We are living in the information or digital age where the use of technology is becoming prevalent in everything in the social, economic and even political space.
Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are not merely a communication tool anymore but are growing to become the foundation upon which our lives depend. We do not only have everything going online, but we see that technology is being integrated into everything in our daily lives – processes, tools, – the list is endless.
Technology is even reshaping: Government, Education, Healthcare, Commerce, Industry, and also Agriculture. The various common ICTs, such as the World Wide Web, computers, telephone, television sets, camera and voice recorder, do enable us to produce, access, adapt and apply significant amounts of information which can generate more resources and opportunities to improve people’s livelihoods and national economies.
However, these ICTs are just a small portion of the technology, which now influences or transform our entire being: what we do, how we do it, our existence, and even our visible reality as we know it.
Today, the buzz is the fourth industrial revolution in which information and technology have enabled partnerships with machines resulting in new technological opportunities such as 3D printing, Robotics, Artificial intelligence, and Nanotechnology.
We already have many examples of products of these around the world such as Google’s Watson (the autonomous car), Siri (a virtual assistant for iPhone users), drones that are being used for remote deliveries, fire extinguishing missions and other activities.
In Uganda, ICTs, from the simple feature phone to the new technologies associated with the 4IR, do present vast transformative opportunities in almost every sector of our economy – agriculture, education, health, trade and industry. This, however, calls for the local generation of great ideas aimed at solving our domestic problems.
Equally, ICTs are no longer facilitators but drivers of socio-economic development. ICTs will empower us to utilise technology in education for our country’s socio-economic development simply because all humans are information-bearing. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand our role not only as information carriers but developers of solutions. This will influence future generations and civilisation.
The use of ICT in Uganda alone is already becoming rampant. For example, Google Map has made it possible to track which routes in Kampala have minimal traffic for convenient travel. Applications such as SafeBoda, Bolt and Uber are offering us transport solutions. It is also now possible to place an order for food from local outlets and fast food restaurants through Applications like Jumia. Even, many working adults are renting out their extra bedrooms or small homes to tourists for as little as $10 a day through an online platform called AirBnB.
We also see a mushrooming in the use of social networking applications to facilitate online discussions and dissemination of information including lecture notes to students. Today we depend mainly on giant global providers like Facebook. Imagine the impact of the 14-hour disruption Facebook suffered on 13th March 2019 to all of its products that left them mostly inaccessible across the world. What if we had our local applications?
Today, we should be optimistic and proud of our inventions and technological advancement. We have more opportunities than ever before to do more, discover more, learn more, create more and transform a whole new world. At the same time, we should be mindful of the choices we make. We are on the precipice of a significant shift for our world. There is going to be more computing power added to us sooner than later. Just imagine how the ICT landscape will be in the next 20 years!
Harnessing these opportunities and creating solutions that ensure we take our country forward – requires access to better quality data, sound assessment of the problems we seek to address, and innovative thinking about the most suitable interventions to address these. The technologies of this digital age facilitate anticipatory and algorithmic working that turn big data and algorithms into sustainable development solutions.
However, not every creator seeks to make the world a better place. Just because I have the power to change the world, does not mean I want to change it for the better. We have to take note that such intentions differ from person to person. Someone working in some small garage to invent some machine could be waiting to unleash the worst horror on humanity. Recently, there has been a spate of killings across the globe using automatic weapons. We also see growth in cyber threats and risks. This is just an example of how own intentions can be divergent.
As technology develops fast, shall we also develop fast enough to ensure that we can control or manage the destructive uses of these technologies? Are we grooming or educating a people that is conscientious of these fast-paced developments? Our technological infrastructure is increasingly complex and interlinked, whereby the internet does not just connect people and computers, but also television, burglar alarms, aeroplanes, industrial sensors and controls, locomotives and automobiles, among others. Given these developments, what rules do we have in place to govern this inter-connectedness?
The Council and ICT
Our population is already seeing, and in a way, experiencing what is possible with technology – the entertainment, smart gadgets, and interactive social media, among others. The internet guarantees them access to learning beyond the classroom. Through the internet, telecommunications in Uganda has made access to information and knowledge affordable and more accessible to many.
I ought to point out that information and technology influence human nature and human existence. They impact how we behave, how machines interact with each other, how atoms may or may not interact, and how organisms beyond and within us interact. Universities such as MIT, Harvard, Columbia and Stanford are all leading institutions partly because of their emphasis on ICT-led innovations. They offer online courses for continuing education and allow people to work and study. They have also embraced current techniques like Big data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve retention, enhance the student experience and make the institutions themselves more productive.
Our universities should emulate these universities to produce similar ICT-inspired graduates as well as improve its research and education outputs. Uganda, like many developing economies, is making great strides in embracing ICT and technological innovations for socio-economic development.
I should point out that over the years, the Uganda Communications Commission, as the regulator of the communications sector in Uganda, has been engaged in promoting research into ICT development and use through different avenues such as Annual Communications Innovations Award (ACIA) and the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF). We believe that Uganda can increase its competitiveness by embracing ICTs.
I wish to challenge managers in higher education to spearhead the utilisation of ICT-led innovation in universities and other institutions of higher learning in Uganda to: Help us shape our future and the thinking of our people; and drive greater ICT integration in our curriculum, system and lives so that the products of our education system are competitive with the rest of the world.
We need not be afraid of these technological developments because we are the source of information leading to these developments. We need to engage researchers across the globe, seek out the information required and innovate to realise the kind of education systems and products we want for today’s world – systems that will transform the livelihood of the smallest person in society.