Artificial Intelligence and the future of jobs in Zimbabwe

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Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, which are large language models able to process huge data, were available for wider public use, raising widespread curiosity and debate.

The emergence of these generative AI tools, capable of creating text, images, music and even voices reignited the old debate on the concerns over job security, particularly in creative and technical fields.

One of the primary concerns surrounding the rise of AI is the potential loss of jobs to automation.

I recently participated in a workshop where the conversation centred on the ubiquity of AI and how its widespread deployment could impact the future of work.

There was general concern that AI would take over more jobs traditionally done by humans.

While this is a genuine concern coming from most professions, this signals the need for a skills shift.

Studies paint a mixed picture.

A 2023 report by McKinsey & Company estimates that machine learning, AI and advanced robotics could lead to the loss of 3.3 million existing jobs in South Africa by 2030.

The report also projects that some 4,5 million jobs would be created, causing a net gain of 1,2 million new employment opportunities.

In a 2019 report, the African Development Bank (ADB) projected that some 100 million youths on the continent would not be able to find any new jobs by 2030, with technological factors cited among the causes of the scarcity.

Then a World Economic Forum survey published on April 30, 2023 estimated that some 14 million jobs would be lost globally by 2027.

This complex scenario highlights the double-edged sword that AI presents for the workforce, offering both threats and opportunities.

While new jobs emerge, others are automated, leaving workers feeling insecure and fearful about their future.

This fear can be particularly acute in developing economies already grappling with high unemployment rates, further fuelling social unrest and economic instability.

It is hard to know exactly how AI will ultimately impact the future, but we can prepare for it by equipping ourselves to adapt and thrive in this changing environment by focusing on understanding how this new technology is utilised in one’s field and leveraging on it to stay relevant.

Upskilling and reskilling are crucial. Job security, in essence, is a by-product of skills security, achievable through acquiring and adapting skills amid the rise in automation.

Imagine AI streamlining healthcare delivery in rural areas, optimising agricultural yields or fostering financial inclusion.

These applications can create new jobs in areas like data analysis, maintenance and ethical oversight.

Equipping the workforce with digital literacy and critical thinking skills will be crucial.

Educational institutions and businesses must work together to bridge the digital divide and prepare individuals for the evolving job market.

Zimbabwe’s young population can be a driving force for AI-powered startups. Governments and investors can encourage this entrepreneurial spirit by fostering innovation hubs and providing access to resources.

We also need to extend our focus to professions of individuals who are highly skilled in interacting with other people.

That requires a resilient mindset, critical thinking, curiosity, adaptability, flexibility, creativity, collaboration and interpersonal skills.

Those are core human abilities that are more relevant than ever in the age of AI because those qualities cannot be replaced by machines.

The conversation about AI and jobs is not just about statistics; it is about people, their aspirations and the future of the continent.

By addressing these concerns head-on and embracing a human-centred approach to AI, we can ensure that technology works for everyone, fostering a future where innovation flourishes alongside social progress.

As a socio-technology deeply impacting our social fabric, AI demands careful consideration from wider and more diverse voices like linguists, historians, philosophers, artists and civil society actors to expand the discourse beyond the dominant technological lenses.

By proactively embracing AI while addressing its challenges, Zimbabwe can shape a future where technology is viewed as an empowering agent.

Collaboration and investment in human capital, and a focus on ethical deployment will be key in navigating this exciting, yet complex transformation.

Bridget Chipungu-Chimbga is an AI lead researcher at AI-RISE and a telecom engineer. She is passionate about the intersection of technology and society. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn @BridgetChimbga or via email at or by phone on +263772566664.