The record of the first use of Artificial Intelligence is as far back as during the Second World War when British computer scientist Alan Turing worked to crack the ‘Enigma’ code that German forces used to send messages securely. However, the term used today wasn’t adopted until 1956. The artificial intelligence used then was only a fraction compared to what we have today. AI has grown to become a prominent tool that is being used in various sectors (finance, health, tech, etc) across the world. Even in everyday human life, AI plays an unprecedented role. This is evident in its use for facial recognition, task automation and the likes.
AI in Africa
It has become increasing noticeable that Africa is beginning to tap into the opportunities that AI offers. Consequent to this premise, various sectors such as agriculture, health, entertainment have recorded profound magnitude of applications of AI to improve productivity and optimize operations. Multiple tech startups exist in different parts of Africa including Ghana and Nigeria, that are tackling problems in these areas daily with considerable growth.
The education sector is also not left behind as projects like Tuteria in Kenya and the artificial intelligence book for all stages of schools launched by Data Science Nigeria continue to increase access to education and provide extensive training to help teachers and students. Additionally, the STEM areas have been opened to a lot more opportunities, and the chance to explore AI is now limitless.
With many of the advantages that come with AI and its applications, it is sad, however, to mention that in Africa AI is predominantly driven by the private sector with little input but increasing curiosity on the part of the government. As mentioned in memeburn’s article on AI in South Africa, “corporate SA, as well as government, does not yet understand AI technology and the impact it can (and will) have on every sphere of business and civic life”. This is not far from the truth as in one of TechCabal’s articles “How businesses and governments should embrace AI and Machine Learning”, Alexander made mention of how government agencies need to integrate AI into their works as it will help with such things as budget preparation and forecasts amoung other things.
Left to push towards AI mostly on their own, African data scientists and researchers have found ways to help themselves, sometimes with help from outside the continent. One of such ways growth is being ensured is the Deep Learning Indaba Conference, which has been in existence since 2018. At the Africa hosted annual conference, researchers meet to learn from one another, showcase their works and discuss advanced topics in Machine Learning. Indaba can be said to be African’s version of the NeurIPS conference, which seems to be out of reach for many Africans as they encounter one issue or the other when it comes to attending. There have been records of researchers who had their papers accepted but were denied a visa to participate in the event and therefore had to use video presentations, while some other times, Africans simply have none of their papers accepted.
Google and Artificial intelligence in Africa
One prominent tech giant which has aided Artificial intelligence in Africa is Google. In April 2019, Google opened its first AI research lab in Accra, Ghana. According to Google, the new center is dedicated to AI research and application. There, top machine learning researchers and engineers will be brought together, and they’ll be collaborating with local universities and research centers.
Mr. Moustapha Cisse, Google’s head in Accra, believed that one of the areas where AI will help Africa is in the automation of diagnosis and automated translation. This move by Google, of course, received mixed feeling as many were afraid for jobs which would be lost. However, it would be hypocritical not to notice that Google has tackled one of Africa’s challenges signaling a vibrant future through technology for Africa. In the article by the Silicon Republic, Cisse mentioned that Africa has the youngest, fastest-growing populations on the planet, and there is an enthusiasm for AI. However, the local challenge is how we can use AI for a better impact, and that’s the center’s goal in Accra.
While still explaining the goals of the Google AI research in Accra, Cisse said that Africa doesn’t belong to the Europeans or Chinese and that Google wants to collaborate with countries with mutually beneficial results. He further emphasized on the fact that it is also up to Africans to explore other partnerships, and it is up to us as leaders to ensure technology is beneficial for the people.
John Quinn, an AI researcher at the centre, also emphasized the fact that AI has numerous advantages, and some people use it for satellite imagery, which helps to determine population census and also aid emergency services in places with little or no data. This, anyone would conclude, is a lot of advantage to Africa, a continent with poor data which has been limiting research and the ability to generate true knowledge or policies which are required from decision making.
To further broaden the impact of the Google Research lab from just improving and promoting AI in Africa, there’s a section called the Google AI for Social Good program, under which various community projects lay. There’s the flood prediction project, earthquake aftershock project, environment, agriculture, and natural science project amidst many other projects set up for communal good.
The research center is not the only contribution that Google made to Africa in terms of AI. Also, in Kigali, Rwanda BBC reported that the African Institute for Mathematical Scientists (AIMS) is running a master’s degree where young enthusiasts are trained on machine learning. The program is being run in collaboration with Google and Facebook.
Others that have helped AI in Africa in different ways include the Center for Artificial Intelligence Research (CAIR), which seeks to promote AI research while also working with about five universities in Nairobi. There’s also InstaDeep, Data Science Africa, Data Science Nigeria and African Institute for Mathematical Science.