Where is Africa in a World of Emerging Technologies? – Exclusive with Moscow City’s Deputy CIO on the Race for AI & 5G, and More
Making Sense of the Ongoing Tech Cold War
One of the most subtle but radical cold war in history is raging. In this battlefield, the rules are not firmly established, and so all sorts of things are possible. Nations are on a lightning race to dominate emerging technologies. From China, to Russia to the US, the story is the same. The Reason? Simple. Each side knows that whoever leads the way in technology will lead the world in every sphere of global socioeconomics, and politics. Little wonder why nations are strategizing and redoubling their efforts, expending prodigious resources, in order not to get the short end of the stick. South Korea recently launched the world first nationwide 5G mobile earlier in the month, while Verizon has begun rolling out its 5G mobile network in the US. A report by Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) shows the US has made some solid ground catching up to China’s existing 5G presence, and that both countries are now neck and neck in 5G readiness. Meanwhile, Africa is singing the Chinese tune as Huawei consolidates her position leading the pack in Egypt, which announced that Huawei will deploy 5G networks at the Cairo International Stadium during the African Cup of nations holding in that country. Zambia has also expressed her partnership with Huawei with the Country’s communications minister saying:
“Zambia does not want to be left behind in innovation and adoption of internet technologies.”
Huawei already has her 5G foothold in Lesotho and South Africa, while Nigeria has set roll out for 2022. In the midst of all these, the US continues to lobby governments to drop Huawei as a 5G equipment supplier, arguing that the security of their networks could be compromised. We’ve definitely not heard the last of this, so we’d see how things would pan out in the near future.
Deputy CIO of Moscow City Discusses the Race for AI & 5G, CCTV Facial Recognition with Digivation’s Chuks Otuya
But moving to Europe, one of the nations moving with determination too is Russia. Russia with Vladimir Putin steering the ship is no pushover in the ongoing struggle. In fact, backtrack to 2017, Putin famously said:
“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind… it comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
The country most times headlines on Western news media with not very positive stories. One of which is the partnership with same Chinese tech giant Huawei.
I wanted to find out Russia’s position with respect to the ongoing issues and more, and thanks to contacts at the Mobile World Congress Barcelona, I was able to put three questions to the Department of Information Technology, Government of Moscow, and a few weeks later (after clearance I presume), I got answers from Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Moscow City Government Alexander Gorbatko.
So the story goes thus.
Chuks: – Globally the race is on for 5G, and of course AI, with the US, China, and Russia as front-runners. The potential of these technologies are immense, with huge ramifications for the rest of the world, including Africa. What can Africa learn from the Moscow experience?
Gorbatko: Russia has traditionally been among the pioneers in cybernetics, thanks a long tradition of focusing on mathematics. In our mind centers we’ve developed a number of breakthrough solutions, which will allow Russia to stay among the TOP AI countries. In the so called AI superpowers’ race we see a good future for Russia. We should develop a network of partners to be able to harness the opportunities we expect. And it is fair to say the same about the US and China. To successfully implement a 5G network or city-scale IoT it is important to share experience.
Moscow is ready to share its experience in introducing new technologies for city and citizens with African colleagues. One of the defining traits of smart city tech development in Moscow is that we not only run pilot projects, but most importantly have experience in implementing citywide solutions for a city with 12.5 mln population. For example, Moscow Online School is a platform that is used by about 1 mln pupils and 65,000 teachers in all schools of Moscow. We have also a number of other successful projects large-scale projects that we can share: our Integrated Medical and Analytical System, IoT platform for municipal vehicles tracking, our widely successful citizen engagement platform.
Chuks:- Your country is cooperating with Huawei and other companies on 5G implementation. But the West seem concerned about the potential security risks in Huawei’s deployments.
What new facts do you have, and what should Africa believe?
Gorbatko: The decision on whom to work is made by the companies and not the government. There were pilot 5G projects with Huawei, for example, Department of Information Technologies and Department of Healthcare of Moscow together with Megafon organized demonstration of 5G possibilities for healthcare. Huawei CPE was used for performance of remote ultrasound diagnostics and genetic sequencing. The test showed that response time was enough for comfortable remote work of the health specialists. This was a demo operation only, as there are regulations that prohibit use of uncertified equipment in healthcare.
There are also other partnerships between various providers and various hardware vendors. There is no fear in relation to one company or another. When selecting partners, providers evaluate quality and reliability of the products they produce and services they provide. Russian Federation has strict information security regulations which are always followed.
Chuks: What has been the funding strategy for Moscow’s facial recognition, and CCTV projects? Because African mega cities like Lagos have such plans, but the funding has been difficult.
Gorbatko: In Moscow, we started testing the facial recognition system back in 2017. Moscow CCTV system is one of the world’s biggest security systems with 167,000 cameras. At present, the facial recognition system has been fitted in pilot mode to 1500 video streams that represents 1.5% of the total number of Moscow’s video cameras. This year we intend to increase their number to 105,000, i.e. all the cameras installed in public areas, to optimise the use of the system. Therefore most of them are located at entrances of apartment buildings and in the streets. 5G will allow to expand the system with new devices like facial recognition glasses for police officers.
As for funding, our CCTV system is based on a service model. It means that telecom providers are responsible for camera installation, organization of communication channels, maintenance and service, and the city only pays for the video and its storage. This helps the city to save about 40% of the costs.
Chuks: Mr Gorbatko, thanks very much for your time.
Gorbatko: My pleasure.
Tech Revolution Means Global Instability
So that was the size of our chat. But frankly, I don’t think that settles it. Questions remain as to who may eventually win this race. The world has seen that every technological revolution has always created new social and economic problems, because of the change it brings to the balance of power globally- a nation which used to be number one is suddenly number three, and a nation which used to be number three is now number one. Old players would be knocked out, some new players would foist themselves onto the global stage.It’s that sort of race for power in the first tech revolution that inevitably caused the first world war, the second technological revolution led to the second world war, now we are in the third technological revolution and big changes are already taking place. People are worrying about Cyber warfare, job security, automation, AI, robot and drone warfare, data privacy, cyber crime, etc. No one is exactly sure whats going to happen.
For now, I believe 5G mobile signal is the future, as it allows almost instantaneous transfer of data that would power technologies like AI, Cloud, IoTs, and other deep tech. In the decades to come, 5G will definitely become the nervous system of the world’s economy, in strategic sectors like security, energy, transport, banking and health care.
Possibilities for Africa with 5G
“The one policy action that would do the most to accelerate African development is connecting the unconnected”
– Ravi Suchak, Telecoms regulatory, legal and policy specialist at ITU 2018.
Statistics from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) further hammer on the fact that only one in 5 Africans have access to the internet, while a World Bank a study also shows that a 10% increase in broadband penetration rates would lead to a 1.38% increase in GDP in developing economies. So it follows that if internet connectivity rises, the economy would grow.
This in my view, kicks the ball back to the court of political leadership on the continent – which must get its acts together, streamline a number of policies for operators to see opportunity in deploying their services and aggressively widen the reach of internet services, for a digital economy to take off. This begins with provision of security, enabling infrastructure, and transparency in governance.
Among other things, 5G will push up the competitiveness of local businesses, promote financial inclusion, improve healthcare services, and more. 5G promises enhanced education for 60% of African teens between the ages of 15 and 17 who are out of school and will quicken the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. But real edge for Africa will be how 5G will enhance digital skills and expedite innovation for creators in terms of hardware and software, which are the backbone of technology.
One thing is certain. In the next 20 years, there’s going to be massive changes in global scheme of things. I think African nations should concern themselves with how the revolution can improve the lives of Áfricans. Some already have shown that they can rival or even surpass their industrialized counterparts when leveraging mobile technology: 3G connectivity enabled M-Pesa services in Africa, which allowed Kenya to grow financial inclusion amongst its poorest from 21% to 63% in just three years. Even the growth of the cellphone in Nigeria has been massive since 2001 has been truly remarkable.
But as is evidenced by Moscow City’s blueprint, the full potential of Africa in this race will take not just innovation, but visionary leadership from the top- setting high targets for competitiveness and driving at them. Just like Rwanda is doing.