Alain Kiyindou: Africa “needs infrastructure” to develop “artificial intelligence”



RFI: Let us first specify, in a few words, what we mean by artificial intelligence…

Alain Kiyindou : By artificial intelligence we mean a set of systems, applications, algorithms that attempt to imitate human behavior. These are programs capable of self-improvement and which are today an important issue, both for development and for geopolitics.

Concretely, how this changes our lives, in Africa as elsewhere ?

Artificial intelligence is already present both in our smartphones and in the different applications we use. Concretely, we already have, in Africa in particular, applications that make it possible to predict children’s illnesses by analyzing only the cries of babies, for example.

We have very close cooperation between researchers from the Virtual University of Senegal and rice producers. Based on artificial intelligence, we try to improve the conditions of rice production.

Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the world. We can say it ?

Yes, it is important, because artificial intelligence is based on data and we know that data is the oil of the 21st century, so it is an important resource. Also, artificial intelligence is one of the pillars of the fourth revolution. The other pillars are Big Data, collaborative robotics and blockchain. It is on this base that the industry of the future, the industry of tomorrow, will be built.

A figure to become aware of the revolution that this will cause: the world GDP could increase by 14 % by 2030 thanks to the development of artificial intelligence. This is what Lacina Koné, the managing director of Smart Africa, says in the preface to your book. ?

Yes, that’s right, but you should know that this amount is indeed poorly distributed worldwide. Africa must make an effort to be able to hold its own. For the moment in Africa, there are barely 6,500 start-ups. And of these 6,500 start-ups, only 10% are dedicated to artificial intelligence. We will therefore have to invest more in order to take advantage of this economic opportunity.

Which are the most advanced countries on the continent in this sector ?

There is Kenya, also South Africa. These are countries that have taken the lead, that have put in place policies and strategies on artificial intelligence and that have a highly developed digital economy.

Some countries, you said, reacted quite quickly but the continent lacks skills, infrastructure, means…

This is what we are trying to remedy, in particular by creating the African Center for Research on Artificial Intelligence. It is a center of excellence, created in Brazzaville, and which aims to bring together and federate research on artificial intelligence and also to train skills aware of the needs of Africa’s development.

There are questions of means, ethics and also independence that arise. You speak of a risk of techno-coloniality “. Explain to us…

Artificial intelligence, like technology, is very much linked to sovereignty. In Africa, we are now witnessing a total dependence on data processors. The data is stored in international clouds, there are very few supercomputers, the data is not protected, so it all goes elsewhere. Apart from that, there is the fact that we depend on outside specialists, we depend on a technology that has hitherto been invented elsewhere and we don’t have a lot of technical capacity in Africa to be able to invent African tools. This is what is called techno-coloniality, that is to say recolonizing Africa using technology. We see today that a strategy has been put in place, in particular by the United States of America, but also by China, which is trying to divide up the African continent.

You are just trying to warn in this book : “ Africa must not miss the artificial intelligence revolution ”, you write, because AI can have a positive impact in many areas of development ?

Yes, I think that Africa should not miss this revolution. Today, we have succeeded, particularly with mobile telephony, in skipping a number of stages. I’m not a fan of ” leapfrogging » but I think we have an opportunity here to be able to move forward very quickly given that we have the necessary means. The context lends itself well. Now, we need to put in place support policies, which will ensure that this development does not pass far from Africa.

How can the continent manage to develop its own technology ?

I think that at this level, we need infrastructures which are heavy, which are expensive. We need important skills and Africa must not go in scattered ranks. We need to rely on a certain number of existing institutions, in particular the African Union, in order to be able to federate skills and have initiatives that go beyond national borders. You need to have an African Union that functions very well in order to be able to develop systems together. Today, we need to rely on supercomputers, for example, which are very expensive. It is useless for a country that does not have many researchers to buy a supercomputer on its own, which will cost it dearly. It will therefore be necessary that in Central Africa, for example, we get together to be able to buy a supercomputer that we could share together. And, from this supercomputer, we could carry out projects together and create both soft and hard.

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