Ethiopia, Big Data and Data Analytics
By Waltenegus Dargie
March 19, 2018

The scientific world has long understood that no data is irrelevant (for some historical reason, the word data is used in plural – a bit being singular –, but in this article I deliberately use it in singular for convenience). Only the meaning we can attach to a data depends on what other data we have. Otherwise, any data is precious. Since the dawn of the 21st century and the advent of data centres and cloud computing this understanding has come with a huge reward. All the big companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, as well as all powerful countries, including the US, China, and Russia, scavenge for data from wherever they can get. Thus, every click we make, every button we press, every website we visit, every online transaction we make is stored in big data centres. No matter how mundane or disconnected our action appears to us, it does not appear so to them.

The secrete lies in what we statistically call correlation, or in simple terms, in the relationship between data. Establishing correlation between a huge amount of data has been a great challenge in the past, partly due to its requirement for a large storage and complex and expensive computation. But now this problem has been alleviated with powerful computers, large data centres, and fast computer networks. Countries like China, for instance, have deployed computer centres in places having the expanse of an entire city.

The future belongs to big data analytics. Big data analytics has changed the way we conduct our business as well as research. As far as research is concerned, traditionally, we should have a hypothesis to test before we set out to make experiments. For example, we purport: “There is a relationship between drinking alcohol regularly and sexual impotence”. In order to prove this hypothesis, we meticulously lay out a plan for conducting experiments, gathering data, analysing the data and making observations. With big data analytics, we don’t need to know ahead what we should do or expect. We simply store the data we get in huge databases and then carry out a series of matrix multiplications. Which is why we need huge storage, computation, and fast computer networks. The result is an impressive correlation matrix telling us which pieces of data are related with one another from which we can establish causes and effects. Remarkable data mining operations such as Principal Component Analysis, Singular Value Decomposition, and Matrix Factorisation do the data reduction and correlation for us. We don’t need to select, filter, or merge data or deal with redundancy. Great minds such as Karl Pearson and Harold Hotelling have finished these painful tasks for us long ago. Only we should provide the computation resources. 

Let me give you an example. You go to a doctor regularly and each time the doctor asks you what seem an incoherent series of questions. Besides, this doctor writes down everything: What have you eaten for supper yesterday? Did you have sex? If so, how long did it last? How long have you slept afterwards? How often did you go to the lavatory at night? How often do you walk up at night? How long do you walk on average every day? Do you like salty food? So many questions. The doctor gives some number values to each answer you give and stores everything you tell her. She does this with millions of her patients without expecting anything. In the end she feeds the data to a fast computer and the computer spits remarkable revelation in a single swipe. “There seems to exist a correlation,” the computer purports, “between stress, pain in the left chest, back-etching, constipation, and hypothyroidism.” Indeed, many in the scientific community now believe that big data analytics will play a vital role in our quest to beat cancer.

In politics, big data analytics plays critical roles. Governments routinely rely on correlations obtained from big data analytics to predict and abort terrorist plots, to predict population demands and sentiments and to timely supply products, to win votes in democratic elections, and to spy on foreign nations. It is common knowledge that China gathers a huge amount of data every single day from Africa Union through the network it has secretly implanted in Addis Ababa to spy on African nations and ensnare them in their folly and greed.

Scientists predict that the future of big data analytics in Artificial Intelligence is not as such to predict what happens in the future but to engineer the future itself. In simple terms, those with the upper hand determine what the simple-minded should wish for and consume. The end goal is enslavement. This is consistent with human character and history. The strong, the educated, the smart, always enslaves and exploits the weak, the uneducated, and the simple-minded. There is no place for mercy and compassion. The fit not merely survives but thrives whilst the unfit serves the purpose of the fit.

So, what has this got to do with Ethiopia, you may ask. Well, I answer, Ethiopia is no island. Living in perpetual forgetfulness … “forgotten by the world it had forgotten for thousands of years”, is a thing of the past. Unless the country prepares itself and educates its youth to face the future, its destination is enslavement (admittedly, its present existence is no better than enslavement). At present, the critical channel for its universities and colleges is tragically chocked by its own government. For more than two decades the Ethiopian government deliberately deprived its youth access to the Internet. As a result, shocking ignorance to what is going on around the world reigns in our universities and colleges, now our students and professors alike painfully contenting themselves with their daily consumption of junk content coming from Facebook.

The heart-breaking paradox is that the person entrusted with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Dr. Debretsion Gebremichael, has spent about half of his adult life pursuing his education with taxpayers’ money and precious time whilst simultaneously discharging some serious public responsibilities, and yet, his sole preoccupation for more than two decades has been tightly controlling access to the Internet. No other person on earth has so far succeeded in making a huge telecommunication industry utterly functionless.  

The absence of democracy and the reign of a minority group in the country has forced the government to invest a lot of resources on ever expanding, monstrous spy network, which is a very expensive and onerous burden to the citizens. Whilst protecting the needs of a minority group seems to be a worthwhile short-term goal, it is not sustainable. Even if EPRDF manages to guaranty external security, it will eventually implode, as, indeed, the current state of emergency in the country suggests.

But if we manage to establish true democracy from within, then we have no reason to be afraid of the Internet. For the sake of our youth and the future of our country, we must provide access to the Internet.

Equally imperative is the need to reform our universities. A closer look around the world reveals that almost all reasonable nations have elite universities: The US, the UK, Germany, China, India, Pakistan, the list is long. Without elite universities it is impossible to produce homegrown leaders, statesmen, doctors, engineers, and researchers who are well-equipped and competitive to promote, protect, and defend the interest of our country on international platforms. We can prioritize the reform by focusing on the BSc program of a few universities. The reason for focusing on the BSc program is that, besides being the basis for all subsequent higher educations, it is also the most expensive program. Many parents cannot afford sending their children abroad for BSc education because the durations of most BSc programs are four years and longer. By contrast the durations of most MSc programs are one or two years. Once students have a good BSc basis, some of them can afford studying abroad. In most western universities students are paid for pursuing a PhD. If all the BSc programs in the country are below standard, as they are today, the country will be in great and imminent danger.

 


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