Man and technology have interacted at different epochs of history to birth different inventions, most of which result in rivalries and suspicions between the inventors and the invented. Even in his crudest state, man was known to have always toyed with technology; using sharp flakes of stone as knives and larger unshaped stones used as hammers and anvils, striking stones to make fire, bending irons for farm tools. The Alchemists in China were said to have invented gunpowder as a result of their search for life-extending elixirs; using it to propel rockets attached to arrows! In a ride of successive discoveries, we have to welcome the age of machines; the after effect of the age of internet which also did not come to be without the platform and proliferation of computers in homes and the marketplace.
In 2017, AlphaGo artificial intelligence program was declared to be the world’s best go player by the time behind it. Go is a game with very simple rules but many possible positions. In 2016, AlphaGo had defeated Lee Sedol; nicknamed “The Strong Stone”. He was defeated by the computer program AlphaGo in a 1–4 series in March 2016. AlphaGo has since then improved proficiencies in the game by playing itself and was able to defeat the version that had defeated Lee, 100–0. Currently, AlphaGo’s mastery of the game cannot be matched by any human.
Garry Kasparov, the World’s chess champion, faced the first thinking machine, an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue twice. He won the first match played in Philadelphia in 1996 but was unbelievably defeated in the rematch at New York in 1997. It was a moment very difficult for Kasparov to believe. But, the moment’s surprise was not just limited to him; it was an upset for the entire world; curiosity and contentions with what a machine’s victory in a world class tournament of chess portends were rife. Many doubted the possibility of Deep Blue’s win if the comfort of the battleground was not skewed in its favour; it was considered extremely cold.
For decades, computer scientists consider chess game as guide to advancements in artificial intelligence. The victory of Deep Blue in the final game at New York was a metaphoric masterstroke that registers the age of machines; the reign of artificial intelligence. So much has happened since then that led to the victory of Alphago, and computers have since advanced more powerful. Thinking machines are now everywhere; with apps on our mobile phones that are way beyond the capacity of the Deep Blue.
In 1950, Alan Turing speculated about “thinking machines” that could reason at the level of a human being. He experimented with “Turing Test” which specifies that computers need to complete reasoning puzzles as well as humans in order to be thought of as “thinking” in an autonomous manner.
Today, Artificial Intelligence has become the technology that allows computers to do things that were once only in the domain of humans. AI is essentially a thinking machine. It thinks by learning and making deductions from the data available to it. While computers do calculations, AI can learn and draw conclusions. In its current design, AI is much more practical, more useful, and more impactful use and will continue to penetrate the marketplace. Computer invention closed the gap of rivalry between man and machines and even made it clearer. Currently, anxieties greet the looming infiltration of robotics and artificial intelligence with the belief that it would change the world, lead to human unemployment, or even rule man.
Artificial Intelligence is all about thinking machines. This raises anxieties and fear everywhere with many believing that the end is near when machines begin to think. When thinking computers arrived on the business scene, the anxieties are further heighten.
Whit Andrews, vice president and analyst at Gartner Research said “AI is the use of intricate logic or advanced analytical methods to perform simple tasks at greater scale in ways that mean we can do more at large scale with the workers we have, allowing them to focus on what humans are best at, like handling complex exceptions or demonstrating sympathy.”
Today, AI is becoming more pervasive and rapidly making its way into the workplace. Many leading organisations are already deploying solutions for business automations to reduce turnaround time and make business delivery consistent. The workforce therefore needs to learn and be innovative in their value addition to their organisations. Embracing technology gives room for people to learn new skills. Reports confirm that the demand for AI-enabled initiatives would continue to influence the society in the coming days. It is already in use in several sectors, particularly the financial service and marketing spheres. It has infiltrated customer care activities, staff recruitment and consumer insights and marketing and would further influence other business segments.
AI is helping to create the business of the future.
In Nigeria, some companies in manufacturing in fintechs are already adopting AI. Honeywell Flour Mills is investing heavily in the automation of its production line. Renmoney has taken advantage of AI and big data for an unprecedented customer insight so that it is able to assess and disburse loans much faster, deliver incredible and efficient customer experience. This has helped it expand its operations horizon.
Thankfully, the fear accompanying the penetration of AI has reduced with experts re-evaluating their perspective. Fact is, AI is not replacing jobs. It will rather result in a net job gain. According to PWC, “72% of business decision-makers consider AI as a key tool for allowing humans to focus on more meaningful work.” AI will eliminate certain types of job and create others; it will limit some functions, expand others and ultimately restructure some industries while realigning others.
To take advantage of the age of automation, Nigeria must embrace the Big Data. AI relies very much on data in order to learn. By Big data, we mean the massive sets of data that are now available and to all intents and purposes suited for this purpose.