By Mutwiri Mutuota
NAIROBI, Kenya, September 29- The pioneers of the information age met with their young disciples on Thursday in an eye opening assembly held as a side event of the ongoing 6th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nairobi.
The session was held appropriately at a venue where technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers congregate in Nairobi, known as iHub, the global IT gurus led by Google vice-president and one of the acknowledged founders of the internet, Vint Cerf.
“The enormous social impact of the internet was evident even before the e-mail was invented in 1971. Now, internet and mobile technology drives the world and the potential for industry are limitless,” Cerf stated in one of his moving insights into the gift his invention alongside Bob Khan in the early 70s gifted the world.
While re-counting in detail how the thesis developed by the two computer scientists turned to be a tool that billions transact their daily lives almost 30 years on, Cerf challenged Africa to be at the forefront of capitalising on the expanding cloud computing opportunities for business and economic growth.
As young techies gathered scrambled to store the large volume of information being passed from the living IT icon, the gathering also proved to be a think tank on the next generation innovations that will maintain the info age bubble.
“I hope than on January 1, 2013, IPv6 will be turned on to run alongside IPv4 to mark exactly 30 years since internet was turned on. I’m so excited and I cannot wait for this to be realised,” Cerf enthused.
For the uninitiated, Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the next edition that is designed to succeed the 32-bit predecessor, IPv4 and it will see the Internet operating by transferring data between hosts in small packets that are independently routed across networks.
The award winning Google vice-president who joined the tech giant in 2005, said the company had designed products specific to the needs of Africans with the continent’s native languages incorporated to make them appeal to all spectrums of the populations.
“We have made it easy for African businesses to advertise on Google Ads by developing the system that sees users pay for the adverts once they are clicked on. This model has appealed to many enterprises particularly those in Africa,” Cerf offered.
He added: “We continue to encourage more user friendly content and creating volume for locally generated content since I believe content generated in Africa for example should circulate within Africa, not through Europe or America.”
Adel El Zaim from the Global Alliance for ICT and Development in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs who was also in the assembly dwelt on the economic aspect of the advancements in information technology.
“It is the responsibility of individual entrepreneurs to archive their data on the internet but research on how content is being uploaded, the risks that posses and how it is stored and privacy should be done to give the correct picture on the risks,” said El Zaim.
“Cloud computing should be opened up to be free to all but there is need for reaching acceptable level of internet and mobile technology. There is also need to understand better how technology can be used and for business opportunity in Africa, local content products should be offered by using local languages,” he added.
Laura Abba, who was involved in the RINAF project mooted in the 90s that was tailored to usher Africa into the ICT age recalled the efforts that were spearheaded by the UN led initiative that fast tracked internet development in the continent.
“Today the internet is no longer about the infrastructure but the content. When we started this project, 90 percent of content concerning Africa was generated in Europe and other parts of the world but this has changed and should be encouraged,” Abba told the gathering.
Engineer James Rege, the Member of Kenyan Parliament for Karachuonyo Constituency who is one of the first IT specialists in the country observed that Africa and Kenya in particular was catching up in IT innovations.
“However, there is need for democracy in communication. Development of ICT in Africa has been hampered by political hurdles and they need to be freed,” Rege advised.
“Even old women in Karachuonyo have email accounts and I urge tech companies such as Google to view Kenya as a remote part coming up and should help it advance,” the legislator added.
He singled out the Kenya ICT Board for the positive steps it had taken to ensure the country was in tune with development as well as generation of local content for the Internet.
Kaburu Kobia, who is in charge of generating local content at the board acknowledged more Kenyans were contributing content conversant to them particularly in social networks such as Facebook.
There was concern about ownership of data in the cloud.
“At Google we believe you own your data. With cloud computing, there will be substantial amount of support since data will be shattered into small pieces,” Cerf explained.
Cloud computing will see shared resources, software, and information provided to computers and other devices as a utility like the electricity over a network.
“We need to find standards where clouds can communicate with each other, use the high speeds between them in the backbone of the internet to transfer data and I’m very much in favour of use of clouds for this purposes”.
“But with concerns on cyber security, we all need to ensure it is compliant with the rules in the jurisdiction they operate with the kind of protection people should have,” the tech sage added.