The data revealed that interest in AI has increased since last year by 31% and by 1,660% over the previous five years, making 2023 the most popular year yet for searches into the topic. Google’s research also revealed the top trending questions being asked about AI across Nigeria.
Google West Africa Director, Olumide Balogun, responded to some important questions about AI by defining it as a category of technology that can learn from its surroundings, experiences, and users. It is also a type of technology that can recognise patterns and predict outcomes more accurately than any other technology before it.
Balogun said AI models are trained and created by human engineers, who input data into the AI system to train it. Citing examples, he stated that in 2012, Google showed an AI model thousands of videos of cats on YouTube so that it could learn to recognise a cat. “Now, with technological advancements, we could give an AI model hundreds of books on animals to read, and, using those, it would be able to describe a cat to us on its own despite never having seen one,” he explained.
He claims that once AI systems have been trained, they are tested to see how well they work.
Balogun says that AI can be traced back to the early 1950s when British mathematician Alan Turing published a paper on “computing machinery and intelligence.”
Despite the fact that John McCarthy hosted the Dartmouth Summer Research Project in AI conference at Dartmouth College in 1956, the term “artificial intelligence” was not coined until that year. He claimed that this was what gave rise to the fundamental ideas behind AI.
Therefore, AI is not a novel concept; in fact, since the 1990s, AI research has been accelerating. Since 2015, Google has prioritised artificial intelligence.
However, the rate of AI development is accelerating as more homes have access to generative AI tools like chatbots or text-to-image generators, which has perhaps never happened before and has made AI a household word.
He asserts that AI has long been a crucial component of many everyday tools, such as Google Translate and antilock brakes in automobiles, but that its transformative potential is only now being fully realised.
Balogun said AI’s potential in sustainability is vast, stressing that in Africa, it’s about thriving industries that respect the rich biodiversity.
Regarding the use of AI, he said: “Consider AI as a tool that is been trained to learn from its surroundings, experiences, and people and that is really good at understanding patterns and making projections – better than any computer has ever been. When you put that ability to good use, you can use AI to do all sorts of amazing things: like helping doctors screen for and identify cancer, predicting and monitoring natural disasters, or helping businesses identify and reduce their carbon emissions.
“Without even realising it, you probably already employ AI frequently. But you can also use AI now to increase your productivity with experimental language tools like Bard, to translate even more languages on Google Translate, or to use Google Maps to find the most fuel-efficient route.
Google West Africa Director responded that AI is like any other technology in that it can be used for good or bad, depending on the user, and that it is not necessarily dangerous.
On the one hand, he said, it has amazing potential to be used in ways that are good for society, whether it is shielding people from spam and fraud, translating hundreds of additional languages, or forecasting floods up to seven days in advance. On the other hand, he said, it can also be used to amplify current societal issues, like misinformation and discrimination.
When asked if AI would eliminate jobs, Balogun responded, “As technology has advanced, so too has the labour market.
“This is not to dismiss the potential of AI, which is essentially the ‘third wave’ of digital technology following the internet and mobile phones.” It will be fantastic for people’s productivity and economic opportunity, but there will be some disruption. We will see a slew of new jobs emerge, but the most significant shift will be how many of our jobs will be aided by technology. AI will become a partner for many of us, helping us not just to make the repetitive tasks of our work more efficient, but also sparking creativity and enabling us to spend more time on the bits of our jobs that we love and that challenge us. We’re already working with people to help them learn how AI can help them.
“Through our Grow with Google programmes, we have trained over seven million people and helped bridge the gap in digital skills acquisition in Africa.
To foster this more, governments, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector can collaborate to implement similar schemes, ensuring that everyone benefits from AI.”