Knowledge, Innovation and Africa

As I watched the video here, I have gotten to reflect a bit on the importance of knowledge and how it is disseminated. As I turn 25, I want to take the time to reflect on knowledge, the power it yields and why Africans should take it seriously when it comes to developing, preserving and disseminating knowledge using the latest tools at their disposal.

Denis Diderot was a guy who came up with the Encyclopaedia during the Enlightenment. I loved reading encyclopaedias as a child. It was always fun to just flip through the pages and learn something new everyday. I would just look at the pictures and be fascinated by all the interesting things they portrayed. From the World Wars to Norse mythology to the rise and fall of Greece, I was engrossed in those tales. However, as I grew older, I have come to see that those encyclopaedias did not reflect my situation. They saw the world from a Western perspective. Most of the history, science and geography was dedicated to the Western world. Most of the achievements mentioned were Western. Barely did they mention Africa, it’s people and their achievements. They were mentioned in passing and that was a shame. It still is.

The Power of Knowledge

Knowledge is a strange thing. Based on the context, knowledge can be both liberating but also dangerous if it challenges the status quo. Having knowledge that is not aligned with the common narrative can be treated as heresy and you can be punished just as harshly as a murderer. You might as well have killed someone. Ever since the Enlightenment, great thinkers have been using written word to challenge the dogmatic ideas of the Medieval times in Europe. In fact, writing has been a tool that has changed the game since the age it began. Even today, writing is a force for both good and evil and the future is only getting brighter. Read [[The Future of Text]]. We have examples of Martin Luther using the power of the printing press to challenge the Catholic church. We have Rene Descartes on his ideas on rationality and intellect. We have Isaac Newton and his formulation on the theory of gravity.

New Mediums, New Capabilities

All these great people used writing and disseminated it using the greatest tool of their time, the pressing press and printed media. The mediums have only been getting better as we got the telegraph, the radio, the telephone, the television, the computer, the internet and now the smartphone. From people like Tim Burners Lee and his creation of the World Wide Web to Jordan Peterson and his podcast and intellectual lectures, we are in a new age of Enlightenment, where new thinkers have new tools to disseminate information and knowledge to those who need it using mediums like blogs, video, audio and so on. This has been made even better by the use of software, which simply processes data automatically to produce information based on instructions, which can be interpreted by the user to get knowledge. Software has changed the game and entrepreneurs across the globe are building businesses that get the right information to the right people. They power finance, agriculture, logistics, mining, trading, entertainment, socialising and so on. The internet, computers, software and smartphones are changing how people receive information and it has already disrupted existing monopolies and controllers of information that existed. For example, getting a personal driver before the internet was expensive, tedious to do and only accessible to a small minority. When the smartphone and 3G internet came out, it was possible for applications like Bolt and Uber to connect drivers to people who need a ride. Now, anyone can have a personal driver at any time, upon request, affordably and in just a few minutes. That’s the power of new information systems.

Information Tech vs Knowledge Tech

It is good to note that I have mentioned information systems and not knowledge systems. This is because apps like Uber and Facebook just display information. It is up to the user to interpret that information and turn it into knowledge that can be applied and taken action upon. For example, a dashboard can show you that your monthly revenue last month was $2000 and the current month is $3000. Knowledge is when you deduce that there is an increase in revenue and you know why it is increasing. Either because of a marketing campaign or a new product launch. It also entails knowing what to do next to improve your revenue numbers. Knowledge is a step above information. This brings me to the next phase of innovation in developing and disseminating knowledge, which is Artificial Intelligence. More specifically, I am bullish on Large Language Models, which not only display information to a user but can also explain that information and disseminate knowledge by doing so. This is the next tool to be maximised by the entrepreneurs of our day, such as myself. Using LLMs and other AI tools to get the right knowledge to the right people will be a ground-breaking thing that will increase productivity, reduce costs, expose new ideas and chart a new course for new and exciting ventures. Such solutions will also make their founders very rich. Capitalism is all about getting the right thing to the right person and at the right price. This applies to all things like apples, bombs, cars and knowledge itself.

For Africans By Africans

As I explore this arena of software, AI, computers and so on, which can be categorised as digital technologies or tech, I have a unique opportunity as a member of the African community and an African by blood to build solutions that will enlighten my people. Getting the right knowledge to the right people is an important task that few people on our continent are aware of or even privileged to engage in. The digital transformation of Africa is inevitable, whether we do it or not. If we do nothing, we will fall into the same trap of having Western perspectives dictate our lives for the next century to come. By building our own tech and disseminating our own knowledge, we are contributing to the success of our continent in a new frontier that presents new and incredible possibilities. We have an opportunity to infuse our African perspective and create systems that reflect who we are and what we care about. Systems that are built by us that disseminate knowledge for us and help us to do things for us. They will reflect our culture, traditions, nuances, customs, dreams, visions of the future and our history. Like writing and painting, we will see the reflection of ourselves in the digital systems that we create.

The bigger dream is that the continent will reflect the essence of the African people that inhabit it. From the architecture to the music to the software to the cars to the food and so on. We have an opportunity to make this continent our own and take Africa to the world. Let’s make it happen!

Written on October 20, 2023