Editor’s note: Stafford Masie, CEO of Google Africa (2006–09) and Non Executive Board Member at ADvTECH, will be the closing keynote speaker at the 2019 Africa CACS conference, to take place 19-20 August in Johannesburg. Masie, an inventor, mentor and keen observer of how to humanize technology, recently visited with ISACA Now to discuss how enterprises in Africa and beyond can take advantage of the major technological forces of the day, such as artificial intelligence and advances in fintech. The following is a transcript, edited for length and clarity:
ISACA Now: In what ways do organizations need to “wake up” to the realities of today’s change environment?
In each industry vertical we are experiencing incredible disruption, but this isn't due to traditional known competition. Technology now allows organizations to expand beyond their core focus and deliver on services that were previously unimaginable. Additionally, this innovation, incurring this metamorphic competitive atmosphere, is “inorganic” – we are discovering that organizational sustainability is derived from unlocking external latent human capital on the outside of your business versus only focusing on core competences and excellence. The call today is to become a *co-creative* ecosystem and deliver on outcomes derived from combinatorial innovation. Accenture provided the industry with a transversal benchmark: “The benchmark for innovation excellence is being a company for which 75% of current revenue comes from business activities that began in the last three years!” The most important call to action for all leaders today is “Reimagination!”
ISACA Now: From your experience at Google, how has Google made the greatest impact in Africa over the past decade?
It has been almost 10 years since I worked at Google. Establishing their presence in South Africa, with an incredible team, was such a privilege. Every business is challenged with discoverability, and Google is the world’s most powerful platform to achieve this – applicable to any size of business. Since its establishment in South Africa, the mere economic impact from consumers searching for services and being delivered relevant business access in this regard has been significant. The launching of localized maps, search, YouTube, etc., has unlocked massive value and given South Africans an amazing online experience. I will never forget how hard the team worked on delivering all these capabilities leading up to the soccer World Cup; everyone attending the games, local and internationally, primarily utilized Google's services to navigate the country and the events. It is very difficult to measure the actual “impact” because people have utilized Google when they need a plumber, when needing an answer while studying, all the way through to seeking help when your child’s fever spikes. Besides these obvious impacts on the surface, I know that Google has done so much silent work enabling/accelerating Africa's internet infrastructure on the western and eastern seaboards and also all the terrestrial capacity we access today.
ISACA Now: Where do you see the future of fintech headed?
About eight years ago when I founded the mobile point of sale (mPOS) company “Thumbzup,” the term “fintech” wasn't widely used or understood. Today it represents a diverse ecosystem of innovation spanning disparate payments mechanisms through to the modernization of the traditional banking system. This is all great for the consumer – expansive digital and physical methods of settling merchants and doing business electronically. The impact on a merchant’s business is significant because there are now so many options to accept omnichannel payment and generally manage your business electronically. There are two trends I am watching closely: 1) The convergence of the telecommunications, retail, banking and over-the-top tech sectors; each of these sectors believe they own the last mile and are all attempting to own the “store of value.” 2) The continual emergence of Bitcoin and its redefinition of the exchange of value without the need for a so-called trusted intermediary. Many folks believe that Bitcoin, and the broader cryptocurrency space, will hurt the existing incumbents. I do not. I believe we have the formal economy serviced by electronic mechanisms, the informal economy serviced by cash and then we have an un-defined “third economy” that Bitcoin will ultimately unlock. The transaction types and financial use cases for and by bitcoin in this “third economy” are difficult to envision or predict today but will have immeasurable impact on humanity.
ISACA Now: You have some experience with AI – which applications of AI do you consider most promising in the near future?
Tim O'Reilly said it beautifully: “The fundamental design pattern of technology is to allow us humans to do things that were previously impossible.” I think this is so very much more applicable specifically to artificial intelligence. There are many amazing neural network applications being developed and employed by organizations today; the list is too long to highlight here. But, the most interesting aspect of AI is watching disparate species of artificial intelligences augmenting each of us right now. This results in the emergence of a fascinatingly new organizational archetype; I call it an “algorithmic marketplace.” An example would be Uber, a business that owns an artificial intelligence platform augmented and enabled by big data and real-time feedback loops from its participants, the drivers and the riders – all of it combining to give us a form of transportation that was previously unimaginable. This is a metaphor for future businesses which, because of these AIs, will have to metamorphosize to orchestrate services in this manner. It’s not just a big artificial intelligence engine but rather a symphony of human machine symbioses, within and outside an organization.
ISACA Now: On the other side of the AI equation, what concerns you most about potential misuses of AI going forward, and what should be done to mitigate those concerns?
I tend to be an optimist regarding artificial intelligence but I believe we are already seeing AIs programmed with unfortunate fitness functions. … We need to understand that AI is our superpower but inequality is our kryptonite! A dystopian future has never been more possible and real. But, it doesn’t have to be this way! If we do let machines put us out of work, it will be because of a failure of imagination and a lack of will to make a better future. We do not have to do more with less humans to improve operating margins and increase so-called productivity. We should consider doing what was previously impossible with humans augmented by AIs: deliverable new services that were previously unimaginable!