Africa re­mains a cap­tive mar­ket SUN­DAY TALK

Sunday Express - - LEADER -

Ire­cently at­tended a very good event or­gan­ised by the nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion, on racism and prej­u­dices in the dig­i­tal age. And what came to light for me was a star­tling rev­e­la­tion about how we as global cit­i­zens are be­ing duped and how our per­sonal data is abused by the high­est bid­der ei­ther in Sil­i­con Val­ley in the US or else­where in the world. this is usu­ally done with­out us, as the user client, hav­ing any say in the mat­ter.

this is one as­pect of the de­bate, the other is the racism and prej­u­dice creep­ing into so­cial me­dia, ex­ac­er­bat­ing the fight against femi­cide, gen­der-based vi­o­lence and so much more.

In a coun­try such as ours, where we are hav­ing to deal with the triple chal­lenges of poverty, in­equal­ity and un­em­ploy­ment, how do we bal­ance, if at all pos­si­ble, th­ese very com­pet­ing ob­jec­tives in the dig­i­tal age? It is an ac­cept­able fact that jobs are un­der threat from ma­chines. In other words, the au­to­ma­tion of in­dus­try will have far reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions for the labour mar­ket in the near fu­ture.

the ques­tion we have to ask is whether we are pre­pared for such a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion. We can hardly take a de­ci­sion to mi­grate to dig­i­tal, it has taken many years be­cause we are sim­ply not ready, but that is another mat­ter for a fu­ture piece per­haps.

In an era when in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing are al­ready crit­i­cised for not pro­duc­ing grad­u­ates fit for the world of work or fit for pur­pose as they say, are they ready for the 4th In­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion and its im­pli­ca­tions?

Oth­ers have held a sub­jec­tive view that says that for the rev­o­lu­tion to work on the African con­ti­nent, it re­quires a stable and steady sup­ply of elec­tric­ity and, with the grid be­ing what it is in Africa, are we be­ing re­al­is­tic? And if that’s not a se­ri­ous chal­lenge then what about some oth­ers?

I mean, we will have to com­pete with self-ser­vice petrol stations. I re­mem­ber once as I was trav­el­ling through eng­land and my hired car needed petrol, I stopped at the next petrol sta­tion or fill­ing sta­tion as they call it and there was no one in sight to as­sist me.

I fran­ti­cally looked around but alas, I had to even­tu­ally get out of the car and me­an­der my way through the in­struc­tions on the petrol tank. I must con­fess, for a South African it was a rather try­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, not hav­ing a petrol at­ten­dant on hand.

Another time my car was over­heat­ing and as I know so much about cars, I had not a clue where to be­gin. I re­mem­ber walk­ing into the small shop of the petrol sta­tion and in­quir­ing from the woman be­hind the counter what she thought I should do about my over­heat­ing car. to which she sim­ply replied, “How should I know? I only work in the shop.”

I was at a loss and made my way over to the counter where there was oil and, it be­ing the UK, they had ten mil­lion choices. I stuck out my hand and just grabbed one. For­tu­nately, there were some peo­ple in front of me in the queue so I even­tu­ally looked down and re­mem­bered that I could ac­tu­ally read and so read the in­scrip­tion on the bot­tle, which clearly said “for mo­tor cy­cles only”. I promptly re­turned it and spent the next 30 min­utes read­ing each bot­tle care­fully un­til I even­tu­ally found what I was look­ing for, I think.

I got home and told my wife about my or­deal and she promptly said, did you check the wa­ter? Silly me, I felt like an idiot. the moral of the story: are we ready for the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence age, where we are pre­pared to en­gage with ma­chines? Self-ser­vice pay points in su­per­mar­kets/park­ing lots, self-driv­ing cars and so much more?

How will we en­sure SMMes’ ad­vance­ment with such tech­nol­ogy? We are hav­ing to en­sure peo­ple re­main in their jobs given the un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures but at the same time we want to move with the tech­no­log­i­cal times where ma­chines can do the same job for half the price and salary ex­pen­di­ture.

Af­ter all, the pow­ers that be have con­vinced us all that not to be tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced and pro­fi­cient means you are un­der­de­vel­oped. So tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment is di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with de­vel­op­ment. the con­stant call by min­ing houses for the mech­a­ni­sa­tion of the min­ing sec­tor also has far reach­ing, dev­as­tat­ing re­sults in the medium to long run on em­ploy­ment fig­ures.

We re­main a cap­tive mar­ket for the in­no­va­tion of the Global north’s tech­nol­ogy through mo­bile de­vices, lap­tops, talk­ing com­put­ers and smart tech­nolo­gies.

One of the par­tic­i­pants said about the US that “black men get locked up while black women get locked out (evicted)”.

And what she meant by this is that sin­gle-headed house­holds in which women are the only bread­win­ners, due to their re­spec­tive hus­bands be­ing in prison, can­not cope with the de­mands of pay­ing rent and in­vari­ably de­fault on the rental agree­ment.

this leads to evic­tions of the fam­i­lies and as soon as this hap­pens their re­spec­tive names are sub­mit­ted to a data­base that records all de­fault­ers and, as such, they get ex­cluded from get­ting a rental and/or a lease agree­ment again be­cause all prop­erty own­ers have ac­cess to this data base.

So, re­gard­less of the spe­cific cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the evic­tion, th­ese moth­ers can­not pro­vide shel­ter for their chil­dren be­cause the sys­tem dis­crim­i­nates neg­a­tively against them.

Another such an ex­am­ple are black men who have a crim­i­nal record, a small in­frac­tion many years ago, per­haps shoplift­ing, but be­cause it re­mains on the sys­tem, they can­not find jobs of any kind, not even me­nial work.

Again, be­cause the sys­tem dis­crim­i­nates against such in­di­vid­u­als. I know some of you may say but what’s wrong with that, af­ter all he did com­mit a crime, but in some in­stances, it was 25 years ago and since then the in- di­vid­ual has been do­ing noth­ing but be a good ci­ti­zen. When is penance enough?

Other par­tic­i­pants spoke of the “techno cap­i­tal­ism” which they were adamant was an evil sys­tem and, like most Marx­ists, be­lieve that such a sys­tem must be fought on all fronts.

the fact that one’s per­sonal data can be sold to the high­est bid­der in or­der for some­one to gauge your fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity or to check your spend­ing pat­terns is akin to cap­i­tal­ists al­ways try­ing to find ways and means to get more money from you, they say.

the par­tic­i­pants in­di­cated that we must be aware that our data is not our own. AI, Bio­met­rics, Big Data, all un­der the guise of de­vel­op­ment, the Global north is lit­er­ally har­vest­ing data from the Global South.

Oth­ers still called it “sur­veil­lance cap­i­tal­ism” — here they re­fer to the Big Brother men­tal­ity and the fact that many of the tech­nolo­gies dis­crim­i­nate against, in par­tic­u­lar, peo­ple of African ori­gin be­cause ap­par­ently our irises and fa­cial fea­tures are not eas­ily dis­cernible by the ma­chines more “ac­cus­tomed” to cau­casian fea­tures.

Fur­ther proof of the racism in­her­ent in the man­u­fac­tur­ing of th­ese ma­chines. Have you tried to pro­nounce your Afrikaans or African sur­name to Siri, Alexi or Hey Google? you will soon be told, “I’m sorry, I did not get that”.

the other most in­ter­est­ing point that came out of the dis­cus­sion was the fact that be­cause of so­cial me­dia plat­forms, we users have be­come more in­dis­crim­i­nate in our lan­guage use. We are more able to have our say and don’t care who is on the other side since it is not face to face.

Our prej­u­dices can more eas­ily come to the fore since we can­not al­ways be held to ac­count. Fe­males can sim­ply be told that they will be raped if found, gay per­sons told that if found alone one night, they will see how they are sorted out. Men can be their usual misog­y­nis­tic selves and not fear re­proach.

And yet, even though mo­bile tele­phone sub­scrip­tion stands at 110 per­cent in South Africa, it does not as­sist our women to fight gen­der-based vi­o­lence. So, not only do the ma­chines dis­crim­i­nate against poor peo­ple but black peo­ple and women in par­tic­u­lar. Sound fa­mil­iar?

I say again, are we au fait with the tech­nolo­gies that we are be­ing swamped with? Do we know who is do­ing what with our per­sonal in­for­ma­tion and can we trust our reg­u­la­tory bod­ies to get a han­dle on this fright­en­ing de­vel­op­ment?

So, when we are re­minded that to be tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced means to be a de­vel­oped coun­try, we must also ask the ques­tion at what cost and whose def­i­ni­tion of de­vel­op­ment is be­ing used.

no al­go­rithm ex­ists for the so­lu­tions of the chal­lenges with Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence and the dig­i­tal era, but one thing is sure, the dig­i­tal age is in­deed upon us and if we want to take charge of our own des­tiny in this 4th In­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, then we’d bet­ter be­come bet­ter at this game.

For now, good peo­ple, we are on the los­ing side and will there­fore re­main a cap­tive mar­ket. — DM

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