Africa Must Embrace New Technology to Compete Digitally

African governments, besieged by spiralling protests over inept service delivery, have been urged to embrace technology to improve governance systems and ensure the burgeoning youth population has the requisite skills to compete in an increasingly digital world.

Analysts meeting at a key summit in the US said in the wake of service delivery protests and job losses, socio-economic strife lingered if the government and stakeholders insisted on outmoded operational systrems at a time the world wasembracing technology.

“Otherwise, the worst will hit the entire continent,” technology expert Franck Cohen said.

In an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the SAP SAPPHIRE NOW – the American SAP User Group’s annual conference – in Orlando, Florida, Cohen, who is SAP’s Chief Commercial Officer, said the continent should move with speed to adopt modern technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).

He recommended that curricula at tertiary institutions should introduce artificial intelligence tests, lest graduates, who successfully completed their academic training, find themselves lying idle without jobs as robots take over.

“Low skilled jobs are at risk at the moment as AI continues to grow. The reality is that the main manual tasks today in data enterprise can potentially be replaced  by automation and machine capabilities. And I am talking about the near future, not even talking about the long future, so it is true that many functions will probably disappear.”

The expert’s sentiments follow research and analysis indicating that by 2025, the world will have a fully automated accounting system dubbed “manual intervention”, which would render jobs like accounting irrelevant.

“Accountants may be jobless by then.

“The same applies to call centres. The digital assistants and digital robots will replace call centre operators.

“So on one hand it is true, but on the other hand the machinery is also bringing in a lot of opportunities and new possibilities for people for new jobs to be created,” Cohen said.

He added on a different note, new opportunities and new possibilities would be created specifically for technology analysts, data scientists and a new crop of people to build algorhythms, hence the recommendation that governments and other stakeholders focus their attention on equipping the youth with technology skills.

“It is also an opportunity for Africa and universities to adopt these technologies and build the skills that the world will need very soon, when they are deployed across the globe,” Cohen said.

He said AI would also eliminate the need for keyboards for computers.

“This means those computer operators not upgrading their skills would be irrelevant at a short distance to come.

“Very soon, people will talk to computers. Users will not have to type anything on their keyboards – the system will recognise their voice and recognise their order,” Cohen predicted.

He said countries that adopt modern innovations such as AI would realise a 2% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) – hence the call for African tertiary institutions to prioritise AI.

Cohen said companies and individuals had to adapt to new ways of thinking, because resisting the machines would render their businesses uncompetitive, and they would be overtaken by innovation.

He said that Africa would overlook AI technologies at their peril.

“AI is being neglected in Africa, yet it requires a new generation of scientists and students to develop these technolgies. Africa should not miss out on this,” Cohen concluded.

Artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems which enable them to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence to execute – for example, visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making and translation between languages.