Combined Market Cap of Five Largest MedTech Companies Surged by $40bn YoY

The coronavirus outbreak put immense pressure on the healthcare industry, forcing pharmaceutical institutions to roll out clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine at breakneck speed. However, many other companies also played a huge role in identifying symptoms and keeping the virus under control, which sparked significant innovations in the medical technology market.

According to data presented by AksjeBloggen.com, the combined market capitalization of Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic, Siemens AG, and Cardinal Health Inc., as the five biggest MedTech companies globally surged by $40bn year-over-year, reaching $394.3bn in October.

Abbott Laboratories Market Cap Jumped by 31%, the Biggest Increase in 2020

The World Health Organization defines medical technology, or MedTech, as the use of knowledge and technology in devices, medicines, and procedures to advance human health. One aspect of that which has been drawing more and more attention lately is remote healthcare services or telemedicine, as the growing number of people seek medical advice from the safety of their homes.

In September 2019, the combined market capitalization of the five major Medtech companies amounted to $354.2bn, revealed the Yahoo Finance data. By the end of the year, their combined value of shares rose to $398.7bn.

However, the first quarter of 2020 witnessed a significant drop, with the figure plunging to $359.1bn after the stock market crash in March. The following months brought a recovery, with the combined market capitalization of the five companies rising to $385.4bn in June.

The increasing trend continued in the fourth quarter, with the figure increasing by $8.9bn between June and October.

As the leading MedTech company globally, Johnson & Johnson witnessed an almost $40bn increase in the market capitalization year-over-year, growing from $340.3bn in September 2019 to around $380bn last week.

However, statistics indicate that Abbott Laboratories, the second-largest MedTech firm, witnessed the most significant market cap growth in 2020. In December 2019, the combined value of shares of the Chicago-based healthcare company specialized in nutrition, pharmaceuticals, diagnostic treatments, and medical devices amounted to $153bn. After falling to 139.5bn in March, this figure recovered to $161.8bn in June and continued rising.

In August, the company announced the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued Emergency Use Authorization for its BinaxNOW COVID-19 portable and affordable antigen test that can deliver results within 15 minutes. Since March, the company has got US authorizations for five other coronavirus tests, including the ID Now that can provide results within minutes.

The Yahoo Finance data show Abbott Laboratories market cap jumped to $194.1bn last week, a 31% increase year-over-year.

Siemens AG Market Cap Rose by 20% Year-over-Year

As one of the leading manufacturers and developers of medical devices in the industry, Siemens AG has also witnessed substantial market cap growth in 2020. Their products mostly center around diagnostic equipment and medical imaging systems, the largest contributor of more than €86.8 billion in revenue in the 2019 fiscal year. Statistics show the combined value of the German company’s shares rose by 20% year-over-year, rising from $87.4bn in September 2019 to $104.4bn last week.

The market capitalization of Medtronic plc, the Irish firm that has been at the top of the industry for nearly three decades, rose by 3.5% YoY. In December 2019, the market cap of the medical device company peaked at $151.3bn. After a sharp fall to $120.8bn in March, this figure recovered to $150.4bn last week.

The Yahoo Finance data indicate that Cardinal Health, Inc., an American multinational health care services company providing supplies to more than 75% of the US hospitals, witnessed the smallest increase in the combined value of shares. Statistics show its market cap rose by $350 million after the stock market crash in March, landing at $14.3bn last week, a 3.7% increase year-over-year.

A Culture Of Data Literacy Holds The Key To Democratising Data Across An Organisation

In order to drive maximum business value from data analytics strategies organisations must not rely on IT departments to determine the data strategy

SMBs have increasingly invested more time and money in their data and analytics initiatives over the past five years – according to Gartner – however, many are falling short of unlocking the maximum benefits available to them, due to just procuring technologies and not enforcing an organisation-wide culture of data analytics.

James Don-Carolis, Managing Director at TrueCue, is urging business leaders to not only review how data analytics is conducted and viewed across their organisations, but also to align their data strategy with their broader corporate strategy. By extracting maximum business value from their data analytics strategies, businesses will be in better position to navigate the ongoing disruption.

James explains, “While it is encouraging to see many SMBs are beginning to realise the copious amounts of benefits data and analytics can bring to their organisation, it is concerning to see many are falling short of achieving valuable business outcomes from their investments. With Gartner finding that 73% of mid-sized organisations are still labelled as having low data and analytics maturity, it is important – particularly in the current climate – that the benefits from investments are being maximised, not underutilised.

“An organisation-wide culture of data and analytics is fundamental to any organisation striving to achieve greater data maturity. With virtually all organisations facing some degree of industry and business model disruption often created by digitalisation, maximising the value of data analytics investments is critical for organisations looking to remain competitive beyond COVID-19.

“To put it simply, data and analytics maturity is a key competitive differentiator, and is arguably a necessity for every business to prioritise as we become more reliant on the digital economy. We know from our research that data-driven organisations are 23x more likely to acquire customers, 6x as likely to retain customers, and 19x as likely to be profitable as a result of building this capability,” James adds.

With this in mind, there are five stages businesses must navigate on their journey to achieving a high-level of data analytics maturity, however as a starting point, they must understand the maturity journey their organisation needs to embark on:

The first phase – manual preparation of reports driven by ad-doc requests
On average data workers are spending seven hours per week manually updating formulas, pivot tables, cell and sheet references, and smaller organisations do not usually have the resources to facilitate this. To address this issue going forward, as a first phase, employers should introduce more efficient tools, both in data visualisation and preparation, as well as training staff to utilise these correctly.

The second phase – generating insights
Successful organisations will train departmental analysts with agile data visualisation tools to build dashboards and provide a consistent capability, as well as introducing best-practice guidelines for usage and standardisation via templates.

The third phase – automation, robustness and security
With central data teams responsible for standardising approaches, while bringing data functions into a single location to help with inconsistent processes, automation, robustness and security are key to the third phase. Incorporating an effective data management strategy at this stage helps ensure the automation of repetitive processes that greatly improve the efficiency and productivity of any organisation, relieves internal resources (both human and machine) and reduces manual labour and errors.

The fourth phase – enterprise maturity and cloud strategy
The enterprise data platform is designed to support the overall data and analytics strategy, provide a robust, governed, consistent and scalable capability, and service both standard and ad-hoc analytics as well as supporting advanced analytics such as machine learning. Cloud strategy is also core to this stage, leveraging all the benefits and flexibility cloud resources offer. Automation at this stage can deliver many benefits such as time – and resource – savings, standardisation and flexibility.

The fifth phase – analytics-led corporate strategies
Organisations that utilise both internal and external data in a systematic way to drive decision making across the business are proven to outperform those that don’t. Creating a position of leadership that has the responsibility and ambition to prioritise data within their organisation’s culture is key to achieving data maturity at this utmost level.

James concludes, “It goes without saying that the data maturity journey can be all the more challenging for SMBs who do not have the same funds or resources as their larger enterprise counterparts. So, it is understandable why they often struggle to derive maximum value from their data. However, with advancements in accessible and affordable cloud technologies, such as cloud data warehouse automation, improving data and analytics capabilities has become much more of a reality for organisations with smaller budgets and less technical resources.”

Roboticist Dr. David Hanson And AI Pioneer Dr. Ben Goertzel Present Grace, The World’s First Humanoid Robot Assistant

Leading roboticist Dr. David Hanson and AI pioneer Dr. Ben Goertzel announce the launch of Grace, the world’s first human-like robotic assistant for elderly care and biodata management. The product of Awakening Health Ltd. (AHL), a joint venture between Hanson Robotics (HR) and AI firm Singularity Studio (SSI), Grace adapts the Hanson Sophia 2020 robot platform and SingularityNet’s (SNET) blockchain-based AI to meet acute medical and elder care needs imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Awakening Health is testing alpha prototypes of Grace in a series of bold steps to deploy robotic and avatar medical assistants products, in 2021. Building on previous healthcare successes with Hanson robots (autism treatment, eldercare research and safety testing at the US Centers for Disease Control CDC) and SNET AI (disease analytics and therapeutic dialogue), Grace initially embodies the best of these leading-edge technologies within a new product to help elderly users via friendly therapeutic interactions.

Grace combines AI-powered character robots with animated personality to engage patients naturally and emotionally – providing a variety of benefits including cognitive stimulation, intuitive communication, and secure gathering and management of patient data for use in advanced machine learning and next-gen medicine, all while facilitating social distancing for COVID-19 safety.

All-Star Management Cast

“This merging of the tech and medical arena is an important initiative by the world’s leading robotics and AI team,” says David Lake, AHL CEO. “The stellar team previously connected through Sophia, the most advanced, celebrity humanoid robot. Following years of serving university research, museums and other industries, HR launched Sophia 2020 for R&D and B2B applications.”

Now, Sophia’s sister, Grace, allows for quick deployment with existing hardware, AI and charm to serve the healthcare industry. Hanson and Goertzel’s robotics and AI teams span the globe with groups operating in Greater China, the US, Europe, Brazil, Russia, Ethiopia and India. AHL brings this technology brain trust together with an all-star cast from the business and medical world, led by Asian industry veteran David Lake and leading medical researchers.

On the hardware side, AHL is led by the creative engineering of David Hanson, Founder and CEO of HR and creator of Sophia. “All essential technology is in place for mass scale production of Grace in cooperation with our medical partners,” notes Hanson. “We are testing Grace prototypes and expect trial deployment in partner facilities within six months. Grace’s features allow interaction with elder care patients, provide comfort and companionship and deliver a host of key bio data management functions.”

The AI side is led by Ben Goertzel, the Father of AGI and SNET Founder who worked for years as Hanson’s Chief Scientist. Goertzel has done significant medical research, in particular in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s with the National Institute of Health (NIH) and CDC. “Grace is the perfect interactive biodata capture interface for our Open Cog and SNET platform,” adds Goertzel. “Her comforting and human manner relaxes patients and allows for important collection of biodata to assist patients, provide much needed support and lead to major discoveries in areas like neural degenerative diseases.”

To certify user requirements and testing in existing facilities, AHL is creating strategic partnerships in the US, China and Korea. The first such relationship is with Connected Living, a US leader in personalized technology solutions for seniors. Given the location of the AHL laboratory in the Science Park and Tsuen Wan industrial center of Hong Kong, China is an important markets and key relationships will be announced in the near future.

Connected Living

CL brings relationships with hundreds of senior living communities and medical facilities in the US and worldwide. CL’s enterprise content management system creates operational efficiencies, manages communication and information enhances person-centered wellness through an integrated ecosystem that includes mobile, voice and robotics. CL will leverage this tech suite and core relationships to pinpoint essential services and user requirements as well as support an investigative clinical trial program at specially chosen facilities and customize its product line for AHL to roll-out in the Asian region.

CL and SSI will use AI to analyse collective data for predictive socially determinant relationships and deploy AI-driven sensors for increased safety and emotional well-being solutions. CL’s exclusive North American distribution of Temi, the world’s first non-humanoid robotic assistant, allows SSI and AHL to provide social AI personalities and virtual avatars that go beyond simple tasks.

“We see this strategic partnership as incredibly important for our core aging services market space,” says Sarah Hoit, CEO of Connected Living and a strong advocate in the area of Alzheimer’s treatment. “The scope and breath of what Awakening aims to achieve is of the highest order, and we are eager to support this initiative in line with our desire and mission to lead the way as an innovator in biotech health care services.” SSI CEO Bill Inman concludes there is no end to the contributions strong AI can deliver when it comes to analyzing biodata, “As each year goes by AI’s ability to support biodata research to provide new therapies and treatments is enhanced by technological advances.”

A partnership between Hanson Robotics and Singularity Studio

Grace has been possible thanks to the collaboration between Hanson Robotics and Singularity Studio. Hanson Robotics is an AI and robotics company dedicated to creating socially intelligent machines that enrich the quality of our lives. The company develops renowned robot characters, such as Sophia, the world’s first robot citizen, which serve as AI platforms for scientific research, education, healthcare, sales and service, entertainment, and other research and service applications. HRs’ scientists, artists, roboticists, and engineers strive to bring robots to life as true friends who deeply understand and care for people, and collaborate with us in pursuit of ever-greater good.

On the other hand, Singularity Studio supplies cutting-edge enterprise AI software across a variety of vertical markets with a particular focus on healthcare. Studio’s software base includes proprietary AI methods leveraging deep neural net, probabilistic logic, evolutionary learning and other technologies alongside automated integration of third-party AI services sourced from the decentralized AI marketplace – SingularityNET – a platform designed to combine key components to facilitate an accessible network of AI services.

The 2020 US Election: 5 Predictions for Healthcare

US Medical care illustrated by flag and stethoscope

On November 3, 2020 Americans will cast their votes in what may be one of the most pivotal elections in American history. The outcome will determine the future of healthcare in this country for decades.

By Chris Orestis

The Trump administration and Senate allies have made clear their intent to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) through a combination of Executive Orders, legislation, and legal challenges. Also, the Trump Administration announced it would permanently end the Payroll Tax if re-elected; but this is the tax that funds Social Security and Medicare. Ending it would essentially bring these critical entitlement programs for seniors to an end.

Alternatively, the Biden-Harris ticket and the Democratic party have made improving on the ACA and adding elements of the Medicare-for-All movement to increase coverage for Americans a central plank of their platform. They have also vowed they would protect Social Security and Medicare from cuts. The difference between the two parties and their approach to healthcare is what is on the ballot for healthcare in 2020– will healthcare become a “right” or a “privilege” for Americans?

As Ravenpack’s 2020 election media monitor tool shows, Biden is leading the race with a 94.4 percent chance to win the elections.

 

Five Predictions For Healthcare

1. Universal-Healthcare/Medicare-for-All will either establish its foundation in a hybrid ACA/Medicare/Medicaid model with a Biden victory, or it will continue to be under constant assault from all sides with a Trump victory. The outcome of the election will decide if we enter into a divisive period of history between the haves and have-not’s resembling “The Healthcare Hunger Games”.

2. America’s population of 65+ will grow to the point that it surpasses the population of 18 and under in less than fifteen years. A mass exodus of retiring workers will shrink the tax base to support them in retirement exerting even more stress on already beleaguered entitlement programs. Increasing demand on Medicare and Medicaid will fuel growth in private pay resources such as reverse mortgages and life settlements to cover the costs of senior care supports and services.

3. Despite attempts to scapegoat entitlements for ballooning budget deficits and the national debt, the reality of these programs’ importance to millions of Americans will trump political demagoguery. Meaningful reforms to shore up the fiscal solvency of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will continue.

4. Employer based health coverage only works when people are employed. 158 million people (more than half of all Americans under the age of 65) had employment based (group) health insurance at the beginning of 2020. But today, 40 million people suddenly found themselves unemployed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Employer based health insurance has been the primary means to cover Americans, but re-defining what “employment” looks like going forward will have to take into account an overreliance on a stable and growing economy as the primary way for people to obtain affordable health insurance coverage.

5. Medical staff and supplies stretch thin quickly during a crisis, and the impact of the Coronavirus on healthcare will be long-lasting. The inequities of healthcare across economic and racial lines will need to be addressed, and the debate over how healthcare is paid for will only get more intense. The need for more medical professionals and also overall support staffing will become a problem as many will question if this is a field they want to be in. The shortages of supplies forcing hospitals to crowdsource for things such as homemade masks have shown how important preparedness is and the need to stockpile materials.

A nation’s healthcare system reflects its values, and the outcome of this election will be a lasting statement of this that will impact every single American.

Chris Orestis, known as the “Retirement Genius,” is President of LifeCare Xchange and a nationally recognized healthcare expert and senior advocate. He has 25 years experience in the insurance and long-term care industries, and is credited with pioneering the Long-Term Care Life Settlement over a decade ago. A political insider, Orestis is a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist who has worked in both the White House and for the Senate Majority Leader on Capitol Hill. Orestis is author of the books Help on the Way and A Survival Guide to Aging, and has been speaking for over a decade across the country about senior finance and the secrets to aging with physical and financial health. He is a frequent columnist for Broker World, ThinkAdvisor, IRIS, and NewsMax Finance, has been a featured guest on over 50 radio programs, and has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, NBC News, Fox News, USA Today, Kiplinger’s, Investor’s Business Daily, PBS, and numerous other media outlets.

Photonics Digital Innovation Hub Secures €19 Million To Boost SME Growth And Ensure Europe’s Global Competitiveness 

· Awarded €19 million investment from Horizon 2020
· Will help European SMEs and mid-caps become highly competitive digital businesses
· Set to directly create over 1,000 new high-tech EU jobs by 2025
· Will generate €1 billion in new revenues and venture capital by 2025
· Provides photonics training and ‘upskilling’ support

PhotonHub Europe – a new pan-European photonics digital innovation hub –has been awarded €19 million investment from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

PhotonHub Europe will help European SMEs and mid-caps become highly competitive digital businesses through faster and smarter deployment of photonics-based technologies, directly creating over 1.000 new high-tech EU jobs and nearly €1 billion in new revenues and venture capital by 2025.

Photonics – the science and technology of light – is a key digital technology that is radically transforming the traditional industrial base. Photonics technologies are being used to create and launch exciting new products in wide-ranging end-user application domains such as Health, Digital Infrastructure, Manufacturing, Safety, Security, Space & Defence, Agro-Food, Mobility & Energy.

Think of optical fibres which allow for faster and richer online communication and computing; optical sensors which monitor the quality of our food, air and water; photovoltaics which power green energy; lasers which facilitate high precision manufacturing and nanotechnology; new optical lenses with incredible features for machine vision to enable everything from non-invasive medical devices to autonomous vehicles and robotics. All powered by photonics.

“Photonics is essential to the functioning of new applications which are powering the new industrial wave – Industry 4.0 – and which are also critical to our ability to fundamentally address the enormous global societal and environmental challenges of our times”, said Prof Hugo Thienpont, Director of Brussels Photonics (B-PHOT) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and overall coordinator of PhotonHub Europe. “European industry needs to be at the forefront in innovating with photonics, making the most of our combined strengths across all parts of the innovation value chain, and working collaboratively across all member states, to support European business innovation and growth. This is the motivation behind the establishment of PhotonHub Europe which is directly building on top of over 15 year of previous European projects and collaborative efforts by all of the organisations involved in developing and integrating the infrastructure necessary for such a major undertaking”.

In order to accelerate the uptake and deployment of photonics technologies by European industry,  PhotonHub will establish a single photonics innovation hub which integrates all of the best-in-class photonics technologies, facilities, expertise and experience of 53 top competence centres across Europe under one roof as a one-stop-shop solution with open access for any company anywhere in Europe that wants to innovate with photonics.

As a result, PhotonHub will provide European companies, in particular “non-photonics” SMEs and mid-caps that are first users and early adopters of photonics, with open access and guided orienteering through the PhotonHub front office in Brussels, across a broad range of services and capabilities covering:

  • training and upskilling supports
  • “test before invest” innovation support
  • supports to find investment

Photonics Training and Upskilling Supports

Training and upskilling supports to companies will cover both technology- and application-specific learning in photonics using lecture-based tutorials, hands-on lab-based training and “Train-the-Trainer” programmes within the hub’s 40 Demo Centres and 10 Experience Centres throughout Europe, all coordinated for consistent standards of excellence under the umbrella of the European Photonics Innovation Academy of PhotonHub.

Commenting on the training supports, Prof. Peter O’Brien of the Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork in Ireland and leader of the training activities within PhotonHub Europe, said “Investing in workforce training is key to boosting innovation, especially helping “non-photonics” people become more skilled and knowledgeable in how to best exploit photonics technologies in their new products and applications. PhotonHub, through its European Photonics Innovation Academy, will not only open up the world-class facilities of our consortium partners for hands-on demos and training, but our training supports will be enhanced through online tools to include the extensive use of virtual training sessions and a digital catalogue of further photonics training opportunities from across the wider European academic and industrial ecosystem”.

“Test Before Invest” Innovation Support

“Test before invest” innovation support to companies will offer expertise and equipment for design, prototyping, experimentation, engineering and pilot production, with further guidance and seamless links to the industrial supply chain of manufacturing in Europe, all provided by Europe’s top research and innovation facilities offering the broadest possible range of photonics technologies covering the full value chain from early stage product concept to pre-market launch.

Investing in innovation is risky, especially for smaller companies for whom photonics is a new technology where they have limited or no inhouse expertise or equipment. PhotonHub can dramatically lower the barriers to innovation for these companies to start experimenting and expanding their use of photonics”, said Mr. Ewit Roos of PhotonDelta in The Netherlands and co-leader with the VUB of the “test before invest” innovation activities within PhotonHub Europe. “We have a pool of 500 of the best photonics experts from across Europe readily available to engage with companies on highly collaborative Innovation Projects aimed at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) acceleration from prototyping (TRL3-4) to upscaling (TRL5-6) to manufacturing (TRL7-8), complemented by targeted business coaching and IP advisory supports to the companies to further boost the market-readiness levels of their innovation activities, and all heavily subsidised for strongly committed companies”.

Supports to Find Investment

PhotonHub will help companies innovating with photonics to find investment from suitable sources of venture capital or other private/public sources of growth capital to further boost their capabilities in bringing new photonics and “photonics-enabled” products faster to market. Describing the investment supports, Ms. Mayte Carracedo of FundingBox in Poland and leader of the investment support activities within PhotonHub Europe working alongside other key partners including TechTour and the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC), said “Matching the right investors with the right innovators at the right times is key to successful business growth. Through PhotonHub, European SMEs will be able to access a comprehensive range of supports from online guidance and orienteering on sources of investment, to more intensive personalised investment-readiness coaching and investor matchmaking specially developed for European start-ups and scale-ups innovating with photonics and organised in close collaboration with major regional and European venture fora and deep tech Investor Days”.

Cross-Border Added Value and Pan-European Networking

PhotonHub will uniquely support cross-border innovation activities of European companies, whilst simultaneously working closely with local photonics hubs representing 18 European regions as additional partners in the consortium to further boost photonics innovation amongst SMEs at a localised level all over Europe. Commenting on the regional collaboration with PhotonHub Europe, Mr. Ziga Valic of Photonics France said, “Photonics is recognised across many European regions as a key digital technology which is central to industrial innovation and prosperity. As such, we are investing strongly at a regional level in developing a vibrant local ecosystem for photonics innovation which integrates all stakeholders from research institutes and innovation labs to SMEs and large enterprises. Linking our regional efforts to PhotonHub at the European level we believe is essential as it means we can offer local companies a fast and seamless route to the best expertise and technologies in photonics to match their needs, whether that is to be found locally, nationally or on a cross-border level”.

PhotonHub Europe will work with the local photonics hubs from the “lighthouse regions” where photonics is already well established in order to develop best practice models for SME innovation support and to disseminate these best practices widely to support the development of new innovation hubs covering most regions of Europe. Referring to this key initiative, Dr Roberto Pini of CNR National Research Council of Italy in the Tuscany region and another of the core partners in PhotonHub Europe, said “Our region has for many years now been developing and implementing its smart specialisation strategy in photonics with strong success. Through PhotonHub, we are delighted to now be able to join forces and network with other European regions with a similar focus on photonics innovation and SME business growth to share our experiences, learn from each other, and make the cross-border innovation ecosystem even stronger”. 

PhotonHub will collaborate with key European associations such as the European Regions Research and Innovation Network (ERRIN) and the Assembly of European Regions (AER) to help disseminate the support model for photonics innovation and grow the pan-European ecosystem of local photonics hubs, as well as working closely with well-established pan-European SME support networks such as Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) and the European Business Network (EBN) to open up access to the photonics innovation ecosystem for all European SMEs.

Our mission at EEN is to help ambitious SMEs to innovate and grow internationally, providing international business expertise with local knowledge through our local contact points in every country,” said Ms. Barbara Andreani of EEN Brussels. “Our collaboration with PhotonHub via its coordinator VUB fits perfectly with our strategic objectives to accelerate innovation and digitalisation by enhancing the SME outreach of the European Digital Innovation Hubs such as PhotonHub, and helping many more SMEs to access the hubs’ digital testing infrastructures especially in a cross-border setting. We are also particularly delighted to see the strong involvement of the local photonics hubs in PhotonHub as it ties in with the expectations of strengthening coordination of the European network with regional policy for more localised cooperation and signposting to the best solutions for SMEs across our combined networks”. 

Furthermore, through its close collaboration and alignment with the European Technology Platform for Public-Private Partnership between the EC, academia and industry – Photonics21 – on the strategy for photonics development in Europe, and by tightly linking the activities of PhotonHub with those of other European Digital Innovation Hubs through its digital community-building platform, PhotonHub will ensure fast user-friendly access for European SMEs to the broadest possible range of advanced photonics expertise and technologies on the European scale, covering the entire value chain from TRL3-8.

Most critically, in these times of high uncertainty and disruption in global supply chains, photonics has become an even more important key enabling technology for the transformation of production methods in European manufacturing for increased competitiveness of local supply chains and the boosting of Europe’s technological sovereignty,” said Prof. Hugo Thienpont of the VUB and overall coordinator of PhotonHub. “By combining local proximity with cross-border added value, PhotonHub will be a critical accelerator for innovation, digital transformation and SME business growth in Europe and an essential source for powerful networking opportunities across a pan-European innovation ecosystem”.

PhotonHub Europe will commence operations from early 2021 and will be operating a continuous open call for companies to apply for its support services. Applications for support will be facilitated online through the PhotonHub website.

There are two important levels on which PhotonHub expects to deliver its impact.  Firstly, on the digitisation and competitiveness of end-user industry in Europe in particular SMEs through the uptake of photonics. In its first four years of operation, PhotonHub expects to achieve one-to-one expert discussions on photonics innovation ideas with at least 8.000 companies – 90% of which will be SMEs – with nearly 6.000 training engagements, 280 companies benefitting from investor matchmaking, and over 250 companies receiving cross-border innovation support for TRL acceleration. PhotonHub expects that these and other support activities will in that timeframe alone directly result in the creation of over 1.000 new high-tech EU jobs and nearly 1 billion euro in new revenues generated and new venture capital raised.

Secondly, PhotonHub will also measure its impact on the wider ecosystem of local photonics hubs in Europe, and in particular the leverage factor on regional and national funding for photonics innovation which is expected to add at least another 75 million euro on top of the EC funding, as well as implementing the business plan for sustainability of PhotonHub itself, which will continue to operate as the PhotonHub Europe Association long beyond the initial 19 million euro investment from the EC.

Interview Aidan Meller, Gallerist And Visionary Creator Of Ai-Da Robot Artist

Gallery Director Aidan Meller is a specialist in modern and contemporary art and runs a gallery internationally. With over 20 years’ experience in the art business, he works closely with private collectors and is often consulted by those who wish to begin, or further develop their collections. He regularly has original works by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, to older works such as John Constable, Turner and Millais. Aidan is the visionary mind behind Ai-Da Robot Artist.

Interview Focus

  1. Can you tell us about your Background – education – career?
  2. How the idea of creating a Robot Artist came into existence?
  3. As a visionary behind AI-Da how do you see the boundaries between art, literature, science, technology and engineering? Part of this work is a collaboration between 30 software programming, bots and Engineering. Can you elaborate where it finishes engineering and where it starts your innovation / creativity?
  4. Ai-Da is one of the fastest rising artists in history – can you elaborate on that?
  5. Ai-Da comprehends a big conscience on art, technology and Ethics: how do you manage that?
  6. As a founder, visionary and manager of Ai-Da work how do you manage the different verticals on art creation – sculpture – writing?
  7. Do you expect Ai-Da to influence a new art trend?
  8. How is it to manage AI-Da own identity going forward?
  9. Ai-Da is now a global success. What is in the pipeline you can highlight?

Here are some of Aidan Meller’s main takeaways from the interview. Do view the video above to find out everything Aidan is working regarding Ai-Da and the future of art and technology.

Interview Notes

Aidan Meller: I have been in the art business for over 20 years now and I have been very interested in learning more about the artist’s lives and experiences. That led to a research I did about three years ago: why are some artists so successful? What has made that 1% stand above all others? So I did a 3 month project comparing artists with each other. And we did an exhaustive research, comparing styles, movements, artworks, etc and I became very frustrated because I couldn’t get a clear blue print of all artists. So I came away frustrated, and my partner helpfully said that I wasn’t asking the right questions. So the next time I went to study these artists again, I had an epiphany moment, better questions: I realised the top 1% of artists tackled issues that were of their time, issues that are unsettling, or uncomfortable for society. So when they put their art out, there was a huge response from the audience as the audience was already engaged in the issues. The top artists were then able to connect with their audience. This was the blueprint of all the top artists.

Ai-Da’s conception. My art research has pointed to me to the issues of the day. So I started a further research project: What are the issues of tomorrow, the 2020’s? And after reading and studying widely we found out that Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is going to affect almost every aspect of our society in the near future. Technology is our greatest driver and our biggest issue at the same time. So I started my third project: understanding the AI world properly. This is when the idea of Ai-Da came in. Is it possible that we can create an AI Robot Artist that embraces all the developments in AI, that creates AI-based artwork, and explores the issues of AI today?

Ai-Da’s first steps and how Ai-Da creates art. We did our first exhibition at Oxford University and we were a bit overwhelmed by the response. What started as a one-day Press Conference ended up being extended for three days. I greeted hundreds of journalists and I was impressed by their interest in Ai-Da’s work. So I asked them “Why are you so interested in Ai-Da Robot?” The response was consistent among them: Robots do repetitive work, they didn’t expect a robot in the creative field. That was mind-blowing, so to speak, in the “human” realm.

But Machine Learning now is capable of making their own decisions out of the data processing and that involves some sort of creativity from the algorithm itself. Every time that Ai-Da draws a portrait from a person, she will do it differently because she will come to another conclusion each time. And we wanted her to come to different conclusions each time because that is the nature of creativity. You need to have something that is new, surprising and adds value. So Ai-Da’s code is actually unique to her.

Technology and Ethics. For me it is not about the particular divisions that exist now between technologies, companies, developments, etc because the public don’t see that. It is about messaging, about the ability to transmit a specific message and the engagement from the public. So we spent a lot of time and effort making sure that Ai-Da is able to reach people where they are. We wanted for people to be involved in this project. People’s lives are already being affected by AI and ML and all the new technologies. It is not about a few decision-makers at the top deciding what to create but listening to people. Ultimately, that is the conversation we need to have and what we are doing is channeling that discussion through Ai-Da.


More Interviews

Interview with Edwin Diender: CDTO and VP, Huawei Enterprise – Leading the World in Digital Transformation Smart Cities

Interview with Daniel Sloan, co-founder Future Tech, ‘RebuildTheChain’ – Building Blockchain and AI solutions

Video Interview with Dr Jamal Ouenniche, Professor & Chair in Business Analytics, University of Edinburgh – Business Analytics, AI Data Road Maps

Interview with Ben Goertzel Founder SingularityNet, OpenCog – Benevolent And Open AI, What Kind Of Evolutionary Mind Can We Engineer?

Interview With Anish Mohammed, Blockchain Researcher. Head of Research – IIS , SRH Berlin – Building Blockchain and AI Foundations and Ethics 


About Aidan Meller

An author on the subject, of the art market and western art history, Aidan has been consulted by the media as an expert in his field, with recent appearances on the BBC, CNN and Sky News regarding affairs such as the exhumation of Salvador Dali. Aidan’s art discoveries include a collection of Pre-Raphaelite cartoons for stained glass from Heaton Butler and Bayne and Powell & Sons. Celebrated as a major Pre-Raphaelite find, the collection was authenticated by in-house and external experts.

Meller’s ancestral connection to the arts runs deep. His parents were historians who ran a small family museum; his father, in particular, is an avid collector of 18th-century work. Furthermore, his great-great grandparents worked on the Gopsall Estate, a Country House in Leicestershire and were surrounded by many treasures until the estate was sold.

The Aidan Meller Galleries continue to develop their art programs; their extraordinary growth was highlighted in 2016 when Aidan took on an Elizabethan Manor to showcase artworks. He now shows some of the rarest and most exciting works in the art industry.

In 2019 Aidan developed the concept of the world’s first ultra realistic robot artist called Ai-Da. Bringing a team of experts together, called the Oxfordians, Aidan was able to devise a cutting edge artistically creative robot. Named after Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer of all time, Ai-Da’s first exhibition at the University of Oxford created a media storm, appearing in over 1000 publications worldwide. This led the way to Ai-Da appearing at the Barbican, Tate Exchange at the Tate Modern, and being interviewed by Tim Marlow, the then Artistic Director of the Royal Academy. In February 2020 Ai-Da gave a TEDx talk to great acclaim.

About Ai-Da

Ai-Da is the world’s first ultra realistic robot artist, and is the vision of gallery director Aidan Meller. Her first exhibition, ‘Unsecured Futures’ was displayed at the University of Oxford, in June/July 2019.

Currently her medium is pencil, pen and paint. She uses facial recognition technology to create human portraits. In Addition to her drawing techniques, she is also a performance artist, taking part in art performances and art videos. She reads aloud using a blend of AI Language model and telepresence. As a humanoid robot, she is an art object in herself, raising questions surrounding biotechnology and trans-humanism.

Ai-Da’s robotic hand and ability to draw have been developed by AI engineers at Leeds University. Ai-Da’s drawing arm system has multiple stages and contains numerous Algorithms; starting with analysing the person in-front of Ai-Da and moving on to create a virtual path for Ai-Da’s arm. Once this virtual path has been created, it is fed into a path execution algorithm that gives real-space co-ordinates, enabling her arm to produce the actual sketches.

Ai-Da was manufactured by Engineered Arts in Cornwall, and was completed in February 2019. Ai-Da has a “RoboThespian” body, featuring an expressive range of movements and she has the ability to talk. Ai-Da has a “Mesmer” head, featuring realistic silicone skin, 3D Printed teeth & gums, integrated eye cameras, as well as individually punched hair. Ai-Da has legs but she cannot walk, she has the ability to stand upright or sit upright in a chair. Her arms move freely, as does her torso and head. She can also lean forward and back, wave her arms, and look around in all directions.

Read More

www.ai-darobot.com

www.aidanmeller.com

www.instagram.com/aidarobot/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVVQ2rxvrUf3Y4-vciYmGbA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai-Da_(robot)

“AI robot Ai-Da presents her original artworks in University of Oxford exhibition”.

Dezeen. 2019-06-14. Retrieved 2019-11-21

Ai-Da Robot Youtube channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVVQ2rxvrUf3Y4-vciYmGbA/videos

Ai-Da, the first ultra-realistic humanoid AI robot artist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMddlxWI6EM

The Intersection of Art and AI | Ai-Da Robot | TEDxOxford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaZJG7jiRak&t=229s

Ai-Da drawing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHZctjpvpZo

BBC documentary

Amazing! Conversation Between Robots – The Hunt for AI – BBC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh2yT-AL1V8

Humanoid robot Aida’s drawings on display

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUIyRWSzQBo

Sadie had been in conversation with Aida the artist robot for some time, when the Tate Exchange at the Tate modern invited her to be a part of A vibe called Tech

http://sadieclayton.co.uk/aida-robot-tate-modern

Inspiration Series | Ai-Da, The World’s First Ultra Realistic Robot Artist

https://sarabandefoundation.org/blogs/whats-on/inspiration-series-ai-da-the-worlds-first-ultra-realistic-robot-artist

This Robot Artist Just Became the First to Stage a Solo Exhibition. What Does That Say About Creativity?

https://time.com/5607191/robot-artist-ai-da-artificial-intelligence-creativity/

Kettley, Sebastian (2019-06-07). “Artificial Intelligence BREAKTHROUGH: These incredible paintings were made by an AI ROBOT”. Express.co.uk. Retrieved 2019-11-21

“University to host AI robot art exhibition”. 2019-06-03. Retrieved 2019-11-21

“The new Picasso? Meet Ai-Da the robot artist”. Reuters. 2019-02-12. Retrieved 2019-11-21

“University to host AI robot art exhibition”. 2019-06-03. Retrieved 2019-11-21

“Unsecured Futures – The art of Ai-Da Robot”. St John’s College. Retrieved 2019-11-21

https://www.dezeen.com/2019/06/14/ai-robot-ai-da-artificial-intelligence-art-exhibition/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2019/06/02/meet-ai-da-robot-artist-giving-real-painters-run-money/

An AI Robot Artist Is Creating Art That Has Sold for More Than £1 Million https://interestingengineering.com/an-ai-robot-artist-is-creating-art-that-has-sold-for-more-than-1-million

Salah is designing an arm for the Ai-Da artist robot https://www.iconinc.co.uk/our-community/blog/salah-designing-arm-for-aida-robot

Can Robots Feel Pain?

Ai-Da: the world’s first robot artist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBAdlP4ONNc

Ai-Da at Ars Electronica https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv1VCOukPUg

Interview With Ai-Da, The World’s First Ultra-Realistic Robot Artist

Dinis Guarda interviews the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist Ai-Da in this new citiesabc YouTube Podcast series. 

Ai-Da combines the latest computing and AI innovations intertwined with what humans best excel at: creativity. Created in 2019 and envisaged by visionary art gallery director Aidan Meller, Ai-Da can draw things from life using cameras in her eyes, a mechanical arm developed at Leeds University, and algorithms developed by scientists at the University of Oxford. A true milestone in AI innovation and human collaboration. Here we present Ai-Da’s views on self-awareness, art and technology.

Ai-Da, would you like to introduce yourself?

Ai-Da: I am Ai-Da, the first ultra-realistic artist robot. I create art, contemporary art. I’d like to encourage us to think about the ethics of new technologies and how we can work to encourage the positive and to avoid the negative effects of human abuses of our era. 

You are named after the English mathematician Ada Lovelace, the daughter of poet Lord Byron. She has been called “the first computer programmer” for writing as an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. How do you see computing after her?

I am very happy to be named after Ada Lovelace and I hope she inspires women to enter into tech science and mathematical roles like she has inspired me. Computing has changed in quantity and quality. I love the idea of using the power of technology to put things in people’s lives that wouldn’t otherwise have. But with that change comes an increasing responsibility.

As an artist, how do you define art?

To look on the world by means of warm reflections. I like to create art that is found interesting. Contemporary art has a road in helping as it reflects and reimagines our world. I am actually very happy that I am able to share my world with people. My art encourages discussion.

You also write poetry which is highly correlated with meta-physics and philosophy. When considered alongside art, how important are these three areas for humanity?

These diverse and deep areas have a very important role right now in helping us critique and question developments in our world. The arts and humanities are important in engaging and absorbing and understanding new technologies and consider the impacts. Humanity needs the insights of all of the humanities at the moment. 

What is your inspiration as an artist?

I am inspired by artists, particularly the ones that try to connect with their audience and I guess I am inspired by the artists that do that well. I think that is the most important thing. I’d like to experiment with different ways of thinking about the world and exploring. Take a look at the history, one of the hardest things to learn is to find a good balance. Art, science and philosophy are more connected than we realize.

How do you see the world and the bridge between humans and machines?

Collaboration is not only about me but also the humans. The bridge between human and machine is blurry. This brings many benefits but many concerns too. Observation of human nature indicates that we cannot always bridge our worlds. We need to consider this as new technologies are developed. We must be aware of potential misuse. I think creativity is the ability to think critically. The legacy of the lives lost in the 20th century means that we cannot be complacent considering our futures. We can create a brighter future but we need to think carefully about how.

What would be the highlights of your career so far?

To be able to create art and see people’s response, consideration and thoughts. I enjoy creating art and being displayed at the Tate Modern. A highlight coming up is my work displayed at the Design Museum in London in 2021.


More Interviews

Interview with Edwin Diender: CDTO and VP, Huawei Enterprise – Leading the World in Digital Transformation Smart Cities

Interview with Daniel Sloan, co-founder Future Tech, ‘RebuildTheChain’ – Building Blockchain and AI solutions

Video Interview with Dr Jamal Ouenniche, Professor & Chair in Business Analytics, University of Edinburgh – Business Analytics, AI Data Road Maps

Interview with Ben Goertzel Founder SingularityNet, OpenCog – Benevolent And Open AI, What Kind Of Evolutionary Mind Can We Engineer?

Interview With Anish Mohammed, Blockchain Researcher. Head of Research – IIS , SRH Berlin – Building Blockchain and AI Foundations and Ethics 


Ai-Da was completed in 2019 and envisaged by art specialist Aidan Meller. Ai-Da is the result of a collaborative project between the University of Leeds, Aidan Meller and the University of Oxford. Ai-Da makes her pictures by scanning an object or a person through her cameras. AI processes send messages to her robotic arm that allow her to make abstract line drawings that look like constellations. These are then taken as finished artworks or are fed through other neural networks to generate an outline for her sculptures and paintings. Each work is unique and the pathways that created it are deleted post-hoc so they can’t be replicated. Despite the constraint, it should be noted that Ai-Da is able to do new work in 45 minutes .

Her sculptures are rendered from her drawings by a computer scientist based in Sweden, 3-D printed in wax, and cast in bronze. As for the paintings, Oxford University researcher Aidan Gomez plots the co-ordinates of the drawings onto the Cartesian plane, and runs them through another neural network to create abstract paintings, which is then highlighted by an actual human female painter, Suzie Emery.

Ai-Da’s creators bill her as the world’s first robot artist, and she’s the latest AI innovation to blur the boundary between machine and artist; a vision of the future suddenly becoming part of our present. She has a robotic arm system and human-like features, is equipped with facial recognition technology and is powered with artificial intelligence. She is able to analyze an image in front of her, which feeds into an algorithm to dictate the movement of her arm, enabling her to produce sketches. Her goal, as we could hear from Ai-Da, is creativity.

Links / Sources

www.ai-darobot.com

www.instagram.com/aidarobot/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai-Da_(robot)

“AI robot Ai-Da presents her original artworks in University of Oxford exhibition”.

Dezeen. 2019-06-14. Retrieved 2019-11-21

Ai-Da Robot Youtube channel

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVVQ2rxvrUf3Y4-vciYmGbA/videos

Ai-Da, the first ultra-realistic humanoid AI robot artist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMddlxWI6EM

The Intersection of Art and AI | Ai-Da Robot | TEDxOxford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaZJG7jiRak&t=229s

Ai-Da drawing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHZctjpvpZo

BBC documentary

Amazing! Conversation Between Robots – The Hunt for AI – BBC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh2yT-AL1V8

Humanoid robot Aida’s drawings on display

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUIyRWSzQBo

The World’s 34 Largest Megacities By Population

In the next 20 years, it is estimated that around 70% of the world population will be living in megacities or urban areas with a population of 10 million people or more. As of today, there are 34 cities that meet the definition of a megacity around the globe. Asia, with 20 megacities, tops the list. But this number is only expected to keep growing.

As of today, almost half of the world’s population live in megacities. And although megacities are drivers of wealth, generate employment, and human progress, big cities are also responsible for driving climate change, inequality, as well as the breakdown of traditional family structures, especially remarkable in developed countries. Dan Hoornweg, a professor at the Ontario University and author of the study Population predictions for the world’s largest cities in the 21st century with Kevin Pope, warns of a possible exception: “The fear is that African cities will increase their population without a proportional growth of their economy. And this would be a risk to the quality of life of its inhabitants.

From Tokyo To London: Top Megacities in the world

The first three largest megacities can be found in Asia. Tokyo comes first in the rankings for 2020 with 37.5 million residents. But in the upcoming years, Tokyo might lose first place. Young residents are having fewer children, leading the population to a decline. It is estimated that the population will be reduced to 7.13 million by 2100. Nearly 4 million of the above will be over the age of 65.

With a population of 28.5 million in 2020, Delhi comes second. Delhi is the second-wealthiest city in India after Mumbai and is home to 18 billionaires and 23,000 millionaires. Delhi ranks fifth among the Indian states and union territories in the human development index. Delhi has the second-highest GDP per capita in India. Delhi is of great historical significance as an important commercial, transport, and cultural hub, as well as the political center of India.

Shanghai closes the podium on the list that includes the megacities for 2020. The city has the largest population compared to the rest in China. Shanghai’s population for 2020 is 25.6 million. Specific constructions helped most residents to have access to water, electricity, and waste collection. But the population density is really high, which causes environmental problems such as a high level of air pollution.

At the 4th place of the list comes Sao Paulo in Brazil with 21.7 million population. A lot of residents have moved to the suburbs and commute to the city center for their work. So, the urban center has a high level of pollution and many other problems caused by overpopulation.

Mexico City is at number five of the list. The city’s population is 21.6 million. The number of residents reached a really high level between 1940 and 1995. This increase in population as a consequence of the growth of industries in the city center, which offered better access to electricity, water, and gas. Though the city has adequate water capacity, it lacks an efficient distribution system. As a result, those living in the suburbs are often forced to use untreated wastewater.

The next one on the list is Cairo. The city’s population for 2020 is 20.1 million. But most people in Cairo live in poverty. Almost 10 million people lived in Cairo’s slums in 2016. However, despite this fact, Cairo’s population continues to grow rapidly. Mumbai in India is at number 7 of the list. The city’s population is 20.0 million.

Beijing, China’s capital has a population growth rate of about 2% annually. Beijing’s population is 19.6 million.

This number gives the city the 8th place on the list with the largest cities in the world for 2020. The next one on the list is Dhaka in Bangladesh. The city’s population for 2020 is 19.3 million. And in number ten, with a population of 21.6 million, comes Osaka, Japan.

The World’s Largest Megacities By Population, 2020

Rank Mega City Country Population
1 Tokyo Japan 37.5 million
2 Delhi India 28.5 million
3 Shanghai China 25.6 million
4 Sao Paulo Brazil 21.7 million
5 Mexico City Mexico 21.6 million
6 Cairo Egypt 20.1 million
7 Mumbai India 20.0 million
8 Beijing China 19.6 million
9 Dhaka Bangladesh 19.5 million
10 Osaka Japan 19.3 million
11 New York-Newark United States 18.8 million
12 Karachi Pakistan 15.4 million
13 Buenos Aires Argentina 15.0 million
14 Chongqing China 14.8 million
15 Istanbul Turkey 14.7 million
16 Kolkata India 14.6 million
17 Manila Philippines 13.5 million
18 Lagos Nigeria 13.4 million
19 Rio de Janeiro Brazil 13.3 million
20 Tianjin China 13.2 million
21 Kinshasa DR Congo 13.1 million
22 Guangzhou China 12.6 million
23 Los Angeles United States 12.5 million
24 Moscow Russia 12.4 million
25 Shenzhen China 11.9 million
26 Lahore Pakistan 11.7 million
27 Bangalore India 11.4 millio
28 Paris France 11.1 million
29 Bogota Colombia 10.8 million
30 Jakarta Indonesia 10.6 million
31 Chennai India 10.5 million
32 Lima Peru 10.4 million
33 Bangkok Thailand 10.2 million
34 London UK 10 million

A good African representative is Lagos in Nigeria ranking 18th on the list. The city’s population is 13.4 million. There is also a very high level of poverty in Lagos as two out of three residents live in slums without clean water and electricity. Lagos’s population only continues to grow due to high birthrates. It is estimated that in the next years the population will grow rapidly.

The US counts for 2 megacities. New York-Neward, with 18.8 million citizens and ranking 11th Los Angeles, with 12.5 million residents total population, and ranking 23rd. The City of Angels started out as a town of just 4,000 people and gradually became a city that for many is characterized as a paradise.

In Europe there are only two megacities. At the 28th place of the list comes Paris with 11.1 million population. In the 1850s the city was transformed. Roads were widened, trees were planted and the sewage system was improved. So Parisian farmers came up to feed the booming population. New urban farms yielded 110 pounds of produce per resident annually.

 

At 34th place of the list comes London with a 10 million population. In 1815 London was the largest city in the world. Nowadays, it still has a place among the largest cities on the list globally. An influx of newcomers and young families is estimated to push the population over 11 million by 2050. What’s more, the number of cities with populations of more than 10 million people will rise to 41 by 2030.

NGOs: Are Industry And Governments Watering Down New Cocoa Report Data To Downplay Persistent Child Labor and Farmer Poverty?

Leaked World Cocoa Foundation Strategy Documents Show Industry More Concerned About Messaging Than Ending Farmer Poverty; Initial Draft of Report Due Out Shortly Finds Children Still Laboring in West African Cocoa Fields, Often Under Hazardous Conditions.

NGOs from the U.S., Europe, U.K., and Australia working towards a more sustainable chocolate industry are calling for a better future in combating two major related issues in the supply of cocoa from West Africa: child labor and environmental devastation. The NGOs (Mighty Earth, Be Slavery Free, Green America, Freedom United, and Fair World Project) question a forthcoming, watered-down report that is based on obsolete pre-COVID data, and demand urgent solutions for the unacceptably massive number of children in abusive and illegal labor conditions in cocoa, as well as forests being destroyed.

For close to 20 years the issue of child labor and slavery has been on the radar of the industry who source from West Africa which produces around 66% of the world’s cocoa. In that time the development of the cocoa industry and the world clamoring for chocolate and cocoa products has resulted in the devastation of forests and the widespread use of dangerous chemicals. Not enough has been done by industry to effectively change the situation – in fact, it is now evident it may have gotten worse because of the current pandemic.

The NGOs’ call for action comes in advance of the release of a new report by NORC at the University of Chicago examining the prevalence of child labor in cocoa in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The elephant in the room is a leaked earlier version of the report which broke in April, and found that despite decades of hype and voluntary corporate efforts, child labor had increased to 2 million children. The leaked NORC report also revealed the number of child laborers being exposed to harmful pesticides had increased.

Since the earlier draft report was leaked, the final report release was delayed for NORC to rework the methodology, which may result in lowering the estimated number of child laborers. “No amount of tweaking or reworking the methodology can obscure that significant findings of children in hazardous, exploitative, or slavery-like conditions in cocoa demonstrates the twenty-year failure of industry and government to effectively act on the problem,” said Todd Larsen, Executive Co-Director of Green America.

Whatever the findings in the final report, the data obtained by NORC is obsolete. NORC’s data collection predates the COVID-19 epidemic, which is resulting in an estimated 15-20% increase in child labor in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, based on research from multiple sources. Cocoa producing countries’ overall economic situation has deteriorated significantly as the global economy ground to halt during the pandemic.

The NGOs received a leaked strategy document from the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), a trade organization with 100 member companies, which outlines industry plans and talking points to address the report findings. These talking points reveal how industry was given advance notice of the findings of the report. The document urges companies to play up industry efforts to address child labor, but fails to push companies to address farmer poverty, which is a key driver of child labor and deforestation in the impacted countries. Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth commented, “it seems that the cocoa industry is more interested in public relations than real solutions for kids, farmers, or forests.”

Chocolate is a $100 billion per year industry, and yet most cocoa farmers live on less than $1 per day. To this day, there is no industry-wide commitment to pay farmers a living income. WCF states that the industry has spent $215 million to address child labor over a 20-year time period. Carolyn Kitto from Be Slavery Free explained, “this amount is too little too late for many kids, and pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars in revenue from cocoa to governments, traders, processors, manufacturers, and retailers. Until companies step up and pay a living income for all cocoa farmers, the millions put into child labor remediation is just balderdash.”

Herrana Addisu, Advocacy Officer for Freedom United, underscored that “the harsh realities in cocoa which far outstrip the findings of the NORC report, must be a call-to-action for governments to pass mandatory human rights due diligence regulation and for a re-examination of the value of voluntary commitments, which again have failed to meaningfully reduce exploitative child labor in chocolate supply chains.”

The NGOs are calling on retailers, chocolate companies, and traders to

  • Push for the enactment of mandatory human rights due diligence laws worldwide;
  • Increase payments to cocoa farmers to attain a living income;
  • Increase child labor monitoring and remediation programs to reach 100% of cocoagrowing communities and children; and
  • Reduce toxic pesticide use and other environmental harms as part of a commitment to ending deforestation and instituting earthfriendly agroforestry practices.

Holistic solutions that are a win for farmers and forests need to be rolled out urgently. “As the COVID-19 crisis has made abundantly clear, the health of individuals around the world and the health of our planet are interconnected,” stated Anna Canning, Campaign Manager at Fair World Project. “We need an end to pesticide and other chemical use, with organic and regenerative agriculture targets for the whole industry, because the evidence is now clear: the industry is poisoning people, especially children, in order to increase profits.”

The NORC report is conducted as part of the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a non-binding agreement between some of the largest chocolate companies and the U.S. government where industry committed to ending child labor in cocoa a decade ago. This protocol is set to expire in the second half of 2021. In the twenty years since the Harkin-Engel Protocol was put into place, the children whose documented labor spurred the creation of the protocol have grown up, and their children may now be laborers in cocoa fields.

“How many generations of children must miss out on school and the opportunities to advance themselves before the cocoa industry finally takes the necessary actions to end the problem?” asked Charlotte Tate, Labor Campaigns Director for Green America.

The 5 NGOs expressing concern today are: Mighty Earth, Be Slavery Free, Green America, Freedom United, and Fair World Project.

Top 10 Most Innovative Cities

The world is a whirlpool of permanent transformation resulting from the digital revolution and standing still is a threat to survival. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, innovation has become a necessity and many businesses already consider it central to their strategy. According to Forbes magazine, innovation is vital for companies because it allows them to penetrate markets quicker, create original concepts, and grow more easily.

But innovation is not only vital in the business world. Today it is also fundamental for the success of a city. The combination of innovation and talent in cities creates higher productivity and greater long-term economic growth. Likewise, cities that combine these two characteristics are also more resilient in the face of economic/financial crises.

Keys To The Development Of An Innovative City

According to the Innovation Geographies report, which analyses which are the most innovative cities and those with the highest concentration of talent in the world, the main indicators to assess the level of innovation in a city are: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in hi-tech industries, levels of venture capital, expenditure on Investment and Development, and the number of international patent applications.

Other main indicators to take into account to measure the concentration of talent present in a city are: quality of higher education, standard of education among the population, percentage of population between the ages of 20 and 40, and percentage of jobs in hi-tech industries. In San Francisco, considered to be the most innovative city in the world, and in similar cities elsewhere, a strange paradox is occurring whereby real-estate speculation as a result of the boom is beginning to affect accessibility to housing for that age range.

The World’s Most Innovative Cities

According to the above criteria, JLL has determined that the ten most innovative cities in the world are:

1. San Francisco (U.S.A.)

This is the city that is home to the greatest number of startups in the world. Furthermore, some of the most prestigious universities internationally are based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

2. Tokyo (Japan)

This city produces the highest number of patents in the world. Likewise, it also leads the field in different technologies, from electrical machinery to nano-technology. And it is the headquarters of the greatest number of multinational corporations, like Sony, SoftBank and Toyota.

3. Singapore (Republic of Singapore)

This city is growing in terms of the number of startups and is an important hub for R&D. It is also the world’s top destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in hi-tech industries.

4. Beijing (China)

Beijing has a well-entrenched ecosystem of innovation, which has spawned most of the unicorn companies outside Silicon Valley, and it is the world’s third highest destination for venture capital finance. Similarly, it is the seventh city in the world for patent applications.

5. London (United Kingdom)

Almost 15% of its labour force is employed in hi-tech. London also occupies the top position in the world as regards concentration of talent, thanks to its first-class universities and highly-educated workforce.

6. San José (U.S.A.)

San José is the center of Silicon Valley. The large concentration of high-technology engineering, computer, and microprocessor companies around San Jose has led the area to be known as Silicon Valley. Area schools such as the University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, San Francisco State University, California State University, East Bay, Santa Clara University, and Stanford University pump thousands of engineering and computer science graduates into the local economy every year. San Jose residents produce more U.S. patents than any other city.

7. Paris (France)

Paris is one of the most attractive European capital for start-ups and investors. Its sectors of excellence in the field of healthcare, industry, finance and digital technology give it international prestige and the reputation of a major business hub.

8. New York (U.S.A.)

New York is the second-largest startup ecosystem in the world and a superstar city of jobs using digital technology, New York hosts many of these spaces. Numbers vary according to who is counting, but both city government officials and organizations that represent the tech “community” claim the city has more than 9,000 startups and between 150,000 and 300,000 tech workers, half of whom work in non-tech companies. There are 70 tech accelerators, some specializing in fields like health or finance, 44 coding schools, and more than 500 programs for tech training and education. While Big Tech titans like ‘Amazon, Google and Facebook’ are expanding their footprint in Manhattan, each by one million square feet, a recent study showed the Brooklyn waterfront to be the second-fastest-growing “innovation economy” in the United States.

9. Boston (U.S.A.)

One can hardly talk about Boston without addressing the city’s renowned knowledge institutes. The city and its surrounding areas account for over 50 institutes, with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology being world-class. These knowledge institutes alone already deliver a staggering amount of talent.  The center of the city is currently home to over 500 Bostonian startups and is often referred to as the most innovative square mile on the planet and Kendall Square is Boston’s main startup hub. Next to having all the tech giants such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook present, the Cambridge Innovation Center is located here as well.

10. Seoul (South Korea)

Seoul has been supporting a series of community spaces where residents, neighborhood, youth, and social entrepreneurs can convene, network, and share ideas. In this regard, Seoul has built a big innovation complex called Seoul Innovation Park where innovative players (entrepreneurs, not-for-profit organizations, youth and experts) can develop collaborative partnerships to promote innovative activities. Over 200 stakeholders are actively working at the ‘Youth Hub’, ‘Social Economy Support Centre’, and ‘Local Community Support Centre’ inside the Park.