AI revolution will be all about humans, says Siri trailblazer

AI revolution will be all about humans, says Siri trailblazer

This picture taken on July 12, 2017 shows Sentient Technologies founder Antoine Blondeau posing at the RISE technology conference in Hong Kong. Predictions for an AI-dominated future are increasingly common, but Antoine Blondeau has form in reading, and arguably manipulating the runes — he helped develop technology that evolved into predictive texting and Apple’s Siri. ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP

From the contents of your fridge to room temperature — digital assistants ensure your home runs smoothly. Your screens know your taste and show channels you want to see as you enter the room. Your car is driverless and your favourite barman may just be an android.

Predictions for an AI-dominated future are increasingly common, but Antoine Blondeau has experience in reading, and arguably manipulating, the runes — he helped develop technology that evolved into predictive texting and Apple’s Siri.

“In 30 years the world will be very different,” he says, adding: “Things will be designed to meet your individual needs.”

Work, as we know it, will be redundant, he says — visual and sensory advances in robotics will see smart factories make real time decisions requiring only human oversight rather than workers, while professions such as law, journalism, accounting and retail will be streamlined with AI doing the grunt work.

Healthcare is set for a revolution, with individuals holding all the data about their general health and AI able to diagnose ailments, he explains.

Blondeau says: “If you have a doctor’s appointment, it will be perhaps for the comfort of talking things through with a human, or perhaps because regulation will dictate a human needs to dispense medicine. But you won’t necessarily need the doctor to tell you what is wrong.”

The groundwork has been done: Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are essentially digital butlers that can respond to commands as varied as ordering pizza to managing appliances, while Samsung is working on a range of ‘smart’ fridges, capable of giving daily news briefings, ordering groceries, or messaging your family at your request.

Leading media companies are already using ‘AI journalists’ to produce simple economics and sports stories from data and templates created by their human counterparts.

Blondeau’s firm Sentient Technologies has already successfully used AI traders in the financial markets.

In partnership with US retailer, it created an interactive ‘smart shopper’, which uses an algorithm that picks up information from gauging not just what you like, but what you don’t, offering suggestions in the way a real retail assistant would.

In healthcare, the firm worked with America’s MIT to invent an AI nurse able to assess patterns in blood pressure data from thousands of patients to correctly identify those developing sepsis — a catastrophic immune reaction — 30 minutes before the outward onset of the condition more than 90 percent of the time in trials.

“It’s a critical window that doctors say gives them the extra time to save lives,” Blondeau says, but concedes that bringing such concepts to the masses is difficult.

“The challenge is to pass to market because of regulations but also because people have an intrinsic belief you can trust a doctor, but will they trust a machine?” he adds.

Law, he says, is the next industry ripe for change. In June, he became chairman of Hong Kong’s Dragon Law. The dynamic start-up is credited with helping overhaul the legal industry by making it more accessible and affordable.

For many the idea of mass AI-caused redundancy is terrifying, but Blondeau is pragmatic: humans simply need to rethink careers and education.

“The era where you exit the education system at 16, 21, or 24 and that is it, is broadly gone,” he explains.

“People will have to retrain and change skillsets as the technology evolves.”

Blondeau disagrees that having a world so catered to your whims and wants might lead to a myopic life, a magnified version of the current social media echo chamber, arguing that it is possible to inject ‘serendipity’ into the technology, to throw up surprises.

While computers have surpassed humans at specific tasks and games such as chess or Go, predictions of a time when they develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) enabling them to perform any intellectual task an adult can range from as early as 2030 to the end of the century.

Blondeau, who was chief executive at tech firm Dejima when it worked on CALO — one of the biggest AI projects in US history — and developed a precursor to Siri, is more circumspect.

“We will get to some kind of AGI, but its not a given that we will create something that could match our intuition,” muses Blondeau, who was also a chief operating officer at Zi Corporation, a leader in predictive text.

“AI might make a better trader, maybe a better customer operative, but will it make a better husband? That machine will need to look at a lot of cases to develop its own intuition. That will take a long time,” he says.

The prospect of AI surpassing human capabilities has divided leaders in science and technology.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates, British physicist Stephen Hawking and maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk have all sounded the alarm warning unchecked AI could lead to the destruction of mankind.

Yet Blondeau seems unflinchingly positive, pointing out nuclear technology too could have spelled armageddon.

He explains: “Like any invention it can be used for good and bad. So we have to safeguard in each industry. There will be checks along the way, we are not going to wake up one day and suddenly realise the machines are aware.”

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Apple’s deep pockets could take on Hollywood, Netflix

Apple’s deep pockets could take on Hollywood, Netflix


The potential move of Apple into streaming video could reshape an industry which is already feeling the impact from new players like Netflix.

While Apple has not revealed any plans publicly, a report that the iPhone maker could spend a billion dollars on its own shows suggested more disruption for a sector seeing rapid changes.

The move by deep-pocketed Apple would challenge entrenched services such as Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime, which have been increasingly challenging the established media-entertainment world of Hollywood.

Apple declined to comment on a Wall Street journal report on its billion-dollar budget for new content.

Analysts consider original, exclusive content imperative for fielding a viable video streaming service, something that Apple has yet to do despite being early to market with an Apple TV set-top box linked to the internet.

“If Apple wants to stay relevant they have to go into the subscription streaming space, and that means original content,” said Jackdaw Research chief analyst Jan Dawson.

Analyst Paul Verna at eMarketer said video fits nicely into Apple’s business strategy: “Content is a vital missing link that could help Apple complete a powerful ecosystem of programming, devices and services,” he said.

Global streaming television king Netflix is expected to spend about $7 billion this year on content, with slightly less than half of that money going to making its shows it can distribute how and where it wishes.


Netflix recently ordered a new animated adult comedy from “The Simpsons” mastermind Matt Groening.

The Silicon Valley-based company is also buying comic book publisher Millarworld, creator of popular series including “Kick-Ass” and “Kingsman.”

Netflix said in a statement the deal was part of the company’s effort “to work directly with prolific and skilled creators and to acquire intellectual property and ownership of stories featuring compelling characters and timeless, interwoven fictional worlds.”

Netflix describes itself as the world’s leading internet television network, with 104 million members in more than 190 countries.

During a recent quarterly earnings call, Amazon executives once again vowed to ramp spending on original shows this year as the internet giant chases after Netflix with is Prime service.

While Amazon doesn’t reveal exact figures, its budget for shows is said to be in the billions of dollars.

Google continues to make a priority of content for YouTube, which features a subscription service along with free shared video posts.

Facebook too is rolling out a new video service offering professionally produced shows in a challenge to rivals such as YouTube, and potentially to streaming providers like Netflix.

The Facebook service called Watch will include a range of shows, from reality to comedy to live sports. Facebook has funded some of the creators to get the service going.

Money to burn

These moves comes as viewers in the US and other markets increasingly turn to on-demand internet platforms instead of “linear” television.

Hollywood powerhouse Walt Disney Co. this month announced plans to launch a “multi-sport” streaming service under its ESPN brand in early 2018 and a Disney branded direct-to-consumer service in 2019.

HBO and CBS also have standalone streaming options.

Entering a market late and succeeding would be nothing new for Apple, Dawson said while discussing unconfirmed talk of the company investing in original shows.

An Apple Music service launched in a streaming radio market with dominant players, but is now second only to Spotify, the analyst noted.

Apple could get the same kind of results in streaming video, not overtaking Netflix over the short term but quickly becoming a force to be reconned with in the market, Dawson said.

While Apple has about a quarter of a trillion dollars in cash stockpiled, providing ample cash to spend on original content, such a move could distract it from the devices on which the company’s fortune rests, according to analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

Entertainment is also a very different industry than making iPhones, and comes with film talent to manage and other challenges likely new to Apple, Enderle said.

“Entertainment is no cheap date; it is a very hands-on business,” Enderle said.

“I think that because Apple is having so much difficulty coming up with innovation in their core area, they are starting to panic and come up with ‘Hail Mary’ passes in other areas.”

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Danbatta advocates review of academic curriculum to include ICT contents

Danbatta advocates review of academic curriculum to include ICT contents

NCC Boss, Umar Garba Danbatta

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)  Prof Umar Danbatta has called for a review of the academic curriculum of most courses  to include Information and Communication  ( ICT )contents in tune with the realities of the digital age.
Speaking at the first International ICT Capacity Building Conference organized by the Digital Bridge Institute (DBI) in Abuja,  Danbatta noted that global trends point to the increasing job opportunities in the ICT sector, stressing  that tertiary Institutions have a major role to play in addressing the challenge of the current digital skill gaps confronting the country.
He observed that the rising tide of unemployment is occasioned by the inability of the economy to create jobs due to the absence of innovation  And maintained that  citadels of learning,  research and innovation must make the shift to enable our youths seize the future.
Noting that the NCC’s Advanced Digital Appreciation Programme (ADAPTI has made huge impact in terms of bridging the ICT skills gap of teaching and non-teaching staff  of tertiary institutions in the country, he disclosed that DBI had trained over 6,000 workers  drawn from  universities, polytechnics, colleges of Education, Medicine and private tertiary institutions.
On his part, Administrator of DBI,  Dr Ike Adinde warned that the country may miss the gains of the fourth industrial revolution if it fails to develop the requisite skills to exploit the opportunities of the digital age.
Adinde noted that while governments and Institutions are making huge capital investments in ICT infrastructure, telecommunications and IT systems, commensurate investments are not being made to develop the skills of their people to enable optimal return on the ICT investments.
He said, “ Considering the fact  functioning in the digital society requires more than low -level skills,  most Nigerian graduates can be considered as lacking in digital skills. This situation is potentially disastrous for the current generation of youths who will discover that the vast  majority of jobs require e-skills when they arrive at the job market “.

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NCC to shut down over 50 illegal vehicle-tracking firms

NCC to shut down over 50 illegal vehicle-tracking firms


The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has disclosed that it would shut down over 50 illegal vehicle-tracking firms in the country.The NCC Zonal Controller, Keneth Uzoekwe disclosed this in Lagos yesterday.

He said the commission had started a raid to enforce existing laws on companies that operate illegal Automated Vehicle Tracking Services (AVTS) in the country.
Uzoekwe disclosed that 20 of such firms had been tracked while two already had been shut down in the raid that began on Tuesday.

He said the closed firms are located at Shasha, Akowonjo and Ogba areas of Lagos.Uzoekwe explained that the enforcement team came from Abuja to check operators’ compliance with regulations.According to him, the illegal operators are disrupting the network by using the resources that were not allocated to them.

He further explained that if a non-licensed operator uses a particular resource, the tendency is that it would cause interferences on the networks of other licencees.

“This kind of illegal practice also affects the quality of service deliveries by the operators,” he said.He said the commission couldn’t quantify the amount of misdeeds that the illegal operators have caused the economy, adding that their operations are also affecting the telecommunications sector’s contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“When some companies operate illegally without contributing their quota, in terms of payment of taxes and other dues to the authorities, the sector’s contribution to the nation’s GDP would be threatened,” he said.

He said the NCC had warned them to desist from operating illegally, or risk sanctions in line with Section 31 of the Nigerian Communications Act of 2003.A Principal Manager in the commission’s Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Department, Emeka Obi disclosed that the commission’s mandate is to ensure fair competition and promote investment in the sector.

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Telecoms sector adds 1.3% to GDP in two years

Telecoms sector adds 1.3% to GDP in two years

Telecommunication mast

NCC targets sector’s growth with Code of Corporate Governance

Telecommunications sector contributed 1.3 per cent to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2015 and now.According to the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umaru Danbatta, the sector continues to contribute incrementally to the GDP of the nation, which currently stands at 9.8 per cent notwithstanding the impact of recession on investment flows.

He said the figure is against the 8.5 per cent recorded in 2015 and less than 1.00 per cent in 2001.The implication of this is that the sector continues to grow despite the several economic challenges facing the economy, and can attract further investments.
Danbatta, spoke in Lagos, at the Workshop on Code of Corporate Governance in the Telecommunications Sector. He said factoring in direct and indirect investment in the telecoms sector over the last 16 years, it has pulled in investment of over $68 billion and “when the GDP impact of these local and FDI are factored in, the contribution of the sector would even be higher than stated.”
Checks also showed that within the last 16 years, the country’s telephone lines increased from a meager 400,000 offered by Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) to 236 million connected lines of which about 147 million are active.Danbatta posited that to sustain the growth and contributions of the sector to the economy, it must be properly regulated.
According to the NCC EVC, the sector has been showing sterling performance due to the quality of regulatory oversight provided by the commission. He said sustaining the improvement in standards of international best practices will ensure that the sector is strongly positioned to play the facilitator or enabler role, which it has come to represent in the contemporary world economic ecosystem.
“As technology trends emerge to disrupt traditional economic order the sector must leverage strength to provide the backbone needed to ride the storm of the disruption on that evolution. All sectors of every national economy have become dependencies on Telecommunications and ICT, and failure in the sector would have far reaching negative ramifications and thus the onus is on the sector to build capacity to lead effectively,” he stated.  
Danbatta recalled that in the last 16 years of the telecoms revolutions, many operators have fallen by the way side, largely owing to internal management issues than from technical challenges.

He stressed that as migrate more towards knowledge economy and higher level economy Infrastructure dependency on Internet and ICT support services it would no longer be desirable for such collapses to occur hence the need to sensitise operators on those observed poor corporate governance practices, which had contributed to failures in the past.

To the Chairman, NCC Board, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, the Corporate Goverance Code, will go a long way to strengthen sector’s investments.Durojaiye noted that the main purpose of corporate governance is to facilitate effective, entrepreneurial and prudent management that can deliver the strategic objectives of the organization using the systems, policies and procedures.
He said a governance operating model is the mechanism used by the Board and Management to translate the elements of the governance framework and policies into practice, procedures and job responsibilities with each organization.
According to him, the traits of good Corporate Governance would include hardwork; discipline, transparency, accountability, integrity and reputational risk, independence, fairness and corporate social responsibility.
Durojaiye, in his welcome address, the move is in line with the Federal Government Change mantra and the ease of doing business drive and is like the African leaders peer view mechanism and it is expected that the industry reaches a self-regulatory phase in the nearest future.
“The recent, rather unacceptable, events in the industry have also brought to the fore the need for Board Corporate governance and the commission has resolved to improve Economic Regulatory compliance and adherence to the Code of Corporate Goverance. As it is said, ‘once beaten is twice shy’,” he stated.    

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Airtel unveils Unlimited Data Plans to boost internet connectivity

Airtel unveils Unlimited Data Plans to boost internet connectivity

Airtel Nigeria, a telecommunications service provider, on Wednesday unveiled its newly introduced Unlimited Data plans to boost mobile broadband connectivity.

The Chief Commercial Officer, Airtel Nigeria, Mr Ahmad Mohkles disclosed this during the launch of Airtel Unlimited Home Broadband in Lagos.According to him, the plan will empower and create more prosperity opportunities for telecoms consumers as well as boost mobile broadband connectivity

“The Home Broadband Service, allows customers to share data with colleagues, friends and family members with and the new package will empower telecoms consumers to have access to unlimited internet service at reasonable cost.

“The new Airtel Home Broadband delivers superfast broadband service via data terminals such as Dongle, MiFi and routers as it comes in various packages and affordable price range to suit the lifestyle of different customer segments.

“Customers can get unlimited data on packages such as Unlimited 10, Unlimited 15 and Unlimited 20, which are offered at N10,000, N15,000 and N20,000 respectively and valid for 30 days.

“The whole plans are unlimited, meaning that they are just tailored to match the size of pocket of the customer,” he said.

Mohkles added that the Telco was changing the paradigm, breaking new frontiers and inspiring new behaviour in relation to data sharing and delivering seamless data to improve customer lifestyle and enable them take charge.

“Airtel is committed to pioneering innovation, superior data experience and affordability.

“Our new Unlimited is truly unlimited as we have stretched the threshold to deliver up to 100GB to telecoms consumers so that they can empower more people within their circle of influence,” he said.

He said that with the new offering, it had initiated and inspired a paradigm shift that would promote community, deepen friendship bond and eventually lead to a more productive and prosperous society.

He said that the company was proud of the new unlimited data package and the positive change it would create in the home broadband segment.

He said that to subscribe to the service on smartphones, customers are advised to dial *462*10# for unlimited 10, *462*15# for unlimited 15 and *462*20# for unlimited 20.

He said that customers, who wished to use the service for home broadband and on data terminals, are required to get the MIFI/ Router /Dongle at the nearest Airtel showroom or a designated Airtel agent.

“Upon activation of any of the unlimited plans, customers enjoy superfast data experience until a threshold is reached. After this, the data speed is throttled to a lower speed in line with the Fair Usage Policy.

“According to this policy, the threshold for Unlimited 10 is 40GB; unlimited 15 is with 65GB while unlimited 20 is 100GB, after which the speed comes to 256kpbs.

“However, customers can continue to enjoy unlimited browsing until plan expires.

“To get the MIFI, Router, Dongle, customers can visit the nearest Airtel showroom or a designated Airtel agent.“To renew data plans, customers can simply log into and purchase the unlimited plan of their choice.’’

Airtel brand ambassador, Mr Gabriel Afolayan, who played the role of Bayo in the Unlimited Home Broadband TVC, commended Airtel Nigeria for bringing affordable data to customers.

“Data is life. And Airtel has just made life better for all customers through Home Broadband.

“It is a breath of fresh air and Airtel has done well for making data more affordable and accessible to us all.“Now, no more fear of sharing data with family and friends,” he said.

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Amazon set to create 1,000 new jobs in UK

Amazon set to create 1,000 new jobs in UK

US online retail titan Amazon will create more than 1,000 new jobs next year with the opening of a new warehouse in Britain, under plans unveiled Wednesday.

Amazon said in a statement that it will open a new order fulfillment centre just outside the city of Bristol in southwestern England in 2018.

“We are very excited to expand our network into Bristol, which will in total create more than 1,000 new permanent roles,” said Stefano Perego, head of UK customer fulfilment.

“Bristol offers fantastic infrastructure and talented local people who we look forward to joining the Amazon team.”

The retail collossus will recruit a range of new roles including operations managers, engineers, human resources and IT specialists.

The US group, whose UK workforce will total 24,000 by the end of 2017, currently has a network of 13 fulfilment centres in Britain.

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Women in technology

Women in technology

Anie Akpe runs the movement called “African Women In Technology.”

My first boss in a technology company was a woman. In fact, my first three bosses were female. One resigned the day I joined; the other was my line manager, and the third was the Executive Director in charge of training at GICEN Technical Services. Our Executive Director had a PhD. I got into tech in the midst of accomplished women; my first software development mentor was a lady named Sally who also worked at GICEN. She was probably the best Cobol programmer in Nigeria at that time.

I have never had the impression that women were incapable of handling their own in technology. There are recent events that have made the topic of women in technology, the basis for a lot of conversation. Personally, I’ve always felt women who decided to be in technology ended up being the best because unlike men, they knew why they were there. There was no ego or self-delusion involved. They were a minority but a robust and growing one.

The first of recent problems in Silicon Valley happened at Uber, and it shook that ecosystem to the roots. The issues there highlighted a culture that was hostile and offensive towards women. Then, the revelations of sexual harassments at other Silicon Valley companies. People started speaking boldly about the issues they had faced at various places. CEOs and General Partners had to resign. As this self-correction took place in Silicon Valley, an engineer at Google wrote a memo that eventually got him fired for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in the workplace”. It has been a roller coaster ride. A lot of discovery of different happenings and perspectives. Responses to the Google Memo have proven that women were indeed pioneers in software development and computer science. The movie, Hidden Figures, based on actual life experiences of three black women working at NASA, also buttresses this point.

My friend Anie Akpe runs the movement called “African Women In Technology.” I have frank and honest discussions with her about my views and opinions based on my experiences. I have always told her that maybe it is best to have more inclusive movements with women integrated into the larger tech ecosystem than “exclusive” ones that foster even more segregation. She had argued to the contrary that women in technology needed safe zones to express themselves and grow.  Others have also made the argument that women respond better to female role models as well and such movements highlight them. My debate with Anie continues to this very day.

Exceptionalism vs. isolationism
I have a younger sister who is a software developer and program manager in America. She wrote code and worked as she was pregnant with a child while raising another toddler. While doing this, she was also preparing for her project management certification examinations and doing a Masters program in Health Informatics. She was a developer, project manager, mother, wife and pregnant student and excelling at everything. I have never seen a man in technology do that kind of multitasking and survive.

My sister was not “encouraged” into technology. She made a choice and graduated with a Second Class Upper degree in Computer Science. One of her classmates is Mitchell Elegbe who is the CEO of Interswitch. She also has a lot of other male classmates who decided that maybe technology was not their destiny. People of both genders in her class turned out ok.

There is no doubt in my mind though that people like my sister are a minority in technology. She had also complained to me about her struggles on the job and how sometimes there is an appreciation deficit. The issue of pay gaps is also real. Women have not had a fair deal in technology and a whole lot of other professions. I strongly believe that it is wrong and it must be fixed.

My question is “how can we fix this?” I think that more women in positions of authority will end up changing everything. Will their chances of getting there improve when there are more women involved in technology? Most likely so. I also think their chances would be much better with the best people in the right places.

I quote a passage on female exceptionalism verbatim here from the Geek Feminism Wiki:

“This issue is complex, as some degree of attention to women’s issues and women participants in geek communities is merited. (This wiki is an example of such attention.) For example, women tend to respond better to women role models than to men, and so making women visible as role models is important. Discussion of women’s issues in geek communities is also merited. However, excessive emphasis on and attention paid to the female-ness of an individual woman by the wider community can make her feel isolated, and, paradoxically, invisible in the sense of not being able to do any work, no matter how exceptional, that is more important to the community than existing there as a woman.”

The future
One of my arguments with Anie is that things are changing much faster than we can imagine. I have at least 17 female friends on Facebook who are either doing a Ph.D. or have completed it. Most of them are in technology, and they are very good at what they do. I have much fewer male friends that I can also boast of the same way.

We partner with global technology companies, and I have noticed that “my bosses on the other side” have always been women.  A woman heads Google in Nigeria. Another woman leads Google in Ghana as well. I have a lot of good friends who are female and in leadership positions in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. In Nigeria, leadership positions in technology are held by women at our telco, media, banking and education clients. These are all accomplished people.

Anie’s counter argument is that this is not even enough. She believes that there needs to be more. That is where we both agree. I agree that there needs to be more women in tech, but it is also important that they are women who genuinely want to be in tech. When women choose to be in technology, they are phenomenal.

My argument is that women should not make the same mistake a lot of men in technology make. There is mediocrity because a lot of people do not know why they are there and they use competition as an excuse for unprofessionalism. I believe we need more professional women in tech. I also think it starts much earlier with the right education and encouragement. I have a daughter, and it will be a great privilege for me if she decides to be in tech. I know she will also be phenomenal.

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‘What3words will boost Nigeria’s addressing system’

‘What3words will boost Nigeria’s addressing system’

Chris Sheldrick is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of what3words

Chris Sheldrick is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of what3words, the simplest way to communicate locations. The UK-based company solves the problem that roughly 75 per cent of the world faces: inconsistent, complicated, poor, or no addressing. By carving the global map up into 57 trillion 3mx3m squares, what3words created a universal addressing system that uses a unique string of three words to specify any location. The new solution is to be adopted in Nigeria through NIPOST partnership. Sheldrick, in a telephone interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, spoke on how the new solution would aid Nigeria’s addressing system, eCommerce services, among others. Excerpts:

Can you shed more light on what what3words is all about in “lay man’s language” that the average Nigerian can understand?
Around the world, 75 per cent of the countries have insufficient, complicated or even no addressing systems at all. That means four billion people do not have an address. This hampers economic and social growth; businesses can’t be found, individuals don’t receive urgent medical attention in time, remote assets are difficult to manage, lands titles are sometimes hard to administer, among others. While there are other alternatives in place, they are not good enough for today’s needs; street addressing is very costly, landmark addressing is frustrating and not scalable, and GPS coordinates are nearly impossible to communicate without mistakes. So what3words is a global address system, describing any location in Nigeria, or the world using just three words. We have divided the whole world into 3m x 3m squares. There are 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares in the world, and we’ve named every square with three words. For example, if I say to you “table.chair.spoon”, that is the name of a 3m square. And you can use the free app to discover your three word address; you can give it to somebody else, they will type in the three word address, and they would find your house.

What benefit does it bring to the current addressing system in Nigeria?
The clearest benefit is this: absolutely everybody in Nigeria will have an address by using this system. This is because at the moment, many streets are not named in Nigeria. And even the streets that are named, the house numbers are inconsistent or perhaps don’t exist. When people type in a street address into a map app on their phone, it often doesn’t take them to the right place. So the big benefit is that from today, everybody in Nigeria can just use a three word address to describe where they live, which is enormously valuable. We currently have it in Djibouti, Cote D’Ivoire. Nigeria is the third.

Have you considered those in the very remote parts of Nigeria?
NIPOST will shortly start an education campaign around the whole country, by using their network of post offices, workers, communication channels through TV, radio, to encourage everybody to find their three word addresses. Now perhaps in the villages, it will take a little bit longer for the message to reach them, but with the assistance of NIPOST and family members, they too will be able to discover and use their three word address.

What triggered the partnership between your company and NIPOST in Nigeria?
Whilst many letters are now replaced by emails, there is still no other solution for parcels than to be physically delivered. And there as well, NIPOST is determined to improve its quality of service and the number of people it delivers to. Today, NIPOST only delivers to 20 per cent of households. In two years, through the Mail for Every House Initiative (MEHI), it hopes to reach 70 per cent, and even 90 per cent in 2020.

Implementing the what3words addressing system will help achieve these targets. They are looking for an address solution that works today, without having to wait for all of the street naming and numbering to be sorted out, which could take decades. We supply NIPOST with software so they will be able to use three word addresses at scale. The people of Nigeria can access the free app called what3words that is in the app store. And for anyone in Nigeria, it is free to use this app to find their own address and to use it.

Looking at the booming e-commerce sector in Nigeria, how will this add up for the players?
It will boost the sector because the e-commerce stores and the courier services become more efficient. That means they can lower the price of delivery for people, and that means people are going to be keener to have things delivered to their homes or offices, and they will trust the service. So, we will be reducing costs for the key businesses involved, improving the customer experience for the consumers themselves, and lowering the prices for the consumers so they can make more purchases. It is a whole ecosystem improvement.

The what3words ecosystem, is there any link between it and Google map system?
What3words works with any map on the what3words app, it works with Google maps, but we also display 3-word addresses on top of many other maps including “Esri” and OpenStreetMap. We can work with any Nigerian mapping providers too. Whilst we choose to use Google Maps for our apps, we can work with any mapping provider.

You say the app is free, what then is the bottom-line for your company?
We have a licence with National Post Services in countries, including NIPOST. It’s the businesses we charge and we will be charging any other courier providers in Nigeria, but for consumers, it is entirely free. All you have to do is to download the what3words app, and find your 3-word address, share it with people, and they can use it to find you.

Does the app work offline?
Yes it does. Once you have downloaded the app, you can use it offline as well. Also what3words is integrated in a number of offline map apps too, like Navmii, the world’s biggest offline mapping app. It’s a big benefit even for people in rural villages – what3words works offline, even if you have no data connection at all.

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Violation of corporate governance by telcos to attract sanctions

Violation of corporate governance by telcos to attract sanctions

Chairman, Governing Board of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye (left) and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, at the Sensitization Workshop on Code of Corporate Governance for the telecommunications industry, held in Lagos, yesterday.

• No director can stay above 15 years

As part of measures targeted to safeguard the $68 billion investments in the telecommunications sector, the industry’s Code of Corporate Governance has become mandatory.
Although it became mandatory by November 2016, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), said non-compliance with the code henceforth would be met with heavy sanctions.
In an interaction with journalists on Monday in Lagos, NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management (ECSM), Sunday Dare, said Nigeria’s telecommunications industry must be guided by global best practices, to sustain the investments and attract more, as such, the enforcement of the code becomes mandatory.  
Dare, who explained that the Corporate Governance Code was introduced in 2012, which was then voluntary, said an agreement in the industry revalidated the code in 2014, and became mandatory by November 2016. “But henceforth, the Commission will monitor strict compliance with the code.”
He noted that if compliance to the code was properly monitored, “probably what happened to Etisalat, now 9mobile, might not have happened.” Dare, who alerted operators that compliance will be vigorously monitored, however said the code is not intended to micro manage any of the service providers.
According to him, while sanctions are inevitable for erring operators, “there will also be reward for good behaviour.” He argued that such codes are not peculiar to the telecommunications industry, as it was already in place in the banking sector, stock market, and a host of others.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Code of Corporate Governance Working Group, Felix Adeoye, said most of the telecommunications companies have gone beyond just being a private firm, to becoming somewhat public, “because they are holding peoples’ money. Some subscribers have up to N250, 000 Airtime on their phones, even above that. So, there must be constant check on them to ensure there is no abuse.”
Meanwhile, at the sensitization programme on the code yesterday, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umaru Danbatta, said the code will still pass through some modifications, based on contributions made by stakeholders at the programme.

Danbatta said the issue of sanction is usually the last option, stressing that there have been situations where telecoms operators ignore laws, “sanctions are regulatory actions and usually the last resort. We shall continue to engage the industry, because the sector is critical to the survival of the economy.”

To the Chairman, NCC Board, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, in his welcome address, the move is in line with the Federal Government Change mantra and the ease of doing business drive and is like the African leaders peer view mechanism and it is expected that the industry reaches a self-regulatory phase in the nearest future.

“The recent, rather unacceptable, events in the industry have also brought to the fore the need for Board Corporate governance and the commission has resolved to improve Economic Regulatory compliance and adherence to the Code of Corporate Goverance. As it is said, ‘once beaten is twice shy’,” he stated.

The NCC said it discovered significant deviations from the key principles contained in the Code, therefore, there was urgent need for all operators to fully align with these principles in order to ensure that the industry moved on the same trajectory.
Checks by The Guardian on the Code showed that compliance is mandatory for all licensees that meet one or more of a number of criteria. These are spread of operations of the licensee covering a minimum of three geo-political zones; turnover of the licensee is in excess of N1billion; the number of staff employed is in excess of 200, and where the licensee has a subscriber base of 500,000 or more.
In the area of tenure and re-election of directors, the code explained that to ensure continuity and injection of fresh ideas, a Director may serve on a board for a period of three terms of five years each. No director shall serve on any board for a period exceeding 15 years.
Subject to satisfactory performance and the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act(CAMA), all Directors shall be submitted for re-election at regular intervals of five years. In order to guide decision of shareholders, names and sufficient biographical details of Directors nominated for re-election should be accompanied by performance evaluation statement and any other relevant information.
The Code also mandated that companies are expected to present a fair, balanced, understandable and transparent assessment of the licensee’s position and prospects to external stakeholders.
“Boards should develop a corporate reporting model that is tailored to the needs of shareholders and other stakeholders.

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