Africa Can’t Afford to be a Bystander in the AI Revolution

The year 2023 stands out
as a pivotal moment in the explosion of AI, remotely triggered by the current
wave of growth in big data and, more closely, by the advent of OpenAI’s
generative AI, ChatGPT. These developments catapulted Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the
forefront of global discussions, with generative AI becoming a ubiquitous topic
in every corner of the globe.

“What fate awaits Africa
if OpenAI transforms into ‘CloseAI’?” This thought-provoking question,
asked by AI Ethics Research Specialist Sebastian Obeta, a panelist at a recent
data hackathon I participated in, resonates deeply, echoing concerns about the
continent’s vulnerable position in the burgeoning AI landscape.

Market Trends and Economic

Global artificial
intelligence market size 2021-2030 | Source Statista

As the world gets immersed in the excitement surrounding AI, market
figures, research findings, and job opportunities provide tangible evidence of
unprecedented growth in the industry. According to a 2023
Statista publication,
the global artificial intelligence (AI) market is poised for robust growth in
the upcoming decade. Its current value of nearly 208 billion USD is projected
to surge towards a two-trillion-dollar market by 2030 as depicted in the figure
above. A noteworthy testament to this trajectory is the over
six-fold increase
in AI investments since 2016, signifying remarkable growth in this market.

Beyond Economics: AI’s
Impact on Healthcare, Education, and Agriculture

Beyond the evident
economic impacts, substantial benefits exist in healthcare, education, and
agriculture. In healthcare, AI-powered medical imaging algorithms are detecting
diseases like cancer with life-saving accuracy. In education, adaptive learning
platforms are tailoring lessons to individual students, significantly enhancing
learning outcomes. AI is also revolutionizing agriculture, optimizing crop
yields through smart irrigation and pest control. Embracing this transformative
force is crucial for the economic future of any continent.

The Demand for AI Talent
and Africa’s Position

The advantages of AI are
profound, and the surge in AI investment corresponds to an escalating demand
for AI talent. According to LinkedIn data, job postings featuring AI or
Generative AI more than doubled between July 2021 and July 2023. With the
industry experiencing rapid expansion, even more increases are anticipated in
the years ahead.

PwC’s Global Artificial
Intelligence Study | Source: PwC Analysis

However, Africa finds
itself lagging behind. Global AI leadership remains concentrated in the hands
of a select few. According to an analysis by PwC, AI’s potential contribution
to the global GDP by 2030 is estimated at around 13 trillion USD, with China
leading at 26.1%. Unfortunately, Africa has yet to establish a significant
footprint as can be observed in the chart above.

The Research Gap and Steps
for Africa’s Advancement

The same lack of
representation is true in AI research. A brief search on Scopus, a prominent
global academic database, presents a conservative outlook. Of the nearly
540,000 academic research publications on AI, Africa claims a meager share of
just above 10,000—slightly more than Brazil’s total. This reality is not
encouraging, given that research forms the backbone of innovation in any

What steps must Africa
take to position itself among the global players in this emerging industry?

By leveraging its youth
demographic dividend and investing in education, innovation, and research,
Africa can not only adapt to the AI revolution but also contribute
significantly to shaping its trajectory. Some countries on the continent are
already moving in the right direction, although more is required. For instance,
Nigeria’s 3 Million Technical Talent (3MTT) program, which aims to
strategically train 3 million talents over the next four years in 12 emerging
tech skills, with a focus on AI, is a giant stride in the right direction. It
becomes even more intriguing with the initiative to fund grants in AI research
by university academics in the country. While this attempt is plausible, it
needs to be scaled up, and more initiatives of this nature are essential across
the continent.

The future belongs to
those who actively participate, and Africa must seize this opportunity to
become a leading force in the ever-evolving world of artificial intelligence.
The solution isn’t far-fetched; Africa’s youthful population, brimming with
talent and potential, is the key to unlocking the continent’s AI future.

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