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Mr President, Uganda will pay price of inaction if we don’t act fast on AI

A teacher monitors the work on learners during a digital lesson

A teacher monitors the work on learners during a digital lesson

Dear President Museveni,

In this second and last part of the series, I address why Uganda needs to act fast and adopt Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and innovations to stay in touch with global markets.

BLOCKCHAIN - BUILDING TRUST AND TRANSPARENCY

Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that enables secure, transparent, and tamper-proof record-keeping. It’s a decentralized distributed ledger that records transactions across multiple computer networks. Each block also contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, forming unbreakable chain data.

This unique structure ensures that once data is recorded on the blockchain, it cannot be altered or deleted without consensus from the network. The security and transparency provided by blockchain greatly depend on its decentralization feature. Instead of being validated by one central authority, like a bank or government, blockchain distributes such responsibilities across peers’ networks.

Therefore, every node in this network keeps a copy of the ledger working together, validating newly created transactions. It eliminates single points, thus making it a highly tamper-resistant system because it can’t attack all nodes simultaneously, which would have been possible if only one point existed.

Another game-changing aspect of blockchain is its transparency. On a public blockchain, all activities are seen, creating a record that can be audited and verified. The potential of blockchain in combating corruption is significant. With transparent government spending records and contract awards, corruption levels can be reduced, and officials can be held accountable.

This is crucial for countries like Uganda, where graft has impaired development. By leveraging blockchain technology, Uganda can build a more transparent, secure, and efficient society, positioning itself as a leader in technological innovation and improving the lives of its citizens.

QUANTUM COMPUTING

Quantum computing is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the principles of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems beyond classical computers’ capabilities. Unlike traditional computers that use bits (0s and 1s) to process information, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in multiple states simultaneously through a phenomenon called superposition.

This allows quantum computers to perform specific calculations exponentially faster than even the most powerful supercomputers today. In healthcare, quantum computers could accelerate drug discovery by simulating complex molecular interactions, leading to the development of personalized medicines and treatments for diseases like cancer.

For example, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company has partnered with 1QBit to use quantum computing for molecular comparison in drug development. Additionally, Cambridge Quantum, in collaboration with Roche and Crownbio, is developing quantum computing techniques to  analyze genetic data for cancer treatment.

In finance, quantum algorithms could optimize portfolio management, risk analysis, and fraud detection, enabling more efficient and secure financial systems. Caixa Bank started a pilot program in 2020 to use quantum computing for risk classification models. In 2021, KPMG found that quantum computing outperformed other benchmarking methods in portfolio management for near-term investments.
 
By investing in quantum research and education, Uganda could develop a skilled workforce capable of harnessing this transformative technology. Quantum computing could help Uganda tackle pressing challenges such as improving agricultural productivity, optimizing energy grids, and enhancing public health through data-driven insights.

Companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Intel have quantum computing research divisions. Airbus, Volkswagen, and JP Morgan Chase are searching for solutions to some of their most pressing problems. By aligning with these global leaders and fostering local talent, Uganda can position itself at the forefront of the quantum revolution, ensuring a prosperous and technologically advanced future.

THE POTENTIAL OF MACHINE LEARNING

Machine learning (ML) is a rapidly advancing field of artificial intelligence that focuses on developing algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to learn and improve their performance on a specific task without being explicitly programmed.

By training on large datasets, ML algorithms can automatically identify patterns, make predictions, and take actions with minimal human intervention.

ML analyses medical images, and diagnoses, predicts patient outcomes, and accelerates drug discovery. Imagine a future where ML-powered systems can detect early signs of cancer from a simple blood test or personalized treatment plans generated based on a patient’s genetic profile and medical history.

Imagine a Uganda where farmers can access ML-powered tools that help them optimize crop yields and adapt to climate change, where healthcare workers can use ML to diagnose diseases accurately and provide personalized care, even in remote areas, where students have access to adaptive learning systems that enable them to learn at their own pace and reach their full potential.

THE PRICE OF INACTION

Your Excellency, the potential inherent in emerging technology is just as significant a risk if it fails to adapt them. If Uganda does not act fast and adopt A.I., blockchain, and innovations, we will remain behind in global markets, adversely affecting our nation’s future.

One of the biggest dangers that arise from technological stagnation is increased unemployment. This would result in substantial productivity and efficiency gains when other countries implement A.I. and automation.

Another imminent danger is economic stagnation. Countries failing to adopt innovation would miss out on growth and development associated with emerging technologies. While Uganda lags, others might race ahead as it could get into a cycle of low productivity, decreased investment, and diminishing competitiveness. We shall become a backwater technologically relying on other people for tools and innovations driving 21st-century progress.

Perhaps most alarming is the brain drain that can take place if Uganda doesn’t offer opportunities in cutting- edge fields such as A.I. or blockchain technology. It means they leave when some of these best do not find them here. Already, many young, skilled Ugandans are heading overseas for greener pastures. If strong efforts aren’t put in place towards building a robust tech sector, this flight may increase, depriving us of human capital upon which our future hinges.

The costs associated with doing nothing are too high. Missing out on an opportunity to leapfrog conventional development paths would mean no country should ever miss adopting emerging technologies such as those mentioned above to build its economy for the future generation. Such an opening represents an avenue where job creation can be easily achieved, propelled growth, and improved lives nationwide. Other countries will drive the 4th Industrial Revolution, but Uganda will be left to catch up.

Your Excellency, we cannot allow this to happen. Uganda has a young, dynamic population that is eager for any opportunity that comes its way. We have the skills, energy, and passion of entrepreneurs who can lead in the digital age.

However, achieving this vision necessitates your foresight and commitment. This is where you can make a difference by investing in emerging technologies, promoting innovation, and developing our human resources to rejuvenate Uganda’s economy.

So, a dedicated Artificial Intelligence Agency is urgently needed to spearhead our efforts and ensure that Uganda does not merely participate but leads in the AI revolution. While the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance is vital, it cannot meet AI development and deployment’s specialized and rapidly evolving demands.

By establishing this agency, we would ensure a focused and coordinated effort in promoting AI research, education, and innovation. It would be a hub for government, industry, and academia collaboration, driving policies that encourage investment, streamline regulations, and protect intellectual property. This proactive stance would attract international partnerships and investments, further accelerating technological advancements.

Your visionary leadership has always championed revolutionary ideas to transform Uganda. This initiative would bolster our technological infrastructure and provide our young and dynamic population with the opportunities to thrive in the digital age.

We must build this future together—a modern, prosperous Uganda that is technologically developed and ready to lead in the 21st-century world. Your Excellency, let us answer this call for action by working day and night alongside all stakeholders to realize this dream.

Though the journey ahead might be difficult, it is worth fighting for its destination. I am confident we shall prevail with your continuous leadership and determination from all Ugandans.

The author is vice chancellor, Victoria University

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