A Sceptical Approach to the Future of AI and Emerging Technologies in Today’s Africa

By: Hruy Tsegaye

Nota bene:This is a chapter from an unpublished book written 2 years ago.


Probably, in the continent of Africa, the question of poverty is the supreme question in need of an immediate answer. The discussion of hi-tech within the continent seems extravagance; a great many of outsiders might share this view even though they are silent about it. Risking the snare of stating the obvious, yes, Africa has countless problems and the focus should be on the priorities.

However, what can be a priority than harnessing technology to eradicate poverty? Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be directed toward the agriculture, manufacturing, health, education, and military sectors of any given nation. Furthermore, in a time where data becomes as valuable as oil, the key for sustainable and radical development, undoubtedly, is technology.

Fortunately, the younger population in Africa is aware of the fact that the utilization of technology is the inalienable approach to unlock the question of poverty. Unfortunately, the leaders in the continent have turned their back on it. Ironically, it is common to hear African leaders claiming statements such as “The 4th Industrial Revolution is where the future lies and their government will follow through with full political will and commitment”[1].

In the developed and developing nations like China and India, the discussion of AI among academics and industry is now a dominant topic. The world has witnessed an incident in which AI demonstrated signs of consciousness; machines were observed talking in a language that was neither used by humans nor taught to the machines.[2]

The science of AI has proved that it is not only an integral part of humanity’s future but that it can be the beginning of a new future for new sentient species on this planet.

While predicting the near future and its outcome on the far future has never been a satisfying profession, it has always been the first step in understanding the possibilities of the future and today’s impact on the impending tomorrow. Hence, academics and industry leaders from the developed nation are now engaged not just in the mere discussion of AI and emerging technologies in today’s economy and socio-political structure, but they are also entertaining the future and are planning to design and most importantly own it!

On the other hand, Africa is lagging dangerously. Except for a handful of universities, the continent’s tertiary education is oblivious of AI and related technologies. As of writing, there had not been a single, full-scale, international conference on the topic of AI within Africa. The leaders and the academicians are not discussing and plotting regarding the fate of AI in today’s and as well the future socio-political and economic structure of Africa as if the continent is immune from the coming disruption.

Yet, to make matters worse, the continent is predicted to be one of the first place in the globe that will face a radical change because of AI and related technologies. According to the World Bank and other notable organizations, assuming a radical breakthrough in robotics and general AI, countries such as Ethiopia will face a staggering 88% job loss in the coming decade. The continent is not only ignoring the threats but as well the curative power of emerging technologies.

Contrary to the notion that AI or advanced hi-tech is too good for Africa, the continent can greatly benefit from AI and related technologies in the seemingly everlasting struggle against poverty. Although there are some bold examples of such scenarios in the continent, a sheer number of African’s are still indifferent to the science, philosophy, and general notion of AI in today’s and as well tomorrow’s world.

Where is the continent now when it comes to AI and emerging technologies?

1: In the Beginning There Was a Robot

Worldwide, more than 150 universities and institutions offer advanced degrees in AI, sponsor substantial AI research efforts, and operate AI laboratories. When we check the list for Africa, the result is ZERO. In less fancy words, this is not good!

Common sense dictates that the adoption of advanced science and the proceeding technology transfer often begins from the tertiary education sector of a given nation. Yet, recent but radical changes in this explosive tech era brought a new player. Now, private sectors have become major stakeholders in the adoption and transfer of hi-tech. They are becoming one of the major stakeholders in the developing nations’ struggle to empower their economy with advanced technology. This fact also seems to be true for Africa, and recently the continent is witnessing the amalgam of these approaches.

There are several AI start-ups in Africa, especially after 2015. Again, one will find AI research and development companies in the most unlikely places within the continent. iCog Labs, headquartered in the capital city of Ethiopia, is one example. Probably, iCog Labs is the first private African company to work on R&D of AI as far back as 2013. There are also some notable start-ups working on AI— notable because either they are commercially successful or have a potential for lucrative commerce. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya are leading nations though not necessarily in the order of writing.

When we take a close look at the state of the continent’s tertiary education system, we will find some hopeful signs.

Although it is not satisfactory, there are some preliminary accomplishments regarding the science of AI in the continent’s tertiary education system and the academicians are at least producing pieces of literature.

Besides academic literature on AI and related subject, African universities and institutes are becoming engaged in programmes that are related to the science of AI or courses that are an actual part of the AI Science. Yet, the strange fact is that hitherto, when one is searching for some advanced science within the continent, one would find the North Africans, mostly, have something to offer. Yet, in the case of AI, the North is lagging as good as the Sub-Saharans.

On the side of traditional ICT, the continent has seen a remarkable rise regarding mobile phone technologies and web apps but the state of emerging technologies specifically that of AI, Robotics, Nanotech, and IOT is not encouraging.

Understandably, a continent that struggles to build sustainable agriculture cannot be expected to triumph over such hi-techs. However, this cannot be an excuse for the continent’s tertiary education system; after all, universities are places for advanced research.

One can also argue that the continent’s struggle to eradicate poverty is futile when the role of technology is undermined seriously. The rest of the globe is implementing pro-poor advanced technologies while the continent fails to meet the Millennium Development Goals and this failure is rooted in the continent’s unsatisfactory performance toward the adaption and implementation of new and advanced technologies[3].

It will be an accurate conclusion to say that the tertiary education system of the continent is in dire need of change when it comes to the adoption of emerging technologies, incubating such technologies and then disseminating them into the market so their impact can be felt in the continent’s economy and struggle to eradicate poverty.

On the bright side, Africa’s market is accepting; in some incidents, it is even leading advanced technologies and AI. The continent is awakening and is now implementing emerging technologies in its agriculture and health sectors among many other areas. Oddly, commerce is more advanced than the higher institutes.

Africa is the pioneer to use drones in the service of Hospitals. In 2016, Rwanda became the first nation on the globe to implement large-scale delivery drone operation in the nation’s health sector.[4]

Nigeria and Uganda are other good examples where the health sector is benefiting from emerging technologies, and in our case Mobile Phones and AIs respectively.

In Uganda, for example, tens of thousands of government health workers use MTRAC — an SMS-based technology connecting hospitals to the national drug chain — to report on local medicine stocks using their mobile phones. LifeBank uses digital supply chain technology to deliver blood when and where it is needed in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city with a population of over 20 million. These tools are helping countries across sub-Saharan Africa circumvent the World Health Organization’s standard of one doctor per 5,000 citizens. Digital solutions make it easier to roll out new approaches to health care rapidly and at scale.”[5]

Precision Farming has been introduced to the African Agriculture sector since 2010, and one can find successful start-ups in the business of providing AI-Powered tools within the Agriculture market of the continent.

Emerging technologies are now changing the conditions of farming in Africa. Zenvus (a Nigerian precision farming startup), UjuziKilimo (a Kenyan startup), AgroSpaces (a Cameroonian company), and Farmerline (a Ghanian company), for example, can be mentioned as few of the native African tech companies that provide mobile and web technologies that bring farming advice. The products of these companies range from analyses of soil data, temperature, nutrients, vegetative health, weather forecasts, and stretches to market information, connecting unbanked and underserved smallholder farmers to credit, providing financial tips and analytics of big data to transform farmers into a knowledge-based community[6].

The Democratic Republic of Congo has been using real-time robots as traffic polices on the streets of the nation’s capital since 2013. In Kinshasa, for the past four years, three large robots are being used in place of police officers to direct traffic and pedestrians. This puts Africa as the first continent in the globe to deploy a commercial robot in law and order services[7].

Such remarkable achievements are rooted in the concept of Technology Leapfrogging: a method of progress in which, an undeveloped society, instead of passing through the expected linear stages toward the adaption of technology skips directly toward adopting the most up-to-date technology and apply hi-tech in an area where the immediate predecessors of this technology have never been applied.[8]

From the looks of emerging technology and their impact on Africa’s market, 2010 can be marked as the period where Technology Leapfrogging has become the new favourite for the continent. Hitherto, Africans are extensively integrating it in their official policies as a guide toward their technology transfer programs.

The good news is Africa can lead in the commercialization of such advanced technologies; it is leapfrogging at its best. The continent is a fresh white paper: a lot of free room for super brilliant ideas! Yet, just like the empty white paper, what we put in the free room matters a lot.

The application of such technologies is what Africa has been waiting to eradicate the long-existing poverty, but there are some threats the continent will face on the eve of the singularity.

[1] Awramba Times, “Davos 2016: PM Hailemariam addresses major challenges Africa facing in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (+Video)”, Awramba Times, January 22, 2016

[2] Tony Bradley, “Facebook AI Creates Its Own Language In Creepy Preview Of Our Potential Future,” Forbes, July 31, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tonybradley/2017/07/31/facebook-ai-creates-its-own-language-in-creepy-preview-of-our-potential-future/#e7e40de292c0

[3] Hruy Tsegaye, “Technology: The Last Frontier in Economic Challenges,” iCog Labs, August 15, 2017,  http://www.icog-labs.com/technology-the-last-frontier-in-economic-challenges/

[4] Jeremy Hsu, “Africa’s Delivery Drones are Zipping past the US,”WIRED. September 13, 2017, https://www.wired.com/story/africas-delivery-drones-are-zipping-past-the-us/.     

Lily Kou, “Africa is now the world’s testing ground for commercial drones,” QUARTZ Africa. June 24, 2017, https://qz.com/1003810/the-worlds-first-commercial-drone-delivery-operates-from-a-hill-in-rwanda/

[5] Adebayo Alonge, “How AI Can Help Africa Get Universal Health Care Before America,” Newsweek, October 30, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/artificial-intelligence-us-healthcare-africa-693849

[6] Ndubuise Ekekwe, “How Digital Technology is Changing Farming in Africa,” Harvard Business Review, May 18, 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/05/how-digital-technology-is-changing-farming-in-africa

[7] Teo Kermeliots, “Robot cops rule! Humanoids take over streets of Kinshasa to tackle traffic chaos,” CNN, May 26, 2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/24/tech/robot-cops-rule-kinshasa/index.html

[8] Hruy Tsegaye, “Technology leapfrogging,” iCog Labs, December 24, 2013, http://www.icog-labs.com/technology-leapfrogging/


2: In Toil Shalt Thou eat of it All the Days of Thy Life!

As it is in all great adventure tales, the story of AI is never complete without the possible doom and gloom.

There is an adage about a two-edged sword, and it is naivety to claim that AI and related techs are risk-free. Yet, to say AI and the related techs are the harbingers of Armageddon is also unfounded hysteria.

In this chapter, we will focus on threat’s that are more probable when it comes to Africa and the continent’s current state. Although one can discuss several fears, the following seems the most certain and probably the hastier perils heading for Africa’s future fate of politics and economic stratum. The first danger we will discuss is “abuse of data/privacy” then comes “technological unemployment” followed by the last concern, “inequality aggravated by advanced technology”.

Instead of ignoring or panicking, governments in Africa and those with the power and authority can consider the following threats; the WHYs and the HOWs of their mechanics, and the way to avoid them or at least minimise their damage.

Abuse of Data/Privacy

AI, in the developed world, has become an integral part of day-to-day life. As it is common for most of the other advanced technologies, this happened before the public noticed it. When was the last time you left your smartphone and then tried to live your day as if it was the era predating smartphones? However, have you ever considered the fact that your smartphone is packed with AI featured apps that can track your movement, record your phone conversations and take pictures of your beloved ones 24-7?

Yes, when technology becomes part of our life, the introduction method is often that of a trial and error approach hence we have no time to verify or even discuss what it can do to our privacy and related personal rights. As a result, there is a concern that is neither satisfactorily defined nor addressed when it comes to legal and regulatory risks regarding the usage of AI and abuse of data and privacy.

The current privacy breaches can be as common as an unauthorised collection of information through AI or the less common act of using your private information to commit fraud. Private information that starts with your sleep patterns and extends to the minute detail regarding your Genetic Data[9] can be used to either assist you perfectly or enslave you!

When it comes to Africa, we know for sure that the majority of the governments are neo-patrimonial. This becomes more depressing when one scrutinizes the alternatives— the rebels and the opposing parties are no better than the thieves in the palace, and it is just a matter of circumstantial difference; one tyrant is sitting on the royal chair, and the other one is claiming it.

Here lies one of the biggest AI-related dangerous in the African context. Tyrants will certainly use it to rig elections!

This threat in Africa is not as simple as in the developed world and has roots that stretch from one layer to another. Finding the root and suggesting the solution is not that easy. One thing we can be sure of is that if the developed world suffers the consequences of rigged [or at least biased] elections because of an AI-powered tool, continents like Africa are undoubtedly heading for a similar [or at most worse] future.

We know for sure that Facebook and the other social media were used to change the outcome of the US election [for good or for bad is not our concern here]. Both candidates used the services of such platforms to send their campaign ads, and these customised ads were framed precisely based upon users’ personal preferences. Whether you like it or not, this precision was, of course, the fruit of all the personal data collected during users’ interaction. The type of interaction can be either that of users’ interaction with other users or the direct interaction of users’ with the respective social media— you post loads of information about your political views and don’t forget you have answered tons of personal questions in the profile section.

In addition to social media and their ads, which is the result of abused data, some tools are designed and developed for the sole purposes of analysing, classifying, and then cataloguing people into whatever group in question. A good example will be Cambridge Analytica; a private company founded in 2013 for the sole purpose of providing strategic information during election campaigns via data mining and data analysis.[10] Cambridge Analytica, although found to participate in the US election, can be handy for anyone who can pay their fee and use it to map the targeted publics’ psychographic feature. The company boldly states, “Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behaviour” on the home page of their website[11].

Now let us go back to Africa. The first layer is the very nature of users in Africa. For most Africans, the pro version of AI featured tools is either inaccessible or very expensive.  Therefore, most of the people prefer the free version; the free version is more popular in the developed nations outside of Africa too.

Sadly the motto “If you are not paying for it, you are the Product” cannot be truer. Any platform that offers free services has three options: 1) generating profit from advertisement, 2) generating profit through the sale of processed data (it can be legitimate and such companies can sell processed data without breaching their users’ privacy rights) or 3) it is not for profit at all.

The last scenario is rare, and in cases where it occurs, users do not prefer it because it is not “a goody” compared to those services backed by profitable companies. This is not a mystery or some spooky connection; the product of profitable companies is better because they can utilize their profit to hire and recruit experts and young prodigies with appealing pay and invest additional money to improve and expand the product at hand.

Hence, the first two scenarios [profit from advertisement and profit from the sale of data] are the most common one, and out of these two, the very first scenario is the most profitable one. Companies like Google are a good example of the situation. Google has more than 1 billion users collectively from its dozens of free services like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Play. It collects an unspeakable amount of personal data claiming that this is necessary to provide accurate and timesaving services. Then Google earns its annual revenue of 40+ billion dollars through advertisement.

We cannot say no to Google because we are using its quality products free of charge, but while we use Google as a product, Google has turned us into a product too. We, the users, are Google’s product for their advertisement business. In this circular relationship, we have exchanged our right to privacy for the right to use some extraordinarily valuable products at no cost.

The first layer in Africa begins with this: so far, most users in Africa are the ones that prefer the free version, and there is no valid reason in the foreseeable future that can [or will] change this fact.

The second layer rests on the power to complete the ill motive of African leaders: they can easily back their abuse with brute force. Let’s say some government in the developed world rigged election via AI featured technologies. The motive is simple and clear; this government wants to stay in office at the cost of freedom. Yet, can brute force back it up once the people uncover the ill scheme and expose the defects of the election? The answer is ‘highly unlikely’. Now just change the continent to Africa and keep the same scenario, and you will get a very different answer. If it was Africa, the answer is “most certainly yeah”!

Probably you are thinking that Africa is too backward for such things to happen [AI meddling in an election], but you are deadly wrong. With the current mobile penetration rate and the number of internet users, the continent is on a head-on collision with the Information Era and its perils lurking behind the abuse of data and privacy.

The author of this chapter personally knows a group of AI developers who were offered a good deal of money in exchange for an AI system that abuses data and rigs an election. For now, the government that demanded their services was a certain Latin American nation but how long do you think will it take the African tyrants to understand this shenanigan? If it is any consolation, the AI developers had rejected the offer. Still, how many AI developers are there in the world and for how many of these can the author testify?

The third layer in this threat is the level of Africans’ understanding. As a man who has lived all his life in one of the most backward and most poverty-stricken places in the globe, the author of this chapter has seen first-hand what illiteracy means and what consequences it has. The first thing is that for most Africans, cyber privacy is something incomprehensible and they either lack the understanding that it is part of their right and that it is a danger if there is a breach or they don’t care at all! The majority of Africans have been through a lot and rights regarding privacy are the least of their concerns.

Furthermore, 38% of the continent’s adult are illiterate[12] and as of 2015, around 89 million youth, ages 12-24 years, are out of school in Sub-Saharan Africa[13]. The literate Africans have also very little education and it’s not difficult to assume that most of them are not aware of the concept of data privacy and its dire consequences. As most of the users in Africa fill all those sensitive private information for some free application or similar services, the thought that such information can be abused to artificially frame their opinion never crossed their mind. Nor are they informed that information— the kind they provide consciously or the kind that is collected in oblivious— one day will cost them their seldom-existing freedom.

The fourth layer of this threat is the absence of accountability. Although there is no single and universally accepted rule, regulation, and model of data protection, the developed nations have been regulating it through several institutes. Since their market is more mature than that of Africa, it is natural to assume that certain bodies monitor data privacy and have the power to bring the question of accountability to the perpetrators.

In the context of Africa, the matter is more complicated because there are very few [or in some countries not at all][14] institutions and organizations that are capable of enforcing accountability. The whole concept is still in the early process stage, and even the African Union has adopted its “African Union Cyber Security and Data Protection Convention” in late 2014.

It is true that privacy, as it is, is not a profoundly studied concept in Africa and the discourse on the subject is not even older than 30 or 40 years. Yet the claim that Africa doesn’t value privacy is erroneous and, at worse, the apex of hasty generalization. Even though Africa’s culture is dominated by collectivism, it is either ignorance or racism to assume that Africans doesn’t care about privacy.

Most importantly, the types of dangers we are concerned about have nothing to do with the generalisation that ‘privacy is contextual’. Regardless of privacy’s nature in the general view of the continent’s culture, institutes and governments should empower organizations that can enforce regulatory laws concerning privacy protection.

Claims for privacy in Africa are slowly becoming commonplace due to an increased use in Modern technologies by both individuals and institutions. As a result, the need to protect privacy arises. It is also important to note that the initial push to the adoption of privacy policies in Africa did not come from these concerns rather from trading and business considerations with European country[15].

Quoting Makulilo, the editor of one of the very few books that address the question of Data Privacy in Africa, we can ascertain that the continent is not in total oblivion to the concept, yet we can conclude that there is a considerable lag. The danger is more dangerous when it is lurking in the shadows of oblivion, but when one directs the light toward the shadow, at least the danger is no longer unknown, and the fear of the unknown is eliminated.

African governments should light their torches and look behind the shadows of data privacy: they ought to draft regulatory rules before it is too late and establish and empower organizations with the mandate/power to execute the law.

Technological Unemployment

The term Technological Unemployment simply refers to the loss of jobs due to replacement by machines [either software or hardware]. The recent progress in technology has brought countless changes to the production line, and machines now perform tasks and activities that used to be uniquely humans’. These changes in return resulted [or will result in] massive job losses.

Currently, we have software capable of writing feature articles, and we can safely assume that there is a loss of income for some online contributors, especially those for sport’s news and articles[16]. Because of self-driving cars, a total of 4 million people’s job is at risk in America[17] and an estimated 20 million people all over the world.

The phenomenon of machines replacing humans, and at times such mechanisation causing dire consequences is not a new marvel; in fact, it is history. Most of the literature addressing technological unemployment due to AI and advanced robotics is tinted either with fear of the authors who are too careful not to be accused as neo-Luddites or rage of authors who are too extremists and only depict one-sided dystopia.

Undoubtedly, machines (either software or hardware) can replace most of the humans in the workplace soon. The real question is, with the exponential growth of the current computing ability, will machines have the facility to replace all of the human labour.

Yet, one cannot conclude that the current technological changes are only about automation and robotisation. Rather, technology has empowered us with the abundance, the demand, and the economy to create more jobs. The critical threat is that of the future; a future where the current accuracy and science behind automated machines is 50 times better than now.

Here, we will argue that the threat of Technological Unemployment is more plausible and eminent to the continent of Africa, and this assumes not the coming future but the existing one. However, one can find many scholars arguing that Technological Unemployment is not only Africa’s problem but probably that of the developed world as well. The fundamental core of their belief lies in the fact [although it seems inconclusive] that technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them.[18]

Why is the treat of Technological Unemployment more eminent and resonant in Africa?

The answer is not complicated; the current progress in machines proved that jobs that require less intelligence are easy to be automated. Most of the jobs in Africa are that of blue-collar jobs, or in other words, jobs that require less intelligence. Here we would like to remind the reader that we are not stating that blue-collar workers are less intelligent than their white-collar neighbours are, we are just stating the technical fact that the work [task and activity] by itself requires less intelligence and computational capacity for non-human machines to perform it.

The trend of replacement by machines clearly shows that the first line of work to be fully automated or robotised is that of blue-collars’ or ‘low-level-jobs’. Under this category, you will find factory workers, clerks, chauffeurs, farmers, call centre operators, waiters, cleaners, and the likes. Indeed, the automation progress so far affirms it.

It is not a mystery why many Africans live in poverty; they are being paid very little. They are paid insignificantly because many of the jobs they are performing are that of low-level-jobs.

At this point, it will not be that difficult to connect the dots and see why technological unemployment is an imminent threat to the continent; the existing software and hardware can handle many of the low-level-jobs in Africa.

Furthermore, recent developments in AI are about to bring quite a massive shift in the unemployment crisis, stretching the scope of the existing technological unemployment. The exponential perfection rate of ‘Narrow AI’ is about to bring the unemployment crisis to the white-collars’ camp as well, and technological unemployment is no longer confined as a direct threat toward the low-level-jobs.

To make matters worse, the continent is attracting investors who are fleeing the Asian production cost [investors had migrated to Asia a long time ago fleeing the US and European production cost], and these types of investors are interested in cutting production cost especially that of labour cost! Such companies will prefer a production line that has no or very little human workers.

Africa is a continent that struggles to create a sustainable economy, and while the continent is using everything at hand to achieve this goal; it will not be able to absorb a new blow from technological unemployment. So what can be done?

One of the ways to change such conditions [population dominated by low-level-job] is Human Development[19]. With the Human Development approach, a certain country’s GDP doesn’t necessarily tell how the people are living.

There are several African states, which in comparison to the other African nations, generate tones of dollars via their annual GDP whilst the population is still dominated by low-level-jobs which in return creates inequality— a new crisis rising developing nations like South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

In short, Human Development states while the majority of Africans are still engaged in low-level-jobs, a GDP growth by itself will not bring better life or elevate them from poverty, and we need to do something more than a solo GDP growth.

As part of Human development, African nations ought to educate their working force with the new knowledge of AI and related technologies. The education should focus on emerging technologies, and if it is not capable of empowering their citizens with the full knowledge, at least, it should enable the people to work as a compliment aside the machines.

In addition to education, Decentralized Technology[20] can help, significantly, to bridge the inequality gap, and probably if the future of AI is directed towards such goal, the existing and as well the impending inequality can be controlled.

What will be the fate of the world when the current progress toward intelligent machines is doubled or tripled, and when the machines become capable of performing more than 75% of the existing jobs known to man?

With such a rate of global Technological Unemployment, the money-based economy will cease to be part of humanity’s future.

If we are developing a transcendent technology [super intelligence] that is capable of bringing abundance, in such a future, a room for money is an improbable odd; be it cash, cryptocurrency, or even bartering in its many forms.

Why? Well, the near future looks like the end for human-intensive production, and intelligent machines and robots will replace, if not all, more than half of today’s jobs. It is not only jobs that are at risk, but also careers that require intuition and artistic creativity. Moreover, if we have such technology transition in our time, the money-based economy will die for one single reason; we often forget that workers, the current major production force, are also buyers.

Miss X buys things because Miss X works! Because Miss X has a job, she is rewarded with a wage/salary and this income becomes Miss X’s purchasing power. This, in return, becomes profit in someone else’s pocket when Miss X buys. Hence, if technology retires the majority of the production force, it means the buyers are no longer active, which also means the money-based market, in general, is discharged.

In the early days of the transition, producers [in every sector] might keep up with the profit loss; profit that should have been collected from the now marginalised market [buyers who used to be workers who now are unemployed]. Producers are compensated for the loss of such profit via their new advantage on production cost; free of wage/salary and cheaper but better processes due to tech impacts.

However, when the majority of the human labour becomes obsolete, they [producers in every sector] will start suffering due to shrinking market size and increasing profit loss; by now, more than half of their customers are unemployed, a penniless mass!

Production needs consumers and consumers are people with jobs/careers!

The proceeding scenario after this point [where superintelligence replaced the majority of the human labour] will have three possible paths. A) The human mind will let go of the current value system, and money or its derivatives become obsolete. B) The innate human greed will refuse to let go of today’s value system, and the price of everything will be sky-hi. The ensuing super-inequality on the globe will backfire; endless conflict, civil unrest, and mayhem almost in every nation. C) The future will bring new types of jobs and careers previously unknown to humans that are not replaceable by machines. This will bring stability to the economy by returning buyers to the market, workers that will have the income to buy things, and thus maintain the profit flow that is the basic motivation of producers in our current money-based economy.

However, from these possible outcomes, option C seems the most paradoxical. Whatever the human worker is capable of, the then machine can also do or even excel humans at the task.

If A is the path, it will reduce the effect of technological unemployment to a significant level, and things will be free because, in that future, the value system cannot require reward in money form. Yet, there is always a room for a different form of value system, and maybe the then humans will find a different form of inequality and still suffer the consequences of technological unemployment.

Option B has also a high probability. We are witnessing it today, mostly, in the underdeveloped nations. Probably, it will be the most crucial for our failure to achieve technological singularity. Once the chaos spreads to the developed nations, it will provoke biblical global destruction that will reset civilization back to the medieval age, and in such a dystopian future, unemployment is the least of our fears.

Nevertheless, today’s inequality is indeed the key to set the future, and we have to address it now before any of our other social problems. And if we are set to reduce the inequality gap while expecting a machine-intensive production, then the focus should be on how to change the current value system. Ironically, this is the problem of the developed nations as they are in control of today’s economy and the way it functions.

In a world where the majority of humanity has no job, the value of money will be no more significant than my cat’s opinion about moon landing! In short, the influence of money will be zero. As we have established this in the above paragraphs, workers are buyers, and without jobs, there is no market! Even careers in the fine arts, sports, and entertainments will be obsolete. If the good old employees had no money to buy tickets for a music concert, a cinema sit, or the Wimbledon grand finale, how can the singers, the actors, or the athletes earn their means to live? Our economy is rooted in money, and without it, everything is nothing. Careers are nothing without the people who have “boring jobs”.

Without the majority of the human race that work for a salary, the minority, the glorified ones with careers, are nothing but parasites.

Companies will be forced to change their notion of profit. In the hay days of superintelligence, companies will acquire all the cool robots and fully automated machines to take care of their production because it will maximize profit as it gives them the power to lay off all their workers that cost them nearly 50% of their profit [who hates to have a production line that doesn’t require wage?]. Yet, eventually, all those people that have lost their jobs will also lose their power to buy. They will no longer play the roles of the good old consumer, the moneybag who used to be the best friend of these companies.

What kind of economics the future has for us is an interesting question. We are heading, certainly, to a future where companies downsize all their employees to maximize their profit and then eventually lose all their profit because there is no one left to earn money and buy their products.  This future is coming, and the automation that is going to enforce it has already begun.

Although we cannot predict the future of such economy, we can assume or even formulate theories that address and regulate what possible transition period the human race can design to adjust to the coming radically transformed notion of economics. We can also address how this transition period can be groomed for the common good of humanity regardless of their continent.

A storm is coming, and we can no longer hide behind the veils of ignorance or overconfidence. Without a smooth transition period, the human race cannot embrace the coming economic structure which has no room for the thing we call money— the thing that has shaped our world!

Of course, such predictions mostly assume that robots [automated systems] will replace human labour in an end-to-end production line. However, there is still the possibility that the day for the machines to replace human beings may never come.

Inequality Aggravated by Advanced Technology

Technology tends to aggravate inequality. If it is not decentralised, the recent trend in technology proved that it can accumulate wealth and power in the hands of the very few.

In the past, a billion-dollar company used to employ at least thousands of workers. Today, 50 people operate companies like Whatsapp, which was bought by Facebook with a staggering 19 billion dollar. This is not an isolated event, and there are a lot more similar cases and a lot more are heading to this way[21]. Some experts further argue that technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequality[22].

Continents like Africa are characterised by a larger share of youth in their demographic figures. Such a figure is [not for so long though] an advantage because this meant a workforce. Unfortunately, if today’s technology tends to marginalise the labour force and concentrate the wealth in the hands of the few, the majority of Africans will soon find themselves obsolete and of no value.

In the age of AI and related technologies, intelligence is all that matters. Today, the West is striving to improve the fundamental features of humanity. The science of human biology is dramatically changing, and we have now notions like transhumanism; a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its current human form and human limitations by means of science and technology[23].

If you thought that this is just the fantasy of nerds, you are wrong! Obama, in April 2013, announced the establishment of the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies). The whole point of the 3 billion dollar initiative is focused on revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain and eventually enhancing it[24].

The European Union has a similar project backed by more than 1 billion euros, and the government of China is in on the same truck. Almost all the West and part of Asia are now engaged in the activity of human enhancement.

Then the first threat, and the lesser evil, for Africa will be the inability to compete in the global market. When the West and part of Asia is marching to enhance its cognitive power [not the artificial one but the natural biological one], it is obvious that the output of this venture is going to be a significant game-changer in the world’s economy. Enhanced super-smart workers/innovators, scientists/students, and the general public from the West and Asia VS good old original Africans… this is a sad scene and compared to this, even Batman, deprived of the kryptonite stone, still has a better chance to bit Superman.

Let alone enhancement, the mapping by itself is a lucrative business, and here we have the voice of better authority.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas.  Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy”[25]. Barak Hussein Obama.

So far, the more the world’s technology is advanced, the worse Africa’s competing ability becomes. If the developed nations mastered AI, the watermarks of all our tools [hoping it will remain a tool], and harnessed it to enhance the human biology, Africa will lose almost all her comparative advantages.

When one talks about equality, one should consider that there are three types of it. The first and the obvious one is the inequality between individuals living in the same nation. This type of inequality is the kind that most of the economists cry about. The second type is inequality between individuals in different nations. Mr X from Ethiopia is reach compared to his neighbours that live in huts; he has three cows and his children eat three times a day. Nevertheless, when Mr X is compared with the lower middle class of US or even the poor of the Scandinavians [maybe not with the homeless but those labelled as poor], Mr X is poorer[26]. The third type of inequality is that of states. Isn’t America richer than Sweden? The state of United States is very rich when compared to the state of Sweden even though the inequality between individuals living in these two states shows that the majority of the individuals living in Sweden are richer than individuals in the US; better per capita ratio and living standards.

Today, with equal human biological status, Africa is far from bridging the inequality in all the types we mentioned above. Sadly, tomorrow’s human biological status is not going to be the same as today’s is.  The time to wake is now, or there might not be any time later to do so.

The second threat, the personification of tech’s most devilish evil, is that African’s might not survive the soon to arrive hi-tech era!

History is a good teacher even though we have never listened to its never stopping beats of advice. Humans abuse their power time and again! Humans abuse their power time and again! Humans abuse their power time and again! What makes you sure that the West  will not reinstate notions like Slavery or the infamous rules like “Dogs and Blacks are not allowed”? Do not forget human rights, equality, and all the other beautiful notions our modern world stands for had never existed [beyond few books and the circle of few activists, philosophers, and dreamers] before the 1960s.

It will be unwise and even foolishness to assume that the West will no longer abuse its power against the ‘lesser races’. The odds are that a quarter of the US ruling elite, the United States Congress, had at one time in the past, when they were youngsters, refused to go to school with blacks in the segregation times, thrown a stone at ‘niggers’ or stand quietly when the cops treated black Americans like dogs! Regardless, the US government is a self-proclaimed global human rights police now— the champion of humanity!

This is not exclusively US-bound case; this is true to all the Western powers. Did you forget that up to the 1990s the British government was in support of a system that openly declared that whites are superior and blacks are inferior therefore they should neither mingle nor be treated as the same; yeah it is called Apartheid.

Frivolity and the sickness of power and greed are not only the Westerners’ [white people] problem. It will not be fair to blame white people as the sole culprits as if African’s have no such evil. Racism, slavery, segregation… all and every wicked scenario where the strong abuse the weak is widely practised in Africa too. Africans have mastered these dark arts, and have excelled ourselves to give the West a rest! What better example is there than the genocide committed in Rwanda in the 1990s that ended up with the death of nearly one million Tutsi minorities in less than 30 days. In every corner of the continent, the strong are enslaving the weak, and this sickness has nothing to do with skin colour.

These are not hateful statements but are the gloomier beacons of humanity. We have never been intelligent and rational enough to live in harmony, and most of our history proves it!

Our relative golden era is not even as old as a fully-grown adult. How long has it been since all the Western powers nominally accepted the human race regardless of their colour as equal or all the other regimes in Africa, Asia or Latin America have at least accepted genocide is a crime and illegal, if not irrational and immoral, how long?

The most frightening fact is that most of such abusive governments, terrorists, and warlords are, and were, fully supported and backed by the superpowers; the US, England, and Russia have never stopped supporting such destructive groups even today. If these superpowers spent half of the time they dedicate to denying the allegations on actually lifting humanity, maybe the third threat [inequality aggravated by technology] would felt less dreadful.

It is neither scientific nor rational to assume that the developed world will use the coming super AI and related advanced technologies in a just and fair manner. Do not forget the fact that many of the governments in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America still believe in race supremacy and openly oppress minorities.

The inequality now has made Africa the most difficult place on earth to live in and survive. The coming technology will certainly aggravate this inequality. Although it’s always good to assume that humanity is evolving to be more rational, it is always better to assume the worse and prepare ahead.

Now brain pills [medication supposed to enhance cognitive ability] are as common as anti-cough suppressants. Furthermore, in the West and other parts of the developed world, students, researchers, and innovators are on Brain Supplements and memory enhancement drugs. If such are the minority today, there will be no doubt that they are the majority tomorrow.

AI and nanotech are going to be harnessed in the creation of advanced humans [in body and mind]; gene modification and integration with machine [cyborgism] are not farfetched sciences. The West has accepted human enhancement as mainstream science. Moreover, because of the ever-stopping growth and improvement of AI, it will not take too long for this direction to bring a radical change to human nature.

How can Africa compete?

This question should be the mother of all questions and Africans must prioritise the question of hi-tech! In this chapter, we can’t discuss the details of the how [prioritising hi-tech], here the objective is to show prioritising hi-tech is the only way to guarantee the continent’s survival.

If the continent fails to prioritise the state of technology, especially that of AI and emerging technologies, the near future will close all windows of opportunity, and there will be no more chance for Africans to stand shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Caucasian and Mongolian.

If the status quo remains the same, what these new advances in the developed world bring to Africa is more inequality! The only way for a bright future in Africa is immediate catchup. Even, this grim future depends on a stroke of slim luck [or miracle]. History teaches the stronger humans will always suppress the weak ones while the super-strong ones annihilate!

[9] Regulation (EU) 2016/679 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL. “Legislative Acts”. EU. 

[10] Nina Burleigh, “Freedom from Choice: How Big Data Mines Personal Info to Craft Fake News and Manipulate Voters.” Newsweek, June 2017, 27.

[11] Cambridge Analytica, “Data Drives All That We Do,” 2017, Cambridgeanalytica.org.

[12] “Literacy and non-formal education,” 2017. UNCESCO.Org, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/dakar/education/literacy/

[13] “Half of Youth in Sub-Saharan Africa Are Out of School,” World Bank, July 15, 2015, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/07/15/half-of-sub-saharan-african-youth-are-out-of-school.

[14] Daniel Finnan, “Lack of laws governing cybercrime making Africa a safe haven for cybercriminals, interview,” France Médias Mond,. February 16, 2015, http://en.rfi.fr/africa/20150215-lack-laws-governing-cybercrime-making-africa-safe-haven-cybercriminals-interview

[15] Alex. B. Makulilo, “The Context of Data Privacy in Africa,” in Privacy and Data Protection in Africa 2014, ed. Makulilo (Springer International Publishing AG, 2014), 21.

[16] Erik Sherman, “5 white-collar jobs robots already have taken,” Fortune, February 25, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/02/25/5-jobs-that-robots-already-are-taking/

[17] Anita Balakrishnan, “Self-driving cars could cost America’s professional drivers up to 25,000 jobs a month, Goldman Sachs says,” CNBC, May 22, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/22/goldman-sachs-analysis-of-autonomous-vehicle-job-loss.html

[18] David Rothman, “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs,” MIT Technology Review, June 12, 2013, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/

[19] Mahendra Kumar, “Human Development: Meaning, Objectives and Components,” EconomicsDiscussion.net, http://www.economicsdiscussion.net/human-development/human-development-meaning-objectives-and-components/11754

[20] Hruy Tsegaye, “How Decentralized AI Can Change the Lives of Millions,” iCog Labs, November 15, 2017, http://www.icog-labs.com/how-decentralized-ai-can-change-the-lives-of-millions/

[21] Hruy Tsegaye, “How Decentralized AI Can Change the Lives of Million,” iCog Labs, November 15, 2017, http://www.icog-labs.com/how-decentralized-ai-can-change-the-lives-of-millions/

[22] David Rothman, “Technology and Inequality,” MIT Technology Review, October 21, 2014, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/531726/technology-and-inequality/

[23] H++HhPedia, “Transhumanism,” (accessed August 10, 2004), https://hpluspedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism

[24] Susan Rojahn, “Why Obama’s Brain-mapping Project Matters,” MIT Technology Review, April 08, 2013, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/513011/why-obamas-brain-mapping-project-matters/

[25] “The Full Text of President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address,” The Atlantic, February 12, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/full-text-president-obama-2013-state-of-the-union-address/318416/

[26] Tim Worstall, “Astonishing Numbers: America’s Poor Still Live Better Than Most of the rest of Humanity,” Forbes, June 1, 2013, https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/06/01/astonishing-numbers-americas-poor-still-live-better-than-most-of-the-rest-of-humanity/#41cafad554ef

3: Revelation

Conclusions, at times, are useless if they are not followed by recommendations.

In this era, where computer science is on its cusp to understand the secrets of Artificial Intelligence and unleash the super AIs, we cannot simply forward a conclusion about Africa.

We will rather state a revelation.

We see two futures for Africa; the first one is a continent that embraces, invests, and prioritises AI and the related emerging technologies. The second one is indistinct and foggy for it is about a wasteland.



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One Response to A Sceptical Approach to the Future of AI and Emerging Technologies in Today’s Africa

  1. Abbe yako says:

    good read, thanks for the effort

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