Africa has an undeniable technological gap, of course. But it is strong to note that many African countries have strategies in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and encourage innovative companies in the sector. The ambition to catch up with developed countries is driving several African pioneers such as South Africa, Kenya or Morocco. These ambitions cannot overshadow the ethical considerations of AI. Artificial Intelligence: African Perspectives.
Challenges to overcome
“Africa faces many challenges in areas where AI could be beneficial, perhaps even a little more than elsewhere,” said Moustapha Cissé, Director of Google’s Research Center in Accra.
As early as 2014, heads of state from 32 countries created the Smart Africa Alliance there to determine where to focus and stimulate investment. Then, the prestigious African Institute of Mathematical Sciences launched a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, sponsored by Facebook and Google. In Lagos, the Data Science Nigeria Center aims to train one million Nigerians in data science by 2027 and create a thriving ecosystem to make the country an ideal partner internationally. In the far west, young people have launched the Senegal Institute of Algorithms, as well as the GalsenAI space, to bring together massive data enthusiasts. And these are just a few examples!
Africa is lagging behind in the field of AI. More African countries need to join the likes of Kenya, Morocco and Tunisia in putting in place national AI policies to coordinate national efforts to develop artificial intelligence.
Currently, electricity supply and internet access in Africa are non-existent for large segments of the population, or insufficiently provided where they exist. Without access to basic infrastructure, such as electricity and broadband, the development of the 4th Industrial Revolution in Africa will be hampered.
However, with continued investment in these sectors, as well as new technologies such as AI, Africa could just as easily turn a corner and begin a new chapter of development that it has never before experienced.
African countries best prepared to adopt artificial intelligence
Artificial Intelligence – African Perspectives: The “Government AI Readiness Index 2022” ranks 181 countries based on 39 indicators across three main pillars: “Government”; “Technology Sector” and “Data & Infrastructure”.
Egypt (ranked 65th globally) is ranked second in Africa, ahead of South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles and Nigeria. Botswana closes the African Top 10 (see the full ranking of the 52 African countries surveyed below).
Mauritius and Egypt owe their rankings to their high scores in the “Government” pillar, which includes criteria such as the existence of a national vision for AI, the development of online services, the existence of data protection and privacy laws, and the implementation of cyber security strategies.
South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco, Kenya, Seychelles, Botswana and Nigeria, meanwhile, achieve their highest scores in the “Data & Infrastructure” pillar, which encompasses, among other criteria, the state of telecommunications infrastructure, the number of cloud service providers, the quality of broadband Internet access, the cost of accessing the Internet and the availability of open government data.
Ranking of African countries best prepared to adopt artificial intelligence
1- Mauritius (57th globally)
3-South Africa (68th)
4- Tunisia (70th)
16-Cape Verde (118th)
20-Côte d’Ivoire (136th)
31-Sao Tome and Principe (156th)
33-Republic of Congo (158th)
34-Burkina Faso (159th)
39-Sierra Leone (164th)
49-RD Congo (174th)
51-Central Africa (176th)
52-South Sudan (177th)
No African country, however, scores well (50 points or more on a scale of 100) in the “Technology Sector” pillar, which includes criteria such as the number of unicorns, government spending on software, the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates, spending on research and development, the level of digital skills, and the quality of higher education in engineering and technology. Artificial Intelligence: African Perspectives:
These successful African AIs
Obviously, there are hundreds of examples of AI centers of excellence in Africa. We cite here some examples of pioneers on the continent:
Indaba is a community of more than 400 African researchers in artificial intelligence that meets every year to work on common projects. Among other things, it is working on the development of an alternative language model to the one that led to the birth of the ChatGPT conversational robot. Based on the 2,000 languages of the continent, it could be richer than its American equivalent.
Among Indaba’s projects is Masakhane (“we build together” in Zulu), the creation of an open source language model comparable to the one that makes ChatGPT work. Masakhane’s ambition is to allow the automatic translation of more than 2,000 African languages such as Pidgin, spoken in Nigeria, Logba in Togo or Poko in Cameroon. These languages all have their own particularities and should allow the development of computer programs that are both richer and more refined.
Oujda’s UMP, award for the best AI university in Africa
This award recognizes the overall efforts of the Oujda UMP in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Africa. The University is home to the AI House (Maison de l’IA): The MIA-UMPO-Morocco wishes to create a real dynamic of acculturation to AI through public experiments but also through the promotion of applied research with a convincing societal and economic impact.
The MIA-UMPO-Maroc is composed of : Ethical Watch Observatory; Exhibition hall; ; Coworking space; Experimentation laboratory.
The Nigerian artist who reinvents an elegant old age through AI
Artwork generated by artificial intelligence (AI) has become a source of controversy, but Nigerian filmmaker and artist Malik Afegbua makes the case that it can inspire us to create a better real world – and a more elegant one for the seniors.
He knew he had created something special after posting them on social media. Especially after they caught the eye of the Oscar-winning costume designer behind the Black Panther films, Ruth Carter. “This is so awesome!!!” she wrote on Instagram.
AI could generate 1,417 billion euros in Africa by 2030
Artificial Intelligence: African Perspectives
In concrete terms, how is AI being deployed in Africa? The banking world is among the first to adopt AI. From East to West, financial institutions are rushing to integrate AI into their credit granting or customer service systems.
If the competition is so tough and AI projects are jostling each other on the continent, it is because with the pandemic, African countries have finally understood that they have their role to play in the fourth industrial revolution – and benefits to gain. Admittedly, compared to the 14.8 trillion euros that AI could generate in the world by 2030, according to figures from the PwC firm, the 1,417 billion euros that would accrue to Africa, according to another report, seem derisory. But they still represent 50% of the continent’s current GDP!
“The free flow of data across various sectors as well as large companies coming to Africa are supporting the growth of AI startups and also helping governments understand the value of investing in AI,” enthuses John Kamara, co-founder of Kenyan health AI startup Aice & Afyarekod.
However, for Africa to remain competitive, it will be necessary to ensure two important things: consolidate investments in AI, which currently benefit 82% of seed-stage startups, and “avoid the brain drain,” warns Nick Bradshaw, CEO of AI Media Group. In short, the next InstaDeep should not move to London, Europe or Silicon Valley.
Ethical challenge of AI in Africa
The fairness of intelligent systems relies heavily on the data with which they have been trained. “The data available in Africa is largely based on human experience,” says one expert. As a result, the services are biased. But this isn’t just an AI problem: it stems from deep structural problems.” It is to counter this trend that African AI experts have committed to including gender and race in all its work. There are many ethical issues of AI in Africa.
Moreover, they are also working to decolonize AI. “We want to identify, in the AI world, the dynamics inherited from colonialism, in order to defuse them.
Importing technologies that are mismatched to local contexts is a problem, she says. For example, facial recognition systems “trained” outside the continent are prone to errors. This is particularly worrisome when they are used for police surveillance, as in Johannesburg, where more than 5,000 AI-assisted cameras from Danish company iSentry & Milestone record the movements of passersby.
Africa is also targeted by companies for the “beta testing” of their innovations. Populations that are not always in a position to give free and informed consent are used as guinea pigs. The psychological and ideological profiling company Cambridge Analytica tested its capacity for political influence in Nigeria and Kenya before tackling the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
Then there are the abuses on the data side. In Kenya, credit apps are lending money at high interest rates without assessing borrowers’ creditworthiness, and are massively harvesting borrowers’ data, such as location, text messages, contacts and call history…
Global Responsible AI Index
To counteract these abuses, Nokuthula Olorunju, a South African member of the Observatory, is working on the governance of AI and the legal framework of cyberspace. For her, framing technologies is a collaborative bottom-up approach. “We reach out to people to listen to their experiences and find out what technology and their data mean to them. From there, we have a better understanding of their perceptions and realities, to build what to protect them with.”
To pinpoint what constitutes ethical AI in each country, local and an international team set out to create the Global Responsible AI Index. This tool will allow countries to be compared based on globally established criteria, not just inherited from northern states. This tool is being developed from the South, and especially from the African continent,” explains Rachel Adams proudly. It will be inspired by regional conceptions of human rights, in the hope of being as inclusive as possible.
The ambition of the index is to help each citizen become aware of what is at stake in his or her society. For despite the caveats raised by the researchers, AI innovations are part of the future and represent valuable opportunities. Artificial Intelligence: African Perspectives!