By: Hruy Tsegaye
For thousands of years, social inequality has been arguably the most important question in need of an immediate answer. Ironically the question that needs an immediate answer has been with us, unanswered, since the dawn of history. It is one of the major causes of humanity’s integral problems like war, crime, disease, racism, irrationality, etc. Name the problem and you will find inequality either at the root of it, or the fertilizer.
The inequality question is difficult not because of its ideological complexity, rather it becomes the headache of our time, just as it was for our predecessors, because of its impracticability.
Through the Looking Glass
Civilizations in the past have either suppressed it, ignored it, or anathematised it; to be fair, all of them had tried to treat it with superficial medicines like religion and quasi-philosophical cannons like destiny. Yet, many regimes in modern time learned, at one time or another, the bitter truth about it: empires begin to crack and then ultimately fail when the inequality among their subjects widens beyond the point of no return.
If inequality was not the major reason for the fall, then at least it was the weapon to instigate the mass to fight for a better life.
A lot has changed since the classics and earth has stood still through several forms of governments, economic theories, and even sheer stupidity. What has been constant through all these changes was, and still is, the biased arena; those who have a lot need little to win in life while those who have nothing need almost everything.
This works not only for nations and start-up companies but also for each person alive today. Its impact is not limited to economic interactions and the business world; you can see and feel its iron shackle on education, environment, governance, agriculture, behavior, sport, and enlightenment.
The simplest way of explaining this vicious circle of the biased arena would be something like this. If you are born into a poor household, the chances of you becoming well educated, well cultured, well financed, or whatever you can add after ‘well’ to represent good things are nearly seven times lesser than your chance of being poor just like your folks.
Poverty begets poverty!
Perhaps, the forerunners in the classic times were not pulling explanations straight from their arse and after all the fate of the poor was sealed before she was born.
Why inequality is so malevolent when combined with technology
In the meanwhile, the dangers of economic inequality are becoming more vibrant. Today, few individuals can make tons of money through the marvels of advanced technology.
So what, why is this a bad thing?
Of course, it is not bad per se; people make tones of ill money through private funded wars and deceitful stock markets. Furthermore, these few people play in a different field; while we, the mere mortals play in a field called capitalism, they, the lofty ‘ya highnesses’, play in a wonderland where the world’s wealthiest and most powerful banks bail them whenever they got busted. So why is it bad for other individuals to make tones of honest money via advanced technology?
The wealth created by advanced technology is dangerous because the tech world tends to concentrate money in the hands of the fewest. From the beginning, wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few, but now technology will narrow the set of the few to the fewer.
Let’s take WhatsApp as an example. In 2014, Facebook closed the deal for a staggering $19 billion USD. At the time, WhatsApp only had around 50 employees. According to the deal, $3 billion of the purchase went to early employees and the remaining $16 billion was sliced between the two founders: Jan Koum and Brian Acton.
This type of wealth distribution is not an isolated story.
Instagram, when it was bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, had 13 employees. Mojang, the creators of Minecraft, had 12 employees before Microsoft acquired it for $2.5 billion. At the time of Oculus VR’s acquisition, the company had 75 employees and Facebook closed the deal in 2014 for $2 billion. Nest Labs had only 280 employees before it was acquired by Google in January 2014 for $3.2 billion.
One can list hundreds of tech companies that were sold for more than $500 million whilst they had less than a thousand employees.
This is not only true for billion dollar companies that were merged or sold and the trend for the software industry shows that those that are operating on their own today have also fewer numbers of employees compared to the revenue they are generating or their estimated value in the market. There goes the archaic academic notion that a billion-dollar company feeds hundred thousand people.
Technology may exacerbate global inequality
The age of giant companies and millions of employees is fading fast. Technological unemployment is going to be the new plague.
Putting aside the doomsday cry from the Luddites’ side, continents like Africa will surely suffer because of this technological unemployment.
Why Africa and the other poor like us?
The trend of replacement by machines (either software or hardware) clearly shows that the first line of work to be fully automated or robotised is that of low-level jobs. Under this category, you will find factory workers, clerks, chauffeurs, farmers, waiters, cleaners, and the like.
Unfortunately, Africa’s job market is characterised by low-level-jobs and the majority of Africans are engaged in such mundane tasks. It is not a big surprise why many of Africans are not well paid for what they do; most low-level-jobs are also those that pay the least.
There is hope in decentralized technologies
Amid this chaos, we hear, here and there, about tech companies with a pro-poor agenda. Such companies, mostly, are either service providers for considerably cheap price or those that provide services explicitly designed for the poor.
But there are few more companies that offer a third option; decentralized technologies.
Decentralized technologies have the potential to level the playing field on a global level. When the community itself owns and governs the platform, there no longer is a single, centralized entity making the rules to benefit the few, while extracting a slice of value at every stage of the process.
The project that I’m currently working for, SingularityNet, is a newly born tech company with a new path forward that combines progressive technology with a reduction in wealth distribution. As it is one of those few companies with the third option, it provides a shield for the biased arena.
In the previous section, one can see that the biased arena demands a lot from those who have little. Because of this, many companies (especially in Africa) find it improbable, if not impossible, to compete in the international market when it comes to industrial products.
While Africa struggles with unprocessed agricultural products, the remaining continents exploit Africa as their beloved destination for their goods. On average, 68% of the goods and services sold in the continent is imported from abroad.
The unchallenged answer for Africa’s impotence toward creating a competing industry is lack of technology and skilled human resources.
Companies like SingularityNET can provide an answer. To put a little meat on the bone, the organization provides AI-based cloud computing services in addition to a platform where developers can contribute AI tools and make a profit whenever someone utilizes it on SingularityNet.
With the addition of decentralized companies like SingularityNET, the biased arena seems a little bit weaker. Now, a little software company in Central African Republic can access a top-notch AI tool at a price they can afford.
The research centers, universities, and defense sector in sub-Saharan Africa used to spend millions, if not billions, of US dollars to get the services that SingularityNET will provide.
Let alone AI-powered software, utilizing regular software costs a ridiculous amount of hard currency in Sub-Saharan Africa. The writer of this article personally knows a city administration in the east of Ethiopia that has paid 42,735 US dollar for a website built by Joomla!
SingularityNet and other companies that promote decentralized technologies have the potential to be the long awaited alternative that can level the biased field for good. By the time SingularityNET’s platform integrates various AI tools and software from multiple developers around the world, it will become a place where small African businesses can access gigantic tools.
A government that is struggling to utilize its unprocessed data regarding patterns of the rainy season or its transport sector can now use AI-powered data mining tools for a cheaper price. Currently, The simple act of data mining is not only costly but it was time consuming as well. Governments were forced to train then higher the experts before they begin pouring millions and millions to the software providers. If what the founders of the SingularityNet aim to build becomes reality, a person with the basic skill set of running an ordinary software can handle the data mining for poor governments like Somalia.
Right now, the continent of Africa lacks not only the capital to build a competing industry but most importantly the intellect as well. On the other hand, intellect has become the crucial factor in world’s economy and those who command it are as well those who command the global market. For continents like Africa, Artificial Intelligence is the next best alternative through which they can gap their lack of intelligent human resource.
But without companies that can decentralize such technologies, the underdeveloped continents have no access to utilize advanced technologies; inequality is not only the result of poverty but it is the cause of it too.
This is why the world needs more companies that can decentralize advanced technologies.
Despite all its ills and flaws, Capitalism, so far, has been our best approach to create wealth and above all, it has done its best when it comes to liberating people from the darkness of poverty and everlasting economic recession. Yet, capitalism needs tech companies, not just tech companies but every company from every sector, to build a business system in which the underprivileged can get their share from the delicious pie and as well a business model in which the profit flow is diluted at the hands of the majority.
So far, SingularityNet has all the ABCs to be such a company and time will tell the rest!
AfDB/OECD. “African Economic Outlook 2017: Entrepreneurship and Industrialisation.” OECD Publishing, Paris (2017). Accessed August 23, 2017. http://www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/sites/default/files/201705/African_Economic_Outlook_2017.pdf
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Piketty, Thomas. The Economics of Inequality. Harvard University Press, 2015.Social tagging: AI > Decentralized technology > Inequality