Discover X, touted to be Africa’s largest hackathon event, will feature these technologies. What are they?

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From 1-3 June 2020, software developers from around the world are expected to converge in Lagos for a three-day hackathon event called Discover X. The developers will hack for solutions to problems encountered in Africa under eleven categories using blockchain technology, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). In this blog article, I provide a brief description of what these technologies are, how they can be used, and where they can be applied.

Blockchain Technology
Simply put, blockchain is a cheap and secure means of sending information from one point to another. The process is fully automated, the information when sent cannot be modified, and it costs nothing to send the information. Blockchain has been described as the most disruptive invention since the internet. Due to the features that it offers, it is touted as the best financial technology tool for processing transactions.

How blockchain works
A sender initiates a transaction process by creating a block
This block is verified by millions of computers connected by a peer-to-peer network across the internet
The verified block is added to a chain that is stored across the internet
The chain creates a unique record with a unique history. Falsifying a single record is virtually impossible as it would require the falsification of the entire chain

Blockchain guarantees confidentiality, integrity, and availability which are the three components of information security. The information that is stored on a blockchain exists as a shared – and continually updated – database. Although information about transactions are publicly recorded in the database, the user information is cryptographically stored and cannot be accessed by unauthorized parties. Also, the information can not be corrupted because there is no centralized version for a hacker to get to, and the information is accessible when needed.

Companies that receive payments for the sale of their products stand to benefit greatly by using, or moving their payment processes to blockchain. Besides the elements of information security that blockchain offers, perhaps its most attractive feature is that it is free.

For instance, a transport company that sells tickets online would no longer have to pay the credit card company a professing fee for each transaction when they use blockchain. This would mean cheaper tickets as the transport company could charge very small amounts without worrying about losing their profits to variable costs.

Blockchain has other applications such as in governance resulting in transparent elections, data management, and in stock trading by providing added efficiency in share settlement.

Artificial Intelligence
When you hear about Artificial Intelligence (AI), you probably think about a computer system that emulates the Intelligence processes of a human being and and you are correct. These processes include learning (where information is acquired and the rules for using it), reasoning (based on the rules, decisions are made) and self-correction (involving feedback, resulting in new learning).

The most popular form of AI are perhaps the virtual personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri. They are classified as weak AI because when presented with an unfamiliar task or problem, they are unable to provide a solution by themselves. However, strong AI, also known as artificial general intelligence, are able to find a solution without the intervention of a human being.

Different types of technology that incorporate AI in them include automation (to make a system or process function automatically), machine learning (for providing a computer system with the ability to learn from experience without being programmed), machine vision (to provide computers with sight for various application such as signature identification), self-driving cars (to provide vehicles with automation), robotics (to provide instructions for robots) and natural language processing (for processing of both human and non-human language for applications such as spam detection).

Improving efficiency, resulting in better results and reduced costs, is a key advantage that using AI brings. Areas that can benefit from applying AI include healthcare, business, education, finance, and manufacturing.

With all these benefits are ethical concerns that are raised about AI, particularly in the area of data training. Humans decide what data should be trained in an AI program, hence there is the possibility that they would include their bias, whether consciously or unconsciously, when doing the selection. This is a key reason why we need engineers of diverse backgrounds building solutions to problems, to prevent the biases of a few people from being transferred to the computer system.

Virtual Reality
Have you ever had a Virtual Reality (VR) experience?…amazing right? You get immersed into this other world and are able to interact with it. This is made possible by the use of computer technology in creating a simulated environment, resulting in a computer-generated reality.

VR in medicine

VR uses a head-mounted display (HMD) also known as a VR headset which allows the users to sense and interact with the objects in the simulated environment. The most popular VR headsets are Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR, and the HTC Vive. Applications of VR include education, business, engineering, aviation, medicine, and the military.

Augmented Reality
Pokémon Go, the popular game by Niantic that had young people (myself included) walking around with their phones in 2016 in search of Pokémon characters in real locations is a popular application of Augmented Reality (AR). AR is not a fully immersive technology. It enhances the real world with objects via smartphones, AR glasses, and smart lenses. Popular AR products include Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Companies in different industries including healthcare, automotive, travel and tourism, retail, and aviation have developed AR solutions to improve their users’ experience.

IKEA uses AR to improve the customer shopping experience of their customers

Both VR and AR use sensors and algorithms to create the simulation. Also, the gaming industry is one area where VR and AR have been predominantly applied. The difference between the two immersive technologies is that unlike VR which creates a simulated environment to be immersed in, AR simulates artificial objects in the real environment.

Mixed Reality
Mixed reality (MR) is the least popular of the three immersive technologies. It takes the augmented reality experience a step further by providing real-time interaction between users and the virtual objects that are overlain on the real world. The virtual objects react and respond to users as if they were real. An MR headset is used for this experience. Some MR products include Microsoft’s HoloLens and Lenovo Explorer. An application of MR is in the manufacturing industry.

Registration for Discover X will commence in February 2020. For partnerships and further enquiries, please contact the event organizers Spurbuddy.

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