• Monday, May 20, 2024
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Language won’t keep Northern Nigeria away from AI train

Language won’t keep Northern Nigeria away from AI train

Nigeria is taking a page from China’s book with its new approach to teaching Artificial Intelligence (AI).

By offering AI education in Hausa, a primary language in the north, the country aims to empower citizens with knowledge of the emerging technology.

Google, the Kaduna State Government, and Data Science Nigeria want to teach AI in Hausa in a region facing numerous learning challenges.

Through a learning series in Hausa, which is spoken predominantly in the north, the partners aim to present AI concepts in an accessible form and encourage interest in developing skills in the field.

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Ahmed Tambuwal, acting director of the Digital Literacy and Capacity Building Department, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), said: “This is the model used by any part of the world, like China. They speak to their population in their local languages, so this is very important.”

AI is no longer the mystery Hollywood portrayed it as for many years. Since OpenAI launched a successful use case of AI, ChatGPT, in November 2022, many companies have followed suit. From being a distant reality, AI is slowly becoming a mainstay of the global economy.

“Like mobile technology changed everything, AI will transform everything,” Bayo Adekanbi, chief executive officer and founder of Data Science Nigeria, said.

The International Monetary Fund noted in a recent article that “we are on the brink of a technological revolution that could jumpstart productivity, boost global growth, and raise incomes around the world. Yet it could also replace jobs and deepen inequality.”

This sentiment is why countries are coming together to draft AI policies and champion inclusion. Nigeria recently launched a Multilingual Large Language Model (LLM) to better inculcate Pidgin, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and Ibibio into AI models like ChatGPT. This forms part of the government’s effort to localise AI in the country.

The country wants to champion AI adoption on the continent. Bosun Tijani, minister of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy, recently argued, “Nigeria should be part of the global superpower in the development and regulation of AI.”

On Tuesday, in the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua hall, Kaduna, Uba Sani, governor of the state, who spoke through his deputy, Hadiza Balarabe, declared, “AI is not just the future; it is the present. By equipping our people, especially our women, with AI skills, we’re not only paving the way for a more prosperous and innovative Northern Nigeria.”

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Patience Fakai, the state commissioner for Business Innovation and Technology, echoed, “Disenfranchised People who have not had the opportunity to access and understand this can do so in their mother tongue now.”

Adekanbi, founder of DSN, who runs Arewa Ladies4Tech and was part of the team that designed the initiative, highlighted that it is essential for everyone to be empowered to understand how AI will impact them.

He said, “Everybody must be empowered to understand what AI is and how they can leverage its opportunities and possibilities. It is what you understand that you can use. AI will create new jobs and opportunities and disrupt existing work. This is why we must ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to understand it so that they can build the skills and leverage it to their advantage.”

Many Nigerians have questioned whether the country is misplacing its priorities with its AI drive. They’ve argued that the country would be better served by focusing on its many structural challenges, such as lack of electricity, high unemployment rate, and insecurity, especially in the north.

Olumide Balogun, director of Google West Africa, while agreeing that this is valid, also highlighted that AI isn’t as abstract as people think it is.

He said, “When people think about AI, they always think about robotics and very geeky and technical things. But if you think about what we are already doing with AI, things like flood forecasting in the North, where forecasts on flooding can get people out of harm’s way and give the government notice. Things like prenatal care, disease control, and food security are very close to what we need to do now.”

Making learning resources available in local languages is a crucial step in this direction, empowering citizens with knowledge and skills in emerging technology and preparing them for the AI-driven future, according to Balogun.

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He also emphasised that AI could help solve some of the country’s problems and help it prepare for an AI-driven future. Making learning resources available in local languages and empowering citizens with knowledge and skills in emerging technology is a crucial step in this direction, Olumide argued.

Nigeria has over 200 languages, and the Google director hinted that launching the Hausa training would motivate it to explore developing training in other languages, too. To ensure that many Northerners benefit from the training, the NITDA has uploaded the training on its portal, DSN has it on YouTube, and primary and secondary schools across the region will get access to the videos.