• Sunday, May 26, 2024
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Harnessing AI for Africa’s Future: Friend or Foe

Harnessing AI for Africa’s Future: Friend or Foe

Nigeria’s recent announcement regarding the creation of an AI review body, championed by the esteemed Minister of Communication, Technology, and Innovation, highlights a significant juncture in our nation’s technological evolution.

However, as we celebrate this progress, we need to acknowledge the crucial need for a balanced approach. While the Minister’s enthusiasm for building an AI platform is commendable, focusing on this aspect first might not be the most effective approach; it might be putting the cart before the horse.

Nigeria, along with much of Africa, faces a significant digital divide that needs to be addressed for AI to truly flourish. AI is dependent on data, which we have yet to compile in an organised way. The threat posed by AI to humans is real and should not be taken lightly. If not managed carefully, AI could be an existential threat to Africa, especially Nigeria, with its burgeoning unemployed population.

There is a critical need for an ethical and regulatory advisory body in every country regarding AI. There are many positive impacts AI will have on the development of Nigeria and Africa in general. AI can support human endeavours in many areas, including education, medical research, marine engineering, sciences, technology, city planning, the development of green ecosystems, security, operational efficiency, and productivity, in ways that do not replace humans.

Unfortunately, Africa is far from deploying AI, as Nigeria lacks much of the datasets (in organised form) AI requires for decision-making. Therefore, the growth of AI in Africa is going to be both robotic and intellectual, less reliant on data. These are the AIs that will replace humans in the workforce. AI’s threat to jobs in Nigeria is real if we fail to pay attention. We may see factories disappear as they return to a cheaper AI workforce in the West and robots replace the few jobs left for Nigerians.

Beyond data, robust ethical frameworks are equally important. Nigeria, along with other African nations, should prioritise establishing guidelines for responsible AI development that ensure transparency, fairness, and human oversight. This is alongside exploring alternative “lighter” AI models that require less data but leverage human expertise.

For example, UNESCO’s use of AI for personalised learning in Africa demonstrates the potential for AI to enhance human capabilities even with existing data limitations. The MYai Robotics education system instals an AI training bucket for each student, which provides an environment for teachers and AI to collaborate and develop advanced personalised learning that improves student performance.

Nigeria and Africa must take a stand early in the debate on how AI will transform our world. We cannot leave the decision on what AI will become to those developing and training AI in the West. The fascination with human thinking and performing human tasks is intoxicating.

The interesting dynamic unfolding before us is that leaders in the AI space, such as Elon Musk of Tesla and Sundar Pichai of Google, are screaming to us that they have stumbled onto amazing technology that may be a threat to humans, but we seem to be asleep, at least for now.

“As the CEO of MYai Robotics, I am of the view that AI will only produce approximately 20 percent of the jobs it will replace.” The unemployment rate will soar across Africa as a cheaper, more efficient AI workforce causes manufacturers to move their production facilities out of Africa and back to the global north. The global north, which is seeing a dwindling population, will feel less impact from the job losses compared to Nigeria and Africa. Poverty will wreak havoc across Nigeria.

The last data published showed that 60 percent of Nigerian youths are unemployed and have turned to cultism as a means of sustenance. Can Nigeria afford this? AI will take jobs not just from factories but from white-collar jobs; accountants, graphic designers, journalists, and many more will fall victim to a much smarter AI.

After all, Microsoft and OpenAI just partnered to put $100 billion into quantum computing to power AI and bring it to a more intelligent and human state as the industry continues to slowly crawl towards “nascent AI,” a state in which AI achieves wisdom close to humans or at a human level, and a state in which AI becomes a threat to humans. Population reduction will become a strategy to contain poverty in the West, and Africa will become a dumping ground for cheap AI-produced products.

Africa’s economies will be crushed as poverty levels negate cost reductions achieved through AI. If there is ever a reason for the existence of the AU, this is the moment in history.

It is time for African leaders to recognise the danger of AI’s impact on the continent before it overwhelms the African population. The development of continent-wide trade policies that allow for trade between African nations is crucial to mitigating the impact of Western manufacturers moving factories back to the global north to utilise a cheaper AI workforce.

Industrialization must be the priority in Africa over the next few years, not a decade, to produce almost everything locally and fulfil the employment needs of Africans.

In conclusion, while the challenges posed by AI are significant, so are the opportunities it presents for Africa’s prosperity and development. By adopting a proactive and collaborative approach grounded in ethics and guided by a vision of inclusive growth, we can harness the transformative power of AI to create a brighter future for all Africans.

Let’s seize this moment to shape AI as a trusted partner in our journey towards sustainable development and shared prosperity. At MYai Robotics, we are developing AI applications with guardrails requiring human permission to perform critical tasks because we understand the risks.


Kayode Aladesuyi, CEO of MYAI Robotics (USA), champions responsible AI in Africa. His company develops human-centric AI solutions.

Khadijat Durosinmi, a tech advocate, co-founded The Tech Creatives to enhance collaboration between creatives in the tech industry. She sees AI as a bridge to a more connected Africa.