Shaping The World With New Technologies
As a connected collection of intelligent objects, the Internet of Everything promises to open up those areas of the world hardest hit by economic, political and agricultural blights. Relatively inexpensive devices, paired with revolutionary energy sources and unprecedented access to information offer great promise to farmers and workers in Africa.
Africa is a collection of countries that for the most part have not benefitted directly from the innovations of the last century. War, corruption, disease, and weather are but a few of the forces that have slowed progress for the citizens of many of its countries, and despite the fact that collectively these countries hold one quarter of the world’s arable land, the production of crops has always fallen short, and as such any attempts to create economies that support the establishment of international trade, labor, education and science, have also yet to claim major, consistent successes.
These dim prospects face a turnaround, however, as the connected technologies of the Internet become more versatile, robust and accessible. Dubbed the Internet of Everything (IoE) by Cisco Systems, a revolution is about to happen in which billions of machines worldwide – not just computers – will be better able to communicate with each other and with humans in ways that offer to change every element of life.
While Western customers may experience the thrills of the intelligent thermostat – this humble device serving as something of a poster-child for the Internet of Everything – the same technologies offer a chance to change the world for many Africans, in ways that non-Africans would never even think of.
Digital banking, for example, has freed workers in places such as Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Soweto, from the dangers of carrying cash through lawless areas, as well as allowing them easier and safer transfer of funds to relatives with lower remittance fees and the elimination of the need for physical travel. Cellphone-based banking has also cut down on corruption and illegal “dipping” made by employers. The dual benefit of cloud-based money transfer not only assists individuals in keeping their cash safe, but stands also to coax wary Africans from storing their savings under their mattresses – an amount estimated to be the equivalent of two billion dollars in South Africa alone. Additional funds feeding the banking sector hold the promise to trickle through to the establishment of stronger commercial sectors and social programs.
With the agricultural sector currently accounting for seventy percent of Africa’s total employment and thirty percent percent of its GDP, technological innovations in areas such as drought prediction, low-cost machinery for quickly draining flooded fields, smartphone apps that assist with the health of herd cattle, or point-of-sale transactions and supply chain management are the first steps towards growing the economies of African countries, moving them towards stability and greater competitiveness on the world stage.
Alternative Energy Power Sources
New power sources, such as solar, and kinetic energy promise to make these technologies available even where traditional power grids are unreliable.
The IoE stands to make great impact through the ever-decreasing cost of acquisition of intelligent tools, paired with their increasing intelligence. Apps, for example, that speak not only the language, but also in the cultural context of highly regionalized farmers, will serve to more intelligently grow the economy through individualized, contextualized moments. Additionally, access to inexpensive computers offer the opportunities for young Africans to not only compete, but to also assist in solving their own problems through the creation of innovative methods to draw and carry water, for example.
Although, these are early steps facing an uphill battle against long-established traditions and challenges, it speaks to the vast potential of the Internet of Everything primarily through the notions of distributed intelligence, both human and machine. Technologically, it allows Africans to consider leapfrogging the technology trail, moving directly to solar-power and a 4G or even 5G infrastructure without having to complete the intermediary steps.
From a funding standpoint, the IoE globally represents a new way of thinking. Many of the western world’s most innovative IoE devices came about through crowdfunding or social media exposure. Some wealthy companies, too, are opening their collective attitudes to the possibilities of collaboration, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and open-sourcing – think Elon Musk’s open-door policy toward car design – and local businesses, such as South African cellphone-banking enterprise Wizzit, are making inroads, capitalizing on inexpensive technologies and new attitudes.
These are potentially world-changing developments, brought on by the technologies and attitudes that collectively form, or at least benefit from the Internet of Everything.
By Steve Prentice