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Kathleen Siminyu from Africa’s Talking on women in African AI

September 18, 2019
Play the video by Kathleen Siminyu, Africa’s Talking 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?

My name is Kathleen Siminyu, my background is in math and computer science, and from there I’ve put it into data science. So, I am a data scientist at a company called Africa Talking. That is kind of a job that pays the bills, but I wear a couple of other hats. I do a lot of work with building machine learning communities, so I run the Nairobi Women in Machine Learning and Data Science Community here in Nairobi. Then I also work with Deep Learning Indaba which is a wide organization that works with communities across the continent. Okay. AI and development.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

I think particularly in Africa we have a lot of problems, so there is a lot of development to be done. There are the routes that have been set, like industrialization is how countries come up, then AI brings a whole other aspect, which is how we’ve ended up in this age of Artificial Intelligence.

I think it gives us opportunities to transform a lot of things, and not necessarily follow the path that is set out by how other societies and countries have come up. I am really excited about AI and development. I think that the fact that there is a need for development that makes AI even that more exciting for us to be applying.

What is your blue sky project in Africa?

Well, my pet project at the moment is NLP. I am just going to go with that. The reason I think NLP for African languages is very important, it gives you the ability to reach the individual. I could be here with all my English, but I am not the average African.

The average African is in a village somewhere and they speak their mother tongue and they can communicate and they can function in their life with that. But this average African is not able to participate in the digital economy. And it is not because they are stupid, they may be illiterate, but they can speak, they can understand, they can think.

If we could just talk to them then I think the opportunities are limitless. It’s not that the technology does not exist, because it does. We have Siri, and you give it a command, you ask it a question and it answers you. The technology exists, we just need it to be applied in this context. Once we have that, then we can go into healthcare, we can go into education, we can go into agriculture. So much opportunity.

I think language is the first thing which we need to crack. So, I’d say, let’s unlock language and then unlock Africa.