A lot has been written about Emerging Technology and Exponential Technologies and their potential for creating growth in the economy through exponentially accelerating technology. In this article, we probe what the difference is between these two categories of technology and more importantly, how relevant these are to Africa?
Emerging Technology includes digital solutions that people and organisations are playing with but have not really been adopted widely. Early adopters are testing the latest offerings and organisations are still defining use cases and commercial applications for these solutions. Drones would be a good example of emerging tech. Consumers are using drones for recreational purposes. There are many commercial applications for drones but we are only scratching the surface. As drone technology gets better (more battery life, more carrying capacity) we could see express shipping and delivery, search and rescue operations and geographic mapping of inaccessible terrain and locations being done by Drones. There are a number of regulatory hurdles that would need to be addressed but this doesn’t seem too far off. In fact, if the regulations are still catching up to a particular technology, then it is more than likely in the emerging phase.
Exponential Technologies is tech that has the ability to fundamentally change an existing way of doing things. It is termed exponential because of the large impact this could have on our lives and its ability to scale quickly. Why is this a different category of technology? Singularity University says that for a technology to be ‘exponential,’ the power and/or speed doubles each year, and/or the cost drops by half. This is due to Moore’s law (exponential increases in computing power) and Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns (this is about the speed at which a system learns and improves). Real Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two technologies that can be classified as exponential. While we have seen a number of real world applications of AI (think of the algorithms that decide which car arrives to pick us up, which movie we will watch next, which items will match nicely with the goodies we have added to our online shopping cart), there is still a long way to go with this technology. It has to tap into ‘exponential thinking,’ to really transform the way we live, work and play.
So what does all this mean for Africans? In many parts of Africa, most basic technology is not available to many people. Of course, this has one big exception: mobile phones. As Africans get more and more connected to the internet via smart phones, they start getting exposed to emerging and exponential technologies. This brings new opportunities to African entrepreneurs and the ability to ‘leapfrog’ many established global businesses as we are able to harness the power of this new technology without having to worry about ‘legacy’ systems.
One of these technologies is Blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). We already have some examples of DLT being used across the continent. De Beers, the global diamond company has rolled out a pilot programme using Blockchain to ensure its diamonds are authentic, conflict-free and natural. Blockchain provides a permanent, unchangeable record for every diamond registered from the moment they are mined. De Beers aims to fully launch the initiative over 2018. There are other examples involving retailers and financial services companies experimenting with this technology. It is all about the problems that need to be solved across Africa. Emerging and Exponential technology offers Africans the opportunity to solve African problems with African solutions that leverage this new technology; creating opportunities for developing countries in the continent and facilitating the birth of ‘Africa Exponential.’