Microsoft to pour more investment in Africa’s AI revolution

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 31 Oct 2023
Artificial intelligence is forecast to increase Africa’s economy by 50% by 2030.
Artificial intelligence is forecast to increase Africa’s economy by 50% by 2030.

Microsoft is ramping up investments in the next wave of Africa’s artificial intelligence (AI) evolution, to support businesses to solve a myriad of challenges and unlock new opportunities.

This was the word from Lillian Barnard, president of Microsoft Africa, delivering a keynote presentation yesterday at Microsoft’s AI, A New Era event in Johannesburg.

Discussing the infinite economic opportunities presented by AI on the continent, Barnard noted Africa is at an inflection point of AI, and the ever-evolving technology has the potential to revolutionise industries and reshape society through large language models such as ChatGPT,

As such, the tech giant has reaffirmed its commitment to continue investing in AI and generative AI to empower businesses and communities to leapfrog to greater heights, she noted.

“Microsoft is excited about the artificial intelligence opportunity in Africa; we are truly in the next wave of innovation called artificial intelligence transformation,” she explained.

“It is the most defining technology of our time and, as Africa, we are optimistic because it brings hope, it can help solve some of our most pressing challenges, and it will bring new prospects and possibilities across industries and much more. We have seen significant investments in AI and in technology on the continent, and we believe this technology can give us an upward trajectory when it comes to the African economy.”

According to Barnard, forecasts predict that AI has the potential to increase the African economy by 50% by the year 2030.

Lillian Barnard, president of Microsoft Africa.
Lillian Barnard, president of Microsoft Africa.

Trillion-dollar opportunity

Research conducted by PwC shows AI has the potential to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030 – more than the current output of China and India combined.

Of this, $6.6 trillion is likely to come from increased productivity and $9.1 trillion is likely to come from consumption-side effects, it notes.

In January, Microsoft announced a “multibillion-dollar” investment in OpenAI, the start-up company that developed viral bot ChatGPT, which made its debutin November 2022.

The emerging technology has sparked global interest due to its extraordinary capability to create code, audio, images, write essays, digital art, and text-based videos.

The investment into OpenAI has helped Microsoft accelerate its position to the forefront of the global generative AI revolution.

Following the launch of ChatGPT, companies including as Google, Amazon, Meta and Alibaba have been racing to roll out generative AI solutions to stay ahead of the AI game.

Apple became the latest firm to reveal plans to take advantage of generative AI opportunities, recently announcing a $1 billion annual investment in new AI products, according to reports.

Outlining Microsoft’s AI strategy in Africa, Barnard pointed out the tech giant’s priorities are premised on four key pillars: providing essential infrastructure; skills and capacity building; supporting SMEs; and enabling innovation on the continent.

These are also Microsoft’s key investment areas, she noted.

“These four key areas are important because they are laying the foundation for artificial intelligence acceleration in Africa. SMEs are important because they are the lifeblood of our continent, employing up to 90% of people on the continent, and contributing as much as 40% to the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Research conducted by Microsoft shows that some of the companies on the continent are emerging to show tech prowess as they increasingly invest in AI, she pointed out.

In terms of skills development, Microsoft has set a target to provide digital skills to 30 million Africans over the next three years.

Yesterday, the company announced a new partnership agreement with Youth Employment Service, that seeks to provide AI skills to 300 000 South African youth.

From a connectivity point of view, Microsoft’s internet access initiative Airband has helped more than 51 million people globally, to gain access to connectivity, she continued.

“Through Airband, we are specifically focusing on connecting people and societies in rural and far-flung areas. In Africa, for example we have projects running in the Eastern Cape and in Kenya. We continue to invest in a robust technology ecosystem because we understand that infrastructure is important especially if we want to build a truly connected continent,” she concluded.