Blog: Chatbots and AI: impacting the future of work in Africa
This post was written by Nancy Ewurum, CEO of MEST Africa portfolio company Aidahbot — an automated customer support platform for online businesses.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, as labelled by Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum, is on the rise. With it we’re seeing new technologies that are combining the digital, physical and biological worlds with impact, across several disciplines and industries. This is bringing many to question what it means to be human and leading to the discussion: how will new technologies affect the African workforce?
For many years, the idea of intelligent robots, self-driving cars, brain enhancement, and more were merely science fiction. However, we live in these realities today and must cope with the changes they bring in several areas of our lives. For instance, the World Economic Forum predicts a net loss of 5 million jobs to AI by 2020 as some jobs will become redundant, automated or disintermediated.
However, in Africa, there should be no cause for alarm as these technologies have the potential to create more jobs and more positive impact on the continent than potential hurdles. As AI technologies continue to disrupt industries across the continent, here are a few areas where I believe the workforce in Africa will benefit — and where we’re already seeing ventures begin to take off.
Chatbots and the consumer conversation
The most common form of automation made possible through with AI is the automaton of conversations on digital platforms. Conversations on websites, messaging platforms, emails and social media can be automated to help businesses render instant support to clients while saving on time and money.
Today’s customer is always online — via email, social media, messaging platforms, websites, gaming forums etc. — especially in Africa. It has become crucial for businesses to meet and acclimatise with their customers wherever they are.
In the financial industry, for instance, we have call centres and a high number of staff manning the phone lines. The introduction of AI and chatbots has so far helped to reduce the workload of the staff, and increase their efficiency, without necessarily replacing the human workforce.
The use of AI and chatbots in customer service is an area that we, at Aidahbot, are focusing on to solve customer interaction problems in Africa. As the CEO of Aidahbot and an experienced customer service rep, I have come to appreciate as well as help to champion the establishment of exceptional customer experience for businesses. With Aidah, our flagship product, we are helping businesses reduce the cost of poor customer experience by providing them with an AI-powered platform to automate their customer interactions.
Chatbots have the ability to handle large volumes of queries at the same time and act as first line of support for businesses, thereby offloading the more redundant, repetitive queries from the hands of the human agent who now has more time to manage more complex tasks.
Also chatbots can seamlessly engage customers in a conversational experience that will potentially lead to sales. This is where marketers can take advantage of the AI revolution to provide personalised and targeted customer experience that will not only meet the customer’s needs but also gather data from past conversations.
Aidah automates these conversations by providing a platform where businesses can build their own chatbots seamlessly, create a dataset of Frequently Asked Questions and connect it to a platform of their choice. The AI chatbot serves as a first line of contact, providing simple support to clients, taking care of the mundane queries and transferring the more complex issues to human agents. This enables businesses to focus on the complex, creative issues at the same time keeping their customers and brand integrity intact.
Leveraging AI for the future
Today, ‘specialised AI’ that complements average human performance is accelerating at a much faster pace than ‘general AI’ that can effectively and fully replace an average worker.
Most new technologies create new opportunities at the same time that they eliminate old jobs. In fact, according to Gartner, by 2020 AI will eliminate 1.8m jobs but create 2.3m jobs, driving a net gain of 500,000 new jobs.
To prepare for this shift, low and middle-skilled workers whose jobs are in jeopardy can easily be retrained for new jobs using this same AI-driven education to improve on their skills and develop their capacity to work closely with this technology.
In addition to retraining workers, AI education across the continent can be incentivised to attract more African representatives in the global community. This will go a long way in ensuring that we are not left behind in this revolution. MEST Africa Summit partner Microsoft is looking to achieve this with its new Augmented Reality and AI office which recently opened in Nigeria, while Google announced the launch of their first AI lab in Africa, based in Accra.
AI can have a massive impact on how we learn and access learning materials. It can be used to personalise lessons based on each student’s learning abilities in addition to helping teachers with repetitive, grading tasks. It can also provide valuable insights to educators on the content that their students may be struggling with and offer suggestions to both teachers and students. This is what LangBot, an Ethiopian edtech startup, is looking to achieve with its gamified AI language bot.
Security and identification
Facial identification is one of the technologies being facilitated through AI. It has the capacity to identify and verify a person’s identity by comparing facial features with images of faces available within a given database. Personally, I believe this is one of the applications of AI that will complement and enhance productivity, as facial identification technology has the ability to accurately scan thousands of images within seconds, saving security personnels good amount of time for other tasks. Ghanaian companies like Bace Group and Inclusive Financial Technologies, are applying AI in Facial recognition to help financial institutions easily verify and identify their customers.
AI technologies also have the ability to eliminate the need for humans to take on mundane tasks, thereby enabling us to spend more time on creative tasks, problem-solving and on other parts of our jobs that involve complex human interactions and relationships.
Hear more about AI, machine learning and chatbot technology on our panel discussion at the MEST Africa Summit. Experts include Hendrina Doroba of African Development Bank, Olga Morawczynski of the Mastercard Foundation, Hon. Michael Onyango of Kenya’s Ministry of ICT, Philip Thigo of Thunderbird and more. Register now!