Kenya ranks high in Africa in digital technology, digital infrastructure and the use of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning.
Kenya is one of the few African countries with policy plans and documents geared towards leveraging emerging technologies, including a blueprint on blockchain and AI launched in 2019.
Blockchain technology provides a secure, decentralised, and transparent way to record and share data without involving third parties. Using it, voting systems can be transformed and sensitive data, such as medical information, can be transferred.
In contrast, AI describes computers that can recognise complex patterns, process information, draw conclusions, and make recommendations like humans.
There are many uses for AI, including driverless cars, drones, facial recognition, farming, and manufacturing, among others. The use of artificial intelligence can contribute to food security, healthcare, and social security in Africa.
To properly harness the benefits of emerging technologies (ETs), we must deliberately invest in the digital sphere. The countries and societies that develop the technology, human capital and infrastructure to use ETs will most benefit from them. Remember, "Technology waits for no one!"
The world is currently on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is a term used to describe the merger of the physical, digital, and biological worlds characterised by a fusion of advances in AI, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, quantum computing, and other technologies.
These developments can turn certain businesses and industries on their heads, like how technology affected the taxi business by creating on-demand taxi apps such as Uber that use geolocation.
Sadly, Africa is way behind on most fronts regarding the potential of emerging technologies such as AI, ML and other technologies that rely on powerful computing.
Ironically, African countries supply the world with the bulk of raw materials needed for most ETs, such as cobalt for electric car batteries and coltan for sophisticated machines.
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Also, Africa is yet to harness the second and third industrial revolutions. The first was marked by the introduction of the steam engine in manufacturing in the 1800s; the second was mass production ushered in by the use of electricity and other advancements; and the third was automation in the 1950s, transforming banking, energy and communication, respectively.
Be that as it may, emerging technologies are still being deployed in Africa and affecting African lives. This is despite little consideration over which societies and backdrops they were designed to serve.
Moreover, the nature of emerging technologies requires collecting and processing large amounts of personal data sets.
Yet data protection mechanisms are still in their infancy in most African countries. For example, Kenya has only recently set up a data protection framework, and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is hiring human resources to carry out its mandate.
Kenya and Africa cannot afford to be left behind regarding emerging technologies. Therefore, we must develop urgent and measurable plans to boost critical infrastructure such as cheap and reliable energy.
We must also invest in digital infrastructures such as affordable and reliable internet connectivity.
Furthermore, we need competent human resource development, including the availability of suitable courses in computer engineering and related fields. Last is regulation that supports these sectors' growth while protecting citizens' rights.