Zenith Bank Tech Fair 2023: “We want Nigeria to be biggest destination for AI jobs” – Bosun Tijani

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Dr. Bosun Tijani

The Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani, has said that the Federal Government is gradually positioning Nigeria to become the biggest destination for Artificial Intelligence (AI) annotation and labelling jobs in the world.

He made this known in a speech titled “Disruptive Technology, Artificial Intelligence & Economic Growth” delivered at the Zenith Bank Tech Fair 2023 in Lagos on Wednesday.

“Within the AI ecosystem, there’s something called annotation and labelling. Even though these computers can do what they do, humans still need to teach them everything we want them to know. And this is something that requires a lot of labour.

“So, we want Nigeria to be the biggest destination for AI annotation and labelling in the world. And that’s why that job is being launched today and the government is promoting this significantly,” the minister said.

Tijani said that the issue of economic growth and development is important to every government across the world, particularly Nigeria’s.

“When we prioritise economic growth and development, businesses like Zenith Bank will do extremely well and when they do well, they not only create job opportunities but also add significant value to our society”.

The minister said prioritising economic growth also ensures that citizens have a better quality of life, and the government would be able to access resources required to help provide public goods and services.

He said that the traditional path to thinking economic growth involves increasing the factors of production – labour, land and capital.

However, Tijani stated that there is a limit to how one can increase the output got by merely just increasing these basic factors of production.

Quoting the Cobb-Douglas Production Function in the field of Economics, the minister said that if two countries go head-to-head, the one that prioritises “technical efficiency” would come out superior.

He disclosed that a key way of driving technical efficiency is the prioritisation of innovation and technology.

The minister said it was therefore no accident that Zenith Bank, which takes technology very seriously, is one of the leading banks in the country.

“In the startup world where I come from, we consider the Chairman (of Zenith Bank, Dr. Jim Ovia) a member of our ecosystem, because he has invested so much in the startup ecosystem. So it’s not by accident,” Tijani said.

He said that the management of Zenith Bank deserved commendation for their contribution to the Nigerian economy.

Tijani noted that the world has passed through four critical industrial revolutions over the years and only nations that prioritised technology and innovation have been able to benefit from these and prosper.

“If you look at the first industrial revolution, everything changed for humanity when we starting seeing mechanisation, steam power but also weaving/loom technology as well.

“If you look at countries like the US where these technologies were mainstream, it was a lot easier to move goods and services from one location to the other…Every part of the nation became exposed to opportunity for development.

“Those countries and continents that did not get the chance to participate in Industry 1.0 struggled,” the minister said.

According to Tijani, Industry 2.0 which led to mass production was also driven by technology, and it made goods plenty and cheaper.

He said Industry 3.0 brought automation and made nations more productive.

He said the world is in the era of Industry 4.0 which he described as “unique because this is the revolution that brings the cyber-physical systems into existence and humanity can do much more than we imagined.

“The technologies that are fuelling Industry 4.0 brings together the fusion of technologies that blur the line between physical and non-physical. It sounds futuristic but it is already where we are today.”

He said this is why wristwatches, phones and other gadgets can now be connected to the virtual world, which means one can do things in the present that can also link him to the future.

He identified three critical elements of Industry 4.0 as the velocity, scope and systemic impact that they bring.

“The scope is so wide that unlike the Third Industrial Revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution reaches and covers everything that we do as a people, whether you talk about education, transportation, agriculture or public health delivery.

“If this technology is able to permeate our lives, cover everything we do, the implication is that it has a significant chance of changing systems,”

He said that the Fourth Industrial revolution has provided unlimited access to knowledge, and the technologies are coming up in mobile devices, cloud computing, augmented reality and other areas.

Tijani added that these technologies have allowed the value chains of businesses to be a lot more integrated, digitisation of products and services, and bred digital business models and crossovers.

According to Tijani, artificial intelligence is the core and future of the technologies fuelling the Industry 4.0 revolution.

“The fact that we can now process significant amount of data like we’ve never been able to before means some machine can think for us much more than we can think and that’s what artificial intelligence is all about…It is simply teaching a machine to think like human.

“The best part about artificial intelligence is that it can process, store and use data the way we can’t.

“This means this phenomenon gives us a unique opportunity to do things that we’ve never been able to do before.

Tijani said, “As a nation, we can use AI to enhance productivity, we can start to think of smart infrastructure, which are infrastructure that we just don’t use but it collects data and teaches us how to make them better.

“We can use AI to create jobs. This afternoon, the first set of 100 Artificial Intelligence jobs in Nigeria is going to be launched in Ikorodu (Lagos). We expect to create more of those.

“There is a local startup that has created a company that is now hiring Nigerians to provide opportunities for them in Artificial Intelligence.  We can use AI to diversify our economy, and much more.

He said that since his appointment into office, he has prioritised Artificial Intelligence.

“And the first thing we did was to realise that we’ve not invested significantly in AI before I got into office, but we know for a certain that there’s absolutely no top academic institution in the world where you don’t have a Nigerian.

“So we gave AI the assignment to help us find them. We downloaded all the academic publications on Artificial Intelligence in the world.

“Then we use a library for Nigerian names to train the machine and say, ‘Sieve through these thousands of publications and find names that look like Nigerian names’ and we were able to find over 6,000 world-class researchers of Nigerian descent working in Artificial Intelligence.

“So this has been the foundation for what we are doing. Where we’re now reimagining the Artificial Intelligence strategy for Nigeria,” he said.

The minister said that while having clarity in terms of how this technology is going to help Nigeria to do better, “we’ve to protect Nigeria from the vices of AI.

“So that’s the first thing we did. The second thing we are doing, as I said, is building a global AI workforce from Nigeria, so my team and I were actively supporting any company that wants to prioritise creating AI jobs locally.  You can see that we have the expertise.

“Within the AI ecosystem, there’s something called annotation and labelling. Even though these computers can do what they do, humans still need to teach them everything we want them to know. And this is something that requires a lot of labour.

“So, we want Nigeria to be the biggest destination for AI annotation and labelling in the world. And that’s why that job is being launched today and government is promoting this significantly.”

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John is a University of Lagos-trained journalist who has read almost every novel written by Chinua Achebe, Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown. He's an expert Scrabble and draughts player who is also excellent at swimming.
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