Empowering the Underserved With Technology: AI for Africa’s Poor

AI for Africa's PoorArtificial Intelligence (AI) takes the spotlight, transforming industries worldwide in technological upheaval. For Africa, where nearly 7% may live under $2.15 a day by 2030, the promise of an AI-driven economy with ethical foundations holds tremendous potential. Africa, led by Mauritius, Egypt and South Africa, embraces AI with distinct strengths. Egypt thrives on young tech talent, South Africa excels in infrastructure for online education and Mauritius emphasizes governance.

In a conversation with Karishma Muthukumar, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) leader and session panelist at the 2023 United Nations (U.N.) AI for Good Global Summit, The Borgen Project, explores insights and opportunities for leveraging AI to uplift Africa’s impoverished, aligning with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the continent progresses, AI emerges as a beacon for positive change.

Employability of AI for Africa’s Poor

Despite the expansion in technology and infrastructure access, the scarcity of resources due to COVID-19 has outpaced growth in various regions of Africa. A stark reality persists as less than 20% of the continent has implemented a comprehensive strategy to address electricity shortages, with approximately 600 million people needing more basic access to electricity as of 2022. Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG-7) by 2030, which aims to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy, remains a formidable challenge.

The pivotal question no longer revolves solely around how artificial intelligence (AI) will affect people but how millions of individuals will harness AI for their benefit. As rightly indicated by Muthukumar, the disparities in technological advancements pose significant challenges. The effects of AI are poised to unfold differently in developing versus developed countries and the requisite investments and regulations these countries need are also likely to be different.

A critical determinant in this evolving landscape is pertinent data and infrastructure availability. Wealthier nations leverage their extensive datasets to develop sophisticated AI models and proposals. However, gaining access to reliable data in Africa is not trivial, creating a barrier for technological advancements to reach those who need them the most. Nevertheless, instances of innovation, such as Kenya’s M-Pesa, which has revolutionized the payment world through mobile data, serve as a reminder of the transformative possibilities that lie ahead.

Technological Challenges for AI Advancement in Africa

It is crucial to overcome technological challenges to make AI impactful for people experiencing poverty. Research stresses distinguishing short-term and long-term values in AI adoption. An important strategy involves customizing technology from developed nations for local use, facilitating the creation of solutions that resonate with the specific needs of diverse communities.

Another strategy involves decentralizing AI products to meet local needs. This not only has the potential to uplift incomes but can also stimulate economic growth. However, implementing such strategies is challenging, particularly in regions with trust issues, as easy code modification is possible in those cases. Society plays a vital role in monitoring new systems and highlighting abuses to ensure technology reaches those in need efficiently.

Cost Management and Innovation Take Center Stage in Health Care

With the automation of medical procedures, artificial intelligence can help health professionals do more and reach more people with limited resources. Currently, less than 30% of the applications deploy artificial intelligence in health care. AI has the potential to improve outcomes and decrease treatment costs, thus making diagnosis accessible to a larger group of the population.

Several African countries have adopted artificial intelligence today to automate radiology tasks, enabling more frequent tests to rule out the severity of diseases, thus actively assisting in medical diagnostics. The Artificial Intelligence for Good Global Summit extensively explored empathy-based artificial intelligence as a promising future to complement patient care. Muthukumar emphasized how artificial intelligence can empathize with patients, particularly in critical situations like wait times. This can lead to medical innovations and a significant enhancement in the meaningful connection between caregivers and those needing care.

Nurturing Hope for the Future of AI for Africa’s Poor

Successful adoption of AI for Africa’s poor hinges on strong foundations in data, infrastructure and governance. The potential transformative applications in Africa may not necessarily replace humans but rather create new opportunities for them.

In the quest for cost containment and improved infrastructure, African nations must carefully balance adopting foreign AI solutions with promoting local innovations and regulations. This approach promises to uplift underserved communities, especially in vital sectors like health care and employment.

Crucially, this strategy resonates with the region’s commitment to implementing secure and practical solutions, contributing to a digital transformation that narrows the digital divide toward achieving the SDG goals.

– Sudha Krishnaswami
Photo: Flickr

The post Empowering the Underserved With Technology: AI for Africa’s Poor appeared first on The Borgen Project.


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