A pioneering pan-African center in the Congo to help the states of the continent develop artificial intelligence

The African continent now has a hub to support it in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The African Center for Research on Artificial Intelligence (ARCAI) was inaugurated on February 24, 2022 in Brazzaville, in the Congolese capital, where it is housed in the premises of Kintélé University.

He is announced as the “very first” in Africa by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) who invested in it “around a million dollars”. “The development of the center lasted a year“, explains to franceinfo Africa Mactar Seck, head of the technology and innovation section at the ECA. ARCAI’s mission: “Enable African populations to benefit from the industrial revolution”the new that begins with Artificial Intelligence, relying on training and research support.

“We have developed LMD (Bachelor-Master-Doctorate) content that will be provided from next year, in collaboration with Sassou N’Guesso University”says Mactar Seck. The center is equipped with “of an e-learning platform that can accommodate 10,000 students simultaneously”. Face-to-face lessons will also be available to destination “private sector actors and governments”.

As for research, which will be conducted in the fields of agriculture, health, the environment and industry, it will start upon the arrival of the appropriate equipment expected “in the month of May 2022”, namely high-performance computers, in particular for “data structuring” that requires “mighty machines”. “Online courses have already started”specifies Mactar Seck. “We are expecting researchers from Africa but also from all continents. A partnership is being set up with several universities working in the field of Artificial Intelligence in Africa and Europe, in the United States. United and England.” In addition, institutions like theUnited States Agency for International Development (USAID) and large digital companies like Cisco and Google “reflect on the partnerships they could forge with the center”.

Thanks to all of this system, ARCAI should fulfill its vocation. “We must first master this technology which not only makes it possible to fight against poverty, but also to create a lot of jobs for young people on the continent and added value. The contribution to GDP is extremely important”recalls Mactar Seck. In theory, African countries have understood this, like Rwanda which just launched its center dedicated to AI, but the majority of them are far from meeting the prerequisites to take advantage of all the opportunities linked to this technology. At the inauguration of the research center in Congo, ECA Executive Secretary Vera Songwe “note that it is urgent that the government (Congolese) provide high-speed, fast, affordable and reliable internet to facilitate much-needed digital transformation.”.

“I share Vera Songwe’s concern: before talking about Artificial Intelligence, we must talk about access to the Internet, its cost, points out Julie Owono, executive director of the NGO Internet sans frontières. This represents far too large a share of the average African citizen’s budget. According to the latest statistics from the Alliance for Affordable InternetAfricans spend 5% of their monthly budget to access 1GB of Internet while the average set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is 2%.

If Julie Owono believes that “that’s very good news that research centers in Artificial Intelligence are developing on the continent”, andHowever, it notes that these issues are “extremely competitive”. “There are countries that have made research in Artificial Intelligence a priority for years and are investing billions of dollars“. As a result, “let’s try to go beyond the hype – we read a lot about it when it comes to connectivity, the Internet, digital and digital in Africa – and put real resources into research, development of it, in the training of engineers and in the training in mathematics.”

A survey conducted by Unesco with about thirty African countries shows their interest in AI but underlines that they are not well equipped to take advantage of it. “The African continent is showing encouraging signs of innovation and development” in this area, notes the UN agency. However“developing and managing AI to maximize benefits and minimize harm is hampered by human and institutional skills issues.”

Therefore, the report suggests, for example, “a necessary strengthening of political initiatives in favor of the governance of Artificial Intelligence”as “the development of legal and regulatory frameworks”. “Although 22 countries claim to have a legal framework for the protection of personal data, indicates the survey, an adaptation of these provisions to new uses and applications of AI data will undoubtedly be necessary. Because “Beyond data governance and personal data protection, there is a need to build protection against algorithmic bias and discrimination. Only nine countries report having taken steps to address these challenges”.

ECA obviously intends to help African States to overcome all these obstacles. “The question of data protection does not only arise when it comes to Artificial Intelligence, insists Mactar Seck. The entire digital ecosystem requires it. We cannot use digital without ensuring that there is a regulatory framework that can protect people in the use of these technologies. This is why we organized in Lomé (Togo) the first African summit on cybersecurity (in March 2022, Editor’s note) to identify the challenges facing the African continent. Cybercrime poses a major challenge to the economic development of States. In 2020 alone, it contributed to a 10% reduction in Africa’s GDP. Which is huge compared to the world average of 0.8%.

“Connectivity is a problem, cybercrime is a problem, continues the head of the technology and innovation section at the ECA. States must collaborate at the sub-regional levell, continental and global to protect personal data. The African Convention on Cybercrime was adopted in 2014, but only ten countries have ratified it, while fifteen are needed for it to enter into force. It was also one of the objectives of the Lomé summit: to raise awareness among States so that they ratify it in order to benefit from a system to fight against cybercrime and to provide more guarantees to their citizens.. At the ECA, we remain confident in the ability of African States to take advantage of these emerging technologies” because their deployment “is not complicated, the tools are there, you just need brainpower to develop applications” − there are many young African talents −, “to put in place the infrastructures, the connectivity and to ensure that it is accessible”.

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A pioneering pan-African center in the Congo to help the states of the continent develop artificial intelligence

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