Artificial Intelligence (AI) took center stage at the Digital Nigeria 2023 conference, where industry experts discussed its transformative potential across African industries. This article delves into key insights and discussions from the event, highlighting the role of AI in financial inclusivity, automation, data management, and the importance of inclusivity and bias mitigation.
Financial inclusivity is a critical goal for African governments, with fintech startups leading the charge to provide banking services to marginalized populations. However, identity management, especially in rural areas, remains a significant challenge. AI is emerging as a game-changer in this regard, simplifying and streamlining identity confirmation processes.
Ayanda Luthuli, Chief Technology Officer at Paycode, emphasized AI’s potential in scaling payments. By leveraging AI, financial services can reach underserved communities more effectively, making transactions easy, fast, and cost-efficient. This has the potential to drive financial inclusivity to new heights.
Automation and cost reduction
Michael Collins, CEO of AI and machine learning firm Periculum, highlighted the power of automation offered by AI. Many African firms grapple with costly manual processes, hindering their growth. AI presents an opportunity to automate these processes, enabling companies to leapfrog legacy systems that impose unnecessary expenses.
By reducing manual labor and automating routine tasks, businesses can operate more efficiently and allocate resources to areas that drive growth and innovation.
AI Disruption or transformation?
While AI is often associated with disruption, Daniel Doll-Steinberg, Co-Founder of investment firm EdenBase, suggested that it might be more of a transformation, especially in the context of African industries. He observed that significant constraints exist in the Western world regarding the development and implementation of AI technologies.
Doll-Steinberg emphasized that the excitement surrounding AI is genuine, driven by the possibilities it offers. Rather than disruptive, AI could be transformative in African economies, helping them evolve and adapt to modern challenges.
The critical role of data
David Edoja, CEO of Analytics Intelligence, underscored the indispensable relationship between AI and data. Having worked with African companies and governments, Edoja identified a major challenge—poor data collection, storage, and a lack of data altogether. To fully harness AI’s potential, Africa needs a significant shift in how data is collected and managed.
A mere 0.04% of digital data in Africa is freely accessible, highlighting the need for structured and accessible data to empower AI-driven solutions effectively.
Addressing bias in AI
Bias in AI models is a significant concern, and experts at the conference discussed ways to ensure inclusivity as AI adoption accelerates. Doll-Steinberg stressed that to deploy powerful technologies like blockchain and tokens effectively, accurate and unbiased data is crucial.
Bias in AI often stems from skewed training data, and it’s imperative to rectify this issue for inclusive AI solutions. The challenge is to democratize AI, making it accessible to a diverse range of users.
Collins added that bias in AI isn’t new; Africans encounter challenges when interacting with voice assistants like Siri, as these systems primarily rely on data from Western sources. He proposed a solution: building technologies “for us, by us.” By creating AI systems that reflect the nuances and diversity of African users, inclusivity can be ingrained from the outset.
The path to inclusivity
To achieve AI inclusivity, Ayanda emphasized the need for companies to build solutions tailored to African users. By involving individuals who understand the local context, culture, and languages, AI systems can better serve the African population.
Analytics Intelligence is taking steps in this direction by launching an AI lab and incubator that supports African AI developers. Additionally, the company is engaged in extensive data collection for Afro-centric AI training, striving to ensure that AI technologies address the specific needs and challenges of African communities.
The Digital Nigeria 2023 conference highlighted AI’s pivotal role in transforming African industries. From financial inclusivity to automation and data management, AI offers numerous opportunities for growth and development. However, addressing bias, democratizing AI, and building solutions tailored to African contexts are essential steps in realizing the full potential of AI across the continent.