Google has launched an artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Accra, Ghana, the first on the African continent, to use emerging technologies to solve the continent’s problems. Accra will join the list of Google AI centers that are located in cities throughout the world, including as New York, Paris, Zurich, Tokyo, Beijing, Montreal, Tel Aviv/Haifa, Munich, London, and San Francisco.
Dr Moustapha Cisse, the director of the center, believes that bringing emerging technologies to Africa is essential to ensure that Africa’s needs are broadcast and appropriately addressed.
“AI is a critical tool used today and used to accelerate all sorts of sciences in physics, chemistry and engineering,” Dr Cissé said in an interview with Business Insider South Africa. “But most of the people working and advancing the science and developing it in the field are based mostly in Western countries. It’s important that such an important field [can address] a diversity of the problems that the world faces today, and Africa is accurately represented.”
Researchers of various nationalities will work to provide AI-based solutions to real-world problems, particularly in healthcare, education, and agriculture. Google plans to incorporate existing technology that can detect crop diseases and recommend treatments through a smartphone picture, with the aim of improving the diagnosis of crop diseases and increasing food security. Satellite imagery will also be explored to measure population migration and related matters.
The center also plans on collaborating with research centers, universities, and policy makers to promote use of the technology. An estimated 10 million Africans will benefit from Google’s digital skills training program, and the center’s Launchpad Accelerator Africa program is supporting about 100,000 developers and 60 startups throughout the continent.
In addition to improving workplace diversity in tech, software engineers at the center are working with AI algorithms to make the technology itself more diverse, avoiding blunders that the internet search behemoth has experienced in the past.
“Such lack of diversity can entrench unintended algorithmic biases and build discrimination into AI products,” Dr. Cissé wrote on the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences blog.
“More Africans would be included in data gathering to provide an accurate representation of users,” said Nyalleng Moorosi, software engineer at the center, as reported by Analytics Insight. “When you build something, you think it will only work for the world you know and your neighborhood…And you forget that maybe it can be so great it becomes deployed to foreign neighborhoods. The best way to go about is to have diverse teams working on these algorithms and then we will get somewhere.”
However, various obstacles need to be overcome to successfully disseminate these tools among the African continent. Google needs to accommodate the Africa’s linguistic diversity—over 2,000 languages are spoken among’s the continent’s 1.2 billion people. Also, as most AI technologies are deployed on powerful devices, the Accra AI center will need to create systems that can be used on simple smartphones, unstable network connections, and offline.
Nevertheless, the future is bright for AI in Africa.
“Now is the time to build a foundation that ensures that AI helps bring better lives in Africa and beyond,” Dr. Cissé wrote. “With foresight and planning, the technological revolution that AI brings will be a force to empower a fair and prosperous society. The oft-overlooked continent has much to give and to get from AI.”
Dr. Moustapha Cissé
Dr. Moustapha Cissé