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Africa can leverage GenAI for economic growth – Microsoft

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Africa has a unique opportunity to influence what the future of work looks like in these early days of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI).

This is according to the AI and the Future of Work in Africa whitepaper produced by Microsoft and a collective of industry experts from across the continent. The paper examined how the growing tech scene on the continent offers opportunities for AI-driven job creation.

With nearly 1 billion people in Africa under the age of 35, it is projected that by the turn of the century Africa will be home to almost half of the youth population, potentially making it a global workforce of the future.

Moreover, up to 12 million young Africans enter the labor market annually, but according to a report from the International Labor Organization, more than 20% are not engaged in employment, education or training.

Therefore, as per the whitepaper, Africa's young population and vibrant tech ecosystem provide significant opportunities to position Africa as a leader in technological innovation and sustainable development.

"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 Microsoft Africa Chief Technology and Solutions Officer Ravi Bhat during a media briefing presenting the whitepaper.

According to the whitepaper, many expect GenAI to drastically change knowledge worker jobs, especially in terms of the type of work done, the skills required, and the outputs produced.

According to McKinsey research, GenAI could enable labor 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.

Microsoft Research Africa Director Jacki O'Neill added that GenAI had significant potential to advance human capabilities.

"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," O'Neill explained.

However, she believes that it is not only workers who stand to benefit from GenAI.

The whitepaper highlighted that 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 labor market to ensure that they are not left behind in this technological shift.

Skills needed for the future of work

The whitepaper puts forward that skills need to be built across the spectrum, from how to deploy and use GenAI tools effectively at work to how to build appropriate and innovative applications and technologies on top of these models.

Post-graduate skills of research and innovation in machine learning, natural language processing, human-computer interaction, cybersecurity and systems are also needed.

"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, for example, human-centered and community values," added O'Neill.

The whitepaper also highlighted that 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 stated that GenAI 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 whitepaper reads.

The whitepaper suggests that Africa's young population and vibrant tech ecosystem provide significant opportunities to position the continent as a leader in technological innovation and sustainable development. 
  (Source: DC Studio on Freepik)
The whitepaper suggests that Africa's young population and vibrant tech ecosystem provide significant opportunities to position the continent as a leader in technological innovation and sustainable development.
(Source: DC Studio on Freepik)

The document explained that the technology can assist in decision-making, risk assessment, and data analysis, empowering entrepreneurs in their ventures.

For the informal sector, it found that tailored GenAI tools will elevate the capabilities of entrepreneurs, providing customized assistance for their unique needs.

According to the whitepaper, ensuring a beneficial outcome with GenAI involves proactive governance, inclusive design, investment in education, and a commitment to regulatory and ethical standards.

"Technology alone cannot solve the challenges that our youthful continent faces. We need to create policies and practices to ensure that GenAI, and AI in general, is deployed responsibly with AI-related labor being valued and dignified," added Bhat.

"It requires the macro-economic, labor, and regulatory markets to adapt and be capable of supporting positive change," Bhat concluded.

Related posts:

*Top image source: Freepik.

Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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