Blog: How can artificial intelligence change Africa?
Artificial intelligence is seen by many analysts as the new electricity and just seeing how fast hisdevelopment of is going today we will witness in the decades to come, a world so steeped in artificial intelligence that we will no longer be too aware of it. As for powerful nations, it is time to invest in attracting the best biological brains to train silicon brains but where is Africa?
Many historians today recognize that Africa is not only the cradle of humanity, the cradle of civilization but also the cradle of mathematics. In ancient times this continent was technologically advanced compared to its contemporaries; the pyramids of Egypt, mathematics from the Arab world and many others testify to this. As it happens, over the centuries, several factors that I will not have time to mention here have contributed to stagnating this development. Thus the continent that once sheltered great intellectuals has become a political,economic colony and technological colony of the West. “The threat of cybercolonization of the continent by the world’s digital giants, these new masters of the world, is no longer a chimera,” observes Nicolas Miailhe, of the think tank The Future Society.
According to recent statistics, Africa has 281 million Internet users, an average Internet access rate of 23.4%, and a rate that is growing extremely fast compared to all other continents. And the enthusiasm of Africans over the past decade for technology could herald a bright future. Artificial intelligence abounds in enormous potentialities ranging from agriculture, health and finance to education, music and all these unsuspected fields. Powerful problem solver of the 21st century, it promises vertiginous upheavals. No one can deny that Africa challenges more problems than anywhere else on the globe. This makes AI a powerful ally, which, if properly exploited, could launch Africa into an exceptional growth dynamic. Although AI has a wide range of applications, two clearly stand out from the rest in terms of their impact on African soil :
The first one is Agriculture :
Despite rapid urbanization, agricultural activities still provide a livelihood for about 60 per cent of the continent’s working population, accounting for 17 per cent of total gross domestic product and 40 per cent of foreign exchange earnings. In the agricultural sector, three problems usually arise. The first is the ability to control weeds in crops, especially since herbicides do not solve this problem very well. Indeed, according to a study conducted by the weed science society in America, the impact of these weeds on wheat cultivation has resulted in a loss to farmers of more than $43 billion. The report is more alarming in Africa. However computer vision can be used to detect these herbs in real time with an accuracy of 80 percent as demonstrated by this start up http://smartmachines.bluerivertechnology.com/. The second problem is corrosion and land degradation, which in the United States alone results in an annual loss of more than 45 billion dollars. It is also a problem that can also be solved by machine vision techniques. Like a facial recognition, a photo of a given terrain can give you an idea of the quality of the soil in order to take appropriate decisions. Today most of farmers in Africa continue to work with ancestral methods which is the third problem .Robotics can potentially allow to go faster and more efficientlly.
The second one is :Healthcare
The advances in medicine thanks to AI is nowadays extraordinary. We passed through the period when medicine was based on the singular doctor/patient conference with a therapeutic decision taken on arguments of semiology, the study of signs and symptoms. Today, data science and artificial intelligence offer new perspectives in the optimization of diagnosis and prescribed treatment, allowing in-depth and faster analysis. Africa has nearly 500 million cases of malaria each year, 60% of people living with HIV worldwide (for about 11% of the world population) and many other diseases. On the other hand, AI thanks to large companies like Google recognizes heart tumors better than the best oncologists, allows patients to be diagnosed wtih just a photo of the retina of the eye and all this with a time in advance that no doctor can do. Recently Uganda’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab, at Makerere University has implemented an application that allows the diagnos of malaria with deep learning.; All this to say that the most frequent diseases in Africa can now be controlled through technology. Dr Gabriel Malka, Director of Biotechnology Research at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, points out that only AI would make it possible to invent the medicine that the continent urgently needs: “We will be able to better monitor patients’ health, issue early warnings in the event of an epidemic and offer teleconsultations in areas without doctors. With AI, it is no longer the patient who goes to the doctor but the medicine that goes to the patient, and at affordable costs for countries. ». As noted above, many sectors will benefit from the advantages of new technologies. Several challenges are waiting to be addressed and the question would be how Africa positions itself in relation to them. Two main paths are to be considered to avoid many unpleasant surprises in the field :
1. Awareness: It is said that ignorance kills and Africans will not say otherwise, because if colonization and slavery have been a reality for this continent it is because of ignorance. Raising awareness among young people about the rapid advance of technologies in the world and their impact on our daily lives seems urgent. As you know, many jobs will be challenged by artificial intelligence and there is no point in training young people in professions that will obviously be replaced by AI. It is true that the literacy rate is increasing, but will the education received by African youth meet the expectations of businesses in a decade or so, this is a question that African elites should ask themselves and act accordingly.
2. Education: The training of specialists in artificial intelligence remains an essential pillar for the salvation of Africa. It is necessary to open training courses in African universitites related to this theme.Thus African youth could launch start-ups and tackle the various problems mentioned above. Google recently launched its first artificial intelligence laboratory in Africa(in Ghana) and it must be said that the initiative should not only come from web giants but also from politicians. The more specialists there are representing Africa on a global level, the more interested the others will be and the snowball effect is then started. How many people today will study or work in Europe because Africa does not understand what is happening ?Here is for example an intervention by Essossolam a Togolese student who has been studying in Morocco since then at the African forum on artificial intelligence at Mohammed 6 Polytechnic University. “You repeat that young Africans studying abroad must return home to develop artificial intelligence projects,” he said. But you forget that not all African countries look like Morocco, South Africa or Rwanda. I am Togolese, I do coding studies here. If I return to Lomé tomorrow, I condemn myself to become a farmer. I will forget the coding because there is no work, not even an Internet network that allows me to develop a start-up. If I stay in Morocco, I can become a developer or open a business. And if I listened to my classmates, I would look like them on the other side of the Mediterranean or the Atlantic. »
The 4th Industrial Revolution is launched and it is moving very fast. It is an economy in which for the first time since the existence of human that his intelligence is really challenged by the machine. Positive consequences there are plethora of them especially for underdeveloped countries facing several problems and negatives ones.I can say that the future is in the hands of African youth and it is up to them to take up this great challenge. I will end with the quote of Abdoulaye Ibrahim UNESCO representative in a Africa : “ Africa has already missed several industrial revolutions. It must not miss the one of artificial intelligence ”.