Embracing Generative AI in Kenya: A new era for business innovation

Generative AI holds transformative potential. [iStockphoto]

While 2023 marked the breakout year for Generative AI worldwide, now that we are well into 2024, I anticipate we will see it become a settled technology and a significant source of competitive advantage and innovation for businesses including here in Kenya.

Generative AI fundamentally refers to systems capable of producing entirely new and original content, distinguishing it from other AI applications that primarily analyse existing data for decision-making. These models can generate original written articles, images, audio samples, or video footage based on training from extensive datasets.

Leading models like Gemini, GPT-4, Claude, and Bing AI are renowned for creating remarkably human-like text from given prompts, while others like Stable Diffusion, Firefly, and DALL-E are known for generating vivid images from text descriptions. These models have undergone months of training on massive datasets containing millions of human-generated examples, enabling them to produce outputs that mirror human creativity in areas they have been exposed to during their training phases.

Generative AI’s potential in Kenya is vast, and it’s already beginning to transform the business landscape. For instance, it enables the creation of new, original content, ranging from Swahili poems reminiscent of Binyavanga Wainaina’s prose to visual art that captures the tranquillity of a Tsavo sunset.

Importantly, it allows businesses to customise outputs that resonate with Kenyan audiences, such as creating original Bongo Flava songs for marketing campaigns, heartfelt music as moving as melodic Nyatitis-infused works, trendy Sheng memes for better digital engagement, and writing Swahili advertising copy that instantly encourages a “Nunua Sasa” response.

For personalisation, it can help with crafting personalised messages in, for example, Kikuyu or Luhya, fostering trust and facilitating warm, engaging customer interactions.

As an emerging technology, generative AI does hold transformative potential not only in marketing and the creative arts but also in healthcare, banking, and finance amongst other sectors. In healthcare, it can diagnose conditions, create clinical documentation, manage reimbursement forms, and assist doctors in treatment planning.

However, it’s crucial for medical professionals to guide the development and application of these technologies, prioritising patient privacy and safety over commercial motives. In banking and finance, generative AI’s capabilities extend to cybersecurity, fraud detection, personalised offers, market trend analysis, and automating customer services. Additionally, these applications are adept at analysing financial data to forecast market trends, offering valuable competitive insights for financial institutions. As the technology advances, it promises significant enhancements in these sectors, potentially leading to widespread improvements in the lives of Kenyans across the country.

Businesses that integrate generative AI into their processes will find doors open to unparalleled innovation, creativity, and competitive edges. This is evident in cases like fintech companies seeking advantages through hyper-personalising loan offers with generative AI, or fashion brands using the technology to create unique designs.

These applications yield tangible benefits, such as superior customer engagement and market leadership. Although being an early adopter of generative AI offers substantial advantages, it is important to remember that this must come with significant responsibility. It’s essential to ensure its development and usage are ethical and inclusive, a challenge that Kenya’s tech scene is well-equipped to tackle.

This approach offers businesses the opportunity to lead in the responsible deployment of generative AI, providing long-term benefits for Kenyans and further cementing our place as the Silicon Savannah.

Importantly, adopting generative AI is a continual process, requiring staying informed about trends and ethical considerations. By actively contributing to a responsible generative AI-driven future, Kenyan businesses can keep pace with technological advancements and shape the evolution in ways that benefit both consumers and businesses.

Innovative solutions

Gaining a true competitive edge will ultimately come from broadly envisioning how generative AI can elevate businesses.

It’s not just about reducing costs; the technology also unlocks new possibilities for example offering micro-personalised services and creating innovative solutions tailored to the specific needs of Kenyan consumers just to name a couple. What’s clear is that as long as the unique strengths and weaknesses of generative AI are kept in perspective, Kenyan businesses can responsibly tap into its lucrative potential as part of their digital transformation initiatives.

Finally, the rapid maturation of this technology clearly warrants dedicated strategies led by C-suite executives. Indeed, and to my mind, generative AI represents the next frontier for efficiency, revenue, and differentiation gains for Kenyan firms ready to embrace emerging technologies. With sensible implementation, the technology could very well prove to be the tipping point leading to sustainable competitive advantages.

Quite certainly the possibilities for businesses are often limited only by their imagination and appetite for intelligent, iterative experimentation by business leadership. In this regard, rather than playing catch-up later, for businesses in Kenya, the time for action is undoubtedly now.

- The writer is a seasoned academic based in the United Kingdom and serves on the advisory committee of Kenya National Innovation Agency

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