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Upcoming Events

Covid-19 Philosophy Week

The journal Philosophy of Medicine, the Department of HPS, Cambridge, and the Institute for the Future of Knowledge, University of Johannesburg bring you a multi-day programme of philosophical discussions responding to COVID-19. There are three events:

10-13 May, Conference: Philosophical Perspectives on COVID-19. More info | Register

12 May, Workshop: The Population and the Individual, part of the series Rethinking the Ethics of Vaccination organized by Emma Curran and Stephen John (Cambridge HPS). Register 

13 May, Panel: Philosophy of Medicine on COVID-19. More info | Register

Past Events (2021)

Webinar: A High-Level Overview of the Applications of Deep Learning-Based Forecasting in Finance (22 February, 2021)

The webinar centred on a high-level overview of the applications of deep learning-based forecasting in finance. A brief description of applications such as asset pricing in portfolio management, fraud and anomaly detection, risk prediction and data-driven financial process optimisation were covered. Critical issues of how deep learning compares when contrasted with traditional statistical approaches of forecasting were interrogated. Focus was also on the toolboxes available in the deep learning space including MLPs, CNNs, RNNs, LSTMs and GRUs, as well as some current research challenges and emerging research areas.

The event was chaired by Professor Charis Harley, and the speaker was Professor Terence van Zyl, holder of the Nedbank Research and Innovation Chair at the University of Johannesburg's Institute for Intelligent Systems.

Panel Discussion: The Future of Knowledge on Social Media (17 March, 2021)

Recently, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon all pulled the support of their platforms for related political activities stemming from the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters in January 2021. In the same month, a row broke out about the relationship between Facebook and WhatsApp concerning privacy and data-sharing between the platforms. Within days, another row broke out about an open letter in which many academic philosophers criticised the decision to award an Order of the British Empire to Professor Kathleen Stock, a British philosopher who has campaigned on biological sex and gender. Large parts of both the campaigning and the row took place on social media. From this experience, Stock noted that "people believe what they read", a worry that has concerned not only her, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon, but also the World Health Organisation, which coined the term "infodemic" to describe the rapid spread of unreliable information about COVID-19. The proliferation of "information" on social media raises concerns about the role of power and misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and fake news.

This panel addressed some of the following questions: How will social media shape how we come to know things, and share our knowledge? Can we make it better without taking away the good bits? How do regulation, unenforced etiquette, and individual freedoms relate? And what are the social, political and economic drivers of the current situation, beyond the arguments about privacy and free speech—how will the history of social media in the early 2020s be recorded?

The event was chaired by Professor Alexander Broadbent, and the speakers were: Dr. Kathleen Stock is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom (UK), awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2021 New Year Honours for services to higher education; Professor Admire Mare, Deputy Head in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, Windhoek.; and Professor George Ogola who is based at the School of Arts and Media at the University of Central Lancashire, UK.

Webinar: Robot of Robots – Hyperautomation for the 4IR (29 March, 2019)

Using robots to build other robots that automate software production may seem like an unnecessary idea at first. However, this talk shed light on how "Robots of Robots" thinking can be a very powerful way to unlock hyper-automation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The webinar explored how this approach effectively mitigates the traditional pitfalls of one layer of automation, and explored consequences that were not immediately obvious, such as disposable automation and avoiding sentimentality. The meeting also considered how three areas of thought, Hyper Automation, Intelligent Composable Business, and AI Engineering, can come together to produce an interesting convergence of thinking.

The event was chaired by Professor Charis Harley and the speaker was Luke Machowski, a Specialist Product Architect at Synthesis Software Technologies (Pty) Ltd, since 2014.

Webinar: Neural Differential Equations, Control and Machine Learning (26 April, 2021)

The webinar focussed on Neural Ordinary Differential Equations (NODEs) from a control theoretical perspective to address some of the main challenges in Machine Learning and, in particular, data classification and Universal Approximation. More precisely, we adopt the perspective of the simultaneous control of systems of NODEs. We present a genuinely nonlinear and constructive method that allows an estimation of the complexity of the control strategies we develop. The very nonlinear nature of the activation functions governing the nonlinear dynamics of NODEs under consideration plays a key role. It allows deforming half of the phase space while the other half remains invariant, a property that classical models in mechanics do not fulfil. This very property allows building elementary controls inducing specific dynamics and transformations whose concatenation, along with properly chosen hyperplanes, allows achieving our goals in finitely many steps. We also present the counterparts in the control of neural transport equations, establishing a link between optimal transport and deep neural networks.

The event was chaired by Professor Charis Harley and Professor Enrique Zuazua holds a Chair in Applied Analysis – Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at the Friedrich–Alexander University, in Germany.

 2020 Events

2020 IFK Webinar Series: Reimagining the World after COVID-19


In 2020, the Institute for the Future of Knowledge held a series of panel discussions in webinar format, on the post-COVID world. This series of webinars, envisaged by UJ's Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, were designed to provide a wide-ranging collective examination of key aspects of the post-pandemic future: from the impacts on the humanity, the economy, health, education, the environment, and the future world of work. The events, chaired by the IFK Director, were attended by hundreds of participants from universities, civil society, business community, policy, members of the public, as well as drawing government officials and diplomats in South Africa and further afield from diverse disciplinary backgrounds


Reimagining the world after COVID-19 (13 May, 2021)

Historians distinguish two ends to a pandemic: the biological end, consisting in the eradication or control of the disease, and the social end, when people stop fearing the disease and society resumes its normal shape. The "Post-COVID World" may never come from a biological perspective, and some are also saying that it may never come from a social perspective either – that the world will never be the same again. Whatever the case, it is clear that the pandemic that took us by surprise was in fact highly predictable, and indeed predicted by the World Health Organisation, the former President of the United States, and many others. It is, moreover, anything but unprecedented. Sometimes, we cannot predict; but other times, we can, but don't. Whatever the Post-COVID World is like, our first lesson must be to think more carefully and openly about the future – starting with the Post-COVID World itself.

The event was chaired by Professor Alexander Broadbent. The speakers at this event were: Dr. Joyce Banda, Former President of Malawi; Professor Johan Giesecke, an infectious disease epidemiologist, and the scientist masterminding the Swedish response; and Professor Sehaam Khan, a microbiologist and Dean of Health Sciences at the University of Johannesburg.

To watch the video, please click .


Covid-19 and the Emerging World Order (20 May 2020)

The recent outbreak of Covid-19 and the global powers' actions and inactions ignited debates on the post-Covid-19 world order. While the current world order was already at a crossroads prior to the emergence of the pandemic partly due to the United States' (US) retreat from international affairs, "America First" posture, and the rise of the rest (China in particular); US slow response during this global crisis has presented an opportunity for China to fill the leadership gap in the fight against the pandemic. This begs critical questions: Has the pandemic changed the world order? Has the US global influence further declined? How has Covid-19 changed China's global position? In light of the pandemic, what is the future of globalisation? What is the role of the United Nations (UN) in the emerging global order? Will post-Covid-19 mark post-America world? Will African regional powers such as South Africa and Nigeria play a significant role in post-Covid-19 world order?

This webinar was kicked off by Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg. Professor Alexander Broadbent chaired, and the speakers were: Our first speaker, Dr David Masondo, the Deputy Finance Minister for South Africa; Dr Grant Harris, the Chief Executive Officer at Harris Africa Partners LLC, Adjunct Professor of Global Management at Kellogg School of Management, Lecturer at University of California Berkeley, in the US; Professor Dong Wang, the Executive Director of the Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding, Peking University, China, and Dr Oluwaseun Tella, a Senior Researcher at the Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg.

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Data and delusion after COVID-19 (27 May 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been accompanied by a pandemic of data. Data is offered, analysed, re-packaged and criticised by mighty international organisations and by tiny local outfits. Even private individuals with no prior expertise or interest in data, disease, or statistics spend hours poring over graphs and critiquing case fatality estimates. This proliferation of data and analysis has not yielded effective predictions. Instead, it has demonstrated how ill-equipped we are to deal with this new, non-hierarchical, distributed information context. Leading scientists have proved dramatically wrong. Or perhaps not – it depends who you ask. The unfolding pattern of spread still surprises us at every turn – except those who predicted it all along. Nothing is more common than the common cold, and coronavirus variants are one of its causes: yet we seem unable make reliable predictions about COVID-19.

This webinar will explore a range of issues relating to data and trust in science in the aftermath of COVID-19. What went wrong with the modelling approach to prediction – if, indeed, anything did go wrong? How should policy and scientific research interact, and how should policy makers make use of data? Can people without domain-specific knowledge use data to predict better than the experts in that domain? If not, then can data analysts themselves make predictions merely by studying patterns in data? Turning to the generation of data, how does the individual interest in privacy weight against the public interest in private information, notably location, which can be very useful in the context of a pandemic?

The event was chaired by Professor Alexander Broadbent, Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge, and the panel of experts included: Dr Shakir Mohamed, a Senior Researcher at DeepMind in London, United Kingdom (UK); Professor Charis Harley, an academic based in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at the University of Johannesburg. and Professor Olaf Dammann, the Vice-Chair of Public Health at Tufts University in Boston, US, Professor of Perinatal Neuroepidemiology at Hannover Medical School, Germany, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science at the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.

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Inequality after Covid (3 June 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified inequalities between and across different groups and countries across the world. Effective social protection has been critical to the reduction of vulnerability. However, as many countries struggle to provide universal healthcare, the outbreak of COVID-19 has put pressure on healthcare systems globally. This has seen governments redirecting fiscus towards curtailing the effects of the pandemic, including in countries where healthcare systems are under-resourced and poorly staffed.

So far as we know, COVID-19 is markedly more dangerous for older people. Higher proportions of serious, critical and fatal COVID-19 are also observed among those suffering from certain other diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and pre-existing heart disease. On the other hand, certain population groups are disproportionately impacted by economic and social disruption caused both by the disease itself and measures that are taken in an effort to curtail its spread. These include groups already marginalised by pre-existing structural inequalities among others: women and children, the elderly; racial, ethnic and religious minorities; People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA); Persons with Disabilities (PWD) (physical and/or mental); and migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. Not all of these people are not at high risk from COVID-19 itself, while many people who are at risk from COVID-19 are not in this group. In particular, the very strong age-related gradient in risk of serious, critical and fatal COVID-19 means that the wealthier populations, which tend to be older, are over-represented among the groups at highest direct risk from COVID-19. Conversely, the poorer and thus younger a population is, the less at risk it tends to be from COVID-19, but the more at risk from disruption to economies, societies and health services created by the disease and associated response measures.

The world is more unequal than any single country. According to an Oxfam's 2020 report titled, Time to Care: Unpaid and Underpaid Care Work and the Global Inequality Crisis, the world's 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 60% of the global population; and the 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa. With closure of schools, many girls and children from low-income households have been affected, and some may not be able to go back to schools. Lockdown regulations restricting mobility have affected activities of younger workers as well as those in precarious types of employment. As rates of relative deprivation increase, states have introduced cash-based assistance and other forms of social support. Migrants have been responded to negatively across the world – Chinese descendants have reported xenophobia, with their businesses attacked; and African migrants in China have also have also suffered the same fate. COVID-19 has been seen the rise of right-wing nationalist-populist governments. On the other hand, the pandemic has also underscored the way that individual fates are intertwined in public health, and the necessity of strong public healthcare provision for responding to collective threats. It is fair to surmise that universal healthcare may in future be elevated in a number of countries' policy priorities.

This webinar explored the various issues concerning inequality that COVID-19 has highlighted as well as those created by the response to the disease. How should nation-states strengthen public health systems for future threats of this kind? Will conditions for precarious workers change post-pandemic? Governments will, for the short term at least, want to find alternative ways in which to support livelihoods, on pain of widespread malnutrition or even famine. How they are going to respond to increased deprivation? Will governments be able to fund these interventions? Will loans from international lenders come with conditions that may impact such schemes? How will COVID-19 influence migration regulation and border management, and ultimately, how are governments going to achieve a more inclusive society in which the respect for human rights for all will be achieved? Fundamentally, are there choices we can make now, as nations and a world, that will reduce the inequality and the hardship that falls on those at the bottom of the global pile?

The event was chaired by Professor Alex Broadbent, Director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge. The speakers were Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi, the Executive Dean of Law at the University of Johannesburg and a specialist in labour law and social protection, Dr Sridhar Venkatapuram, a Senior Lecturer in Global Health and Philosophy at King's College Global Health Institute, and Professor Steven Friedman, a Research Professor at the University of Johannesburg.


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