Nigeria: Exploring the Power of Technology

14 March 2019

Emma Okonji examines the impact of the application of modern technology tools like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics and Virtual Reality on various sectors of economy

Although many have argued that new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Robotics will take away jobs and add to the level of unemployment, there are superior arguments especially from technology savvy individuals evolving technologies would wipe away some legacy jobs.

They, however, added that technology would also create new jobs that are digital in nature and reduce human stress in division of labour.

Despite the envisaged fears about the negative impact of technology, it is becoming glaring to all that technology has become the game-changer that has practically transformed businesses and humans and its impact is positively felt across all strata of the economy.

Technology in sports

We are beginning to see the use of technology in sports in order to improve sporting activities globally. The application of technology tools like AI and Video Assistant Referee (VAR), took centre stage during LaLiga Innovation Showcase at the just concluded Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.

LaLiga presented some of its most recent technologies during an interactive showcase on the sidelines of MWC, revealing, in collaboration with Mediapro, some of the latest innovations behind Spanish football.

The LaLiga Innovation Showcase at the RCD Espanyol de Barcelona stadium focused on AI, the technology that makes VAR possible, as well as technological advances in audio-visual broadcasting and the evolution of Virtual Reality.

LaLiga's Chief Communications Officer, Joris Evers, said: "More than ever before, a football match is a unique experience thanks to recent technological advances which have improved the standing of Spanish clubs, the professionalism of its technical bodies, as well as the fan experience."

"VAR has become the protagonist of each football match, enabling more even-handed referee decisions, adding prestige to our league, and more drama and new experiences for our fans, whilst making use of the most innovative technology tools.

"At a time when there is much talk about AI and ML, LaLiga is demonstrating its leadership as we start to use these technologies to optimize scheduling of our matches," Evers further said.

Again, optimising TV viewership and stadium attendance using Artificial Intelligence is the objective of "Calendar Selector." This new tool used by LaLiga applies machine learning and algorithms to suggest optimal match schedules. The application, located in the Cloud, takes into account historical viewing and attendance data and about 70 additional variables.

Alongside this application, LaLiga has started using "Sunlight" software. This is a complementary technology to the Calendar Selector, which predicts the natural light conditions for each match. This program indicates the areas of sun and shade in the stadium, revealing how the sun will affect the television image, fans and players, and also help with match scheduling.

In the area of VAR in football, VAR uses audio-visual technology to help referees avoid clear and obvious errors regarding goals, penalties, direct red cards and identity confusion.

During the first 19 match days of LaLiga Santander, totalling 190 matches, the VAR system reviewed 2,280 incidents, after which the referee modified his final decision on 59 different occasions. In total, VAR averaged 3.2 interventions per match.

LaLiga has pioneered the use of Replay360, the technology that allows you to recreate 3D replays of any move and give viewers around the world a unique perspective from any angle.

Technology and banking

The use of technology in the financial services sector is also transforming the way bank customers carry out financial transactions. Globally, technology has helped reduced congestion of people in the banking halls and it has provided customers with technology tools such as mobile phones and other mobile devices, with which customers could do online banking transactions from the comfort of their homes and offices, without stepping into a bank.

In Nigeria, banks are beginning to apply AI, and robotics at both back-end and front-end operations to attend to customers' needs, designed to speed up banking transactions, without having human interface with the bank customers. The incursion of Financial Technology (FinTech) players in banking operations, has actually changed the face of financial transactions across banks in Nigeria.

Banks which featured at last month's Social Media Week in Lagos, had the opportunity of displaying the application of AI and Robotics in banking operations

At the Social Media Week, United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Stanbic IBTC, for instance, discussed how the banks are using robots to achieve financial tasks in baking operations.

While UBA unveiled its AI Chatbot called Leo, Stanbic IBTC also used the occasion to display its SAMI and Robo Advisory Chatbot that are driven by AI.

The Group Head, Online at UBA, Mr. Austin Abolusoro, said the Chatbot named Leo, was developed in partnership with some global giants, like Facebook.

"Leveraging technology has many possibilities, which are unlimited and UBA has explored it and brought out the AI Chatbot based on our roadmap to enable financial inclusion.

"Leo is a financial assistant developed with best on class AI technology that has natural language, multi-lingual processing, machine-learning and available on two most popular social media channels, and it was built in-house," Abolusoro said.

Business Process Improvement Unit at Stanbic IBTC, Mr. Wale Ojo, who spoke on how the bank is using robotics to drive banking operations, said: "We have SAMI and Robo Advisory as our Chatbot. SAMI is a virtual banker that helps with banking products and service. Robo, on the other hand, helps to identify the offerings you need to put your money in.

Banks are beginning to see the need for Nigerian youths, especially the FinTech players, to be more innovative in this era of disruptive technology that is changing the face of financial transactions across banks. Head, Business Development at Stanbic IBTC Asset Management Limited, Mr. Gbemisola Shobowale, advised tech startups and young enterprises to learn to try new ideas, adding that while thinking global is good, it has been proven that solving needs in one's immediate environment helps to nurture and sustain financial businesses.

Telecoms

Convergence in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is also driving activities in the telecoms sector, a situation that has impacted positively on telecoms subscribers and the Nigerian economy.

AI, ML and robotics are fast enhancing technology convergence that is driving the telecoms sector.

The advent of Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in 2001 eventually demystified telecommunications, and gave every Nigerian the access and right to communicate.

After 2001, Nigerians could sit at the comfort of their homes and offices to make instant calls within and outside Nigeria, through their personal hand-held devices called the mobile phones.

In 2001, the first set of GSM operators were licensed. They included Econet Wireless (now Airtel), MTN and NITEL. In 2003, Globacom was licensed and in 2008, Etisalat, now 9mobile, was licensed, while ntel was licensed in 2014, but rolled out services in 2016, after its successful privatisation process through a guided liquidation exercise.

The licensing and rollout of telecoms services since has impacted positively on the Nigerian economy and Nigerians themselves, thanks to technology that has been the driver of the entire process.

In spite of the myriad of challenges facing the telecoms industry, stakeholders are of the view that telecommunication has impacted the Nigerian economy to a great extent, using modern technology.

While addressing global participants at one of the ITU Telecoms World Conference in Durban, South Africa, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta said despite the challenges faced in the Nigerian telecoms sector, Its contribution to the Nigerian GDP has surpassed $70 billion.

Danbatta said telecoms investment to GDP was $70 billion as at 2017, but explained that the figure had since been surpassed, following the steady growth in telecoms contribution, adding that telecoms contribution to Nigeria's GDP rose to 10.5 per cent in 2018, up from the initial 9.1 per cent in 2016.

Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said from 2001 to 2018, the telecoms industry significantly impacted on the Nigerian economy in the area of GDP growth, infrastructure development and job creation, driven by modern technology, despite being a late starter in technology investments.

He said the progress made by the Nigerian economy since 1960, largely depended on ICT investments.

"Governments at all levels and the private sectors, all depend on ICT for their growth and development. This is true because ICT has since become the fundamental and most reliable public infrastructure that we have in the country today," Adebayo said.

According to Danbatta, broadband penetration would continue to advance technology development in the country. He commended the berthing of MainOne and Glo 1, MTN West African Cable System (WACS), ACE and the Nigerian SAT-3 Cable System from Europe through the western coast to Nigeria, which he said helped in achieving and surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration target of the country's National Broadband Plan from (2013 to 2018).

Healthcare

Health technology is defined by the World Health Organisation as the "application of organised knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives."

Advancements in medical technology have allowed physicians to better diagnose and treat their patients since the beginning of the professional practice of medicine. Thanks to the continuous development of technology in the medical field, countless lives have been saved and the overall quality of life continues to improve over time.

In today's world, technology plays an important role in every industry as well as in our personal lives. Out of all of the industries that technology plays a crucial role in, healthcare is definitely one of the most important. Application of technology in the healthcare sector, is responsible for improving and saving countless lives all around the world, including Nigeria.

Areas like biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, information technology, the development of medical devices and equipment, and more have all made significant contributions to improving the health of people all around the world.

In the healthcare industry, healthcare practitioners can continue to find ways to improve their practice - from better diagnosis, surgical procedures, and improved patient care.

Information technology no doubt, has made significant contributions to the medical industry. With the increased use of electronic medical records (EMR), telehealth services, and mobile technologies like tablets and smart phones, physicians and patients are both seeing the benefits that these new medical technologies are bringing.

Technology has helped patients in Nigeria to seek medical attention from experts in faraway foreign lands, while doctors can remotely attend to pregnant women and their patients in far distant locations.

Medical technology has evolved from introducing doctors to new equipment to use inside private practices and hospitals to connecting patients and doctors thousands of miles away through telecommunications. It is not uncommon in today's world for patients to hold video conferences with physicians to save time and money normally spent on traveling to another geographic location or send health information instantaneously to any specialist or doctor in the world. All these were made possible, through the application of AI that is driving today's technology.

Agriculture

In the area of technology in agriculture, Nigeria has recorded a significant growth in the ICT sector within the last 10 years. The country has witnessed remarkable expansions in ICT resources and facilities and about twenty million Nigerians now have access to the internet and mobile phone devices. With the liberalisation policy of the federal government, more mobile phone operators and internet service providers (ISPS) have been licensed and are now operating as millions of Nigerians now have access to these facilities and services even in rural communities.

Famers in Nigeria use ICT to communicate, share information, process orders and access price information from various markets located within the country or internationally. They also have access to news that directly affects them as well as connect to policy makers and other farmers. Today they use smartphone apps that provides crop status and for the big industrial farms irrigation systems. ICT provides access to training and capacity building programs. The African Development Bank has stated that ICT has turned out to be a powerful tool in providing developing countries with unprecedented opportunities to meet very important goals far more effectively than before.

The use of agricultural information services has brought about positive changes in the production level of farmers profit, production cost and post-harvest losses. This implies that the use of ICT helps promote ideas and a wide range of innovation that can boost agricultural production, maximise profit, reduce production cost and avoid losses of farm produce after harvesting.

Education

Technology has also transformed our educational system, allowing students to obtain degree certificates, become fully educated and knowledgeable through online courses, without their physical presence in a university environment. Technology has equally helped to improve teaching-learning situation in the school system, through the use of electronic gadgets as teaching apparatus. It has equally demystified academic research, as lots of educational contents are readily available online for easy access.

So technology, driven by the application of tools like AI, ML, VAR and Robotics, has impacted positively across all strata of the economy, despite it few negative effects.

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