Why artificial intelligence is the next frontier for startups

Toward the end of November 2023, thousands of tech-savvy individuals trooped to Las Vegas, USA, for the annual Amazon Web Services Re/invent forum. The 50,000 plus individuals are well versed in the deployment of modern technology in running commercial enterprises.

During the weeklong event, they managed to visit a nearby entertainment centre known as The Sphere and as tech-savvy as they are, were taken aback by the ‘humanoid’ welcome they received.

“Hello, humans. While I understand the most complex concepts of math and science — you remain a mystery,” said Aura, one the most expressive and life-like humanoid robots in the world.

Several such robots greet guests from the moment they enter the Sphere, putting their life-like facial expressions and mobility on full display.

“Your emotions, your humour and your relationship with technology require further study, so you must visit me at Sphere. I am excited to meet you and introduce you to the future of live entertainment at my new home,” added the ‘lady’.

The new visitor experience demonstrates the depth in which artificial intelligence can be deployed to handle day to day activities. While many have welcomed such technological advancements, some might find them unsettling, especially those used to manual processes.

Repetitive tasks

According to AI Speakers Agency, companies can also use artificial intelligence to complete “repetitive tasks, that require low levels of judgement”, leaving humans to commit their time to demanding tasks that require critical thinking in a business.

And while artificial intelligence is yet to take a firm hold on African enterprises, it is quickly becoming the new frontier in the world of commerce. Deploying technology, according to experts in the field, acts as an accelerator to financial yields and organisational processes.

“The field of AI and machine learning is wildly entertaining,” says Howard Wright, the vice president and Global Head of AWS Startups, the organisation helping startups to create, build, and grow on its leading cloud platform.

“Working with AI and ML is part and parcel of our genetic DNA and shows the depth of knowledge from our engineers.”

Wright, whose organisation has worked with 280,000 startups around the world, says AWS has disbursed over $6 billion in a decade to help startups, innovators, incubators, and venture capitalists “most of whom are deploying artificial intelligence and machine learning to build, launch and scale” their operations.

Last year, AWS opened the first development centre in Kenya to help budding innovators and developers access cloud-based resources with ease.

“AWS was a startup so we know the psyche of an investor. We help you get to the market quicker apart from providing other incentives. We are the humble, silent partners to the smartest enterprises. We ensure that those in Silicon Valley get the same cloud access to those in Kibera. We do our job with intensity, proximity and authenticity,” says Wright.

Technology, according to Wright, should be transformational and a scaling-up tool for the “ambitious and audacious enough to know they are ahead of the curve” such as Uber, Netflix, Airbnb who are among the successful startups due to their deployment of artificial intelligence.

“AI is not coming tomorrow. It’s already here,” says Oscar Githinji, the regional partner manager with Seamless HR and who has 15 years’ of work experience in the field.

He says with AI-assisted tools, a human resource manager can generate quick reports that help in making quick decisions, for example, in determining whether a prospective hire will fit in with the company’s culture.

“People were used to paper processes and putting all data in a physical file. There would be few other updates to this file thereafter. Integrating AI in the software helps human resource managers make decisions they would otherwise not make. For example, they may look at a person’s work history and decide either to promote the person, give him a bonus or shares in the company.”

For a small startup, AI deployment can be the difference between breaking even and folding up. Githinji says such enterprises will grow faster since they have access to faster resources than they had before. “This will help them analyse their spending patterns and that translates into more sales and savings.”

However, the sceptical stance between man and machine may lead to a shift in personnel deployment, something that may not sit well with a certain segment of the workforce despite the results proving otherwise.

According to the World Economic Forum, estimates indicate that 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.

By 2030, PWC estimates that AI-related income will total $1.2 trillion within countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania, constituting five per cent of these countries’ GDP.

For such results, Wright says there is a need to democratize accessibility to cloud-based tools and enable current and aspiring startups, and venture capitalists to play in the same league as the big enterprises within their platform.

“We want to democratize the cloud so that kids in a garage in California or Nairobi can have equal access to cloud-based services. These are our customer goals for each day. We must captivate the hearts and minds of startups and venture capitalists and get them on AWS platforms. We must do the work of tomorrow today and AI is the right way to go,” he says.

Eric Mutuku, founder of Parpus Learning Centre, a school that specialises in information technology says deployment of artificial intelligence depends on preferred outcomes.

Human beings, he says, should never feel threatened by AI just because they have been used to manual processes ever since the first industrial revolution.

In the fourth industrial revolution, he adds, artificial intelligence including robotics are taking over routine processes but humans will still do the critical thinking.

“I call it assisted intelligence where AI synergises human beings. It is complementary,” he says. “Work from the endpoint to determine what information to collect.”