AI and the future of work – the opportunity for Africa

Five of the contributors to an AI whitepaper standing in front of Microsoft logo

At an AI Summit hosted at Microsoft South Africa’s offices, some of the collaborators on a recently launched whitepaper came together to share the findings and considerations for the future of work, and the AI opportunity on the continent. Photographed from left to right are: Vukosi Marivate, Lelapa AI and the University of Pretoria; Dr Onyi Nwaneri, Afrika Tikkun; Jacki O’Neill, Microsoft Research Africa; Najeeb Abdulhamid, Microsoft Research Africa and Winnie Karanu, Microsoft Africa.

13 June 2024, Johannesburg – Africa has a unique opportunity to influence what the future of work looks like in these early days as large language learning models (LLMs) are evolving, and the environment for applications is still new. This is according to the AI and the Future of Work in Africa whitepaper produced by Microsoft and a collective of industry experts[1] from across the continent.

Nearly one billion people in Africa are currently under the age of 35 with the continent projected to be home to almost half of the world’s youth population by the turn of the century, in effect making up half of the potential global workforce of the future. Currently, up to 12 million young Africans enter the labour market annually, but according to a report from the International Labour Organisation, more than 20% are neither in employment, education nor training.

“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,” says Ravi Bhat, Chief Technology and Solutions Officer at Microsoft Africa.

According to the whitepaper, many expect generative AI 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 generative AI (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.”

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.

It is therefore important to build skills 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, 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.

[1] AI and the Future of Work in Africa Whitepaper is a collective output from a wide number of people. The authors include:

Jacki O’Neill, Vukosi Marivate, Barbara Glover, Winnie Karanu, Girmaw Abebe Tadesse, Ajua Gyekye, Anne Makena, Wesley Rosslyn-Smith,  Matt Grollnek, Charity Wayua, Rehema Baguma, Angel Maduke, Sarah Spencer,  Mark Kariuki, Daniel Kandie, Dennis Ndege Maari, Natasha Mutangana, Maxamed Axmed, Nyambura Kamau, Muhammad Adamu, Frank Swaniker, Brian Gatuguti, Jonathan Donner, Mark Graham, Janet Mumo, Caroline Mbindyo, Charlette N’Guessan, Irene Githinji, Lesego Makhafola, Sean Kruger, Olivia Etyang, Mulang Onando, Joe Sevilla, Nanjira Sambuli, Martin Mbaya, Paul Breloff, Dr. Gideon M. Anapey, Tebogo L. Mogaleemang, Tiyani Nghonyama, Muthoni Wanyoike, Bhekani Mbuli, Lawrence Nderu, Wambui Nyabero,  Uzma Alam, Kayode Olaleye, Caroline Njenga, Abigail Sellen, David Kairo, Rutendo Chabikwa, Najeeb G. Abdulhamid, David Kairo, Ketry Kubasu, Chinasa, Eugenia Akpo, Tiyani Nghonyama, Joel Budu, Issa Karambal, Joseph Berkoh, William Wasswa, Muchai Njagwi, Rutendo Chabikwa, Rob Burnet, Loise Ochanda, Hanlie de Bod, Liz Ankrah, Selemani Kinyunyu, Mutembei Kariuki


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