Artificial Intelligence (AI), one of the most thrilling and transformative opportunities of our time, is the topic de jour lately with every intersection of intellectual discourse and business discussions sounding in on the potential perks, risks and dangers. Africa’s tech ecosystem, one of the most exciting in the world right now, has a growing community of African start-ups that are keen on developing solutions for African problems using this emerging technology.

The most desired business outcomes from AAI are: to improve/develop new products/ services; to achieve cost efficiencies, streamline business operations; and accelerate decision making. Enterprises that have enabled AI have reported increased operational efficiency, making faster, more informed decisions and innovating new products and services. To date, strong AI has not yet come into existence, it’s still hypothetical hence it exists in the dreams of research scientists and imagination of science fiction writers. For now all we can do is hope, imagine and dream a machine intelligence that can perform the full range of human cognitive abilities. However narrow/weak AI, also called Applied AI (AAI) is already here, and it’s making a significant difference in people’s lives and businesses. The most popular examples of AAI are Apple’s SIRI and Microsoft’s Cortana.

It’s essential to identify the intersection of technology and business opportunities and applied AI is at the heart of both. Running a small enterprise is too daunting a prospect because the business owner has to wear several hats at a go. The weight of decision making more often paralyses most people from pursuing independent business dreams. With the advancement of AAI, the time and weight of decision-making is taken out due to hyper-personalized business insights and track analytics.

As enterprises deploy AI, strategies, the roles, responsibilities, and skills of employees’ talents will change. Although there’s widespread fear that AAI’s driving job-killing automation and computerization of enterprise workforce, it’s simultaneously helping individuals follow their entrepreneurial dreams by providing the solution to making non-automatable work more accessible to numerous people. Due to a shortage of talent, adoption of AI’s potential to drive transformational change continues to be hampered. Therefore, businesses must invest in skills programs, training sessions, and research partnerships.

Despite the global rage about AI, the widespread sentiment is that it’s tricky to deploy, costly and the initial payoff is often modest. According to a recent study by the McKinsey, few firms are deploying artificial intelligence in production at scale. Therefore, even after crossing over into mainstream markets, it takes a considerable time for transformative technologies like AI to be widely embraced across companies and industries. A new book,
“Human + Machine: Re-imagining Work in the Age of AI” by Accenture executives Paul Daugherty and Jim Wilson, look at the potential of AI to transform the workplace cultures. “In this current era of business process transformation, AI systems are not wholesale replacing us, rather they are amplifying our skills and collaborating with us to achieve productivity gains that have not previously been possible,” the authors write.

Accordingly, predictive opinions on what the future might look like and when that future might happen may oscillate to extremes when talking about strong AI, but the conversations around current advancement of AAI should happen more often because the benefits and harms are apparent and very clear.