has a major place in the crypto industry,” said Yellow Card’s Chief Bitcoin Officer, Munachi Ogueke. “With the access that Yellow Card brings, powered by this raise, we can now let crypto proliferate and be a reliable enabler for people across the continent.”

Also read: The 5th Largest Cryptocurrency: A Lot More Than Just An Exchange Token

MTN Is Giving Customers Data For Days This Summer And A Chance To Win Their Share Of R100 Million In Prizes

MTN logo

With another tough year behind us, South Africans are looking to our country’s brighter skies and warmer days with excitement and anticipation. And no matter what you want from your summertime, MTN is making it possible and accessible with compelling data offers and big prizes, that are at the heart of this year’s summer campaign.

This year, MTN is making data even more affordable to all its customers, irrespective of the customer’s plan or package. Whether South Africans want to party or play, rest and revive, or just hit the road to reconnect with family and friends, they will get the freedom to do it all with SA’s Bozza network. MTN customers will enjoy a summer with an abundance of the best data deals and packages at the most affordable data prices to keep them connected to their passions and those they love.

Until 31 January 2022, all MTN subscribers stand the chance to win their share of R100million in prizes, through the YelloBucks programme.

A car, a R50,000 holiday voucher and R50,000 in MoMo cash are up for grabs each and every week for 18 weeks, along with millions of Rands in free and discounted data, vouchers and free YelloBucks.

To stand a chance to win, customers need to simply join Yellobucks and upgrade or recharge with data bundles on MTN from 28 September to start earning entries into the weekly draws and unlocking instant prizes.  Doing more with MTN has never been more rewarding this summer.

“After another taxing pandemic year, everyone wants their own kind of summer – whether that means taking it slowly, easing into it, or hitting it full on. KeDezemba is around the corner and MTN data is the ticket to make the summer of 2021 a summer like no other”, says Mapula Bodibe, Chief Consumer Officer MTN SA.

Every R1 spent with MTN will give you one YelloBuck, which means one entry into the grand prize draw in any given week. Draws will take place every Tuesday from 5 October through to 1 February 2022. In addition to this, customers are encouraged to take part in the Play & Win game; every MTN customer will receive two plays daily and just by buying data bundles, additional games will be unlocked, gifting customers with instant rewards.

“Through MyMTN YelloBucks, we are liberating and democratising data to drive value across our entire customer base – no matter which price plan or package they use,” continues Bodibe.

Already available are MTN’s BozzaGigs LTE deals, a new pay-as-you-go price plan that offers more data at more affordable prices.

Deals include:

      • 4GB data at R49 (2GB Anytime Data + 2GB Night Express once-off/reoccurring, valid for 14 days)
      • 10GB data at R99 (5GB Anytime Data + 5GB Night Express once-off/reoccurring, valid for 30 days)
      • 15GB data at R129 (7.5GB Anytime Data + 7.5GB Night Express once-off/reoccurring, valid for 30 days)
      • 20GB data at R149 (10GB Anytime Data + 10GB Night Express once-off/reoccurring, valid for 30 days)

Customers are urged to watch out for other big data deal announcements during the next few weeks.

“From sharing selfies, stories and holiday snaps, to binge-watching the latest series, listening to favourite tunes, or conquering gamer marathons – we’ve planned our summer campaign to enable our customers to go big on the Bozza network without having to worry about running out of data”.   

In addition to data deals and weekly grand prize draws, MyMTN YelloBucks is also unlocking incredible value, discounts and rewards for customers, just for being on the MTN network.

Start using your YelloBucks now:

      • Register by completing your YelloBucks profile and start buying Data bundles using YelloBucks
      • Download the MTN App and complete your profile, or dial *234# from a feature phone and follow the user prompts to complete your profile
      • Every R1 spent on recharge bundles or subscriptions will earn customers one (1) YelloBuck

The following will also earn you YelloBucks:

      • Sign up or upgrade to a new contract, or add a new contract line to your account
      • Subscriber for a Digital service such as a mobile game or music track
      • Registration for MTN Pulse for those under 25s
      • New prepaid SIM activations or new customer porting to MTN
      • Customers purchasing qualifying 3G and 4G devices
      • MTN App downloads and registrations

“This year, although only slightly better than last, is certainly feeling more hopeful, with vaccines now available and the economy starting to improve. Through our summer promotion we want our customers to go big on us. It’s our give to them to close off the last few months of 2021 with some much-needed positivity on the Bozza Network,” concludes Bodibe.

The MTN summer promotion runs until 31 January 2022.

SA Administers Close To 17 Million COVID-19 Vaccines To Date

Workers at India’s biggest syringe manufacturer ramp up production in September 2020 in race to meet COVID-19 vaccine-driven demand. Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa has administered 16 999 722 doses of COVID-19 jabs as of Monday evening, the Department of Health said.

The tally includes the two-dose Pfizer vaccine as well as the single shot of the Johnson & Johnson jab.

According to the latest data, 159 732 vaccines were distributed in the last 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the number of fully vaccinated adults has now gone up to 8 501 712, while 12 268 451 people had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 shot.

In addition, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) logged 578 new COVID-19 infections.

The dashboard shows that the majority of new cases are from KwaZulu-Natal after 126 people were confirmed to have contracted the virus.

Gauteng is trailing behind KwaZulu-Natal with 108 infections, 92 in the Western Cape, 86 in Free State and 50 in the Eastern Cape.

“This increase represents a 3.8% positivity rate,” the NICD added.

This means the country has 2 897 521 laboratory-confirmed cases to date, while the death toll stands at 87 216 after 164 more patients succumbed to the disease.

The NICD confirmed on Saturday that South Africa’s third wave was officially over, as the national seven-day moving average of daily case numbers, positivity rate and testing rate continue to drop, with sustained decreases in all provinces

Meanwhile, the public health institute said 17 588 025 tests have been conducted in both public and private sectors, while 6 931 people are currently hospitalised.

“There has been an increase of 85 hospital admissions in the past 24 hours.”

According to the World Health Organisation, as of 27 September 2021, there have been 231 703 120 reported cases of COVID-19, 4 746 620 deaths and 5 924 819 985 administered vaccine doses. –

2Africa Is Now The Longest Subsea Cable System In The World


The 2Africa consortium, comprised of China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN GlobalConnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone and WIOCC, announced today the addition of a new segment – the 2Africa PEARLS branch – extending to the Arabian Gulf, India, and Pakistan. This extension will bring the total length of the 2Africa cable system to over 45,000 kilometers, making it the longest subsea cable system ever deployed.

Now connecting three continents, Africa, Europe and Asia terrestrially through Egypt, 2Africa creates unique connectivity by adding vital landing locations in Oman (Barka), UAE (Abu Dhabi and Kalba), Qatar (Doha), Bahrain (Manama), Kuwait (Kuwait), Iraq (Al-Faw), Pakistan (Karachi), India (Mumbai), and a fourth landing in Saudi Arabia (Al Khobar). The new 2Africa branch joins recently announced extensions to the Canary Islands, the Seychelles, Comoros Islands, Angola, and a new landing to south-east Nigeria.

As with other 2Africa cable landings, capacity will be available in PEARLS landings at carrier-neutral facilities or open-access cable landing stations on a fair and equitable basis, encouraging and supporting the development of a healthy internet ecosystem.

To further support a burgeoning global digital economy, the expanded system will serve an even wider range of communities that rely on the internet for services from education to healthcare, and businesses, providing economic and social benefits that come from increased connectivity. As announced in May 2020, 2Africa was planned to directly bring seamless international connectivity to 1.2 billion people. Today, with 2Africa PEARLS, 2Africa will be providing international connectivity to an additional 1.8 billion people–that’s 3 billion people, representing 36% of the global population.

Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) will deploy the new system utilizing new technologies such as SDM that allow the deployment of up to 16 fiber pairs, double that of older technologies and bringing greater and more cost-effective capacity.

Also read: China Mobile, Facebook, MTN GlobalConnect Are Extending Their Africa Undersea Cable

Liquid Intelligent Technologies Launches OneVoice For Operator Connect For Microsoft Teams

Liquid Intelligent Technologies
Nic-Rudnick-GCEO-Liquid-Telecom. Image by Gareth Davies

Liquid Intelligent Technologies has launched a partner for Microsoft’s new Operator Connect for Microsoft Teams. Through its OneVoice platform, Liquid enables Microsoft customers worldwide to seamlessly integrate regulatory-compliant calling plans in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda – initiated from the Microsoft Teams Admin Centre.

Operator Connect enables seamless PSTN phone services in Teams. With OneVoice for Operator Connect, businesses will benefit from the seamless integration of voice telephony directly into their existing Teams install base.

In addition, Liquid’s flat-rate calling plans save money and avoid bill-shock whilst increasing control and decreasing fraud and risk, particularly as employees continue to work remotely. As a cloud-based solution, no hardware is required, driving down costs and allowing instant deployment.

“We are delighted to deepen our relationship with Microsoft through this global launch and integrate our pan-African communications and technology capability directly into Microsoft Teams,” stated Nic Rudnick, Group CEO of Liquid Intelligent Technologies.

“Together, our two companies continue to lead digital transformation across the African continent with innovative solutions that empower every person, business and community to do more.”

Commenting on the launch, Taimoor Husain, Modern Workplace Strategy and GTM Lead, Telcos at Microsoft, said, “Liquid brings pan-African coverage, voice expertise, and proven sales and support capability of Microsoft services to the Operator Connect programme.”

Liquid OneVoice for Operator Connect leverages the Liquid network and geo-redundant voice core powered by cloud-native voice switches from Metaswitch, a company recently acquired by Microsoft. Liquid ensures local regulatory compliance as a licenced operator whilst offering a cost-effective flat-rate domestic calling plan.

Liquid will continue to develop its OneVoice platform to meet the modern communication requirements of its customers across Africa. OneVoice for Operator Connect will be rolled out to other key markets soon.

Huawei DIGIX Lab To Empower Developers On The African Continent

Huawei DIGIX Lab
Huawei DIGIX Lab

For developers out there, having a designated space to go to when working on your next big App idea will without a doubt play an instrumental role in the successful development of your App as well as its growth. The Huawei DIGIX Lab in Johannesburg is another way that Huawei Mobile Services (HMS) is proving its continued involvement and investment in the growth of App development and the people behind it across Africa.

In the spirit of collaborative innovation, the DIGIX Lab will allow developers to experience Huawei’s open capabilities and devices firsthand, master and share knowledge through hands-on practice and guidance, and directly access the HMS ecosystem. They will also have the chance to network, idea share and collaborate with fellow App developers.

When you visit the lab, you will have access to Huawei devices, which you can use in real time to perform App adaptation verification that will help you experience more comprehensive hardware debugging capabilities. Sounds like a great opportunity to make sure your App is Huawei device ready.

Another impressive thing to note about having access to this lab is the wealth of knowledge you will receive from the minute you walk in. The DIGIX Lab is divided into three main zones where developers, partners and tech enthusiasts can connect, communicate and collaborate.

For instance, the Experience zone is where a bank of screens provides loads of information about various parts of the Huawei Mobile Services ecosystem. As the lab grows, other devices will be added in this zone, including tablets, PCs, wearables and VR glasses. Definitely something to look forward to. This will provide you with a chance to interact with these technologies, allowing you to plan and scope out potential collaborations.

The Enable zone, is a meeting facility where you will be able to host events. Any developer who is seeking help or facing any challenges can receive hands-on support from Huawei’s technical engineers or business leaders. The Enable zone will also house debug terminals to support developers with resources.

The third zone, the Engage zone is a multi-purpose space with a collaboration area and training rooms to support community building. Developer programs such as integration trainings, workshops, industry and networking events will be held in this area. Additionally, tech buffs or individual developers can also book the space to host community events related to mobile App development.

Huawei’s DIGIX Lab project consists of seven labs globally, located in Singapore, Dusseldorf in Germany, Moscow in Russia, Dubai in the UAE, Mexico City in Mexico, Dublin in Ireland and now Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa.

With this innovative new offering, Huawei continues to prove the high esteem in which it holds its African developers from across the continent.

Readers interested in learning more about the DIGIX Lab are invited to contact the lab by emailing, to request an in person or virtual tour of the facilities. They are also invited to visit the DIGIX Lab website by clicking here for more information.

Also read: Huawei’s Eric Xu: Innovating Nonstop for Faster Digitalization

Want To Develop Vaccines In Africa? Then Invest In Expertise And Infrastructure

Aerial view of the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source Ltd (Diamond) on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, ©Diamond Light Source

In little more than a year from the onset of COVID-19, scientists successfully developed vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus for world-wide use.

Three main factors contributed to this extraordinary feat.

One, unprecedented collaboration between international scientists. Two, scientists were able to obtain exquisitely detailed images of the virus proteins and the human proteins that they interact with – right down to the positions of the atoms.

Three, expertise and infrastructure, developed over many years, involving tens of thousands of scientists supported by national governments and substantial private investment. Developing this skilled workforce was only possible because societies agreed to sponsor their best researchers to solve acute problems by providing appropriate tools and resources.

The African contribution to this massive achievement proved quite small. African researchers remain challenged by the lack of sustainable and accessible funding, infrastructure and expertise.

In late May President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa was “developing a local vaccine manufacturing plan to produce vaccines locally through strategic partnerships and technology transfer”. The goal, he said, was to cover the entire vaccine production value chain. He said Africa wants to do things for itself and that

we must also look at how vaccine manufacturing capacity developed during COVID-19 can be repurposed for the future production of other vaccines and related technologies.

In this article we unpack how the three-year START programme (Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology) – funded with a grant from the UK Research and Innovations’ Science and Technology Facilities Council – substantially prepared South Africa’s capacity to do this type of work. It trained students and postdoctoral research assistants at eight South African universities and the country’s National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD). It also allowed access to the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source. Funded through a £3.7 million (about US$5million) Global Challenges Research Fund grant, the initiative provided an exceptional combination of expertise and experimental resources.

Innovative technologies

Understanding biological systems is critical to the prosperity, and possibly, survival of the human race. Without it, we are threatened by disease, energy and food insecurity, pollution and climate change. Studying biological macromolecules – such as proteins at atomic resolution – empowers us to develop drugs, vaccines, herbicides and pesticides. And it helps us design non-polluting industrial processes to create the chemicals that we need.

The branch of science that deals with this is called Structural Biology.

Structural biologists unravel the intricacies of protein structures using highly brilliant synchrotron radiation in a technique called X-ray crystallography or by cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). These structures form the basis for developing new drugs or vaccines to stop diseases. In particular, the recently developed, Nobel prize-winning, technique of cryo-EM was essential for the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.

However, Africa largely remains a spectator in the race to build these innovative technologies despite START showing how it could be done. The programme has yielded extraordinary impact with relatively modest investment over a short space of time. It has triggered a step change in structural biology research in Africa, demonstrating what is needed and that it works. Existing research hubs and networks were strengthened, and new ones developed. Young career scientists grew in confidence and skills through international collaborations, mentoring, writing proposals and crunching data.

The South African groups regularly collected data at synchrotrons and electron microscopes to augment our understanding of potential treatments. These have included SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), snakebite venom, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, human papilloma virus, cardiovascular disease, as well as equine diseases. Work has also been done to create industrial enzymes for the manufacture of medicines and commodity chemicals.

The structural biology laboratory at the NICD, for example, focused on understanding the antibody response to communicable diseases such as HIV and COVID-19 to guide the search for effective vaccines. In addition, the NICD has developed structural biology projects to understand how antibodies recognise and stop SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

The START grant has contributed to:

  • research papers in leading international journals,
  • the development of a small but growing network of suitably equipped labs across South Africa,
  • vibrant international collaborations, and
  • numerous early career scientists trained in world class Structural Biology, including synchrotron and cryo-EM techniques.

Unfortunately, the funding for START has ended.

Now what?

National government must build on the foundations of the START programme. Only a sustained national policy will ensure that structural biology can achieve world-class science and grow relevant research across Africa.

Structural biology remains a niche science on the continent, largely ignored by the infrastructure roadmaps. Ramaphosa’s vision of African vaccines needs to be supported by a national strategy for structural biology. The aim would be to grow the community of scientists. This, in turn, would massively impact vaccine and drug development as well as other regional challenges.

Teaching, training and infrastructure in protein crystallography and cryo-EM need to expand dramatically from a tiny base.

The structural biology community requires a modern cryo-EM centre in South Africa. This would require substantial investment beyond the means of critically stressed tertiary education institutions.

The support of the international community is crucial.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important it is to have both national and international approaches to research and development with access to the right type of world class equipment, training and expertise.

Vaccines need to be developed in Africa against diseases arising in Africa. This makes financial sense and places emphasis on Africa solving Africa’s problems. The World Bank has estimated that the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines could cost the continent $14 billion a month. Even this pales in comparison to the long-term cost of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, and other poverty-related diseases.

Required steps involve:

  • Local infrastructure and capacity. The infrastructure put in place by the START programme needs to be expanded to national reference laboratories, sustainably funded, well-equipped and staffed by experts.
  • Capacity retention. Early career researchers trained in South Africa need to be retained to prevent loss of knowledge and expertise. The need to provide all young researchers opportunities to further develop their careers is obvious. But this cannot be done without growth. It is therefore urgent to implement policies that stimulate the structural biology research environment and create new posts. This is key to ensuring that diversity, fresh ideas and novel approaches relevant to Africa are brought into the local and international scientific community.
  • Access to international infrastructure. Synchrotrons, neutron sources and cryo-EM facilities around the world are open to African researchers. The challenge is to produce world-class research and competitive proposals to gain access. Funding for this must come from the South African Treasury. This should be enhanced by membership of international organisations.

START has boosted the skills and enthusiasm of South African bioscientists. They have seen the benefit of a structural approach in designing medicines for African diseases. The programme has opened doors to international co-operation and technology that Africa can’t afford. Young researchers have committed to careers in structural biology, hoping to practice their skills locally. Local research into both vaccines and medicines has started.

Ramaphosa’s desire to develop vaccines in South Africa could be realised by building on the foundation that has been laid. But only if there’s substantial and sustained investment in both human resources and infrastructure.

Rebekka Stredwick from Diamond Light Source also contributed to this article. She has been responsible for creating content for START’s website.The Conversation

Bryan Trevor Sewell, Senior Scholar (former Director of the Electron Microscope Unit and Professor in the Department of Integrative Biomedical Sciences), University of Cape Town; Jeremy David Woodward, Chief Scientific Officer, University of Cape Town; Lauren B. Arendse, FLAIR Fellow, Drug Discovery and Development (H3D) Centre, University of Cape Town; Thandeka Moyo-Gwete, Senior Medical Scientist, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, and Wolf-Dieter Schubert, Professor of Biochemistry, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Google And Microsoft Are Creating A Monopoly On Coding In Plain Language

Coding. Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

Sometimes major shifts happen virtually unnoticed. On May 5, IBM announced Project CodeNet to very little media or academic attention.

CodeNet is a follow-up to ImageNet, a large-scale dataset of images and their descriptions; the images are free for non-commercial uses. ImageNet is now central to the progress of deep learning computer vision.

CodeNet is an attempt to do for Artifical Intelligence (AI) coding what ImageNet did for computer vision: it is a dataset of over 14 million code samples, covering 50 programming languages, intended to solve 4,000 coding problems. The dataset also contains numerous additional data, such as the amount of memory required for software to run and log outputs of running code.

Accelerating machine learning

IBM’s own stated rationale for CodeNet is that it is designed to swiftly update legacy systems programmed in outdated code, a development long-awaited since the Y2K panic over 20 years ago, when many believed that undocumented legacy systems could fail with disastrous consequences.

However, as security researchers, we believe the most important implication of CodeNet — and similar projects — is the potential for lowering barriers, and the possibility of Natural Language Coding (NLC).

An IBM-produced video looks at the quest to produce an AI that can understand human language.

In recent years, companies such as OpenAI and Google have been rapidly improving Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies. These are machine learning-driven programs designed to better understand and mimic natural human language and translate between different languages. Training machine learning systems requires access to a large dataset with texts written in the desired human languages. NLC applies all this to coding too.

Coding is a difficult skill to learn let alone master and an experienced coder would be expected to be proficient in multiple programming languages. NLC, in contrast, leverages NLP technologies and a vast database such as CodeNet to enable anyone to use English, or ultimately French or Chinese or any other natural language, to code. It could make tasks like designing a website as simple as typing “make a red background with an image of an airplane on it, my company logo in the middle and a contact me button underneath,” and that exact website would spring into existence, the result of automatic translation of natural language to code.

It is clear that IBM was not alone in its thinking. GPT-3, OpenAI’s industry-leading NLP model, has been used to allow coding a website or app by writing a description of what you want. Soon after IBM’s news, Microsoft announced it had secured exclusive rights to GPT-3.

Microsoft also owns GitHub, — the largest collection of open source code on the internet — acquired in 2018. The company has added to GitHub’s potential with GitHub Copilot, an AI assistant. When the programmer inputs the action they want to code, Copilot generates a coding sample that could achieve what they specified. The programmer can then accept the AI-generated sample, edit it or reject it, drastically simplifying the coding process. Copilot is a huge step towards NLC, but it is not there yet.

Consequences of natural language coding

Although NLC is not yet fully feasible, we are moving quickly towards a future where coding is much more accessible to the average person. The implications are huge.

First, there are consequences for research and development. It is argued that the greater the number of potential innovators, the higher the rate of innovation. By removing barriers to coding, the potential for innovation through programming expands.

Further, academic disciplines as varied as computational physics and statistical sociology increasingly rely on custom computer programs to process data. Decreasing the skill required to create these programs would increase the ability of researchers in specialized fields outside computer sciences to deploy such methods and make new discoveries.

Children sit in front of screens in a classroom.
Plain-language coding will make programming and design more accessible and remove the need for specialized training.

However, there are also dangers. Ironically, one is the de-democratization of coding. Currently, numerous coding platforms exist. Some of these platforms offer varied features that different programmers favour, however none offer a competitive advantage. A new programmer could easily use a free, “bare bones” coding terminal and be at little disadvantage.

However, AI at the level required for NLC is not cheap to develop or deploy, and is likely to be monopolized by major platform corporations such as Microsoft, Google or IBM. The service may be offered for a fee or, like most social media services, for free but with unfavourable or exploitative conditions for its use.

Read more:
If it’s free online, you are the product

There is also reason to believe that such technologies will be dominated by platform corporations due to the way machine learning works. Theoretically, programs such as Copilot improve when introduced to new data: the more they are used, the better they become. This makes it harder for new competitors, even if they have a stronger or more ethical product.

Unless there is a serious counter effort, it seems likely that large capitalist conglomerates will be the gatekeepers of the next coding revolution.The Conversation

David Murakami Wood, Associate Professor in Sociology, Queen’s University, Ontario and David Eliot, Masters Student, Surveillance Studies, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Reactor Gets Cabinet Nod, Nuclear Entity Chuffed

SAFARI-1 in Pelindaba, west of Pretoria

The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) on Monday said it welcomes Cabinet approval of the Multipurpose Reactor (MPR).

The MPR is intended to succeed SAFARI-1 when it reaches its end of life.

SAFARI-1, a 20 MW light water-cooled research reactor, went critical (a reactor achieves criticality when each fission event releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain an ongoing series of reactions) on 18 March 1965.

It is operated by Necsa and located at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria. SAFARI-1 boasts a proud safety record having operated for over 56 years without any major incidents.

The Cabinet approval allows for good lead-time required in rolling out the procurement and construction of the MPR so that the radioisotope production, research and development and related nuclear technology innovations continue without interruptions.

Necsa Group Chief Executive Loyiso Tyabashe said: “Cabinet approval of SAFARI-1 replacement is a major milestone for South Africa, the continent and the whole world”.

South Africa, through Necsa and its wholly-owned subsidiary NTP Radioisotopes, has established itself as a leading global producer of reactor-based radioisotopes.

Medical radioisotopes manufactured at Pelindaba include active pharmaceutical ingredients (API’s) such as Molybdenum-99, I-131 and Lutetium-177.

These are mainly exported in bulk as input material for radiopharmaceutical products used for the diagnosis of serious illnesses and the treatment of cancers.

Necsa, by virtue of the availability of the SAFARI-1 research reactor, forms the cornerstone of nuclear medicine domestically and globally through its production of radiopharmaceutical products.

”The realisation of the MPR project will ensure SA remains amongst the top four global radioisotopes producers as well as ensuring continuation of research and development on nuclear technology,” said Tyabashe.

“This places Necsa on a path to provide much needed radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial applications, execution of research through beam lines, and jobs which are essential for our economy.”

The MPR provides a multitude of options to produce new radioisotopes that are considered the future in therapeutic nuclear medicine.

These include the production of short range radioisotopes that will be delivered by smart delivery systems to tumour cells radiating cell by cell and thereby eliminating the cancer while preserving surrounding healthy tissue.

Research collaborations with academia and industry utilising neutron beam line techniques contribute to SAFARI-1’s scientific visibility through a constant stream of publications in the open literature, contributions at local and international conferences, as well as playing prominent roles in projects with many South African universities in advanced research and postgraduate qualifications.

The MPR will expand these research capabilities and outputs substantially in that it will be equipped with a cold neutron source that extends the delivered range of neutrons to long wavelengths (very low energies).

The inclusion of a cold neutron source in the MPR will also make it the only cold-neutron source available in Africa, and thus may attract interest from the region and continent.

This capability will be located at the Neutron Beam Line Centre (NBLC) that will be associated with the MPR and will act as a new large-scale research hub equipped with an extensive suite of neutron scattering applications.

Furthermore, MPR is geared towards provision of health care benefits to the South African community with respect to diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals that are maintained, enhanced and rendered secure for the foreseeable future through local production.

Also, the fields of mining and industry, power generation, agriculture, geosciences, forensics and education in South Africa, to mention just a few, will have access to radioisotopes, neutron activation analysis, material modification and testing, neutron non-destructive testing facilities and a wide range of other applications that are only possible with a high flux nuclear reactor.

The MPR will be crucial in training in a wide spectrum of nuclear technologies for students at Southern African universities, industry and other institutions is well established and utilised.

“The MPR project is expected to have significant social, economic and environmental benefits for the country. Substantial portions of products will be sourced locally during the MPR construction thus boosting the local and national economy,” said David Nicholls, chairperson of the Necsa board.

“There will be some 5 000 direct and 26 000 indirect jobs created during construction.

“The nuclear reactor will provide employment to about 750 full-time employees and an additional 3 800 indirect jobs for its operation and fulfilment of its research mandate at the NBLC during its operational lifetime.”