In 1980, the Digital Equipment Corporation launched XCON, the first commercial AI, used to optimally select components of computer orders. In 2023, more than 40 years after XCON, generative AI brought computer intelligence into the mainstream.

AI has already been helping us power the digital world through search engines, social media, map directions, online shopping, ride-sharing, cybersecurity, and so much more. But now, AI is in the hands of the people. What can we expect from this new era?

Some worry that AI will destroy jobs and communities. But Glenn Du Toit, Acer Africa’s Country Director, sees a different scenario.

“Think of farmers who had to till their own soil. Then, they domesticated oxen and horses to do that work. Did it mean farmers no longer had the messy job of tilling fields on their own? Yes, because they found a much better, more efficient way to do it! We should be conscious about how AI will change our world and it will change how we work.

“But the potential is incredible, and the faster we can get AI embedded tech into the hands of more people so they can use and understand these tools, the faster we’ll reach that potential.”

Fears around AI are not misplaced. However, answers will emerge as more people access this technology and businesses use it to support their employees, not replace them.

Currently, generative AI services such as ChatGPT, Copilot, Gemini, Claud, and Perplexity dominate our perception of artificial intelligence. Yet, there is much more going on behind the scenes. For example, modern laptops such as those from Acer incorporate quality-of-life AI features that enhance daily activities on our devices.

AI is also helping workers do more with their time, such as summarising lengthy documents, transcribing and summarising meetings, and speeding up research. Overall, Du Toit sees AI as a leading force in changing attitudes about work.

“At the heart of ideas like work-life balance, remote working, and shorter work weeks is the concept that work isn’t about the time you spend but the value you create. We’re entering into an age where we’ll be forced to redefine people’s job descriptions from time measurements to productivity and outcomes, how it should be.”

What about the panic that AI will destroy jobs? Du Toit agrees there will be some painful adjustments, acknowledging emerging stories about people losing jobs because companies simply automate their hard work. But he adds that these are not responsible companies.

“Look, if you are just going to fire people and expect machines to do everything, you are shooting yourself in the foot. You will eventually run out of that creativity you bottled with automation – the spring will run dry, and your business will be replaced by another company who is not bound by the physical and uncreative restraints of full automation.

“If you don’t believe me, look at how factories that ran on steam in the first industrial revolution that were fixed to a location near water were obliterated by the introduction and flexibility that factories powered by electricity provided.”

Based on interactions with other business leaders, he also sees those companies as a minority, “The penny is dropping in many companies as to what it actually means: the conversations aren’t around using AI to replace people. It’s not a head count conversation. What they’re looking for is for their staff to become more efficient and grow.”

An interesting new side to the AI revolution is emerging. Until recently, online services were the only way to access these systems. As powerful as they are, Ais like ChatGPT and Copilot reside in distant cloud systems. But as the technology matures, Du Toit believes AI will live at the edge, closer to users than to central servers, leading to more personalisation. Device brands are the primary group bringing this level of AI to people.

“Hardware providers like Acer, are making devices with local AI specifically for different people and communities. When you look at supply chains, critical mass, and innovation, tier-one brands like Acer will drive personalised AI systems with onboard chips and features that are integrated into our PCs.”

There are concerns about privacy and intrusion. Will AI keep our information private and withstand attempts to steal that information? We’re still figuring out the answers, but this is a big reason why device manufacturers help people embrace AI, Du Toit says.

“The best device manufacturers invest in tangible improvements – that’s how we differentiate ourselves competitively.

“Technology exists to enhance life. What we’re seeing emerge is not artificial intelligence but augmented intelligence: using AI to augment our human abilities. The age that we are in isn’t about selling processing devices. We are now selling time machines – machines that are going to save you time, making your life faster, easier, and better.”