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iSmile – The Tech Report: 10 -14 February 2014

MONDAY

I am very keen on our leaders motioning in the right direction when it comes to embracing the future.

Not much has been happening amongst the grouping that represents the world’s strongest emerging economies – and known as BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA.

But it turns out, last year’s Brics Summit in Durban resolved to hold a ministerial summit on science, technology and innovation.

They are being hosted here by our Department of Science and Technology.

Tommy Makhode speaks for the department and he started by acknowledging that we don’t hear from the Brics often enough.

Which is of course wonderful to hear and means that the atmosphere could be ripe for an agreement of some sort to be signed.

Tommy says the delegates will be focussing on two areas.

Now when it comes to this area, China is miles ahead of everyone else, pretty much dominating the world’s tech production and assembly.

So the rest of us have a lot of catching up to do.

Tommy says – in this regard – they hope to set the ball rolling on a number of issues.

The forward team of department heads started their preparatory meetings yesterday (on Sunday) already, while the heavyweights are due to arrive in Kleinmond today (Monday).

Tommy says it’s not going to be all talk though as we show off how latest and most advanced scientific achievement to date.

Of course i-smile will be keeping a close eye on what comes out of the Brics Ministerial Summit on science, technology and innovation and especially how it applies to you and I.

TUESDAY

i-smile has featured a variety of prosthetics over time – each with their own innovative breakthroughs and cutting edge applications.

Their commonalities are that they aim to restore the function of a lost limb.

European scientists have been taking this to its logical next step – a bionic hand with tactile and sensory ability, meaning not only does it function like a hand, but it can actually feel things and relay it to the brain.

The LifeHand-2 is an amazing advance in biotechnology as Italian research leader Professor Silvestro Micera explains.

Their test subject was Dennis Sorensen – a 36-year-old father of two who lost his left lower limb in a fireworks accident nine years ago.

First the scientists had to ensure that the nerves at the end of his severed limb were still working, before teaching a computer to receive and understand them.

Then complex algorithms refine the rough electrical signals into impulses which his brain could interpret without being overloaded with sensory input.

It’s still very rudimentary, with cables hanging from just about everywhere, but it works, transmitting the sensory data to Dennis in real time.

The international team’s greatest success came when Dennis was blindfolded and was asked to identify objects just through touch.

Dennis says the bionic prosthetic was an amazing thing that returned to him something we all take for granted –physiological independence!

Unfortunately, due to regulations for clinical trials, Dennis was only able to have the electrodes implanted for one month, but Prof. Silvestro’s team will now continue to advance the technology, making smaller versions of the sensors that are more finely tuned and adding greater dexterity in the fingers.

(The next step is an entire exo-skeleton or as some people prefer to call them – The Ironman Suit – able to not only support weight and physiological functions but actually enhance them too.

In other words, not only will it allow paralysed people to run, but to run faster and jump higher than the rest of us.

And yes rudimentary prototypes already exist! But they are less an Ironman Suit and more intelligent metallic supports that you strap to the outside of your limbs.

But it certainly brings some science fiction a bit closer to actual reality.

WEDNESDAY

When it comes to consumer electronics, what happens in Silicon Valley can often be seen as a precursor of what’s to come for the rest of us.

As the theft of smart phones and tablets sky rocket, law makers in California want to make it compulsory for these devices to have built-in “kill switches.”

The new legislation will require that new smartphones or tablets have technology that could be used to remotely render them useless.

Brainstorm Magazine Editor Samantha Perry agrees that this is a good idea in principle, but says legislating it may be going a bit too far.

The politicians want the cell-phone industry to take the necessary steps to curb especially violent smartphone thefts and protect the safety of the very consumers they rely upon to support their businesses

They are also proposing fines for service providers or manufacturers that do not include mechanisms to instantly disable them.

Definitely a good idea in principle, until Samantha points out that it’s an area that has already been considered.

Unfortunately these APPs destroy the information on the phone, so backing up is an essential part of your process.

It also does not necessarily disable the device offering only protection against the information that’s on it.

Well at least from the prying eyes of others.

Samantha regularly questioned the wisdom of actual laws for this, but remained resolute that the idea is necessary in current times.

And in there somewhere lies an attractive business idea for someone.

THURSDAY

By now you know how much i-smile enjoys featuring high performing South Africans.

Especially the ones who defy convention and establish themselves in business, despite having the odds stacked against them.

Alex Fourie is just such a young man.

He has just been listed at number nine in the highly respected Forbes Magazine’s 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa.

Alex runs a company called iFix, which he started in his dorms at Stellenbosch University in 2007.

Since starting iFix and seeing the demand for out of warrantee repairs, Alex has since started several auxiliary service for such devices.

Now that is clever growth within your core business.

At the beginning of the year, we heard from the head of Business Partners Limited, who encouraged exactly this type of self-development; teaching yourself the ins-and-outs of your own sector and making sure you can sustain consistent growth.

This Capetonian spotted a very clever gap in the market and went for it.

It’s a philosophy he now preachers to others interested in starting their own businesses.

Distilling the core lesson there:

Don’t sit around waiting for things to happen and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

And speaking of fearless entrepreneurs: next week, we look at some of the finalists in Google’s Africa Connected competition. Six of the 20 hail from South Africa.

FRIDAY

In lieu of Valentine’s Day (today), I’ve decided to tell you about some interesting research into whether there is in fact a mathematical algorithm for love.

You will be shocked at how much research has been done into the effectiveness of online dating. And in the very latest, there are claims of a method that markedly improves your chances of finding a love match online.

It’s called “collaborative filtering” – a similar system used by online commerce companies like amazon and is based on user recommendations, not merely profiles filled out by love seekers which may be incomplete or inaccurate.

So if I post a comment on Facebook, and all my female friends go gaga over it, then the system matches my information with theirs and finds the one or two with whom I’m most likely to connect.

Apparently, it has increased online love matches by around 40%.

All of this comes amid a huge global increase in online dating, a topic that lies close to the heart of Eli Finkel – Professor of Psychology at America’s North-Western University.

He says doing online dating may be a bit of a blinkered approach to love.

When it comes to romantic self-insight – the title of Prof Eli’s talk – he warns that some things are obvious.

Now as the science of love and romantic compatibility is debated, more and more people are turning to new mobile dating apps, which help identify available partners nearby based on smartphone geo-location.

Some of these apps allow people to make their own assessment of a dating prospect.

And this sits very well with Prof Eli.

It’s the X-Factor that Prof Eli is talking about.

That thing that makes the two of you click, instead of you clicking your mouse all by yourself.

Matters of the heart are complicated enough.

It seems trying to understand it is just making it even more complicated.

But since this is clearly not about FINDING love but about AVOIDING heart ache an old adage springs to mind.

“It’s not about finding the right partner … it’s about being the right partner.”

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