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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. WHAT ROLE DOES IT PLAY IN AFRICA? AN INTRODUCTION

This blog provides a breakdown of the role of AI in Africa, based on survey research.

FOCUS ON AI IN AFRICA

There is little doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the emerging technology creating the most excitement in African telecoms and across the wider economy. During a survey with the AfricaTech audience in 2019, it was singled out as the top technology for companies to invest in over the coming years.

A resounding 70% of our respondents said they expected AI to have a positive effect on business, industry and consumer markets over the next five years. When looking at employment strategies, 36% said the most in-demand skills in the workplace in 2020 would be AI-related, followed by the associated field of Big Data Analytics (32%).


Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning (ML)

AI is better understood as a family of related technologies which all lean towards intelligence-based, adaptable automation analytics systems. On the surface at least, they appear to make computers and machines capable of imitating human thought and behaviour. Of these technologies, Machine Learning was identified in our survey as the one expected to have the biggest impact in Africa, with 34% of the vote.

Machine Learning enables systems to recognise patterns in repeated processes and adapt to achieve better performance and efficiency - in effect automating continuous improvement. Machine Learning was followed by Machine Reasoning (17%) and Computer Vision (15%).


The exciting potential of AI in Africa

"With growing populations and mounting environmental pressures, Africa’s agricultural sector is under intense pressure to raise efficiency and productivity, and AI is viewed as a critical tool in that battle." 

What is particularly exciting about AI is the breadth of its potential applications across commerce and industry. In telecoms, for example, it is expected to play a key role in 5G, managing the flood of additional traffic brought by dozens of new mobile uses cases. Tractica estimates that AI could be worth $250m to the African telecoms sector alone, with 70% of that value stemming from network optimisation.

Given the fact that the finance sector stood out in our survey as the sector perceived as having the most to gain from network evolution and digital disruption, it was perhaps a slight surprise to find that our respondents felt AI would benefit agriculture more over the next five years - 14% naming agriculture compared to 11% finance. With growing populations and mounting environmental pressures, Africa’s agricultural sector is under intense pressure to raise efficiency and productivity, and AI is viewed as a critical tool in that battle.

Another example of AI in use in agriculture is the TensorFlow smartphone app built by Google, which diagnoses crop disease simply by taking a photograph of the infected plant. TensorFlow was developed at Google’s AI research lab in the Ghanaian capital Accra, the first facility of its kind on the continent.


What are some of the most exciting uses of AI you've seen on the continent? Let us know on social media.

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