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Inclusive Internet: OTTs raise the bar

…Google develops future life applications
…Globalises Nigerian English diction through new apps

By Juliet Umeh

Technology is playing critical roles in improving lives and transforming the society positively. In Nigeria, it has transformed everyday endeavour and brought solutions to lots of problems.

From left: Head of Start-ups success and services Launchpad Africa, Google, Fola Olatunji-David, Country Manager, Google Nigeria, Juliet Ehimuan, and Head of brand and Reputation, Google Sub-saharan Africa, Jola Makinde, at the Google For Nigeria event recently

Areas such as agriculture, health, transportation, education, financial institutions among others have been greatly enhanced by technological innovations.

However, the dynamic nature of technology has made it imperative that nations tweak policies, disrupt status quo and innovate to compete on a global level to achieve inclusive internet.

Inclusive Internet  is about the accessibility and affordability of the internet  to an extent that enables positive social and economic outcomes at individual and group levels.

Inclusive internet spurs advancement in technologies like artificial intelligence, AI, and machine learning, ML,  to accelerate developments.

However, in Nigeria, the traditional telecommunications companies that should ordinarily lead these advancements are lamenting   unfavourable business policies and harsh economy. These have joined hands to put them out of businesses and innovative ideas.

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For instance, out of 38 internet service providers licensed  to sell internet services in Nigeria in 2010, not more than 19 are operational today, according to the chairman of Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, Mr Gbenga Adebayo.

Adebayo said the only way Nigeria can have inclusive internet and by extension, a telecom industry that can become an economic backbone is a pragmatic political will that respects the power of technology.

Meanwhile, as the traditional operators await such political will, Over the Top service providers like Google are raising the bar with applications; consistently looking for ways to improve their services to better human existence.

For instance, last week, during Google for Nigeria event, the company announced partnership with the Nigerian Government to make an online safety curriculum available to all primary and secondary school students in the country.  The safety curriculum is expected to reach about 56 million Nigerian students per year. It said the initiative was because one in three internet users is under 18 years and their safety is very paramount to Google.

Future life apps

Aside the online safety curriculum, Google also introduced other new features and applications aimed at making life more comfortable for people in Nigeria and across Africa.

The newly-introduced products include: navigation instructions in a Nigerian voice for motorcycle and car driving modes. The new app makes it possible to get a Nigerian voice directing street navigations everywhere that particular app is downlaoded, thereby globalising Nigerian English dictions. Another app is the new ‘Street View imagery’ of  Abuja, Benin City, Enugu and  Ibadan  with almost 12 thousand kilometres of roads added. This means that accessing these areas by motorists and visitors would be at the touch of the button. ‘Gallery Go’- is another one. A fast and smart photo gallery designed for users who don’t have a reliable internet connection; ‘Google Go updates,’ which provides an ongoing look at the things people care about, like the latest content on their football team, people of interest, music and news stories.

Others include: ‘Google Lens’ which helps people to find out more about the world around them through their camera and photos; ‘Bolo, a speech-based reading app that helps kids learns how to read in English and a Nigerian culinary experience from ‘Google Arts and Culture.’

YouTube boost for emerging artistes

It also, announced a commitment to support emerging music talents in Nigeria to shoot videos, record music, and get mentoring.

It said at the initial phase, it will be teaming up with a Nigerian music artiste Mr. Oluwatosin Ajibade popularly known as  Mr Eazi  through his incubator initiative,  emPawa Africa, to support 10 emerging Nigerian music artistes to build their craft, increase their fan base and connect with the world through YouTube.

YouTube’s Global Head of Music, Lyor Cohen, who was joined on stage at  the programme with Mr Eazi for a fireside chat announced the initiative and discussed the growth and evolution of African music on YouTube.

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Mr. Eazi said the partnership with YouTube will take emPawa and its artistes to a whole new level.

How Google builds these initiatives

Head of Google Artificial Intelligence Center in Accra, Moustapha Cisse, said his group do research in machine learning and builds smart systems.

Cisse said: “We are a team of about 14 researchers and engineers, working and advancing the state of the AI and ML. “The most exciting part of our job is using technology to advance development and tackling some of the challenges in Africa.

“AI and ML have gone through a few years of important progress.   Between 2011 and 2016, we’ve gone from building systems which are barely capable of seeing and identifying object in images to systems that work better than humans, understanding and being able to tell accurately what is in the image. Today, we are excited to improve languages by removing barriers.  Europe has about 303 but Africa has over 2000 diverse languages spoken by millions of people.  Our group is committed to removing barriers in African with our app” Cisse said.

Improving economy with new techs

Meanwhile, Country Director, Google Nigeria, Mrs. Juliet Ehimaun, said  Nigeria must rise beyond limitations by leveraging technology. Speaking to  Hi-Tech,  she said the possibilities that technology provide are capable of accelerating developments.

“Advancement in technologies like AI and ML make many things possible. Now, there’s a huge focus on diversifying the economy, and increasing agricultural export. We can boost our productivity and harvest by preventing diseases using ML to achieve a bigger harvest. So there’s a direct correlation between being able to leverage these technologies and advancement in the economy.

“We have seen businesses getting online and being able to reach more people. That, obviously, has a direct impact on job creation, and on growing the economy.

“One of the things we have invested in is our Launchpad accelerator program. It is a three-month mentoring program for tech start-ups across Africa. We pledged $3million worth of equity-free support to these start-ups, so far, 35 start-ups have gone through the program and collectively, they have been able to raise over $19 million in funding and they have created 385 jobs. You can see how this directly relates to developing the economy” she added.

Ehimuan was immediately corroborated by a Jos, Plateau State-based entrepreneur farmer who identified himself as Godwin. He said a three-day digital training empowered and turned his yield around. Godwin who said he used to produce 10 bags of rice in a month, now produces up to 40 bags with the help of technology.

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He said: “I felt inferior at first because I couldn’t afford an internet-enabled device but I was encouraged and motivated by the organisers of the training.

I registered my company on Google my business, opened an official social media account, everything about my business changed.

“I was surprised that my business coming online increased my capacity, knowledge, marketing, and production, and my profit has gone up.  I used to process as low as 10 bags of rice in a month, but now I can process up to 40 bags,” he said.

But for the Nigerian economy to have maximum benefits the new techs bring,  Ehimaun  believes right policies must be in place.

She said: “Firstly, it’s important for more Nigerians to access the internet. We need more connectivity. The cost of data is relatively high for the income of the average user.  Government can provide enabling policies to accelerate broadband growth.

“Also capacity building is very important, to create opportunities for people to have access to learning, to be able to enhance their digital skills and capacity”.

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