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Africa Can Shape Future Work With AI, says Microsoft report

MICROSOFT, in collaboration with industry experts across Africa, has released a whitepaper titled AI and the Future of Work in Africa, highlighting the continent’s unique opportunity to influence the future of work through large language learning models (LLMs) and generative AI. As these technologies evolve and their applications expand, Africa is positioned to leverage AI for substantial economic growth and job creation.

With nearly one billion people in Africa under the age of 35, and the continent projected to be home to almost half of the world’s youth population by the end of the century, Africa’s youth will constitute a significant portion of the future global workforce. Currently, up to 12 million young Africans enter the labour market annually, yet over 20 percent are not in employment, education, or training, according to the International Labour Organisation.

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Ravi Bhat, Chief Technology and Solutions Officer at Microsoft Africa, emphasised AI’s potential to transform work environments and create opportunities for youth. ‘Generative AI can foster job creation, innovation, and economic stability across the continent,’ Bhat said.

The whitepaper anticipates significant changes in knowledge worker jobs due to generative AI, altering the nature of work, required skills, and outputs. Research from McKinsey indicates that generative AI could boost labour productivity by up to 0.6 percent annually through 2040, depending on technology adoption rates and the effective redeployment of worker time.

Jacki O’Neill, Director at Microsoft Research Africa, noted, ‘Generative AI can advance human capabilities significantly. As more Africans gain access to these tools through internet-enabled devices and affordable data, opportunities for skill development increase.’

However, the benefits of generative AI extend beyond information workers. The technology promises to revolutionise industries such as agriculture, healthcare, and services. To harness this potential, it is crucial to equip the youth with the necessary skills for an AI-disrupted labour market, ensuring they are not left behind.

Skill development must span from deploying and using generative AI tools effectively at work to building innovative applications and conducting advanced research in fields like machine learning, natural language processing, human-computer interaction, cybersecurity, and systems design.

O’Neill added, ‘Investing in a broad range of skills will enable Africans to create dignified jobs, adapt AI to indigenous knowledge, and develop new value chains and better AI systems. These systems, reflecting human-centred and community values, can add global value and counter tech-centric models of automation and deskilling.’

Culturally and linguistically sensitive design can make generative AI more tailored to individual workers, learning from interactions and enhancing unique skills while respecting privacy. It can foster inclusivity and highlight the diverse abilities of African workers, serving as a community-focused tool supporting collaborative work and development.

For entrepreneurs, generative AI can assist in decision-making, risk assessment, and data analysis, empowering their ventures. In the informal sector, tailored AI tools can elevate entrepreneurial capabilities by providing customised assistance for their specific needs.

The whitepaper emphasises that ensuring a positive outcome with generative AI requires proactive governance, inclusive design, investment in education, and adherence to regulatory and ethical standards. This collective responsibility involves policymakers, technologists, and citizens working together.

‘Technology alone cannot solve the challenges our continent faces. We need policies and practices to ensure AI is deployed responsibly, valuing AI-related labour,’ Bhat said. ‘Our macro-economic, labour, and regulatory markets must adapt to support positive change.’

The AI revolution in Africa is already underway, and Microsoft is committed to collaborating with individuals, governments, partners, and stakeholders to prepare for a future where AI is integral to work and society in Africa.

To learn more, visit AI and the Future of Work in Africa to download the whitepaper.

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