How artificial intelligence is spearheading unprecedented change in Africa  

    Sebuh Haileleul, Country General Manager, Microsoft East Africa

    As Africa and indeed the world is on the brink of an era of heightened technological capabilities and empowerment, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is lined to transform organisations, societies, and economies fundamentally remaking the world opines Sebuh Haileleul, Country General Manager, Microsoft East Africa.

    While viewing digital transformation as the adoption of advanced technologies and the rise of innovations in organizations and individuals’ re-organisation to be mobile, multi-modal, and intelligence-driven, Haileleul notes that for Africa, AI comes in a timely catalyst for engendering agility stressing that it has become crucial for organisations to stay competitive, achieve successes, and even survive.

    Dubbed as a ‘great transformer’ AI, according to Haileleul is lined to change systems, behaviors and work patterns within organizations. Noting that these systems use things like aggregated data, analysis, pattern recognition and predictive analytics to deliver intuitive insights, AI is expected to improve efficiency and even shift business models across all sectors. It is also expected to ultimately boost overall economic growth and create jobs not yet imagined, he adds.

    Transforming organisations and industry

    AI, machine learning, and automation are expected to provide organisations with new means to overcome typical challenges like time constraints, limited skilled resources, and bottlenecks to overall business processes. It can also be used to support security and safety systems, to spot anomalies and patterns.

    AI platforms will support critical systems to run securely and reliably and extract the right information. That’s why we want to see AI embraced in Africa, bringing AI to every application, business process, and every employee.

    As an example, Haileleul points out that AI technology from Microsoft, for example  enables accident prevention through computer vision – scanning video inputs for potential risk, and using this information to improve organisational safety going forward.

    Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI gives the user the ability to discover predictive insights and, from these, take informed action. Microsoft’s Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise serves as a digital assistant, keeping users informed and productive, assisting them to complete company-specific tasks – and supporting the shift towards adoption of voice and natural language for interfacing with technology.

    “At Microsoft, we do not foresee AI fully replacing humans in the workforce, but rather functioning as a tool that augments human abilities, freeing up people from routine, repetitive tasks, to focus instead on higher reasoning, creativity, and relationship-building – skills that remain uniquely human,”

    Sebuh Haileleul, Country General Manager, Microsoft East Africa.


    Empowering societies

    “We believe that AI has the potential to empower people – making the world a better place and Africa will not be left behind. Microsoft has invested $115 million over five years into initiatives that provide funding, technology and expertise to nonprofits and organisations so that they can tackle pressing issues within their own societies.” notes Haileleul.

    Examples of this exists in Little Cab – a Kenyan cab hailing service. In 2017, Little Cab partnered with Microsoft to launch a driver login verification feature on its app, using facial recognition technology provided by Microsoft Cognitive API and selfies. This smart African-grown system ensures that riders have peace of mind while using the service, as it eliminates the opportunity for non-registered drivers to pose as Little Cab drivers.

    Kunle Awosika, Small, Medium and Corporate Lead, Microsoft Africa and Kamal Budhabhatti, chairman, Little during the launch of the driver online verification feature on its app. (File Photo).

    Within the financial services industry, AI is the underlying tech that help Finserve launch mKey – Africa’s first keyboard app that converges social, and financial services into an integrated lifestyle. Operating on Microsoft Azure technology, it also rewards users the more they transact, blending the best of social conversations with the full breadth of financial services, capturing that entire world on keyboard, giving users the opportunity to make more possible. 

    Transforming economies

    Haileleul’s projection is that by 2050, the need to produce food globally will become crucial. With water levels receding and arable land already limited, the agriculture industry is already in the spotlight. “The agriculture sector has no option but to adopt innovative technologies crucial to long-term survival.

    At a time where resources and crops need to be tracked – AI enabled data-driven insights are able to boost agricultural productivity by increasing yields and reducing losses. Through Farmbeats, seamless data collection can be collected from various sensors, drones and cameras says Haileleul adding that the solution also accounts for weather-related power and Internet outages.

    Clearly the potential inherent in AI is huge, but its emergence in combination with automation has also prompted fears – specifically about its long-term impact on employment. Opponents caution that many people may stand to lose their jobs to machines fitted with AI capabilities, particularly at the lower-skill end of the spectrum.

    Proponents of AI further argue that new or refreshed industries will benefit from it  heavily. Research findings project that more jobs will be created much as the traditional ones will become obsolete. According to Gartner reports, AI’s augmentation will generate about $2.9 trillion in business value and recover about $6.2 billion in worker productivity by 2021. Other research works project that AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined.

    “At Microsoft, we do not foresee AI fully replacing humans in the workforce, but rather functioning as a tool that augments human abilities, freeing up people from routine, repetitive tasks, to focus instead on higher reasoning, creativity, and relationship-building – skills that remain uniquely human,” asserts Haileleul.

    Microsoft’s vision for AI is one of empowerment – technology providing organisations and individuals with the tools required to innovate and perform to the best of their ability, Haileleul explains. “Our approach of making AI accessible through infusing it in everything we do will only add and streamline the greater agenda of governments, forging the way forward to an all encompassed digital society,” he said.



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