A Big Think Interview With Michael Landau
Mr. Landau is a former board member of Regalian PLC, a British real estate development company.
Mr. Landau has been an invited speaker at several conferences and forums, among them a presentation on “Africa’s Industrial Drive: The Private Sector and Corporate Citizenship” at the African Union/U.N. Global Compact Private Sector Forum in Addis Ababa. At this event MAP International was featured as “best practice.” Mr. Landau was also an invited speaker at the CHOGM, the Commonwealth Business Forum in November 2007 in Uganda, and was recently an invited speaker at the AOSIS/United Nations Foundation and Friends on Climate Change Roundtable, hosted by the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations.
Active in community-based initiatives, Mr. Landau has hosted and chaired several political forums and meetings with the New York City Police Department. He is the chairman of the Council of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of Manhattan (New York City), an umbrella group representing the Jewish community to government and political leaders. He also has extensive experience interfacing with UN leaders as a community representative—a relationship that began when he initiated the creation of a UN special stamp edition in remembrance of the International Day of Commemoration for Victims of the Holocaust.
Mr. Landau was recently invited to serve on the board of the World Sports Alliance, an intergovernmental organization whose mission is to use sport as a catalyst to design and implement programs to realize the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. He received his bachelor's degree from the London School of Economics and a master's degree in real estate development and finance from New York University. He received his law degree from Yeshiva University's Cardoza School of Law and is admitted to practice law in New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. He and his wife reside in New York City with their four children.
Question: What is MAP International doing in Africa?
Michael Landau: MAP International is currently building an electronic financial infrastructure program in partnership with the government of Uganda, whereby we are enabling the citizens who are previously unbankable because of their lack of identification. And we are incorporating the unbanked population by using our biometric systems and then integrating that information into a banking platform and producing ID cards and bank cards and enabling the previously unbanked to become part of a formal sector. And along with our relationship with the government, we are now building out a full banking infrastructure in the country, which includes mobile banking, Point-of-Sale machines, computer, online computer banking, and ATM machines, and creating a rather holistic integrated solution for the financial sector in Uganda.
Uganda is a country with 32 million people and counting, according to the statistics, which are very difficult to come by, good statistics in many of these developing countries. There’re some two million bank accounts in Uganda of which they don’t know how many unique users have those bank accounts. So assuming that there’re a 50 percent of unique users or even if you keep the two million less than 10 percent of people in Uganda, according to statistics that we have, have actual, have actual bank accounts and of those bank accounts, very few people have any form of electronic banking. So the majority, the vast majority of the 90 percent of the people don’t have bank accounts. The primary reason why they don’t have bank accounts is because the people don’t have a KYC identification, means Know Your Customer. They don’t have what President Museveni refers to as bankable identity.
Question: What is MAP’s role in Uganda?
Michael Landau: We started our initial discussions with the government of Uganda to try and analyze the problems and see, you know, if we’re be able to come up with some solutions for them some two and a half years ago. It took several, it took a fair amount of time until we were able to clearly define the concepts, cultivate the right relationships, close the agreements with the government to create, we’ve created a public private partnership with the government ‘cause the governments in many of these developing countries don’t have the sort of resources that are necessary, that are required to invest to create these sort of holistic solutions for the country. So that all takes a fair amount of time until everything is put into place. We started our, we went live back in, I’ll say, October, November. And since then, we’ve enrolled close to 40,000 customers, you know, with, from the post bank into our system. We have ATM machines that are operational. Point-of-Sale machines are operational. A mobile banking platform is operational, we’re just not marketing yet at this point. So it’s, from a perspective of a deployment of a solution, it’s going extremely quickly from a developing world perspective, considering that two and a half years ago, I had barely visited Uganda once, we didn’t understand the problems, from a New York perspective of wanting things to happen tomorrow. You know, it’s going much slower than I would like it to go. But, I think, from an overall perspective, it’s moving along extremely well. We’re coming across logistical issues, communication problems, which we overcome. We work with them. We understand the problems. We overcome the problems. And the fact that we are private sector and we’ve made a very significant investment of our own money into insuring that the system is going to work. And we’re not just taking grants from various entities. And if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We’ve invested a lot of money, of our own money. We’re going to make sure that things work and that they move along as fast a pace as possible. But there are challenges when you’re dealing in the developing world.
Question: How do you collaborate with the Ugandan government?
Michael Landau: It’s a very difficult regulatory environment when you’re dealing in banking and identifications, etcetera. So you need government support. But primarily, kind of what we’ve done with the government of Uganda is that we partnered with the post bank in Uganda. We have the, we have the exclusivity to operate the electronic financial infrastructure of that bank, which enables us to go ahead and, you know, make the investment to create a switch, which allows us to do ATM machines and Point-of-sale machines integrate the mobile banking, integrate the biometric identifications into the whole platform, which is very expensive. And now, we know that, for the course of the next X number of years, you know, could be, the customers are all going to be using our platform. So that’s the form of our agreement. And then, the agreement is going to, you know, kind of evolve to do kind of other payments and incorporate what they refer to as SACOS, which we would understand as credit unions in this country but when you have groups of 500 or 1,000, 5,000 people come together, currently, those SACOS savings and credit cooperative organizations. Those entities are not well-regulated to supervise in the country. It’s not a good environment for people to save because the money is not secured. The government can’t give any level of security. So parts of our understanding with the government is that our solution will be added, that we will be including the SACOS and providing a banking platform for those SACOS to be able to integrate into our overall platform, which will enable somebody from a SACOS to now have a government guaranteed savings account, that’ll enable somebody in a SACOS in a remote village to be able to save money and be able to go and travel from one place to another and have access to their money. They can use their card, their mobile phones, to be able to get access to their money even when they’re not in the village. Our system enables somebody in the city to transfer money out to the remote areas so they don’t need to travel with large wads of cash on them. It enables a teacher, who currently, you know, has to travel for two days to go to collect their cash. And if it’s a young lady, she collects a lot of, you know, 70 percent of what it is that she suppose to get because of the evolution of corruption and fraud that flows from the various cash distribution points until she gets it. Then, unfortunately, many of these people get abused at the last end of the mile. So that’s the person who’ll get our card. She’s got no real identification today. We give her an identification, we give her a bank account, and we give her the ability to, now, be paid on time, save her money, have the government guarantee her money, be able to use her cellular phone to transfer money to her friend or to her mother, wherever she may be, or to pay school fees for her kids so she doesn’t need to go for another day or two and then stand in line for a couple of days. These are experiences that people have in these developing countries.
Question: Does private business have an advantage over governments and NGOs?
Michael Landau: I don’t want to say that there’s an advantage of one over another but, you know, we are pure private sector. It’s not to say that we’re not willing, now that we have a proven product, that we’re not willing to take grants to be able to show how we can replicate our product in other places or develop new opportunities from within the platform that we’ve done. But if we would have been waiting to get a grant, most grant givers don’t want to give grants just for an idea. They would like to see, okay, something real. So it becomes a major chicken and egg situation. We saw good business opportunity for ourselves by being able to partner with the government by providing them with a solution. We saw a business model how we would be able to make a good return on our investment. And we just plowed ahead. We felt that by waiting for grants would just be, it’s not what we’re about. We’re about creating, we’re entrepreneurs. We’re about creating, creating value, creating wealth for ourselves, creating an enabling environment where the governments can train and transform the lives of the people in that country, which is a phenomenal double bottom line. You know, people talk about double bottom line, triple bottom line, shared value, or corporate social responsibility but, first, to have the ability to work with governments and change the lives of people, have a good business model where we can make money. That’s what drives us in order to go out and do what we do.
Question: Has large-scale development aid hurt Africa?
Michael Landau: My personal view is that there’re certain amounts of aid which is required because, otherwise, people will just die if they don’t get, you know, the physical, the physical aid itself. Has just been giving cash a good, has that been a successful system? Absolutely not ‘cause the majority of the money does not end up going to the people that need it because of the corruption, the fraud, and the theft, you know, ‘cause that goes on, you know, kind of within the system. And also, I think, that the people who are, you know, kind of who are accountable to be delivering a lot of the products, you know, kind of don’t have the same sort of accountability. I’m a major proponent of the public-private partnership. The idea that the private sector, we have skin in the game. We have kind of accountability to our capital to ensure that kind of the projects we work are going to be successful. We’re also long-term thinkers. We’re not looking at a return, where this is, again, one other distinction, looking to insulting of the people who use the grant money but, you know, the people who look into working on the grant and say, okay, we got a grant for a million dollars, you know, let’s use the million dollars. We say, okay, we have an investment of a million dollars, how can we ensure a return to maximize our return over the next 10 years, over the next 20 years. So the private sector is going to ensure the long-term sustainability of many of the projects that the aid money has been set up to fix.
Question: Should the private sector manage public development aid?
Michael Landau: Now, there are certain aspects that the private sector can have involvement in, certain sectors that is going to be more difficult for the private sector to have involvement in. But the way we’re setting up our operation is that there are certain areas which are core to our business, which are the banking products. And that’s how we make our money. But, because we’re working, we’re leveraging identification, once we have an identification, a biometric identification on an individual, that identification can be used for multiple products. So it can be used for creating a health registry, can be used for creating the election commission, can be used for national ID, can be used for lots of other purposes. Some of which we can make money on. Some of which we can’t. But the more of those products that we can offer the government, the more productive we are and the more beneficial we are to the government and, ultimately, the more money we can then make on the products that we actually sell. So in that way, in terms of healthcare and education and being able to deliver healthcare and educational products and videos or games for kids or, whether it’s, you know, distributing nutrition information of how people should eat and distributing it over the mobile phone or creating health registries, some of them will make money, some of them won’t. But the fact that, as an overall holistic package, we are in a position to make more money on our financial products. That’s an incentive for us to be able to offer these other products and to offer the health and the healthcare registrations and to offer many of these other solutions that these governments desperately need. And being that they will be part of an integrated agreement with the governments, it enables the World Bank, who currently, let’s say in a particular country, will give out a lot of money to people who need it in rural areas. There’s no accountability for the money as it goes and travels through the process. Our system will create transparency and accountability for the money. People will know, now, where the money went.
Question: Can you give us an example?
Michael Landau: You know, you take emergency situations. You have a disaster and a refugee disaster and you have, you know, 200,000 people who immediately need to get money or immediately need to get food. Well, we can now create an accountable system that the World Food Programme or UNICEF for helping the kids or whatever it is that the people who are receiving the aid, now, get identified and, now, get a card, you know, that will enable them to ensure that they personally get the money that they suppose to get or they get the bottle of water or the bottle of oil or the bag of rice that they’re suppose to get. And now, there’s accountability kind of in the process. There’s never been accountability or very little accountability both to the terms of the people distributing the money and to the people receiving the aid or the money, whatever, whatever the case may be. Solutions like ours, and, obviously, I’m looking to be promoting the MAP solution, is a holistic solution that goes to the core of identifying the people and providing a distribution network for, whether it’s data and whether it’s financial data, health data, whether it’s voting data, our solution is there to be able to enable the governments to help them transform the lives of the people and bring them into the 21st century, provide protections for the people ‘cause the people exist once they are identified.
Question: Do African governments want the private sector to manage development aid?
Michael Landau: Yes, I’ve had many discussions with people whether it’s at the World Bank or the IFC or USAID, DFID, and, you know, have had the opportunity to speak to many presidents and prime ministers of countries. And all of them recognize that the old model needs to be adapted. Or a new model needs to be adopted and the old model adapted. There’s a challenge there because there isn’t as much money as was available so they clearly need to be thinking in terms of new models. The concept of a PPP, of the Public Private Partnership, is something which is, it’s reasonably new in terms of being the new lexicon of the development world. There are still some people, some older bureaucrats who have this, I don’t know how to exactly how to describe it, I almost say it’s a fear or a loathing or a mistrust of the private sector, which definitely creates challenges in the world that we’re looking to play in because there are many obstructionists or old timers who have done things a certain way and they like things to continue to go in the same way. Because if money is going to be directed to the private sector to create the transformation that is required, the people who are currently responsible for giving out the grants or for receiving the grants, and there’s a bit of a revolving door, you know, kind of, sometimes in some of these organizations, they’re going to be quite threatened. Because, you know, whenever anything traditional is changed, there’s going to be a little bit of a threat to certain people. But I believe that the overall need to create sustainable models with limited amounts of money is going to create an environment where the private sector is going to be much, much more evolved, all of the agencies that we speak to today. The forward thinking people are very, very much focused on how to integrate the private sector. But the private sector, we’re very transparent. We’re here to make money and we want to make money. And if we don’t make money, we’re not going to be able to provide our intellectual property, make our capital investment because the same systems that I’m using in developing for the developing world, for using, whether it’s the biometrics, the mobile banking, all these solutions would work very well in the United States, very well in Europe, for, there are many unbanked people in these environments and these countries. The largest banks in the world, you know, are looking to provide solutions for their credit card holders, how to integrate it with the mobile banking. So I could be spending my effort and working on convincing some of the largest banks here in America and around the world to work with us. But we’re focusing our effort in the developing world ‘cause we see a very good opportunity.
Question: How does fraud occur in Africa?
Michael Landau: There are two different sorts of frauds as I understand: fraud and corruption just lump them together. You’ve got theft corruption just to give you, you know, kind of an example. And, again, I’m not looking to be insulting to the various developing world governments and to say that they’re all fraudulent and everybody there is fraudulent. They’re clearly not, there are some very honest and a lot of very, very good people over there. But some of the challenges become that, you know, when the Ministry of Finance transfers the money to the Ministry of Education, you know, ‘cause there are occasions where some of the money, and it goes, the Ministry of Education converts that check into cash. That cash, now, is going to get distributed to the districts. And then, the districts have got to, then, distribute the cash to the local parishes. Then, the parishes are going to distribute it to the school masters and to the principals in the school. So you can imagine how there could be situations where some people along that chain of the cash take their tithe, you know, along the way. So by the time the people at the, who are suppose to receive their salary, you know, the 100 percent of the cash that was given upfront to the ministry is only 80 percent left by the time it gets to the teacher at the bottom end. Now, these are the sort of situations that have been described to me as being very typical, it doesn’t always happen in every single place but, clearly, these are problems. And then, when the young woman wants to collect her, collect her $80, left over from the 100 that was, originally, suppose to get, then the person who suppose to give it to her very often will abuse the woman until he actually gives her the money ‘cause he got the power over the money. In addition to that, there are also many, many ghost employees in the system because there are no very good checks and balances. So that’s one element of the corruption and the fraud which MAP system will be able to provide a solution for us. So the governments are very keen because they’ll save a lot of money because the people get paid, you know, kind of directly so that people will be happy, they’ll get paid the amount that they’re suppose to get paid so they’ll suddenly start finding that they’re saving a lot of money from their, the time they send out $1 million or whatever the number is from the top, that they’ll find that that million dollars were actually send directly to the people. The people will get the money they’re supposed to get, but there’ll be a lot of employees that didn’t really exist. So that’s one level of corruption.
There’s another level of corruption, which is that you have to pay people to make things happen. And haven’t thought it through well enough to see kind of can MAP solution come and help out in that situation. I don’t know if we can solve every situation. But in terms of the corruption and the fraud and the lack of transparency and the abuse of payments of, you know, government payments to people and the pensions, you know, that not everybody gets all the pension they’re suppose to get because of the cash distribution, those are the sort of situations that MAP solution can provide a great benefit to developing world governments.
Question: Can governments abuse the personal information banks provide?
Michael Landau: When people aren’t identified, they just don’t exist. And there’s a lot of discussion before you ask me the next question, what about the privacy rights, you know, of the people if the governments are going to have so much information about the people because they have the biometrics. There are no, they have the health information. They have potential access to some financial information. Currently, these people don’t exist so the government has ultimate power over these people. The more you enable individuals to become part of a formal society, the more freedom they have, the more economic success they have, and everybody recognizes that economic success creates an environment of stability and of peace. So it’s very, very much in the best interest of the countries themselves, that, you know, that they can have stability and peace and it’s in the interest of the developing world to be able to create an environment where people are happy, people, you know, kind of, other people exist. And from a larger perspective, today, we’re dealing in an environment where there’s very limited money available for an ODA, an Overseas Development Assistance. So the challenge for the governments is to find ways to maximize the efficiency of the money that is being used. And I believe that by, for the donor countries, whether it’s partly through the World Bank or USAID or DFID, all these agencies, their ability to identify private sector companies that will have their own skin in the game, that have got their own agenda to ensure long-term sustainability of the projects, that there’s the ability for these companies to leverage the donor money and convert equity to growth and create an environment where there’ll be long-term success, is the way the governments need to be looking at their development money.
Question: How does MAP make a profit?
Michael Landau: Uganda is a very solid country. It’s a very, it’s one of the fantastic success stories. It’s referred to as the tiger of Africa. So we know we can make an investment in the country. We know we can trust the country. And we know that the people in the country have got enough money that we can, we can make a good living, you know. Even if they’re earning $70, $80, the efficiencies that we bring to them by their ability to earn a 100, to get a 100 percent of their money, not stand in line, before they have to go and pay their school fees or go and pay their other requirements, we know that it’s worth it for them to pay a subscription fee, a monthly subscription fee. They’re buying their time anyway. So we can make our commission on their terms. We create our money out of creating efficiencies for the people so we know we can go and make money.
Question: How has your work been affected by the financial crisis?
Michael Landau: The way that it’s affecting my investment work is that raising money for our company or private company and, like old private companies, you need, we need equity in order to be able to evolve our process. You know, we’re not in the public market and raising public money so raising money has been difficult for us. You know, because of the crisis, you know, people are far more careful in where they look to invest their money. But other than that, in terms of the need of the people that we’re working with, they are, you know, a little bit below the radar screen, you know, kind of in terms of, you know, kind of they, they have to worry about their mortgage, you know, kind of not being able to pay their mortgage. These people don’t have mortgages. So, and the financial crisis has been affecting the various countries. I think the way it is going to affect us is in the positive way because I think that the amount of money that’s going to be available for these countries to partner with us, with their own available resources to create solutions is going to be very limited. The donor countries are going to have a lot less money to go and provide the aid and just give blanket money. So I think it’s going to be a blessing in disguise for private sector companies who are looking to do public-private partnerships. I like to refer to them, sometimes, as tri-party public-private partnerships. And as much as there’s a donor country that wants to give money, they want to make sure that their money is used well and it doesn’t disappear. The donor countries want to receive money. They want it to go into long-term sustainable projects that are going to be successful for the people. And then, as a private sector like MAP, that will be able to be the linchpin that will provide, you know, the technology, the know-how kind of the private sector, you know, gumption to create the solutions that these countries need. So I think that from the perspective of private sector companies doing the business like I am doing, which is working at the bottom end, working for the, whether it’s the bottom billion, the bottom four billion, but, basically, the people who are, you know, kind of earning the $2 a day, the $3 a day are earning, you know, certainly kind of people who are in these less developed countries. That, I think, the current financial environment is going to focus the donors and focus the recipient countries into working more efficiently with a limited amount of money. And I believe that they’ll actually kind of come out to our benefit.
Question: How will your company affect Africa’s microfinance industry?
Michael Landau: Microfinance has not been widely recognized by the world as being a major stimulant for local economies in developing countries. Muhammed Yunus with the Grameen has proven in Bangladesh and other places that when you give people small amounts of money, they can, now, take that. So they can, instead of having, I’ll use the goat example. Instead of having one little goat, they can borrow a little bit of money and get the two goats, produce the third and fourth and fifth goat. And now, they’ve got money that they can, now, go and buy more fertilizer and grow more oranges or more mangoes. And it creates a multiplier effect in the rural areas. These people have also demonstrated that there’s a good repayment, very strong repayment rate for these people who borrow the microfinance. The challenge of a microfinance in a country like Uganda and many other countries is, Uganda, according to the statistics that we have, which, again, I’m not going to vouch for the veracity and the authenticity of the statistics but there’s roughly 400,000 loans, microfinance loans in Uganda, which is a percentage of the 32 million plus people that live in Uganda is a miniscule amount considering that the majority, the vast majority of the country, you know, kind of live in poverty. So it’s a shame that there aren’t more questions, why are there not more microfinance loans. In addition, they don’t know how many unique people have those 400,000 loans, was it somebody who is clever enough to get 10 loans, 15 loans using different identities or going to different banks. So that’s another one of the challenges. And generally, the challenges of microfinance are how to get the money to the people, how do people apply for the money, and how do people repay the loans in an efficient manner. If you get a hundred dollar loan and you need to repay $10 a month, to go, to travel to the nearest payment center, which can be, you know, quite far away, can sometimes cost you $10 just to go and travel. The two days it takes you to get there and your opportunity cost of not working, and then the fact that when you are traveling, people know you’re traveling with cash. So there’s tremendous inefficiencies in the whole overall system. That was actually one of the request that the government had of us in terms of creating a solution that we were able to help build the microfinance industry in the country.
Question: Will MAP make microloans?
Michael Landau: There’s no shortage of money to be lent in the microfinance environment. The government themselves have got a lot of money available. IGOs, Intergovernmental agencies, have got money available to be able to give individuals the loans. And private sector have got a lot of money available. It’s a very good business to give microfinance loans to people who work. And there’s a very a good statistics that people repay these loans. What our system does is it allows people to be identified so, now, they become part of a formal sector that people will know who they are. And that with the one fingerprint, we can double check to see, you know, how many times have they taken loans out before, have they taken out loan before in a different name? So that’s level number one. So we can identify them when they have one of our cards. We can now, we can now facilitate. And we’re enablers. We are not looking to be in the microfinance business. We are an enabler for the microfinance entities, whether it’s the banks or the governments, the NGOs, or IGOs. But we will, now, be able to facilitate the providing of a bank card. If you don’t mind, I’ll just whip out, you know, kind of a copy of a card. I mean, this is, this is an old card but this is a card that, now, is the card that we provide to the people when they get identified, you know, with the mag strip. And so, now, they, we know who they are. And that card, now, is, we can, the bank that’s going to lend them the money or the IGO will now be able to give the hundred dollar loan directly to that person. So first of all, you know that the person receive their money and they received a 100 percent of their money. Now, when it comes to, so now, you’re able to get to a much larger crowd of people who can, you know, large number of the population are now be eligible to get a loan. Now, the question is how do they repay the loan? Well, part of the MAP system is to be able to provide point-of-sale machines, which are going to be distributed all over the country so that the people can, and the point-of-sale machines are going to be in the post banks, in the post offices. They’re going to be in all these SACOS. Many of the agents, we’re going to have many agents around the country who currently sell at air time, they’re going to be our agents also. So you’ll be able to go the same place where you buy your air time. You’ll be able to go to those people and repay your loan. So you don’t need to walk for two days to be able to repay your loan. You don’t have to wait until you have $20, $30. And you’ve collected enough money that it’s worthwhile. As you have a little bit of money, you’ll be able to pay down your loan. So it becomes much, much more efficient for people to be able to pay down their loan. So from a holistic perspective, you know, the MAP solution is one that will enable the good effects of the microfinance, which is that it becomes a major stimulant and the growth multiplier in the economy. We are now enabling many, many more people, exponentially more people, to be able to become part of this very strong economic driver of growth in developing countries.
Question: Is Africa a good investment?
Michael Landau: Africa is a very much an untapped economy. When you’ve got, you know, close to a billion people, there’s just, there’s got to be tremendous opportunity over there, but one has to be careful. You know, you got to be careful what you invest, how you invest. And it’s got to be done smartly. I’m a big believer in Africa and I’ve made major investments in Africa. And I believe that if other countries take up MAP, obviously, you know, I think these economies are going to grow exponentially. Just using Uganda as an example, if we’re able to take the billion dollar salary that they pay on a yearly basis, and that money is going to flow through a formal sector through our system. It’s going to go through the post bank to be able to pay all the salaries and the pensions of a billion dollars. Currently, that billion dollars is going straight into the informal economy. When that money, now, starts to go into the formal economy because it’s going to go through a formal banking sector, we’re going to be providing lots of ways for people to use their money electronically. So 30%, 40%, who knows, maybe 50%, 60% of that money, ultimately, is going to start sticking in the float, in that formal economy. So it means that there’s going to be $3, $4, $500 million a year and accumulating exponentially, that is going to be available to help these countries go, build factories in rural areas. Instead of the mangoes rotting, they’ll build a plant in the rural area to be able to make mango juice. So there’s going to be tremendous opportunities as the population gets richer, as they have needs for processing. I mean, Africa got tremendous opportunities. I mean, they, Uganda, for example, they got some of the most fertile land in the world. So there’s tremendous opportunity for growing things and then for processing the things in the country that it’s growing. So, for example, Uganda, whether it’s coffee, whether it’s mangoes, whether it’s bananas, there are so many opportunities to grow things there. And then, if you were to process, the processing is going to be much cheaper in Uganda than it is to do it elsewhere. The government will give grants. They’ll give tax holidays to people. Salaries are lower than they are in other places in the world. So there are tremendous opportunities for people to invest. The AGOA agreement between United States and Africa, which allows imports to the United States from Africa to come in duty free. So you just got to have a little bit of faith. Anybody who wants me to help introduce them to the right people so they can have the faith in the country or speak to me so I can give them, you know, kind of beyond, you know, kind of this interview’s confidence level, there are tremendous opportunities. I would strongly advise people against any form of corruption whatsoever ‘cause it’s just not necessary and it muddies the waters in terms of the way people need to look doing business over there. So they shouldn’t think not to go because they’re just going to have to get involved in corruption and bribery, etcetera, it’s not true. Don’t, that should not be a reason why big corporates shouldn’t go out there. Individuals who got some, you know, kind of extra money or want to feel that they want to do good, there’s tremendous opportunities to make money and do good in Africa.
Question: Can you give us an economic success story in Africa?
Michael Landau: Rwanda is very much a success story. They have a very strong focus on technology. They have a president who’s extremely focused on driving his country forward. And that’s a country that we’re hoping to be working in, you know, kind of in the short-term. But that’s clearly kind of a success story of taking a country that was at the, below Death’s door and literally forcing a success. And, so that’s one country which I believe is a tremendous success. And there are other, there are other examples out there. There are tremendous opportunities, you know, kind of in sub-Saharan in Africa, of countries where have taken a more positive approach to the use of ICT. But I would say, Rwanda is probably one of the most aggressive in that. I don’t want to talk to many of the other countries ‘cause they don’t know enough about them. South Africa is clearly a leader in using technology. Our technology is developed, primarily, kind of out of South Africa. So there are clearly leaders in the space and they’re doing things but South Africa is a bit of a different story to many of the other countries in Sub-Sahara in Africa. So there’s, clearly, a lot of opportunity and there’s lot of desire on the part of these countries to evolve and use technology as they move their countries into the 21st century.
Question: Can you demonstrate how modern banking technology might help Africans?
Michael Landau: Imagine you’re in a village on a Friday night and you get to your village. It’s now 9:00 and your friend’s grandmother is very sick and you need to call the doctor. Problem is is that you go to your phone, you got no money left on your phone. And you look for the guy with a green jacket, yellow jacket to buy the scratch off cards. You can’t find him anywhere ‘cause he’s already, he’s already gone. He comes twice a week. He’s not going to be there ‘til Monday again. So, currently, you know, you hope your grandmother stays well until Monday morning. But now, you say, we’re part of the MAP system. We’re a post bank customer. We’ve actually got a whole mobile banking application. So what we’ll do is, the first thing we’ll do is to check the balance on the account. Now, this system is a live system that operates throughout Uganda but it’s a demonstration so the money is not real money that’s being, it’s not real cash but it’s a real system that’s actually working through Uganda. So if the cellular service is no good in this room over here, this demonstration won’t work. But the first thing we do is we got to balance on the account. So every transaction that we do, you have to check your, we have to get the, we have to put your pin code in. So we put in our pin code and we’re going to check now, see if we have service, you know, over here. If we do, we’re going to have a, our balance is going to be able to come through. And everybody’s going to see how much money I have in my bank account. You can see, 70,198,000 and change in my bank account. It’s roughly 2,000 shillings. It’s roughly $35,000. So now, we have money in the bank account. So now, we’re going to top-up the phones. We go to the buy prepaid and we’re going to put in our pin code. And then, we’re going to select, you know, kind of the primary bank account ‘cause we can choose different bank accounts that we want to work with. So we’re going to choose the primary account ‘cause that’s what’s program for now. And then, we’re going to pick, you see here, the primary savings credit. But we’re going to pick the primary. Now, we’re going to select the amount of money, just 2,000 shillings to the dollar. How many dollars, how many shillings of air time would you like to buy? 5,000 shillings. Okay, so we’re going to do 5,000 shillings. And we sell all the, we sell air time for all the companies in Uganda. So you can choose MTN, UTL, Warid, or Zain.
We’re going to go with Zain, formerly CelTel, and now, we’re going to go and buy the 5,000 shillings of air time and, see, Zain air time. And we got the success. And now, your balance went down to 193,000. Now, you got your 5,000 shillings of air time. So now, we’re going to call the doctor ‘cause, now, the doctor is on his way. So as we’re waiting for the doctor, why don’t we pay some bills. Right, the doctor is on his way. So what we have over here is we have beneficiaries. The way we have our system set up is that in order for people to pay their school fees, the schools got to be registered on our system. In order for people to pay their electricity bill, the electricity company has to be on our system. So I’m going to show you here some of the companies that are going to be registered on our system, that me, as a costumer, I’m going to be able to pay those bills directly from my phone in, when I’m sitting kind of comfortably under my tree in my village, now waiting for the doctor to come. So I don’t know, again, how much you can see or not. But the Kampala Junior High School, I’ve got one of my kids in the school, so now I can pay my school fees from my village without needing to go. And the school fees, and it’s registered for you, personally, to that one, the electrical company, the SACO, the insurance company. You want to buy a national lottery ticket, which is not set up yet but its all part of the potential for the future. Or if you’re a member of the Catholic Church and you want to pay your tithes, right, you can set up the Catholic Church. So now, people can pay their bills directly, which is tied in for them personally. It’s part of the system that we’re creating. So now, the doctor comes. We want to pay the doctor. So we’re going to pay to you, which is to pay the doctor. Again, we’re going to put up our code and then we’re going to pay the doctor.
Okay, we’ll give him 10,000 shillings. So we’ll do a 10,000. And now, we’re going to put in the number. The doctor we’ll assume doesn’t have a formal account on our system, meaning he’s not a beneficiary. He doesn’t have his own code number. But we’re going to just send to his phone number. So I’m going to plug in the phone number of an actual account and we’re going to reference, we’re going to put Dr. Big Think. All right? He’s a big thinking doctor. So here, this is the screen that we’re going to be sending. And now, we’re going to pay. So now, the doctor will be over there. And he’s about to give service to your grandmother, and says, I want my money, I want to see that you paid me. So we’re, he’s, now, going to have a, we’re going to get an approval, in a second, to you, payment successful, Big Think, 10,000 shillings to that amount. And you saw your balance goes down. So now, the doctor, I don’t have the other phone with me here but the other phone, for the demonstration, will now get an SMS that he received his 10,000 shillings. And say, okay, now, I’m going to treat your grandmother. Okay. So now, OK, we’re finish. The doctor leaves. And I can demonstrate what happens if you put the wrong pin code in, if you put the wrong, if you put the wrong bank account number but it’ll show up invalid pin or it’ll show up invalid bank account. So, just like if you’re on your, you know, you want to transfer money in America, you send it to the wrong account, you know, you kind of try and get it back. But if you put in wrong pin code or a non-existing banking number, you got nothing to worry about. So now, we do a little, do a little statement. So we’re going to, again, put in our pin codes ‘cause you can’t do any transactions without putting in a pin code. So now, we’re going to get the statement. And the statement is going to show that, when it pops up, it’ll show 10,000 for Dr. Big Think, 5,000 for Zain. And then, we get many statements. You get the last five. So it got the 10,000, the 5,000. And then, you know, yesterday, I demonstrate to somebody with the 1,250 and 35,000. So the person now can get an update of what it is that he did, you know, kind of on his, on his phone just by sitting in his little village. So imagine now, all of these transactions would have taken, first of all, you know, kind of took one hour between the doctor coming and doing and paying all your bills and everything. Current real world in Africa probably have a dead grandmother and a weeks worth of coming and going and moving.
Question: Could digital technology help solve the African health crisis?
Michael Landau: So it has the potential to completely transform the lives from many different perspectives. Just to show you a little bit of an advancement, not on the mobile banking but on the mobile health. Mobile health is a big thing. Everybody is talking about how do you do mobile health. So we’ve developed a little program, which is, which will enable, once we have the biometric identification on an individual, we can create a protocol, a registry for that individual so we can keep some basic information about them. So, as we, so we can do a health summary. So whatever the protocol, this is just the, this is a template that we created with the gender, the weight, the height, the BMI, and when I’ve got my next appointment, it can also include the blood type reading, including inoculations. It could include whatever the protocol is that particular country would like to have. Now, when we do the medical management, so remember, whatever is on the phone can be on appoint to cell device, it can be on a mini computer which communicates. So this can be kind of in all the, this can be wherever there’s a clinic or wherever there’s a school, you know, this information. This is just showing the holistic potential of, once we have develop this communication network, that it can be use for money, it can be use for health, it can be use for distributing anything. So here, what we do is we have this personal information. You can change your personal information. Add an appointment. So you can now kind of record when your appointment is so that the doctor can download or you can put in the doctor’s appointment and it can remind you when you have a doctor’s appointment. So that way, you don’t miss your doctor’s appointment. Add a prescription. So now, you got to your, you need to take some, a new prescription so you can tell, you can add the prescription that you need to take. In terms of which medication, well, you can add a medication, say, how often you need to take it. And it can be programmed to remind you to be able to take your medication. ‘Cause one of the big problems with AIDS drugs and all these different drugs, if you don’t take the medication on time, that you get sicker and the cost involved is just huge. And the cost involved in creating this sort of system and even giving phones, excuse me, for free to the people who are the recipients of the medication is cheaper, to be able to monitor all of these electronically, using the phones than it is to have the people not take their medication once. Because suddenly the level of medication and the sickness, etcetera, this is from a donor perspective, it’s much cheaper for them to have a phone with a system like this they can record. So now, we have, you know, so you have the frequency and the type, etcetera, but then, we can now record the medicine use. The person, when he takes his medication, it pops up and just record the use. And there are even medications today that have got, there’s a special electronic coating on the medication that when you take the medication, it can communicate with your phone that you took your medication. Again, it’s just the world, thank God, today is evolving to be an amazingly brilliant world where technology can really have a massive difference in people’s lives. And it’s no longer science fiction. It’s real. It can really be done. Just one phone I said bring. Say, you bring both phones. And then, also, we have, we’ve developed a little program called the e-doctor. So you can have a quick diagnosis. So let’s say somebody is taking, is on an AIDS program, you know, so you can, you know, kind of add a symptom, you can remove a symptom of what the person is sick. And you can, then, query the symptoms either to a live person at the other end or, this isn’t an operating program. This is our demo program to show people what we have the potential to be able to create and what the potential is on the system. And then, we have a healthcare service directory, which means that the phone can be triangulated. And if you’re looking for the nearest clinic, they don’t have yellow pages. They don’t have, but now, you know, kind of, you can do it in such a way where the people can, you know, can the phone that can say they need a doctor and it can triangulated, you know, where’s the nearest doctor. That’s for healthcare. But the same system can work for, okay, where’s the nearest, you know, where’s the nearest police station, where’s the nearest drugstore, where’s the nearest point-of-sale machine, where somebody can go and get some cash. So, the potential is huge, of where this can all go. And because we’re a private sector, we’re driven to make money, we’re driven to make sure this is successful. We’ll make our money on where, on the financial products. And we need the assistance of the donors to enable us to provide to the other services in order for us, collectively, to partner with the developing world governments to help them transform the lives of their citizens.
Recorded on: June 15, 2009
A conversation with the chairman of MAP International.
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Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.
In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.
But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?
In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?
Popularizing medical language
What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?
To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.
If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.
LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER
"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.
"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.
"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."
The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.
"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.
Too much reading causes... heat rashes?
But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.
Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."
In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."
"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.
"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."
Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."
Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.
"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."
Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?
People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.
JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW
There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.
For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.
"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.
"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."
In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.
"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.
"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."
Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.
"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.
"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."
This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.
"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.
The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'
"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."
So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?
"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.
Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.
"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.
But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.
For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.
The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.
- This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
- Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
- The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
Some countries value self-expression more than others.Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images
Question: On what map is Lithuania a neighbor of China, Poland lies next to Brazil, and Morocco and Yemen touch?
Answer: The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map. To be precise, the 2017 map. Because on the 2020 version, each of those pairs has drifted apart significantly.
These are not, strictly speaking, maps but rather scatterplot diagrams. Each dot represents a country, the position of which is based on how it ranks on two different values (discussed below). The dots are corralled together into geo-cultural groups:
- Catholic Europe, which comprises countries as diverse and far apart as Hungary and Andorra■ Protestant Europe, taking in both Iceland and Germany
- The Orthodox world, from Belarus all the way to Armenia
- The three Baltic states
- The English-speaking world, including both the U.S. and Northern Ireland
- The huge African-Islamic world, ranging from Azerbaijan to South Africa
- Latin America, which goes from Mexico to Argentina
- South Asia, which comprises both India and Cyprus
- The Confucian world, encompassing China and Japan.
The placement of the dots indicates cultural proximity or distance. Some countries from different groups can be more similar than other countries in the same group.
See the examples indicated above: cultural neighbors China and Lithuania belong to the Confucian and Baltic groups, respectively. Poland is part of Catholic Europe; its 2017 neighbor Brazil is in Latin America. Morocco and Yemen are closer culturally to Armenia, in the Orthodox group, than they are to Qatar, despite all belonging to the African-Islamic group.
The 2017 version of the map places Malta deep inside South America and lets Vietnam, Portugal, and Macedonia meet.Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Creating a culture map
So, what exactly are the criteria used for plotting these dots in the first place?
These maps are part of the World Values Survey, first conducted by political scientist Ronald Inglehart in the late 1990s. With his colleague Christian Welzel, he produced an update in 2005. The WVS has been revised several times since, most recently in 2020.
The WVS asserts that there are two fundamental dimensions to cross-cultural variation across the world. These are used as the axes to plot the various countries on the diagram.
- The X-axis measures survival versus self-expression values.
Survival values focus on economic and physical security. There is not much room for trust and tolerance of "others." Self-expression values prioritize well-being, quality of life, and self-expression. There is more room for tolerating ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities.
- The Y-axis measures traditional versus secular-rational values.
Traditional values include deference to religion and parental authority as well as traditional social and family values. Societies that score high on traditions typically also are highly nationalistic. In more secular-rational societies, science and bureaucracy replace faith as the basis for authority. Secular-rational values include high tolerance of things like divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide.
As indicated by the significant changes on the 2020 map, the cultural values of nations are not static:
- Countries that move up on the map are shifting from traditional to more secular-rational values.
- Countries that move to the right on the map are shifting from survival values to self-expression values.
- And, of course, vice versa in both cases.
According to the authors of the map, changes in cultural outlook can be the result of socioeconomic changes — increasing levels of wealth, for example. But the religious and cultural heritage of each country also plays a part.
The world's cultural landscape is dynamic — you could even say promiscuous, producing new bedfellows every few years.Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Some notable features of the 2020 map:
- The Baltic group has been dissolved; Lithuania is now part of Catholic Europe, Estonia a lone Protestant island in a Catholic sea. More worryingly, Latvia seems to have dissolved completely.
- In general, survival values are strongest in African-Islamic countries, self-expression values in Protestant Europe.
- Traditional values are strongest in African-Islamic countries and Latin America, while secular values dominate in Confucian countries and Protestant Europe.
- The United States is an atypical member of the English-speaking group, scoring much lower on both scales (that is to say, lower and more to the left). In other words, the U.S. is more into traditional and survival values than the group's other members.
- Shifting attitudes don't just separate; they also unite. Belgium and the U.S. are now culture buddies, as are New Zealand and Iceland. Kazakhstan is virtually indistinguishable from Bosnia.
The Inglehart-Welzel map is not without its critics. It has been decried as Eurocentric, simplistic, and culturally essentialist (that is, the assumption that certain cultural characteristics are essential and fixed, and that some are superior to others). Which is, of course, a very self-expressive thing to say.
For more on these maps, on the WVS surveys, and on the methodology used, visit the World Values Survey.
Strange Maps #1098
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla
- For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
- The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
- The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Considering how much sharks are feared by humans, it is a bit of a surprise that scientists don't know much about the predators. For example, until recently, sharks were thought to be solitary creatures searching the seas for food on their own. Now it appears that some sharks are quite social.
Another mystery is how these prehistoric swimming and eating machines digest food. Although scientists have made 2D sketches of captured sharks' digestive systems based on dissections, there is a limit to what can be learned in this way. Professor Adam Summers at University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs says:
"Intestines are so complex, with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won't hang together."
Summers is co-author of a new study that has produced the first 3D scans of a shark's intestines, which turns out to have a strange, corkscrew structure. What's even more bizarre is that it resembles the amazing one-way valve designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1920. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
What a 3D model reveals
Video: Pacific spiny dogfish intestine youtu.be
According to the study's lead author Samantha Leigh, "It's high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks. We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them."
"CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions," adds Summers. The researchers scanned the intestines of nearly three dozen different shark species.
It is believed that sharks go for extended periods — days or even weeks — between big meals. The scans reveal that food passes slowly through the intestine, affording sharks' digestive system the time to fully extract its nutrient value. The researchers hypothesize that such a slow digestive process may also require less energy.
It could be that this slow digestion is more susceptible to back flow given that the momentum of digested food through the tract must be minimal. Perhaps that is why sharks evolved something so similar to a Tesla valve.
What is Tesla's valve doing there?
Above, a Tesla valve. Below, a shark intestine.Credit: Samantha Leigh / California State University, Domi
Tesla's "valvular conduit," or what the world now calls a "Tesla valve," is a one-way valve with no moving parts. Its brilliance is based in fluid dynamics and only now coming to be fully appreciated. Essentially, a series of teardrop-shaped loops arranged along the length of the valve allow water to flow easily in one direction but not in the other. Modern tests reveal that at low flow rates, water can travel through the valve either way, but at high flow rates, the design kicks in. According to mathematician Leif Ristroph:
"Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which 'plug' the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents. Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes — up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications."
A deeper dive
Summers suggests the scans are just the beginning. "The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown," says Summers, adding that "every single natural history observation, internal visualization, and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at."
To this end, the researchers plan to use 3D printing to produce models through which they can observe the behavior of different substances passing through them — after all, sharks typically eat fish, invertebrates, mammals, and seagrass. They also plan to explore with engineers ways in which the shark intestine design could be used industrially, perhaps for the treatment of wastewater or for filtering microplastics.
It could fairly be said, though, that Nikola Tesla was 100 years ahead of them.
A study finds that baby mammals dream about the world they are about to experience to prepare their senses.
- Researchers find that babies of mammals dream about the world they are entering.
- The study focused on neonatal waves in mice before they first opened their eyes.
- Scientists believe human babies also prime their visual motion detection before birth.
Imagine opening your eyes for the first time as a brand new baby. The world is so mysterious, full of obstacles and strange shapes. And yet it does not take babies all that long to get their bearings, to latch on to their parents, and to start interacting. How do they do this so quickly? A new study published in Science proposes that babies of mammals dream about the world they are about to enter before being born, developing important skills.
The team, led by professor Michael Crair, who specializes in neuroscience, ophthalmology, and visual science, wanted to understand why when mammals are born, they are already somewhat prepared to interact with the world.
"At eye opening, mammals are capable of pretty sophisticated behavior," said Craig, "But how do the circuits form that allow us to perceive motion and navigate the world? It turns out we are born capable of many of these behaviors, at least in rudimentary form."
Unusual retinal activity
The scientists observed waves of activity radiating from the retinas of newborn mice before their eyes first open. Imaging shows that soon after birth, this activity disappears. In its place matures a network of neural transmissions that carries visual stimuli to the brain, as explained by a Yale press release. Once it reaches the brain, the information is encoded for storage.
What's particularly unusual about this neonatal activity is that it demonstrates a pattern that would happen if the animal was moving forward somewhere. As the researchers write in the study, "Spontaneous waves of retinal activity flow in the same pattern as would be produced days later by actual movement through the environment."
Crair explained that this "dream-like activity" makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, as it helps the mouse get ready for what will happen to it after it opens its eyes. It allows the animal to "respond immediately to environmental threats," Crair shared.
Retinal waves in a newborn mouse prepare it for vision www.youtube.com
What is creating the waves?
The scientists also probed what is responsible for creating the retinal waves that mimic the forward motion. They turned on and off the functionality of starburst amacrine cells — retinal cells that release neurotransmitters — and discovered that blocking them stopped the retinal waves from flowing, which hindered the mouse from developing the ability to react to visual motion upon birth. These cells are also important to an adult mouse, affecting how it reacts to environmental stimuli.
Graphic showing the origin and functionality of directional retinal waves.Michael C. Crair et al, Science, 2021.
What about human babies?
While the study focused on mice, human babies also seem to be able to identify objects and motion right after birth. This suggests the presence of a similar phenomenon in babies before they are born.
"These brain circuits are self-organized at birth and some of the early teaching is already done," Crair stated. "It's like dreaming about what you are going to see before you even open your eyes."