UK, global partners to accelerate dev’t in Africa using AI


Along with Canada, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States of America (USA) and partners in Africa, the United Kingdom (UK) is helping to fund a £80million boost in Artificial Intelligence (AI) programming to combat inequality and boost prosperity in Africa.

The goals of the UK Government’s AI for Development programme include unlocking the benefits of AI to the 700 million people who speak 46 African languages; and making five or more African countries globally influential in the worldwide conversation on AI, including in using AI to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The rest include creating or scaling up at least 8 responsible AI research labs at African universities; helping at least 10 countries create sound regulatory frameworks for responsible, equitable and safe AI; and help bring down the barriers to entry for African AI innovators with the private sector.

The initiative will initially focus on sub-Saharan Africa, ensuring that this ground-breaking technology will be accessible to all. AI could have a transformative impact on a range of challenges, including speeding up drug discovery, helping people who are deaf or blind to access education, and improving access to clean energy.

Over the next five years, the UK’s collaboration with global partners will fund post-graduate training and fellowships in AI in African universities; invest in innovators building models with data that accurately represents the African continent, using home-grown skills and computing power; foster responsible AI governance to help African countries mitigate the risks of AI and adapt their economies to technological change; and help sub-Sahara African countries have a bigger voice in influencing how AI is used to further the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a series of targets to make the world a healthier, fairer and more prosperous place by 2030.

This collaboration is part of a wider UK commitment to harness the opportunities of AI and ensure its use as a force for good, as the UK hosts the first ever AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park this week.

James Cleverly, the UK Foreign Secretary, said: “The transformative power of AI should have a global benefit. AI can change lives for the better around the world, including helping to develop new treatments for diseases and to tackle food insecurity. The AI for Development programme, alongside the AI Safety Summit hosted in Britain this week, are a testament to how we and our partners will use cutting-edge technology to create a more equitable and prosperous future”.

Eliud Owallo, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Information Communications and Digital Economy, said: “Through this broad coalition of partners, AI potential benefits will open opportunities and the risks preparedness broadened. This partnership will benefit all countries and ensure that developing countries are not left behind in the AI revolution”.

Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation, said: “Africa has historically lagged behind in previous technological revolutions due to a lack of local production and value addition capacity. Rwanda is fully committed to harnessing the transformative power of AI to drive our nation’s and continent’s social and economic development agenda by becoming the proof of concept hub that Africans produce from, for the continent.

“This collaborative initiative is of paramount importance as it empowers African countries to become producers, not just consumers, in the AI revolution, ensuring that we are at the forefront of shaping our own future and driving sustainable progress across the continent.”

Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “From accelerating medical breakthroughs and expanding access to healthcare to boosting learning outcomes and increasing agricultural production, AI has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

But impact is only possible if the benefits of the technology are relevant, affordable and accessible to everyone. The commitments announced today underscore the importance of supporting locally-led innovation to ensure AI can be used by communities around the world as a powerful and equitable tool for good.”

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Science, Innovation and Industry, said: “International collaboration is essential to ensure AI is used safely and responsibly around the world. Our government makes a point of working with like-minded partners and innovators to harness the potential of AI for sustainable economic development, aligned with global efforts to develop and use AI safely and responsibly.”

Christopher Burns, USAID Chief Digital Development Officer and Director for Technology, said: “As development practitioners and donors, we have a moral obligation to ensure AI is designed and deployed in a responsible and ethical manner to the benefit of all, particularly underserved communities. USAID looks forward to working alongside our partners to advance this vision.”

In supporting all aspects of AI ecosystems in Africa, the programme will include investment in post-graduate AI research skills and inclusive and locally focused datasets in Nigeria, and it will support innovation and scaling in Kenya to accelerate impact on the SDGs.

James Manyika, Senior Vice President – Research, Technology & Society, Google, said: “Getting AI right – that is, harnessing its potential to benefit society while addressing the complexities and risks – requires approaching it in a way that involves and benefits everyone. That means mobilising regional expertise, expanding infrastructure, supporting non-profit innovators using AI, and making sure individuals can develop needed skills.

“Google has been supporting innovation and growth in Africa since 2005 when we made a big bet on the Seacom Cable, and we look forward to working with this consortium, the African Union, and other key stakeholders across the continent to unlock the promise of AI for all.”

Justin Spelhaug, Vice-President – Tech for Social Impact, Microsoft, said: “We, at Microsoft, are proud to partner with the UK Government and other international development organisations in the launch of the joint AI for Development initiative. This initiative aligns with our own vision for digital development and our commitment to using technology to drive social impact.

“We look forward to being an active partner in this collaboration and to working with African countries to realise the opportunities of AI for development and social impact. By leveraging our Digital Development Program and working together, we can coordinate our efforts for maximum impact on the Sustainable Development Goals.”

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