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Experts on AI and the Future of Work – the Opportunity for Africa

AI and the Future of Work in Africa Whitepaper: Africa has a unique opportunity to influence what the future of work looks like in these early days as large learning models (LLMs) are evolving.

Story Highlights
  • The "AI and the Future of Work in Africa Whitepaper" was produced by Microsoft and a collective of industry experts across Africa.
  • McKinsey research shows that GenAI could enable labour productivity growth of up to 0.6% annually through 2040.
  • GenAI can become more tailored to individual workers, learning from interactions and becoming a personalized tool that respects privacy and enhances each worker's unique skills.

According to the “AI and the Future of Work in Africa Whitepaper” produced by Microsoft and a collective of industry experts across Africa, Africa has a unique opportunity to influence what the future of work looks like in these early days as large learning models (LLMs) are evolving, and the environment for applications is still new.

According to the whitepaper, many expect generative AI (GenAI) to drastically change knowledge worker jobs, especially in terms of the type of work done, the skills required, and the outputs produced. McKinsey research shows that GenAI could enable labour productivity growth of up to 0.6% annually through 2040, depending on the rate of technology adoption and the redeployment of worker time into other activities.

“Generative AI has significant potential to advance human capabilities,” says Jacki O’Neill, Director at Microsoft Research Africa. “As more people across Africa get access to GenAI tools through their internet-enabled devices and more affordable data, the barriers to access are being reduced and opportunities for skilling can increase.”

“But it is not only information workers that stand to benefit from GenAI,” adds O’Neill.

The promise of GenAI to transform industries such as agriculture, healthcare, and services must be balanced by equipping the youth with the skills needed for an AI-disrupted labour market to ensure that they are not left behind in this technological shift.

“We see a significant role for generative AI to not only transform work environments but also foster opportunities for the youth to create jobs, innovate, and help drive economic growth and stability across the continent,” said Ravi Bhat, Chief Technology and Solutions Officer at Microsoft Africa.


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It is therefore important to build skills across the spectrum, from how to deploy and use GenAI tools effectively at work, to building appropriate & innovative applications and technologies on top of these models (LLMs), to the post-graduate skills of research and innovation in machine learning, natural language processing, human-computer interaction, cybersecurity, and systems to name a few.

“Investing in this range of skills gives Africans the best opportunity to create dignified, appropriate jobs, to adapt AI sensitively to Indigenous knowledge, to create new value chains, and better AI systems which might reflect human-centered and community values, for example. Such systems would add value globally and could counter typical tech-centric models of automation and deskilling,” said O’Neill.

With culturally and linguistically sensitive design, GenAI can become more tailored to individual workers, learning from interactions and becoming a personalized tool that respects privacy and enhances each worker’s unique skills. It can serve as a guide to foster inclusivity and showcase the diverse skills and abilities of African workers. GenAI can also be appropriated as a community-focused tool that supports collaborative work and communal development.

The technology can assist in decision-making, risk assessment, and data analysis, empowering entrepreneurs in their ventures. For the informal sector, tailored GenAI tools will elevate the capabilities of entrepreneurs, providing customized assistance for their unique needs.

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According to the whitepaper, ensuring a beneficial outcome with GenAI involves proactive governance, inclusive design, investment in education, and a commitment to regulatory & ethical standards. This requires engagement from policymakers, technologists, and citizens.

“Technology alone cannot solve the challenges that our youthful continent faces,” said Bhat. “We need to create policies and practices to ensure that GenAI, and AI in general, is deployed responsibly with AI-related labour being valued and dignified.” Adding that, “It requires the macro-economic, labour, and regulatory markets to adapt and be capable of supporting positive change.”

The AI revolution in Africa is no longer just a possibility; it is already underway, and Microsoft is committed to working alongside individuals, governments, partners, and stakeholders across the continent to prepare for a future where artificial intelligence (AI) is intricately woven into the fabric of work and society in Africa.

ALSO READ: AFRICA IS EMBRACING THE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE INNOVATION WAVE, SAYS EXPERTS

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AI and the Future of Work in Africa Whitepaper
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