Inside Rwanda’s Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution
Rwanda is now home to the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, thanks to the collaboration between the government through the Ministry of ICT and Innovation, and the World Economic Forum.
The centre is one of the many operating across the world, working to promote emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and internet of things (IoT).
These are technologies that are advancing and changing the way the world does business in political, social and economic spheres, at the same time putting pressure on policymakers.
Take an example of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones that supply blood to rural hospitals and healthcare centres in Rwanda, or a company like Babyl that enables people to consult doctors by just using a mobile phone.
On the other edge, you can also think of a firm like Blockbonds allowing smartphone users to transact and pay for goods and services using blockchain technology.
All that is happening in an environment where previously doing things the traditional way cost time, money, and even lives when you think of the previous hustle of carrying blood to patients in need in a country where infrastructure is poor.
It is what Alain Ndayishimiye, a Project Lead at the Rwanda’s Centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says the country seeks to promote to reap more from such technologies.
The centre, he says, is an affiliate of the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network – there are some 13 centres so far across the world.
“The aim is to develop and implement technology governance and policy protocols that will accelerate the benefits of adopting emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence,” he says.
How is that done?
The centre brings together government, industry, civil society, and academia to co-design, test and refine policy frameworks and governance protocols that maximize the benefits of new technologies.
Ndayishimiye highlights that they also have a role, as part of their mandate, to minimize the risks of the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.
In Rwanda, the centre focuses primarily on artificial intelligence (AI) and data policy, and seeks to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships to drive innovation and adoption at scale.
The two portfolios are aligned with the country’s vision to achieve select Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as ending hunger, and achieving food security.
“By coupling AI with other technologies such as IoT devices into farming, farmers would be better placed to make informed decisions,” he notes. “The technologies can enable them to know soil moisture or acidity and can inform them which season to plant.”
That is globally known as precision agriculture – using technology tools to manage farming. Beyond that, the centre is looking at promoting precision medicine – data-driven treatment and prevention.
The centre also has a mandate to promote data policy, which means working with stakeholders to initiate and implement guidelines and frameworks for data protection and privacy.
A case in point is the draft law on data protection and privacy that seeks to safeguard fundamental rights to privacy, which the centre says had a role in its draft process.
“It’s also to attract data-driven companies to work here,” Ndayishimiye, citing a case of the likes of Facebook. “If a company like Facebook wants to operate here, either to empower their machine learning algorithm for facial detection and they are making money, we should be able to benefit from that.”
Simply put, the centre is a platform that will bring stakeholders together to draft new governance approaches to drive emerging technologies in Rwanda and across Africa.
Local players like Eric Rutayisire, the chief executive at Charis, a drone technology company, agrees that the centre is a good initiative towards policy advocacy.
“Policies are the backbone of everything we do. Without policies you cannot achieve much. The centre could be well-positioned to play that advocacy role,” he notes.
In an interview with The New Times, Shivon Byamukama, the Managing Director of Babyl Rwanda, one of the companies advancing AI in healthcare, says it is critical to have a centre that enhances collaboration between players especially when it comes to policymaking.
“It is very critical, from the policy front, because what they are doing is trying to create an enabling environment for people like us,” she notes.
“We are, therefore, interested in engaging with them.”