Mic Mann on SingularityU and why SA needs to access the Global Economy

With the dust now settled in Johannesburg following last week’s SingularityU Summit, it’s time to reflect upon some of the intriguing ideas that were put forth, as well as how we plan to implement them for South Africa.

Touching on both of these elements is Mic Mann, who brought the Summit to South Africa three years ago in that time has been looking for some of the most forward-thinking minds around to explain their ideas to attendees.

Mann too has his own subject matter, and this year touched on the need for South Africa to access the global economy, having led several panel discussions on this topic during the two-day event last week.

We caught up with Mann at the event to pick his brain on the subject of the global economy and its importance to SA, along with how the Summit has evolved during its short local existence.

Hypertext: Before we delve into your focus for this year’s Summit, what are your thoughts on how things have evolved for SingularityU over the past three years?

Mic Mann: During the first year the Summit and the purpose behind it was to bring an exponential mindset to South Africa. In year two it was to create an awareness about what Singularity stands for, and how we can bring technology into our lives.

Now in year three we’ve taken a look at what some of the biggest problems we’re facing at the moment, like water, education and poverty. How can we focus on those issues and bring the very best thought leaders from those fields to try to educate people in South Africa.

Add to that the role that technology can play, and now we’re trying to see how best to address some of the problems that our country is facing.

Hypertext: Are there any technologies that were discussed from past Summits that you’ve seen come to fruition now? 

MM: In the first year we spoke about drones quite a bit, and I think the technology is taking off in an incredible way.

Matternet is a company that started out doing drone deliveries for medical samples and testing, and they’ve branched into several other fields and recently got multi-million dollar funding from Daimler.

Last year we had the founder of Made in Space attend the Summit, and he recently raised a few million in funding to build the Archinaut for NASA, which is a 3D printer that is capable of printing in space, and has the potential to even manufacture satellites.

So those are the kinds of stories we’ve been able to tell with SingularityU so far, and as a result it has been able to get people thinking differently in terms of how they invest in technology, approaching things not simply on what’s interesting now, but what’s going to happen in future.

Hypertext: So a big push for SingularityU is getting executives and business leaders thinking differently?

MM: Definitely. I think about the conversation I had recently with one of our speakers, Arturo Elizondo of Clara Foods.

He used to work in the government sector and tasked with looking at slaughter houses. When he began to understand the problems surrounding meat and food security, he was propelled to change his career and look at food security from a technological standpoint.

So just by learning something knew, it gives you the ability to take that knowledge and share it, or use it to create some sort of change.

Hypertext: Your subject matter here at SingularityU is the global economy. What is your take on it and what is it’s significance for South Africa?

MM: There’s a big shift happening in the global economy, where it is becoming less focused on the physical and more on the virtual and online.

As this shift is happening, we need to embrace these different platforms that are being created, as well as the new jobs being created, and have the scalable lifelong learning entrenched in us.

This is because the nations that embrace connectivity will be the ones which thrive in the future. Once you have access to information, your ability to learn becomes exponential.

That access also allows you to better prepare for some of the waves that are coming, like esports, gaming or virtual assistants. There are an estimated 25 000 virtual assistants in the world, which makes South Africa primed to disrupt its call centre market as an example.

Data labelling is another incredible technology that is primed to take off. It’s an industry which is untapped here in South Africa, and we’re currently trialling a project with the Maharishi Institute who are doing data labelling for a company in San Francisco called Labelbox.

So these are some of the reasons why the global economy will hold significance for the country moving forward.

Hypertext: What kind of role does government play in accessing the global economy. Is SingularityU in conversation with officials?

MM: Well one of the great things about this event is that our collaboration partner is the Development Bank of South Africa. As an organisation its focus is on creating prosperity in the country and having a tangible impact.

This aligns closely with our goal of futureproofing Africa, and it’s been great to work with them on some of the projects that they are working on, like the D Labs that will serve as education centres of the future for our country’s youth.

We’re also engaging with other sectors of government, and we were recently at the Kgalema Motlanthe Inclusive Growth event last week, and we got to speak with several ministers and decision makers on how to bring Singularity University to South Africa.

So there is definite interest.

Hypertext: Lastly, looking at next year’s Summit, will accessing the global economy be a topic for discussion, and if so how would conversations around it have evolved?

MM: Yes I think it will.

We’ll actually be having a number of discussions about leadership, entrepreneurship, high-speed connectivity, land, housing, as well as all the other elements involved in helping South Africa access the global economy and address problems with technology.

[Image – Photo by pina messina on Unsplash]


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