Will AI kill developing world growth?

Artificial intelligence could displace millions of jobs in the future, damaging growth in developing regions such as Africa, says Ian Goldin, professor of globalisation and development at Oxford University.

Optimists say that such places could use rapidly advancing AI systems to boost productivity and leapfrog ahead. But I am becoming increasingly concerned that AI will, in fact, block the traditional growth path by replacing low-wage jobs with robots.

As Kai-Fu Lee, a Beijing-based venture capitalist who invests in artificial intelligence, tells us, AI is potentially the most revolutionary technology to emerge this century. It is also, along with the associated technologies of machine learning and robotics, advancing at breakneck speed. In developed economies, for instance, robots have replaced well over half of the jobs in the car and related industries in recent decades.

A silver lining?
Is all lost? Perhaps not. New firms are emerging that aim to use AI to boost growth and productivity in developing economies. They are also allowing citizens to access education, health, employment and other opportunities.

One such company is M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer service, whose platform is used by more than 60% of Kenyans. M-Tiba, another Kenyan app, uses similar technology to deliver health services to more than four million people. Some experts believe that AI could yield the same disruptive benefits as mobile phone technology in the developing world, helping to overcome the absence of infrastructure that contributes to low incomes and stalled development.

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