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Artificial intelligence (AI) may cause some job losses, but ultimately it will create opportunities, says futurist and technology entrepreneur Stafford Masie.

Masie, former Google SSA head, was speaking at the official launch of a new digital skills and careers expo for South African youth, MyFuture 4.0, in Johannesburg this week.

The expo, a first in South Africa, aims to assist local youths to prepare for a digital future in which a number of traditional jobs will fall away and new jobs emerge.

According to Masie there is no such thing as a technology company or a technology sector – the lowest common denominator of everything now, is technology.

“It’s clear there is an unleashing of technology, but it’s not something that is going to take over humanity. It’s not something we should be scared of. It’s something we should embrace. The promise it holds is quite incredible,” he said.

Artificial intelligence is a threat

While some jobs are being eradicated and threatened as a result of technology, he advised: “That’s ok, because the jobs a lot of people are doing today are not what humans should be doing. If a job is measured in efficiency and productivity, a machine will always outperform humans. Humans are meant for a higher purpose.”

Referring back to the agricultural revolution, he pointed out that automation had removed children from the workforce, taken people out of hard labour in the agricultural sector, and enabled more efficient food production.

“The efficiency introduced into the agricultural sector as a result of technology means that humans do things that cannot be measured in efficiency and productivity in that sector. We now do things that ‘waste time’- like scientific research and artistic expression. That expansion delivered more jobs in the agricultural ecosystem than ever before.”

AI will deliver benefits

The fourth industrial revolution, characterised by Artificial Intelligence, was likely to deliver similar benefits, he said.

“AI is plural – AI is not singular. It is not a thing; it is an orchestration of disparate species of intelligences. Next generation businesses will harness and orchestrate latent cognition,” he said.

“Uber, for example, orchestrates disparate instruments of cognition such as spatial awareness and payment systems to deliver on a particular function.”

Masie noted that technology has real impact when it is sensory, ubiquitous and no longer visible.

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The fourth industrial revolution

Industries are being redefined because solutions no longer have a visual user interface. “The future of jobs right now is in creating converged intelligent ecosystems. Don’t build beautiful mobile apps, talk about things that are sensory. The future of technology is when it disappears.”

Comparing the fourth industrial revolution to the changes wrought in the past by the advent and commoditisation of electricity, and the mainstreaming of the internal combustion engine, he said: “As much as we electrified in the past, today we ‘cognify’. We live in a world where it’s not about the automation of things, it’s about the intelligence in things.”

“Businesses are starting to realise that it is important to harness latent human capital on the outside of the business; symbiotically augmented by intelligences that are non-conscious, and delivering that relative to the core value of the business. That’s sustainability. We will only run out of work when we run out of problems to solve,” he said.

Also speaking at the launch event, a MyFuture 4.0 brand ambassador and computer science student, Anita Sese, said: “The future looks bright. In South Africa, we have many problems that need to be solved, so we need to stop being scared of AI and work together to [use it] and bring change to the world. We can do that by using our creativity – schools need to allow us to use our creativity as much as we can, because with creativity, uniqueness is guaranteed.”

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Hanli Goncalves, organiser of MyFuture 4.0 says research among South African youths has shown an alarming lack of impetus to enter careers in technology. “There is a clear need for more awareness in this space, so MyFuture 4.0 will serve to enlighten, empower and inspire youths to embrace digital technology in their future careers.”