The African Network of Excellence in AI has launched a survey and will deliver a report on capacity building in AI in education and in governemnts in SSA. The AI4D initiative will use information from this research to inform future programming addressing AI and work with Governemnts, Universities and other centres of higher education and training. Our objective is to assess and deepen our understanding of AI capacity and use in sub-Saharan Africa with the aim of developing a capacity building agenda. The survey will collect information about the state of AI activities and capacity building to support the development of AI4D.
We were searching for our tribe. A community of people, who much like us, were either working in the data space or were curious about it and looking to explore. In the span of two years, this community has grown and evolved tremendously. We have experimented with a variety of activities; monthly meetups, quarterly study groups, hackathons, and round table discussions, and now have a following of over 2,000 people on meetup.com. Some of my personal favourite stories from the community are of the women and men who “earn their stripes” and then give back by taking it upon themselves to organize an AI community activity. Succession and continuity are important for long term impact.
When we started doing this, there was no other such space in Nairobi. Today, there are several other communities that possibly do it much better than we ever did or could. The Nairobi AI ecosystem has grown, and we contributed to it, however, our story is not unique.
Across the continent, we are seeing the creation of a vibrant African AI ecosystem. Data Science Nigeria runs programs strategically focused on capacity building, particularly in secondary schools and universities. Blossoms Academy in Ghana provides university graduates with the skills needed to launch meaningful careers in Data Science. The first edition of the North Africa Machine Learning Summer School will take place in Morocco in June of this year and the third Deep Learning Indaba will take place in August of this year in Nairobi, Kenya, in addition to smaller, independently organized IndabaX events being hosted in 27 countries across the continent; Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, The Gambia, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Clearly, something is a-brewing. Back in January, a friend of mine in the Nairobi WiMLDS community messaged me to wish me a happy new year and we had the following exchange;
M: What’s the plan for Data Science in Kenya in 2019? * I laughed out loud, really I did *
K: The national plan…ama?
M: Si ati national plan. If you are working on something cool I can join in. Side project or stuff…
He was asking me a question I had been asking myself for a while, “What next?”
What next for the individuals who begin engaging with the Nairobi WiMLDS community with little more than an interest. The ones who begin by picking up the basics of programming in R or Python, then collaborate on fun projects, take part in a hackathon, and give back by facilitating sessions for others. What more can they do to grow and further contribute as part of the community? Short of getting them a job, which we cannot possibly do for every individual, what more can we do to further engage and foster this community?
“The future of AI and Machine Learning (ML) will be driven by the community through grassroot movement. This is a bottom-up model where people come together to build solutions for problems they can associate with.”
In the context of our local WiMLDS community, the next step is open source projects. We are crowdsourcing efforts to build natural language processing (NLP) for low-resource languages among Kenya’s 67 living languages, such as Dholuo and Kamba with over 4 million speakers. An ideal problem set to begin with, in my opinion, because anyone with the know-how can begin contributing towards resources for the languages that they care about. Given the great diversity of African languages and the overall lack of tools to easily work with them, this is a problem that we can all relate to when it comes to building machine learning applications based on the processing of our own languages.
Other communities across the continent will soon find that they will be asking themselves the same question, or some variation of it if they are not already. For those focused on capacity building, then comes the question of where and how to make the best use of this capacity?
How can we begin to fix our education systems such that we no longer have to innovate and create spaces outside of it to make up for the gaps?
How can we support individuals who are innovating, get them mentorship and resources, well equip them to increase their chances of succeeding as entrepreneurs, help reimagine Kenya’s industries, and contribute to Africa’s economic and social success? To gain access to funding and credit? Do we have the necessary infrastructure and enabling systems upon which they can build and innovate?
Going forward, the road is long and no one individual holds the answers but we each must play our part if we hope to reap from the collective efforts of the community.
The Deep Learning Indaba is an organisation and a community whose mission is to Strengthen African Machine Learning. Today it has issued its second report Together We Build African Artificial Intelligence describing their strategy, vision and mission. This mission is currently executed using three principal programmes, which aim to build communities, create leadership, and recognise excellence in research and innovation across our continent .
Oxford Insights are working with AI4D to create a unique Government AI Readiness Index, to provide an overall estimate for how prepared each country’s national government is for implementing AI in public service delivery. It comprises a set of input metrics, ranging from in-country digital skills and government innovation to existing data capabilities.
The Index highlights which countries have some way to go before they are ready for the AI revolution, and identifies possible areas of improvement for every Global SOUTH government, regardless of ranking. More news about the index coming soon!
Partners in the Network of Excellence in AI in sub-Saharan Africa have had a sucessful submitssion to the 28th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, one of the most relevant AI conferences in the AI community. The workshop we are designing is titled Artificial Intelligence and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and will take place on August 10-16 2019, Macao, China. We welcome your EasyChair submissions here!
We presented the AI4D initiative and specifically the African Network of Excellence with great feedback at the UNESCO global conference “Principles for AI: Towards a Humanistic Approach?”. Building on its record of multi-stakeholder consultation and consensus building, UNESCO brought together stakeholders from the public and private sector, technical community, media and academia, civil society and international organizations. Our presentation came first at the “Challenges and Opportunities of AI panel “describing how development of artificial intelligence in Africa offers both opportunities and challenges as it concerns the global goals for sustainable development.
The Forum on Artificial Intelligence in Africa at the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Benguérir, Morocco was the first public event where the AI4D project was presented to the public. The two members of the AI4D team Davor Orlic from the Knowledge 4 All Foundation and Ruhiya Kristine Sewardfrom IDRC did a great job at presenting at the plenary session Universal Access to Information and Knowledge, and Artificial intelligence in Africa. The event also formulated an outcome statments available here.
A recent mapping of AI talents, actors, and knowledge hot spots in the Global South illustrates the extent to which universities, start-ups, and other sectors already engage with AI across Africa. Now, in collaboration with Knowledge 4 All Foundation and the new UNESCO Chair in AI at University College London, IDRC will fund a series of consultations and workshops to build a network of AI researchers and innovators in sub-Saharan Africa. A critical focus for this network will be how AI can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Check the complete report here.