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Africa’s AI community launches two initiatives seeking AI and data science solutions for Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Dr Nick Bradshaw, Co-founder of AI Expo Africa

Two members of Africa’s artificial intelligence (AI) community – data science competition platform Zindi and Ghana’s Runmila AI Institute – in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, have launched two initiatives seeking AI and data science solutions that will help in the fight against the viral disease.

As of 16 March there were about 169 387 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and over 6 500 reported deaths around the world.

In a bid to fight the virus, Zindi has launched a challenge sponsored by the Artificial Intelligence for Development-Africa Network (AI4D-Africa) which asks data scientists to build an epidemiological model that predicts the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world over the next few months. The platform says the solutions will be evaluated against future data.

Zindi points out that accurate modelling of the spread of viral diseases like COVID-19 is critical for policy makers and health workers to take appropriate actions to contain and mitigate the impact of these diseases.

The challenge, titled AI4D Predict the Global Spread of COVID-19, was launched on 13 March, with submissions set to close on 19 April. At the end of the challenge, participants with solutions that place first will receive a $2,500 prize, this while second and third placed data science practitioners will receive $1,500 and $1,000, respectively for their solutions.

On 21 March, Accra-based Runmila AI Institute will hold the Runmila AI4COVID-19 Hackathon and AI Research Fellowship Event at the University of Ghana.

Also Read: Women in Tech: Interview With Ellen Fischat, Founder Story Room and Inspiring Fifty SA Ambassador

The event aims to use AI and data science to combat COVID-19 in Ghana and Africa.

Runmila will host the event in collaboration with minoHealth AI Labs. In attendance will be Runmila AI Fellows and alumni, data scientists and AI engineers from minoHealth AI Labs and Gudra, virologists as well as bioinformaticians from the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) and delegates from organisations that include German development agency GIZ, UN Global Pulse and Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Dr Nick Bradshaw, Co-founder of AI Expo Africa, the largest AI business community in Africa stated, “With the announcement by the South African President on Sunday 15th March around measures to combat the growing COVID19 virus we want our community to play its part and leverage data science and artificial intelligence to help model the spread of the COVID-19 virus. These two platforms and associated challenges will contribute to the global body of knowledge to help combat COVID-19. We are all in this together and have to help people, families, businesses, front line workers, society and the world cope with this global issue – these two initiatives are a significant contribution from Africa”.

Young data scientists looking to participate in the event can apply to join the Runmila AI Fellowship programme by filling this form https://forms.gle/h26617RknRCjNGc66

Learn more about the Zindi’s AI4D Predict the Global Spread of COVID-19 challenge : https://zindi.africa/competitions/predict-the-global-spread-of-covid-19

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Viero: A SaaS Platform Enabling Entrepreneurs Create Food Delivery App Without Code In 60 Seconds

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Viero & Zistify Founders, Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude

Launching a food delivery start-up requires an entrepreneur to manage 4 aspects; Restaurants, Delivery Agents, Customers, and the most costly of them all, an application. Building a food delivery application can cost up to $60 000. There are also additional costs that need to be paid on a monthly basis to maintain and improve the application. “This is a major barrier to entry into the food delivery industry in Africa” said Basheer Phiri, the founder and CEO of Viero.

“Because of these high costs, we see a lot of food delivery Startups all over Africa serving the urban market, because it is big, and has enough customers to cover the development and maintenance costs and make a profit.” Basheer believes that food delivery Startups do not target township and non-urban areas because these markets need to be built from the group up, which means additional marketing costs and slower growth and adoption rates.

Therefore, coupled with the need to cover maintenance costs and the demand for growth and traction from investors, food delivery Startups prefer competing in the already established urban markets. This has led to high concentration in urban markets while non-urban markets remain relatively untapped.

“We saw this and realised that there was value that could be created” said Basheer. “After speaking to a few interested entrepreneurs, we saw that they could manage every aspect of the food delivery business, but could not afford to pay for an App. That is how Viero was born”

Viero is a SaaS Platform that enables entrepreneurs to create a food delivery web application with no code in 60 seconds. (Here’s how it works – https://youtu.be/1T9oxNtRDpM).

The platform built a standard food delivery application template and enables it to be cloned, rebranded and hosted through white-labelling. Entrepreneurs can use the application under a monthly subscription and have access to many features depending on their chosen plan. Entrepreneurs can also make changes to the layout and design of their app, all without any code.

Launched in South Africa on 1 June 2020, the platform has achieved amazing uptake thus far. 22 Apps in total have been created with 2 Food delivery Startups that are live and operating in South Africa and 20 other Startups preparing for launch. 108 orders have been delivered, with R4700 processed in transactions, 200 customer users, 16 listed stores and 45 delivery agents. 

Viero was launched by UCT students Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude. They met in their first year in 2018 as residents of Smuts Hall Residence at The University of Cape Town, when they were introduced by a mutual friend who noticed their passion for entrepreneurship. Since then, they have worked together on several Startups and projects.

Also Read: Radisson Hotel Group announces new appointments to drive its expansion for Africa

Basheer and Hopewell are not new to the food delivery industry. In 2019, they launched Zistify, a food delivery start-up for the university market. Zistify delivers food ordered from food vendors on campus through it’s app to university students and staff. 

Viero is in capable hands and is ready to disrupt the food delivery industry in Africa. Currently raising a $100 000 seed round to incorporate logistics into its business offering, to bring in more talent to the team, and to continue building and improving the platform.

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HUAWEI CLOUD, A Leading Tech Giant Partners AI Expo Africa 2020

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HUAWEI CLOUD has joined AI Expo Africa 2020 as a headline partner. The annual event is Africa’s largest artificial intelligence (AI), data science and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) trade-focused show and conference. The third edition of the expo, which will be held as a virtual event this year, will take place on 3 and 4 September.

Besides making the show more inclusive, the new format will make it easier for African startups and innovators to join the event along with European, US, Middle East and Asian companies seeking to enter the African market and unlock new customers and distribution partners.

HUAWEI CLOUD has more 30 years of technological know-how, innovation and expertise in ICT infrastructure. With over 200+ cloud services across 18 categories, the firm’s affordable and inclusive AI services enable enterprises to grow in a stable, secure and progressive environment.

The tech giant spans many availability zones within geographic regions around the world, with global data centres in Johannesburg, Bankgok, Singapore, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago, Mexico City, as well as in China. Its recent successes in the AI field include the implementation of a new automated traffic system to ease congestion in Nairobi, Kenya.

HUAWEI CLOUD has also developed more than 60 general purpose solutions such as SAP, HPC, IoT, security, DevOps and OPv6, and over 80 industry-specific solutions for various sectors like manufacturing, e-commerce, gaming finance, Internet of Things (IoT) as well as Internet of Vehicles (IoV). In addition, HUAWEI CLOUD provides a powerful computing platform and easy-to-use development platform to support Huawei’s full-stack, all-scenario AI strategy.

HUAWEI CLOUD is the latest in a string of international firms and organisations that have signed up as as sponsors and will be exhibiting at AI Expo Africa 2020. These include UK-based RPA pioneer Blue Prism, and US-based cloud customer experience market leader Genesys.

The initial AI Expo Africa 2020 speaker line-up is led by Kay Firth-Butterfield, Head of AI and Machine Learning at the World Economic Forum; Neil Sahota, IBM Master Inventor, UN AI expert and lecturer at University of California, and Fred Werner, Head of Strategic Engagement at the International Telecommunication Union, and Bayo Adekanmbi, CTO MTN Nigeria and founder of Data Science Nigeria.

Other confirmed keynote speakers now include; South Africa’s Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and Postal Services Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams; Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Johannesburg and Deputy Head of the 4IR Commission of South Africa.

Also Read: Black Founders: Here are some fundraising and networking opportunities

The speaker line up also includes enterprise executives from SAP, Vodacom, UiPath, Microsoft, Standard Bank, Oracle and ABSA. Entrepreneurs and thought leaders from Genesys, Ashanti AI, FinChatBot, Zindi, FIRtech, Future Fragment, and WizzPass will also be present in the virtual exhibition hall with its eBooth functionality – offering sponsors, vendors and service providers a means to interact with delegates and showcase or demo their offerings just as they would in a face-to-face trade show.

HUAWEI CLOUD joins a growing list of thought leaders and companies that have engaged with the AI Expo Africa community over the years. AWS, Microsoft, Google Cloud, IBM, PWC, Kenyan Government, ITU, Nvidia, Intel, SA Government, Dimension Data, UiPath, Blue Prism, Vodacom, Hikvision, SAP, SAS, Telkom, Deloitte, Accenture, EY, Persistent Systems, ABSA and Standard Bank have all been part of the community as the show grows into the next decade.

AI EXPO AFRICA

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Top remote working cyber risks and solutions

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Remote work (Image credit microsoft)

The Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) outlines safer online meeting and home network measures

Home-based workers are at increased risk of cyber attack, but there are several measures they can take to reduce risk.

This is according to Bryan Baxter, a corporate IT business development manager and IITPSA KZN chapter committee member, who was addressing an IITPSA KZN Chapter webinar last week.

The webinar, focusing on cybersecurity and etiquette for remote work and meetings, outlined a significant shift in cyber risk facing companies and their employees.

“The abrupt move to remote working and cloud has driven many companies to try and do in a matter of months what others took years to achieve,” Baxter said.  This move has strained IT resources and highlighted vulnerabilities in home IT environments, which cyber criminals were taking advantage of.

“Security and communications at home are typically not sufficient for corporate usage,” Baxter warned.

Reducing home worker cyber risk

Corporate data is at risk in home user environments due to common vulnerabilities in home networks, and the fact that many users were unaware that their personal information may already have been compromised, Baxter said.

Baxter said key risks among remote workforces included vulnerable endpoints, data leakage, password compromises, the use of shadow IT, a lack of corporate VPNs and insecure meeting solutions.

“A layered defence approach is needed to protect users, data, networks, devices and technology,” he said. “IT professionals need to make users’ lives easier and they must make it easy for end users to stay secure, or we will see the emergence of shadow IT and greater risk.”

He recommended a number of ways to mitigate risk in home user environments: “Enhance user awareness training, implement stronger two-factor authentication and keep personal and work systems separate. Corporates should ensure that they have classified their data and that sensitive data is adequately protected from employees working at home. Regularly backing up both work and private data is essential. Use a VPN to access important systems, and secure home routers and wireless devices.

Updated endpoint protection such as anti-virus and host based firewalls are important. These are now moving to more advanced threat protection such as ERD or endpoint detection and response. This is important because standard AV does not pick up shell scripting compromises.  Home systems must be patched and kept up to date, and ideally home users should create separate admin and user accounts on their home computers.”

He also emphasized the need to change the default admin password on the home router; enable WAP2 encryption; and use a strong password for the home wireless network.

Also Read African Women in GIS (AWiGIS)- Our Story

Selecting safer virtual meeting solutions

With a webinar participant poll revealing that 38% of participants most often use Microsoft Teams, 42% use Zoom, and 9% use Google Meet for video conferencing, Baxter noted that selecting the right solutions for enterprise use was crucial for security and data protection.

He highlighted cases in which meetings had been compromised and videos of meetings posted online. “If you’re going to have a board meeting or talk about your financial results, you need to think about the solution you’re using,” he said.

“Enterprises need to look first at the vendor – asking what is their support like, and can you trust them. Then consider the solution – asking how good is the product, how is it rated and how secure is it?” Considerations should include whether the solution was fit for purpose, its cost and the ease of integration and mobility options.

Factors that should be considered include whether the video conferencing solution offers full end to end encryption, where data is be stored and whether this data would remain private, if meetings could be password protected, the level of host control to mute, block and drop attendees, the visibility of attendees, and if information could be protected from unauthorised modification, access and disclosure.

Etiquette for online meetings

Baxter recommended several basic measures to improve security and effectiveness of online meetings: “Test the technology before the meeting; have a plan and agenda; appoint a moderator; only invite participants who need to be there; and lock the conference and put passwords on entry. Inform participants if you are recording the meeting and introduce everyone at the beginning. Participants should have a clean, work appropriate background for the video call;  be aware of their audio and video settings; they should look into the camera and not at themselves while speaking; and they should  eliminate distractions and focus on the agenda: be present, mute your mic when not speaking and don’t do other work during the meeting,” he said.  

The IITPSA KZN chapter webinar was one of a series of new webinars IITPSA is rolling out to enhance communication and knowledge sharing among members. The Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA) CEO Tony Parry noted that the Institute is also increasing the frequency of its new Tabling Tech webinars, designed to give in-depth insights into emerging technologies.

Issued by ITP communications on behalf of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA)

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