There is an artificial intelligence awakening taking place in Africa and much of that success has been attributed to Google. The Silicon Valley-based company has been driving a transformational change for the last 10 years there. The dawn of AI in Africa has been much later than most developed countries but reports peg that across the continent — from Zimbabwe to Ghana — ripples have been felt with AI weaving a socio-economic change. Earlier this June, Google Senior Fellow Jeff Dean announced Google AI research center in Africa, which will open later this year in Accra, Ghana. The centre will bring top machine learning researchers and engineers dedicated to AI research and its applications.
The search engine giant has also helped Africans with their digital skills training program and has launched a Launchpad Accelerator Africa through which they supported 100,000 developers and over 60 tech startups. The company also adapted its products to make it easy for people to discover the best of the internet, even on low-RAM smartphones or unstable network connections.
There has been an increased interest in machine learning across Africa with startups mushrooming up. On the back of this development, Africa has also witnessed a rise in data science events such as Data Science Africa 2017 in Tanzania, the 2017 Deep Learning Indaba event in South Africa, and follow-on IndabaX events in 2018 which is a sign of continuing growth of the computer science research community in Africa, notes the Google post.
Rise Of FinTech Startups
Earlier last year, the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the XPRIZE Foundation hosted the AI for Good Global Summit that saw innovators coming together to press for progress in AI. The summit was organised to mobilise Africa towards its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by enabling countries to use emerging technologies like AI and ML. But for African countries to make use of AI — they have to build an ecosystem of investors, startup founders and incubators to train workers and foster innovation. There are a clutch of data science and ML African fintech startups that are meeting the demands by offering AI-based solutions.
Case in point, Stockshop.co.za offers a number of AI solutions to financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies while chatbot startup Kudi.ai enables users to make payments and send money to friends and family in Nigeria through messaging. Meanwhile, another startup DataProphet provides ML solutions for the finance and insurance sector. Then there is insuretech startup Fo-Sho that provides offers short-term insurance to lower-income consumers. Fo-Sho’s insurance products use AI, machine learning, behavioural economics and peer-to-peer underwriting.
Building the skills for future
According to a WEF Skills report, Africa has a strong growth potential for jobs in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector and hard and soft infrastructure. ICT jobs will open up opportunities in digital design, creation and engineering. And to build a pipeline of future skills, African investors, government and tech entrepreneurs are designing a future-ready curricula to encourage acquisition of STEM skills that would help pave the way for Industrial Revolution 4.0. There is also a rise in public-private dialogue between the industry and government bodies to bridge the skill gap with reforming education systems and preparing workforces for the future of jobs.
With rapid advancements, there are also a host of risks associated with it. The African Government is battling with a host of developmental issues, from lack of skilled talent, legal problems to infrastructure woes. There is a need for massive investment if Africa wishes to emerge as a key player and reform sectors such as healthcare, agriculture and manufacturing.
According to a report by Arcon Technologies, the abundance of cloud computing, AI and internet of things (IoT) are driving massive growth in IT opportunities in Africa. The IT sector in South Africa is expected to reach 175 billion by 2022, at a five-year compounded annual growth rate of 4.25 percent, according to the IDC’s latest Economic Impact Model report. Not only that, the gradual increase in adoption of cloud services are expected to create numerous job opportunities too in Africa region. There is also the risk of cyber breaches.
“Both private and public sector organisations have started to rebuild the cyber security strategies to combat the larger and emerging concerns in cyber world. Protecting business information is highly crucial under any circumstances and IT security development is the only way out,” noted an expert.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.