The adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting job roles, but a balance must be found in focused, deliberate, and strategic regulation, according to Olufemi Adeagbo, Managing Director, Comnavig Limited. In this interview with Chinwe Michael, he talked about how AI will reshape jobs, not replace them.
With AI becoming the major thing in technology, can it replace jobs done by humans?
The short answer is yes. Only last month, Germany’s largest company SAP announced that they would be culling 8,000 jobs due to the increased adoption of AI as a business focus and efficiency enabler. SAP shares rose because of the news. However, I tend to see AI as a significant enabler in reformatting the fundamental dynamics of work as we know it. What do I mean by reformatting? It is simple. AI can enable repetitive, mundane, uninspiring, and suboptimal tasks to be abdicated by humans so that more focus and emphasis can be placed on jobs that truly drive productivity, are enjoyable, and deliver an improved quality of living for humans. To that extent, displacement will occur, but it can be turned into positive displacement with strategic planning and execution.
How do we strike a balance between embracing the efficiency of AI and preserving human value?
This is a very important point because ultimately human existence should be about the pursuit of happiness and qualitative existence. About endeavour and the joy of discovery. About relationships and laughter, and about living as a community with shared objectives. Individuals should also be able to explore all their interests within the confines of the law. The law exists to promote the ideals of normalcy. Unrestrained and unregulated AI can upend social order, decimate values, and disrupt political spaces, and even economies in very profound ways. Social media has done its bit and people are divided on whether the net gains justify the adverse aspects that have seen societies become more divided, zombified in many cases by fake news, and addicted now to all sorts of aberrative behaviour. AI is much more powerful, and a balance must be found in focused, deliberate, and strategic regulation.
In what ways has AI automation affected job roles and industries, and how can businesses adapt to these changes?
Those who have jobs as researchers are under pressure. Content creators are under pressure. Data entry, manufacturing, financial analysts, stock advisers, psychologists, and legal assistants compete with AI. Coders, cybersecurity specialists. I cannot think of any job role that AI can’t impact. Anything humans can do; AI can ultimately be purposed to do much better and at scale. The extent of impact and sustainability may be an issue to debate. Jobs that rely on repetitive and parameter-bound variables such as manufacturing, and logistics jobs will be impacted too. Robots do not fall sick, have emotional challenges, or demand pay increments. Their salary is an energy source and maintenance.
Of course, there is a CAPEX component to acquire and deploy these systems in the first place. This a factor we in Nigeria should be alive to because it could lead to exfiltration of currency value as we pay for AI solutions in dollars but earn naira revenues. Businesses need to truly grasp the factors that impact true cost and efficiency savings, rather than simply seek to transfer costs from one source of intelligence to another. When you watch production robots in an advanced car assembly, your mind boggles at the precision and non-stop activity, and the superiority over what humans could deliver.
Businesses are profit-driven, and their adaptation goals may be different from those of the government for example. Businesses seek efficiency and cost optimization even if it means cutting jobs. Governments want jobs to be created so these entities need to collaborate to find solutions. And urgently too.
Can you discuss specific examples of successful integration of AI in the workplace that have led to improved productivity and efficiency?
The military domain is one area where AI is being deployed. An interesting mix of AI, robotics, and machine learning has been woven into warfare. Intelligent drone systems able to make decisions based on numerous factors like facial recognition are in deployment in various theatres, with the potential for saving resources and lives to the party that deploys most effectively. But in terms of the conventional workplace, service delivery is an area of great interest.
Many deployments now exist in the customer management process, leveraging analytics, fulfilment, chatbots, and other intelligent components to affect customer service with minimal or no human intervention, and with extreme intelligence. An AI-based CRM system can use real and predictive analytics to anticipate requests, act upon them, and provide an interactive experience to a customer; effectively replacing humans. Also, as natural language processing gets better, the robotic sound disappears, and it can be almost impossible to distinguish between an AI tool and a human being. That’s truly transformational.
As AI continues to advance, there are concerns about job displacement. How can companies balance the implementation of AI technologies while ensuring job security for their employees?
Reformatting in sectors like agriculture and food can tap into market shifts. With changing lifestyles, let’s say out of the estimated N30 trillion Nigerians spend on feeding, they spend 10 percent of it outside their homes. This is a N3 trillion market share for fast food joints and restaurants etc. This opens opportunities for food entrepreneurs to spread out. This trend extends to the workplace, where staff roles may transform, enhancing revenue and efficiency. Job losses are inevitable, but retraining for emerging roles, like robot operators, can create opportunities in underserved sectors, fostering adaptation to modern demands.
What role do you see AI playing in enhancing skill development for workers preparing for the evolving job landscape?
By interrogating tools like Chat GPT, learning can occur if that is the motivation rather than delegating human rigour to the chatbox. Of course, AI introduces a whole new universe of learning methodologies, experiences, and capabilities that are simply transformational. To chart this course properly though, business and political leaders need to understand what AI is comprehensively. That Is the only way you can truly harness it for positive outcomes.
How can organisations foster a culture of continuous learning to help employees adapt to the evolving technological landscape, including AI integration?
To establish a deliberate AI skills adaptation framework for companies, preventing organic shifts to ensure competitiveness, ethical AI usage is paramount. To address potential issues, companies must implement policies preventing deep fakes, bias orchestration, and other unethical conduct in the workplace. The EU’s regulatory framework serves as a model, but each jurisdiction must tailor controls to its context and objectives. Striking a balance between harnessing AI’s power and preventing societal chaos is crucial for responsible and controlled AI deployment.
What challenges do you anticipate in the integration of AI into the workplace, and how can these challenges be surmounted to maximise the benefits of AI technology?
AI still needs to be carefully monitored. The Levidow, Levidow, and Oberman case is a point of reference. Layers relied on ChatGPT and took a brief that contained non-existent cases to court. Apart from being ridiculed, they were fined $5,000 each. Hallucinations are a problem with AI. Ensuring AI is doing what it should be doing is arguably the main challenge of integration. Another may be sabotaged by people who feel threatened. Once the culture of an organisation resists innovation, that innovation will likely fail to be optimal if it performs at all. We see this every day in the deployment of innovations that are not even AI-enriched.
AI tools can either spur better performance as they compete with humans or lend themselves as viable alternatives for some roles. AI can make employees cognitively lazier as everything is delegated to one AI tool or the other over time, or they can be leveraged to increase human output. Organisations must therefore be honest about their strategic direction to carry their people along. This culture and attitude evolution phase is foundational and more important, perhaps than upskilling to adapt.
As AI takes over routine and repetitive tasks, what skills do you believe will become increasingly valuable for employees to possess in the future job market? How can educational institutions and businesses collaborate to nurture these skills?
To ensure indispensable skills, prioritise protection, attitude, and competence. Embrace AI proficiency for responsible deployment. Foster adaptable mindsets and revamp education to include ‘Technology and Society’ as a core subject. Strengthen business-academia collaboration for societal development, emphasising technology optimisation in Nigeria’s development efforts.