4IR in Africa: Is AI Coming for our Jobs?

4IR and AI in Africa

The world’s largest taxi company (Uber) owns no vehicles. The world’s most popular media network (Facebook) creates no content.  The world’s most valuable retailer (Alibaba) has no inventory. The world’s largest accommodation provider (Airbnb) owns no real estate. These are just a few examples of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-Based Businesses. Africa has a few successful AI-based businesses too.

  1. Kudi.ai: A Nigerian start-up using a chatbot which allows users to make payments and send money to friends and family in Nigeria, via a messaging service.
  2. Data Prophet: Data Prophet is one of the first Machine-Learning Specialists in Africa. DataProphet is an innovative South African startup which has made delivering actionable artificial intelligence solutions – for businesses of all sizes – a reality.
  3. Aajoh: A Nigerian start-up using artificial intelligence to help individuals to diagnose their medical condition by sending a list of their symptoms via text, audio and photographs. [Source: Clevva.com: 6 AI start-ups in Africa]

The battle that matters the most right now, is for control of the digital customer interface across every sector in Africa and the world. Enter the 4th industrial revolution (4IR).

What is 4IR?

The 4th industrial revolution is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Virtual Reality (VR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.

What are disruptive technologies?

A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.

Artificial intelligence is infiltrating all sectors in Africa

Over 60 years have passed since AI was just a daring concept at Dartmouth Сollege which only got half of the requested funding. Right now, AI is a $9.5 billion industry, projected to reach $118.6 billion by 2025, according to Statista. .[Source: New Business Ethiopia]

Let’s look at a few of the major sectors in Africa that have adopted AI:

Artificial Intelligence in Finance

Artificial intelligence has immediate applications in streamlining processes, improving customer service and forecasting risk, and for this reason, it has been widely adopted by many finance giants.

Looking at the most common ways AI is revolutionizing the finance industry right now:

Improved Risk Evaluation: Credit companies hold copious amounts of client information (past and current clients), including demographic and sociographic insights to payment schedule adherence. AI tools can analyse the information and translate it into meaningful information quickly, and with high accuracy. The AI machines are also able to flag high-risk customers who default on payments.

Personalised Customer Services: Certain jobs which require highly repetitive tasks that are mundane can be replaced by process automation bots and customer-facing chatbots. It’s not to say that call centres will no longer exist, just that their number will be reduced, freeing up human agents for non-standard issues. Have you already received a sales call from a chatbot?

Automated Trading Platforms: The rise and fall of the digital currencies, aka “cryptocurrency” market brought to worldwide attention the use of high-frequency trading robots. These bots analyse the best trading decisions and zone in on the prevailing patterns, interconnected data sets, as well as unstructured yet relevant data, such as news and press releases, to replicate them. [,Source: New Business Ethiopia]

Process Improvement:

  1. Most finance industry employees will tell you about their never-ending paperwork. Documents must be verified, classified, and filed. AI can also help with these tasks.
  2. Identity theft is one of the major concerns of any banking or financial service institution. AI Tools like io (acquired by Facebook) can – using fine-tuned image recognition tools – confirm the identity and the validity of documents, thus saving customers a trip to the bank. https://www.finextra.com/blogposting/17943/the-transformational-role-of-ai-in-finance

Artificial Intelligence in Engineering

Advances in AI and its application in addressing the challenges facing Africa, have the potential to drive innovation in academia and industry and shape future societies. There is a growing need for talent, infrastructure and funding to support such innovation and to fully realise the opportunities presented in our technology and data-driven world.

“To become competitive in this new wave of innovation fuelled by AI and the 4th industrial revolution, and with the substantial accumulation of resources and investments in new technologies in North America, Europe and Asia, requires efforts in Southern Africa on a magnitude far greater than any previous endeavour spanning academia and industry,” says Vilakazi. [Source: Data week]

Artificial Intelligence in Mining

AI has made an increasingly large presence in mining over recent years. Even in a very physical industry like mining, AI is being applied to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Resolute Mining’s Syama Gold Mine in Mali recently became the world’s first fully automated mine in the world. Despite initial fears, this did not result in the mass loss of employees and further cut mining costs by 30%! Multinational engineering group Sandvik has been implementing digital mining solutions for more than two decades. Their AutoMine and OptimMine products are successfully working in more than 60 mines globally.

Artificial Intelligence in Oil & Gas

Artificial intelligence has expanded its application in the oil & gas industry during the last few years. Exploration and availability of oil remain areas of concern and continuous development which has led to the application of AI in the oil & gas industry. The use of virtual assistants for excavation, drilling and analysing are a few examples of how artificial intelligence is applied in the oil & gas sector.

Preventive maintenance is one of the fastest-growing segments in AI in the Oil & Gas industry. Predictive maintenance allows for the predicting of maintenance schedules for equipment which helps in the prevention of equipment failures. [Source: Markets Gazette]

Artificial Intelligence in Medical & Healthcare Sectors

Nigerian-born Stephen Odaibo uses the images of the retina to classify the type and stage of retinal disease, enabling better treatment and diagnoses of retinal diseases. [Source: Business Insider],

How is AI improving Africa?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most exciting technologies today, and Africa doesn’t want to be left behind. Today most of the AI industry is in North America, Europe and Asia. Efforts are being made to upskill computer scientists from African countries. In a bid to improve diversity, tech giants are investing in developing new talent in Africa.

From depression chatbots to diagnosing eye diseases, developers are coming up with incredible ways of teaching robots to transform the African industries they work in. We’re seeing ground-breaking innovations taking place, not only on a business level, but on a community level. [Source: Business Insider] In April 2019, Google opened its first African AI research centre in Ghana. The AI laboratory, based in Accra, will be used to develop solutions to help improve healthcare, agriculture and education. [Source: BBC: The push towards artificial intelligence in Africa]

Community development through schools in South Africa

The purpose of some AI is to expose children to technology using practical, hands-on learning in the disciplines of AI, robotics, virtual reality (VR), and the internet of things (IoT). [,Source: Business Insider]

AI battling depression and anxiety

Woebot is a mental health chatbot originally designed to interact with students showing signs of depression and anxiety. Since its launch, it has seen even engagement from users ranging from 16 to 102 years old. The chatbot offers a 24/7 helpline to discuss how you feel and is currently being used in over 120 countries, including South Africa and Nigeria. [,Source: Business Insider]

Predictions for AI and 4IR in Africa: IS AI coming for your job?

The benefits of AI are hard to deny however, the investment into AI has done little to deal with Africa’s extreme digital inequality. The use of these enabling new technologies seems to only be enjoyed by a small elite. Many people across Africa have little to no access to even the basics.

The inevitable rise of the advanced technologies of AI will disrupt economies. But when this happens, it seems, the degree to which it will happen will most likely be unequal. Like other industrial revolutions, 4IR will be characterised by evolution as much as by disruption. For a noteworthy change to occur, enabling conditions in Africa needs to be created, for the public and private sector to harness the opportunities arising from technological developments. In other words, there needs to be a lot more investment into education and digital skilling of the people in Africa. Africa definitely need a more robust IT industry. [,Source: BBC: The push towards artificial intelligence in Africa]

Artificial Intelligence and machine-learning will take over dull and repetitive tasks, freeing employees to make more creative decisions and employ their empathy. Contrary to the claim that these new technologies will replace jobs, Holdsworth said that they will instead create new jobs as they work alongside employees.

What do you think? Is there a place for AI and humans in the workplace?

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