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Tejumade Afonja from AI Saturdays Lagos on AI and the importance of local communities

In today’s interview we have the pleasure of chatting with Tejumade Afonja, a software engineer at Instadeep in Nigeria. She is a community builder who co-organized and co-founded AI Saturday Lagos, planning to democratize Artificial Intelligence for Africa and beyond. Read on and discover the work she’s doing.

February 12, 2021

What are you working on at the moment?

My name is Tejumade Afonja and I am from Nigeria. I work at Instadeep and study as an AI software engineer. Instadeep is an AI startup building AI for enterprise. As a community builder, I co-organized and co-founded AI Saturday Lagos. We are planning to democratize Artificial Intelligence for Africa, but certainly Nigeria, Lagos. What we do there, is that we go through the curriculum for sixteen consecutive Saturdays, each of the sixteen Saturdays entails as one cohort. For a year we do two cohorts. An example of what we do on the Saturdays is that we go to a course on Introduction to Machine Learning by Andrew Ng or Introduction to Computer Vision by Stanford. We have both beginners and intermediate classes.

Strictly speaking from what my interest is and that is education, I am very passionate about AI education in Africa. There is a lot of talent, African talent and I think that we need to build this talent ourselves. I do believe that maybe through a very strict curriculum, we will be able to train people and democratise AI, ship it to the world and use it in Africa.

What would be your blue sky project in Africa?

Two!

One is what I currently do, I consider that as a project, it’s my community and I take pride in it. I would like to extend it, meaning that not just Lagos, getting the right funding to be able to support other local communities to run‘ AI Saturdays‘ in other parts of the world. I see the way they are trying to build communities like ours, funding is a very, very big struggle. I could be able to do something about that, by getting funding, we are able to decentralize this fund to people that need it and able to build out an educational structure from these communities.

The second one would be Childnet, it’s a project we started working on AI Saturday Lagos. The idea is that we want to build African AI, image, dataset, support image datasets. We started that and we’ve been very slow at building it because of the capacity, you need to take pictures of food, and there needs to be some structure. I truly believe that this kind of projects could shape a lot of things, because you truly understand people sometimes by the way they eat, because of the cultural linkage to food.

Now that I am in Kenya, imagine that I go and take a picture of the food and I am able to understand what the food is. A lot of time, when people go to a new place, they do not know what they are eating. You are told what it is called but, but what does the food it entail? Africa is so beautiful and research has shown that we have most interesting delicacies, so why not showcase these delicacies we have a lot of beautiful food. We need to collect data, that would be another thing I would work on.

This written interview has been edited for clarity