The long-awaited Blockchain & AI report was finally handed over and released by the ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru early last week. Expected to have been launched towards the end of last year, one can only say it is always better late than never.
In its basic definition, a blockchain is a new type of record-keeping whose overall control is not within a single entity but rather distributed across multiple entities.
In other words, the ability to change or update records in the system is done through a shared consensus between multiple parties. Better still, once an entry is recorded, it become tamper-proof or immutable.
On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been around longer than blockchain but its use cases are growing faster due to availability of big data and increased processing power within a range of devices that includes mobile phones and digital sensors.
By definition, AI is about training and equipping machines with experience (data) so that they can identify patterns that could then be used to predict or take action in future events.
The report is fairly bulky, but, in summary, it outlines how Kenya can harness these emerging technologies to transform the public and private sectors, in an effort to realign our socio-economic development within the context of the 21st Century.
Corruption has always been one pain-point for Kenyans. Hence the report recommends that the public sector record-keeping systems be redesigned to take advantage of Blockchain properties such as immutability, transparency, shared control amongst others.
The problems such as the ones we have had in the lands registry, medicine distribution registry and insurance claims registry come to mind.
At the heart of these problems is the fact that the record-keeping system is at the mercy of one entity, or to be direct, at the mercy of the ICT director of that ministry, agency or department.
What goes in or out of the ICT data servers ultimately depends on the ethical standards the ICT director subscribes to. In some cases, some lower level technicians can also execute fraudulent activities without the director’s knowledge.
Blockchain system remove this weaknesses by ensuring that decisions on what transactions enter the databases are pre-coded in multiple autonomous systems running under different jurisdictions.
The threshold for fraud to happen suddenly spikes up exponentially when compared to the traditional ICT systems currently running in both public and private sector organisations.
Once you understand this benefit, it becomes easy to apply it in any of our contentious sectors, including streamlining our electoral systems, insurance claim systems, improving our financial disbursement system of IDPs and pensioners amongst others.
The report also dives into the controversial issues of crypto-currencies.
Most Kenyans came to learn about bitcoin, the largest crypto currency, way before they learnt about blockchain and many think it is one and the same thing, yet it is not.
Crypto currency like bitcoin is virtual money without a centralised control and has shown to be highly volatile due to the high number of speculative users buying into it.
The report does recommend the use of crypto currencies but from a more controlled, stable perspective. Many die-hard, bitcoin believers may consider this a contradiction but as a country, we must make deliberate choice on what we need, given our developmental circumstances.
The same way blockchain systems can improve record keeping in the public and private sector, the report suggests that Central Bank could upgrade its record keeping system onto a blockchain that would exchange digital tokens with its retail banks.
Whether we want to baptise these digital tokens as crypto-currencies, virtual currencies or whatever is convenient, Central Bank must be ready and willing to explore not just the risk but more so, the benefits of blockchain-driven solutions.
Finally, Kenyans should spare time and review the report and begin to develop locally-focused blockchain solutions that could ensure that we do not become bystanders in the emerging tech-space.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu