AI, NLG, and Machine Learning

How AI is Transforming Africa

Africa is undergoing the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" (4IR) with artificial intelligence (AI). Find out how AI is transforming Africa.

By Adam Westin
March 5, 2020

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Our current era is characterized by the blurred lines between the digital, biological, and physical worlds.

The increased development of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and advanced wireless tech, is what scholars are referring to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR).

African coders learning new skills
Africa is a hotbed of technological development.

This revolution is significant and distinct from those in the past, due to its unprecedented speed, scope, and impact. The integration of these technologies into our daily lives is resulting in severe consequences worldwide.

The 4IR has sparked a very complicated and controversial discussion surrounding artificial intelligence in Africa.

The 4IR has many potential benefits and costs in Africa, spanning social, economic, and political implications.

Pros: Artificial Intelligence in Africa

Optimists argue that Africa’s AI can provide solutions to social and economic disruption across the continent.

Africa has already gone through a huge period of digitalization, which sparked increased efficiency and information flow. These, in turn, resulted in almost two million jobs and billions of dollars.

With the already progressing economies in African countries and regional integration across them, the African landscape could support and grow from the spread of 4IR technologies like AI.

Graphic displaying growing tech in Africa
AI is a rapidly growing sector in Africa.

AI can also provide an opportunity to gather and analyze data more effectively to target and reduce poverty.

Africa has the youngest, fastest growing population in the world, and Africa’s AI could help increase skills and literacies within its society to better prepare for technological opportunities from the 4IR, which could then result in the growth of firms and creation of more jobs in Africa.

Another potential benefit of Africa’s AI lies in agricultural endeavors.

With such important farm labor and income in Africa, it’s important to be able to fully take advantage of all agricultural opportunities.

Artificial intelligence in Africa could offer advice, weather information, financial tips, soil analyses, and other data-driven precision farming techniques to help optimize agricultural gain.

AI in Africa also has the ability to improve healthcare and human capital across the landmass.

As a place where infrastructure is restrictive, Africa could really benefit from the implementation of 4IR technologies.

AI in particular can help build sustainable healthcare systems in Africa, but it won’t work properly without better infrastructure.

Cons: The Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa

The effects of artificial intelligence in Africa will not be fully understood until it becomes more widespread.

A common fear is that the 4IR will exacerbate preexisting inequalities by disrupting labor markets.

The displacement of workers by machines is a fear around the world, but it may have particularly detrimental effects on the African population.

Technology is evolving to replace both skilled and unskilled workers. The job market may consequently further segregate low-skill/low-pay and high-skill/high-pay workers, with technology wiping out the middle class.

Workers discussing artificial intelligence
The introduction of AI is not always a smooth transition.

This could increase social tensions, especially with the regional differences in skill and literacy levels in Africa.

This discrepancy across Africa is not new.

In fact, only 40 percent of the landmass has access to the internet and, depending on geographic location, it ranges from 90 percent to 1 percent.

The widespread lack of digital skills, coherent leadership, and basic infrastructure are definitely concerns to acknowledge when implementing new forms of technologies and artificial intelligence in Africa.

Studies at the University of Johannesburg

Africa is aware of the drastic changes that it has been—and will be—undergoing as a result of the 4IR.

The University of Johannesburg has made great strides to better prepare its students for the future, including the creation of an interdisciplinary BA degree in politics, economics, and technology.

This field of study is intended to cultivate new skills and to preemptively fill in the labor market gap that is anticipated from the influx of technology.

The University of Johannesburg has altered other curriculum, as well as teaching strategies and mechanisms, to better train students before they enter industries that are prone to the technological effects of the 4IR.

This has been achieved through collaborations with businesses to more adequately educate and train students for success in the workforce.

The future of Africa's AI

The information and communication technology (ICT) industry has been constantly growing in Africa over the years.

With one of the largest potential workforces in the world, Africa needs better infrastructure and innovative skills to fully embrace opportunities stemming from the 4IR.

We’ll have to wait and find out whether that will happen—the socioeconomic consequences of technological innovation in Africa are not set in stone.

But one thing is for sure: the 4IR has sparked an era of disruption that has the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life for people around the globe.