Africa must establish AI forum, says Ramaphosa

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New African Union chairman president Cyril Ramaphosa has called on the continent to establish an Africa Artificial Intelligence (AI) Forum.

Ramaphosa assumed the chairmanship of the AU on Sunday during the first day of the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

He took over from president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

Delivering his acceptance speech, Ramaphosa said: “The fourth industrial revolution presents our continent with great opportunities.

“The uptake of digital technologies will lead to improved competitiveness and provides fresh opportunities for inclusive growth.

“Millions of our continent’s young citizens are digital natives, and we must drive a skills revolution to enable Africa to take a quantum leap into the economy of the future.

“To give full effect to our attention to this important area of work, we should look to establish an Africa Artificial Intelligence Forum that also includes the diaspora.”

Creating the framework

Ramaphosa’s call comes at a time Africa is making strides in the deployment of AI technologies.

According to the University of Pretoria, the rapidly developing set of AI technologies has the potential to solve some of the most pressing challenges that impact Africa, and drive growth and development in core sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, public services and financial services.

It says forward-thinking policy-makers, innovative start-ups, global technology partners, civil society groups and international global stakeholders are already mobilising to promote the growth of a vibrant AI ecosystem in Africa.

However, the university says there remain structural challenges that can hamper the development of a healthy AI ecosystem in Africa.

It points out that education systems will need to adapt quickly, and new frameworks need to be created for workers and citizens to develop the skills they need to thrive. Broadband coverage will also need to expand rapidly – specifically in rural areas – in order for all citizens and businesses to reap the benefits of AI, it adds.

In SA, a report by Microsoft and EY last year shows AI pilots and experimentation are now prolific across South African companies, with businesses showing a willingness to embrace AI and experiment using new technology.

In fact, 46% of South African companies say they are already actively piloting AI within their organisations.

It says SA’s overall investment in AI is significant, with $1.6 billion (R24 billion) invested over the past 10 years.

Google recently opened an AI lab based in Accra, Ghana, to use the technology to solve Afro-centric problems.

Moustapha Cisse, staff research scientist and lead of the Google AI Centre, said the Internet search giant has witnessed an increasing interest in machine learning research across the African continent.

According to Cisse, the centre is committed to collaborating with local universities and research centres, as well as working with policy-makers on the potential uses of AI in Africa.

The government of Ethiopia is set to establish an AI research and development centre that will help start-ups and regulate the industry.

Pursuit of peace

Ramaphosa further highlighted key priorities of the term as supporting integration, economic development, trade and investment on the continent; infrastructure development; advancing gender equality, strengthening co-operation between the AU and United Nations (UN); promoting peace and security, and advancing efforts to silence the guns on the African continent and elsewhere.

He reaffirmed the principle of finding African solutions to African problems as the fundamental approach to addressing all conflicts on the continent, working within the frameworks of the AU and UN.

He further called on the AU to continue to support the just struggles of oppressed people elsewhere in the world, while reiterating unwavering support for the people of Palestine in the legitimate quest for an independent and sovereign state, and the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.

“The African continent is on the ascent. It is indeed a regeneration, moral and eternal, as described by the South African revolutionary Pixley Isaka Seme.

“If we pursue our objectives with diligence and determination, and mobilise our fellow African countries to support them, I am certain that ours can be a meaningful, effective and impactful union. Let us build the Africa we want,” said Ramaphosa.

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