Professor Bart Nnaji says the implications of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the workforce are of interest to every person in the world.

He stated this while delivering a speech on Artificial Intelligence and the Nigerian Workforce

Full Text…

Artificial Intelligence and the Nigerian Workforce Speech by Professor Bart Nnaji, CON, NNOM, FAS, FAEng, Founder & Chairman of Geometric Power group.

1. It is my pleasure to be in your midst today. The topic you have chosen for discussion is globally relevant because the implications of the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the workforce are of interest to every person in the world. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) is alive to its responsibility to its members and Nigerian society. I have always had strong emotional attachment to CIPM and similar bodies everywhere. My strong attachment to talent development owes to the fact no organisation or society make worthwhile progress without well-developed human resources, otherwise known in the modern world as talent. Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Israel are highly respected because of their high level of development. Yet they have practically no mineral resources.

2. What each of them has is an abundance of talent which has turned these places into wonders of history. The American Deputy Secretary of Treasury, Waly (Wale) Adeyemo, was in Nigeria in the middle of last month. During a major speech at Lagos Business School, he reminded us that our greatest asset as a nation is not the petroleum resources we have in considerable quantity or any other mineral. Our greatest resource, according to Waly, is our people. I am in total agreement. For Nigeria to make quantum progress that we desperately need, the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management has its job cut out for it. AI is one of the key strategies to adopt. AI is here for good or for ill.

3. Around the 24th of last Month, the global media reported how a group of young men in Spain between 11 and 14 years used AI to generate nude pictures of about 20 girls in the southwestern part between 11 and 17 years. The faces of the girls are real, but not the bodies. But the generated photos look so real that it is tough to recognise that these are not actually the bodies. These pictures generated an international furore, and raised a lot of ethical, legal, regulatory, emotional, and technical questions.

4. The development occurred in a village in southwestern Spain. In other words, location is not important in the use of AI. AI is software engineering. It is not constrained by space like manufacturing engineering which is carried out physically. The youngsters who perpetrated the act are underaged, and so the law can’t be used against them easily. The victims are innocent children who didn’t know that their pictures on the social media could be manipulated to harm them, at least emotionally. Of course, the pictures were obtained without their consent. This means that your own pictures and those of your friends, neighbours, associates, daughters, sons, cousins, etc, can easily be manipulated to bring you and these people into disrepute. Sometimes there is very little you can do about it, legally speaking, because the perpetrators are kids. Their parents and guardians may not always be blamed. They cannot be with them always and know what the children are doing. AI capabilities and development are available via the open source. Even the most protected Internet Protocols (IPs) are now falling apart. In a memo that leaked recently, Google lamented that ordinary people are flooding their supposedly well-guarded spaces with their own ideas.

5. Samsung has in the last few months been very careful in its AI application. A few months ago, it discovered that confidential information about its numerous customers and partners had gone viral. It was caused by an AI app. This accident reminds me of an accident in Brazil two years ago. A female senator, after a Zoom meeting with her colleagues, began to undress without knowing that her video camera was still on. Her unclad pictures went viral. Lessons here are twofold: Technology invades our privacy and all of us must be careful in its application.

6. There are a number of challenges with AI. Generative AI like ChatGPT (General Purpose Technology) is known for perpetrating stereotypes and biases. This is because the machines train on existing data. Extant data is full of bias. Bias is a serious matter in a world striving towards inclusion and social justice. Diversity, Equity and inclusion (DEI) is a powerful phenomenon in the world today. Against this background, AI researchers and developers are advised to follow the example of Mustafa Suleyman and his team at Inflection who have developed a Large Language Model (LLM) named Pi which is reported to be free of biases and stereotypes. It is also claimed that, unlike ChatGPT, Pi cannot be used to make to make bombs and other dangerous things. Some of you may be aware that I have been in the forefront of the campaign for the responsible development and use of AI. I have been advocating AI regulation and coordination on the international scene. It is good to see Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and some other persons involved in the AI industry share the same view.

7. You must have heard that students throughout the world now use ChatGPT to answer class questions. All they do is type the key words and prompt them on the computer. Behold, the answer appears! But this is plagiarism. ChatGPT can reproduce in seconds a perfect drawing of any of any sophisticated and complex work by Picasso or Michael Angelo or any other great artist. It can produce music or a video or an advert jingle in seconds. Just any creative work.

8. But don’t get carried away by the thinking that you can become the writer of a great novel through ChatGPT. Experts have pointed out that creative work by ChatGPT is always ordinary or regular. Good novels are always outstanding creative work, not the average or regular type. This means that to produce a great novel, you must break with tradition, with norms, rules, with the way everyone writes. ChatGPT, on the other hand, trains on existing work, on regular work that conforms to the status quo.

9. For those of you who want to use generative AI to do your academic work, I have news for you: the citations or references which ChatGPT generates are frequently not accurate! ChatGPT is notorious for wrong or non-existent references. So, be careful. Otherwise, you will be accused of academic fraud.

10. Still, AI is an indispensable tool. It is immensely useful. It is revolutionary. It helps to detect and prevent fraud. It does most things with precision and faster and cheaper. But it cannot take take the place of humans so much. In radiology where it performs wonders in analysis and detection, doctors are still needed. When you use ChatGPT in academic or research work, you need to crosscheck the data and information generated for you. A close friend recently typed his name and prompted it to find out what ChatGPT knew about him, it generated a lot of both accurate and inaccurate information. He corrected the errors which the machine accepted with an apology and thanks.

11. Many of you are afraid that AI will take your jobs away. Well, some jobs will go. Clerical and administrative jobs. These are routine jobs. Computers learn to do them better through repitive performance. That’s what is called machine learning. Some companies in the UK have have replaced their customer service teams with AI because it has over the period learnt to do the work faster. Therefore, it is advisable you upscale your skills. You need to reskill, whether you are doing a job easily replaceable by AI or not. As a recent study by Standford and MIT researchers has shown, AI does help organisational members retain their jobs! So, I urge you to reskill by learning how to use AI as a tool in task performance. Don’t be like typists, secretaries and clerks of the 1980s who refused to retool in the 1980s when the computer was becoming ubiquitous and consequently lost their jobs.

12. Nigeria must brace up for the impending AI revolution. The top leadership of the country must be very keen on AI so as to understand it. It is only when our leaders have a good understanding of what AI is that they that they can make the right policies, implement and monitor them properly. In China, which is competing well with the United States in the development and application of AI capabilities, President Xi is personally involved in the AI drive. Washington has taken a number of measures at the highest level like banning microchips from being exported to China because American leaders have a good understanding of IT matters. We have seen American leaders like the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of State make strong policy statements on AI. In fact, the American top leadership is taking AI so seriously that the State Department is mulling a policy enabling career diplomats to take years out of their office and learn technology development in IT organisations and still earn credits for the periods outside the Department of State. Such officers will enjoy incentives like rapid promotions. Other government departments and organisations are expected to take similar steps. The United States does not want China or any other country to narrow the competitive edge it enjoys in AI and other technologies.

13. China is assisted in its AI development by its people, including Chinese-owned firms, in different parts of the world. There are a lot of Nigerians in Silicon Valley and elsewhere who can help our country in this regard. The government should reach out to them. They must be incentivised. Patriotic sentiment is not enough in AI business. Nvidia, with Jaesen Huang (formerly from Taiwan) as a co-founder, recently developed a special chip to circumvent the American ban on chip exports to China. It made some five billion dollars ($5bn) in the first half of this year alone from the chip exports.

14. I am delighted that the Minister of Communication and Creative Economy is an IT expert recruited from abroad, regardless of his past political views. I was myself brought in 1993 from the University of Massachusetts where I was holding the position of Distinguished Professor of Industrial Engineering and Director of the Robotics and Automation Laboratory and made the Minister of Science and Technology, without regard to my political view as an activist Nigerian in the United States.

15. AI is driven by high computing, data and algorithm. Institutions which deal with these three things must be considered frontline development Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The Ministry of Communications and Creative Economy as well as the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Communications Commission and the National Agency for the Acquisition of Technology, among others, fall into this category. The Digital Bridge Institute which exists in only three places in Nigeria should be set up in each of the six geopolitical zones. Ours is a nation of over 200 million. The Digital Bridge Institute should be given pride of place the way the Indian government has accorded pride of place to the Indian Institutes of Technology. The IITs are a major contributor o India’s current amazing development, including in AI.

16. The IT curricula in Nigerian academic and professional institutions must be flexible and change with the rapidity of AI development. A month seems like a decade in the AI world. Constant training, retraining, learning, unlearning and relearning should be the way of life for Nigerian IT institutions and IT professionals. We must always bear in mind that solid and relevant education helps the global competitiveness of a nation. Following the American example, many nations prioritise Science, Technology, Engineering and Engineering (STEM) subjects to compete effectively in the future. There is a new realisation that STEM is not enough, so we now have STEM+E. Here E represents Entrepreneurship. This is thoughtful because you need STEM skills to develop, grow and sustain organisations, including basically science and engineering firms like NASA, Apple, ExxonMobil, AliBaba, etc. But mere entrepreneurial skills are not as good as the kind of knowledge and skills advocated for STEM professionals by Phillip Kotler, arguably the greatest marketing management scholar of all time. Kotler argues that STEM education must go hand-in-hand with reasonable education in economics and management. He, therefore, calls for good business and economics schools for nations which we want to do well in this century. We need in Nigeria not just more internationally recognised management schools like Lagos Business School but also excellent economics programmes in our institutions.

17. AI will create more global wealth. It will create more business and economic opportunities. When the digital revolution was emerging a few decades ago, it was feared that most people would lose their jobs and many businesses would suffer. A few lost their jobs and a few firms ran into a stormy weather. But it created far more jobs and businesses and prosperity. It even gave rise to new academic disciplines like computer engineering which is a major enabler of world development and an employer of labour. Prompt engineering, created by AI, may develop into a full academic discipline and employ a arge workforce. Economists right from the time of Adam Smith have always spoken of the Invisible Finger in the affairs of human beings. This is likely to be the case with AI.

18. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for listening. Let me hear your remarks and questions.

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