I was a young student when I first heard the funny-sounding name of a search engine called Google. Never would I have imagined that this start-up would become one of the most valuable and powerful companies of the world in less then 20 years. Developments like this are exactly why I follow very carefully the future scenarios on digitalisation and AI described by today’s tech leaders.
The range of expectations reaches from “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation” (Elon Musk) to “AI is our friend” (Bill Gates), which will lead to “many improvements in the quality of our lives” in less then 10 years (Mark Zuckerberg). Jack Ma recognises the threat of AI and robots killing a lot of jobs, and he puts the responsibility for future developments in the hands of tech giants to “spend money on technology that enables people, empowers people and makes life better”. The recent privacy issues with Facebook or the rough working environment of Amazon employees show rather a lack of responsibility of the tech giants so far.
Then again, it might make more sense to turn to real experiences in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region than to the prediction of tech oracles. 'Intelligence' by definition is the ability to solve problems. A new, innovative generation is doing exactly that and improving life in Africa by combining human intelligence and AI. The Bisa mobile health application from Ghana secures access to doctors even in rural areas. Eneza from Kenya has spread mobile education among almost 5 million users in less than six years. The multi-lingual Farmerline from Ghana enables farmers in 11 countries to have access to technology, market information and know-how to optimise their outcome and develop their businesses.
In the Republic of Congo, solar-powered ‘Robocops’ regulate the traffic, helping to avoid traffic accidents, which are the second highest cause of death on the continent. BRCK has developed a solution to tackle a lack of internet connectivity that is made in Kenya and financed by adverts from domestic companies.
These are just few examples of the many and growing ecosystems reaching throughout the continent and solving day-to-day problems for their people. Where there is no internet, they use mobile networks. Where there is no electricity connection, they install renewable sources. Where there is no money exchange they use crypto-currencies for international business.
The transformation this young generation is bringing to Africa using big data, AI and digital technology is improving life for many while also creating jobs and enhancing regional security through communication and international business. The question remains, when will 'shareholder value' take over and change the behaviour from 'value maximisation' to 'profit maximisation'?
Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce