Adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) could be a bigger revolution than the Internet.
By Rob Hudson, chief technology officer at BT in Africa
Current research shows that the global AI market is expected to grow by around 150 percent from 2016 levels – and that by 2018 this market is expected to be worth approximately 7,35-billion US dollars and will continue to grow rapidly.
In the wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, AI is expected to impact and present uses for every vertical industry – and it’s not surprising then that the private sector is undoubtedly leading this charge. Globally, businesses are adopting machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) and machine reasoning, etc. to increase operational efficiencies and improve business data analytics among other use cases and applications. In fact, while AI presents industry-specific advantages, aspects such as reduced costs, growing revenues, and improved customer experience are universal.
Even so, many in Africa remain sceptical, citing concerns around the potential negative impact on jobs. However, it’s important to understand that this is not a unique occurrence, as every industrial revolution has had its own effect on skills and the workforce. But the dystopian reality portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters about robots taking over is far removed from the truth. In fact, our global research shows that while AI and the resultant automation are generally accepted to be disruptive, the real impact on the labour market is still up for debate.
A further comfort is the fact that in Africa we have a proud tradition of viewing what is happening elsewhere in the world and injecting its own ‘DNA’ into it. The mobile revolution – not only from an accessibility perspective but also regarding innovations such as mobile money – is a prime example of how embracing technology has resulted in job creation and community development.
Therefore, rather than be timid due to concerns over potential job losses, businesses should look to rethink the way they are leveraging their people expertise when plotting out an AI or automation adoption strategy. In fact, by removing much of the menial or administratively onerous tasks from employees, AI presents exciting opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs to diversify their skills assets, through upskilling their people for other roles and responsibilities that add more strategic value to its operations.
Some keen examples of AI adoption that we are already seeing start to take shape, include:
* General office environment: routine tasks being automated or handled by virtual assistants, giving human employees more time to do what humans do best – talk, listen, empathise, connect, imagine, create and innovate.
* Brick and mortar retail store: radio-frequency identification technology (RFID), Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile technologies will liberate sales associates from chasing down items in the stock room and manning pay-points so they can engage their customers in person and provide a truly individual service to everyone.
* Contact centre: augmented intelligence will supplement agents’ expertise to solve complex customer problems. The agent can even work from home, seamlessly connected and plugged into all the multimedia services she or he needs. As a result, work will become more engaging, more productive and help meet employee expectations for connection and fulfilment.
* Mining and industrials: these industries stand to benefit significantly in terms of improved safety and productivity across their functions from further automation and AI adoption. Interestingly, developments can also be seen in the information space, around how mining companies are able to automatically extract and process data. Additionally, the ‘holy grail’ of automation in mining – and where AI coupled with data analytics can play a crucial role – is the ability to model and predict an unwanted event before it happens, and that actions can be taken to prevent the unwanted – whether it’s a safety event or a production event.
* Cybercrime defence: AI will have an increasingly integral role to play in the fight against cybercrime, as AI solutions are adept at analysing huge amounts of data far faster, and are able to flag what is most important, or most suspicious – which helps to really focus security analysts’ attentions. Working on this premise, our researchers at Adastral Park have developed AI software that is already proving resourceful to analysts in the fight against cybercrime.
* Intelligent banking in the future: for financial services industries – in addition to the potential to automate many middle and back-office functions – AI holds the key to rapid and effective analysis of vast quantities of data, which will enhance productivity, increase customer personalisation, help in combating fraud and improve overall compliance.
It is evident that AI will have a transformative effect across industries in Africa and beyond. The willingness to embrace it and use the technology to drive efficiencies while developing employee skills will be critical for its success.
Additionally, it’s important to note upfront that AI is only as good as the people who have programmed it. It requires a lot of industry knowledge and expertise to build a model that is able to learn based on the specific and unique processes that are involved in the different parts of the business value chain and based on the use case application.