With AI Technology Tailor-made in Africa, Sky’s the Limit

Nick Clegg

 With so many hyperbolic claims and counter-claims being made about Artificial Intelligence (AI), it’s hard to know what to think. Should we be hopeful or afraid, excited or skeptical? Is any of this actually going to make a difference to our lives any time soon?

While today’s generative AI tools can do amazing things, they are still nowhere near human-level intelligence. They are, in effect, highly sophisticated pattern recognition machines. But while they can’t think for themselves, they are remarkable problem-solving tools. They’re already helping to accelerate medical and scientific research and making a big difference in a range of industries.

Across the Nigerian economy, AI tools have the potential to boost productivity enormously. And they can help us in our everyday lives. AI assistants could provide tailored support when we need it and help us all to get more done in our days. Soon, we’ll be rolling out our Meta AI virtual assistant to WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram users in Nigeria and South Africa], alongside those in a number of other countries in Africa and elsewhere, which you can use to answer questions with real-time information and generate images from your text prompts to share across your favourite app.

As more and more people, businesses and organisations get to grips with how AI tools can help them solve problems, they could create huge economic and social opportunities. But that’s going to take time, and it is going to require that AI tools are tailored to the specific needs Nigerians have.

That’s what Jacaranda Health has done with its AI-enabled digital health service, PROMPTS, which is designed to help expecting mothers across Sub-Saharan Africa. PROMPTS sends women text messages in Swahili tracked to their stages of pregnancy. It also has an AI-enabled helpdesk that uses natural language processing to triage and respond to their questions, and makes rapid referrals if a risk is identified. With Meta’s support, Jacaranda aims to expand PROMPTS to 1.3 million women across the region. To do all this, Jacaranda developed an AI tool that understands Swahili, built on Meta’s open source Llama 2 foundation model.

The computing power required to build and operate foundational AI models can be vast and expensive, which is why so few companies have them. Most of those companies are in the United States, but generative AI is not going to have the sort of transformative effect that people hope it will in Nigeria unless people are using AI tools designed with the needs of Nigerians in mind. That’s why it’s so important that many of these models are open and accessible, so more Africans can do what Jacaranda has done and adapt them for Africans to use.

Meta has a long history of sharing AI technologies like PyTorch, the leading machine learning framework, and our Llama large language models. And we’ve published more than 1,000 AI open source models and tools, including our “Seamless” suite of AI research models that can translate your own voice into another language.

I’m in Nigeria this week to meet policymakers, academics, experts and entrepreneurs and talk about open source AI and how Meta can support the growing digital economy here. Africa has a young, tech-savvy population that is brimming with creativity. In little over a decade, it could have the largest workforce in the world. The continent is on the cusp of becoming a major centre for innovation. We want to be part of that. That’s why we’ve rolled out programmes like Boost with Meta and #SheMeansBusiness, reaching millions of small businesses across the continent and helping more than 350,000 entrepreneurs develop their skills. And it’s why we’ve laid tens of thousands of subsea and terrestrial fibre cables, such as 2Africa, helping to generate tens of billions of dollars for African economies.

This is good for Africa and good for Meta. We want Africans to build amazing things with our technologies. Better products, faster innovation and a flourishing market in Africa will benefit Meta as it will many others. With fast internet access and AI technology tailor-made for Africa’s needs, challenges and opportunities, the sky’s the limit.

Clegg is Meta’s President, Global Affairs

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