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Strive Masiyiwa’s Dismissive Language On The Impact Of AI Is Reckless

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Strive Masiyiwa

I must first point out that I don’t think Strive Masiyiwa literally meant that the issue of AI changing the jobs market significantly is nonsense. However, he wrote it that way, most probably in an attempt to make his language colourful. That is the point though: a person in as influential a position as he is particularly as a tech entrepreneur, must be careful to always say what he means and mean what he says.

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Masiyiwa wrote on his Facebook blog:

Don’t listen to all this nonsense about AI taking people’s jobs! Hundreds of millions of new types of jobs will be created, just like with other every technology before. AI is the the biggest technology we have ever had:; it bigger than all those technologies put together.

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Emphasis is Techzim writers’s

Not so simple an issue

Strive Masiyiwa is both 80% right and 100% wrong. Yes there is probably going to be a net increase of jobs due to AI and other tech trends. However, this is in the long term horizon. The immediate and medium term period is not going to be easy.

The impact of technology is already being felt in job markets around the world including in Africa. Bank branches for example are closing down to give a cliche example. Standard Bank in South Africa is closing down more than 90 branches and a lot of families affected would not describe this development as nonsense.

Previous comparable changes tell the story

The industrial revolution that happened in Great Britain and other parts of the Western hemisphere in the late nineteenth century is quite telling. We owe a lot of our modern day comforts and standard of living to this epoch. However, none of us would have wanted to live at that time in that part of the world.

The change was brutal. Machines were taking over in the factories and with that transition, the gap between the haves and have nots widened. New skills were needed but people could not acquire them fast enough. Even so, the new jobs introduced on the market could not compare to the number of jobs that were being lost. Those massive economic and social changes contributed to the quest to conquer and colonise other parts of the world.

This is not too dissimilar to the current shifts within the so called 4th industrial revolution. This time even the esteemed ‘white collar’ jobs are being made redundant. The changes are occurring all across the globe including developed countries.

Let’s use one of the most important class of jobs in the USA as an example: truck driving. The American Trucking Association estimates that there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the US and that the whole industry has about 8.7 million people meaning one in every 15 workers in America is in the trucking business. At the moment there is even a shortage of drivers! They need 90 000 drivers a year for the next 10 years… or so they think…

Now self driving car technology has advanced so much that such cars are already on the road. How can the US economy absorb one in every fifteen workers as technology creeps in to take over those jobs? Mind you, workers from other diverse fields will also be facing the exact same predicament. Now consider our local economies here in Africa…

So yes Strive Masiyiwa is right that there will probably be a net increase in jobs but this is not immediate and there is going to be a generations that will live through a very harsh world before that happens.

The issue of acquisition of new skills that Masiyiwa glossed over is not as trivial as that. How do you re-orient such a huge percentage of the workforce in a short period of time? It’s easy to say, “hey people need to acquire new skills,” but this is not as easy. It’s useful that Masiyiwa is doing his bit with Muzinda as he mentions in the same post. However, this doesn’t mean he is right to tell you and I to not even listen to this conversation. Actually, we need to be participating in this conversation more.

AI and the broader tech trends are bringing such intricate impact that it took Mark Zuckerberg and Yuval Noah Harari more than 90 minutes discussing some of the issues and at the end of it Mark Zuckerberg could still not understand what Harari was saying.

Why Masiyiwa’s language is reckless

First, the issue of changes in the job market should not be treated with dismissive language ever, especially by people we generally consider to know the issues. We are in a situation where the politicians who are leading our nation states have no idea the impact tech is having on the availability and nature of employment.

These politicians need to be guided so they lead an agenda that prepares us for the imminent future. Some of them are so scared that extreme nationalism is on the rise across the world. Countries are building literal walls around themselves in a bid to preserve employment for their nationals.

Some politicians have an appreciation of the massive changes happening and they are looking at ‘those who know’ like Strive Masiyiwa to measure it out for them. This is why Strive has to be very careful.

Secondly, Strive Masiyiwa’s Facebook page is followed by millions of people mostly young Africans who look up to him and treat everything he says as absolute gospel. It will be disastrous if some of these young folks take his words out of context and thus do not engage in this important conversation let alone prepare themselves for the changes. The man actually said: do not (even) listen (to this conversation at all).

Third: that tech is introducing better jobs is not necessarily true especially in the immediate term. Right now there is a global debate about how to introduce safety nets in the gig economy dominated by companies/services like Uber or in Masiyiwa and Zimbabwe’s case: Vaya. These jobs do not have benefits normally associated with the traditional jobs they are removing like health cover etc.

Lastly, times of change are highly volatile times. Change is not very easy for a lot of people to process. Just think about the widespread burning of Uber cars when the service entered the South African market. The language that leaders use should be accommodative of the high paranoia that change introduces instead of being dismissive of it.

I sincerely believe Strive Masiyiwa did not mean to communicate negatively on this issue. Nevertheless, he may have. Unfortunately, carrying the level of important influence such as he does also means the burden of zero privilege in saying anything, anyhow.


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12 thoughts on “Strive Masiyiwa’s Dismissive Language On The Impact Of AI Is Reckless

  1. I sincerely do not see the recklessness part here. He’s saying us to move with and embrace technology. That is very fair and realistic in my world. When all production is done by machines and AI at some future time, why would a person really need to have job in the first place?

    I’m sure you have not considered a universal living wage income paid to all citizens from taxing the production and economic activities of the machines that take our rather boring jobs, for the most part. People will then have more time to pursue interests that really resonate with their abilities and hearts. People will live more fulfilling lives with machines slaving it out for us. You’ll draw, do sport, research, write and be creative to the best of your abilities without ever having the need to really work just to survive. Machines will make this world a better place.

    The change will be gradual as well. Technology has brought us self driving electric vehicles that need no driver’s license to operate. But go to any VID depot near you today you’ll see people still trying to pass the provisional driver’s license, or using fossil fuel powered cars with MANUAL controls. Yes manual gears, not even automatic. Yet the technology is there in affordable Teslas that resale for US$35 000 only. This tells me that even the most revolutionary changes in technology will not necessarily leave a great many people inconvenienced by joblessness.

    1. Hey Richard. Actually your points about what you foresee as the future of work prove my point! There is no doubt there is a mjor shifty happening and thus it cannot be treated as nonsense.

      To be clear, I do not agree with the state of utopia you described there BUT taht’s the point. We need to discuss and debate this and prepare for what’s already here. Even if utopia is what’s coming, the transition to it will not be easy.

      I think history proves your point about the changes being gradual to be wrong. It always is nothing until it suddenly is manifest. Case in point: the industrial revolution itself.

        1. Hi inm@n

          Your comment there is interesting. I have an article to recommend:

          John McCarthy, the guy who coined the term artificial intelligence beautifully described how what we call artificial intelligence keeps changing. It’s a destination that is never reached because what we used to call artificial intelligence a few years ago is now general computing. Once a tsk (for example playing chess) that a computer does is now routine and taken for granted, it ceases to be thought of as artificial intelligence.

          Here’s the article you may like: https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2012/1/144824-artificial-intelligence-past-and-future/fulltext

          1. You correlated artificial intelligence to the loss of jobs, citing digital banking.

            That is simply wrong.

            Digitisation, which has led to bank shut downs, and artificial intelligence are not synonymous.

            1. The article I shred tries to explore the very thing you are saying. The broadest definition of artificial intelligence is computers doing what humans do

              This is the actual one I wanted to share: https://stratechery.com/2017/the-arrival-of-artificial-intelligence/

              Even so though tinm@n, trivializing the impact of AI under the strictest definition of AI (artificial general intelligence) on the job market is not a good thing. Take for example the significance of the truck driving profession I gave as an example above

  2. Interesting article and replies on AI. AI is were computers mimic human activities or human brains. If we replace banking activities that’s were done by clerks with computers that’s AI i.e. replacing withdrawal or opening accounts with computers. The moment we use computers to drive cars, cook Sadza, etc that’s AI. That’s how I understand AI, anything that mimic human behaviour or animals…. machines that simulate human/animal intelligence or behaviour.

    Every technological revolution means that there will be a shift in employment. Others will loss jobs on the other side we create jobs. As Zimbabwean being educated as we are we shouldn’t cry on lossing jobs but we should embrace change every 10 years. Every sector is being affected by computing or AI or whatever we might call it, banking and finance, agriculture, secretaries etc.

    Eng Strive Masiyiwa is trying to close the gap of Africa by being ahead of these evolutions in the computing industry. Those who thinks ahead, they always be ahead in the industry or those who dwell on past successes they will always be left behind. I always preaches this gospel to the younger generations and my colleagues at work and communities, that we should move with time. We should learn to adapt and move with modern trends. Acquire new modern skill everyday like programming, digital marketing for sales & marketing personal.

    Look at India they have embraced AI and any other advancements in technology. We should acquire the same skills as soon as possible otherwise we will be left behind as a country. We can’t stop unemployment but individuals can make themselves marketable by acquiring new modern skills. What I like about AI anyone can be taught programming from 5 years as highlighted by Strive. These skills can be acquired within a year and become professional. Programming can be applied in any sector in Zimbabwe to any profession be it police, city council, vendors, medical field etc. So we shouldn’t cry or worry about unemployment our worry is that we have fewer Zimbabweans who are embracing programming or AI.

    In every evolution we create new types of employment, if Zimbabweans embraces AI then we should train more programmers and more teachers, lecturers in that field. The same applies to areas that are associated with AI; networking, communication related projects – fibre and WiFi services, cloud computing, manufactures of computers, smart phones, manufacturers of all raw materials of all these created industries. Let’s move with modern trends that’s all we need.

    I conclude by saying Strive is right, he is leading us in the right path. If we think like Kodak or Nokia then we are doomed, look at recording industries viynl records then cassettes then CDs then flashes and external hard drives right now we have cloud computing tomorrow we will have something amazing. Japan is a leading country in AI but they don’t worry about unemployment because each evolution will create more employment down stream. Our worry as a country is to became a leader in new technologies and advancement like AI, so that any country that needs a certain service will come to Zimbabwe that’s how we should do things here.

  3. Interesting article and replies on AI. AI is were computers mimic or simulate human activities or human& animal intelligence or behaviour. The moment we use computers to drive cars, cook Sadza, etc that’s AI. That’s how I understand AI.

    Every technological revolution means that there will be a shift in employment. Others will loss jobs on the other side we create jobs. As Zimbabwean being educated as we are we shouldn’t cry on lossing jobs but we should embrace change every 10 years. Every sector is being affected by computing or AI or whatever we might call it, banking and finance, agriculture, secretaries etc.

    Eng Strive Masiyiwa is trying to close the gap of Africa by being ahead of these evolutions in the computing industry. Those who thinks ahead, they always be ahead in the industry or those who dwell on past successes they will always be left behind. I always preaches this gospel to the younger generations and my colleagues at work and communities, that we should move with time. We should learn to adapt and move with modern trends. Acquire new modern skill everyday like programming, digital marketing for sales & marketing personal.

    Look at India they have embraced AI and any other advancements in technology. We should acquire the same skills as soon as possible otherwise we will be left behind as a country. We can’t stop unemployment but individuals can make themselves marketable by acquiring new modern skills. What I like about AI anyone can be taught programming from 5 years as highlighted by Strive. These skills can be acquired within a year and become professional. Programming can be applied in any sector in Zimbabwe to any profession be it police, city council, vendors, medical field etc. So we shouldn’t cry or worry about unemployment our worry is that we have fewer Zimbabweans who are embracing programming or AI.

    In every evolution we create new types of employment, if Zimbabweans embraces AI then we should train more programmers and more teachers, lecturers in that field. The same applies to areas that are associated with AI; networking, communication related projects – fibre and WiFi services, cloud computing, manufactures of computers, smart phones, manufacturers of all raw materials of all these created industries. Let’s move with modern trends that’s all we need.

    I conclude by saying Strive is right, he is leading us in the right path. If we think like Kodak or Nokia then we are doomed, look at recording industries viynl records then cassettes then CDs then flashes and external hard drives right now we have cloud computing tomorrow we will have something amazing. Japan is a leading country in AI but they don’t worry about unemployment because each evolution will create more employment down stream. Our worry as a country is to became a leader in new technologies and advancement like AI, so that any country that needs a certain service will come to Zimbabwe that’s how we should do things here.

  4. Ver interesting points, resistance to change is exactly what happended to the Dinosaur and Dodo, we should be encouraging the next generation to make sure their studies incorporate and sync with the needs of AI

  5. @Nyahasha, for your argument to be solid I’d want you to provide evidence that the Industrial revolution resulted in a net loss of jobs vs. jobs created during any period of time during the revolution phase. Without doing so, you are basing yoyur argument on your opinion. Maybe if you can share the following: during the period 1920 to 1930, unemployment rate rose from 1% to 5% in Europe coinciding with the turn of the Industrial revolution, then your argument would be solid. The same goes for those who claim Industrial revolutions have a net increase on the jobs created. Until arguments point to wide-spread tangible data, there are nothing more than opinions voiced.

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