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Adopt generative AI wisely to survive the curve, then thrive




A complex computer chip capacitor generated by AI. [Getty Images]

Last time, I discussed the risk of losing millions by not embracing generative AI. While some may now rush to adopt this technology out of fear of missing out, I advise a more rational, balanced and methodical approach.

Strategic decisions require a careful nurturing of ideas over time; otherwise, one risks bitter failure. Think about the bitter taste of managu when eaten the first day of cooking instead of being tended to carefully over time with added milk.

My regular readers may not need reminding that generative AI refers to AI systems that can create new content, such as text, images, audio, code, and more, rather than just analysing existing data.

Some popular examples are ChatGPT for text generation, Firefly for image creation, and GitHub Copilot for coding assistance.

Now, the million-shilling question: Should our business adopt these emerging generative AI tools? As with most transformative technologies, there are pros and cons.

On the pro side, generative AI will be a game-changer for efficiency and productivity. Imagine generating first drafts of marketing copy, product descriptions, reports, and other content with the click of a button, or rapidly prototyping new products, kitenge designs and graphics.

For coding teams, AI assistants can speed up development and troubleshooting. Beyond content creation, generative AI will unlock new business models and revenue streams. Local Kenyan businesses could develop and monetise their own custom AI tools tailored to their industry.

The possibilities are vast, from AI-powered tutoring to personalised travel planners and beyond. There are also cost savings to consider. Instead of hiring expensive specialised staff, businesses could leverage AI to augment their existing workforce’s capabilities. This will level the playing field and allow smaller Kenyan enterprise's capabilities to punch above their weight.

However, one must not ignore the potential downsides and risks. A major concern is the threat to certain job roles that rely heavily on repetitive content creation or coding tasks that could be automated.

While AI may create new types of jobs, there will likely be workforce disruptions and a need for reskilling programmes with a consequent impact on workforce morale. There are also legal and ethical minefields to navigate. How does the business ensure AI-generated content doesn’t inadvertently plagiarise or infringe on copyrights? What safeguards are needed to prevent the spread of misinformation, biases and harmful language models?

Here, robust governance frameworks will be crucial. Data privacy is another key issue; as generative AI systems require huge amounts of data to train on. There are open questions about who owns and can profit from this data.

So, where does this leave us? Like most transformative technologies, generative AI is a double-edged sword with both opportunities and risks. My advice is this: Don’t be paralysed by the hype or the fear but take a balanced, methodical approach.

Start small by experimenting with some free tools to dip your toes in the water. Identify specific use cases that could boost your productivity or open new revenue streams. Invest in training employees on how to responsibly use and manage generative AI systems as well as AI literacy.

Importantly, have an open discussion to align any adoption strategy with your business’s values and ethics. Most importantly, always remember that strategic decisions demand a level-headed examination of pros and cons. Consider Pericles in the Peloponnesian War.

Though Athens’ strength lay at sea, Thucydides describes him grappling with the decision to keep Athenians within the city walls, likely due to a careful reasoning of each strategy’s pros and cons. History offers other examples.

Apple’s decision to create an integrated ecosystem arose from a period of reflection and evaluation, considering the pros and cons of that novel consumer approach, proving game changing.

The rise of generative AI is inevitable, but its impact will depend on how we choose to harness and govern it. Kenyan businesses that get ahead of the curve could reap massive rewards, but preparedness and mindful implementation will be key. Don’t be afraid to embrace AI but do so with wisdom and intention.

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