AI in Zim: Addressing our concerns

As AI-powered automation becomes more sophisticated, there are valid worries that certain jobs, particularly those involving repetitive or routine tasks, may become obsolete.

IN the previous three editions of this column, we assessed Zimbabwe's readiness to adopt and leverage artificial intelligence (AI). We highlighted the various benefits that could stem from the rise of AI. Our focus also included the collaborative efforts of James Manyika and Strive Masiyiwa in advancing AI in Zimbabwe and across Africa.

Moreover, we offered guidance for individuals seeking to delve into the realm of personal AI.

This week, we delve into the prevalent concerns surrounding AI to determine their validity and significance. The rapid advancements in AI have sparked a range of concerns, both globally and within Zimbabwe.

From fears of job displacement to ethical dilemmas around privacy and surveillance, the public discourse has been dominated by a sense of unease about the implications of this transformative technology.

However, it is crucial to take a balanced and nuanced approach to address these concerns and harness the immense potential of AI to drive progress and improve lives.

Allaying global fears

One of the primary concerns surrounding AI is its potential impact on employment. As AI-powered automation becomes more sophisticated, there are valid worries that certain jobs, particularly those involving repetitive or routine tasks, may become obsolete.

However, this narrative often overlooks the fact that technological advancements have historically created more jobs than they have displaced.

AI is poised to augment human capabilities, enabling workers to focus on more creative, strategic, and value-added tasks, while automating the mundane.

Global employee feedback

A majority of the nearly 54 000 workers polled in a new PwC survey have a largely positive take on AI, and that should be good news for organisations’ senior executives.

When asked to choose from nine statements — three positive, three negative, and three neutral —  that best describe how AI might impact their work, more than half of the nearly 54 000 workers polled in PwC’s 2023 ‘Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey’, a third of respondents believe AI will help increase productivity and efficiency, and more than a quarter said it would help them learn valuable new skills.

How can leadership teams harness that optimism while still navigating AI’s potential hazards?

They should start by engaging their workforce in three critical ways: 

Set the right tone: The executive should create and communicate a strong narrative that covers what the future of work means for the company and its people. Being transparent and purpose-driven regarding plans and decisions can also help employees, who are wary of AI, and what it may mean for their jobs, feel more comfortable experimenting with it and even integrating it into their work where appropriate.

Strengthen your employees’ human skills:  Double down on helping your people build the soft skills that AI cannot replicate, such as adaptability, collaboration, and leadership. These skills can prove especially important for non-specialised workers, who the survey shows are disproportionately more likely to believe that AI will have no impact on their job at all, suggesting they may be less equipped for change than their specialised counterparts.

Enlist your people as solvers: Chances are your employees are already experimenting with AI outside of work, so channel that energy by bringing them into brainstorming sessions to see how AI could improve their role or department's work.

As the ones who are closest to the day-to-day work, they will have valuable insights into where AI might be most effective. And by seeking their input and involving them where possible in decision-making processes, you will be making changes with them, not for them, making it more likely that they will buy into the changes and advocate for their success among their peers.

At the same time, create opportunities for employees to experiment responsibly with AI in their work, with the right guardrails around data access and privacy, copyright protection, and other sensitive areas.

Moreover, AI can help address global challenges in areas, such as healthcare, education, and environmental sustainability.

AI-powered medical diagnostics and drug discovery can revolutionise the way we approach healthcare, leading to earlier detection and more personalised treatments.

In education, AI-driven adaptive learning platforms can provide personalised instruction and support, catering to the unique needs of each student.

And in the realm of environmental protection, AI can assist in monitoring and mitigating the impact of climate change, optimising resource allocation, and developing sustainable solutions.

While the ethical implications of AI, such as concerns around privacy, bias, and transparency, are valid and must be addressed, these challenges are not insurmountable.

Robust governance frameworks, ethical guidelines, and collaborative efforts between policymakers, industry leaders, and civil society can help ensure that AI development and deployment are aligned with societal values and human rights.

Addressing concerns

In the context of Zimbabwe, the concerns surrounding AI are amplified by the country's unique socio-economic and political landscape.

The fear of job displacement is particularly acute, given the high unemployment rates and the prevalence of informal and low-skilled occupations.

However, Zimbabwe can leverage AI to create new opportunities and address pressing challenges. We previously identified the agricultural sector as one area where AI can have a transformative impact in Zimbabwe.

AI-powered precision farming techniques can help smallholder farmers optimise their yields, reduce resource waste, and adapt to the effects of climate change.

This can lead to increased food security, improved livelihoods, and sustainable development in rural communities. Similarly, AI can play a crucial role in enhancing public service delivery and improving access to essential services, such as healthcare and education, in both urban and rural areas.

By automating administrative tasks, optimising resource allocation, and providing personalised assistance, AI can help bridge the gap between the government and the people, fostering greater transparency and accountability.

Regarding the concerns about surveillance and privacy, it is essential for the Zimbabwean government to establish robust data protection frameworks and ensure that the deployment of AI-powered surveillance systems is subject to strict oversight and safeguards.  Engaging with civil society, technology experts, and international partners can help develop policies that balance national security needs with individual rights and freedoms.

Embracing the potential of AI

While the concerns about AI are valid and must be addressed, it is crucial to recognise the immense potential of this technology to drive positive change and improve the lives of people, both globally and within Zimbabwe.  By adopting a balanced and proactive approach, we can harness the power of AI to create a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous future.

Key steps to embrace the potential of AI include

Investing in education and skills development to prepare the workforce for the evolving job market;

Fostering public-private partnerships to develop AI-powered solutions that address societal challenges;

Establishing robust governance frameworks and ethical guidelines to ensure the responsible development and deployment of AI;

Promoting transparency and accountability in the use of AI, particularly in sensitive domains like surveillance and law enforcement; and

Collaborating with international partners to share best practices and learn from global experiences in navigating the complexities of AI.

 By taking these steps, we can unlock the transformative potential of AI while mitigating the risks and addressing the legitimate concerns of the public. 

The future of AI is not one of dystopian scenarios, but rather a future where technology and human ingenuity work in harmony to create a better world for all — leading to a better future for all.

  • Bangure is a filmmaker with extensive experience in print and electronic news production technologies. He is an AI enthusiast and scholar.  —  [email protected]

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