African Countries Should Invest in Developing Their Own AI Capabilities

AI African warriors

Africans must be key players (not just consumers) in the development of AI. Africans must proactively use AI to solve their socio-economic problems,” Prof. Arthur G.O. Mutambara.

As the world witnesses the unprecedented rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), African nations have the opportunity to become either spectators or creators of the AI narrative. This choice is not merely about joining a technological revolution but also about shaping a future where AI respects and empowers the unique identities and needs of the African continent.

In 2022, more than 60% of Africa’s population was under the age of 25. By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42% of global youth and by 2050, more than half of the world’s population growth will be in Africa. Having the youngest population, Africa can be the continent that is poised to redefine the AI landscape towards sustainable prosperity.

The ability to harness and use AI technology to solve problems i.e having the expertise, infrastructure, and knowledge to develop, deploy, and adapt AI systems is, for me, what defines a country’s AI capabilities.

To achieve this, the process should involve ‘Africanizing’ these technologies. Developing AI capabilities that address culture, native languages, and local contexts is not just a choice; it is a must. Here is why:

Data Relevance and Training:

Building AI that caters to the specific needs, cultures, and languages of a country often requires training on locally relevant data, which may not have been readily available during the training of large language models (LLMs). Collecting and curating such data is essential for creating context aware AI. For instance, training AI for medical diagnosis in a specific country requires access to medical records and data that may not have been included in global LLMs. Local healthcare providers and institutions can contribute to creating a more accurate and locally relevant AI system.

Economic Opportunities:

Building AI capabilities tailored to local culture and languages can create economic opportunities. It encourages the growth of a local AI industry, including language technology, content creation, and AI services, which can lead to job creation and innovation.

Sovereignty and Security:

Overreliance on foreign AI technologies can pose data privacy and national security risks. Developing indigenous AI capabilities enables countries to maintain control over their AI infrastructure..

Enhancing Competitiveness:

Investing in AI capabilities enhances Africa’s global competitiveness. As AI becomes a transformative infrastructure layer, African countries that commit to AI development can attract foreign investments, foster innovation, and create high-value jobs in the technology sector.

Fostering Home-Grown Solutions:

Building their own AI capabilities allows African countries to develop home-grown solutions tailored to their unique needs. This is particularly important given that foreign AI solutions may not always be suitable for local contexts. Home-grown AI can address local challenges more effectively and ensure that the benefits of AI are equitably distributed.

Cultural Relevance:

Every African country possesses a unique set of values, traditions, and cultural norms. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) underscores the significance of this endeavor in its 2022 — 2025 Digital Strategy, emphasizing the need for technology to be centered around people and be intentionally inclusive to yield meaningful societal impact. The keyword here is ‘inclusivity.’ AI systems should be designed to respect and incorporate these cultural nuances. By developing culturally sensitive AI, countries can avoid perpetuating stereotypes and ensure technology aligns with cultural sensibilities.

Language Accessibility for Effective Communication:

Native languages are central to a nation’s identity and communication. Developing AI capabilities that support native languages is essential for bridging the digital divide and reducing linguistic disparities. In Africa, where diverse languages, dialects, and regional slang are prevalent, AI that understands and communicates in these languages facilitates broader access to technology, particularly in areas such as education, healthcare, and government services.

Local Problem-Solving:

AI solutions tailored to local contexts are more effective at addressing region-specific challenges. For instance, an AI system designed to assist in African agriculture must understand the unique farming practices, weather patterns, and crop diseases prevalent in the region to provide meaningful advice.

Final thoughts

The development of AI capabilities in Africa will not be without its challenges, including a lack of investment, a shortage of specialized talent, and limited access to the latest global research. However, building AI capabilities ensures that the technology aligns with the unique identities and needs of African countries and their citizens, ultimately leading to more ethical, effective, and relevant AI systems. It is time to Africanize this tech!”

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