The Current Divide
According to a 2017 report by the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), differences in economic development, literacy, schooling, education levels, as well as lack of English language proficiency, lack of access to ICT technologies and a lack of democratic institutions, are all factors contributing to widening the digital divide between Africa and other European and Asian countries.
"While considering digital economies and the impact of introducing AI in different industries, we have to be aware that there are parts of the world where people are still getting introduced to computers and smartphones,'' says Bogolo Kenewendo, Botswana’s Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry.
Similarly, Sudanese author, engineer and social activist Yasmin Abdel Magied, Leader of Tomorrow at the 48th St. Gallen Symposium, believes that the main problem lies in the world’s one-sided image of Africa. Because access to electricity, water and and internet services are widespread in Europe, Europeans take those things for granted, which changes the way they approach the problems facing many African countries.
"In Sudan, people barely have their basic needs covered. I think it is a shame that the mental energy of the West is mostly consumed by their focus on travelling to space and automating every aspect of life, while many Africans still struggle'', she says.
Roots of the Problem
When it comes to integrating AI technology into African countries, one concern is that people will not be trained sufficiently for doing high tech jobs. "This will result in more unemployment, which will eventually lead to higher rates of drug addiction and violent crimes,'' says Barclay Paul Okari, the Kenyan founder and CEO of Impact Africa Industries.
In Abdel Magied's opinion, this will cause a bigger social problem. In many African societies, men will be hardest hit by these hypothetical job losses. Because women tend to be more highly educated in many countries, this will eventually lead to serious social problems, potentially disrupting societal and family dynamics.
"It is important to think of our responsibilities towards people. We need to ask: Is it actually ethical to fully automate a certain factory? What is the point of a business if it is not going to develop a community? As an employer, I should choose to hire a human workforce, even if it would be more expensive, to contribute to creating more stability in the society,'' Abdel Magied says.