Image for post
Image for post
African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – photo by @princearkman

AI in Africa 2020–2030

The Mention of Artificial Intelligence in the Draft Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa

The draft Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020–2030) (DTS) is a document that is being written by the African Union. I thought it would be interested to examine the mention of artificial intelligence specifically and how it is written into the strategy.

The African Union is a continental union consisting of 55 member states located on the continent of Africa. The AU was announced in the Sirte Declaration in Sirte, Libya, on 9 September 1999, calling for the establishment of the African Union. It was officially launched in 2002 as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, 1963–1999).

In the second paragraph artificial intelligence is the first technology mentioned as a leapfrogging opportunity.

“Furthermore, Africa has fewer legacy challenges to deal with and is therefore adopting digitized solutions faster out of necessity. For Africa, the current moment offers a leapfrogging opportunity. Today’s technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, block chain, drones, internet of things, wearable technologies, 3D printing, Big Data, and software-enabled industrial platforms — indicate the scale and speed at which technology is transforming traditional socio-economic sectors.”

It is mentioned as one of the last bullet points in specific objectives:

“Build inclusive digital skills and human capacity across the digital sciences and education, both technical and vocational, to lead and power digital transformation including coding, programming, analysis, security, block chain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics, engineering, innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology policy & regulation;”

Mentioned as part of ‘defining the problem’ as an emerging technology:

“Policy makers and regulators need to keep pace with advances in technology, address the new regulatory frontiers and create the foundation upon which digital transformation can achieve its full potential. Being prepared for digital transformation and emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine to Machine communications (M2M) and 5G is fundamental.”

Mentioned in the section for digital innovation and entrepreneurship:

“Innovation is at the heart of the continuing digital revolution that is affecting almost every part of the social, commercial, and political areas. Relentless innovation in the hardware, software, applications and networking fields including, Cloud Services, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and the Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Digital Sequencing, Nanotechnology and sensors among others are driving change at a staggering pace. Innovation and Entrepreneurship are thus critical if Africa has to remain in the race with the rest of the world, and benefit from the Digital transformation within the broader framework of Agenda 2063.”

It is mentioned in the section about digital industry:

“There has been an active expansion of online companies generating competition with offline giants, disrupting the traditional manufacturing, delivery and sales processes albeit in Africa, the sectors such as agriculture, government services, manufacturing that could benefit from such innovation has lagged behind, due to legacy processes or high startup investments. The need to use industrial digital technologies such as additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, remote monitoring, 3D printing and cloud analytics is the way to ensure that Africa’s industries are digitalized. For example, the manufacturing industry is faced with new technological opportunities and business models.”

In the section about emerging technologies:

“Digitalization, automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are bringing new unprecedented dimension of prosperity for humanity. Emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, 3D printing, etc. provide practical ways of applying them to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence. They also hold the potential to disrupt our economies and destroy lives throughout several generations.”

With another mention in the same section:

“Furthermore, the ability of computer systems to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages is evolving over time and already exists in some parts of the world [Artificial Intelligence].”

As a policy recommendation for adoption:

“Encourage public and private sector to embrace the emerging technologies (Block chain, Artificial Intelligence…)”

With another policy recommendation for collaboration:

“Encourage/include public operators in strategies aimed at embracing the emerging technology (block chain, Artificial Intelligence…) through research and development.”

There is no particular strategic intent towards artificial intelligence specifically, as it is mentioned in a series of ways in the same breath as a series of other emerging technologies. As an example the word ‘infrastructure’ is mentioned 61 times as opposed to ‘artificial intelligence’ mentioned 10 times. That does mean there is a recognised importance, yet no clear focus on this area other than as part of the emerging. There is no clear imperative in the strategy for national AI strategies or along these lines related to other technologies.

A clear mention is to harmonise legislation at continental and regional levels towards a Digital Single Market (DSM). Europe has been working on a digital single market for some time and it was announced in 2015, and gained a particular member responsible from the European Union. The EU DSM has three main points:

  1. Access to online products and services
  2. Conditions for digital networks and services to grow and thrive
  3. Growth of the European digital economy

In Africa they want to build a Digital Single Market in Africa by 2030, and it is stated as a specific objective. So it may be another ten years down the line.

This may certainly influence the use of AI in Africa in the future.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 258. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days. My current focus for 100 days 200–300 is national and international strategies for artificial intelligence.

Written by

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store