Beyond the Digital Cold War: Technology and the future of the US-Africa engagement under Biden

Beyond the Digital Cold War: Technology and the future of the US-Africa engagement under Biden

News Highlights: Beyond the Digital Cold War: Technology and the future of the US-Africa engagement under Biden

We have asked some of the leading academics and thinkers in Africa to reflect on what the inauguration of a new US president means for Africa. This series has been produced in collaboration with the African Center for the Study of the United States at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Although dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the year 2020 was marked by numerous technological breakthroughs. These may be to be expected given the catalytic role the outbreak has played in the rapid adoption of new technologies and in the increased use of existing technologies – from innovations in facial recognition while using masks to new milestones in online shopping and autonomous vehicles as a result of lockdowns.

Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in Zoom’s case. In December 2019, the virtual meeting platform received 10 million meeting participants every day. In April 2020 the number was over 300 million and it is growing. The role of the pandemic becomes even clearer when we look at another statistic: In January last year, the app saw 56,000 daily downloads, but by March there were 2.13 million daily downloads. This represents a growth rate of 3 705.3%.

This magnitude of growth is indicative of the reconfiguration of the global economy in ever-increasing levels of technological infusion that are evidence of a fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Many economic models show that the 4IR is likely to increase inequality not only within countries (between rich and poor, between sexes and between rural and urban), but also between countries. The United States alone accounts for about 40% of the world’s hyperscale data centers (HDCs). China, which has emerged as the US’s main adversary under Donald Trump’s presidency, comes in a distant second with 9%. These HDCs are advanced nodes for the storage and processing of data for cloud computing and are expensive to maintain. The US has the advantage of being self-sufficient in energy and having an advanced engineering ecosystem.

Data centers are the foundation of high computing power and are an integral part of the operation of the emerging technologies that will define the 4IR, namely artificial intelligence (AI), fifth generation connectivity (5G), blockchain technology and additive manufacturing (also known as ). as 3D printing). The 4IR in turn is based on the convergence and scaling up of these technologies. The connectivity and speed that 5G offers, the autonomous function that AI represents (especially in robotics) and the increasing use of sensors (which enable cyber-physical interfacing) give rise to the concept of the internet of things (IoT). This can be used in the creation of smart homes and can enable smart factories (which are both automated and connected in real time over long distances). For policymakers, the IoT can be scaled up to create smart cities. These urban environments are connected to their citizens and properties through advanced technologies. Smart cities, for example, use AI to optimize energy supply, traffic regulation, disaster relief, the roll-out of infrastructure and other forms of services.

Several African governments have published plans to create smart cities, including Cairo, Johannesburg, Kigali and Nairobi. They require the most advanced technologies available. While it is encouraging that these are increasingly coming from the continent’s fast-growing technology producers, Africa has a long way to go to become self-sufficient and must import a significant portion of these technologies. Most are produced in the US, but they are also designed and manufactured in China faster and are cheaper. As the US has sought to deny China’s growth in this regard, Africa’s reliance on US and Chinese technology poses diplomatic challenges. But the situation also offers opportunities for the Biden-Harris government and Africa. The Trump era was defined by what many viewed as a random attack on Chinese technology companies (most prominently Huawei, the current leader in 5G). The Biden-Harris administration has the opportunity to work with global partners, including African states, who have at times felt compelled to slow their acquisition of Chinese technologies for no reason other than pressure from the US.

Although limited to the major US intelligence-sharing allies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK), the US-led attempt to override China has had third-party effects in terms of the creating a global climate of uncertainty, given the links between modern economies. Certainly, questions linger about Chinese technologies – as well as those in the US – given its own troubled reputation as the founder of the ‘digital firewall’ (with which Google, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and other social media platforms are banned in mainland China) that went into effect long before Trump’s presidency.

Analysis published in 2020 in the Journal of Cyber ​​Policy also suggests that the US withdrawal from the United Nations led China to emerge as the main financier, gaining a growing influence on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN agency responsible for global standards development. This has given rise to fears of a “splinternet” fueled by the disproportionate audience obtained by China in the ITU. Regardless of whether Trump’s actions against China were justified, the one-sided approach diminished the quality of the debate that could have taken place and is still needed. A global approach is more likely to achieve universal standards that reflect truly global ambitions in transparency, digital human rights, security and the management of wartime technology use. Instead, it creates and reinforces the perception of the US as a country that ignores global norms and norms or haphazardly creates its own. Only with a responsible and trusted US government can the two sides work together, and with the rest of the world, to create an inclusive regulatory environment based on universal AI ethics and principles.

One of the topics that will dominate the African agenda during Biden-Harris’s administration is the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunities Act, which expires in 2025. This also offers the opportunity to create a mutually favorable environment around the emerging technologies that were not prominent in the creation (in 1999) and subsequent revisions of the law. African countries, for example, have raised concerns about potential foregone earnings as a result of online retailing and digital media consumption. To live up to its name in the new era, the African Growth and Opportunity Act will have to take into account new developments in e-commerce, which (with an expected revenue growth of 13.3% per year between 2021 and 2025) when it reach $ 41 billion in the continent) is experiencing unparalleled growth in Africa.

Via: mg.co.za

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