With the right mix of policies, Africa and its citizens can reap the benefits of Artificial Intelligence transformations in the years to come. This is according to the findings of a new AI in Africa white paper which has been released by Microsoft.
With AI set to be the most disruptive technology in human existence, and an immense opportunity for Africa, Microsoft saw the need to further understand AI and its implications for Africa specifically. As a result, Microsoft saw fit to commission a future-facing white paper entitled, Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Africa: An Opportunity for Growth, Development, and Democratization, which was recently released during Science Forum South Africa 2018 (SFSA2018) over 12-14 December 2018 at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria. The AI in Africa white paper will be presented to South African Government delegates at a separate event in March 2019 that will be dedicated to addressing AI policy advancements. Compiled by Access Partnership in conjunction with the University of Pretoria, the white paper takes a deep dive into how AI can, and will, change the way we live and work across the continent, but with a strong focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. “AI has the potential to solve some of the most pressing challenges that impact Africa. By enabling intelligent automation of the workforce, augmenting both human and physical capital, and driving innovation, AI is set to unlock huge potential across the continent. If governments can successfully navigate the challenges, AI can be a driver of growth, development, and democratisation in core sectors like healthcare, agriculture and public sector applications like financial services and education,” says Ahmed El Essawi, Corporate Affairs Manager at Microsoft Middle East and Africa. “Yet as with any revolutionary technology, AI poses a lot of challenges, especially with regards to policies and regulations. This is why Microsoft commissioned the publication of the white paper.” The white paper couldn’t come at a more opportune time. With AI predicted to be a driving force behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution, global leaders are already forming best practice for AI policy. According to a recent study by Accenture, AI has the potential to double some country’s GDP growth rate by 2035. Global economic returns of this disruption estimated to run in the region of about $16 trillion, and AI is expected to create 2.3 million new jobs by 2020, while generating more jobs than it eliminates.
Were Africa to harness even a fraction of this benefit it would be an enormously powerful tool for development and poverty reduction. The white paper finds that AI could have the biggest impact on these four key African sectors:
- Agriculture will be done more efficiently and effectively, raising better yields.
- Healthcare will be bettered tailored, higher quality, and more accessible, improving outcomes.
- Public services will be more efficient and more responsive to citizens, enhancing impact.
- Financial services will be more secure and reach more citizens who need them, expanding access.
- Complementing labour in new ways — Job markets will start to adjust, demanding different types of workers with different sets of skills, not always to the immediate benefit of some.
- Getting students, the right skills — Education will need to adapt quickly to position students for future success, and frameworks must be created for workers and citizens to develop the skills they need to thrive.
- Reaching all citizens — Broadband coverage will need to expand rapidly, especially in rural areas, to enable all citizens and businesses not currently connected to reap the benefits.
- Ensuring AI is used ethically — Ethical questions are being raised regarding how to ensure the fair, secure, and inclusive use of AI applications.
- Overcoming the data desert — Data in African economies must make a quantum leap in terms of depth, breadth, and accessibility to enable researchers, developers, and users to drive AI.
But it’s not just Governments that need to step-up to the challenge of preparing for an AI-enabled future. Forward thinking policy-makers, innovative startups, global technology partners, civil society groups, and international global stakeholders need to be part of the conversation. Fortunately, these AI stakeholders are already mobilising to promote the growth of a vibrant AI ecosystem in Africa.
The white paper finds that if policy-makers embrace these challenges and create clear roadmaps to guide the adoption of this technology, African economies are poised for a huge payoff. Importantly, the white paper also explores the ethical implications of AI, and how responsible AI systems must be aligned with ethical values while empowering African consumers. With the right mix of policies, Africa and its citizens can reap the benefits of the transformations in the years to come.
The AI for Good recommendations made in the white paper are in line with the African Union’s aspirations set in Agenda 2063 to build an Africa whose development is people driven, relying on the potential offered by people, especially its women and youth and caring for children.
“Microsoft’s vision of empowerment also goes far beyond business. In fact, we believe that the impact of AI will be the greatest when used to empower all of us to positively transform society. It’s our responsibility to foster trust in AI and ensure its true potential can be realised by all. If we embrace the challenges of AI now, take steps to prepare for AI in the future today, Africa will reap the benefits of a vibrant AI ecosystem,” concludes El Essawi.