Why Africa Needs AI Centres of Excellence

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Why Africa Needs AI Centres of Excellence

We have arrived at the beginning of a new decade with unprecedented challenges and huge opportunities to advance Africa’s socio-economic dreams or reverse the few gains of the past decade. With mounting challenges ebbing at our collective survival, there is the urgent need to build an AI-literate cross-functional critical mass of Africans. Alternatively said, our workforce and leaders need to be reskilled and upskilled to create an AI-ready mindset.

Becoming an AI-first continent will be crucial to the long-term success of African nations. Each African nation needs to invest in an AI Center of Excellence (CoE). A CoE could start as virtual team of experts both local and diaspora talents who have skills to manage resources and provide counsel in the field of AI. With an African-led AI CoE+global tech partnerships, we can benefit from a growing body of knowledge and set of best practices that enable scalable AI initiatives to takeoff with proven accomplishment.

Working with the African private sector, an AI CoE we believe should identify the business or public good use cases for AI targeting a local African population or market segment who would benefit from an AI initiative. We would have to determine what kind of data we have, and what kind of data we will need. We can create the scope of an African-led CoE through establishing data infrastructure to ensure projects launch successfully at scale through leveraging high-quality training data to achieve that. We believe an AI CoE should be founded on right engineering team to deliver on the increasing volume, quality, and speed requirements for training data. Anything short of this will be putting at risk the success of our AI initiatives.

The social deplatformization of the ex-President of the United State of America has raised the urgency of African nations to provide national replacements for Twitter and the prioritization of national support for AI and decentralization platforms, to build our own social networks and messaging apps that US firms can’t close down. Arbitrary deplatforming is a huge threat to any nation’s sovereignty and leveraging on decentralization defeats deplatforming.

With digital hostilities taking over horizon of this new decade, the need to build out AI-capability cannot be overemphasized. We would need to build national digital platforms to provide twitter-like services for our national markets while leveraging unbiased international platforms enabled by blockchain technology.

To build an AI-capable continent will demand a long term view of AI. This is because a short view may hobble our capacity to marshaling the requisite resources for AI development thereby, squeezing our scarce national resources and increasing our national debt. By gradually taking on AI development through locally-relevant business cases, we stand a chance to grow our experience in AI literacy. This would mean developing a knowledge base, harness AI lessons which will give way to long-term growth in AI-driven development in Africa.

Succinctly put, this will ask of us to define each of African nation’s AI goal, some well-developed expectations, build out local technical infrastructure, with a strong incorporation of ethical aspects into Africa’s AI projects, thereby entrenching AI in every area of our sector and public organization. We believe that African nations need to establish enthusiastic organizational units across the continent to entrench AI. As a critical business tool, AI cannot be left to the whims and caprices of politics, thereby demanding that we provide leadership that sufficiently support coordination or collaboration across boards. With this, we can achieve or stimulate new competence hubs (CH) or centers of excellence (COE) across Africa.

Since AI typically supports tasks rather than entire jobs or business processes, it is pertinent for us to focus our attention on projects that would substantial impact on the African continent, a series of smaller projects targeting say crop diseases would enable us achieve the right impact with possible scalabilities. That may require a “strategy document/road map”, containing multiple use cases, bound by timelines for each African nation. With this strategic document and an AI center of excellence we can help Africa nations take a “bold shot but start small” with AI.

So, AI isn’t much different from many technological projects which decades of learning have taught us that we can get the best out of it by carrying AI-projects in “agile” fashion, with many short-term deliverables and rapid meetings with stakeholders. More so, where the need for substantial system development or integration arises, we can apply a more traditional project management approaches.

In all, we can achieve more by forming a web of relationships with universities, vendors, AI start-ups, and other sources of expertise and innovation, both local and overseas. For African nations, the key would be to develop an AI ecosystem, invest in firms that show promise of adding value to our local economy while helping us develop relevant tools and technologies that solve our local challenges or take advantage of our unique local opportunities.

Written by Caesar Keluro, Co-Founder/CEO, Nanocentric Technologies Limited. He leads ‘Make In West Africa’, a regional Think-tank. He tweets @kcaesar

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