The Philippines is now anticipating better internet connectivity after Congress approved an increased budget to improve broadband services.
In a statement released on 13 December, the Philippine Congress announced that it has doubled the nation’s budget allocation for broadband services in an attempt to generate more jobs and scale-up internet connectivity even in remote parts of the country.
Senator Sonny Angara, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, stated that Congress has approved the overall national budget of PHP 4.5 trillion (US$ 93.6 billion) under the General Appropriations Bill Wednesday last week.
Of this amount, the funding for the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) National Broadband Program (NBP) was doubled to PHP 1.9 billion (US$ 39.5 million). This was a massive increase from the PHP 903.194 million (US$ 18.8 million) earlier proposed in the National Expenditure Program.
This amount is on top of funding allotted for DICT’s undertaking to provide free Wi-Fi services in public places and state universities and colleges or SUCs. The budget for free Wi-Fi services was increased to PHP 250 million (US$) while the allocation for free internet in SUC’s also received more funding.
Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act mandates that free internet access in all government offices and public places shall be provided. The same directive is also given to academic institutions owned by the state. These services will be beneficial for students who have been continuously adapting to flexible and alternative methods of learning.
There is optimism that the country can expect better internet connectivity after the completion of the first phase of the NBP. He noted that there is now an added imperative to push for better internet infrastructure and emphasised the growing need to “also look at the actual internet infrastructure because that will provide greater investments”.
Generating more jobs and boosting the economy
Aside from improving the current state of internet connectivity in all areas in the Philippines, better broadband infrastructure means the possibility of more investments coming into the country. This is expected to generate “more high-paying jobs and stable economic activity”.
The legislator also said that the country has to have more reliable internet services which have become more urgent in light of the new normal posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another upside to investing in broadband infrastructure is that government expenses for internet services will be reduced considerably. The DICT explained through figures that every month, each government office now spends an average of PHP 350 (US$ 7.29) per Mbps of internet bandwidth. An agency consuming 100 Mbps of internet connection pays PHP 35,000 (US$ 728.5) every month for internet.
Upon the completion of the first phase of the NBP, the DICT estimates that the monthly internet expenses of an average size government agency would be decreased to PHP 5,000 (US$ 104). With these projected figures, the government can thus be expected to save PHP 720 million (US$ 14.9 million) during the first year of the adoption of the NBP.
The higher budget allotted for internet services comes after efforts were exerted by legislators in pushing for increased funding for the NBP. As reported by OpenGov Asia, legislators earlier asked for an allotment of PHP 5.9 billion (US$ 122.61 million) which would go to broadband services. Senator Grace Poe, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services, stated in that report that this is the first time that spending on telecommunications services would be a part of the national budget, as most investments in broadband infrastructure in the Philippines have been made by businesses in the private sector.
New Zealand has been a strong advocate of digital inclusion and this is reflected in their report on Digital inclusion user insights – Disabled people.
The purpose of this research was to understand the perceptions and feelings about digital inclusion from disabled people as they went about their daily lives. The goal was to understand the key pain points for individuals, what they liked about the current online environment and what improvements could be made to ensure a more equitable digital environment for all.
The report estimates that by the mid-2030s, 24% of jobs in New Zealand could be automated and a new range of jobs will have emerged. As digital technologies weave their way into lives, they impact society and the way things are done. It is therefore vital that everyone can participate fully in, and make the most of, an increasingly digital world: this is digital inclusion. There are four interdependent elements, which are all needed for a person to be digitally included. They are motivation, access, skills, and trust.
When digital inclusion is discussed in research papers such as Motu Research’s Digital Inclusion and Wellbeing in New Zealand, the following people are often identified as being most at risk of digital exclusion: Disabled people, Māori, Pasifika people, People in social housing, Seniors, Un- and under-employed and Remote communities.
Some of the key findings were:
- Need to enforce the Web Accessibility Standard and support better accessibility education
- More human-centred design and co-design practices required
- Need to reduce cost barriers and provide skills training
- Digital inclusion for disabled people should be prioritised
The NZ government is providing $3 million in one-off seed funding to help disabled people around New Zealand stay connected and access support in their communities according to an announcement by Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni.
The funding will allow disability service providers to develop digital and community-based solutions over the next two years for disabled people impacted by COVID-19, starting in 2021. The minister confirmed that 16 organisations would receive funding for initiatives that would help disabled people to access support, be independent and keep in touch with their friends and whānau in innovative and sustainable ways.
There have been a number of creative and innovative initiatives – from helping people with dementia to create their own digital storybook of memories, to online dance and music workshops for disabled people in rural areas, and online spaces for matching disabled people to mentors and volunteers. There is also a strong focus on initiatives that encourage community participation, which is vital for disabled people’s wellbeing and a sense of belonging.
The government was optimistic to see support for the disability community across New Zealand and its role in helping the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This seed funding is part of the Government’s response during the first lockdown for disabled people, which was allocated for the 2021 financial year. Regular progress updates will be required for the period of the seed funding.
The Disability Action Plan presents priority work programmes and actions developed through a co-design process by government agencies, disabled people and their representative organisations. The work programmes and actions will advance implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016-2026.
From a digital perspective, several outcomes would significantly depend on and benefit from tech deployment
- Involving disabled people: When planning for and implementing their work programmes, each government agency is expected to engage effectively with disabled people.
- Ensuring data is disaggregated by disability: Statistics New Zealand and the Office for Disability Issues are joint leads for the Disability Data and Evidence Working Group’s work programme. All agencies are expected to promote the use of the Washington Group sets of questions on disability in government surveys.
- Monitoring and reporting progress: It is important to report on and monitor the Action Plan’s progress.
- Governance: The Ministerial Leadership Group on Disability Issues is the primary governance lever, together with ongoing engagement with agency chief executives and senior officials.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry has been very supportive of the efforts of other ministries and institutions that have been proactive in using industrial technology 4.0 to support their activities to be more productive and efficient. A prime example of this is the Indonesian National Police (Polri) who are implementing the Police 4.0 programme under the National Police Chief, Komjen Listyo Sigit Prabowo.
Speaking at a programme in Jakarta, Director General of Metal, Machinery, Transportation and Electronics Industry (ILMATE), Taufiek Bawazier reacted positively to the Police 4.0 programme plan, as it is in line with the Making Indonesia 4.0 road map priority program which also supports the electronics and telematics industry sector.
The minister was confident that digital transformation in the police department would have a positive impact on innovation and growth in the domestic industrial sector, especially industries producing hardware and software for artificial intelligence (AI).
The use of AI technology in the police, such as Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) goes a long way in reducing the burden on the police in monitoring road violations. Additionally, the use of surveillance equipment and drones can assist the police in reducing crime rates and providing effective services to the public more optimally. Deployment of technology not only facilitates better citizen-services but can be a driver for the domestic industry that produces and manages such technology solutions.
“This programme provides an opportunity for the nation’s citizens to make software and hardware applications in accordance with the needs of the Police,” said Taufiek.
The Director General of ILMATE said that the domestic electronic industry is committed in its support of the police create Police 4.0. He firmly believes that the Indonesian police would be able to take advantage of the tech developments in the Industrial 4.0.
For example, Thermal Imaging to assist in dark conditions, biometric applications to reveal fingerprints and DNA and the use of GPS for shot spotting in case of a shooting. In addition, he agreed that the use of facial recognition is to be able to speed up identification while analytics can aid in resolving problems in the field. The role of the camera and robotics industry, according to Taufiek, should also be strategically utilised by the police. Equipping cameras in the field that are connected to the head office will provide efficiency in the work of the police and to provide better community services. He believes that the readiness of big data and a secure cloud must be a priority if AI-enabled solutions are to be implemented by the police.
Responding to concerns that Police 4.0 would contribute to job losses and in a reduction of police personnel, Bawazier actually feels that the program would increase the number of jobs in the police and the nation.
He emphasised that the tech-readiness of the National Police would only be possible if supported by competent human resource. Relevant training must be made available so that the application of police technology is sustainable. Professionals, skilled manpower and experts in technology would be needed to implement and deploy Police 4.0.
Further, skilled tech workers are essential for providers in the industrial sector continue to innovate and effectively supply products, solutions and technology for the service needs of the police. New technology, digital products and solutions will create a large number of new job opportunities.
The Minister of Tribal Affairs, Arjun Munda, recently virtually launched ShramShakti, a national migration support portal. It was unveiled through a video conference at a programme held at Panjim, Goa. The portal will collect data related to tribal migrant workers and link them with the existing welfare schemes.
According to a press release, the portal will also aid the creation and development of state- and national-level programmes for migrant workers. The Minister launched a tribal migration cell, a tribal museum at Goa, and ShramSaathi, which is a training manual for migrant workers.
The Chief Minister of Goa, Pramod Sawant, also launched a migration cell in Goa to facilitate and support migrants who come from different states. Speaking at the occasion, Minister Munda mentioned that the lack of real-time data on migrants is the biggest challenge for state and national governments to formulate effective strategies and policy decisions for the welfare of migrant workers at both source and destination states.
The migration of the tribal population is distress-driven, and the migrants are exposed to difficult and unsafe conditions. Sometimes they face trafficking or wage harassment issues including many occupational hazards at their workplace, the Minister said.
India has the world’s largest diaspora with about 18 million people born there now living abroad, according to the director of the United Nation’s Population Division at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
The Minister explained that the tribal migration repository, ShramShakti will be able to successfully address the data gap and empower migrant workers who generally migrate in search of employment and income generation. It would also help the government to link the migrant population with the existing Welfare Scheme- under Atam Nirbhar Bharat. The data that will be recorded via Shram Shakti include demographic profiles, livelihood options, skill mapping, and migration patterns.
The government also launched the tribal training module ShramSaathi, which will ensure that the process of livelihood migration is safe and productive. Tribal migrant workers often have low awareness about their rights and entitlements and ways to access services and social security in source and destination areas, the Minister explained. After training using this module, tribal migrant workers will be able to demand and access services and rights related to livelihood and social security at their village before migration, as well after migration at destination towns and cities.
Chief Minister Sawant noted that Goa is going to be the first destination state of India to set up a dedicated migration cell to address diverse issues of migrant workers. The cell will address multiple needs of migrants, including legal support, skill development, job linkages, access to public services health, insurance, and financial inclusion.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs received the SKOCH Challenger Award for Best Performance in e-Governance for its initiatives taken during last year. The Ministry also received 3 Gold Awards for its initiatives. These included the eco-rehabilitation of tribal villages through innovative design in water management using ice-stupa; Swasthya: Tribal Health and Nutritional Portal; and the Performance Dashboard- Empowering Tribals Transforming India.
Australia Post is building a digital twin of its entire delivery network as part of continued efforts to use advanced analytics to detect and intervene on mail and parcel delivery problems.
The delivery network digital twin was revealed by Australia Post’s general manager of data science and strategy on a podcast earlier this month. Much of the work of the data science team that General Manager leads is well-documented.
The team, which was formed under finance but now sits in Post’s transformation and enablement function, is responsible for standing up several advanced analytics assets, including a data lake of sorts called Zoltar, named after the fortune-telling machine in the 1988 film Big.
More recently, it is responsible for Dexter, an “AI data bot” fed real-time data on mail movements that alert facility managers to potential issues.
The General Manager stated, “If your parcel is moving through the network and it’s due to be delivered today but we don’t see it get scanned onto a van by 6 am, the facility manager will start to receive emails from Dexter saying, ‘these are parcels we’re supposed to get out today, they’re somewhere in your network, go look for them’.”
However, it is the General Manager’s work on a multi-layered digital twin of the entire Post delivery network that is likely to be of substantial interest. Digital twins are digital copies of physical assets that are often used to plan and test future scenarios without impacting normal operations. The GM stated in the podcast that the big thing that the team is working on is a digital twin of the entire Australia Post network. That is huge.
The team is approaching it holistically. When people think of digital twins, they think of more scenario-based modelling but the team is thinking about it more like a grid, so three layers – an intervention layer, a forecasting layer and a simulation layer, and then interaction zones – an interaction with retailers, an interaction with ourselves in the network, and then an interaction with Australia Post customers.
AP’s data models have to fit within one of those grids, and then every model they develop now has to be part of what they are calling the digital twin ecosystem. “It has to have a life that contributes to that ecosystem, and then over time we will have eventually built a digital twin of the network,” the GM said.
The delivery network digital twin appears to be the second digital twin project at Australia Post. Having hinted at producing a virtual reality tool that could help posties complete difficult or unfamiliar delivery rounds back in 2018, a proof-of-concept emerged in October last year.
A professional services organisation said on its website that ‘Parcelbot’, as the proof-of-concept is called, also counted as a digital twin environment. It said it worked “in partnership with Australia Post” and used a mix of virtual reality technology, a virtual assistant AI technology an American multinational technology company and the Unreal gaming engine to create the tool.
The PoC: create a digital twin environment for posties to capture and surface important information along their delivery routes, including customer preferences like safe to leave a parcel unattended, locked gate, and protective dog.
The unlisted video accompanying the PoC shows how a postie can ‘look’ at an address and immediately see an overlay of information, such as recorded notes about the residents, how many parcels they receive, and how often missed delivery cards need to be left at that address.
Eight Hong Kong universities are in line for grants totalling HK$165 million aimed at developing better virtual teaching methods, which are anticipated to become part of the “new normal” in coming years.
Online teaching was widely adopted amid the coronavirus pandemic as schools suspended face-to-face classes for months at a time to avoid infections. But the University Grants Committee (UGC), which funds the city’s public institutions of higher education, noted along with its Quality Assurance Council (QAC) on Thursday that they believed schools would continue to make use of virtual methods to enhance teaching and learning even after the pandemic ended.
The additional HK$165 million would be allocated to the eight universities funded by the committee to facilitate more systematic collaboration to promote the strategic development of virtual teaching and learning, a spokesman said.
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) recently announced that they welcomed the additional funding launched by the University Grants Committee (UGC) and the Quality Assurance Council (QAC) for universities to promote the development of virtual teaching and learning (VTL).
Over the years, PolyU has laid a solid foundation for VTL. In response to this new initiative, PolyU will actively propose innovative solutions, and continue to strive in acquiring more resources to promote the University’s development of VTL.
To address the long-term teaching and learning needs, our initial plans include: developing exemplary real-time delivery of online academic programmes and new paradigms of online teaching, as well as initiating VTL-related research.
In light of the ongoing pandemic situation, PolyU has been using different online teaching and learning platforms, while constantly upgrading its classroom facilities and providing training and technical support to staff and students to accommodate online and synchronous teaching. PolyU is also committed to digital transformation – some examples include building a teaching and learning centre that supplies e-learning resources and developing new online teaching solutions, such as using virtual reality (VR) technology in teaching and establishing Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
PolyU has furthermore dedicated its efforts in developing several online science experiment platforms in recent years, including the newly launched “Borderless Lab 365”. The platform enables students to perform real-time science experiments remotely anywhere and anytime, thereby significantly improving the effectiveness of teaching and learning. This innovative platform is not only being used by the students of PolyU but is also being deployed by various secondary schools. Feedback from teachers and students has been positive, this is a good testament to the competence of PolyU in effectively combining technology with teaching.
The Deputy President and Provost of PolyU stated, “The UGC and QAC attach great importance to promoting VTL, which is in line with PolyU’s strategic development. We hope that with this additional funding in place, PolyU can secure more resources to accelerate the progress of VTL, so as to enhance the overall experience and effectiveness of teaching and learning.”
Another university that received funding was The University of Hong Kong (HKU). A press release from the university stated that they also welcome the move by the UGC and the QAC to provide additional funding for universities’ virtual teaching and learning (VTL) initiatives.
The Vice-President (Teaching and Learning) stated, “In the past 15 months, HKU has engaged deeply with VTL as first the social unrest and then the pandemic moved much teaching and learning online. Additional funding from UGC will enable us to intensify our efforts to build on the many innovative practices developed by teachers and students throughout the campus. It will help us ensure that VTL is fully integrated into our strategic plans for T&L as we navigate the ‘new normal’ in the 2020s.”
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IIT-Bombay) have created an AI model to diagnose two species of malaria parasites by studying the changing trends of proteins in human blood. The project has been funded by the Department of Biotechnology.
According to a news report, the researchers recently developed proteomics technologies and made an artificial intelligence (AI)-based model in collaboration with three different hospitals across India. The model differentiates between two malaria parasites – P falciparum and P vivax – for better malaria diagnosis.
The researchers, from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, collected blood samples for strains of P falciparum, P vivax, and dengue from across the country. Including the Medical College Hospital in Kolkata, Sardar Patel Medical College in Bikaner, and Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai, along with blood samples of healthy people. Then, the team created a dataset to train the AI model.
The dataset was analysed, and the researchers studied the protein levels from blood plasma against the severity of malaria to create quantifiable data. The majority of malaria cases in India come from the malaria-vulnerable population, including workers at construction sites in malaria-endemic regions. These are regions without a proper drainage system, leaving standing water for days to facilitate mosquito breeding.
Other parts of the malaria-vulnerable population include people without awareness of the harmful effects of the standing water in their localities during the malaria season. The main issues at the time of the disease are quick diagnostic aids, which describe the causative agent of the disease, a researcher from the study explained.
Currently, the team is focused on creating a prototype of a diagnostic kit so that the technology is available for the mass-detection of the disease. The kit can be used to compile these panels of proteins for diagnostics and prognostic purposes. Once this prototype is ready, the team will compare the kit with the currently used RDT kits. The study involves a panel of proteins, which will help in the reduction of false-positive and false-negative results.
Since 2000, India cut malaria cases by more than half and the number of malaria deaths by more than two-thirds. Ending malaria remains a top government priority. In 2016, India introduced its first National Framework for Malaria Elimination (2016-2030). In 2019, the government increased funding by more than 25% for the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme.
At present, malaria diagnosis is undertaken by manually studying the blood samples for the parasites which still has difficulty in determining the progress of the disease. In the case of malaria, P falciparum, P vivax and other species are not differentiable through RDTs and ideally need an expert eye along with intensive work of looking at 100 fields of blood smear using microscopy, the gold standard for malaria diagnosis, the researcher noted.
During malaria season, the number of cases is high, resulting in an increased burden on clinicians for manual diagnosis. If the diagnosis, along with the timely progression prediction from non-severe malaria cases to severe, before the development of clinical manifestations is made for clinicians, then the treatment can be specific and efficient.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) will launch a digital asset trading platform in the second half of 2021 to allow trading on all types of digital token assets excluding cryptocurrencies. According to the SET, cryptocurrencies do not meet its product qualifications and could facilitate money laundering, while causing harm to the bourse’s image as a “high trust” exchange.
The Executive Vice-President of the SET stated that the digital asset platform will be similar to other popular e-commerce marketplaces but all products on SET’s platform will be digital token assets. He said tokens traded on the platform must meet at least one of three conditions. First, the token must have an underlying asset that investors can analyse on value. Second, it must be a valuable product that supports economic activities. Third, the product must have benefits to society and the environment.
The bourse also formulated a fully integrated distributed ledger technology (blockchain) and digital asset investment service in 2020 to link various digital asset exchanges, digital wallets and initial coin offering (ICO) portals in Thailand under one platform via a collaboration with an arm of a banking group in Thailand.
The bank will be responsible for sourcing and screening products entering the SET digital asset marketplace. The SET is looking to sign an agreement with other partners with an aim to achieve exponential growth through tech innovations and investments via its three arms.
The SET also has studied several ICO cases. Most projects being studied have the possibility of making profits in the future. In order to protect investors, the digital asset must meet at least one of the three conditions set by the SET but cryptocurrencies don’t meet any of them. Thus, they cannot be counted as the SET’s product even though some countries accept payments in cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrencies are currently used in some countries which are experiencing high inflation and currency fluctuations such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela as an equivalent of fiat money. Thailand has a strong economy. As inflation has remained low and the Bank of Thailand’s measures to keep the baht stable have worked in the past, the SET has no reason to support cryptocurrencies at the moment.
However, the Executive Vice-President said some stock exchanges in Europe currently provide cryptocurrency trading to attract digital asset investors before launching other digital token assets via their platforms.
He said one of the measures to prevent money laundering is to do “Know Your Customer” (KYC) with clients who open trading with the exchanges. KYC will filter and screen unusual investors who come to open trading accounts. Cryptocurrency is just one digital asset product among others, he added.
The bank and other ICO portal firms will search for new products and evaluate the ICO project before putting them on the trading platform. As each product has different characteristics, the bourse must employ experts from different areas to help screen the products.
Digital token assets can be many valuable things such as diamonds and title deeds.
The SET expects that the digital asset marketplace will grow faster than today’s stock market as it emerges in the 4.0 era, while the traditional markets were established in the 1.0 or 2.0 eras which had less technologies to facilitate trading. The stock and bond markets are also governed by regulations that are far less flexible than the digital asset law and usually need intermediaries such as brokers and banks to make transactions.