Google now wants to position itself as an “AI first” company and with research centers across the globe in places such as Tokyo, Zurich, New York, and Paris.
And last week, the technology company opened its first center in Africa in Ghana’s capital city, Accra.
Benefits of AI
AI can be applied in sectors such as agriculture, health, and education, and Moustapha Cisse, the research scientist heading up Google’s AI efforts in Africa, says his team’s goal is to provide developers with the necessary research needed to build products that can solve problems that Africa faces today.
Moustapha Cisse, Africa team lead at Google AI.
“Most of what we do in our research centers at Google and not just in Accra, we publish it and open-source code, so that everybody can use it to build all sorts of things,” he said.
Cisse mentioned the app used by the Tanzanian farmer, to diagnose her cassava’s disease as an example of the type of product his team plans to collaborate on with relevant institutes across various sectors.
“A team of Pennsylvania University and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture using TensorFlow to build new artificial intelligence models that are deployed on phones to diagnose crop disease.
“This wasn’t done by us but by people who use the tools we built.‘Ghana is the future of Africa’: Why Google built an AI lab in Accra
“When we do science, the results of our research, usually and hopefully, because it is of good quality, goes way further than we expect and we are hoping to see the same things happen here in Accra and across Africa,” Cisse said.
Cisse, an expert from Senegal, says the center directly engages with researchers in African universities by providing grants to those interested in the various fields of AI and giving Ph.D. scholarships.
He added that Google also supports graduate programs in Machine Intelligence at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences center in Rwanda.
Cisse leads a team of nine others that include research scientists and software engineers. Team members come from nine different countries such as Lesotho, Uganda, and Ireland, among others.
It is a diverse team, and Cisse says it is important that Africans are at the forefront of providing solutions to problems on their continent.
AI works because a lot of personal data is fed into it, and with that comes privacy concerns over what happens to the data people hand over to a large company like Google.Cisse says Google’s AI principles aims to build trust between the people who create the technology and the end users, and the technology should be aligned with the values of society.”We have to build an algorithm that is fair and respects the privacy of the user and is transparent,” he said.With the center now operational after starting a few months behind schedule, Google’s bet on AI having a transformational effect in Africa will now be put to the test.
The continent is waiting.