New AI for Africa Report proposes tailor-made AI solutions for Africa

New AI for Africa

A new white paper, AI and the Future of Work in Africa, offers a comprehensive look at the potential impact of AI on the African continent. The report, a collaborative effort by various organisations and led by Microsoft Research and the University of Pretoria, highlights both the opportunities and challenges that AI presents for Africa’s workforce and economy. A key focal point is the potential for AI to revolutionise various sectors, such as agriculture, healthcare, and finance.

There is an emphasis on the importance of developing AI solutions that are specifically tailored to African context and takes the continent’s unique linguistic and cultural diversity into account.

This is expressed in a general conclusion that “AI applications must be developed with African realities in mind”.

The white paper also dives into the potential impact of AI on jobs and skills in Africa, with researchers pointing out that while AI could create new job opportunities, it may also disrupt existing ones.

There emerged a need for a nuanced examination of this issue, considering factors like gender, education, and location.

This goes in partnership with the need for upskilling and reskilling initiatives to prepare the African workforce for the subsequent shift in the job landscape.

“We see a significant role for generative AI to not only transform work environments, but also foster opportunities for the youth to create jobs, innovate and help drive economic growth and stability across the continent,” says Ravi Bhat, chief technology and solutions officer at Microsoft Africa.

High potential

While technology companies like Microsoft’s partner OpenAI have stoked enthusiasm about the potential of AI, they have done little to are ease concerns about job losses and the need for affordable access to technology in developing economies.

The report stresses the importance of involving workers in the development and implementation of AI solutions to ensure that their needs and concerns are addressed.

According to the whitepaper, many expect generative AI to drastically change knowledge worker jobs, especially in terms of the type of work done, the skills required, and the outputs produced.

McKinsey research shows that generative AI could enable labour productivity growth of up to 0.6% annually through 2040, depending on the rate of technology adoption and the redeployment of worker time into other activities.

To get ahead of this acceleration, the report proposes a series of recommendations for policymakers, businesses, and individuals to smooth the transition to an AI dominated workplace that includes investing in infrastructure and education, developing inclusive AI policies, focusing on human-centred design, and prioritising African-centric solutions.

By taking a proactive and collaborative approach, Africa can harness the power of AI to drive economic growth, empower its workforce, and create a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

The cost of AI

In a follow-up discussion with Bizcoommunity the authors shed light on the challenges and opportunities associated with building African large language models (LLMs).

Vukosi Marivate, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Pretoria, acknowledged the high cost of compute as a significant barrier to entry.

“On the question on the cost barrier to compute, it is a lot,” he said. Marivate has personal experience with this problem in his capacity as a team member at Lelapa AI.

“At Lelapa, we’re looking at both sides – so, building models that are much easier to deploy that are smaller, but then also, at the same time, Lelapa is building African language LLMs as well.”

However, he also highlighted the efforts of organisations like Microsoft to incentivise development in this area through partnerships, grants, and investments in sustainable data centres and lower-cost computing solutions.

“We are very conscious of the requirement for Africa-centric AI to be built here by Africans on the continent for African needs, and that requires compute,” said Jacki O’Neill, Director at Microsoft Research Africa.

The AI revolution in Africa is no longer just a possibility; it is already underway, and by its participation in this research, Microsoft, generative AI’s biggest investor, is signalling that it is open to working alongside individuals, governments, partners and stakeholders across the continent to prepare for a future where AI is intricately woven into the fabric of work and society in Africa.

“Technology alone cannot solve the challenges that our youthful continent faces,” concludes Bhat.

“We need to create policies and practices to ensure that GenAI, and AI in general, is deployed responsibly with AI-related labour being valued and dignified. It requires the macro-economic, labour, and regulatory markets to adapt and be capable of supporting positive change.”


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