Naser Faruqui from IDRC discussing AI and its impact for development

April 15, 2019
Play video by Naser Faruqui, IDRC, at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

My name is Naser Faruqui, I am the director of technology and innovation for the international development research centre. We support science and innovation in developing countries, to help scientists and innovators solve their own problems that they define.

My background is actually water engineering, I used to designed water treatment plants and do irrigation systems and hydroelectric power and when I joined IDRC after working the private sector I focused on water management projects in the middle east and Asia and then moved into this area of technology and innovation. What I am doing at the moment is running a program on that.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

I guess I think of it in terms of sort of tech disruption. The confluence of big data, more powerful computers, machine learning and so forth, have created a tipping point where we have some really powerful applications now.

Certainly, when it comes to the development I think that there are opportunities in the area of health, in education, in agriculture, even for low-income people.

If you can improve the of a smallholder farmer, then that’s a benefit if you can diagnose disease of his crops or in his single cow then that can really affect his livelihood, so I actually see a lot of development aspects to it. As long as we support that, because the market may not go there.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

The blue sky project is really ensuring that Africans can fully contribute to and participate in and benefit from potential opportunities in Artificial Intelligence as well as in global discussions and local discussions about how to mitigate the risks. The blue sky project is building the capacity of institutions on the ground in Africa to participate.

Did you like the workshop in Nairobi?

Yea, I think the workshop has been fantastic. It has brought together a very diverse group of stakeholders who are coming with different perspectives, who has been debating and at this point don’t have a full consensus and that’s exactly what we have expected at this stage. But there is a lot of passion and there is general alignment about things we want to do and innovation and capacity building in research and policy. I have been really very pleased with the workshop.

Do you have a one-liner for us? Is there a one-liner, is there a slogan that you have in mind that you can share with us?

I think its AI for good, it’s maximizing the benefits and mitigating the risks. The train has left the station and we have to ride it but make sure that it gets to the destination in helping as many people as possible and hurting as few people as possible.