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AI and automation’s potential for humanity and work

By , Chief Data and Analytics Officer in FNB Chief Risk Office.
08 Jan 2024
Prof. Mark Nasila, Chief Data and Analytics Officer in FNB Chief Risk Office.
Prof. Mark Nasila, Chief Data and Analytics Officer in FNB Chief Risk Office.

Each industrial revolution has caused disruption, but it doesn't necessarily mean a net loss of jobs. While automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can eliminate jobs and industries, they also create new ones. AI has already improved our lives, especially in the service industry, by increasing efficiency and giving us more free time for tasks like booking flights or ordering food. However, these improvements are somewhat superficial.

AI's impact goes deeper, with potential benefits in medicine, education, and solving complex scientific problems. For instance, Japan is using “carebots” to address the demand for elderly care. On the flip side, AI's displacement of repetitive work can create opportunities for more creative and high-value roles.

This transformation highlights the socio-economic impact of AI, leading to shifts in wealth distribution that require policymakers to adapt to an increasingly automated society, ensuring that power and wealth aren’t concentrated in ever fewer hands as automation takes hold and inevitably displaces workers, especially those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

Crucial skills for an AI-driven world

AI literacy means understanding AI’s role in daily life, industries, and communities, including its definition, operation, strengths, and limitations. You don't need to be a programmer to appreciate AI’s impact, as it’s involved in everyday tasks like online privacy management, restaurant reservations, and job searches. While some may seek a deeper understanding of data science and algorithms, basic AI literacy is vital for everyone in today’s AI-driven world, and the even more AI-powered one that’s coming.

There are four core pillars for AI literacy:

  1. Concepts: AI literacy encompasses understanding fundamental AI concepts, such as how AI learns from data and the connection between personal information and AI interactions. This knowledge helps individuals comprehend AI capabilities and limitations.
  2. Context: Recognising the importance of context in AI is crucial. The impact, strengths, and limitations of AI can vary significantly depending on the situation. For instance, AI recommendations in entertainment might result in minor inconveniences, but in fields like healthcare or finance, AI errors can have severe consequences. Industry leaders must prioritise best practices to manage risks and enhance ROI in different contexts.
  3. Capability: As AI becomes more prevalent, individuals need to take action, which can vary widely. This may include teaching children about privacy when interacting with digital assistants, doctors understanding AI tools for medical practice, or programmers integrating AI into applications. AI literacy goes beyond understanding; it involves the ability to apply AI concepts effectively in specific contexts.
  4. Creativity: AI technologies continue to evolve and find new applications, from generating music to writing books. Expanding AI literacy to diverse backgrounds and professions fosters creativity and the ability to envision innovative ways to utilise and benefit from AI technology.

Crucial skills for Africa’s AI-driven future

Africa faces unique challenges, and as a result, it requires a unique approach to AI if it’s to harness everything it has to offer and modernise its industries accordingly. Success with AI in Africa starts with these four elements:

  1. Leadership and Change Management: Effective leadership plays a pivotal role in the success of AI and automation in organisations. Leaders need to educate their workforce about the benefits of automation, counter the perception of job loss, and incentivise employees to support the transition. Communication, incentives, and providing necessary resources are key components of successful change management.
  2. Adaptation and Innovation: Individuals must be willing to adapt and update their skillsets to embrace automation. This adaptation is particularly crucial in IT, where IT managers should shift their focus from managing manual processes to overseeing automated ones. Embracing change can lead to more diverse and highly skilled job roles and transform IT from a cost center to a profit center.
  3. Managing AI and Automation: Managing AI and automated systems requires a different approach than managing human employees. Employees must learn to work alongside machines, leveraging the strengths of both. Effective communication, setting clear objectives, and documenting maintenance tasks are essential for optimising the performance of automated systems and preventing recurring issues.
  4. Intelligence Management: The introduction of AI necessitates the role of IT data intelligence officers who can interpret data generated by automated processes and turn it into valuable insights. This role emphasises the importance of spotting trends and opportunities in data and demands skills in data science and mathematical logic applied to philosophy, bridging the gap between human wisdom and machine understanding.

It’s also essential to instill AI literacy in learners and help them understand and prepare for the jobs AI will create, rather than fearing it limiting their prospects. The impact of artificial intelligence (AI) isn't solely destructive; it will result in the creation of new roles and the transformation of existing ones, presenting opportunities for career switches. Reports suggest that roughly 30% of jobs are currently at risk, with some individuals already experiencing job loss.

According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report, AI is expected to replace 85 million jobs by 2025 but simultaneously create 97 million new jobs. The key challenge now is not whether AI will change the workplace but how companies can effectively integrate it to enhance human productivity rather than replace it. Notably, machine learning and AI jobs face less competition due to a shortage of skilled talent, making them promising career options in a competitive job market.

New jobs are already coming

Various roles are emerging in the field of AI, including AI trainers and professionals supporting data science, with expertise in modeling, computational intelligence, machine learning, mathematics, psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. AI shouldn’t just be viewed through the lens of automation, it will also change the nature of work, leading to safer and more humane jobs.

PwC predicts that the healthcare industry stands to gain the most from AI, potentially creating nearly 1 million job opportunities, particularly in AI-assisted healthcare technician roles. AI is also making strides in automated transportation, with companies like Uber and Google investing heavily in AI-powered self-driving vehicles, leading to increased demand for AI and machine learning engineers in this sector.

Furthermore, as AI becomes prevalent across industries, there will be a surge in the demand for an AI maintenance workforce, necessitating a significant number of developers and engineers to upkeep AI systems. AI's implementation will facilitate business growth, enhancing performance, employee retention, and customer acquisition, resulting in expanded job opportunities.

While concerns understandably persist about AI replacing jobs or making others obsolete, it's essential to recognise that certain aspects of jobs may be automated, but human ingenuity, empathy, and creativity remain irreplaceable in many roles, and will likely become even more important as AI becomes more prevalent.

“This mixed view of Al is not surprising because the technology does more than automate tasks; it changes the nature of the work we do,” says Rachel Russell. Change is constant across industries and societies, by some estimates, 65% of the children in schools today will end up in jobs that don’t exist today.

Another emerging job sector is that of “prompt engineers”, who are able to get the best out of AI and LLM systems, and AI auditors, who check outputs for accuracy and usefulness and guard against biases or other undesirable outcomes.

AI creates jobs with more value

While AI undoubtedly replaces some jobs, it also creates new, well-paying positions in their stead. For instance, in U.S. automotive factories, assembly line workers are being substituted by advanced AI-driven robotics. However, these workers are not losing their jobs; they are transitioning to new roles as robotics technicians.

Companies are using the enhanced productivity to invest in workforce training, resulting in safer and higher-paying positions for these employees. Moreover, many white-collar workers are moving into higher-paying roles as trainers, utilising their expertise to train AI applications like chatbots in industry best practices.

A company called Zendrive, meanwhile, employs AI to enhance drivers' performance and road safety, drawing on over 100 billion miles of driver data. By analysing driver behavior using data from their smartphones, it provides specific recommendations to reduce the likelihood of accidents, leading to safer roads and reduced insurance premiums.

"The future belongs to those who are ready to embrace the Al wave," frontend developer and educator Vivek Agarwal says. “Remember, Al may not take away your job, but could be something that can help you do it more effectively.”

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