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The shifting sands of new technologies

 

There is no single day that goes by without hearing of some new technological advances. The Western world, which had ceded manufacturing to the emerging economies, has also revved up manufacturing through robotics.

Soon, they may not need China, India or Africa for cheap labour. New technologies are shifting global dynamics like sand. Soon we may not even know where to stand on matters technology.

Those who have waited for Africa’s turn to be the manufacturing hub for the world due to her enormous population may be in for a rude shock.

It may never happen, considering the fact that technology has taken over from making prototypes to actual manufacturing.

A prototype for new products that used to take a long time to make and spent a great deal of money no longer requires expensive resources. Instead, they are made within a few hours using yet another new technology called 3D Printing.

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The 3D technology is so advanced that you can very easily print body parts. In hospitals, technology is taking over in the management of critical care.

Some of the new critical care software is so precise in monitoring patients that even the best nurses cannot compete. They leave no room for errors normally found in hospitals.

In agriculture, a sector that used to be labour intensive, technology has taken over to monitor optimal nutrient requirement for better productivity.

In education, you now don’t need a teacher or school to receive and learn university level education.

A more disruptive technology called nanotechnology has the potential to virtually impact every aspect of our lives. This technology is envisaged to make things that we have never imagined before.

It is possible that nanotechnologies shall enable human beings to recover from some of the disabilities currently afflicting some of them.

With driverless cars on the road, it is not farfetched to think of computer chips that scan the environment and relate it to the blind person’s mind and soul.

What are we doing to stop Africa from sliding into the abyss of backwardness? Is Africa aware of these devastating future dynamics?
We have in the past been trusting that the world will always come to our help.

Ebola comes and we ask what the world is doing to stop the suffering. Drought comes and we appeal to the international community to come to our help. Same for floods, earthquakes, terrorism, you name it.

There is virtually no time Africa has ever leveraged on organisations such as the African Union for example to plan and prepare for the future of the continent.

We appeal for everything except for the right things like scholarships for Africa to train 1,000 nanotechnology scientists to meet the future capacity requirements.

African universities are churning out thousands of unemployable graduates when the future requires different skill sets.

Few universities ever review their curriculum to suit the future demands. We are deeply asleep and only wake up to fight new technologies like Uber and Netflix.

What we must do is to wake up to the realities that we are behind and begin to link the universities to industry and set targets of new patents on yearly basis.

The need to develop new curriculum is dire. There is no need of training engineers under the current order of things if most of them end up as bank clerks or some other job that is not related to engineering.

There is real danger that Africa will face a challenge coping with new technologies unless we develop necessary futuristic capacities, invest in research and contextualization of other research to facilitate true independence for Africa.

We must learn to plan ahead and begin to tackle our problems using local knowledge.

This won’t happen if the political class continues to distort facts and information even when research shows the contrary.

William Pollard, an American physicist, once said: “Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”

New technologies are so inevitable that our only strategy for facing the future is to encourage creativity and re-skill our people.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

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