Artificial Intelligence for young people in Africa (AI): Yay or Yikes
Written by: Redeem Govathson
It is like we are living in a sci-fi movie. The future of AI has become topical. As a lawyer, I am by no means an expert in the field, but here is the thing; one cannot simply excuse themselves from this somewhat inevitable encroachment of AI into our lives. It brings with it exciting prospects across all sectors, but of course, it also causes some level of anxiety for most of us especially as far as the future of work and the development of our economies is concerned . The fact is, AI will change almost every sector from law to banking, compliance, medicine, design, and manufacturing: essentially all industries. For the most part, the innovations are thrilling. They make life a lot more convenient. We have social media tailoring our feeds to our interests, online shopping has become easier thanks to algorithms predicting what we would like to buy, self driving cars, mobile applications making banking and finance more convenient and safer, smart personal assistants and of course, Netflix suggesting to us what we may be interested in watching based on previous selections. A question that interests me is how AI will affect job prospects for young Africans, especially since the job market in Africa is already falling behind that of more advanced economies. Research predicts that automation will displace nearly 13 percent of South Africa’s current work activities by 2020. So what does this mean for a young person and what can be done to prepare for the future? The second question, of course, is how will AI improve our African economies?
There are studies available that have tried to predict jobs of the future; that is jobs that are less susceptible to automation or jobs that will somehow be able to net off automation. In advanced economies, these are jobs such as care providers, some white-collar jobs that require academic training and expertise, and technology professions which include IT and web development. Jobs that can easily be automated include those related to data collection, data analysis, and some customer interaction jobs. In growing and low-income countries, the picture is slightly different. McKinsey predicts that there will generally be net job growth despite automation due to limited infrastructure and generally low wages. On an individual level, the trick is to understand that skills required will change.
As a continent, the prospect of AI does not have to be gory. AI could increase productivity capacity, it could equip low income workers with more complex skills, and it automation could “free up” time for some workers so that they can focus on other tasks that cannot be automated. It can improve diagnoses in health care which is much needed and of course it can enhance cyber security in banking and finance. Governance and Policy makers need to really harness all the advantages AI can bring and be wary of the risks such that they can respond accordingly, i.e, via regulation. We can also respond to this advent by enhancing our education systems so that they integrate skills that are needed for the future.
If it is any consolation, it is known that while there will be jobs lost, there will also be jobs gained. AI can be a tool to enhance our African economies; however, we need to ensure that we are prepared for it on individual levels as well as on a collective level. We must ask ourselves questions such as how can we adapt to these coming changes, how do we re-skill and reposition ourselves to ensure that everyone benefits. The other important thing to think about is how we can leverage this technology so that our countries can be more competitive in the global economy.
I am no expert on AI, but I do know that this is a conversation that matters. Catch me next time for more on this conversation; in the meantime, I would like to hear your thoughts.