REMARKS BY THE UCC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT THE 5TH NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON COMMUNICATIONS HELD AT THE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING AND DESIGN ART AND TECHNOLOGY (CEDAT), MAKERERE UNIVERSITY, KAMPALA, 17TH OCTOBER 2019
It is an honour and privilege to speak at the 5th National Conference on Communications (NCC). The idea behind this initiative is to strengthen communications research and inspire inventions and innovations that leverage emerging technologies to solve our contemporary problems.
I thank Makerere University, and the College of Engineering and Design Art and Technology (CEDAT) in particular, for accepting to host this year’s event. It is the third time the NCC is being co-hosted with CEDAT, which demonstrates a mutual acknowledgement of the worthiness of this cause.
In supporting the National Conference on Communications, UCC has three broad objectives:
- To provide a national forum for the presentation of outputs of peer-reviewed research into solutions for Uganda’s local challenges and proposals to improve ICTs in Uganda;
- To provide a platform for discussion of the local challenges and industry trends by stakeholders (Industry, Government and Academia);
- Facilitate the networking of young professionals with senior practitioners and accredited training institutions.
The theme of this year’s Conference, “Harnessing Opportunities in Emerging 4IR Technologies”, speaks to our national, political as well as socio-economic aspirations of using technology to leapfrog in development.
Through this Conference, UCC hopes to stimulate research and debate around the case of these emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things, 3-D printing, blockchain applications, etc., to provide locally relvant solutions and products.
To successfully harness the opportunities presented by 4IR technologies, we need to steer our education system to be responsive to today’s needs and challenges. Public and private universities and tertiary institutions are churning out tens of thousands of graduates every year. How do we ensure that our citizens are not only being employed but acquire the skills to match the jobs of the future which will have man doing the strategic thinking and technology addressing the routine tasks?
Let me share some interesting facts;
It is said that “the world was created by design, the universe evolved by chance, and human transformation is by choice”. What does this mean today?
The world is experiencing tremendous change, driven by technology, and the prediction is that life cannot remain in the current form as we know it. Human Intelligence is however providing the means for the next stage of evolution.
It is important to note that every element on earth is made up of information. It is therefore not surprising that the extension of evolution is being determined by information technology.
Our universities use the same fundamental principles, just like the top universities in the western world, and yet, our transformation seems to be slower.
We must establish why transformation has been so gradual on the African continent. I look at this as a scientific question that demands a scientific answer. The world started with laws of physics, to chemistry, and then biology which the human race is the product.
The algorithm written by nature to put in place the human race (DNA) took billions of years to develop. However, it also created one interesting element in our brain, the cortex.
We are now soon to experience another evolution of convergence of man and technology popularly referred to as technological singularity. This is predicted to occur in a few years from now, and in there lies even more exciting opportunities for our future.
The great diversity of our thinking is the result of the ingenious mechanism of the architecture of our brain. The design of the biological neocortex can only allow linear thinking and projection. For the brain to have sufficient flexibility, it needs enhancement by technology which causes it to think exponentially.
Therefore, the intelligence of man cannot expand without technology enhancement. Remember every revolution on earth has been driven by some form of technology to transform society.
(First industrial revolution – Steam engines; Second industrial revolution- Electricity and mass production/manufacturing; Third industrial revolution- Computers/digitisation; and now the Fourth industrial revolution- Communication technology and connectivity/Artificial Intelligence). So, the 4IR will catapult society to another level.
It is, therefore, my considered view that our society to increase the pace of transformational, we need to move away from the linear thinking, and adopt the exponential time and thinking, like the developed societies. The world is a product of information. We are information beings, and to progress, there is need to transform and process this information.
Therefore, Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are a potential game-changer, but our universities should train students to have exponential thinking. Forty steps linearly is forty, but exponentially it is a trillion.
Only last week, Time magazine published a story about a Ugandan young man named Brian Gitta, who invented a tool used to test for malaria parasites in the body.
The 27-year old, a product of this university, it must be said, was tired of that needle prick that many people, young and old, dread. He decided to do something about the problem, and the result is a groundbreaking invention that will transform the way malaria is managed in the world.
His solution is a simple, affordable and quick method to test for malaria – no blood sample, no microscope, no lab technicians required. Results are ready in two minutes. The proliferation of applications developed by creative Ugandan youths such as Brian gives us much pride and hope that Uganda can indeed reap the benefits of the 4IR.
Every problem we face in our day-to-day activities, in agriculture, health, business, education or entertainment, is an opportunity to exploit technologies to make life better. From farmers faced with fake drugs and diseases to Boda Boda riders targeted by criminals, to traffic jams in Kampala. Where problems exist, solutions can and should be found.
Therefore, our education system should be oriented towards problem-solving rather than merely white-collar jobs. With time, degrees per se will cease to matter, replaced by benchmarks such as, “what skills or competencies do I possess? What do I have to offer?” Can I add value to other people’s lives? On the other hand, can I extend life for that matter?
The 4IR will be conquered by those who, in addition to their formal education, can accumulate relevant knowledge and can attain the right skills and have the right mindset or emotional intelligence.
Society expects universities to take the lead in development by producing adequately educated and capable individuals that are well equipped with whatever is needed to succeed not only in today’s world but tomorrow as well. What they lack in land, capital, or experience, they can make up with their knowledge, skills, creativity, and imagination.
Today, it is possible to create a worldwide passenger transport service without a single vehicle (like Uber) or to become a major global provider of accommodation services without a single hotel room to your name (Airbnb).
Ladies and gentlemen, let us not allow ouarselvles to be rendered extinct. Let us all rise, as government agency, academicians, researchers, students and other stakeholders, work together to identify and harness the immense opportunities presented by the 4IR and leapfrog in development.
I thank you.
GODFREY MUTABAZI – EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UGANDA COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION