Google plans to open an artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in Accra, the capital of Ghana, to explore the potential uses of the emerging technology in Africa. The centre is expected to open later this year, and will bring together top machine learning researchers and engineers who are dedicated to AI research and its applications.
As a part of our research to launch Start.Space, we travelled to Ghana this year mid March in order to better understand the ecosystem and challenges that entrepreneurs are facing on the continent. As a part of this journey, we have conducted several interviews with startups, investors, SMEs, accelerators, incubators as well as policy makers.
This journey led to a deeper understanding of the entrepreneurial spirit of Ghana´s new government, as we came in contact with Ghana National Entrepreneurial and Innovation Program (NEIP). NEIP is a flagship policy initiative of the government of Ghana with the primary objective of providing an integrated national support for start-ups and small businesses. As a part of this initiative, the government have launched an acceleration program, in which 7000 startups are been trained by the 50 acceleration and incubation hubs across the country.
Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and Rwandan capital Kigali are both known for their credentials in tech development. Meanwhile, Kenya has been singled out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for its “pioneering” innovation of digital payments platform M-Pesa. Although, Accra isn’t the only city in Africa positing itself as a tech hub, Ghana’s pro-business government and entrepreneurial society may have contributed to its selection of Google AI Centres.mPeople in Ghana share the “sense that you can disrupt something and make a difference,” said Lucy James, the associate consultant with Control Risks’ Africa team.
According to MarketWatch, about 20% of the population, out of a total of 200 million is between the ages of 15-24, and this number is only expected to rise in the upcoming years. There seems to be an interest and eagerness to learn among the people in Ghana due to their entrepreneurial spirit and drive.
Jeff Dean, a senior fellow at Google AI, and Moustapha Cisse, who will head up Google’s new research hub, explained that the company is committed to collaborate with local universities and research centres, as well as working with policy makers on developing AI for the African market. The researchers who are in charge of the centre will combine their research interests in AI and machine learning and their experience in Africa to push the boundaries of AI while solving challenges in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, and education.
“We’re excited to combine our research interests in AI and machine learning and our experience in Africa to push the boundaries of AI while solving challenges in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, and education,” they wrote in a blog post. “AI has great potential to positively impact the world, and more so if the world is well represented in the development of new AI technologies,” they added.
Google has been operating in Africa for ten years, but this is the first time it has invested in a research centre on the continent. Accra, the capital of Ghana, located in the west of Africa, joins cities including Paris, Zurich, Tokyo, Beijing, Montreal, Toronto, Seattle, Cambridge/Boston, Tel Aviv/Haifa, New York, and our Mountain View San Francisco headquarters, in hosting an AI research centre.
“AI has great potential to positively impact the world, and more so if the world is well represented in the development of new AI technologies,”
While the decision is the first of its kind for Google in Africa, the company has had offices on the continent for the past 10 years. Over the past decade, 10 million Africans have benefited from its digital skills training program with 2 million people having already completed the course, and it’s supporting 100,000 developers and over 60 tech startups through its Launchpad Accelerator Africa. Google is also adapting its products to make it easy for people to discover the best of the Internet, even on low-RAM smartphones or unstable network connections.
In recent years, the company has mentioned that it has witnessed an increasing interest in machine learning research across the continent. Events such as 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 communities across the continent.
Google’s interest in Africa comes at a time when a lot of international money is being spread around the continent. In 30 years, the United Nations expects Africa to be home to 25 percent of the world’s 9 billion population. Not only does that represent a huge market, but investors are planning for the day that Africa’s developing economies hit their stride.
Last month, Facebook opened a technology hub in Lagos, which will host a start-up incubator. The social network has made numerous other investments there, including launching satellites to help deliver Internet access to sub-Sahara Africa.
Currently, Africa stands at a pretty good crossroad with a growing young population, with money to spend, and a growing and diverse economy. These trends represent great market opportunities for investors, Multinational Corporations as well as local startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).