Will AI kill developing world growth?

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With the rapid development of technology, society has grown accustomed to expediting various operations by replacing human labour with robots or artificial intelligence. Many fear that artificial intelligence could displace millions of jobs, which jeopardises growth in developing regions such as Africa.

Optimists would say that rapidly advancing AI systems would boost productivity and spark larger growth, but may instead act as a complete replacement for low-wage jobs. Beijing-based venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee states that AI is potentially the most revolutionary technology to emerge this century, advancing at breakneck speeds alongside associated technologies of machine learning and robotics. AI already has the capacity to replace repetitive and rule-based jobs. Industries such as car manufacturing have transitioned to being mostly automated thus far, in contrast to human assembly lines in the past.

Automated systems have shown to get higher customer satisfaction ratings than people in call centres, a threat to those jobs in many countries. Similarly, AI systems are sparking job losses in back-office administrative functions in banking, health, insurance and accounting. These roles previously had been outsourced to developing countries such as India, Vietnam, South Africa and Morocco.

According to research done at Oxford, about 40% of jobs in Europe are at risk due to AI in the coming decades, almost half of US jobs, and a greater percentage in developing countries. Some believe the implementation of AI will create as many jobs as it replaces, which may be true, but will be concentrated in certain parts of the developed world, leaving the developing behind.

As technology develops, its role in the global economy strengthens and becomes increasingly more powerful and dominant, primarily in the areas such as Silicon Valley, where technological development is prevalent. This trend could potentially be replicated on a global scale, consequently worsening inequality.

Although AI adds risk to job security in countries, it also allows for citizens to access education, health, employment, and other opportunities. One example is M-Pesa, a phone-based money transfer service, which is used by more than 60% of Kenyans. M-Tiba is a similar app which delivers health services to more than four million Kenyans.

Only time will tell whether or not AI ultimately harms or benefits the global society. Policymakers around the world should be very diligent and make smart decisions about AI’s implementation in society.

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