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AI in Africa: Double-edged sword for inclusion, inequality
Lavina Ramkissoon, an advisor to the African Union, emphasises the importance of developing and deploying AI and other emerging technologies in an inclusive and responsible way. She highlights the need for local expertise and regulatory frameworks to ensure that these technologies are aligned with the values and priorities of local communities.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies have been transforming societies in Africa, like most technologies do. The technological impact will depend on how they are developed, deployed, and managed.
In particular, there is a risk that these technologies will exacerbate existing inequalities and create new ones by reinforcing digital divides and leaving some communities behind. Shall history repeat just in the digital realm?
The digital divide in Africa is a significant challenge, with many people lacking access to basic internet and telecommunications infrastructure. According to a report by the World Bank, only around 28% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa had access to the internet in 2020, compared to a global average of 53%.
The digital divide is particularly acute in rural areas, where infrastructure is often lacking, and in low-income communities, where the cost of internet access can be prohibitive. It is a double-edged sword for Africa, as the need to stay plugged in is becoming unavoidable.
However, despite these challenges, there are also reasons for optimism. Africa is home to a growing number of tech entrepreneurs and innovators who are using AI and other emerging technologies to address pressing social and economic challenges. From mobile money platforms to AI-powered healthcare solutions, these technologies have the potential to create new opportunities and transform lives in Africa, if they are used responsibly and inclusively.
AI has brought about the inclusion of previously removed societies into the digital realm. One area where AI is already making a significant impact in Africa is healthcare. In the continent where healthcare infrastructure is limited and resources are scarce, AI can help to fill the gap by providing real-time diagnostic and treatment support, both pre and post.
For example, AI-powered tools can be used to analyse medical images and detect early signs of disease, or to provide remote consultations and personalised treatment recommendations.
Another area where AI is being applied in Africa is in agriculture. By analysing data on soil health, weather patterns, and crop yields, AI can help farmers make more informed decisions about planting, irrigation, and harvesting. This can lead to higher crop yields, more efficient resource use, and improved food security. Given Africa will import more food than it produces in less than 7 years, we still have time to turn around the dependency.
Immersive learning experiences
AI is also being used in education in Africa, where it can provide personalised learning experiences and support for students. For example, AI-powered chatbots can provide real-time feedback and support to students, while virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can create immersive learning experiences that enhance understanding and engagement.
Imagine a future where a contact lens enables augmented reality in everything you do, touch, and see in real-time.
No need for introductions, no need for counting calories, or knowing if a food is organic or not, as they appear within your real-time view. Allowing you to make the fastest decision-making with the most accurate amount of information at your fingertips. Superhuman, right?
While AI and other emerging technologies offer many opportunities for Africa, there are also significant challenges that need to be addressed. One of the biggest challenges is the risk that these technologies will exacerbate existing inequalities and create new ones. This is a particular concern in countries where infrastructure and resources are limited, and where the digital divide is already a significant challenge.
To avoid this outcome, it is essential to ensure that AI and other emerging technologies are developed and deployed in an inclusive and responsible way. This means taking steps to ensure that all communities have access to these technologies and that their needs and priorities are considered. It also means ensuring that AI systems are transparent, accountable, and free from bias, and that they are designed to serve the public interest. Blockchain technology offers a boost to already robust AI.
One way to address these challenges is to focus on building localisation and expertise in AI and other emerging technologies. This can be done through initiatives such as training programs, hackathons, and other forms of capacity building. By building local expertise in these technologies, it will be possible to ensure that they are developed and deployed in a way that is appropriate for local needs and priorities.
Another important step is to ensure that regulatory frameworks are in place to govern the use of AI and other emerging technologies. This includes developing guidelines and standards for the development and deployment of AI systems, as well as ensuring that legal frameworks are in place to protect privacy and civil liberties.
Finally, it is essential to ensure that AI and other emerging technologies are used in a way that is aligned with the values and priorities of local communities.
In Africa, AI takes flight
Empowering innovation, day, and night
Counting nanoseconds until we’ll meet
To explore the possibilities of this feat
With virtual worlds to explore
The metaverse opens up new doors
From education to entertainment
The possibilities are truly magnificent
AI guides us through this digital land
Helping us to understand
The potential of this new frontier
As we journey on without fear
- Lavina Ramkissoon is an advisor to the African Union. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Ventureburn.
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