Ruto urges world leaders to embrace technology

President William Ruto held talks with Faustin-Archange Touadéra, President of the Central African Republic, at the Habtoor Palace, Dubai, on the sidelines of the World Governments Summit on February 12, 2024. [PSC, Standard]

President William Ruto has urged world leaders to embrace technology, citing the possibilities available through artificial intelligence (AI).

While acknowledging fears many have over the possible dangers of AI, Ruto said governments would help transform lives if they exploited the changing technology.

In a speech delivered before more than 4,000 delegates at the World Governments Summit (WGS) in Dubai, the Head of State warned that the "fear of the unknown," which drives the most resistance against AI, risked drawing back on progress.

"All change produces its winners and losers. Just as in the petroleum-powered age, the silicon-powered era is causing a mass extinction of professions and ways of life, and replacing them with new ones. Similarly, the possibilities unleashed by the new industrial revolution are also re-defining the opportunity and threat terrains across sectors," said Ruto in his address on the second day of the WGS.

His remarks mirrored those of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who had earlier said that access to intelligence could help raise the standards of living."

Ruto downplayed fears over the impact of AI on humanity's socioeconomic interactions and insisted that its benefits outweighed the risks.

"From our experience with innovation in Kenya, I would say that it is wise to be vigilant against adverse implications, antisocial applications and other threats that can arise due to unregulated or reckless experimentation with unsafe, scientifically untenable or theoretically unsound technologies, yet this must never be a ground to stand in the way of solutions to humanity's pressing needs," he said.

And he would narrate the story of a Brian Kipchumba, a college student Ruto said had no passport but works for a German-based AI company "from his laptop."

"When I visited the Silicon Valley last year, Apple’s Tim Cook informed me that his company now employs about 23,000 Kenyans, all working from Nairobi. We must not allow a fear of future unknowns to deprive brilliant youngsters like Brian of opportunities. If we sacrifice the benefits of progress hoping for security, we risk losing both," he said.

Ruto also shared Kenya's MPesa experience and his projects that seek to revolutionise digital access to services.

"Our proudest innovation, which has come to define Kenya in the digital technology space, is mobile money, which first emerged in our country as MPesa. When Safaricom launched the service 17 years ago, the country's banking sector was up in arms, pointing out that Safaricom had set out to conduct banking business without either obtaining a banking licence, or undergoing the rigours of banking regulation," he said adding that many businesses had embraced MPesa after realising its benefits.

"After rigorous debate, Kenya opted to face the future with courage, and MPesa became the legendary driver of trade, enterprise and commerce that it has become, transacting USD 1.2 billion every day, serving over 5 million enterprises and 61 million customers across 8 countries and counting," Ruto said.

The Head of State also shared his government's efforts in ensuring the marginalised communities from all sectors are included in the digital revolution, highlighting the universal healthcare plan and the digital registration of farmers

The president further praised his Hustler Fund programme for granting small enterprises access to cheaper credit.

 As we speak, the Hustler Fund has 18.2 million customers and has disbursed USD 280 million in its first year of operation."

The 11th edition of the WGS comes to a close on Wednesday. The event has featured government and thought leaders, with the main focus being on the opportunities offered by AI.

On Tuesday various innovators showcased inventions, such as an American-made electric flying taxi that is set to be fully rolled out in Dubai in 2026.

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