#MAS2019 Panel: AI, Machine Learning and the future of work in Africa

This post was written by MEST Business Development intern, Natasha Louise.

The second panel topic set for discussion at the 2019 MEST Africa Summit June 10th — 12th in Nairobi will be titled: Chatbots, AI & Machine Learning: how will these technologies impact the workforce in Africa?

Defining the AI revolution

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and deep learning are all terms that have been used interchangeably in recent years. However, there are definitive differences between them. Artificial Intelligence is a technology or computer system designed to function in a way that simulates how the human brain thinks.

Machine learning is a subset of Artificial Intelligence that involves ‘training’ machines to ‘learn’ from datasets, enabling them to draw insights and make predictive decisions. Deep learning is the most advanced subset of machine learning, which intends to bring machines as close as possible to human levels of thinking. For more, download this white paper from Outside Insight.

AI and machine learning, and with the help of these technologies new tools like chatbots, are paving the way for more advanced automation. This could mean two things for labor — elimination of jobs that can become automated, or creation of a different set of jobs leveraging different skill sets.

It is important that we understand the role of AI in the workplace, and the sort of impact this could have on the workforce — particularly in Africa.

Companies such as Walmart, Amazon and more have been at the forefront of transforming retail operations and customer experience by using machine learning, the Internet of things (IoT) and big data. But what does this mean for the workforce in markets where there is a high blue collar labor pool?

We spoke with John Muchiri, CEO of MEST portfolio company Nestmetric, a platform which uses AI to help companies reduce churn and improve targeting for online ads. Here are his thoughts on the future of work in the age of AI.

M: How do you use AI and Machine Learning (ML) at Nestmetric?

J: Nestmetric is a customer data platform that uses neural networks and machine learning to help advertisers target the right users, at scale. We specifically work with banks, insurance companies and lending companies.

M : How have AI and ML technologies impacted your work, and what has this technology enabled that was not possible before?

J: Using machine learning, we’re able to help brands create ads that continually adapt to a user’s likes and dislikes, and react with new recommendations tailored for them in real-time. This enables these brands to optimize the ROI of ad spend on every customer.

M : What do you see as the greater potential for AI and ML?

J : A CapGemini survey of 1,000 organizations found that 83 percent agree AI has already created new jobs, and 75 percent have seen a 10 percent uplift in revenues directly tied to AI initiatives. Meanwhile, 73 percent said that AI has boosted customer satisfaction scores, and 65 percent said AI-based decisions have reduced customer churn rates. This is the sort of change that’s made possible with these technologies.

M : What are the challenges with implementing these technologies?

J : The main challenge is lack of understating by the stakeholder when it comes to the problems, techniques and specific use cases AI can solve within companies and organizations. As well, there is a very limited pool of AI-trained job seekers available, which creates significant competition for these skilled individuals.

M: Who do you feel is utilizing AI or ML most effectively?

J : Deep mind is using AI to develop programs that can learn to solve any complex problem without needing to be taught how.

Comma.ai is building self-driving cars which, in my opinion, are still the most interesting applied AI problem today.

Whilst the use of AI grows, it is possible that a large percentage of the workforce could begin to feel the effects of automation, but this will not happen overnight. Many also argue that AI may also lead to new opportunities for jobs across the spectrum, much like technological revolutions of the past.

Join us at the MEST Africa Summit to hear more about this from experts including Hendrina Doroba of the Africa Development Bank; Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Associate Professor in Entrepreneurship and former Permanent Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of ICT, and Hon Michael Onyango of the Kenyan Ministry of ICT’s AI Task Force - amongst other esteemed speakers. Get your tickets now.