How can blockchain, quantum computing and machine learning transform Uganda?

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How can blockchain, quantum computing and machine learning transform Uganda?
The central bank in Kampala

Dr Lawrence Muganga, vice-chancellor of Victoria University, has cited the transformative potential of cutting-edge technologies like blockchain, quantum computing, and machine learning (ML) in Uganda's journey towards technological ascendancy.

In his letter to President Museveni, Dr Muganga highlighted why Uganda must take immediate action to embrace technology and innovation. He believes that blockchain, quantum computing, and machine learning could be game-changers for the country.

Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that enables secure, transparent, and tamper-proof record-keeping. It operates as a decentralised distributed ledger that records transactions across multiple computer networks.

Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, forming an unbreakable chain of data.

This unique structure ensures that once data is recorded on the blockchain, it cannot be altered or deleted without consensus from the network.

Quantum computing is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the principles of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems beyond classical computers' capabilities.

Unlike traditional computers that use bits (0s and 1s) to process information, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in multiple states simultaneously through a phenomenon called superposition.

This allows quantum computers to perform specific calculations exponentially faster than even the most powerful supercomputers today.

Machine learning (ML) is a rapidly advancing field of artificial intelligence that focuses on developing algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to learn and improve their performance on specific tasks without being explicitly programmed.

By training on large datasets, ML algorithms can automatically identify patterns, make predictions, and take actions with minimal human intervention.

Dr Muganga said the security and transparency provided by blockchain greatly depend on its decentralization feature.

Instead of being validated by one central authority, like a bank or government, blockchain distributes such responsibilities across peers' networks.

”Therefore, every node in this network keeps a copy of the ledger working together, validating newly created transactions. It eliminates single points, thus making it a highly tamper-resistant system because it can't attack all nodes simultaneously, which would have been possible if only one point existed,” he said.

On a public blockchain, all activities are seen, creating a record that can be audited and verified. Transparency could change the way industries such as supply chain management operate, where trust and accountability are necessary; it can also facilitate tracking goods from source to shelf on the blockchain, thus enhancing ethical sourcing and preventing counterfeiting.

For example, Guardtime is creating "keyless" signature systems using blockchain, which are currently used to secure the health records of one million Estonian citizens.

In healthcare, Dr Muganga said startups like Gem are working with the Centre for Disease Control to put disease outbreak data onto a blockchain, increasing the effectiveness of disaster relief and response. SimplyVital Health is developing two blockchain-based health products:

“ConnectingCare, which tracks patient progress after they leave the hospital, and Health Nexus, which aims to provide decentralized blockchain patient records. MedRec, an MIT project, uses blockchain for electronic medical records, managing authentication, confidentiality, and data sharing,” he said.

In financial services, Dr Muganga said blockchain offers numerous applications. ABRA uses the Bitcoin blockchain for a cryptocurrency wallet that tracks balances in different currencies. Bank Hapoalim is collaborating with Microsoft to create a blockchain system for managing bank guarantees.

“Barclays has launched initiatives involving blockchain to track financial transactions, ensure compliance, and combat fraud, stating that blockchain is a fundamental part of the new operating system for the planet. Maersk uses blockchain to streamline marine insurance, while Aeternity and Augur allow for the creation of smart contracts and decentralized prediction markets, respectively,” he said.

In manufacturing and industry, projects like Provenance aim to provide blockchain-based transparency records within supply chains.

Reliance Industries in India is developing a blockchain-based supply chain logistics platform and its cryptocurrency, Jiocoin. SKUChain and Blockverify are other systems that track and trace goods through supply chains, focusing on anticounterfeit measures in markets like diamonds, pharmaceuticals, and luxury goods.

“Governments are also exploring blockchain's potential. Dubai aims to become the world's first blockchain-powered state, with initiatives across health records, shipping, business registration, and preventing the spread of conflict diamonds. Estonia has partnered with Ericsson to create a new data center to move public records onto the blockchain,”he said

He explained that South Korea works with Samsung to implement blockchain solutions for public safety and transport.

The UK Department of Work and Pensions is investigating using blockchain to record and administer benefit payments through Govcoin and Democracy.

Earth is an open-source project enabling the creation of democratically structured organizations using blockchain tools.

In charity, Bitgive provides greater transparency to charity donations, working with established organizations like Save The Children and The Water Project.

Retail applications include OpenBazaar, a decentralized market for trading goods and services without intermediaries, and Loyyal, a universal loyalty framework that allows consumers to combine and trade loyalty rewards in new ways.

Real estate, transport, and tourism are also ripe for blockchain innovation. Ubiquity is developing a blockchain-driven system to streamline real estate transfers, reducing friction and expense.

IBM Blockchain Solutions is working on non-finance blockchain initiatives, and Arcade City and La'Zooz are community-owned platforms moving ride-sharing and car-hiring onto the blockchain.

Webjet is developing a blockchain solution for tracking and trading empty hotel rooms, ensuring fair payment distribution among middle-man sites.

In media, Kodak's blockchain system tracks intellectual property rights and payments to photographers. Ujomusic, founded by Imogen Heap, records and tracks royalties for musicians while creating a record of ownership of their work.

By adopting blockchain technology, Dr. Muganga believes that Uganda can address long-standing issues such as land ownership fraud and disputes by digitalizing land titles, creating an unalterable record of ownership. Intelligent contracts can limit intermediaries during property transfers, minimizing corruption and unlocking trillions in dead capital.

The potential of blockchain in combating corruption is significant. With transparent government spending records and contract awards, corruption levels can be reduced, and officials can be held accountable. This is crucial for countries like Uganda, where graft has impaired development.

By leveraging blockchain technology, Uganda can build a more transparent, secure, and efficient society, positioning itself as a leader in technological innovation and improving the lives of its citizens.

Dr Muganga also elucidated the immense potential of quantum computing, a technology poised to revolutionize various industries globally.

"Quantum computing, a revolutionary leap in technological prowess, transcends the limitations of classical computing by harnessing the intricate principles of quantum mechanics," said Dr Muganga, emphasising its transformative capabilities.

He highlighted quantum computing's prowess in healthcare, elucidating how it could expedite drug discovery and personalize treatments for diseases like cancer, citing partnerships between biotechnology firms and quantum computing entities.

"Finance stands to gain significantly from quantum algorithms," noted Dr Muganga, underscoring its potential in portfolio management, risk analysis, and fraud detection, citing pioneering initiatives by leading financial institutions.

Moreover, Dr Muganga shed light on quantum computing's implications for materials science, logistics, automotive design, and energy optimization, citing collaborations between quantum computing firms and industry giants like Toyota and Volkswagen.

"Investment in quantum research and education could empower Uganda to address pressing challenges and attract international collaboration, propelling economic growth and technological leadership," affirmed Dr Muganga.

He said ML analyzes medical images, diagnoses conditions, predicts patient outcomes, and accelerates drug discovery. Imagine a future where ML-powered systems detect early signs of cancer from a simple blood test or generate personalized treatment plans based on a patient's genetic profile and medical history.

He noted that disease breakthroughs, patient monitoring, medical data analysis, and management of inappropriate medical data are just a few examples.

For instance, Omdena utilized RNNs to predict cardiac arrest by combining sequential and static features, significantly improving the RNN's performance.

In another challenge, Omdena's team worked on predicting biological age using AI. They developed weighted algorithms based on high-throughput markers such as activity, diet, and socioeconomic status to predict biological age outcomes. This system monitors user attributes and lifestyle actions, adjusting predictions based on ongoing data.

“Machine learning enhances face detection amidst non-face objects like buildings or landscapes, playing a crucial role in surveillance techniques. For example, the Child Growth Monitor (CGM) application uses state-of-the-art neural network algorithms to replace traditional anthropometric measurements, increasing accuracy in detecting malnourished children,” he said.

ML algorithms in mapping platforms calculate the quickest routes, reducing traffic congestion and improving punctuality. These algorithms also assist emergency vehicles in finding the fastest routes, potentially saving lives. Integrating deep learning models helps address traffic bottlenecks, enhancing safety and productivity.

Machine learning can improve community safety by preventing, reducing, and responding to crimes. For example, a collaboration with Safecity used ML-driven heatmaps to predict sexual harassment hotspots, enhancing community safety and response efforts.

ML enables precise farming with less workforce. Omdena's crop yield prediction app uses satellite imagery to improve food security in Senegal. Another example is using ML to detect and assess damage from armyworms in agriculture, helping farmers minimize losses and optimize production.

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