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Research . Rethink . Relearn

ISSUE 2 Is our future in Space? The Fourth Industrial Revolution Africa app’tly rising

Next steps to Mars Changing the way iHumans live, work, and engage Digerati disrupt with radical tech


ABOUT CURIOSITY Curiosity is a print and digital magazine that aims to make the incredible research conducted at Wits University accessible to multiple audiences. It tells the stories of Wits’ groundbreaking research through the voices of talented researchers, students and academics. This edition focuses on the interaction of human beings and technologies at the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. CONTRIBUTORS Shirona Patel Head: Communications Dr Robin Drennan Director: Research and Development Reshma Lakha-Singh Public Relations and Events Manager Deborah Minors Senior Communications Officer Buhle Zuma Senior Communications Officer Schalk Mouton Senior Communications Officer Erna van Wyk Senior Multimedia Communications Officer Lauren Mulligan Multimedia Communications Officer Refilwe Mabula Communications Officer LAYOUT AND DESIGN Thea-Lize Moolman COVER IMAGE Lauren Mulligan Curiosity is produced by Wits Communications on behalf of the Research Office of the University of the Witwatersrand.

COPYRIGHT All material in this magazine is copyrighted and all rights are reserved. Reproduction of any part of the publication is only allowed with the express written permission of the Head of Communications of the University of the Witwatersrand. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily the views of the University or its management or governance structures. 2


Editorial – Wits and the Fourth Industrial Revolution Featured Researchers Africa App’tly Rising

COOL TECH 9 9 9 10 11

Interpreting brainwaves to give amputees a hand Can you read my mind? Improving the accuracy of TB testing Light to break bandwidth ceiling Q&A about Watson, an iHuman Supercomputer


12 (Hu)Man vs Machine 16 The future of work 18 Human rights in a digital world 20 The mud beneath the digital magic 22 Talking tech and African languages FUTURE LEARNING 24 Death of the chalkboard and the demise of the sage on the stage 26 Tech as eyes and ears PROFILE 28 Game Changer - Hanli Geyser LOOKING FORWARD 30 When Nature humbles us 32 Is our future in Space? 34 Big data: the next frontier 35 Mines of the future COLUMN 36

#WitsConfessions of a nomophobe


Wits - From the first nuclear reactor to CERN













Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Postgraduate Affairs

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything else humankind has experienced. We do not know how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: The response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to the academia and civil society.” – Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Econo– mic Forum. This major disruption – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. The First Industrial Revolution replaced muscle with engines by using water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second Industrial Revolution used electromagnetic power to create mass production, while the Third used electronics and information tech– nology to automate production. It is imperative for universities like Wits to encourage our researchers and students to actively participate in the global knowledge economy, and to lead the frontiers of knowledge creation so that we are not confined to being passive receptors of a new revolution.   We need to train scholars to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, some which we may not yet have encountered. The new world order, including the use of the internet of things, robotics and artificial intelli– gence, has the potential to vanquish routine jobs that we take for granted today (read the feature on (Hu)man versus machine) – and create new ones that we cannot yet envision. The downside could be the deepening inequality in an already divided society (Professor Imraan Valodia contextualises the African scenario in his column). Another major challenge for policy makers could be the widening of the gender gap because trades and crafts that will benefit from this change, such as computing, mathematics and engineering, are largely characterised by a massive gender imbalance. Silicon Valley is a case in point. At Wits, several projects already play in the new tech realm. This edition of Curiosity brings to the fore a se– lection of the cool tech underway. It highlights a project or two from our tech hub, Tshimologong, and explores transformative tech for healthcare, some of Wits’ big data projects, and some of the human rights, ethical and moral questions pertaining to robots and ‘sentient beings’.

Photo credit: Lauren Mulligan


I sincerely hope that we, as a University, with our partners, will develop the next generation of scholars who will change the future of Africa through developing the tech required for us to traverse eons of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and in so doing 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 Andrew Thatcher is cur– rently researching the psycholo– gical factors around the adoption of sustainable technologies.

Jason Cohen, Associate Pro– fessor of Information Systems in the School of Economic and Business Sciences.

This research looks at the combinatory effects of the affective qualities of the sustainable technology and the underlying psychological morals surrounding pro-environmental behaviour.

His research focuses on the use and impact of information technology in services. He is currently exploring how digital inclusion provides for social inclusion and quality of life.

Professor Sergio Colafranceso in the School of Physics holds the Chair in Radio Astronomy, based at Wits University.

Professor Ebrahim Momoniat is the Dean of the Faculty of Science at Wits.

His research encompasses dark matter, cosmology, galaxy clusters, cosmic rays, galaxies and cosmic magnetism. He is involved in a number of astronomy projects, including the Square Kilometer Array and the MeerKAT telescope initiatives.

He received the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Award in 2016. He is an applied mathematician whose research traverses mathematics, applied mathematics, physics, and engineering. Differential equations that model thin film fluid flow are central to this research.

A number of Wits experts are featured in this edition of Curiosity as listed below. Due to space constraints, we feature a limited number of short biographies below, but we encourage you to view the profiles of all researchers and contri– butors at

Professor Bavesh Kana is Head of the Wits node of the DST/ NRF Centre of Excellence for Biomedical TB Research, where he studies tuberculosis with a focus on identifying new drug targets and biomarkers to monitor treatment response and risk of disease recurrence. He is the recipient of the Wits Enterprise first-time inventor’s award and first-time innovator’s award for the creation of novel diagnostic reagents that are currently being marketed in over 30 countries.

Doctor Lucienne Abrahams directs the LINK Centre, a research and training entity in Tshimologong, Wits’ IT hub. Abrahams teaches ICT-related global trends, public policy, strategy, regulation, e-deve– lopment and innovation theory. She researches institutions and sectors in the digital knowledge economy.

Paula Barnard is an Occupational Therapist, Lecturer, and Manager of eLearning in the School of Therapeutic Sciences at Wits. She pioneered the eFunda– nathi (learn with us) eZone, a 21st Century high tech learning space to transform teaching and learning. Her PhD focuses on the integration and uptake of blended learning in undergraduate occupational therapy.

Professor Leketi Makalela is the Head of the Division of Languages, Literacies and Literatures in the Wits School of Education. He is fascinated by the interface between languages a nd literacies in the 21st Century and the prospects of alternating languages of input and output to enhance identity construction and epistemic access for multilingual students. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies Journal.


By Deborah Minors

AFRICA APP’TLY RISING There are over 300 tech hubs in Africa and possibly 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, faci– litating tech start-ups, a tech accelerator programme, and postgraduate degree programmes,” she says. GAME ON! Abrahams researches 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, 6

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 Lehlohonolo 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 approa– ches. “Johannesburg and Africa is problem ridden, pro– viding 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 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, 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 i nnovation; innovation from poverty/necessity; process, incremental, and repurposing innovation. We found that the default position among Gauteng makers favour open collaboration based on the sharing of knowledge.”

THE RUB OF THE TECH HUB Tshimologong clearly now hosts a makerspace for crafters, hackers, and tinkerers while it simultaneously incubates innovation and continually researches: ‘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 from 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 argues 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 limits 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.”

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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. 7


A diagrammatic representation of a prototype of a prosthetic hand Credit: Lauren Mulligan


Research at Wits in medical technologies that advance humanity.

INTERPRETING BRAINWAVES TO GIVE AMPUTEES A HAND 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 synthesiser. 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 grasps. Mohamed’s research 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 to many. MULTIMEDIA: Watch biomedical engineers demonstrate fine grip control of robotic prosthetic fingers.

CAN YOU READ MY MIND? In research understood to be a world first, biomedical engineers at Wits are connecting a human brain to the internet in real time.

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. It’s 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. Brainternet works by converting electroencephalogram (EEG) signals (brainwaves) 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. “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. MULTIMEDIA: Watch a video of the Brainternet project

IMPROVING THE ACCURACY OF TB TESTING 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. 9

LIGHT TO BREAK BANDWIDTH CEILING The rise of big data and advances in information technology have 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 a 10 times increase in existing bandwidth, as 10 new channels would emerge for data transfer.” Currently modern optical communication sys– tems 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. 10

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 pos– sible. “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.” MULTIMEDIA: View images and video of these light projects

WATSON Q&A about

Photo credit: IBM

an iHuman supercomputer

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the rise and more companies are relying on AI for cognitive solutions to complex problems. 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. 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?

Which languages does Watson understand?

How old is Watson?

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.

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

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.

Secondly, Watson understands emo– tions. 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 hu– mans 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.

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 11

(HU)MAN VS MACHINE By Schalk Mouton

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

We have 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 wellbeing. The Wits Centre for Mechanised Mining Systems provides key support to mines under-


going 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 lapdogs, existing only to be served by – and to provide entertainment to – robots?


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Thatcher believes that the changes technology brings are a natural process, and that while some jobs might be lost, new technologies will create many more jobs in the process.

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 are 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 mechanisation 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 many 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 autho–​ rising 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.”



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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.

By Professor Imraan Valodia 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 means 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. Technological advances are already impacting both skilled white-collar and unskilled workers, whereas the digital revolution affected mainly semi-skilled, blue-collar workers. 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 tech– nology 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 many 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

+ 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, policy makers 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. 17

Human rights in a


world By Reshma Lakha-Singh

The #DataMustFall debate is intrinsically about enabling affordable access to social and economic opportunities in a digitally connected world to improve people’s quality of life. However, 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 ear plugs 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 increa–​ singly 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 though 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. 18

“All things being equal means that being more digitally connected provides for 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.

HOWEVER, DIGITAL ACCESS ITSELF DOES NOT UNTANGLE PAST INEQUALITIES. IN MANY CASES IT MAY EVEN INCREASE INEQUALITY. 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.


DATA MUST FALL 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 deter– mine the extent of competition amongst mobile operators, as com– petition 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. 19



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.

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.

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.


A lot of it is ugly, unregulated, unprotected, more than dange– rous 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.

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.

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 of 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 competes successfully with highly-capitalised

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.

‘High tech’ has evolved slowly from the first iterations 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. 21





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 upon the 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. “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 contri– buting 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 ageing 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.


Photo credit: Wits University

“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. “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.”He continues: “English became a dominant language because it opened its doors to non-mother tongue users. The type of English used today is heavily multilingual 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.”  



Death of the chalkboard and the demise of the sage on the stage By Deborah Minors 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 wrestle with an X-Box. These aren’t lazy millennials1 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 are the brainchild of Paula Barnard, an Occupational Therapist and PhD candidate who lectures eLearning (educational techno– logies) 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. 1 Also known as Generation Y, they were born approximately between 1980 and 2000.


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 instan– tly, 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 The– rapy 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.”


Photo credit: Wits University

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

sibility, 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.

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.

Jermaine George, a blind fourth-year Bachelor of Music stu– dent, 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.

This was tedious for Mistry and Woite because of the editing required to adapt the study materials. Mistry later used screen reading 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 acces26

“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


Assistive technologies used at the Wits Disability Rights Unit BLIND / PARTIALLY BLIND STUDENTS

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, 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, challen– ges 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.”

• Screen reading software (Window-Eyes, Jaws, NVDA) • Screen magnifiers (ZoomText) • Braille displays • Braille embossers, printers and graphic 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 user to control the mouse with their eyes) • Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software (speech to text software) • Motorised wheelchairs • Adjustable furniture




By Deborah Minors

Photo credit: Lauren Mulligan

Hanli Geyser, Head of Game Design at Wits, doesn’t like being called a ‘gamer.’ That evokes an image of a pimply adolescent white boy with a console in his Mom’s basement. Geyser is far from that. In fact, she’s a mother herself and more closely resembles Velma Dinkley, the brainy bespectacled redhead in Scooby Doo. Geyser is the brain behind the Digital Arts degree majoring in Game Design at Wits, which was a first for Africa when it launched in 2012.

GAMES THE GATEWAY DRUG Geyser got hooked early. She’s been playing games her whole life. Her first game was Space Invaders played on a floppy disk, years before high school at Hoërskool Linden. Joburg has always been her playground, including Wits, where she studied Fine Arts and then earned a Master’s in the History of Art. “Games are the gateway drug to tech,” says Geyser, having long since moved on from the floppy disk. These days her favourite games are role playing games (RPGs) like Dragon Age. She favours Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games such as Guild Wars 2 and gleefully anticipates playing the new Mass Effect - Andromeda. MMOs enable her to test her wits against her daughter, Ally, who at the age of seven, is already a devout gamer who particularly enjoys Star Wars - The Old Republic. “I play for the communal spirt, or the story, and I play to keep up with my students,” says Geyser. She also enjoys good old fashioned board games (table-top games) like Imperial Assault and even Dungeons & Dragons. Despite the advances in technology – or, perhaps, because of it – there has been a resurgence in table-top games. “This is probably because they are simpler to fundraise for and easier to distribute,” she says. 28


LEAN FORWARD VS LEAN BACK What makes a good game? Geyser says it is the interactivity and the level of engagement that the game elicits from the player. The end-user is the priority. Gaming is not passive like watching television, for example. Gaming engages a different part of the brain that demands interaction and dexterity. “Even reading, which is complex and analytical, is less demanding than gaming,” says Geyser, herself a voracious reader who “reads anything that stands still, including the label on the shampoo”. A good game is a “lean forward rather than lean back” experience. It is about immersing yourself in the game – pure escapism.

PERMISSION TO PLAY Geyser toyed with the concept of playfulness in a TEDx Johannesburg Women 2013 talk, entitled Experience the joy of play through games. She lamented that people feel guilty for playfulness, relegating it to childhood. “But the need to play is innate and children play without guilt. From ring a’roses to Snap, word games to emotional games, people have always played. No one feels guilty about visiting an art gallery or watching a ballet, so why feel guilty about enjoying the escapism of gaming? All the arts give pleasure.”

THE PINK AISLE IN THE TOY STORE Geyser says gaming and game creation is white male dominated, and changing the status quo starts with education. The gender disparity starts in the pink aisle in the toy store,

Game design as an academic field is only about 30 years old internationally and it is a burgeoning industry in South Africa.

she says.“A boy gets a robot as a present and says, ‘Cool! What does it do?’ And you can programme it, remote control it, push buttons, etc. A girl gets a doll and asks, ‘What can it do?’ Well, it’s just a doll,” says Geyser (who isn’t a fan of pink anyway). Research confirms this hypothesis. Professor Jason Cohen in the School of Economic and Business Sciences at Wits co-published a study on university students’ intentions to pursue IT careers. Drawing on social cognitive career theory, the results reveal that male students have higher levels of computer self-efficacy [one’s belief in one’s ability to achieve] and lower levels of computer anxiety than female students. Race was also associated with computer anxiety, with Black and Indian students demonstrating the highest anxiety levels. The study also confirmed that females have lower IT occupational self-efficacy than males.

THE PLAYING FIELD Game design as an academic field is only about 30 years old internationally and it is a burgeoning industry in South Africa. In fact, it is the most rapidly expanding arts industry. Its profits grew from R29 million to R100 million between 2013 and 2016, according to non-profit industry body Interactive Entertainment South Africa (IESA). Game design is ripe for entrepreneurship and the Wits course teaches a skills-set that is multifaceted and applicable across professions, from technical to artistic. “There is a huge demand across multiple industries for game design graduates but there is a dearth of research on how we teach game design in South Africa. We have only European and US models to go by,” says Geyser, who was a founding member and served on the inaugural steering committee of MakeGamesSA, the original industry body for game development in South Africa that developed into IESA.

She is committed to nurturing her fledgling student cohort and transforming gaming through education. She has supervised 15 Honours and 17 Master’s students in the field since starting the programme.“Wits is graduating the most female and Black students in this field, with the female intake in Game Design now at around 40%,” she says.

DECOLONISING THE MONOPOLY Geyser says the gaming industry in South Africa is keen to diversify but more educational institutions need to teach game design. “People need to know that this is an option, so we need people who can teach it. My PhD aims to explore possibilities of decolonising gaming and game design by focusing on pedagogy,” she says. Gaming and game design have huge potential for education. Because a game, by design, has to pose a challenge, it’s easy to steer it into a learning context.“There is a massive demand for teaching with games and for educational games – or ‘serious games’ as they are known in the industry – with political or activist themes,” says Geyser. At Wits there’s currently a multi-faculty project in development involving stakeholders from the health sciences, behavioural psychology, and digital arts, to develop a game for children on antiretroviral treatment at Baragwanath Hospital. Roll the dice. Pass start. Collect R200. Hanli Geyser is changing the game.


Photo credit: Erna van Wyk

WHEN NATURE HUMBLES US “May I please have an extra pillow, Sir,” I ask the reception clerk in the hotel lobby on my first visit to Rome some years ago. “It is possible,” he answered, friendly with the appropriate Italian hand signal. Thinking that the pillow will be on my bed when I return after a day of exploring ancient fortresses, it never occurred to me that there may be many possibilities hidden in his answer. To name but two: it is possible that I will get a pillow, and it is possible that I will not get a pillow. For the duration of the stay, I awaited the arrival of the pillow. I could have complained and insisted on the pillow. At first, I thought that it was a good experiment in observing Italian guest relations, but I have now realised this was quantum mechanics at play on an observable scale. Waiting for the pillow to come felt like waiting for someone to open the box holding Schrödinger’s Cat. I was suspended in a superposition state where all the possibilities were possible at the same time: the cat is both alive and dead in the box. In my case, I will get the pillow or I will not get the pillow during my stay in the hotel. 30

By Erna van Wyk WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING The pillow never came. Such is life. But possibility only became reality upon me checking out of the hotel. This act was equivalent to opening the box to find Schrödinger’s Cat either alive or dead. This is what Nature does. She collapses everything into a single state (possibility) when observed but when we are not looking, she merrily goes about being in all the states, of all the states that she can be in, all of the time. It is the harnessing of this power of Nature that scientists developing the world’s first quantum computer are after. Confused? You are not alone. Even the researchers working with quantum mechanics, quantum computing and all things quantum, struggle daily to make sense of the quantum world, says Dr Ismail Akhalwaya, Visiting Lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Wits University. “Nature is tricky. She humbles us. She says: I can make all the calculations at the same time but I will reveal only a little bit to


you. That is the mystery. How does Nature make calculations that have more states than there are particles in the observable Universe?” Akhalwaya points out that with all the hype around quantum computing, it is important to remember that a future quantum computer will not solve every difficult problem or have all the answers. “A quantum computer does not compute the incomputable nor is it magically intelligent, but it does make certain calculations that were impractical (taking billions of years to run through all options on a classical computer) feasible by doing them in parallel,” he says. One example is drug discovery. Classical computers have not been very successful in this regard as they are unable to search an array of possibilities simultaneously to find answers, because they use a binary process of eliminating every possibility in a linear fashion: Yes or No Heads or Tails Up or Down 0 or 1 “Quantum computing is basically making things that have been practically infeasible become feasible and suddenly a whole new world opens up of things that are possible. The first ‘killer’ application will probably be optimisation, such as supply chains and chemistry,” says Akhalwaya. THE RACE IS ON Worldwide varying approaches are underway to build the first real universal quantum computer because, no matter what we have heard, it still does not exist – but that doesn’t mean we don’t already have some toy systems with which to play around. One of the leaders in this new ‘Space race’ is IBM with its IBMQ. This is an industry-first initiative launched in March 2017 to build commercially available universal quantum computing systems.

Whilst the action is happening at IBM’s research HQ in New York, here in Johannesburg at the IBM Research Africa Lab in Wits University’s Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein, Akhalwaya and his colleague, Waheeda Saib are building the Precinct’s quantum community. Saib, who studied quantum physics at Wits and has more than 10 years’ IT experience, is currently pursuing a Master’s in Data Science specialising in quantum machine learning, at the University of Edinburgh. Saib investigates deep learning in the IBM Research data-driven healthcare project. A theoretical physicist, Akhalwaya’s day job at the IBM Research Lab is to engage in fundamental Square Kilometre Array physics and astronomy research, especially through machine learning and exploring quantum information research. It is through their shared interest in quantum machine learning that they have teamed up and are working on applications to contribute to the IBM Quantum Experience, a quantum computer that IBM has made available freely in the Cloud to anyone, as an enablement tool for scientific research and a resource for university classrooms. “This is our side hobby,” jokes Akhalwaya. In the end it could grow and IBM will reap the benefit in the near future. For now, they are quite mysterious about what this might be and do not want to let Schrödinger’s cat out of the box just yet. APPLIED QUANTUM MACHINE LEARNING. A few months ago 40 members of the emerging young quantum community, including Saib, assembled in South Africa for a 10-day workshop to talk about quantum machine learning and to test their skills via a unique programming challenge. The challenge was to classify the MNIST handwritten digit dataset into two groups. The dataset includes 9 586 images of handwritten digits of 3 and 8. Each image is a 28 x 28 pixel square or 784 pixels in total. Saib’s team won the Most Creative/ Novel Solution, being the only team to implement a deep learning quantum classification algorithm. 31



By Schalk Mouton


When Sergio Colafrancesco’s grandfather woke him up on the night of 20 July 1969, he told his grandson to come and watch something that he would never again see in his life. He was right – up until now. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Cosmonauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first – and only – people to set foot on the Moon. Half a century later, we are starting to make noises about going back to the Moon – and even further. To quote US President Donald Trump – no, not Buzz Lightyear – we are going “to infinity and beyond”. In other words, to Mars. However, all that noise is still just what it is. Noise. Armstrong has died, and, at 86, Aldrin last year became the oldest person to reach the South Pole. Yet no one has ever achieved what they have, and Colafrancesco believes there won’t be any new contenders soon. It is not that we don’t have the technology to send someone to the Moon again, or even to Mars. Putting someone in a capsule and shooting them off on a lunar trip is easy. The question is: Why would we want to? And, once there, what do we do? Planned missions to the Moon, and eventually Mars, are a dream to scratch only one itch. That is, to find out if there is other life out there. The approximately 384 000km trip to the Moon would be a stepping stone to the six month trip to Mars, and an experiment to see if we can live out there. “If you go to the Moon, you would want to stay out there for at least six months,” says Colafrancesco, the Department of Science and Technology/National Research Foundation Square Kilometre Array Research Chair in the Wits School of Physics. “You want to go there with a base, and not just a simple rover.” That is where the difficulties come in. It took an investment of about 10 to 15 years at a rate of about 15% of the Gross Domestic Product for the US to send a two-man team to the Moon 50 years ago. To go back today would take a much larger effort, including the need to install a “supply pipeline” to the Moon. People on the Moon need food, water and all the “simple” things we take for granted on Earth. 32

“There are no technological barriers that prevent us from going back. You have to train a crew and build a base, and know how to get there. The difficulties are economical, organisational and political, amongst others,” says Colafrancesco. “Is there a single nation that can afford it? Maybe China or Russia,” he says, adding that he has doubts that even the US could do it. Otherwise, it will have to be a regional or multinational effort. Once on the Moon, the target moves to Mars – and the challenge is so much greater. “First, you have to decide what you want to do when you get there. Do you want to mine, explore or conduct research?” Then, you have to equip and train your crew accordingly. “You have to think of everything, like what do you do when you get sick? You can’t come back.” Mars is a profoundly harsh environment with extreme storms and cold temperatures. However, the biggest threat is the radiation from cosmic rays. “Cosmic rays are high energy particles that come from the Sun. The radiation causes modification of your cells and can cause serious health issues, like cancer, and kill you,” says Colafrancesco. This is, in fact, one theory of how Mars ‘died’. “It is believed that it was blasted by a solar wind – which is basically a huge wave of cosmic rays – which stripped everything off the planet.” Mars, like Earth, used to have a rotating core, which is responsible for the existence of a geodynamo effect that generates a magnetic field. At some point, on Mars, the core cooled and slowed down and eventually stopped, probably due to some excess energy in the planet’s interior. Because the geodynamo effect stopped, it caused the magnetic field on the surface to collapse. Solar winds then stripped the planet from its atmosphere – effectively killing the planet. Earth is protected from cosmic ray radiation by its atmosphere. And the atmosphere – like everything else on the planet – is kept in place by its magnetic field. Life on Earth

IF YOU GO TO THE MOON, YOU WOULD WANT TO STAY OUT THERE FOR AT LEAST SIX MONTHS is made possible by the existence of its magnetic field. But why, then, the obsession of going to a “dead” planet with a harsh, hostile environment? “It is not so much an obsession with Mars. It is an obsession with discovering if there is life out there, and Mars is the closest other planet that we can probe with our own hands,” explains Colafrancesco. “Finding life out there might help us find our origins. It might also help us find the origins of diseases. We have only one laboratory, which is Earth. It is very important that we find other conditions in other laboratories if we want to explore other forms of life.” Life may have existed on Mars (and elsewhere in the Universe), believes Colafrancesco, but it may have been in forms completely unrecognisable to us, and it may have been millions of years ago. For a planet to be hospitable to life – like Earth – it needs to be in a “hospitable zone” in its solar system where life can flourish. If you are too close to the Sun, you’ll burn. If you are too far away, the Sun can’t heat you up. “You also need a magnetic field; a partially rocky surface; water (oceans, not ponds); mountains with snow; soil; and you need day and night (so, you need a rotating planet, which not all planets have).” So if life out in Space sounds so hard, will Colafrancesco go out there, should he get a chance?

Photo credit:

“Of course!” he says. “The possibility of extending human knowledge (out in Space) is enormous. If you think it is really important, you must go. My wife and family will understand.” 33


The Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which technology fundamentally alters how we live, work and relate, is driven by data science. This refers to the study of where information originates, what it represents and how we can use it. Digital data are continually being generated. Mining and analysing this data has profound implications for economies and societies. Understanding big data – ginormous datasets – thus represents the next frontier in research and innovation. “Over the past four years the Faculty of Science has grown its teaching and research activities in the data sciences,” says Professor Ebrahim Momoniat, Dean of the Faculty. “We have embarked on several strategic initiatives to lead research and postgraduate study in this field. A mathematical sciences mini-data centre has been established as well as laboratories equipped with modern audio-visual teaching and learning systems, including 650 computers customised for training in data science.” The Faculty now has tailored postgraduate programmes in Big Data Analytics in response to the needs of industry and the scientific community, where massive demand for highly skilled data scientists has emerged. “For example, we run programmes that include skills for data management for the Square Kilometre Array and that develop the high level skills required to analyse the large data sets that come out of CERN, and other research projects in the School of Physics,” says Momoniat. The financial services sector is amongst the biggest processors of information on the planet. “The advent of electronic trading platforms in the last decade has altered 34

the trading landscape. Subsequently, code, data and trade errors create new risks – areas which the Faculty is actively exploring,” he adds. “Students are also trained to work in areas such as mobile and cloud computing. The banking and cellphone industries will undoubtedly benefit from the new talent that we are developing.”




Professor Turgay Celik and Dr Terence van Zyl in the Wits School of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics oversee the Big Data Analytics academic programme. “The degree covers big data infrastructure, machine learning, and visual analytics and aims to address industry’s demand for scarce skills in the data sciences. Students are also exposed to all facets of the big data analytics pipeline, from technology deployment, through to machine learning, optimisation and multivariate statistics. We have huge plans for expanding this area of work – watch this space,” concludes Momoniat.

The future of mining is dependent on “embracing tomorrow’s technology, developing new skills sets and adopting a more inclusive approach” according to Nick Holland, Gold Fields CEO, who spoke on Mines of the Future at the 120th anniversary of the Wits School of Mining Engineering. Professor Cuthbert Musingwini, Head of the School of Mining Engi– neering, says that the drive towards technological innovation calls for “more engineers in mining, rather than mining engineers”.


“There is a need for universities to develop a broad range of highly skilled individuals in the fields of computing and artificial intelligence, amongst others, to work in tandem with modern engineering expertise in order to take mining forward.” Holland predicts that the workforce in mines of the future will shrink as skills levels and mechanisation rise. “Operating practices and technology will be a vital area in gold mining’s new recipe for success and universities will serve as key partners in helping to research and develop these technologies. Mines of the future will focus on digital mining, big data analysis, know– ledge production and mining mechanization,” explains Holland. “The use of drones, advancement visualisation technologies, remote rock breaking hydraulic arms and underground sensors on people and equipment are some of the advances which we are piloting at present.” He adds that a new model for community engagement has to be developed, where community members can be re-trained to work in new mines, but also where local economic development is prioritised through implementing shared value projects. Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University, comments: “Universities, the state, communities, and the private sector have to work together to promote research into deep level mining and new technology, and to prioritise issues related to health and safety and inequality in society. Wits produces the high-level professional and managerial skills for the mining sector, remains a leader in mining research, but also trains students to be mindful of their socioeconomic and ethical responsibi– lities to protect the environment and those vulnerable in society.” Holland highlights the technological progress already made in efforts to make more mining more viable and sustainable. “Mines in Australia have been rolling out new technologies with a significant impact on costs, productivities and safety, but adoption by the industry has been slow, particularly in developing countries. If mines in other countries want to be sustainable, they will have to follow this course.” Gold Fields is determined to develop a new, remotely operated underground mine by 2020. “This will entail drill-rigs, loaders, trucks and other equipment being operated remotely through a fibre-optic and WiFi environment. It may sound like it is light years away, but it isn’t. This is a prototype so that we can learn how to do this properly; it’s that close to us,” says Holland. 35



By Schalk Mouton


A small proportion of the population – a little under 1% according to our studies – do get “addicted” to cellphones or mobile devices. These are people who allow technology to seriously disrupt the social, financial, and/or physical aspects of their lives. Most people will self-correct in a process known as self-regulation, where a balance will be struck, depending on the social fabric at that time and place. Professor Andrew Thatcher

Image credit: Lauren Mulligan


Not so many moons ago, I used to be a news editor of a newspaper. When I got the job, I believed I had it made. Middle management. Newsroom boss. Moving up in the world, I told myself. Not long into the stint, I dreamt up this great story idea. I would tell one of my reporters to do a story about going for a week without his cellphone. The next morning, I bumped into our entertainment reporter – a young, hip, upcoming Millennial and one of the most junior members of our team. Apologising profusely, I told him about this great story idea and instructed him to do it. No way! He told me. Grow up! I told him. Get lost! He said. I’m sorry … I said, humbly, and got lost. Not only did this little episode set me straight about my position in the newsroom, but it also gave me a glimpse into the millennial mindset. Nomophobia. That’s what they call it. Yes, it’s got a name - the fear of living without your cellphone or being out of cellphone contact. In 2013, 41% of Britons said that they feel anxious when they are disconnected from their mobile phone and 51% admitted suffering “extreme tech anxiety”. In the US, where 90% of the population own a cellphone, a full 66% of adults suffer from nomophobia (in South Africa we have 165 phones for every 100 people). In the US, 34% have admitted to answering their cellphone during intimacy with their partner and one in five people would rather go without shoes for a week than take a break from their phone. This reminded me of an episode more than 20 years ago. I was a student then and cellphones had just made their appearance. Across the road from our digs, on a Saturday afternoon, an older engineer-type dude was mowing the lawn. Engineers in Pretoria at the time had their own particular dress sense, and nothing was out of the ordinary with his red rugby socks, denim shorts, check shirt and vellie boots. In the holster on his hand-carved leather belt, rested the biggest freaking cellphone I had ever seen. My friends and I had a good snigger and I remember thinking how vain the mower must be – not being able to step away from his phone to mow the lawn. And this was even before Facebook’s Zuckerberg made it into Harvard. Inspired by these two incidents, I thought I’d give it a shot. I would go without my cellphone for a week! After all, there’s no way that I could be nomophobic. So, one Monday, I left my phone at home on purpose. Okay, I didn’t exactly leave it at home, but I fully intended to – I was completely dedicated to making it through the week without using it. I’ll just take it along, I won’t look at it, I told myself. At work, I put my phone away, out of sight, on silent. I was going to ignore it completely. Not touch it, not think of it, not even glance up at it – for a week. It was a complete success – for about 30 minutes.

It began with that familiar desk buzz. Starting subtly, you are able to refuse it. Ignore it. Put it out of your mind completely, continuing to focus intently on Solitaire. But then, after a minute or so, it buzzes again, this time, shaking your desk more urgently. It starts to work on you. Deep inside, the internal fight starts. Shall I just have a quick look? You realise you can’t ignore it anymore. Kings and Aces start to blur on the screen. The Jacks pull out their own small little cellphones, grinning wickedly as they press the “Answer” button. What gets to you is when the Queen of Hearts starts sending you an emoji with little red kisses. You sneakily glance down at your phone. Just once. But as you do, you immediately realise that you have made a massive mistake. Guilt rises instantly, like when you bite into a chocolate three days into your Banting diet. The latest Whatsapp message glares at you. You can only see the first three words: “Congratulations! You have …”

IT BEGAN WITH THAT FAMILIAR DESK BUZZ. STARTING SUBTLY, YOU ARE ABLE TO REFUSE IT. IGNORE IT. PUT IT OUT OF YOUR MIND COMPLETELY, CONTINUING TO FOCUS INTENTLY ON SOLITAIRE. You know exactly what it is. You have deleted so many similar messages without even thinking about it a million times before. But, still, you can’t ignore it. It is starting to burn. Deeply. The desk shakes again. Really shakes this time. You can’t keep it up anymore. You grab the bloody phone and hungrily start reading the three messages that you’ve missed, ashamed. My experiment lasted thirty-six minutes and six seconds. I am a nomophobe. An addict. A week later, I took a walk down to the Umthombo Building, barefoot, still sulking. “Why can’t I just leave the damn thing alone?” I asked Professor Andrew Thatcher, Chair of Industrial and Organisational Psy– chology at Wits. He sets my mind at ease. I am not an addict, he says. Our need and ability to use technology is part of what makes us human. If it was not for technology, I would have had to walk a kilometer or two to my neighbour, just to deliver an invitation (scratched out on a piece of rock) to my next party. A day or two later – after consulting with his wife – he would have had to do the same just to tell me he can make it. “Technology just makes things easier for us,” says Thatcher. “It makes communication more efficient, so we do it more often. You still have the need to understand what other people are doing, and to make a connection with other people. It is just easier for us to do that now.” Back in the office, I feel better about myself. But that damn Queen of Hearts is still sending me those emojis. 37


FROM NEUTRINOS TO THE MADALA HYPOTHESIS In 1961, Wits acquired a small, cheap nuclear reactor from a laboratory linked to Cambridge University. Professor Friedel Sellschop, a 28-year-old genius with a doctorate in nuclear physics, arranged for this reactor to be housed in the Nuclear Physics Research unit. Sellschop founded this Unit in 1955/56 after constructing it from scratch in the veld north of Wits.

In February 1965, Reines and Sellschop set up equipment three kilometers down the East Rand Proprietary Mine in Boksburg. Here they observed a naturally occurring neutrino for the first time.


Sellschop mentored a generation of Wits students who benefited from his insatiable curiosity and ability to recognise research potential in an array of areas. He was central to positioning Wits University as a global parti– cipant in scientific research, including in the observation of the Higgs Boson or “God Particle” in July 2012.


The reactor was fundamental to the success of Sellschop and an international team detecting neutrinos found in Nature. Neutrinos – Italian for ‘little neutral ones’ – are tiny subatomic particles produced by the stars that make up a considerable amount of matter in the Universe. Neutrinos can be detected only in very sophisticated experiments. Since the 1930s scientists had theorised about their existence but it was only in 1956 that US nuclear physicist, Fred Reines, detected them in a nuclear reactor. He called them “the tiniest quantity of reality ever imagined by a human being”.


Sellschop had taken to heart the advice of his mentor, Sir Basil Schonland (who pioneered RADAR during World War II), to “seek opportunities for your research that exploit what is unique to your local environment”.

These early attempts to understand the inner workings of the atom have expanded beyond expectation. The linear accelerators of the 1950s, located at Wits, have morphed into our participation in the physics being uncovered in the Large Hardon Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. This multi-national project smashes atoms using enormous amounts of energy to reveal subatomic particles – like the Higgs Boson. Professor Bruce Mellado, who leads the Wits High Energy Physics team in this big science project, in collaboration with scientists in India and Sweden, have formulated the Madala hypothesis based on an independent study of public results from experiments at the LHC. The Madala hypothesis points to another subatomic particle - all of which demonstrates how great science often grows from small beginnings with a ‘tiny’ bit of nurturing and lots of talent, into world-changing contributions.

TSHIMOLOGONG WITS’ NEW DIGITAL INNOVATION PRECINCT Tshimologong (Setswana for new beginnings) is Johannesburg’s newest high-tech address in vibrant Braamfontein. Tshimologong focuses on digital hardware, software and content, and serves as a:

Tshimologong encourages tech innovation and co– llaboration between the University’s researchers and students and the private, public and civil society sectors in Johannesburg. Wits is driving the deve– lopment of a successful technology ecosystem in the

- start-up incubator, - business accelerator, and - base for developing high level tech skills for students, working professionals, programmers, designers, developers, entrepreneurs, unemployed youth and others.

centre of Africa’s most important business and eco– nomic hub. It will complement the University’s suite of ICT-related offerings in research, courses and pro– grammes in software engineering, data science, big data, digital business, and others. Tshimologong - developing a new generation of digital technology experts, innovators and entrepreneurs.

“We hope that transforming Braamfontein into Africa’s premier technology hub will inspire new talent, create jobs and lead to an economic renaissance.” – Wits Professor Barry Dwolatzky, the founder of the tech hub and Director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering.


Produced by Wits Communications and the Wits Research Office, 2017 Fifth floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, Jorissen Street, Braamfontein Campus East Tel. : +27 (0) 11 717 1000 | Email: |


Curiosity Issue 2  

In this second issue of Wits University’s new research magazine we look at the interaction of human beings and technologies at the advent of...