Google has been opening a number of centres around the world to develop technologies and products related to artificial intelligence (AI). These hubs can be found in New York, Toronto, London, Zurich and Beijing, the latter being the tech giant’s first in Asia. In recent days it has announced an African first: the opening of an AI centre in Accra, Ghana, later this year.
Announcing its decision, Google pointed to the hi-tech credentials Africa has been building over the past decade. “In recent years we’ve witnessed an increasing interest in machine learning research across the continent,” said senior Google AI fellow Jeff Dean and staff research scientist Moustapha Cisse in a blog post. “Events like Data Science Africa 2017 in Tanzania, the 2017 Deep Learning Indaba event in South Africa, and follow-on IndabaX events in 2018 in multiple countries have shown an exciting and continuing growth of the computer science research community in Africa.”
A number of metropolitan areas on the continent were likely considered as contenders to home Google’s research activities. Cities such as Nairobi, Kenya; Durban and Cape Town in South Africa; and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia all boast strong incubators and/or robust higher education focused on technology. The Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research, for example, has nodes at several South African universities. Accra, for its part, is home to the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, a pan-African training programme, seed fund and incubator.
Nor is Google the only company drawn to Africa’s tech capabilities. This year, as one example, Atlantic AI Labs opened its headquarters in Cotonou, Benin with the goal of developing and implementing AI and related technologies in Africa.
The founder of the company is Joel Amoussou, a 23-year veteran of the sector and a member of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Our goal is to develop globally competitive AI talent in Africa and create solutions that improve people’s lives and health,” says Mr Amoussou.
Meanwhile, Africa has been birthing a generation of AI start-ups that are gaining international renown. To name one example, Clevva is a Stellenbosch, South Africa-based company that has developed AI-based virtual advisors to assist sales and technical consultants. The concept has been showcased by Gartner as one of six African Innovations and chosen by Microsoft to be part of its BizSpark programme. Now it is expanding into foreign markets beyond Africa.