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By 21 November 2018 | Categories: interviews

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There can be little disputing that connectivity plays a critical role in today’s world, but what does it look like for South Africa in particular? And where is ubiquitous high speed connectivity and this exponential expansion of technology leading us? Following on from Part 1 of the interview, Steve Briggs, the chief commercial officer of Seacom, offered his thoughts.

Firstly, Briggs believes, Wi-Fi is expected to be the hero for the majority of the South African population for whom data is still too expensive. He added that data will become like a utility, and where it is accessed – whether on a university campus, office building or shopping mall – will determine how much people will have to pay for it.

Making money from your data

More alluring is that we could see scenarios where users are able to monetise the personal data they choose to share.

“When we look at social media networks, we know that if you aren’t paying for it then you are the product. However, I can foresee a scenario whereby if you are particularly active on a social media platform and sharing certain types of data that helps that network generate revenue, some remuneration could come back to you in some form,” he continued.

Additionally, Briggs pointed out that savvy restaurants and hotels are already using free Wi-Fi as a value added services to entice customers to come buy meals or stay, respectively, while being mindful of the fact that travellers tend to avoid expensive roaming charges but still want connectivity when touring a foreign city.

Indeed, we will likely see more usage scenarios where Wi-Fi is used as a business incentive, not just a paid-for service.

African content for the continent

Beyond that, Briggs also noted that a significant opportunity is arising from the shift away from the traditional scenario where content was created in the US and UK and largely consumed in Africa. “Now we are seeing more content being created and then shared between Johannesburg and Niarobi, and vice versa, for example, not necessarily running to the US or Europe,” he enthused.

Put another way, it seems like African content creators are increasingly finding their voice, and their audience, within the continent. Hopefully, along with putting more demand on the pipe running across Africa, it could also spur on the demand for connectivity, and foster the commercialization of African-produced content as well.  

The light and dark of the future

So what does the future hold? While Briggs was hesitant to try predict where technology is heading in the next ten or twenty years, he did note that he expects the status quo to be upended, largely due to emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence and the impact these have on education, healthcare, service delivery, and e-government.

“I do wonder what universities will look like in ten or fifteen years time, because it is not unforeseeable that people will be able to sit in a top class at Harvard with a virtual reality setup at their home. What will that mean for local universities?” he posed.

Briggs warned that while the future is ripe with possibility it is also ripe with risk. Echoing the often bemoaned digital divide, we may well see a digital chasm in our lifetimes, with those who have access and are able to make use of that access because they understand technology on one side, with those who don’t on the other. More disturbing is whether this chasm may exist between the ultra rich and everyone else. The former, Briggs postulated, could conceivably be able to afford cutting edge technology like neural implants that increase their intelligence and thus enjoy a distinct advantage, while others who don’t have the same financial wherewithal find themselves unable to compete.

Pay attention (if you still can)

There are also the more immediate risks that need to be addressed, with more attention being paid to how technology is rewiring people’s brains. “I do think we have become far more wed to our devices, with many people looking at them before going to sleep and the first thing when waking up. There is also evidence that it is impacting on our ability to enjoy proper attention spans,” he noted.

And yet, we cannot escape technology’s impact, nor deny its various benefits. For Briggs, along with the ethical considerations that emerging technologies will likely bring to the fore, the key appears to be finding a balance. “I think like any major inflection point in history there are a million ways it can go. From Seacom’s side, we certainly want to maximise the good that technology can bring while being wary of unforeseen consequences,” he concluded.

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