The 2014 edition of the Digital Africa Conference and Exhibition which held in Lagos, brought together highly cerebral ICT practitioners, stakeholders, regulatory and policy makers, security agencies, students and ICT enthusiasts from across the globe. The event attempted to bring Africa on the same page with the rest of the world.
"We want to see how Africa could seamlessly work towards technology singularity as is being advocated and championed by some futurists. We are going to see how Africa can brace up and face what ultimately is becoming a reality", said Executive Chairman, Digital Africa Global Consult, Evans Woherem, in his opening remarks.
This is indeed a time of growing international attention on Africa as an investment destination and there is increasing talk of an African economic renaissance. And this is why in a report, titled Connecting Africa's Markets in a Sustainable Way, jointly produced by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum and released in May 2013, regional integration was seen as a key vehicle for helping Africa to raise competitiveness, diversify its economic base and create enough jobs for its young, fast-urbanising population.
Through a comprehensive analysis of Africa's most pressing competitiveness challenges, the report discusses the barriers to increased trade, including the state of Africa's infrastructure and its legal and regulatory environment. It similarly considers how innovative public-private partnerships, often anchored to potential growth poles, can serve as incubators for self-sustaining industrialization, more jobs, greater opportunities and more dynamic regional integration.
Like Jennifer Blanke, Chief Economist of the World Economic Forum observed "Africa's growth needs to be seen in the wider international context, where encouraging gains in economic growth belie an underlying weakness in its long-term competitiveness. Regional integration is key to addressing this weakness through the delivery of wider social and economic benefits and should be prioritized by Africa's leaders as they look to ensure that Africa delivers on its promise."
Technology to change human race
Woherem said technology is bound to change the face of the human race. A long time ago, a renowned British Mathematician, born into a Polish-Jewish family, Irvin Jack asserted that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they could improve their own designs in ways unseen by their designers, and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligence.
Ray Kurzweil has been preaching Singularity for decades and in his popular book, The Singularity Is Near, made concrete predications about the arrival of machine intelligence, predictions he adapted in an interview with the Guardian of London to claim that machines would outsmart men by 2029.
As Director of Engineering at Google, heading up a team developing machine intelligence and natural language understanding, Kurzweil is developing concrete policy based on those predictions. Dr. Woherem noted that he is using the tech giant's vast resources to buy up leading players in robotics and artificial intelligence. Technology watchers argue that it may sound like science fiction, but people with immense resources are treating the singularity as something very real.
Africa's ICT growth
In a goodwill message, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said the diffusion of ICT in Africa has been insignificant compared to the other continents of the world.
This is despite the insistence by experts that ICT has greater promise to help Africa leap-frog her overall development. And I think that it is high time we accept the fact that Africa should no longer be a bystander or passive participant in the global ICT industry by only using the products and never participating in developing the technology.
According to him, happenings across the globe today have shown that man cannot survive without technology. For this reason, there is need for Africa to start making greater use of ICT, and deploy more of it in all of its industrial sectors, in government, at schools, in agriculture, manufacturing, in homes and in social interactions.
It is not in doubt that Africa's poor technological breakthrough resulted from many avoidable reasons, chief of which is taxation. It is evident that the different countries in Africa have in place varying operating environments that obviously make it extremely difficult for pan-African countries to survive across the continent. This rather unfriendly ICT investment environment is aggravated by various tax regimes in many African countries.
In telecoms for instance, Africa boasts one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. The mobile market in Africa has shown a dramatic transition from the dominance of state-owned monopoly operators to a more competitive market. The liberalisation of the telecom sector and the subsequent privatisation of government owned telecom operators in many African countries such as Kenya, Morocco and others, is a step in the right direction.
"Let me use this opportunity to task African leaders to begin to consider the need for the establishment of unified tax regime that will encourage cross border services by telecom operators, enhance competition, improve services and reduce costs for the end users across the continent," he concluded.
The event was declared open by Minister of Communications Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, represented by the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency, NITDA, Engr. Peter Jack.
Running simultaneously with the 19th edition of WEF, DACE 2014 had as its theme, "Towards Digital Singularity in Africa," and took place from May 20 to 22, 2014.
Participants at the conference unanimously agreed that African countries must leverage on their membership of international economic blocs like the MINT to explore all aspects of ICT and intelligence in readiness for the emergence of the machine intelligence era;
The conference warned that because of the avalanche of threats in the cyber space, African governments, societies and the big corporations, must not only forestall and manage the risks associated with this trend but develop security policies and procedures in addition to formulating cyber security strategies that include people, process and technology;
Aware of the speed with which technology is evolving and the imminent technology singularity regime represented by ubiquitous computing and artificial intelligence, the conference highlighted the need for Africa to take note of these emerging trends and participate fully in the debates.
On Software, the conference identified software production as the best entry point for Africa into the IT production complex and decried the trend whereby Africa's local developers are not receiving appropriate patronage and support to build and maintain their software.
The conference also identified limited access to funding from angel investors or crowd-funding, and the outdated practice of collateral based funding as greatly hampering the growth of local software development in the African continent;
Participants called on countries with weaker institutions supporting patent protections and copyright laws to step up efforts at supporting innovations and opening up their markets in order to participate in the global competitive stage.
Worried by the lack of the relevant infrastructure necessary to promote software development in Africa, the conference urged African nations to show greater commitment to the establishment of ICT parks, incubation centres, frameworks and policies, as well as ensuring seamless broadband connectivity.
Also, the event attracted high profile sponsors such as NITDA, First Bank Plc, Chams Plc, Chams Access, CSCS, VDT Communications, Interswitch, eStream Networks, Prepay Go, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as Infographics.