‘How Prepared Are We For The 4th Industrial Revolution – A Case Study In Africa Part II

There is probably no country in the world that is free from corruption. While the level of corruption might differ from one country to another, what poise has a bigger threat to the development and sustainability of any country is the literacy level of it’s dwellers. The ability to disrupt old thinking and ways of doing things and adapt swiftly to change. Overime Africans have been ruled and dictated by regimes whose minds are not developed enough to see the big picture, who lack vision, sense of leadership and purpose, uninspired and even unaware of the great potentials embedded in Africa. While the rest of the world are busy with innovation,  Africans would rather read and watch them in ovation. In this regard,  it should be pointless having a conversation about the progress of Artificial Intelligence in Africa. Right? However, their are some countries in Africa that have stood out and are preping for the 4th industrial revolution. It would be unfair to disregard them.

Two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, and the largest economy in East Africa, Kenya.  Apparently, there have been report of activities around AI in this countries. Many of the activities are focused on the areas of health, public transportation, agriculture, financial technology and language development.  According to World Wide Web Foundation, research found several examples of AI applications geared towards addressing local development challenges in each country. In most of these sectors, AI is being used to circumvent existing economic inefficiencies and to improve access to public and private services.

Examples of initiatives in all three countries includes Kenya’s “Sophie Bot” in the health sector which is a free chatbot that works on several popular messaging apps that relies on AI to process and reply to questions on sexual and reproductive health. Also,  South Africa’s “Numberboost” , a company working to develop a system to allow citizens to locate nearby mobile healthcare clinics. In Agricultural sector Nigeria’s “Zenvus” seeks to improve decision-making for farmers by providing insights based on data collected from sensors and other means. While in fintech,  Nigeria’s presence is also felt with “” which attempts to make peer-to-peer payment easier for Nigerians using a chatbot that works on popular messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger. Quite a number of more AI companies in Africa reshaping the way things are done in our daily lives can be found online. Including the World Wide Web Foundation and Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa (MIIA), just in case your curiosity to know more disrupt your initial mindset.

Subsequently, there have been a number of challenges crippling the progress of AI in Africa which can however be transformed to opportunities if viewed rather from a positive angle of solving problems. Some of the KEY challenges to be addressed in Africa, with emphasis to Nigeria includes; Education and Skills Development; Building Sustainable Governance Systems and Delivering Hard Infrastructures.

Undoubtedly, the role of Government in spearheading and facilitating the progress and development of AI in Africa cannot be overemphasized. Local entrepreneurs are faced with a number of obstacles to deploying this local expertise in the AI field, including access to stable internet connections, limited sources of finance, and frequently insufficient complementary infrastructure (e.g., electricity, roads). Furthermore, Most of the information circulating amongst local researchers regarding technology developments and trends comes from the United States and Europe (including India). That is not to say there is no awareness of the regional and local context of the existence of AI. While the governments of all three countries have to varying degrees, taken steps to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and training, much more can be done. Also, periodic meetups help to provide the space needed for technologists, including youth, to share skills, learn from expert presentations, and network, especially at a local level. These networking events organised through the likes of Data Science Lagos, Data Science Nairobi, and the Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa (based in South Africa).  Therefore, help is needed to those working in the field to connect and to develop commercial and other opportunities around AI. However, throughout the technology sector, a significant gender imbalance persists in the AI field.

As a result, government is obligated to Work towards a national strategy on AI and new technologies, developed through broad multi-sectoral consultation, such as through forums for the discussion of AI policy and related issues. There is also the need to develop public sector expertise in AI, with leadership in relevant ministries leading this effort. This can be done in collaboration with universities and other institutions already working on AI in the country, as well as with regional and international organisations. Establish and define codes of conduct for the responsible use of data and algorithms by the public sector. Support AI to improve the delivery of public services and public goods, in particular those that target marginalised groups. While for training and research development, their should be an assurance that trainings for AI are accessible by all, including low-income groups.This includes providing support for training and relevant skills development for both men and women. Invest in local research in AI, including in the STEM and social science/humanities fields. This should include multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary collaborations with academics (e.g. ethicists, ethnographers, lawyers, social scientists, computer scientists, engineers, etc.) to examine the ethics of AI and related policy issues as the sector grows. Fund local AI startups. They have the incentives and advantages to develop apps that are more relevant to their contexts.

While all of this might have been intelligently stated. This is quite far-fetched based on two MAJOR reasons which includes 1). Africa is governed by illiterates who lack vision and 2). Unlike Europeans and Americans who have mastered digitization and machines as tools and now progressing to an era where machines will be considered as partners.  Africa is still struggling to master digitization and machines as tools. Which prompt the question; “How can Smart Technology such as AI be used to help solve these problems and also help Africa to leapfrog?”.



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