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Rethinking the concept of digital disruption in new decade

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2010 Fellow Bright Simons spoke to the Daily Nation's technology journalist Faustine Ngila about rethinking the concept of disruption as we head to a new decade.  Bright is the President of mPedigree, a social entrepreneurship and technology company perhaps best known for its work in using SMS texts to reduce the counterfeiting fraud of prescription medicines. Recently, his technical paper published by the Centre for Global Development, A Farewell to Disruption in a Post-Platform World, drew global attention as it questioned common narratives such as ‘data is the new oil’ and ‘Big Data is everything’ in a period of rapid technological change.

He spoke to Nation's technology journalist Faustine Ngila about rethinking the concept of disruption as we head to a new decade.

In her interview with Bright, Faustine asked him why he thought the world needs a reality check regarding the use of data?  His response was that with growing awareness about the potential of data to confer power on those who can hoard it, it is subject to abuse. But he also addressed the issue of large databases held by competing organisations and the tension and friction when it comes to questions of values, policies, systems and capacity.  The ability to harness data to serve broader public interest and for transformation is hampered by this conflict. Giving an example, in e-health, he says, it has practically halted progress in Africa and it is potentially disastrous for startups everywhere, but particularly for innovative companies in the developing world with global, or even regional, ambitions.

Bright also speaks to disruption that should be expected as data is consolidated and then harnessed by incredibly powerful algorithms coupled with machine learning and AI. He says that in this scenario, platforms are likely to become more dominant over all aspects of our life. Mega-platforms will take over our education, health, transport, defense, logistics, and media. But it is likely to do so not because of data or algorithms, but because of strategic alignment.

Additional questions Faustine asked Bright about touched on the cost to emerging nations of amassing the right technological integrations and how countries might want to consider pre-fabrication of certain key integrations.  He also addressed how polycentric integration could allow for competition to flourish beyond the monocentric integrations used by Google, Facebook, Twitter and the likes.

Bright had other key insights into steps Africa will need to take to enable digital startups to be able to compete in the global economy.  The full interview, which took place in December 2019, is at Daily Nation.

You can also read Bright's paper, A farewell to disruption in a post-platform world at the Center for Global Development's website.

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