ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & ECONOMIC GROWTH FOR AFRICA
Artificial intelligence as defined by Merriam Webster “is a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligence in a computer or the capacity of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour”.
Artificial intelligence may look like it only exists in the realm of the science fiction, but the surprising truth is that artificial intelligence is readily amongst us. AI has dramatically influenced our way of life, whether we are aware of it or not and its effect is likely to increase in the coming years.
Here are five examples of artificial intelligence that is present in our everyday life:
1: VIRTUAL PERSONAL ASSISTANT (V.P.A)
The V.P.A is an artificial intelligence that can perform a task or service of an individual, thereby simplifying the day to day activities of its user. Cortana, Google Now, and Siri are all examples of a virtual personal assistant on various platforms like Windows, Android, and iOS. They help to find useful information on your device when you ask for it using your voice.
2: ONLINE CUSTOMER SUPPORT
This is a means to assist and support customers to make cost-effective and correct use of a product. Many company websites offer customers the opportunity to chat with a customer support representative, but it’s also interesting to know that not every site has a live person at the other end of the line. Most times you’re talking to an AI software. This example of artificial intelligence is also known as “chatbots,” and they amount to little more than the automated responder. Some of these chatbots are capable of extracting information on a website and presenting it to customers when they ask for it.
3: VIDEO GAMES
This is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a device such as a television screen or a computer monitor. The video game AI is one that most people are probably familiar with, and as far as the AI goes they are somewhat simplistic, but because of the vast industry market, a great deal of effort and money are invested every year in perfecting this kind of AI.
4: SMART HOME DEVICES
This is a term that refers to modern homes with appliances, lighting and electronic devices that can usually be controlled by a mobile app. A number of smart home devices now include the ability to learn user behavior pattern and help you save money, for example by adjusting the settings on your thermostat or other appliances in an effort to increase conveniences and save energy.
5: EMAIL SPAM FILTER
A spam filter is a program (AI) used to detect unsolicited and unwanted emails thereby preventing those messages from getting to a user inbox. Spam filter continuously learns from a variety of signatures such as the word in the message, where it’s sent from, who sent it and other metrics.
Even with the numerous advantages of the artificial intelligence, there remain different challenges facing technology. The argument ‘for’ and ‘against’ artificial intelligence has been a topic of discussion for many years; some experts believe AI is the future of technology, while others believe it could lead to the extinction of humanity in the near future.
Artificial intelligence is either the bright shining future of technology or the insidious threat that could endanger all humanity depending on your point of view.
One of the companies leading the development of AI recently set out five key challenges that need to be dealt with, but they are somewhat more mundane than robots rising to take over the world.
The challenges listed by Google in the form of questions are:
Avoiding Negative Side Effects: How can we ensure that an AI system will not disturb its environment in negative ways while pursuing its goals, e.g. a cleaning robot knocking over a vase because it can clean faster by doing so?
Avoiding Reward Hacking: How can we stop the AI from hacking its own reward system for greater gratification? For example, we don’t want the cleaning robot clamping its eyes shut to avoid seeing messes that need cleaned or creating messes intentionally so it can earn more rewards.
Scalable Oversight: How can we efficiently ensure, that a given AI system respects aspects of the objective that are too expensive to be frequently evaluated during training? For example, if an AI system gets human feedback as it performs a task, it needs to use that feedback efficiently because asking too often would be annoying.
Safe Exploration: How do we ensure that an AI system doesn’t make exploratory moves with very negative repercussions? For example, maybe a cleaning robot should experiment with mopping strategies, but clearly it shouldn’t try putting a wet mop in an electrical outlet.
Robustness to Distributional Shift: How do we ensure that an AI system recognizes, and behaves robustly when it’s in an environment very different from its training environment? For example, heuristics learned for a factory work floor may not be safe enough for an office.
What does AI mean for an emerging economy like Africa?
There is perceived fear among the emerging economies such as Africa due to the emergence of AI. This fear is rooted in the belief that there could be loss of work for many thereby adding to the already high scale of unemployment. However, some of these are misplaced due to a lack of understanding of what artificial intelligence truly means for us all. The reality is that AI will no doubt take some jobs away, but it will, in fact, create more jobs.
Africa need not fear the age of robotics and automation. Across the continent, from Nigeria to Zimbabwe, this technology has the potential to bring positive changes in sectors such as healthcare, security, and finance, bridging the gap between physical infrastructure inadequacies and consumer demands, while freeing up more time and space for skilled labour and increased labour productivity. For the continent to reap these advantages, African governments, investors, and NGOs must be ready for the transformation of the modern workplace by training workers for complex-multiple tasks and reforming laws and education to meet the demands of tomorrow.
The future of work takes on new meaning for a continent where mass unemployment hampers economies. Labour-intensive industries such as retail and manufacturing are already automating in the name of efficiency, and the majority of young job seekers do not have the skills necessary to compete. McKinsey recently predicted that automation will displace close to 13 percent of South Africa’s current work activities by 2020—this, in a country that had an unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent in 2017. Ethiopia, long-touted as Africa’s next manufacturing hub, is vulnerable to automation in essential sectors such as agriculture and textiles. In Botswana, robot workers have diminished the bargaining power of the labour union representing cashiers, factory workers, and shop assistants.
While these machines are created to increase workers’ productivity, they also put downward pressure on factory wages, as the population of low-skilled workers increases in rapidly growing emerging markets. The rapid spread of AI is unavoidable: Accenture Nigeria predicts that within five years, more than half of consumers will select products and services “based on a company’s AI” capabilities, rather than its brand.
For too long, African markets have remained stagnant in developing capacity, but AI is well poised to change that. In countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, where capital is scarce, but ideas are in abundance, process AI can enable businesses to run on leaner models. Moreover, rather than employees losing jobs, machines can empower low-skilled workers and equip them to take on more-complex responsibilities. This will help meet an urgent need for countries lacking widespread access to education and functional skills training.
AI could also alleviate Nigeria’s 1:4,000 doctor-to-patient ratio. Aajoh, a Nigerian health tech company, uses AI for fast, remote medical diagnoses. Patients input their symptoms in the app using a range of communication options, and receive an instant diagnosis and, if prescribed, information about where to purchase medication. Technologies like this boost healthcare efficiency, freeing doctors to treat those who actually need in-person care and providing increased access for all. In cases like these, AI ultimately can help overcome a lack of physical infrastructure.
Finally, AI can help protect business financial security. AI programs can take large data sets, scan for discrepancies, and predict when financial hiccups will arise. As companies increasingly focus on improving their risk profiles in our interconnected world, AI security programs will become increasingly common. HSBC is already using AI to transform its approach to financial crime risk and protect against money laundering, fraud, and other threats.
What ways have you engaged with Artificial Intelligence? Hit the comment box below.
Also published on Medium.