Many researchers in many countries want to chart their own path, but the industry still relies heavily on Silicon Valley technology giants such as Google and Microsoft.
Over the past three years, academics and researchers from across the African continent have begun to shape the future of their AI industry by organizing a conference called Indaba for Deep Learning, according to Dave Gershorn.
Will Indaba pave the African Silicon Valley?
The conference brings together hundreds of researchers from more than forty African countries to showcase their work and discuss topics ranging from natural language processing to artificial intelligence ethics.
Indaba was founded in 2017 in response to Western academic conferences that are often difficult for researchers from distant parts of the world to attend, such as the "Neural Information Processing Systems Conference", which is often held in distant and expensive resorts.
It is difficult for researchers to attend the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference; in 2016, no papers from African countries specifically submitted for attendance were accepted.
In 2018, more than 100 researchers were barred from obtaining visas to enter Canada in order to pursue its activities.
For these reasons, former classmates from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and a few close colleagues met to establish Indaba in 2017.
The organizers expected - then - to attend about fifty people for the first copy of the conference Indaba, but about 750 people applied to attend, of which only 300 people were invited.
In its second year, Indaba officials invited 400 people. This year, the number of attendees at the conference almost doubled, with 700 participants.
The Indaba Conference has become a fabric of the African Artificial Intelligence Community, not only as a space for all groups of society to meet with each other, but also as part of the community itself.
The conference helped to strengthen relations among researchers on the continent by setting a clear agenda aimed at building a vibrant technical community in Africa and finding solutions to challenges facing the region, such as traffic congestion, insurance payments and drought.
|Students made up a large portion of the attendance at the Indaba conference, the main reason why it is so focused on education (Reuters)|
The organizers of the Indaba conference are still determined to create a new and distinctive field of research, away from the grip of Silicon Valley.
"We need to find a way to build African-style machine learning systems," said Fukosei Marivat, who is in charge of organizing Indaba and head of data science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
This year, the Indaba Deep Learning Conference was held for six days at the University of Kenyatta, located off Theka Road in Nairobi.
Students made up a large part of the audience, the main reason why the conference was so focused on education.
The first day of the conference was devoted to supplementary courses on artificial intelligence and introductory courses on statistics and the basics of building neural networks.
Participants also attended specialized courses in natural language processing, computer vision, deep learning enhancement, and industry ethics.
Some participated in a hackathon, during which they developed artificial intelligence software that could automatically identify African wildlife, study and better protect endangered species, while others worked on health data to predict and control malaria.
Google and Microsoft appointed Indaba
Indaba is one of the leading conferences in Africa, and attracts great interest from the world's leading technology pioneers.
It is worth mentioning that US companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and others represent 11 companies out of a group of 34 other companies sponsoring Mandaba.
In fact, Silicon Valley companies aim to make significant investments across the continent, with Google sponsoring organizations such as Data Science Africa and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
In 2018, Google announced the establishment of its first African research center in Accra, Ghana. At the same time, Microsoft has donated about $ 100,000 to Data Science Nigeria, which plans to provide training for about one million Nigerian engineers in the next 10 years.
|Microsoft donates $ 100,000 to Data Science Nigeria (Reuters)|
The reasons for attracting investors to Africa seem obvious; 75% of the continent does not have Internet access.
This is a dilemma for the local population, but it is an investment opportunity for international technology companies.
Chinese companies have spent years investing heavily in Africa's technical infrastructure.Huawei has installed surveillance cameras around Nairobi on behalf of the Kenyan government, and the company is currently focusing on large-scale facial recognition surveillance systems around Zimbabwe.
Foreign investment, on the other hand, raises continent fears that it may be victimized by exploitation. According to a doctoral candidate named Ababa Berhan, "these efforts are reminiscent of previous colonial efforts."
"This rhetoric about obtaining people's data reminds us of the colonial attitude that human beings are a free raw material that can be acquired," he wrote in a recent article entitled "Algorithmic Colonization of Africa."