Artificial intelligence (AI), a technology that many people once associated with a big black box that could beat you at chess, has rapidly evolved to become the next electronic frontier. One that promises unlimited potential in its application and reach, and a solution to many challenges facing the world today.
Globally, AI is on the rise. Gartner forecasts that worldwide AI software revenue will reach $62.5 billion in 2022, an increase of 21.3% from 2021. They predict the top five use case categories for the tech’s spending will be in knowledge management, virtual assistants, autonomous vehicles, digital workplace, and crowdsourced data. Multinationals such as IBM and Meta have already invested millions into constructing tech ecosystems that use AI to spur digital transformation for both consumer and business products. Closer to home, this technology has the potential to impact Kenya by attracting investment, encouraging innovation, offering new capabilities for business, and driving the digital economy forward with the right tools and infrastructure. There’s much to be gained.
We tend to think of AI as a broad science with a singular goal, driven by its initial definition of building intelligent computers that can mimic or ‘learn’ human intelligence. This is less the case today, because the science has been developed to extend beyond what we can consider ‘human intelligence’ to filter into more specific fields.
When exploring AI, it’s important to distinguish between machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL). While ML focuses on the use of data and algorithms for human-like learning, gradually improving accuracy while doing so, DL takes this a step further in the pursuit of solving more complex puzzles and problems. It is with DL innovations that we see opportunities in automation and raw data processing, with less dependency on human input to execute functions. With this understanding, we can apply AI to all sectors, from finance and consumer technology to commerce – and start to unleash its possibilities.
Dubbed the ‘Silicon Savanah’ for a reason, Kenya is home to one of the leading and most promising tech start-up ecosystems on the African continent. Bolstered by its number of Internet users and widespread mobile Internet connectivity, the country also shows globally recognised promise in its potential to adopt AI technology.
This is evident in the start-ups themselves, as several already apply AI-driven solutions and incorporate them into existing product and service offerings. For some, the technology serves as the most essential bedrock for their operations, giving them the means to operate in a multitude of sectors.
We see this in the likes of start-ups such as Craydel, an edtech that uses AI to offer a comprehensive search solution for education opportunities. Data comparison and analytics connect students and institutions, with the goal of delivering longstanding results and fulfilling career dreams and expectations. For tech start-up AIfluence, AI is the business itself. Offering an end-to-end solution for influencer marketing, the start-up deploys the technology as part of its campaigns and measurement systems, gathering audience insights to best identify and capitalise on individual tastes and trends. Also leading the charge is Ai Kenya, which aims to bring professionals together to increase the presence of AI in the country and in East Africa. As the presence of and expertise in AI grows in Kenya, so too does the need for the infrastructure to support it. This means providing direct Internet access, cloud server and hosting facilities, and up-to-date cybersecurity solutions to people and businesses.
Start-ups are leading the innovation charge in their respective fields, but AI is seeing a wider application in existing systems where it can be used to improve operations from the ground up and introduce new functions of its own. Whether this is in the form of chatbot technology, data analytics, or algorithmic learning, AI is here and adoption will continue to grow.
In 2021, AI was taken up in large-scale operations including banking and finance. African banks such as the Co-operative Bank of Kenya partnered with IBM to accelerate financial inclusion and fast-track digital transformation. Banking, as well as other sectors, stands to benefit from AI applications in client data collection and the integration of online and mobile communication channels.
We also saw AI enter consumer electronics when appliance giant LG launched a washing machine in the Kenyan market that uses AI to detect unique fabrics and optimise washing cycles to deliver clean clothes and ideal performance.
Most notably, we’re also seeing how AI can be used to automate and strengthen customer service. In ecommerce, Kenyan retail giant Jumia has deployed AI-driven solutions as part of its online shopping facilities. By November 2020, Jumia’s chatbot was responsible for almost half of all customer inquiries, significantly reducing their telephone costs. While a human element will always be essential for deploying and maintaining these innovations, we should expect AI to become more widespread and commonplace in the year to come.
And, with the stage set, Kenya is ready to embrace the next technological generation. AI has the potential to improve business operations, increase customer satisfaction, and drive economic growth in a digital-first world. As long as there is sufficient infrastructure to support its adoption, there’s no reason why AI shouldn’t impact Kenyan businesses in a positive and potent way.