Monday, 24 November 2014

Do Africans Dream about electric sheep ?

Over the last decade successful technology brands have transformed businesses and industries. It has also created wealth for its shareholders, employees and founders. The two of the world's most valuable brands are both Information technology companies namely Apple and Microsoft with their brand revenues at 170.9 billion US Dollars and 86.7 billion US Dollars respectively according to Forbes. Many would attribute their success to their demographics, location , environment , government and other factors but the truth is both companies started out in a garage and they worked their way right from the bottom to the top.

Let me cast your minds back to when you were in Primary class four or five, a teacher walks up into the class and inquires from each and everyone to tell the class who they want to be in future. About 70 – 80 % will mention they want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, pilot , business men and women, you will rarely hear anyone say they want to be an astronaut, computer scientist or a neuroscientist. As youngsters our teachers and the elderly who society claim shape our culture and up-bring seldom introduce us to the possibilities of dreaming big and thinking outside the box. They believe this kinds of job description exist in Europe and the western world. You can't think of what you can't imagine - our creativity on the individual level is limited by the range of ideas we already have and understand, the scope of different experiences, the ability to draw on history to glean advice from dire times gone by. For societies such as those we have here in Africa, there is still much to be done to propagate knowledge and education, to fill the people's minds with dreams to fire their imaginations. Dreams of an end to hunger, for water and energy to be affordable and for the opportunity to live on an honest day's work. Dreams of a manifest destiny.

Ancient Chinese scientists, mathematicians and doctors made significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, and astronomy. Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine were also developed through empirical observation and scientific experimentation. Among the earliest Chinese inventions were the abacus, the "shadow clock," and the first items such as Kongming lanterns. The Four Great Inventions: the compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing, were among the most important technological advances, only known to Europe by the end of the Middle Ages 1000 years later. The Tang Dynasty (AD 618 - 906) in particular, was a time of great innovation. ( Wikipedia ) A good deal of exchange occurred between Western and Chinese discoveries up to the Qing Dynasty. There are few things we can learn from this Chinese history here, one is that they started from inventing smaller things and moved gradually until all the goods we now import into our dear continent are fueled by them. They invested a lot into into science and technology. Africa should encourage and find unprecedented ways of teaching science and technology that the newer generation will find much interest in it.

Societies which were built on the results of the scientific revolution, where the free and unfettered flow of information, publishing of results, replication of results and the absence of the profit motive changed the lives of billions, have now created obstacles to the flow and ownership of knowledge.

I have been in contact with a 16 year old student in one of our senior high schools in Ghana. He sent me an email expressing interest for me to be his mentor. He has managed to teach himself computer programming. He has skills in website and software development. I was surprised when he told me ICT is being discourage in Senior High schools and it is an optional elective that at the end of your three years SHS program does not fall part of the WASSCE exams. Apparently most lecturers advice their students not to take ICT because it will be a “waste of time” ( in terms of learning ) that will not be a part of their final examination. I am wondering if this so called teachers have email addresses or even study online to find contemporary ways of impacting knowledge to the student or if they understand the benefits of Google, wikipedia and the internet an a whole.

This young man who contacted me comes from the cheetah generation as Prof. George Ayittey a renowned Ghanaian economist will call. A cheetah generation is the fast-moving, entrepreneurial leaders and citizens who will rebuild Africa in the next century. Every week I receive up to 3 emails from different people who have amazing ideas but need a technical person/company to bring their ideas to life. Imagine if all these people had the logical skills to build the innovative ideas they have: Ghana would change rapidly. After-all no body understands your ideas like you do. I always say that if you want things to change, you can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen by themselves, you have to act. Computers don’t change human nature. ICT can catalyze and amplify real world change. There are no career paths in this world that doesn't have a tech back-end. Now kayaaye ( Street Hawkers ) use mobile phones. I am saddened technology is been discourage in Senior High Schools by Teachers. I wonder where Africa’s Gold is: In our earth or in our minds? This kind of behavior is replicated in most African societies where people are discourage to adopt technology. It is clear to me that there are compelling reasons to use technology in the African context.

If you are still wondering what an electric is ? An Electric Sheep is a distributed computing project for animating and evolving fractal flames, which are in turn distributed to the networked computers, which display them as a screensaver.


The above article was published today in the General telegraph newspaper - Monday the 24th of November. I am now a technology columnist with the General telegraph and my articles on technology are published every Monday. You can find my column on page 22. Dont forget to grab a copy each and every Monday from the nearest newspaper stand. Cheers. 

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
― Mark Twain