In the movie Frank and Robot, a son gets his retired, aging father a robot as a companion. At first, his father is hesitant to accept the new caregiver, but with time, the two forge a close friendship that is human-like in all its risks and rewards.
Countless such movies have come out of Hollywood, illustrating how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation have captured people’s imagination.
Many people believe AI – computer systems trained to mimic human decisions and actions – will be the disruptive agent of the third industrial revolution and usher in a new age of machines.
Advancements in hardware and software have seen the forms of AI and their subsequent application grow exponentially, and experts say no sector will be spared from the revolution.
Some of these technologies were on display in Nairobi last week, where hundreds of delegates from across the globe converged for the World AI Show.
One of the displays that attracted much attention was Furhat, a social robot that conducts conversational exchanges while maintaining eye contact and mimics human expressions, such as smiling and lifting its eyebrows.
Furhat is different from Sophia, the humanoid robot unveiled by Hong Kong firm Hanson Robotics, that is equipped with human features like lips, teeth and eyes that move to create expressions.
Instead, a small projector behind a white plastic mask displays 3D expressions of joy, sadness or surprise, depending on the programming that is controlled through an average laptop that runs on an Intel Core i5 processor.
“This is a digital assistant, more or less the concept of Siri or Alexa that is present in our phones and homes, but instead you have a physical form to interact with,” said Preben Wik, co-founder of Furhat Robotics, the company that manufacturers Furhat.
“Humans have more than 50 muscles in the face and they all have to move in symphony to create a single expression. But a mechatronic solution is complicated and noisy and no one has been able to do it properly yet,” he said.
The robot has a camera equipped with sensors that can identify facial expressions and is able to make simple head movements and “speaks” through two obscured speakers at the front.
It has been deployed as a test in two schools in Sweden to help children with learning disabilities and Mr Wik says although mass deployment is still a long way off, the pace of automation is faster than most people acknowledge.
“It’s happening so fast that it’s a little bit scary,” he said. “I think how we should deal with AI is an important conversation we should have as a society.”
“There’s an analogy of AI being the fuel of a rocket where it can take humans into space, but a rocket needs a steering mechanism and a target and at the moment, we just have the fuel but we don’t know where we are going,” said Wik.
Last year, ICT Cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru formed a taskforce to look into how the country can apply blockchain and AI technologies.
The taskforce has completed the report and handed it over to the Government with several recommendations that if implemented, could significantly change key functions and processes in the public and private sectors.
“We believe that AI, blockchain and other disruptive technologies can provide new ways of tackling the challenges of unemployment, corruption, insecurity and poverty,’ said ICT Principal Secretary Jerome Ochieng during the summit last week.
“Furthermore, these technologies have the potential to enhance overall public service delivery, job creation, cyber security, trusted single digital identity, financial inclusion, reduction of transactional fraud, land titling, promotion of democracy and the sharing economy.”
Mr Ochieng said examples of where blockchain can be used is in the allocation and funds management of the 500,000 proposed low-cost housing units, the voting and relaying of election results, as well as in education.
Bitange Ndemo, the chairman of the Distributed Ledgers and Artificial Intelligence Taskforce, says Government projects such as the controversial Huduma Namba are the first steps towards adopting these technologies into everyday Kenyan life.
“The Government has actually started implementing some of the recommendations,” he said. “The application of AI and blockchain in Government needs a trusted identity and the Huduma number is key as we move towards a biometric identity.”
However, concerns have been raised over ethical considerations, such as data privacy in the deployment of artificial technologies.
“The artificial intelligence sector accumulates a lot of personal data and a big amount of this is used by machine learning systems,” says Catherine Kariuki, an ICT lawyer and partner at TripleOkLaw Advocates.
She says laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that came into force last year, will impact how AI technologies are used.
World Bank pushes G-20 to extend debt relief to 2021
World Bank Group President David Malpass has urged the Group of 20 rich countries to extend the time frame of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative(DSSI) through the end of 2021, calling it one of the key factors in strengthening global recovery.
“I urge you to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to giving the initiative as broad a scope as possible,” said Malpass.
He made these remarks at last week’s virtual G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
The World Bank Chief said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession in decades and what may turn out to be one of the most unequal in terms of impact.
People in developing countries are particularly hard hit by capital outflows, declines in remittances, the collapse of informal labor markets, and social safety nets that are much less robust than in the advanced economies.
For the poorest countries, poverty is rising rapidly, median incomes are falling and growth is deeply negative.
Debt burdens, already unsustainable for many countries, are rising to crisis levels.
“The situation in developing countries is increasingly desperate. Time is short. We need to take action quickly on debt suspension, debt reduction, debt resolution mechanisms and debt transparency,” said Malpass.
Kenya’s Central Bank Drafts New Laws to Regulate Non-Bank Digital Loans
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) will regulate interest rates charged on mobile loans by digital lending platforms if amendments on the Central bank of Kenya Act pass to law. The amendments will require digital lenders to seek approval from CBK before launching new products or changing interest rates on loans among other charges, just like commercial banks.
“The principal objective of this bill is to amend the Central bank of Kenya Act to regulate the conduct of providers of digital financial products and services,” reads a notice on the bill. “CBK will have an obligation of ensuring that there is fair and non-discriminatory marketplace access to credit.”
According to Business Daily, the legislation will also enable the Central Bank to monitor non-performing loans, capping the limit at not twice the amount of the defaulted loan while protecting consumers from predatory lending by digital loan platforms.
Tighter Reins on Platforms for Mobile Loans
The legislation will boost efforts to protect customers, building upon a previous gazette notice that blocked lenders from blacklisting non-performing loans below Ksh 1000. The CBK also withdrew submissions of unregulated mobile loan platforms into Credit Reference Bureau. The withdrawal came after complaints of misuse over data in the Credit Information Sharing (CIS) System available for lenders.
Last year, Kenya had over 49 platforms providing mobile loans, taking advantage of regulation gaps to charge obscene rates as high as 150% a year. While most platforms allow borrowers to prepay within a month, creditors still pay the full amount plus interest.
Amendments in the CBK Act will help shield consumers from high-interest rates as well as offer transparency on terms of digital loans.
Scope Markets Kenya customers to have instant access to global financial markets
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Clients trading through the Scope Markets Kenya trading platform will get instant access to global financial markets and wider investment options.
This follows the launch of a new Scope Markets app, available on both the Google PlayStore and IOS Apple Store.
The Scope Markets app offers clients over 500 investment opportunities across global financial markets.
The Scope Markets app has a brand new user interface that is very user friendly, following feedback from customers.
The application offers real-time quotes; newsfeeds; research facilities, and a chat feature which enables a customer to make direct contact with the Customer Service Team during trading days (Monday to Friday).
The platform also offers an enhanced client interface including catering for those who trade at night.
The client will get instant access to several asset classes in the global financial markets including; Single Stocks CFDs (US, UK, EU) such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, BP, Carrefour; Indices (Nasdaq, FTSE UK), Metals (Gold, Silver); Currencies (60+ Pairs), Commodities (Oil, Natural Gas).
The launch is part of Scope Markets Kenya strategy of enriching the customer experience while offering clients access to global trading opportunities.
Scope Markets Kenya CEO, Kevin Ng’ang’a observed, “the Sope Markets app is very easy to use especially when executing trades. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We designed the Scope Markets app with the customer experience in mind as we seek to respond to feedback from our customers.”
He added that enhancing the client experience builds upon the robust trading platform, Meta Trader 5, unveiled in 2019, enabling Scope Markets Kenya to broaden the asset classes available on the trading platform.