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I am a Camera

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

Do you recall a company called ‘Fones-4-U’?  It was operating here in the early to mid-nighties and was headquartered next to PG Glass in Old Lobatse Road.  The company offered what was at the time a very useful service – public pay phones at strategic points around the city, not the official BTC coin-operated variety but portable handsets, delivered daily in a fleet of liveried vehicles to various hawkers who offered the phone service on their tables, along with their offerings of fruit, sweets and single cigarettes.  Fones-4-U was aimed at people unable to afford a mobile phone or the rental charge on a BTC landline.  It offered one single function, operated very efficiently and was very successful.  Until it wasn’t.

In retrospect it is easy to predict its ultimate demise. Hindsight’s a wonderful gift, so they say, and looking back we can document the dramatic drop in price in mobile phones coupled with the extension of network coverage which meant that every man and his wife could now afford their own cell phone.  The mobile operators took advantage of availability to offer pre-paid unit bundles. Now, only a decade after the era of Fones-4-U, those same hawkers now sell airtime in the same way they once sold time on those telephones.

This story has many analogies in the global corporate world.  Perhaps the most notable in terms of size and universal recognition, is the Kodak Corporation, arguably the biggest name in photographic equipment and technology.  Founded in 1888 by George Eastman, Kodak led the world in camera manufacturing, along with film, paper and developing materials.  Kodak cameras outsold all other brands and their advertising slogan ‘Kodak Moment’ came into the vernacular and is still with us today.  By 1998 Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide.

At that time, remember, all photos were either developed from film and transferred onto photographic paper or placed in slides for screen projection.  Yet within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt. What subsequently happened to Kodak has been reciprocated in other companies and will no doubt be replicated in many more to come – they failed to look into their crystal ball and predict the digital picture revolution.  Who would have thought at the start of the new millennium that in a very short time, photographic film would become obsolete, and photo albums would no longer be physical storage books but digital platforms? Yet digital cameras had first appeared in 1975.

The early models had tiny pixel size and repro quality was poor.  In addition, they were expensive to own so in the ensuing quarter of a century they remained novelty items with limited appeal or usefulness.  As with all exponential technologies, the concept and design was a long time in refining but the new millennium heralded a new world in photography.  Not just the greatly-improved and much more affordable digital camera but now camera phones, some of which now offer amazing technology and sophisticated features.   

As would be expected, given the history of the Kodak Company, it did recover.  In January 2013, the Court approved financing for Kodak to emerge from bankruptcy.  It subsequently sold many of its patents for approximately $525,000,000 to a group of companies  including Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung and Adobe Systems and has now fully restructured and diversified into Personalised and Document Imaging.

And the mobile phone can lay claim to more monumental habit-changes. Uber is just a software tool, the company owns no cars yet it is now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don't own a single property.  And that’s just the beginning.

Consider this prediction by futurist Robert Goldman “Autonomous Cars: In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don't want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will never get a driver's license and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for that. We can transform former parking space into parks. 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 km, with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.”

Most car companies may become bankrupt. Traditional car companies try the evolutionary approach and just build a better car, while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will do the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels. Apparently a lot of engineers from Volkswagen and Audi are completely terrified of Tesla.

Insurance Companies will have massive trouble because without accidents, the insurance will become 100 times cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear.
Real estate will change because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in a more beautiful neighbourhood.

“Electric cars won’t become mainstream until 2020. Cities will be less noisy because all cars will run on electric. Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can only now see the impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. The price for solar will drop so much that all coal companies will be out of business by 2025.”

And all that from self-driving cars!

Then there’s 3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from $18,000 to $400 within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster.   Major shoe companies started 3D printing shoes and spare aeroplane parts are already 3D printed.  The space station now has its own printer to make the spares they used to have to keep on board in the past. In China, they have already 3D-printed a complete 6-storey office building. What all this is telling the canny entrepreneur is that when you think you see a niche gap in a market, ask yourself if it is something that will be needed in the future and  if you can do it on your phone or 3D-print it – if not, forget it.  I wonder if anyone’s thought of a 3D-printed 3D camera?  Just a thought.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or www.hrmc.co.bw

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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