Like the internet, artificial intelligence (AI) systems are rapidly becoming a new layer of infrastructure with transformative potential. Fuelled by the increasing availability of computational power, improved connectivity, and big data, AI applications offer exciting possibilities for contributing to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals through spurring new start ups, improving food systems, enabling higher quality education systems and tackling pressing health and climate challenges.
As with any widely adopted technology — especially one as powerful and potentially pervasive as AI — the benefits come with risks that must be managed and mitigated. It can reinforce structural inequalities and bias, perpetuate gender imbalances, threaten jobs, and facilitate oppressive government surveillance. The time to write the future of AI in Africa is now, as policies and practices put in place today will shape the benefits and harms of AI in the decades to come.
To contribute to these efforts, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation (Sida) launched the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D Africa) program in 2020. This four-year, CAD 20 million, partnership seeks to address the above challenges through supporting African-led development of responsible and inclusive AI. The program promotes excellence in applied research and applying AI technologies in the service of solving development challenges and improving livelihoods for those living in poverty.