You have got to love Hollywood. Over the years it has been able to foreshadow so many major life events with such an unsettling precision.
From Frankenstein to A Space Odyssey, Murder Bot Diaries to Her, Hollywood has been able to pose fundamental questions about the future and what it holds for both the creator and creature (man and machine).
Is there a time in the near future when sentient machines will be regarded as people? It is not a farfetched notion at all seeing as the world has become so permissible and fluid.
Human beings are embracing fluidity, who is to say it will not be projected onto how we perceive AI? How do we undo the actions we have continuously taken when human knowledge has, unsurprisingly, exceeded human wisdom? In fact should we at all?
Artificial intelligence is not a new conversation. It has been a long time coming and it is finally time to have serious conversations about it and the effect it is likely to have on populations; Africa included.
It is such a mixed bag when talking about AI, the advancements being made and the various applications and implementations that have accompanied the same.
Fair to point out is the fact that some machines will never evolve past the robotic phase, eternally depending solely on the repetition theory to operate and complete tasks.
Other AI applications are however on the cusp of never before seen capabilities, presenting humanity, their creators, with an unfeigned adversary.
Africa is not left behind in the AI rat race. The continent has had a role to play and it is not as miniscule as one would be inclined to think.
Will AI impact the nature of work, communication, and business on the continent?
There have been three industrial revolutions so far and Africa unfortunately sat all of them out. Not this time it seems.
Many African countries are working to ensure that as AI changes the nature of work globally, the continent is well equipped to transform with it and reap the benefits of the revolution.
Currently, Africa is set to experience the most rapid growth in AI-related spending worldwide alongside the Middle East. This currently stands at three billion dollars and is expected to shoot up to 6 billion by 2026.
Data has to be at the core of this impending revolution. The last four years with COVID have impressed upon the whole world just how important data is when it comes to decision-making.
This coupled with tech expertise and adequate investments from private stakeholders may be the best way to unlock a financially independent future for most countries in Africa.
According to a report by Oxford Insights, Kenya has placed fifth on the continent when it comes to AI readiness. The first four are Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and Egypt. The country’s global position is 90th which is still impressive all factors considered.
The workplace is set to completely transform with the rapid evolution of ‘apps’ such as Chat GPT. One immediately recognizable benefit is of course the ability of customers to get instant responses to queries.
This frees up human resources to focus on other tasks. That is efficiency. There is of course the flipside argument which is the perceived irrelevance of certain roles in the face of AI. Every war however has casualties and this one will have many.
The recent revolt against the adoption of tea plucking machines that have been witnessed in Kericho, a tea-producing town in western Kenya, is a sure sign of the storm the country and indeed Africa, will have to ride before a sure calm finally settles in.
The transformation has already begun at the most basic level, everyone else must buckle up and become relevant or risk being replaced by artificial intelligence.
AI and governance in Africa
Africa faces such exponential growth in terms of its population that by the year 2100 it will likely have three of the largest cities globally; Lagos, Dar es Salaam and Kinshasa.
The Median age in Germany, China and the US is 47, 37 and 38 respectively. Africa has a median age of 19.5. By 2055, this demographic will have doubled in number to about 225 million youth.
These projections can be good news or bad news depending on whether or not the continent will rise to the challenge of meeting the expectations of this immense growth.
Admittedly, African countries experience a lot of governance challenges. The continent must now come up with new and more innovative ways to tackle these challenges.
While there is a slight improvement in governance in Africa, the 2022 Ibrahim Index of African Governance report shows that the expectations of this largely young population are not being met.
There is increased pressure on African governments to deliver services in a timely fashion and address issues of poverty, political conflict and increasing crime and insecurity.
It is possible to augment state capacities through a more computerised approach to governance especially in fragile and at-risk countries.
For this to work, however, pro-change governments must be in place and this has unfortunately proven to be an ever-elusive dream for most states on the continent as inept and conformist leadership seem to carry the day at every election.
Positive AI in African countries is the new agent of change. We are seeing countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana employing AI to bridge glaring gaps in healthcare and agriculture.
The education, transport and banking sector in Kenya is experiencing positive upheavals thanks to AI with innovations such as Mshule. These are key areas which determine the development trajectory of any country.
Negative AI can be adopted by anti-change agents however in the form of deep fakes to misinform and mislead people, especially during elections.
The Zimbabwean government has in recent times been criticized for enlisting the help of China to collect facial imagery of nationals. There is fear that this data may be misused in future.
AI and the abilities it embodies also present a very present threat; lowering the cost of terrorism and associated violent operations.
Keen oversight, therefore, has to remain an integral part of the AI revolution in Africa to mitigate possible negative outcomes.
Looking to invest in AI in Africa? Focus on these areas
Healthcare, Edtech and Fintech as well as enterprise are currently dominating the African AI scene.
Nigeria has for example spearheaded the AI campaign in the health sector through Intron Health and revolutionized the patient-doctor experience in the country.
The AI chat application possesses the ability to comprehend 200 African accents. This has made it possible to improve clinical documentation speeds by six times.
Egypt’s Proteinea is ensuring that medicines can be produced at a much faster rate.
Kenya had since led with Safaricom’s MPESA which has created a whole ecosystem for its consumers. These solutions offer inclusivity, convenience and unfettered access even to previously disadvantaged populations.
In the midst of this AI whirlwind, Africa has a huge advantage in the form of an exponentially growing young population.
Governments must move fast to take advantage of the huge investments in the sector, nurture the required skill base and be a part of the revolution this time.
Cover Image is AI-Generated.