Artificial Intelligence provides a unique opportunity for development in Africa. Fuelled by the increasing availability of computational power, improved connectivity and big data, the use of AI offers exciting possibilities for solving some of the developmental and economic challenges the continent faces.
Artificial Intelligence, a technology that uses the collective power of computers to perform tasks that require human Intelligence, is proving to be an invaluable asset in solving problems in many sectors in Africa. AI can be used in reducing poverty, improving access to quality health care, revolutionising education and promoting inclusivity by translating local languages. According to a recent study on the long-term economic impact of AI around the world, AI has the potential to double a country’s GDP growth rate by 2035. The ability to harness even a fraction of this benefit would be a powerful tool for development.
African data scientists and leaders in the technology field understand the power that AI has in transforming the lives Africans. In response to these they have created networks and communities that share ideas, hold prestigious conferences and create opportunities for AI scholars, researchers and enthusiasts working to harness the power of AI. These communities like Deep Learning Indaba, WIMLDS, and platforms like Zindi Africa are equipping Africans with the tools that they need to grow their understanding of AI and Machine Learning.
It is this opportunity that has been the driving force behind the AI4D Africa Program. Backed by the IDRC and Sida, AI4D Africa’s vision is to see a continent that harnesses the potential of technology, leveraging its local resources and know-how, for the public good. Since its launch at the end of 2020, this four-year, CAD 20 million program seeks to support the African-led development of responsible and inclusive AI.
Before its official launch, AI4D Africa was already working hand in hand with the AI community in Africa. Through many small grants, AI workshops and competitions, the program has been able to unearth key gaps and points of support that it can provide to promote AI development in Africa.
By working hand in hand with the AI community, AI4D Africa will provide support in AI policy development, AI driven innovation in four key areas; Agriculture, Education, Gender and Inclusion and Climate Action and amplifying African AI talent through multidisciplinary labs and scholarship programs.
In spite of the lauded potential of AI in development in Africa, It does not come without risks. During the online launch event of the program, emphasis was placed on inclusivity when using AI for development. 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. This has been evident in the West where AI adoption is the norm, so, there is a need to understand these risks and build policies and systems that will mitigate them.
This article is the first in a series that is taking a look at the work AI4D Africa has done so far since its launch. In the past year, we have released several calls for funding and expressions of interest based on the three pillars of the AI4D Africa program; Policy, Innovation & Capacity. These calls have been geared towards identifying partners who will provide further opportunities for individuals, organisations or teams of researchers and innovators from the African AI community.
Related: AI4D Africa Grant Recipients
In the next article, we will take a look at Policy and highlight the partners we are working with to policies that will guide the use of responsible and inclusive AI