By Muhammad Shamsudeen Idris
We may all recall about a raging argument in the country over whether there are too many government agencies, perhaps with some having responsibilities that seem to overlap and different people seem to have different opinions over the matter and the argument will be one that will be with us for some time to come.
However, a closer look into the issue would reveal a more lack of synergy between agencies of government than duplication of responsibilities after all some would feel that the numbers of the agencies could be an advantage in the area of job provision and serving as incubation avenues for harnessing the much ingenuity that exists in our teeming youths.
But lately, the one that looks like duplication was read in the dailies on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 over an attempt by the Honorable Minister of Science and Technology to propose the establishment of an agency for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. With reports like this, one would be forced to look at the issue of duplication even if one had different opinions on the matter.
How vast are the advisers of the Honorable Minister of Science and Technology that they did not make appropriate research over Robotics and Artificial Intelligence and the fact that they fall under the purview of NITDA and that NITDA is already seriously working about it National Smart Policy Framework (NSPF).
In the above stated policy framework, NITDA plans Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) which are systems focused mainly on complex interdependencies and integration between cyberspace and the physical world. A CPS is composed of highly-integrated computation, sensing, actuation, communication, control and physical elements to link the physical world, the people and the cyber world.
The integration of computing, communication, and control technologies results in the stability, performance, reliability, robustness, and efficiency in dealing with physical systems in many application domains. CPS is similar to the Internet of Things (IoT) because it shares the same basic architecture.
However, CPS presents a higher combination and coordination between physical and computational elements. CPS technologies power the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial Automation and Robotics, Autonomous Vehicles, Green Energy and many other smart applications. It is the next generation of engineered systems.
Design considerations for CPS requires hardware components such as sensors, actuators, and processors that are small, cheap, fast, and energy efficient; system software for high performance computing systems to real-time embedded systems; programming languages with high-level abstraction, and software engineering for complex software design and development.
Furthermore, Digital innovation leads to digital disruptions via Innovation accelerators such as Cognitive Systems and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D Printing, Augmented and Virtual Reality, and Next-Generation Security Artificial intelligence are example of such.
Is Artificial Intelligence (AI)/ Cognitive Systems (CS) a new technology or topic? It is not that AI/CS is a new technology or topic, but the availability of more flexible, scalable and cheaper computing power, combined with analytics and exploding data volumes, has created an optimum environment for AI/CS to emerge as key technologies of the future. AI/CS technologies are poised to transform the way business operates. They will free knowledge worker from mundane or low-value tasks, to focus on higher value jobs.
In view of the above, it will be clear to all that there is no need to create a new government agency for AI and Robotics. Government has no business doing business. Government is supposed to set policies, regulations, ground rules and provide enabling environment for private organizations and businesses to thrive.
As a first step, the Government can introduce AI/CS curricula in our education system. Introducing AI/CS related topics from primary and secondary schools and AI/CS degree programs in tertiary institutions.Schools can also take interim steps to better incentivize STEM pathways from an early age.
Discounted tuition or accelerated degree programs for data scientists may be one way to produce more of the scientists we badly need to fully realize the benefits of AI. Secondly, NITDA is already stepping into the areas of research and development by providing ICT Interventions to institutions and also crafting effective public policy like the NSPF mentioned above.
The outcomes in a long term from the Interventions and Policies of NITDA regarding Smart Policies would result in Research & Development by the institutions as well as a regulatory landscape. AI/CS will affect a whole host of laws and regulations. Healthcare is also another area where the immediate benefits would be profound. De-identified data from medical records, genomic data sets, research and treatment programs could give AI the insight needed to make breakthrough discoveries in mental health, cardiovascular disease, drug therapies and more. This has an impact on the NGDPR.
The Federal Ministry of Science and Technology houses about seventeen (17) agencies, all of which is funded by federal budgets. The National Board for Technology Incubation (NBTI) has mandates; to establish, supervise and regulate Technology Incubation Centers and to provide institutional infrastructure and mechanisms for the development and commercialization of R&D outputs and inventions, amongst other twelve (12) mandates. One wonders why the need to create another agency.
Government should be advised and guided accordingly, rather than duplication of agencies, these agencies can be encouraged to work in liaison to achieve policy objectives. One may want to be politically correct by siding those who see the creation of more government agencies as a way of creating jobs and settling political allies. But the truth is that government resources are scarce, there are limited funds to keep all the thousand and one agencies floating.
While we all look optimistically to an AI-powered future, a deeper look into the activities of NITDA would help a great deal in understanding how deep Nigeria has gone about setting up a Smart Policy Framework that would in the long term take us to the destination of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps, all we need is SUPPORT AND SYNERGY.
Muhammad Shamsudeen Idris is an IT Professional. He writes from Abuja and can be reached via email@example.com