Google launches AI centre in Ghana

US tech giant, Google has introduced the first Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory in Ghana to help address economic, political and environmental issues in Africa. 

Background

Artificial intelligence refers to software and technology that uses data and algorithms to execute tasks that require human cognition. Artificial intelligence (AI) enables the systems with the capability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. Through machine learning AI-powered technology becomes knowledgeable and can surpass human efficacy.

AI enables better identification of patterns, allowing for more nuanced predictions of behaviour. From healthcare to recruitment to digital marketing, a variety of industries and sectors have found AI to be advantageous to their business operations. 

An Artificial Intelligence Research Laboratory will focus on combining data and artificial intelligence and produce high-quality data analysis for various purposes.

Analysis

Google has opened its first Artificial Intelligence (AI) center in Africa in Ghana's capital city, Accra.  Headed by Moustapha Cisse, Google announced its intention to launch the center last year. 

“Over the past 10 years in which Google has had offices in Africa, we’ve been excited to be a part of that transformation. Ultimately 10 million Africans will benefit from our digital skills training program with 2 million people having already completed the course, and we’re supporting 100,000 developers and over 60 tech startups through our Launchpad Accelerator Africa. We’re also adapting our products to make it easy for people to discover the best of the internet, even on low-RAM smartphones or unstable network connections,” Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow, Google AI and Moustapha Cisse, Staff Research Scientist and Lead of Google AI Center Accra, had said in a statement.

“We’ll bring together top machine learning researchers and engineers in this new center dedicated to AI research and its applications,” the blog explaining the launch said. 

Google is working with universities and start-ups in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and SA to enhance AI development regionally. Google also supports graduate programs in Machine Intelligence at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences center in Rwanda

The center will host engineers and researchers together to work on AI-dedicated projects.  Google says it will partner with local universities and institutions as well as policy-makers to develop AI in Africa.  Cisse said ‘It is a diverse team. It is important that Africans are at the forefront of providing solutions to problems on their continent’. The center directly engages with researchers in African universities by providing grants to those interested in the various fields of AI and giving Ph.D. scholarships.

AI can be applied in sectors such as agriculture, health, and education, and Moustapha Cisse, the research scientist heading up Google's AI efforts in Africa, says his team's goal is to provide developers with the necessary research needed to build products that can solve problems that Africa faces today. "Most of what we do in our research centers at Google and not just in Accra, we publish it and open-source code, so that everybody can use it to build all sorts of things," he said. Cisse says Google's AI principles aims to build trust between the people who create the technology and the end users, and the technology should be aligned with the values of society. "We have to build an algorithm that is fair and respects the privacy of the user and is transparent," he said.

Using Google’s AI machine app ‘TensorFlow’, farmers can analyze the issue with their plants and boost their production. TensorFlow was outsourced by the company to help developers generate solutions to real-world problems. The African center will zoom into the process of enhancing Google Translate abilities to grab African languages with accuracy as it has more than 2000 dialects and needs to be better served with technology.

Last week, Google announced it was dissolving its AI ethics committee after its employees criticised the inclusion of Kay Coles James and reopened the conversation about Google’s military drone involvement. Last year, Google was forced to drop its bid for a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon to develop military A.I. surveillance tools after fierce public criticism from its tech workers.

Counterpoint

There has been an algorithmic bias problem with AI structure regarding Africans. After Google photos launch in 2015, it tagged photos of black people as ‘gorillas’ which created a lot of controversy with the company and compelled it to fix the issue immediately. 

Assessment 

Our assessment is that Ghana likely appealed to Google because of its high-quality education system and political stability. It can be noted that Ghana ranks 12th in the World Bank’s latest Ease of Doing Business Index. It also enjoys relatively stable electricity, relative security, and decent internet infrastructure. We feel that challenges faced by the African continent can be translated into data necessary to solve issues in other communities. The struggle with diversity needs to curbed and an inclusive algorithm representing all end users need to be developed. Also, some of the best AI talent in the world is of African origin.