The rise of artificial intelligence, matters of cybersecurity, and the course of humanity


I WAS fortunate to be amongst the delegates at the Finnovex Southern Africa conference in Fourways, Johannesburg, two weeks ago. I must say, I was amazed by the illuminating insights that sprang out of the two-day sessions.

The summit, put together by Exibex, a management consulting company headquartered in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, was entirely focused on financial services innovation – what is today called – in short – fintech. The topics by various banking professionals ranged from payments systems, to blockchain and digital currency, to artificial intelligence (AI), to cybersecurity, regulation and compliances, and so much more that defines and drives financial innovation today.

On today’s matters of technology, I’m transfixed by trends in AI and cybersecurity. How these two spheres of technology shape, and will shape our human society in the upcoming decades and centuries. As a practitioner in the intersections of technology and social sciences, the implications of AI, and matters of cybersecurity, all lie within the perimeters of my concerns.

Questions ignited by AI

Questions abound on how AI will shape the course of human future. Dr. Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State has explored these questions twice in The Atlantic. In his essay titled “How The Enlightenment Ends” published in June last year, and his recent he authored with Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher, titled “The Metamorphosis”.

Where will AI be in five years? What will be the impact on human cognition generally? What is the role of ethics in this process, which consists in essence of the acceleration of choices? These are a few of the questions Dr. Kissinger has asked.

The other questions that people ask are largely centered on how the rise of AI will impact jobs and job creation around the globe. This jobs aspect of AI seems to be dominating the dialogue globally. And at the Finnovex Summit, Rajal Vaidya, chief risk officer at Barclays Africa Group Limited advised the audience on the magnitude at which AI will impact jobs over the next decade, or decades.

On jobs and job creation in an age of rising robotics, I’m amongst those who posit an optimistic outlook for world’s humanity. As AI revolutionizes industries around the globe, the intelligent, astute, genius human society, will respond and adapt to this change as it has always responded to the extraordinary technological changes over the past thousands of years.

One of my favorite, famed investors, Ruchir Sharma, author and chief global investment strategist at New York’s Morgan Stanley, gets the puzzles of the rise of robotics and jobs right.

Sharma says “AI is coming now to augment, in terms of what the human capability already is, not to replace it”. He further argues that in this age of AI, the unemployment rates across the world are at multi-decades low. I think this is a powerful argument by Ruchir.

Of course the speed of the response and adaptation of AI will vary across the earth. The developed world – North America, Western Europe, rich countries of the Middle East and Asia – will adapt speedily – in contrast to poorer regions such as Africa, South America and some countries in South East Asia.

Our Africa is still heavily reliant on natural resources and agriculture. We are starting at a low base of about $500 GDP per capita. We will surely have a rough journey towards automation and robotics.

This continent will hit a severe pothole before it smoothly adapts to AI; at least in my view. With dictatorships, lack of cleaner governance, anti-growth policies, still prevalent across the region, the rise of AI finds, or will find Africans ill-prepared.

Cybersecurity: A matter multinational

As someone curious about the course of global security, sessions related to cybersecurity kept me stuck on my seat at Finnovex summit.

Cyber-hacking is real, terrifying and maybe catastrophic. Given the degree of this threat, politicians, businessmen, journalists, tech geeks, all asks two fundamental questions: What are the security mechanisms that must be put in place to mitigate against the risks associated with cyber-attacks and hacking? What global platforms can be utilized to engage and collaborate against this troubling matter that is multinational?

When it comes to partnerships on the intricacies of cybersecurity, the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, has shrewdly said, “There is politics involved, there is technology involved. And sometimes the politics or the business makes it so that the best technology doesn’t win.”

Cyber threats and security will sure reshape the nature of international relations. The challenges echoed by Prime Minister Lee, will need to be overcome. This will take a great deal of collaborative work between business, civic organizations, and states.

I’ll be frank, the Finnovex conference never fully answered the fundamental questions I have raised above. In fact it never did by far. But it did, wonderfully, reignite my thoughts about these two crucial technological trends that are already shaping the course of humanity.

Kissinger, Schmidt and Huttenlocher are right that AI is changing human knowledge, perception, and reality—and, in so doing, changing the course of human history. I would argue that the same can be said about matters of cybersecurity.

We are living in a rising, fast-paced technological world. So much needs to be done to exploit the technological opportunities, and confront the challenges that face us. The hard work begins now. PM


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