The following provides brief explanations of these great technologies:
A Blockchain is a tamper-proof record of transactions distributed across all participants in a Blockchain network. Via digital authentication and verification, the technology removes intermediaries and reduces transaction time and fraud. In the financial sector, companies like SWIFT and banks are developing Blockchain projects for payments transactions. The potential of Blockchain however, extends to other areas. Estonia recently partnered with Bitnation to digitize citizen identities using Blockchain. While these are early days, Blockchain has immense potential in Africa given its massive development challenges.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) uses an array of sensors to capture real time data from a range of sources including computing devices, objects and people. It allows users to monitor and manage objects remotely and make data-driven decisions. Lack of actionable data is a major challenge for emerging markets. IoT can help address this challenge. ThingWorx for example, uses sensors to capture data on crop fertility across various parameters and advise farmers on maximizing productivity. Similarly in healthcare, Kaa operates an IoT platform to remotely monitor patient health statistics and predict ailments.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) comprises of advanced algorithms applied to large data sets for observing patterns, gathering insights, predicting and real-time decision making. AI has been attracting keen interest across sectors. Google is exploring ways of using techniques developed by Deep Mind to improve energy efficiency of its data centers. Lo3 Energy is using AI to distribute power to households via a micro-grid. Ayasdi, is using machine learning to analyze thousands of variables simultaneously to construct and upgrade risk management models that can automatically adjust to changes in the market environment.
Big Data refers to the use of advanced data analytics methods including predictive analytics for extracting value from voluminous or complex data sets. The technology facilitates faster and better decisions and development of new solutions. Big Data has been finding growing application across industries. Retail banks in Africa such as Kenya Commercial Bank are using Big Data to enter the microfinance sector by innovating around “alternative” credit scoring models. Organizations like Dignity Health are developing Big Data platforms for clinical, social and behavioral analytics.
Robotics refers to use of robots to automate and standardize quality of work with minimal errors. It covers a large variety of robots including drones. It aims to significantly improve safety, efficiency, productivity and reduce time and human effort. Beyond industrial applications, Robotics is finding newer applications in other sectors. Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision (RIPPA), a solar powered robot is being used to identify and remove weeds individually from farms. Zipline recently began the nationwide delivery of blood and other critical medical supplies using drones in Rwanda, in partnership with the government.
3D Printing or additive manufacturing is a process that creates a three dimensional physical object from a digital design. It can manufacture highly customized parts, which would otherwise be difficult based on traditional manufacturing. It can facilitate democratization of production and high levels of personalization. 3D Printing is finding use in diverse sectors including car manufacturing, healthcare, aeronautics, engineering and consumer goods manufacturing. It holds tremendous potential in Africa, as it promises to boost local manufacturing, reduce imports and create new employment opportun