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Artificial Intelligence: Africa’s Response To The Transformative Technology

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Artificial intelligence in Africa

The technological landscape in Africa is becoming very vibrant. It is almost safe to say that in a few years tech companies in Africa will be able to rub shoulders with their counterparts in Europe, America, and other places with a tighter technological ecosystem. 

There is an enormous amount of investments in tech every year, with each year greater than the previous. Investment in 2019 trumped that of 2018 by 74%. 

$195 million investment in 2017 shook the world, but that was only the beginning. In 2018, investments rose to $1.163 billion, with 78% going to  Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

By 2019, the tech industry was on a growth streak with $2.02 billion in funding. 

With huge amounts of funding pumped into the tech industry in Africa, it might just be what Africa needs to leap out of its current state. 

Asides billions in funding, the tech industry is witnessing a proliferation of tech start-ups with innovatively diverse frameworks that are rendering them indispensable to Africa and Africans. 

A 50% growth in tech hubs across the continent is deepening the innovation and startup culture in Africa, which, frankly, is what is needed to strengthen the continent’s financials and self-sustainability. 

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Program and Briter Bridges identified 618 active tech hubs in Africa in 2019. The growth has been exponential, in 2016 there were 314 and fast-forward to 2019, we had 618.

According to a Quartz Africa publication, tech hubs are organizations, ” with physical addresses that offer support and facilities for tech entrepreneurs. As such, it includes incubators, accelerators, university-based innovation hubs, maker spaces, technology parks, and co-working spaces in its categorization.”

The proliferation of these tech hubs is owed to the wide variety of challenges facing Africa. From medical and financial to educational points of view, these challenges can be tackled effectively with technology. 

While there are a lot of tech hubs creating innovations that could address various challenges in Africa, there are a couple of them making laudable innovations in Artificial Intelligence

So, what exactly is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

A simple contextual meaning is; machines being able to reason for themselves by learning from us. They are able to perform operations without human supervision. Leading AI textbooks define the field as the study of “intelligent agents”: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals.

The programming of AI is based on three cognitive processes, which are: learning, reasoning, and self-correction. 

The learning process is synonymous with that of humans, only not as complex. As humans grow, we acquire information that informs our actions. We can discern right from wrong based on this information, we also learn how things are done from this information. 

This aspect of AI programming deals with the acquisition of data. The data acquired is turned into rules known as algorithms, these are like formulas or manuals for the device to solve specific problems. 

The reasoning process is simply deciding which algorithm is needed to solve a specific process. 

The self-correction aspect of AI programming is probably the most unique aspect of all. AI programming is designed to constantly update the algorithms to make sure they provide the most accurate solution to every task. This gives AI the ability to grow. 

How far has it come?  

The technology has evolved over the years. It has now become a word used casually, not just among the tech-savvy population. From going through heaps of medical data to accurately diagnose diseases to cars that drive themselves, AI is creating disruptive technological revolutions. 

To think that AI simply started out as a question by Alan Turning makes it all the more remarkable. Turning was responsible for decrypting the Nazi encryption machine called Enigma, the mathematician’s breakthrough assisted the allied forces to victory in WWII. In 1950 Turning’s question “can machines think?” Paved way for the idea of an intelligent machine to manifest.

Although Turning’s question has been answered in affirmative, answers are being provided beyond the question he asked.

Now, AI can translate languages in real-time, just like human beings. 

It can make your dinner reservations the same your secretary would (Google duplex)

It can also drive your car whilst you take a nap (Tesla autopilot ). 

The technology has obviously come very far, but the ultimate goal is still Artificial General Intelligence.

What is Artificial General Intelligence? (AGI), it means the ability of a single AI machine to do everything a human brain can do. This means a single AI should be able to translate, read, listen, drive, and communicate, all at once. 

Are Africans creating AI?

This rather interesting piece of technology is not lost on Africans. Tech giants such as Google are helping the continent harness the potentials of this technology. In April 2020, Google opened its first African AI research centre in Ghana. The centre will help research how AI can be used to improve health, agriculture, and education.

Furthermore, the continent is already sprouting companies that are using Artificial Intelligence to improve business, agriculture, and the likes. 

Some of the AI startups in Africa

Aerobotics

Founded in South Africa in 2014, Aerobatics, developed a technology that can visually assess and analyze human exploration activities on earth. Called the geospatial intelligence platform, it helps farmers detect pests and diseases in tree crops with the use of drones and satellite AI, and then interprets the information collected from the satellite and drones. The Artificial Intelligence algorithm can examine the image data and from it, provide information about the tree health, height, size, etc. 

Judy

Judy, is a Nigerian startup uses AI to bypass hours of legal research. Judy innovative technologies were founded in 2018. Since its launch, Judy’s search engine has made research easy for lawyers, with a comprehensive database of common law. 

In 2019, the startup raised $100,000 in funding. 

FinChatBot

The sound of chatting with a robot might seem weird but it’s no different from self-services or talking to smartphone assistants (Google Assistant, Siri, etc). 

South Africa’s FinChatBot actually develops chatbots that attend to customers, in place of actual people. The 4-year-old company particularly offers this service to financial service providers, to help acquire and retain customers. AI-powered conversations seem to be taking off. At the close of 2018, FinChatBot had raised $563 million in funding.

Touchbal Pictures

This Nigerian tech start-up was founded in 2017. It helps users identify objects in an image by just tapping on it. Similar to Google lens, Touchbal Pictures is tilted towards e-commerce for fashion and lifestyle. If a friend posts a picture with a wristwatch or shoes, the app scans the image revealing the brand, and where it can be bought online. 

Kudi.ai 

Launched in 2017, Kudi.ai developed a chat that helps users send money and make payments through messaging. According to Pelumi Abolarinwa, cofounder of the startup, “We developed it in-house, using a variety of machine learning techniques, ”. It studies user’s spending patterns, drives conversations, and prevents fraud. 

What does the future hold for AI in Africa

However, a lot of challenges still undermine the full utilization of AI. Though these startups could lay the foundation for further AI breakthroughs on the continent, the level of adoption will still be slowed by challenges peculiar to Africa. Primary infrastructure such as electricity and fast Internet, are still non-existent in some regions. 

A lot of Africans, particularly the young population, do not have access to technical skills that are needed to put them at the forefront of researching and building AI. Africa might lose out on fully harnessing this transformative technology.

Artificial Intelligence is truly a transformative technology, and could largely alter a considerable part of human nature. It could go beyond changing how we solve problems, to altering how we talk, work and communicate— the core of our social interactions. 

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Bolu Abiodun is a recent graduate of Theatre and Media Arts, Federal University Oye-Ekiti. A journalist with over a year's experience on the job. A former editor at American Media company Project Forward, he is a skilled content creator, social media manager and digital marketer.

Artificial Intelligence

How disruptive African startups are weaving Artificial Intelligence into healthcare

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In 2014, young Nabuuma Shamim Kaliisa from Uganda, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Prior to her diagnosis, she had watched her mother battle with cervical cancer, which eventually claimed her life. Following her struggle with cancer and the loss of her mother to cancer, Nabuuma was driven to create a company that could help people survive their battle with cancer. The company would turn out to become Chil AI Lab, in Uganda. According to Nabuuma, her vision is to create a world where “nobody dies of any reproductive health related cancer caused by late detection and treatment.”

Her company, Chil AI Lab, is an Artificial Intelligence company that facilitates access to affordable and easy-to-use E-oncology services for women across the globe. The company’s flagship product is an AI-powered mobile application named Keti, which utilizes artificial intelligence to diagnose cervical and breast cancer. Through the mobile app, women can access consultation services, follow-up and other add-on reproductive health services. The company has also created self-testing kits that are powered by machine learning, which make it easier for their services to reach the underserved. Through Chil AI Lab, Nabuuma has helped over 100,000 women diagnose cancer at an early phase and, via partnerships, helped them access quality treatment.

Like Nabuuma, a lot of young innovative Africans are also leveraging artificial intelligence to solve global and local healthcare challenges. With Ubenwa, Charles Onu, like Nabuuma, is using AI to transform the healthcare system in Africa and the world at large.

Ubenwa is one amid many other disruptive AI-powered startups in Africa. Through their machine-learning-powered mobile app, the Nigerian-based startup is on the path to saving the lives of as many newborns as possible from losing their lives to perinatal asphyxia, which annually claims the lives of millions of newborns. According to the UN, if newborns who have asphyxia can be detected early enough, we may be able to save their lives.

The mobile app is a screening tool that takes the sound of infant cry as input, analyzes the acoustic parameters of the sound, and then, using machine learning, compares it against a database of infant cries that have been clinically labelled. The output is then used to predict the risk of perinatal asphyxia within a short time frame. Just like magic, with just the cry of a baby, Ubenwa’s mobile app is capable of detecting birth asphyxia, thereby, helping in the prevention of the death of these babies. The company is also working on an automated cry analysis tool that can help parents understand their babies. Through the automated cry analysis, basic needs, like hunger, sleep and pain, can be extracted from infant cry and translated to parents so that appropriate care can be given.

Situated in Southern Africa, fast-rising AI-powered startup, Envisionit Deep AI, is also making giant strides in the integration of artificial intelligence in healthcare services. The South African startup is leveraging the use of machine learning, in conjunction with the expertise of radiologists, to improve and enhance easy access to radiology services in Africa. 

The company has developed a flagship product known as RADIFY. RADIFY is an AI-powered tool that can detect up to 20 different pathologies on x-rays, at a rate of up to 2000 x-rays within a minute. The tool is capable of taking up radiology tasks, to fill in the gap of the deficit of radiology experts in Africa, with the capability of analyzing and interpreting radiology scans just like a human expert. This tool supplements the efforts of doctors within the region, and does not eliminate the need for doctors. 

The tool is very easy to use. Once a doctor uploads a batch of images from scans, the images get analyzed by an AI algorithm which then identifies possible issues and pathologies, and prioritizes the images and cases that are most relevant. All the identified features are clearly highlighted and labelled on the images. This makes the process of diagnosis, via radiology, much efficient.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company offered RADIFY to the public at no cost, to be used in the diagnosis and treatment of the COVID-19 pneumonia. 

The fascinating ways in which Africans are using artificial intelligence to build solutions to challenges within a critical sector, like the healthcare sector, is indeed profound. With the cultivation of a mindset that is shifted from a consumption-based orientation to a creation-based one, the world is beginning to witness more and more Africans leveraging the use of artificial intelligence to create global healthcare solutions that are saving the lives of millions of people around the world.

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Bitcoin in Africa

Built With Bitcoin: How PaxFul is using crypto to bring hope to African communities

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In Rwanda, many young children are being given the opportunity to mould their dreams and create a future for themselves through a crypto-powered access to education. In a country where education is still a luxury to many, the impact of creating access to education is indeed highly transformative. 

“Seeing my daughter going to school makes me so happy,” said Immaculate Zihinjishi, a Rwandan mother whose three older children did not have the privilege of obtaining a formal childhood education at an early stage. Her young daughter, Lucky, is one of the many Rwandan children who are enjoying access to free quality education, sponsored by Paxful’s #builtwithbitcoin initiative.

PaxFul CEO, Ray with Rwandans.

The #builtwithbitcoin initiative, however, is not limited to Rwanda alone, it is a mission that is focused on reshaping the African community with cryptocurrency, especially through education.  “Education is essential in the sustenance of a community. We see our #BuiltWithBitcoin campaign as a way of giving back to the communities that need it the most to showcase how the power of a peer-to-peer currency like Bitcoin can reach people that need financial assistance,” says Ray Youssef, CEO and co-founder of Paxful

Paxful’s #builtwithbitcoin campaign commenced in 2017 in partnership with Zam Zam Water, an organization focused on creating sustainable water and access to quality education for communities around the world. The goal of the #builtwithbitcoin project is to build 100 schools, for up to 15,000 Africans, that are fully funded by cryptocurrency. The initiative strengthens the notion that cryptocurrency is indeed a tool for transformative change. “The #builtwithbitcoin initiative is a testament to the power of cryptocurrency. We firmly believe that it can improve lives and make the world a better place,” says Ray. 

The initiative began its race to the construction of 100 schools with Rwanda. The East African country was deliberately chosen to be the first location of the #builtwithbitcoin project. Speaking on why the choice was made, Ray says, “The people of Rwanda have shown us how we can forgive, heal and build a better world no matter how horrific the past is. People that had their entire families killed by their own neighbors now live side by side again in peace. The western media only shows us an Africa of poverty and disease, Rwanda has shown us the exact opposite. This is why we chose the first Paxful school to be built there.”

 PaxFul team
PaxFul team

The first school was built in Kasebigege Village, Bugesera District, Rwanda. The school is a nursery school, designed to cater for children between three to six years of age. It contains three classrooms, 4 restrooms with a portable irrigation system, and a 15,000-litre water tank and water-catchment system. To ensure sustainability, community gardens were built for sustainable agriculture, and dozens of goats and chickens were provided for grazing, milk, meat and poultry. 

In 2018, another school was completed in Kigali, Rwanda. The second school is a primary school for children between ages six to fifteen years. It contains six classrooms, a cafeteria, solar panels, a 35,000-litre water system, and other educational resources. The school can cater for up to 300 primary school students. The capacity of the school is about twice the size of the first school.

Advancing the course of the initiative, the construction of a third school was launched in Machakos county, Kenya, earlier this year. The project kicked off with a $30,000 donation from Paxful. The school is set to open in January, for children between 3 to 6 years of age.

PaxFul  Built With Bitcoin
PaxFul Built With Bitcoin school in construction

A fourth school is also set to open in January. The school, which is currently undergoing construction, is located in Ankara Nandi, Kaduna State, Nigeria. The school will serve as an early education center for 120 students between 3 to 6 years of age. According to a blog post by Paxful, the school will contain “3 classrooms, 8 bathrooms, a water well, a reservoir, a conference room, and plenty of space for storage.”

PaxFul Built With Bitcoin Water
Image Credit: @PaxFul / Twitter

The two completed schools in Kenya have also been equipped with full defense kits against the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the safety of the students and teachers as the schools continue operations. 

Beyond education, Paxful is also extending its impact mission to other areas of life. This year, the #builtwithbitcoin initiative sponsored the construction of a water well and water filtration distribution center with a 250,000-litre capacity that can serve over a million people. 

PaxFul Built With Bitcoin Water well and purifier
Image Credit: @PaxFul / Twitter

Via a Twitter post in January, this year, Paxful’s CEO, Ray, also announced that a Clinic was being built in the first Paxful School in Rwanda. The clinic would cater for about 1100 students and the nearby towns, to give them access to health care that is fully funded by bitcoin. 

So far, the project has been amazing and impactful. “One of the most beautiful aspects of Built With Bitcoin is being welcomed into the lives of these people and their communities. To be able to create positive change into their lives is very gratifying. There are parents who know that their childrens’ books and uniforms were paid for by Paxful using Bitcoin. It’s an amazing story and I think we’re going to hear hundreds more just like it,”says Yusuf Nessary, founder of Zam Zam Water. 

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Meet Bitsika: Africa’s cash app. Send and spend money, buy and sell crypto

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BitSika Africa's cash app

Cross-border remittance in Africa is becoming increasingly necessary, whilst experiencing a surge in the challenges associated with the process. According to reports, Africa has the highest remittance cost in the world, with the cost reaching as high as 9% for a $200 transaction, in contrast to the global average cost of about 7%. 

Bitsika has created a solution that eases cross-border remittance in Africa. The company has created a platform, which is available on Google play store and Apple store, that allows Africans to receive money instantly, from anyone, in any location, without paying any extra fee, or attracting just a negligible fee in some cases. 

The platform leverages the magic of blockchain to facilitate the movement of money around its users, thereby, making the platform extremely convenient and beneficial to use. An interesting thing about the platform is that the transactions are processed instantly.

If, for example, a trader in Ghana wants to send money to her brother who lives in Kenya, all she needs to do is to deposit the money, in Cedis, on the Bitsika app. After depositing the money, she can send it to her brother, within the app, who would receive the Kenyan Shilling equivalent of the money instantly. It’s as simple as that. No extra fees; no hassles.

Getting started with Bitsika

Getting started with BitSika is very easy. All you need to do is to download the app for Android or iOS. After downloading the app, the next step is to sign in with your Google account, and set your username and pin code. To verify your account, you will need to provide the information in the images below.

BitSika verification page

After registration, users can begin to explore the full functionalities of Bitsika. By just using the username of a recipient on the Bit Sika app, anyone can send as little as $0.01 to anyone, anywhere, at no cost, as long as the sender and the receiver are both registered Bit Sika users. However, if a user crosses a threshold of $300 within a month, a fee is attached to any other transaction that is initiated within that month. Users can send up to $300 every month without paying any fee.

Bitsika protects the value of deposited monies against the instability of currencies. Every money that is deposited is stored in USD credits/stable-coins. This means that for as long as the balance in your Bit Sika account remains unused, the USD value of your balance will remain the same. This guarantees you that your money will not experience a decline in its value once it has been deposited into your Bit Sika account, regardless of fluctuations in the value of the currency. 

Money can also be withdrawn from the Bitsika app to the bank accounts or other digital wallets of users, if a user chooses to do so. In addition, purchase of airtime and payment of goods and services can also be made via the Bit Sika app, although this is currently unavailable in Nigeria. This is made possible through the Bit Sika virtual card which can be generated on the Bit Sika app. The virtual card allows users to make online payments at any store, globally, that accepts a VISA card for payment. 

Bitsika’s payment solution is not limited to fiat money. It also provides a way to send and receive cryptocurrency across borders. Users have a free bitcoin wallet that allows them to receive bitcoin in-app. Users can also send the cryptocurrency in their wallet in another currency. 

Bitsika gives a wide coverage for payment remittance. Their solution is particularly appealing because of its ease of use and reduced charges. There’s so much that can be experienced from using the BitSika platform. A trial would answer your questions.

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