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  • Ekow Duker

Making a Bad Situation Better

In recent years, drivers of licensed taxis have protested against the use of ride hailing apps. There’ve been demonstrations in several cities including London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Milan, Rome and New York. In Paris, police even used tear gas to disperse the crowds. 

Our Chief Scientist, Megan Yates, took an Uber last week in Cape Town when her own car went in for repair. The Uber driver, lets call him Yusif, was an elderly man from the Cape Flats, a low-lying area situated to the southeast of the city.  Yusif used to be the secretary of the metered taxi association until he left in January 2017 to become an Uber driver.

Metered taxis in Cape Town are only allowed to operate from their designated base area. According to Yusif, metered taxis routinely charge double to defray the cost of driving back to their base without a passenger. If Yusif is right, the lack of technology to connect drivers and riders, compounded by restrictive regulations, results in the customer paying much more than she should.

There are several examples in Africa today where a bad situation could be made much better by appropriate technology.

Remand prisoners can spend years awaiting trial, in part due to a huge backlog of cases. Natural language processing could help to speed up the justice process by scanning and classifying the backlog of dockets.

When market traders lose their goods in fires or floods, insurance claims can take months to settle. Neural networks deployed in image recognition could easily process a picture of the damage, thus allowing the trader's claim to be validated and settled almost instantaneously.

Large swathes of the population are rejected outright for credit because they cannot satisfy a bank’s lending criteria. Online lending institutions use machine learning to evaluate a borrower’s ability to repay based on non-conventional attributes such as her social profile and grant loans in seconds instead of the usual weeks or months.

All these examples are possible today and are in fact being deployed already. However, much more remains to be done. Technology, if deployed with care, can really change lives. Ask Yusif, the Cape Town Uber driver. He’s completed over two thousand 5 star rides and is so proud of his achievement, he can’t stop smiling.

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