Preparing the world for artificial intelligence
Stephen Ndegwa


Editor's note: Stephen Ndegwa is a Nairobi-based communication expert, lecturer-scholar at the United States International University-Africa, author and international affairs columnist. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Hosting the 2021 World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai fit in well with China's ambition to become the leading AI innovation center by 2030. Already, it has overtaken the U.S. in AI medical innovations which, according to an article published in on July 9, is "an opportunity to improve medical care, free up doctors' time and relieve the pressure that aging populations are putting on healthcare systems."

Online business consultancy iResearch says China's AI health market is expected to reach $10.7 billion in 2022, three times more than the 2018 revenues.

According to the World Economic Forum's annual Sustainable Development Impact Summit held virtually in September 2020, AI systems are useful in tackling the greatest challenges facing humanity, including climate change, COVID-19 and world hunger. Interestingly, it has taken the COVID-19 pandemic for the world to realize the potential of AI and increase its uptake.

AI will become more crucial with the emergence of the space age. It will be possible to send unmanned space ships and rockets further than the current limits and have robots live like humans, storing and sending data back to Earth for analysis. What we do with that information is a different matter altogether!

With the exception of techies, AI is yet to be fully or even properly understood. Few people are prepared for what AI portends for their future, both individually and collectively. This is unfortunate because AI by its nature is a program that rivals, if not mimics, human nature and actions. In actual fact, it is a recreation of a person's mind in machine form.

With such far-reaching implications on life itself, ignorance about AI is not an option. In the next few decades, AI will be an everyday reality for much of the world's population, encompassing health, education and transport to consumption, entertainment and even spiritualism. Indeed, the Shanghai conference was aimed at promoting global exchange and cooperation, and enhancing the common welfare of humanity.

AI should be about how well technology can make life easier and more convenient for the 7.7 billion people currently living on the globe and for future generations, a pertinent issue that arose on July 11, World Population Day. According to the United Nations, an estimated 66 percent of the world's population will be living in cities by 2050 and will be in dire need of essential services.



Successfully meeting these needs will need additional intelligence to tackle the accompanying challenges for the widest number of people possible. Security is a huge one, with AI helping to deter, fight and solve incidents of crime. The flipside of this convenience, according to critics, is stripping people of their privacy, not only because of constant surveillance in public spaces, but also through the use of personal digital equipment.

There are also widespread fears that AI will be a negative force, gradually taking over human labor, thus denying millions, if not billions, their livelihoods. Already, robots are being used in several sectors of the service industry, leading to "excess" labor layoffs.

Since some of these fears are valid, it behooves AI players to allay them and clearly spell out the cost benefits of deploying these technologies in almost all spheres of our lives. They also need to debunk the myths associated with machines, like the belief that machines may take a life of their own and mess up the human race. There have been several Hollywood movies depicting this specter. Ironically, according to the scripts, it takes human intelligence to conquer AI's malevolence and restore normalcy.  

As AI becomes commonplace, it will put a strain on data analysis and protection services because of the vast amounts of data that need to be processed every second. Which means that the amount of investment needed for AI services to run efficiently will be daunting. This will further widen the digital gap between the developed and the developing world, with the latter's current priorities already overwhelming.

Ultimately, the move toward AI also needs a cultural paradigm shift, behavior change and setting ethical standards on the boundaries of its uses and what recourse victims of AI use or abuse have to justice.

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