Contrary to widely held fears that the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to massive job losses globally, a Nigerian AI expert has stated that the fears are exaggerated.
Professor Bart Nnaji, Nigeria’s former Minister of Science and former Distinguished Professor of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts where he was also the Director of the Robotics and Automation Laboratory, told participants in the 2023 Annual Public Service Lecture of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) Thursday that those who are likely to be affected adversely by the impending AI Revolution are “those who do clerical and administrative jobs and perform other repetitive tasks that generative AI can do better and faster”.
Customer service teams will also be affected, according to Nnaji, who was also the Minister of Power for one year under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, citing the example of the United Kingdom where some companies have already replaced their customer service teams with generative AI without reports of decline in service quality.
Nnaji argued that AI will increase productivity and help many workers retain their jobs, as discovered in a recent study by a team of Standford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers in the United States.
“Those who regularly train, retrain, learn, unlearn, and relearn, given the rapidity of generative AI developments, which would seem to make a month look like an eternity in the new brave world, will be critically needed talent”, he remarked.
He stated that talent will be needed in all fields because AI is a tool and not a human.
“Even in radiology where AI is performing wonders in clinical analysis”, he noted, “medical doctors are still needed”.
He cautioned academics and other researchers on overreliance on large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT because they are prone to error.
“Many references by ChatGPT have been found to be either incorrect or non-existent, which could lead to charges of academic fraud against those who rely on the models unduly”, saying that “imperfections of AI technology underscore the need for talent, that is, a knowledgeable and skilled workforce in every organisation”.
Nnaji observed that despite such lapses in generative AI as the perpetration of bias and stereotypes because the digital systems train on existing data to generate information, AI has “become a most important and indispensable part of our work in the private and public sectors”.
He called on the Nigerian government to help create an AI culture in the country so that Nigeria can become a significant player in this field.
He said that the nation’s top leadership must go out of its way to understand AI so that it can make the right policies.
He gave the example of China where President X Jinping is personally involved in the AI drive, noting that American cabinet members like the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of State make policy statements on AI because they have a good understanding of what it means.
The former minister, who was also the Director of the United States National Science Foundation-endowed e-Design Centre for Excellence, stated that the United States government placed a ban on chip exports to China because Washington does not want to lose its AI competitive edge to China or any other country.
“The United States is acutely aware of the enormous military and economic implications for the American people”, he added.
He revealed to the audience that the United States Department of State is considering sending its career diplomats to leading technology firms to understudy for years the technical aspects of modern technology and diplomats who undergo the study will be given priority attention in promotions, among other incentives.
Other government departments and agencies are likely to follow in this footsteps, he said.
Recalling the comment made by the United States Deputy Secretary of Treasury, Waly Adeyemo, during his recent visit to Lagos Business School that “Nigeria’s greatest asset is not in its petroleum resources or any other mineral but in human beings”, Nnaji called on the government to regard the Ministry of Communication and Creative Economy as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Communication Commission and the National Agency for the Acquisition of Technology as frontline development Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
He lauded President Bola Tinubu for appointing Dr. Bosun Tijani the Minister of Communication and Creative Economy regardless of his previous political views, saying that he himself was appointed the Minister of Science and Technology in 1993 without regard to his political activism in the United States.
“Dr. Tijani has a rich experience in cutting-edge technology in Europe and the United States”, he declared.
Among participants in the CIPM public lecture which was delivered online were the immediate past CIPM governing Council chairman, Adewale Adediran, and the current council vice chairman, Henry Uruakpor.