“AI could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030, more than the current output of China and India combined,” according to PwC. The current wave of global economic revolution triggered by the evolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has set the pace for many nations of the world, with each nation striving to leverage the substantial growth AI offers. Considering the massive engagement of global economies in the adoption of AI, Africa, also, is not staying stagnant in the race.
From Kenya to Ghana to Nigeria to Egypt, nations all across Africa are positioning themselves for the new wave of Artificial Intelligence. Despite the significant barriers to the growth of AI in Africa, the artificial intelligence community has continued to flourish. In 2019, the global tech giant, Google, opened its first Artificial Intelligence centre in Accra, Ghana. Before the launch of the AI centre in Ghana, Google worked with farmers in Tanzania to tackle some of the challenges they faced with food production after which they developed a machine learning model to detect diseases in cassava plant, a major crop in the nation, to drastically improve the production yield of the crop. This move by Google promises to expand the horizons of AI research in Africa.
However, with the history of Africa’s usage of technology, there is a huge risk of the continent depending on AI products and talents from Europe, Asia and the Americas. Nonetheless, developments like the Google AI centre in Ghana and the IBM research labs across Africa foster effective collaboration across the continent and between the continent and the other parts of the world, with the promise of putting Africa on the global map of the AI community and not just being a consumer of the technology. Across Africa, national and industry leaders have also seen the urgency to enhance international collaboration in AI and develop indigenous talents. So far, progress is being made towards achieving this.
In an article for Nature in 2018, Moustapha Cisse, the lead for Google’s Ghana AI centre wrote, “A network of African institutes of artificial intelligence, for example, could retain the best talents on the continent, enlist world-class African scientists to tackle AI challenges in the African context, and collaborate with existing academic institutions.” Organizations like Google’s AI centre, IBM’s two research labs in Nairobi and Johannesburg, and the African Institute for Mathematical Scientists (AIMS) in Rwanda, amongst others, are leading Africa towards the promising future of AI with indigenous researchers and practitioners.
The tech scene in Africa is evolving quite rapidly, with a notable number of citizens and key stakeholders taking great strides to technologically advance the continent and develop AI Talents in Africa. In 2018, Nigeria’s Dr Bayo Adekanmbi founded Data Science Nigeria (DSN), a non-profit and Africa’s largest AI talent development initiative, with the vision of developing the country’s AI ecosystem to world-class standard, consequently allowing the nation opportunities to access about 2-3% of the estimated $15.7 trillion of the global GDP contribution of AI.
The organization has pioneered various activities to penetrate the roots of Nigeria and raise AI Talents through its free trainings, campus communities, world renowned AI research and its annual AI bootcamp in Lagos, Nigeria, that hosts some of the best AI practitioners across the globe. In recent years, Africa has seen more innovative moves to democratize AI across the continent through grassroots and local initiatives like the AI Saturdays across various African cities.
AI adoption is still hindered by a myriad of long standing problems
The growth of AI has, however, experienced its fair share of challenges. “AI is going to be one of the key drivers of inequality in the future and we are already at a disadvantage. Most datasets available in ML are not African,” laments Ogueji, a member of the Lagos AI Saturdays Community and a machine learning researcher at Instadeep. As intriguing as the capabilities of AI may be, all that will be impossible without quality data to train the model. The continent is lagging in terms of local data acquisition for developing custom AI solutions. We cannot build personalized AI technology for Africa by depending on only foreign data gathered by international communities.
In a bid to address this significant threat to AI adoption in Africa, the team at AI Saturdays Lagos launched ChowNet, Africa’s ImageNet for food images. Led by Tejumade Afonja, the team hopes to crowdsource sufficient quality data of images of local food delicacies over the next few years to aid the development of computer vision algorithms for image classification tasks of local delicacies.
The quest to adopt AI systems that are personalized for Africans continues to advance. In 2019, the duo of Africa’s Instadeep researchers, Orevaoghene Ahia and Kelechi Ogueji successfully developed a pidgin-to-English machine learning translation model. The project was accepted at the 2019 NeurIPS, the world’s largest gathering of AI researchers and practitioners. With developments like this, Africa is making robust progress on the path to the adoption of AI technology.
A growing number of African startups are already deploying Artificial Intelligence (AI)
In recent years, Africa has seen the birth of quite a number of startups using AI to solve some of the continent’s pressing challenges. In the context of AI adoption, “Africa is hungry,” says Tunisia’s Karim Beguir, founder of AI startup, Instadeep. Instadeep is one of the leading AI companies in Africa. The company offers AI-powered solutions to enterprises to solve complex challenges across various industries and sectors.
The African financial sector is also experiencing the prominent impact of AI adoption in the provision of financial services with innovations like Paylater and the UBA chatbot, Leo. Paylater, a fintech company based in Nigeria, is offering loans to Nigerians without a collateral, by using AI to predict applicants that are most likely to repay the loans. Banking giant, UBA, has also pushed the frontiers of Africa’s adoption of AI through its smart chatbot, Leo, that leverages AI to provide customer-care services to customers more efficiently than human customer-care agents.
In East Africa, AI is fast penetrating the region. Ugandan Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa is leading the integration of AI technology in the region. Her startup, CHIL AI Lab, whose goal is to leverage AI via mobile cancer screenings for women across the region, is significantly impacting the reproductive health of women across the region. Africans, all across the continent, like Shamim, are embracing the use of AI to solve diverse medical and societal issues.
However, in a continent where more than 66 percent of its populace remain unbanked, more than 600 million people lack access to power and just 21.8 percent of its population, as at 2019, are internet users, the feasibility of AI penetration and adoption is threatened by these significant hurdles coupled with the lack of appropriate infrastructure to enhance the economic integration of AI technology. There is no doubt that the adoption of AI in Africa faces significant barriers. However, the continent is steadfastly preparing to face the current and future challenges, to improve the penetration of AI technology across African nations. In the words of China Cancio, “A little bump in the road is just a bump. There’s more ahead until you reach your destination.”
How blockchain can bridge the trust gap in governance
Governments and authority figures have existed throughout history to serve many purposes amongst which trust is central. In matters of social and economic concern, some form of trust and/or distrust has enabled people in all cultures across all times to transact and interact, to exchange value and advance cultural agenda. This is so important that our very concept of money is built on trust or value induced by trust.
However, for most of history up till now, authorities have wielded central power and that has always been an avenue for corruption, a lack of transparency which leads to wastage of resources and spirals down to a lack of trust by a populace in the authority over them. Evidently, this is paradoxical, the governments are to be trusted by virtue of the authority given to them but it’s this centralization that ends up upending it down the line.
Evidently, many people in many countries do not trust governments to do things the way they say they’d do them. The question is, what can a hypothetical government do about massive distrust from citizenry?
Enter the blockchain. As with many things, technology often has something to offer. The blockchain which underlies cryptocurrencies like most famously, Bitcoin, has been imbued with a certain peculiar philosophy; one of democratization. Although this is more of a mantra within crypto circles, it’s not difficult to see why. First is the blockchain’s nature; distributed ledger built on cryptography with certain features which make it functionally immutable. It’s most famous and defining uses have been with crypto but it could be so much more. A record keeping system for example, one that would be immutable and most importantly, transparent, open to all to see.
So, in the administration of nation states, blockchain technology has the ability to fit into a lot of places. The main idea is to be able to carve out trust from distrust i.e. the apparent reality of being watched and having all records secure is an incentive for governments to act transparently. In some use cases, governments (as well as private businesses of course) could leverage smart contracts, a task built into a blockchain that’s executed when the conditions specified are met. These systems in governance would undoubtedly improve transparency, cut down on corruption as well as its accompanying wastes and overall be more efficient.
So, will we see a trend where governments would like to use blockchain technology? Overall, this is for now unlikely. World governments, it would seem, do not understand blockchains very well and hence are apprehensive about them even to the point of banning the cryptocurrencies built on them. At the end of the day, the use of blockchain at the governmental level of any nation depends on the nation’s own unique set of problems and issues. All in all, the next few years will be interesting no doubt in this regard.
Africa Blockchain Institute Organized The First African Blockchain Summer Bootcamp For Teenagers In Ghana
In the spirit of catching them young, the Africa Blockchain Institute organized the first-ever Blockchain Summer Bootcamp for teenagers (age range 13 to 19 years old). A successful Bootcamp, according to the participants’ testimonials and stakeholders, held at the OpenLabs, Ring Road, Accra Ghana, between Monday 2nd August, and Friday 6th August 2021.
The teenagers applied from across Africa, and selected participants all converged at the OpenLabs, Ghana, for an intensive five days of learning, interacting, and implementing personal Blockchain projects. The participants were divided into three significant tracks, thus; Blockchain Development, Blockchain for Creatives and Blockchain Entrepreneurship.
Across these three tracks, the teenagers learnt introductory units to Blockchain Development for societal challenges, Blockchain evangelism, Non-Fungible Tokens, and how Cryptocurrency works. Another highlight of the program was the excursion to the Accra Digital Centre, where the Boot Campers were introduced to the tech ecosystem and feel of the Ghana Tech Lab and Accra Innovation Hub spaces. A visit was also made to the Museum of Science and Technology, and the teenagers got to understand the history of technology in Ghana.
Worthy of mention was the panel session aimed at motivating the students to pursue a career in technology. While making his comments during the panel session, the founder of BankLess Africa, Mr. Muntala Mohammed Shaibu, urged the teenagers to stop seeing themselves as too young to experiment with new technologies. In her remarks, Ms. Elohor Thomas, CEO & Co-Founder of CodeLn, urged the teenagers to continue to explore their interest in technology and blockchain early.
The Bootcamp ended with personal project presentations from the Blockchain Development and the Blockchain for Creatives & Entrepreneurship tracks. Projects such as NFT blogposts, Blockchain product reviews and Blockchain for transport and logistics were presented. The best presentation won the OpenLabs scholarship for Robotics Course. Thanks to Dr Sujith Jayaprakash, the Director of OpenLabs, Ghana, for the offer of scholarship. In his closing remark, the Executive Director of the Africa Blockchain Institute, Mr. Kayode Babarinde, urged the teenagers to continue using the skills and knowledge gained during Bootcamp to explore Blockchain-related solutions further. We also appreciate Mr. Ganzaro Omar, Chairman, AfroBlocks, for his supports, and fostering collaborations with the Ghanian Blockchain community.
The Africa Blockchain Institute will continue to hold future Blockchain Summer Bootcamp series in various African cities to drive Blockchain knowledge into innovators early enough.
Oluwaseun David ADEPOJU
Head of Research,
Africa Blockchain Institute.
How AI Is Helping Fintechs Provide Intelligent And Better Financial Services
We live in an era of data. In today’s world, data is the new gold. The quality of services now significantly depends on how much insight can be extracted from data to help in the creation of the services. For fintech organizations, building services that harness the power of data and artificial intelligence has now become necessary to ensure that the services are tailored to meet the needs of customers. Artificial intelligence is now being used in various ways to help fintech companies provide intelligent and improved services. Some of the major areas of AI application in fintech are discussed in this article.
From insurance companies to banks and other fintech institutions, assessing credit worthiness and estimating the level of risk associated with every transaction has become very crucial. Now, many fintech companies employ the use of AI in determining the credit profiles of clients which helps to minimize financial losses when customers fail to repay loans or meet other financial commitments.
Predicting and preventing fraudulent transactions is another challenge that fintechs are using AI to solve. Using machine learning algorithms, fintech organizations are able to build more accurate fraud detection mechanisms to curb the activities of scammers. The advantage of using machine learning for fraud detection in financial systems is that the machine learning model can learn from the financial data by itself. Thus, it is able to uncover hidden patterns and make a more robust prediction compared to traditional fraud detection algorithms. AI-based fraud detection algorithms can also be used to verify insurance claims and flag fraudulent ones.
Customer churn is an important Key Performance Index (KPI) for any organisation. Preventing customer churn is aimpoaaaustomers and improve customer engagement. Many fintechs across the world now use AI to increase customer retention by understanding customer behaviour and making data-driven decisions to retain the audience of customers.
Intelligent Customer Service
Customer service is an aspect of fintech that has been significantly transformed by AI. The use of AI in this area has drastically reduced the need for human customer care representatives and the cost associated with employing these representatives. With AI, more customers can be attended to more efficiently via chatbots, virtual assistants etc.
Chatbots are, particularly, one of the most common uses of AI in fintech customer service. Chatbots are sophisticated conversational AI applications that can engage with customers, address complaints and basically fill in the gap of a human employee. Chatbots have now become faster and easier means for customers to fix issues they have while using fintech services.
The Future of Fintech With AI
The use of AI in financial technology extends beyond risk assessment, churn prediction and intelligent customer service. Areas like payment processing and sentiment analysis are also being transformed by AI. Organizations like MasterCard and Visa have been able to improve the quality of their services by leveraging AI to achieve this. Personalized banking and financial services will define the future of financial technology. Better experiences will be developed for each customer in a unique and personalized manner. This may be impossible without AI. The future of fintech is geared towards smarter and more intelligent services, with AI steering the wheel to this future.
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