New technology certainly has the potential to make our lives easier, but also brings with it greater risks and challenges, moderator Siki Mgabadeli of e-news channel Africa told delegates at the Forum Summit on Beyond Connectivity. “We need to manage the challenge and ensure there are no risks in future.” It was these risks and opportunities that were the focus of the high-level panel, which spanned government and industry, giving viewpoints from across the world.
For South Africa’s Communications Minister H.E. Nomvula Paula Mokonyane , these “risks” can be grouped into two areas; firstly the uncontrolled movement of vast quantities of information flowing, which can easily get distorted or used for exploitative purposes such as cyberbullying. The second is a lack of “skills to produce, to contribute towards a quality content, and the passing on of skills for the generation to come.” Cooperation and partnership with different stakeholders is crucial to mitigating these risks, from the police or educational establishments locally and nationally up to international Forums such as ITU Telecom World
Providing an industry perspective, Telkom SA’s Chief Investment Officer, Deon Fredericks didn’t doubt the need to embrace new technology but for him key question is how. “We need to get a South African answer to the question, to see what solution best fits local needs, then start to address the needs of regulators, the industry and governments, striking a balance with a need to make money to reinvest.” He explained.
Within the European Union, however, a key factor-perhaps a risk as well as an opportunity- is personal data, particularly in the light of recent GDPR changes, which underline the importance that Europe gives to personal data, particularly in an era where social media dominates. “It is very important that GDPR brings the right to protect personal data at a very high level.” Explained Konstantinos Masselos, President of the Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission (EETT). It needs to be “within the fundamental rights as European citizens.” How can regulation balance the need for flexibility to help innovation flourish, with protecting citizens on the other? Asked Mgabadeli. Finding a good balance between regulation and innovation is tricky explained Masselos, and more could be done in innovation terms for personal data protection than simply following GDPR rules. Regulation needs to help enable innovation.
How can we put the right things- devices, technologies- into the hands of our consumers, to make sure they can reap the benefits of technology, asked Mgabadeli. A good enabling environment is needed, according to Huawei’s Jianjun (Joe Deng) Zhou, Vice President of Carrier Business BG (Emerging Market VP) to enable investment plus cooperation with partners is crucial. “To move beyond connectivity we must have innovation. Information, solutions and applications all form one team, especially in emerging markets,” he explained. Although African regional markets are expert leapfroggers in tech terms, the technology used must suit local markets. “The best technology is a suitable technology” explained Zhou.
So what does technology promise for the future, and should we be concerned? Technology isn’t innately good or bad, explained Jacques Bughin, Director and Senior Partner at MGI, Co-author of ITU’s research on Economic Impact of AI, McKinsey & Company, it just depends how we use it. Beyond connectivity we need “killer applications,” and we don’t yet know what these will be. Plus, even with the promise of all that technology can bring, there will still be an underlying inequality between haves and have nots. “The nature is that some companies, countries will be faster, more innovative than the rest.” Said Bughin. Quizzed on the subject of AI, and its potential to take over jobs, he explained that although this could mean that some repetitive tasks will be robotized, we need to ensure how the productivity we gain can be redistributed and used well. It boils down to how we are an ecosystem of skills, regulation and innovation, and in transition terms, how do we rebuild a new ecosystem in the light of technology advances
Video will be the key driver for the next generation, according to Andile Ngcaba, Founder, Convergence Partners, which is why today’s infrastructure is being built. Nevertheless, key questions to be addressed included “How as a continent we advance development to address SDGS, and tackle what is critical to us, moving beyond connectivity.” A key debate for him today is also centred around the ethics of algorithms, and how these can be designed in a particular way to be, for example racist or sexist.
Key challenges of moving beyond connectivity
Summarising their key challenges of moving beyond connectivity Ngcaba spoke of the need for prepare for a “new collar job” – the job of the future- and that children needed to learn maths and coding to help prepare.
In what he termed might be a “political” statement- and which earned him a round of applause- Bughin pointed out that creativity is traditionally thought of as the ability of women, more than men, but it will be creativity that will be needed for the job of the future, so will women lead in these type of jobs in future?
Reminding delegates of the billion households that remain unconnected, Huawei’s Zhou cited the need for good innovations and a well-educated, talented workforce as key cornerstones to help achieve this. In terms of educational advancement, Huawei has a programme for collaboration with local universities and the setting up of innovation centres.
One way of moving to the future in regulatory terms will be the concept of “collaborative regulation” according to Masselos. As we move beyond connectivity it will become harder to solve key challenges “if only regulators” are involved. A multi stakeholder approach will be increasingly needed.
A clear policy is needed, according to Fredericks in terms of rural/urban cost balancing. This may necessitate turning current models- where rural subscribers could pay more than urban ones- on their heads. Echoing Ngcaba, he also voiced the need to look to creation and awareness of jobs of the future.
Wrapping up the session, Minister Mokonyane called for a “Human face on connectivity” with a focus on 3 key areas, which should be at forefront of technology in future; women and young people, as well as the development of a “global citizen,” with international understanding of the challenges to be faced in future.
H.E. Nomvula Paula Mokonyane, Communications Minister, South Africa
Deon Fredericks, Chief Investment Officer, Telkom SA
Konstantinos Masselos, President of the Hellenic Telecommunications & Post Commission (EETT)
Andile Ngcaba, Founder, Convergence Partners
Jacques Bughin, Director and Senior Partner at MGI, Co-author of ITU’s research on Economic Impact of AI, McKinsey & Company
Jianjun ( Joe Deng ) Zhou, Vice President of Carrier Business BG, (Emerging Market VP), Huawei