By John Njogu
Africa is at the cusp of a technological renaissance, and at the heart of this transformation lies the ever-expanding realm of artificial intelligence (AI). As the continent grapples with both longstanding challenges and emerging opportunities, AI is a potent force that could reshape its future in profound ways. From bolstering healthcare delivery in remote villages to revolutionizing agriculture and leapfrogging infrastructural limitations, Africa’s journey with AI is not just a story of innovation but a testament to the continent’s resilience and determination to bridge the digital divide. In this era of AI-driven progress, the potential for Africa is limitless, provided we navigate the terrain of ethical, socio-economic, and policy considerations with unwavering commitment and foresight.
In the era of AI also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, countries worldwide, particularly in North America, Europe and Asia, are investing significantly in leveraging AI’s potential for socio-economic growth. These countries are releasing AI policy frameworks correspondingly, while Africa lags in comprehensive AI policy formulation and effective utilization of AI for its own development.
The state of AI adoption in Africa
Numerous obstacles hinder Africa’s embrace of AI, as reported by Abejide in Responsible AI in Africa. These include basic challenges such as inadequate sanitation, food insecurity, limited internet access and poor education systems. According to a 2022 demographic report on internet usage released by Statista, internet usage is expanding in Africa, with an estimated 570 million users. However, there is variation in technological uptake within the continent. Nations including Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa lead in smartphone adoption, but the continent’s overall internet penetration is just 43%, well below the global average of 67%.
In the agricultural sector, most Africans still depend on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. Climate change has however drastically affected farm outputs, resulting in many farmers turning to other sources of income that seem more lucrative. Health care in many African countries, especially in rural areas, is not digitalized. Many local clinics and hospitals still use paper for orders and records, an indication of how far we are from a universally digitized healthcare system.
Despite these challenges, the silver lining is that technology has the capacity to rapidly transform challenges into opportunities. For example, in Sierra Leone, various stakeholders like World Vision Sierra Leone have partnered with the local government to invest heavily in digitizing their health system through the Ministry of Health. In Mali, the company Robots Mali employs language processing to create educational content for school children by teaching fundamental concepts in Bambara, a widely spoken local dialect. This initiative addresses the challenge of poor early education performance among young learners who are submitted to instruction in a language that is foreign to them.
The data dilemma: privacy, exploitation and surveillance
The success of AI relies heavily on the availability of robust data to train models. Private companies are collecting massive amounts of data from individuals, some without their knowledge. Data privacy policies are generally impenetrable to the average person, too long and technical to bother with, and difficult to revisit for verification.
The exploitation of African data, and the general absence of data sovereignty, underscores the urgent necessity to improve data privacy and transparency across the continent. At the extreme, people are manipulated into surrendering biographic data, such as in Kenya, where a recent World Coin cryptocurrency campaign had a multitude of Kenyans queuing for hours to surrender their iris biometric data for a meager $49 inducement.
This incidence reflects a repeated narrative in African nations, where personal data is amassed by private entities without sufficient informed consent from the public and without due consideration for data privacy and transparency. It took a groundswell of concern by Kenyan citizens about utilization storage of their data for the government to halt World Coin activities. This incident serves as a potent reminder of the broader issue at hand that needs solving before AI can flourish in Africa – a lack of control over personal data and the imperative to safeguard data privacy and transparency in Africa and beyond.
AI policy initiatives and impact on African development
Yet the embrace of AI holds the potential to help African economies grow exponentially. Many African countries have realized this and have started to develop policies that position themselves as AI leaders. The Science for Africa Foundation’s Science Policy Engagement for African Research (SPEAR) programme is seeking to address the AI policy gaps across sectors in Africa, on the belief that the transformative potential of AI can accelerate achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and improve economies across the continent.
The SFA Foundation’s approach emphasizes the importance of diverse, equitable, inclusive, adaptable and stakeholder-owned policies. Through holding regional convenings to engage stakeholders to identify country- and regional-level policy needs, and encouraging dialogue and collaboration, the Foundation aims to formulate effective policies that are evidence-based, and align with development goals, and local contexts. Two of these workshops have already been held in Southern Africa and in West Africa, with more to follow targeting the three remaining regions. At the end of the convenings the SFA Foundation will generate a report on the status of AI in global health in Africa.
Seizing the AI opportunity for a prosperous Africa
AI is not just a distant aspiration for Africa; it is already at work, transforming lives in Sierra Leone and Mali. AI holds immense potential to address the issues Africa is grappling with, ranging from internet access disparities and climate-induced agricultural woes to the critical need for healthcare digitization. However, the journey ahead demands a collective effort.
To harness AI’s full potential, Africa must prioritize data privacy and transparency, and safeguard its data resources from exploitation. It’s crucial that African nations continue to develop equitable, stakeholder-owned policies through initiatives like the SFA Foundation’s SPEAR programme. The time is ripe to invest in education and nurture local talent to effectively manage data. In doing so, we can ensure that AI doesn’t exacerbate existing inequalities but instead drives us toward a safer, sustainable, and more equitable African future. Let us seize this opportunity to propel Africa’s development, bridging the inequity gap and foster prosperity through the transformative power of Artificial Intelligence.
Source link : https://www.africa.com/using-artificial-intelligence-to-advance-development-in-africa/
Author : Editor
Publish date : 2023-09-22 09:42:43