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Tools make things easier but don’t make them better

‘President Joe once had a dream’. I wonder if you recognise the song? It’s ‘Saviour Machune’ from the earl David Bowie album, ‘The Man who Sold the World’. The machine is built to solve all problems, and does so, but ends up miserable and disaffected. It’s obvious that the thing was a computer, but the word ‘machine’ works better in the song.

If you haven’t heard the song yet, it’s worth a listen. You can find it on Youtube. During those years, David Bowie made songs that still sound modern. That was before he learned to sing ‘properly’ and became poppish. If you do head in that virtual direction, you might also want to listen to the track, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’.

First glance, the song sounds like an oddity, pardon the pun, a preposterous notion. If you go a bit deeper into things and put aside the concept of the machine, you are left with another player, President Joe who built the machine. President Joe is not particularly preposterous. There are a bunch of people out there, just like him.

The notion of the omnipotent machine is nothing new. It’s one of the common strands in science fiction, and has been for a long time. The idea of an intelligent machine is old hat as well. The Turing Test scratches the surface by seeking a computer that can fool a human into believing that it too is human. Some or other machine managed to fool a couple of experts into thinking it was a 13 year old a couple of weeks ago.

Next on the horizon, we have ‘The Singularity’. That is supposed to be an intelligent machine that is able to replicate itself. After that comes extropianism, the idea of transfering a soul to a machine.
All of these phenomena are fetishes, I suspect on the part of people who cannot cope with other people. “If I can’t cope with the vagaries of real human emotions, I’ll hope that machines are more predictable.” Sad. It makes me think of Pinocchio as an object of affection, if not desire.

Perhaps it’s not so much Pinocchio’s wooden nature that is the problem, but the people who worship machinesd that need to get real.

There is something else that is interesting about the song. The machine is called ‘Prayer’ and its answer ‘is law’. There is definitely something in that as well, yet another get-out-of-jail card for people who really don’t want to have to deal with their own thoughts and emotions.

The line that divides the two sides of the thing is the internal and the external. There are a huge number of people who need external systems to get by, not just in the starry eyed worship of tools like computers, but in slavish, slack-jawed belief in and acceptance of thought systems.

I suppose, at the extreme end of the spectrum, the most convinced and optimistic computer geek is really not much different from your average religious fundamentalist, if not in intensity of and reliance on belief, then possibly as in need of control as a bog-standard hell-and-damnation preacher or some angry worshiper at the altar of Dawkins’ atheism.

Machines are becoming the new cult. They define us and our lives, to the point where personal values and our own judgments become secondary resources and measures of value.

The proof of this lies in processing and graphics capability. Apparently the higher the capability, the more able the person. Yet, at the end of the day, there aren’t all that many people who use much more than a browser, mail and a productivity suite.

It’s about the same with religion. Why do people need theological sophistication and loopholes when the actual object of the exercise is to break as many commandments as possible and ignore the validity of strictures against venal sins? One proof of this lies in the church which handed out guns to people who converted.

If there is a truth to be had from this, it is that tools make things easier but don’t make them better. Systems create their own messes. Computers become more complex and less predictable. Religion needs to more enemies and more violence.

About The Author

Pierre Maré

Pierre Maré is a multi-awarded Namibian advertising strategist and copy writer. From 2004 to 2016 he wrote a weekly tongue-in-cheek column for the Namibia Economist, eventually amassing an impressive 590 articles over the almost 12-year period. This series of Offbeat is a digital rerun of his pieces that received the highest reader acclaim. - Ed.

Following reverse listing, public can now acquire shareholding in Paratus Namibia

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20 February 2020, Windhoek, Namibia: Paratus Namibia Holdings (PNH) was founded as Nimbus Infrastructure Limited (“Nimbus”), Namibia’s first Capital Pool Company listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (“NSX”).

Although targeting an initial capital raising of N$300 million, Nimbus nonetheless managed to secure funding to the value of N$98 million through its CPC listing. With a mandate to invest in ICT infrastructure in sub-Sahara Africa, it concluded management agreements with financial partner Cirrus and technology partner, Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd (“Paratus Namibia”).

Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

Its first investment was placed in Paratus Namibia, a fully licensed communications operator in Namibia under regulation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). Nimbus has since been able to increase its capital asset base to close to N$500 million over the past two years.

In order to streamline further investment and to avoid duplicating potential ICT projects in the market between Nimbus and Paratus Namibia, it was decided to consolidate the operations.

Publishing various circulars to shareholders, Nimbus took up a 100% shareholding stake in Paratus Namibia in 2019 and proceeded to apply to have its name changed to Paratus Namibia Holdings with a consolidated board structure to ensure streamlined operations between the capital holdings and the operational arm of the business.

This transaction was approved by the Competitions Commission as well as CRAN, following all the relevant regulatory approvals as well as the necessary requirements in terms of corporate governance structures.

Paratus Namibia has evolved as a fully comprehensive communications operator in Namibia and operates as the head office of the Paratus Group in Africa. Paratus has established a pan-African footprint with operations in six African countries, being: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

The group has achieved many successes over the years of which more recently includes the building of the Trans-Kalahari Fibre (TKF) project, which connects from the West Africa Cable System (WACS) eastward through Namibia to Botswana and onward to Johannesburg. The TKF also extends northward through Zambia to connect to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which made Paratus the first operator to connect the west and east coast of Africa under one Autonomous System Number (ASN).

This means that Paratus is now “exporting” internet capacity to landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, the DRC with more countries to be targeted, and through its extensive African network, Paratus is well-positioned to expand the network even further into emerging ICT territories.

PNH as a fully-listed entity on the NSX, is therefore now the 100% shareholder of Paratus Namibia thereby becoming a public company. PNH is ready to invest in the future of the ICT environment in Namibia. The public is therefore invited and welcome to acquire shares in Paratus Namibia Holdings by speaking to a local stockbroker registered with the NSX. The future is bright, and the opportunities are endless.