• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria: How ready are we?

Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria: How ready are we?

In our remarks today, we would like to offer our perspective on artificial intelligence (AI) and provide an update on technology readiness. Specifically, we intend to address this topic in a manner that ensures policymakers, who play a crucial role in AI development in Nigeria, are fully informed about the opportunities and risks presented by artificial intelligence.

But what does Artificial Intelligence mean?

Imagine machines that can learn and help us in new ways! That’s the basic idea behind Artificial Intelligence. AI lets computers handle tasks that used to require human smarts, like remembering things, making decisions, and even solving problems. This can make our lives easier and more efficient in many areas, from healthcare to shopping.

From an economic perspective, two things strike one straightaway. First, AI will supplement, replicate, and sometimes surpass human intelligence in a wide range of tasks. Arguably, this drives economic growth by enhancing productivity and creating new business opportunities. The second notable feature is that increased investment in AI leads to stronger economic growth, higher real wages, greater profitability, and increased tax revenues.

For what it’s worth, artificial intelligence matters to all of us, and change is already occurring in the way global activities are being operationalised with the widespread adoption of AI. However, developing economies have seen very little investment in AI despite the opportunities it presents.

But alongside all this, if AI has the ability to unleash productivity growth – which is great for us as a country – where does that leave us?

The first point we want to make here relates to the current state of the tech sector. In Nigeria, the tech industry has flourished due to advancements in internet and mobile technology. This growth has spawned numerous startups and established companies like Andela, Interswitch, and Flutterwave, alongside the presence of tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook.

This robust tech foundation positions Nigeria as a potential springboard for advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The country boasts a large, young, and tech-savvy population – a prime demographic for AI development and adoption. Additionally, the presence of global tech companies with their expertise in AI research and development can further accelerate AI innovation within Nigeria.

So, there are many signs that investments in this sector, which lay the groundwork to further the use of AI, are and will continue to occur. However, there are several reasons why we expect accelerated momentum in AI if we are serious about being major players to reckon with. Many signs of this momentum are evident in the NGN225 million Nigeria Artificial Intelligence Research Scheme (NAIRS), a grant awarded to startups and researchers to drive innovation in AI. However, if we are serious about being a global hub, such an amount is far less than what major businesses across the globe have invested.

We also argue that Nigeria’s international presence at the Bletchley Declaration on AI Safety Summit last year reaffirmed the government’s commitment to development-oriented approaches and policies that could help strengthen AI capacity, support sustainable growth, and address the development gap.

Yet, we think that the precise impact of AI on Nigeria’s economy hinges on the pace and scale of our development efforts. This year, the African Union (AU) established a continental blueprint for AI, and many African nations have already begun formulating their policies. To stay competitive, we can take decisive action through increased investment in research grants, improved access to reliable electricity and internet connectivity, and the creation of a more supportive regulatory environment.

Regulators, however, should be open to new approaches that might shape these and improve outcomes. Access to funding continues to be a significant challenge for tech startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Indeed, the benefits of AI adoption could allow Nigeria to generate billions of dollars’ worth of economic benefits as businesses begin using AI. This is a positive development—all that is increasingly left is willpower. For the most part, we believe that AI adoption and usage in Nigeria are below their potential compared to global numbers.

For one thing, we can draw on these lessons to ensure that policymakers can create an environment where AI development is conducive. This will involve a blueprint for an AI strategy that spells out recommendations for industry-specific codes, practice standards, and certifications. Of course, we are not naive to the dark side of AI, and there is the possibility of unintended consequences. Yet, for what it’s worth, we suspect that we aren’t ahead of the curve, and learning from doing helps make regulators aware of those issues.

We are cautiously optimistic about Nigeria’s AI development, with promising initiatives led by the current minister. However, responsible advancement requires a thoughtful approach. We recommend revisiting the Bletchley Declaration’s recommendations for trustworthy AI deployment. We also think that establishing a policy innovation framework is crucial, with collaboration among stakeholders, including academia. These are essential for shaping Nigeria’s AI future.

Ijeoma Okpanum is a Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen, while Kingsley Omeihe serves as the President of the Academy and holds a Senior Lecturer position at the University of the West of Scotland.