Globally, the rate of innovation is increasing rapidly, and every day new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are being deployed to help better understand and tackle the world’s problems.
While the World Economic Forum (WEF) projected that AI and Robotics would absorb five million jobs in 2020, according to the Web Foundation, emerging technologies such as AI have the potential to improve the way people work and solve problems by creating new employment opportunities and automating tasks.
A 2017 report by the Web Foundation on artificial intelligence in Africa maintains a broad interpretation of AI, defining it as “an intelligent system, which is able to solve problems by selecting the best possible action in a given scenario.”
This unique quality can improve the efficiency and delivery of public services such as education, health clinics, waste management, transport management, and agriculture.
Though there has been some advancement in AI adoption in Africa it appears to be lagging behind the rest of the world.
This scenario and others led Alex Tsado to birth the Alliance4ai initiative, a community of AI experts looking to assemble the sharpest innovators in Africa, to tackle critical challenges in health, agriculture, finance, and policymaking.
A look at AI development in the world today
According to Tsado, technical product manager at Nvidia, one of the world’s largest producers of graphics processing units for the gaming and professional markets, the process of developing AI stepped up a notch with the advent of high-performance graphic processing units (GPUs).
“Nowadays, training an AI requires much less time than it used to as a result of these GPUs,” says Tsado.
At Nvidia, Tsado leads teams that design and launch GPUs on major cloud platforms in the USA and China — Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Tencent. These GPUs are some of the most adopted platforms for training and developing AI, High-performance computing (HPC) and Graphics visualization.
While high costs have been a major constraint on the proliferation of high-performance GPUs that speed up machine learning, Tsado believes the adoption of cloud computing could make them more accessible to more companies and innovators.
“Anyone who can not afford $500,000 to get one of these high-performance computers can rent it for as low as $10 on the cloud,” Tsado reveals.
“Right now, there are accelerator programs that give access to cloud credits as high $50,000, an amount that can set an innovator or startup up for success,” he adds.
Developing an African neural network
In terms of AI development, experts we discussed with opined that it would take Nigeria a minimum of 11 years to get to the level of advanced countries
Tsado points out that due to a number of factors such as poor infrastructure, low purchasing power, and most importantly, a general lack of awareness, the African continent was seriously lagging behind in the AI revolution taking place around the world today.
According to Tsado, though Africa may be lagging behind, AI innovation will take place on a step-by-step basis and will not happen all at once.
For Tsado, information such as the accelerator programs earlier mentioned, and the wonderful innovations being created with such information around the world, are currently scarce in the African continent.
“Advanced countries of the world have billions of dollars to invest in AI, but in Africa, perhaps we don’t have that kind of money, what we have is the brainpower,” says Tsado.
“I called some friends together to found Alliance4ai, a community that will connect the entire brain force of the continent, in the manner of a neural network. This is to ensure we adopt AI for the right reasons and minimise the gap from other countries.”
The initiative is meant to share knowledge gleaned from working in advanced countries with innovators, companies, and policymakers in Africa.
With a team of advisors around the continent and a number of initiatives already being developed, the Alliance4ai platform currently offers substantial information/reports, current innovations by startups and individuals, progressive policies supporting AI in Africa, and career opportunities for aspiring AI professionals.
A learning process
For individuals or startups currently working on or interested in AI, the organisation sets up AI clinics, initiatives that allow these startups to engage with AI professionals around the world.
According to Tsado, this grants young professionals access to information, connections, and mentorship opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Startups can also get featured in its reports.
Due to the dearth of AI professionals in Africa, Alliance4ai has continued to build a curriculum that contains the latest information on artificial intelligence where aspiring professionals can teach themselves.
“Students can create a club of 5 – 40 persons and begin learning AI and perform various tasks. Interested persons can leverage this opportunity by opening chapters in their school,” says Tsado.
While expecting an entrant from Nigeria with a recent application from the University of Portharcourt in Rivers state Nigeria, Alliance4ai currently has chapters in Ghana, Rwanda, and Tunisia.
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