By Ijeoma Olorunfemi/Ikenna Uwadileke
The concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, sometimes called machine intelligence, is the kind of intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and animals.
It is, however, a concept that many Nigerians are not familiar with, even though many countries of the world have already keyed into it in this 21st century, especially developed nations.
AI technology is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems such as speech recognition and machine vision.
It is an area of computer science that emphasises the creation of intelligent machines such as robots that work and react like humans, as well as perform chores done by humans.
However, a number of Nigerians are not sure of what it is, how it works, and how it will affect their daily activities.
Mr Sampson Awele, an Information Communication Technology (ICT) expert, says whenever AI is mentioned, many people tend to imagine science fiction stories about robots taking the jobs and ruling the world.
According to him, it is time Nigeria keys into the system and focuses on its potential benefits and how it will help citizens to live better lives.
Awele says “as a wide-ranging tool that enables people to rethink how to integrate information, analyse data, and use the resulting insights to improve decision making, the society will become better with increased automation and AI.”
He says AI is taking the centre stage within the fourth revolution with the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence.
The ICT expert, who expresses optimism that AI will not be taking over jobs to be performed by humans, explains that “many people are worried that AI robots will take over their jobs, but more humans are still needed in the workforce to do some other chores and functions.
“AI will only start doing dull or dangerous jobs. At the very least, humans and machines will work together.”
Mr Uzochukwu Okezie, a businessman who also believes in the potentialities of AI technology, says the concept has the capacity to give businesses in the country a competitive advantage.
Okezie says the concept will enable enterprises to move into other industries and markets.
He adds that some corporate institutions deploy AI-backed chats to respond to customer enquiries, noting that the measure has led to increased customer engagements.
“AI can be a great tool for managing risks, as well as detect and prevent fraud.
“It is very imperative that businesses and governments adopt the technology to tackle issues of governance in the country.”
Mr Oluwafemi Osho, a Lecturer in the Department of Cyber Security Science, Federal University of Technology, Minna in Niger, says he believes the deployment of AI will increase the rate of unemployment in the country, noting, however, that “AI is the future.
“This is more so, considering the fact that digitisation worldwide keeps growing.”
According to him, people will need to choose careers that are ICT-compliant and going further, there might be no need for some kind of jobs.
He says “when computers came, the idea was to reduce processing time, labour cost, increase efficiency and it went further to algorithm, AI.
“AI will not take over jobs, it only means that humans will have to adjust so that the jobs they do will suit trends in the Information Communication Technology sector.”
Osho calls for increased sensitisation to educate youths, especially students at the secondary school level, to choose careers they can operate comfortably through the use of ICT.
The ICT expert says that the attitude of the Federal Government toward deploying AI in its systems is, however, discouraging, noting that government, however, needs to be cautious.
He says “our attitude toward investing in AI technology is not encouraging and we might end up losing out at the end.
“Nigeria has been a consuming continent but at this time, it is important we become producers.
“In many developed countries, their higher institutions are already thinking of ways to divert from traditional means of learning. Technologies that ride on AI today are disrupting virtually every industry, including the banking industry.”
On the contrary, Mr Jimson Olufuye, former boss of African Information Communication Technology Alliance (AfICTA), bemoans Nigeria’s readiness to embrace AI, stressing that huge investment will be required for the purpose.
Olufuye says “AI requires huge investment and the need has to be there.
“Right now, the real need is not there yet, we are still struggling with the basic needs, as a greater percentage of the population are still struggling to make ends meet.
“To embrace such technology, it requires critical mass and it is not in Nigeria, it is in Japan, China and U.S.
“Our development is still nascent, we need to tackle basic things first; we need to make sure there is seamless connectivity all around the country.
“For instance, we need to make sure that the new electoral act that endorses electronic voting is there so that results can be transmitted simultaneously to check fraud.”
According to Olufuye, there is little or no internet connectivity in many parts of the country and calls for improvement.
He further says that Nigeria should focus on data science and improve the capacity of coders to really automate a lot of things to be able to receive data and analyse same.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Communications has assured of its commitment to support ICT stakeholders and strengthen a national AI ecosystem to achieve sustainable development.
The Minister of Communications, Mr Adebayo Shittu, also reaffirms the ministry’s commitment to focus on the potential of AI to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030, and improve the nation’s economy.
Shittu says AI is taking centre stage with a lot of impact on peoples’ lives as its potential power is being exploited and developed at an unprecedented speed.
“With many nations, including Nigeria banking on technology, robotics and artificial intelligence to reshape humanity, we need to encourage our youths and people to be digital-literates and become multi-discipline in ICT.
“Market analysts predict that intelligent machines programmed to think and reason like the human mind will revolutionise healthcare in the very near future.
“Proponents of the transformative power of artificial intelligence usually give two examples: self-driving cars and the delivery of healthcare.”
The minister emphasised that AI is no longer confined to the laboratories, but can be seen in many instances of human activities.
“We are accustomed to seeing countless references to intelligent machines and robots in popular culture whether it is in movies, fiction or books.
“But apart from computers and smartphone technology, nothing is more worthy of praise than our commitment to replicate human behaviours and thought pattern into machine and that is the world of artificial intelligence.
“As governments increasingly rely on the internet for governance and delivery of social benefits, technology simultaneously holds the promise of transformation and potential for exclusion.”
The minister adds that the ministry will engage in crucial conversations with stakeholders to manage and explore the AI regime.
According to him, Nigeria will seek to bring industry leaders and academic experts to the forefront by identifying priorities and share lessons for sustainable growth.
“We shall consider and explore pillars like connectivity, digital inclusion, trade, security, innovation and policy.
“We will also examine challenges and prospects of AI to foster greater interoperability and security.
“Since the government is leveraging the internet for delivery of social services, lessons must be internalised to make this initiative more inclusive.”
Consequently, just like early AI research in the 1950s which explored topics like problem-solving and symbolic methods, and training of computers to mimic basic human reasoning in the 1960s, AI has evolved to provide many specific benefits in every industry.
Depicted in movies and science fiction novels as human-like robots that take over the world, the present evolution of AI technologies is, after all, not scary.
The fear of the technology also taking over jobs hitherto done by humans, and increasing the unemployment market should also be put at rest, as many more chores and functions abound to evolve, requiring human capacity and intelligence.