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AI in Africa
The human civilisation has been marked by major milestones that not only changed how we lived but also irreversibly shaped the existence of future generations; the discovery of fire, the great and not so great wars, the agrarian and industrial revolutions and most recent in our recollection, disease. These events have cast ripples across all aspects of our existence. Another oft-forgotten turning point, and unbeknownst to many, is the inception of artificial intelligence.
On a hot summer of 1956, 10 scientists assembled at Dartmouth College with the singular purpose of undertaking in the novel field of research of artificial intelligence. The Dartmouth Summer Project, as it came to be known, became a wellspring for a rapid and unprecedented technological advancement, which continues to be witnessed today. On the back of this wave, machines have since been able to compute simple to increasingly more complex operations, featuring increased processing power.
Since being conceived in the prodigious minds of the scientists at the Dartmouth Summer Project, AI began computing simple operations, waddled along with logical proof and deductive ‘thinking’ and strode past the limits of known human excellence in a host of different fields through algorithmic operations. Today, some of these complex AI-driven operations are too sophisticated for us to decipher or discern the outcome. In effect, the status of the human race as the most intelligent lifeform is slowly slipping through our grasp, lost to our own creations.
Presently, AI permeates every niche of our existence. It is on the palm of our hands, our wrists and ears, thanks to the diminishing size of computers in the recent past, in every piece of ‘smart technology, our workplaces, vehicles and homes. With a constantly unsated appetite for the integration of technology into every aspect of our lives, AI is on the path to occupy every nook and cranny of our lives. Already, AI is behind a staggering number, if not all, of tech or internet-based services.
More palpable than the growing foothold of AI over our lives, however, is the immense power wielded by those generally in control of the functioning of technology, and more particularly, the AI in them. Mind-numbing scales of human data and information are collected, analysed and stored with every passing second. Collectors of this data are privy to an assortment of private and sensitive information, disparately awarding them the ability to collapse social structures and institutions. 19 of the top 100 billionaires around the world owe their riches to technology. The top 4 richest and most profitable companies in the world are all tech companies; the Big Four.
Technology and AI has, consequently, been the reason for widening disparities and discriminative practices around the world. The Big Four and their top-of-the-world’s-richest CEOs, one of whom happens to be the richest man in the world, have been culpable for unscrupulous data mining, trade-in individuals’ personal information and anti-competitive practices. Much of this information is collected and in turn, used to manipulate us. The discriminative effects ensuing from the disparate and unfettered use of AI in advertising and offering opportunities has caused disparate impacts on vulnerable groups and members of society.
The growth of AI in Africa meets a continent rife with catalysts for success. A youthful population, ravenously consuming technology and the resources it provides, an unrelenting appetite to find innovative solutions to the problems ravaging its citizens and a thirst for knowledge in the field of machine learning and AI, akin to that of the Dartmouth Summer Project.
AI in Africa has the potential to fuel new economic growth in a host of sectors including agriculture, healthcare, public services and governance, financial services and education. It would not only lead to efficient maximisation of resources but also create employment for millions of Africans and raise the livelihoods of African populations. AI awards us the unprecedented ability to fully tap into the continent’s until-recently dormant potential.
The path to success for Africa on the back of AI is wrought with many challenges notwithstanding. The disparities, discriminative and power concentration effected by AI elsewhere in the world would only aggravate and innovate the variety experienced in Africa. Where governments walk on teetering stilts and wallow in ineffective regulatory tools and practices, AI would only inflame the situation.
The story has just begun for us and as we flip through it, only we have the power to shape how it ends. As with all others, the AI narrative in Africa is ours to write and orchestrate. We have a chance to participate in the future of humanity. It is our turn to leave another great mark in the annals of history.
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