“..If we miss this window of opportunity to shape new technologies in ways that promote the common good, enhance human dignity and protect the environment, there is a good chance that the challenges we experience today will only be excarbated, as narrow interests and biased systems further entrench inequalities and compromise the rights of people in every country“.
Professor Klaus Schwab (World Economic Forum).
The goal of human technological advancement should primarily be to eliminate lack, diminish human suffering and reduce socio-economic inequality to the barest minimum.
The First, Second and Third Industrial revolutions aided human advancement, but did little to reduce human suffering and global inequality which grew as a result of unequal access to technological advancement. The rush for new resources which was invigorated by more efficient modes of production brought about by new technologies had negative impacts such as environmental degradation, colonialism and neo-colonialism.
Most applications of technology lean towards commercial interests or the consolidation of power by competing nations, but do less towards addressing global inequality and ameliorating human suffering.
Although technology has advanced in leaps and bounds through various epochs, its impact on humanity has been measured in terms of economic indices rather than individual impact on human life. Therefore most technological advancements are invested towards increasing production and productivity for favourable economic indices rather than ensuring a better life for every human.Thus most technological firms innovate for profit and most technology education tends to view technology as a tool for increased wealth rather than service to humanity.
However, as increasing global inequality fuels conflict and mass migration, there is a paradigm shift as more technologists are starting to see the need to use technology primarily in the service of all humanity.
This has given rise to the development of a new branch of technology known as Public Interest Technology. Public interest technology aims to proffer solutions to societal issues through technology, with public service rather than profit as its motivation.
This marks a departure from the traditionally commercial approach to technology to a utilitarian approach.Technology in the 1st 2nd and 3rd industrial revolutions put humanity on the path to advancement, but later veered off course due to the pursuit of power and capital, Public interest technology aims to set human society back on that noble course.
Technology when applied in the service of humanity advances human society in leaps and bounds. The advancements that occurred due to the invention of the Steam engine in the first industrial revolution, Commercial electricity during the 2nd Industrial revolution, the discovery of modern computing in the 3rd industrial revolution and the various possible applications of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented reality, Data Science etc make a case for the use of powerful technology in solving human problems.
As this movement grows it is imperative to adopt public interest technology locally to address the myriad of problems facing Nigeria and the entire African continent.
The first industrial revolution fuelled Imperialism as western nations scoured the earth to seek new resources to meet the demands of their industries as technological advancements in manufacturing led to increased production. This resulted in socio-economic dependency as African nations and the rest of the colonies developed mainly extractive industries to fuel western production while western industries manufactured finished goods, which were then sold to African nations, as a result a system of socio-economic dependency was established, which still haunts Africa’s advancement today.
However as our local technology ecosystems grow, technology can be used as an elixir to all our socio-economic ills, and Public Interest Technology will be the vehicle which will lead this charge.Technology has already contributed to solving some issues within the continent, for example Biometrics, Databases, Voter-registration, Digital marketing, E-Commerce amongst others.
But the continent still seems a bit technology-shy as it holds on to old technology and shows unwillingness to fully explore and benefit from newer technologies.
Public interest technology will be a vehicle to purge the continent of its apparent technological timidity as local technologists purposefully create home grown technological solutions to the continents problem’s. This could be the spark that will ignite the continent’s home-grown technological revolution.
In the aspect of security think of the manpower that will be saved if unmanned drones are developed to be used to patrol the oil installations interwoven beneath the mangrove labyrinths of the Niger Delta and over watching the vast wilderness of Nigeria’s restive North-East region and other hotspots within the continent.
Imagine using data science to create a homogenised data-base to solve identity verification and multiple enrollment issues, and gather accurate data which could be used for statistics to solve issues within the continent.
Imagine Databases which could preserve our withering languages and rich culture, Augmented Reality/Virtual reality applications to recreate our past, Artificial intelligence Applications to master, preserve and teach future generations our languages among others
There are numerous applications for Technology in the service of public interest and the sooner African technologists initiate a paradigm shift from profit oriented technology to service oriented technology, the better it will be for our continent.
Pioneers of Public interest technology advocate that offering Public interest technology as a discipline within our tertiary institutions will ensure that this new field is fully developed to unravel its potential benefits to society.
This is also a conversation that we should also be having locally, with stakeholders from the Academia, Policy makers and tech all having a say. It will be beneficial to the continent if we have Universities and innovation Hubs developing Public interest Technologists who will contribute positively to the continent.
In line with this, stakeholders from the Port-Harcourt Startup ecosystem will be having a discussion on public interest technology in a Townhall meeting as part of Startup Port Harcourt 2018. This will be one of the first discussions on this new Field of technology in the African continent .https://startupportharcourtweek.com/
Most Technology Firms want to be the next Apple or the next Amazon, but who really wants to be technology’s Alfred Nobel or John Salk?
For more on Public Interest Technology, see https://www.wired.com/story/universities-public-interest-technology-courses-programs/
Andrew Banigo has an interest in Development Administration, the Global Economy and Geopolitics. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper’s Community and has degrees in Political & Administrative Studies (BS.c) and International Commercial Law (LL.M).