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From Earth to Space; Technology and the Future

From the Earth to the Moon” published in 1865, Jules Verne fantasized about lunar modules, sunlight landing, and moon missions. It is over one hundred and fifty years and her “fantasy” has come true, more real than eyes can see. Kernel Capek invented the term ‘robot’ in 1920, today robots are part of our existence. The world today is a visceral hub of many technological advancements that were initially thought impossible; tech giants like SpaceX, Apple, Google, Tesla, Facebook, and many others are creating products and services many who lived a few decades ago would refer to as magic. This is to show us that the pace of change around us is much faster than we can imagine. Advance hardware and software tools are now being developed to augment our daily life experience. Such that what looked like a fantasy and mere overreaching ambitions decades ago have, in our lifetime become admissible reality. In today’s world, talks of flying cars, self-propelled electronic vehicles, space shuttles, and monstrous, gravity-defying architecture suddenly do not sound like wishful thinking anymore, rather Technology and the Future.

Interestingly, despite the noticeable advancement and all-round technological development, the use of the word ‘technology’ has become a shorthand, catch-all sort of word that its meaning has been shrouded in conceptions and misconceptions. More so, that our views and conversations about technology have always been laced with an undertone sense of ethics, and differing cultural and ideological infatuations. These different attempts have either seen technology as a disruptive and destructive system that creates problems, or an application of science that is used to solve problems, simplify our daily lives and extend our abilities. And while both are right in the sense that these realities are possible, they are equally wrong in that they have only taken a restrictive and subjective view of the application of technology, and not primarily what it is – a tool, process, system, product or service that could be used for multiple purposes. They neglect the crucial component of any technological system – human beings. We drive Technology and the Future with our innovations, research, and applications, such that whatever technology is today is what we have made it be.

People apply technology; when it is properly used it is good technology, and the opposite when used for malicious purposes. This only further testifies to the understanding that “technology” is wide and transient, and everyone has their way of understanding it based on its usefulness and otherwise to them. For instance, John, a postman whose work had been replaced by the direct impact of technology is bound to express skepticism on the impact of technology, it doesn’t matter whether the same technology had provided more jobs for other folks.

The Consideration

For what it’s worth, technology has come to say. It has formed the fabric of our everyday life – at work, home, and everywhere else between. We use technology to aid communication, transportation, manufacturing, learning, health and lifestyle, businesses and so much more. For example, the World Economic Forum Report stated that the advent of broadband technology has enabled accelerating macroeconomy growth in many countries. We now have digital economies where innovations are constantly evolving to solve problems, create unique experiences and accelerate business performance. In health, medical technology is used to extend and improve human lives; adopting this technology has enabled easier and faster diagnoses and treatments of diseases and infections. With digital analytics software like Agrivi, and the likes, that predicts and delivers crop and weather data, farmers can now generate more produce all year long. Automation and Blockchain technology has revolutionized the financial industry to the extent that one only need to punch codes and buttons to perform transactions, a far cry from miles of stress one had to go through to perform the simplest transaction decades ago. Big data is redefining how businesses deliver products and services to suit their customers’ needs. Assistive technology (such as an off-road wheelchair) has allowed people with disabilities to accomplish specific tasks that were hitherto seemingly difficult or impossible to perform. What technology has brought to our current age is how quickly and seeming impossible becomes not only possible but part of our daily realities.

However, despite the obvious benefits of technology, the sweeping pace at which it is genetically modifying human behavioral responses is worrisome and sometimes could cause one to look at the future as either terrifying or promising, depending on what sides of the argument you sit on critical issues such as human relations, security, privacy, and control.

In his article, “Technology isn’t just changing society – it’s changing what it means to be human” Sean Illing asked Michael Bess, a historian of science at Vanderbilt University, and author of Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in a Bioengineered Society, about the role of technology in human lives, where we are headed and what this means for humanity. Bess made a quick point that the impact of technological revolutions such as the internet, smartphones, and computers is comparable to other big revolutions in transportation and manufacturing in the years before. However, noting that we are on the cusp of another technological revolution he states in his words that:

“what we are on the verge of doing with bio-engineering technologies like CRISPR is going to be so qualitatively different and more powerful than I think it’s going to force us to reassess who we are and what it means to be human. Bio-electric implants, genetic modification packages, the ability to tamper with our very biology – this stuff goes past previous advances, and I am not sure we have even begun to understand the implications”.

He also stated that the astonishing pace at which technology such as the internet and smartphones have changed human lives is at an unprecedented rate in the whole of human history. This is even true when we look closer to how social media has dramatically altered habits and how swiftly it breaks the deepening and inter-dependent bonds and relations that had held a communal sense of previous societies together. We are now living as “netizens” in narrow bandwidth through screens in a virtual world of artificials. And this, he states, much like my worries; that technology today is developing much faster than our culture and institutions, and we don’t seem to have time to assess its impact and adjust. And more dangerously that the gap will only continue to widen.

There is an unnerving reality that we are more likely etching towards ‘smarter living’ in smart cities and homes where we would largely be dependent on technology to perform the most basic and minutest tasks. And with continuous advancement in the integration of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics in IoTs, these highly intelligent machines can learn human behavioral responses and mental patterns to acquire superior intelligence on their own and start to modify themselves. That a highly intelligent, unpredictable and uncontrollable machine could have this much power and human-impossible ability is a scary imagination, to say the least. Like Bess, I think what is instructive in the face of rapid, unforeseen and unprecedented transitions of these technologies is to keep asking specific questions and be sure to find their answers.

What are we gaining and what are we losing in measurable benefits and harms respectively? Are we, as a society of people sufficiently equipped to deal with the attendant impact of apocalyptic technology like nuclear weapons, synthetic biotechnology, and the rest of them?

Of course, the challenges pose differently for different civilizations. While advanced nations will be faced with more pressing questions, less developed countries may have entirely different sets of considerations in their hands. For instance, one question is, where does Africa, especially Nigeria fall in the grand picture of this constantly evolving technological landscape?

The Africa Situation

There is often a faux narrative people peddle out there that the wave of technology blowing in advance nations will usually take another decade or more before the impact is felt in developing countries. Perhaps this used to be true some decades ago, our reality now speaks differently. The evidence of most technological advancements today hits concurrently everywhere, the only difference is the level of the impact measures differently due to infrastructural development or otherwise.

The closest truth is that, for obvious reasons, Africa hasn’t measured up compared to the pace of technological development in other advanced climes. We have nonetheless made inroads of our own.

For instance, technology has immensely accelerated the pace of agricultural growth on the continent, and notably in Nigeria. In fact, technology has not only enhanced agricultural machinery and bring us the reality of genetically modified food, fruits, and livestock, there has also been an interesting rise in digital agricultural startups. For example, Agritech startups in Nigeria like Ewagric.ng, FarmCrowdy, Growsel, and many others, are using digital services and solutions to empower farmers with technology-driven machinery, funding, resource connections, and an expanding consumer market.

Technology has also impacted on the banking sector. Digital banking systems like Mobile & Online banking, Automated Teller Machines (ATM), and Platform based banking have drastically improved banking service delivery, their products. There is a noticeable increase in customer reach, ultimately reducing the unbanked size. The surge in Fintech (Financial Technology) and RegTech (Regulation Technology) platforms is a direct testament to the impact of technology in the banking sector. We have Fintech startups like Flutterwave, Paystack, Perga, Opay, and many others all over the continent.

In health today, technological advancements have made possible the reality of Caesarean sessions. Ultrasound, Artificial wombs, IVF, Electrocardiograms, Photo-scan and X-ray are all products of technology, all of which are contributing immensely to our healthcare system. There are a plethora of digital health startups, using digital space to deliver healthcare products and services, such as SaferMom and Mobicure for child delivery care, Ubenwa, machine learning system, analyze the amplitude and frequency patterns of infant cry, to provide an instant diagnosis. Medsafe and GenRx help in providing better medications to patients.

KangPe and Hudibia applications ease access of patients to various doctors, who can speak in various dialects of the patients. Lifebank and Redbank find safe blood for transfusion. Flying Doctors Nigeria for emergency and ambulance services and different Health Insurance and Research platforms

Smart devices, broadband connectivity, social networking sites, and mobile applications and Desktop software have all improved communications. The marriage of these technologies has enabled an interconnected virtual space for unlimited interactions of persons and information all over Africa. From remote places, we are now able to create economic possibilities, and an open market for e-commerce firms and digital startups to thrive.

Education in Africa has now become even more accessible; today, we are now using Smartphones, Tablets, Desktops, and internet to enable long-distance learning and use of social media to connect students with teachers and with their peers abroad, ultimately enhancing education. Anyone with the intention of learning can now use any of the various educational databases and online courses available.

However, despite these visible inroads, it is still a long road to freedom, there is even more distance to cover. Most African countries still lack the basic amenities and infrastructural requirements for the advancement of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Biotechnology, Renewable Energy, Medical Innovations, High-Speed Travel, Blockchain Technology, Autonomous Vehicles, Advanced Virtual Reality and so on.

There is no doubting the impact technology could have on the development of the African continent. Access to information and computer technology is crucial to sustainable economic and social development as well as environmental protection. And this is why it is expedient for the government to massively invest in education focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) encourage Research and Development in technology, create infrastructural development, funding opportunities, incubation program, and pass growth-friendly policies and regulations that will create enabling environment for technological development.

The projection for 2022

“The growth trajectory is staggering. It’s easy to say that there will be more digital transactions this year than last year, and this is a trend that will continue for a very long time,” Sola Akinlade, Co-Founder of Paystack

Reports are now beginning to show more than ever that Africa is at the start of a technological renaissance; the technology revolution is already growing at a progressive rate. African states are beginning to pioneer their own “Silicon Valley” as technological hubs and digital startups are rising on the continent. Forbes reported that there are now about 618 active Tech-hubs across Africa, a 40% leap from last year’s 442. According to Forbes:

“Nigeria and South Africa are still the most advanced ecosystems, the report found, with 85 and 80 active tech hubs respectively. Lagos is now the top innovative city by the number of hubs (40+), while the Western Cape, Gauteng, and Durban are the core of South Africa’s tech hubs scene.”

As it is, Rwanda is committed to becoming the gateway to a technologically developed Africa and it is realizing this with a consistent development strategy that is a sight to behold. Last year, the country started the construction of the Kigali Innovation City (KIC) which is a $2 billion project aimed at creating the continent’s Silicon Valley on 70 hectares of land that will host among others, world-class universities, technology companies, biotech firms, and commercial and retail real estate.

These hubs are not only providing start-ups with technical support and access to fast internet, and free training. But also provide both professional and social networks in which these technology entrepreneurs can thrive.

According to experts, the growth potential for technology in the continent is huge. A report states that by 2022 there will be an additional 4.2 Billion internet users, and more than half of this population will emerge from Africa. This is on the backdrop of another report that 7 out of 10 of the world’s fastest-growing internet populations are in Africa. This trend is expected to re-shape the entire economies as new companies would leapfrog established technology, ideas, and infrastructure, creating new solutions and products, and leveraging on the digital advantage of operating at near-zero marginal cost.

Big companies are beginning to take a cue from the Google Launchpad Accelerator program to promote technology growth and digital penetration in emerging markets. Telecommunications companies and banks are beginning to fund and mentor startups to develop their products. Providing mentorship and funding opportunities for startups, and learning as it relates to Corporate governance. This trend is expected to grow in the years to come, reaching more startups, and helping them to grow and scale.

Also recently, the issue of funding seems to be finding its leeway. According to a Forbes report, technology start-ups in Africa raised $129 million in funding in 2016, which found a 16.8 percent increase in the number of successfully funded start-ups over 2015. Fintech space alone has funding of over $150b since then. Funding in 2015 rose due to the lending segment, however, in 2016 there was a dip as investors were cautious. The market has since recovered in 2018 due to investments in the Payments segment. The digital space in Africa is expected to attract greater investments in the coming years owing to new entries and innovations.

Perhaps the most promising outlook is in infrastructures such as fiber and high-speed internet. Africa is in the middle of a connectivity boom and 5G will help us to provide faster Internet speeds. The immediate gain here is that a lot of technology companies will begin to emerge offering different products and solutions at an unprecedented rate. Sooner than expected MTN service provider already launched 5G broadband connectivity in Nigeria. Africa will enter the era of affordable broadband internet in 2022. A massive deployment of very affordable high-speed internet is expected to begin around 2020 as Google Loon, One Web, SpaceX’ Starlink, O3B blanket the world with high-speed internet at cheap cost.

The obvious effect here is that the cost of operation will fall, attracting new digital entries offering a variety of solutions. This competition will further drive service growth, quality product, and consumer experience.

However, despite this positive outlook, there is a worrying problem of a growing skill gap. The surging, high-tech digital revolution is transforming jobs and industries. The adoption of new technologies is changing the workspace – increasing the demand for new skills. A scary number of African youths are not only unemployed, but they lack major digital skills required to drive the digital revolution staring at us. Major upskilling is needed to be able to close the skill-gap. It is recommended that beyond re-evaluating university programs to focus more on imparting relevant skills, there is also an urgent need for a private-public education partnership to invest in innovative learning technologies to create a knowledge economy

Another obvious truth is that people can’t protect jobs which would be made redundant by technology – we would need to invest more in education to nurture agility, adaptability and re-skilling. As we continue to move into this realization, the commercial value of learning will increase, and will, therefore, take precedence over an ordinary university degree. Relevant and specific skills or experience will begin to be more valuable and important soon.

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter what your view on technology is, what is certain is it is not disappearing, it is as much evident in our lives as the air we breath. We may not have collective control over the pace of its development, but we sure have more than enough leash on how it impacts us to the point that we can adjust and minimize its effect on our daily living. Perhaps this is where the government should play its paternalistic role and put regulations and policies in place to protect vulnerable members of the society from the attendant danger of the incursion of a technology that is not regularized. The African society is behind in this technological frontier, nonetheless, there is visible development, and the projection promises a rewarding future. The drawback here is that there is skill-gap, and the government is encouraged to invest in education focused on Science, Technology, Education, Mathematics (STEM), and create, among other incentives, an enabling business environment for digital startups on the continent.

As an individual, we must be open to learning, unlearning and relearning to accommodate attendant changes that come with technology. And more importantly, we need to continue to ask specific questions about the impact of these innovations on our lives. What are these technology adding to my life; isolating experience or profound happiness?

Source from Davies Carpenter: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/from-earth-space-technology-future-davies-carpenter/?trackingId=UIxcowxXCwf%2B8Lts4SOLrQ%3D%3D

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