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New Age of Artificial Intelligence and Nigeria’s Preparedness

The world is not only set to embrace the birth of a (disruptive) new era characterised by extraordinary scientific advances and supercomputing, but must equally be ready to wake up to its speed and scale; technology gives life the potential to flourish like never before, or to self-destruct! The creation, adoption, implementation and use of Artificial Intelligence are rapidly increasing around the world. Moreover, the rise of AI requires that attention be focused on the new phenomenon vis-à-vis its impacts on global society, more especially where safety, security and governance are concerned. In other words, the stately world of making law and policy is about to be disrupted and overtaken at great speed. For instance, smartphones have greatly influenced social lives, and to simplify what is about to happen in a layman’s language; the way we think, live, work, interact, and even the way we die (as humans) shall be redefined. Every aspect of human life and culture shall be disruptively affected.

Furthermore, in order not to deviate from the subject matter, it is pertinent to reference the fact that, in a similar fashion, history has it on record that an era was once disrupted by science, a breakthrough, which eventually led to the development of atomic bombs ultimately used against Japan in 1945. In the course of that transition, the concern of a certain renowned scientist, Albert Einstein, a notable in the field of modern physics was registered in a writing to Mr Franklin D. Roosevelt, the then American President in 1939 clearly stating that “the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy’’ and as such ‘‘extremely powerful bombs may thus be constructed.’’ Such was the unsurpassable power of nuclear weapons, that once the science behind them had been discovered, their development was unstoppable. Meaning, a race had begun in which it was imperative to be ahead. Therefore, in today’s equivalent of the dawn of nuclear science (which is, the rise of artificial intelligence), it is imperative to consider its impact and be ready for the inevitable changes this may engender.

Truth be told, AI is already making an impact in Africa, with various applications in fields such as healthcare, education, agriculture, and finance. However, the use of AI has yet to be widespread across the continent, and there are several challenges that need to be addressed to fully harness its potential. A major challenge is the lack of infrastructure and connectivity in many parts of Africa. Without reliable and affordable internet access, it is difficult to deploy and use AI solutions effectively. Additionally, there is a shortage of skilled AI professionals and a need to invest in education and training programmes to develop local talent. One other challenge is the ethical and social implications of AI, such as the potential for bias and discrimination in automated decision-making systems. Africa needs to establish legal frameworks and regulations to ensure that AI is used in a responsible and accountable manner, and that it is accessible and beneficial to all. Hence, Africa has the potential to benefit greatly from AI but there is a need to overcome several challenges such as; data scarcity and quality, skills and talent gap, limited access to technology, lack of funding, diversity of culture and language, to mention a few.

Nigeria stands a good chance to greatly benefit from AI, especially considering her population and the vastness of her resources, however, it is also imperative to bear in mind that the age of AI combines the promise of extraordinary scientific advances with risk of being an existential threat. Just like the nuclear age signalled by Einstein, AI will greatly influence war and geopolitics, it will change hundreds of millions of jobs beyond recognition and erupt a new social space in which humans will have to align their thinking intimately with that of machines. Moreover, it will transform democracy into technocracy in which technology will not only advance science beyond human dreams but will also determine everything. It might well provide the decisive breakthroughs in new forms of energy. Recently, a renowned US scientist, Eliezer Yudkowsky remarked, “ The AI does not love you, nor does it hate you, and you are made of atoms it can use for something else.’’ Hence, the questions remain; how can we be confronted with something very promising yet with potential to wreak havoc? How prepared is Africa’s most populous country, which is also said to be home to the world’s largest concentration of black race?

The main concern is not about the challenges around the effectiveness of AI, but how Nigeria will be able to mitigate its impacts and effectively manage her vulnerability, especially in her prevalent state of insecurity. As it is general knowledge that insecurity in Nigeria is a complex issue with various factors such as political instability, religious and ethnic tensions, organised crime, poverty, and corruption; expressed through terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, and communal clashes for years, leading to loss of lives and property. Hence, though the introduction of Artificial Intelligence could bring about numerous benefits to Nigeria, such as improving security and surveillance, enhancing healthcare, and driving economic growth, it could, however, also pose serious future challenges that Nigeria must address.

One of these challenges is the potential abuse of AI technology by criminals and terrorists, which could lead to more sophisticated attacks or crimes. For instance, AI-enabled tools like deepfakes could be used to deceive individuals or organisations. Another serious challenge is the possibility of job displacement, where AI could automate various jobs, leading to unemployment for millions of Nigerians. This situation could increase the social and economic challenges that Nigeria already faces.

Moreover, there are fears of biases or discrimination in AI systems, as their algorithms could replicate the existing societal prejudices and inequalities, leading to further marginalisation of certain groups. And in order to mitigate these challenges, Nigeria needs to invest heavily in AI research and development, establish regulations and policies that guide the ethical and responsible use of AI, promote AI education and training, and create more job opportunities that align with the emerging AI industry.

Therefore, this is not a concern for only Nigeria and the rest of Africa, but it should also be a real concern for the entire global community, for obvious reasons. Since the new era of AI cannot be slowed down, developed economies and their allies advancing the cause of AI should also consider its effective management, especially in other climes.

 The era of AI may be likened to climate change, which is now a global concern. In other words, the effect of AI cannot be eschewed by fortifying the boundaries of countries, either by introducing more military presence or through increased security automation. Otherwise, how are they getting ahead of this in terms of ‘preparedness’ since AI could become the tool of surveillance, influence and control for dictatorships? Therefore, the burden of responsibility lies solely on all and sundry.

With the current socio-political state of affairs in Nigeria, for instance, there is no indication that the country is ready, or rather, prepared for the new era of AI. The readiness of Nigeria for the new dispensation of AI shall depend on the willingness and ability of the government, businesses, and communities to embrace and leverage this technology for the common good.

Source : PUNCH