Science & Technology

Bill Gates, AI and returned Nigerian Loot

Last month, March, a self-driving SUV knocked down and killed a pedestrian trying to cross the street in downtown Arizona, USA. That incident came at a time when UBER was already celebrating the feat of developing technology that makes it possible for cars to move from point to point without a driver. In that incident, a passenger in that SUV was said to be mostly looking downwards and focused on his business. And immediately, several issues concerning technology and their relationship with us begin to surface. One of those issue concerns our future in a millennium which would soon be dominated and soon to be controlled by machines and robots. I remember sometime ago just after the entrance of this millennium when a certain Bank, Bank PHB, used to run an advert that one day cars were going to run on just water. My friends were aghast, telling me that that was going to be impossible. But I was sure it would happen soon because all that the technology would need to make cars run on water would be an app which irrevocably separates the two hydrogen atoms – hydrogen and oxide – covalently bonded and the miracle would ensue. I used to tell my friends then once that happens, it radically transforms our oil-dependent economy for good.

Development of technology in this millennium has already begun to affect all spheres of our lives. Our politics, economy and even our food and homes are all nearly tied to the arteries and veins of machines. It looks as if without machines today, our lives would come to an abrupt end. To this extent, there are fears that the robots and the machines that are being developed today would soon take over our jobs, families and jobs. But I don’t entertain such a fear, and I have a simple reason: a machine or a technology without a human being is useless. But a human being without a machine can and will survive. Take the above example in the first paragraph of this discussion as an example: there’s a 50-50 chance that if it were to be a human being at the driver’s seat of that SUV, that unfortunate accident may have been averted. The driver may have swerved or ran the vehicle into a tree or a building if he could rather than just ram into the unfortunate pedestrian. In Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), we get a strong idea that what radically makes humans human and different from machines and animals is in our ability to combine the automatic ‘impulses’ of the machine plus complex, slow and deliberate processes of thought. Citing the law of least effort, Kahneman believes that we as human usually gravitate to the least demanding course of action if there are several ways of achieving the same goal.

Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men pretty much said the same thing when he visited Nigeria. Two things – human capital development and the health of our citizens – is what he said we should focus on. In his very words, Gates said: Nigeria’s bright future will benefit from further investment in the country’s greatest potential: its people. For in the nearest future, even though some of us are not afraid that robots and machines would eventually take our jobs, we shiver and shake that someday, cars would eventually begin to run on water. Because when they eventually do, one industry – the oil industry – responsible for the upkeep of the nation and the thousands and millions who depend on it would nearly become extinct. To be ready for this we must build our young people. The other day I was at the National Library in Benin City, a centre supposedly for human and capacity building in today’s knowledge-based economy. There is usually no power. The books are so old that I was left wondering if this is the 14th Century or this millennium. In that library, to do any kind of meaningful study or research is a no-no because in less than a minute after I sat down to flip through a book, I was soaked to my skin in sweat.  The many times I have gone there, you see our young people milling outside the premises and trying to make do with the shameful circumstances from where they aspire to be leaders of tomorrow.

Many of the people who have argued that returned loot – that from Switzerland the UK and the US – should be used to sponsor a memorial to remember the damage of stealing from the public purse have a case. Even those who argue for the monies to be spent on pursuing a social security schema supervised by the World Bank have a point as well.  But I verily believe that that is a recipe for a re-looting of those monies. One, we have no such social security or population data to which we can rely on to determine who benefits from social security schemata. Therefore then, let us consider spending the monies in taking care of youth facilities – libraries, stadia, hospitals and meaningful youth development programmes – which seem to prepare our people to meet the challenges which a competitive future that Artificial Intelligence brings. That was the point Bill Gates was making.

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