Does this competition mean Africa is preparing for an AI revolution?

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Artificial Intelligence proponents hope for a future where machines take  over most of humanity’s repeated tasks.

However, instead of anticipating the coming rest from their day-to-day activities, millions are worried about losing their jobs to robots or robots colonising man totally and taking over the earth.

The topic thus evokes emotions aamongst various audiences separating opponents of AI and proponents who’re already enjoying it. Just a few months back, there was a ‘brush’ between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. The online “battle” about this very subject saw emotions rise one too quickly.

Zuckerberg had posted a thirty-minute video detailing various aspects of AI and what possible benefit it may have for the future of humanity. Musk retorted, “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.” Musk is the poster boy for AI skepticism and makes a good point, however so does Zuckerberg and all other AI enthusiasts. Perhaps the good outweighs the bad and we are well on our way to robot doctors and smart houses, or the bad outweighs the good and we are all sitting ducks waiting for the first machine to realize its consciousness and kill us all, but before we build doomsday bunkers we must first ask ourselves, “What is the future of AI and robotics in Africa?”

How fast is this particular technology growing? Are we innovating enough if at all we are? To answer this, we must explore the various startups and companies, as well as individuals, in the African tech scene that are actively building AI technologies and solutions. This is a South African company founded in 2013 by Annabel Dallamore. The startup utilizes AI in finance, providing solutions or institutions like banks and insurance companies. Some of the solutions offered are a bot that connects financial consultants and brokers with client leads and a bot that performs real-time identity verification on behalf of banks and other financial institutions, in compliance with requirements under the Fica Intelligence Center Act (FICA). The startup has also developed a bot interface that completes real-time identity verification checks on behalf of banks and financial institutions in line with requirements under the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA). developed an algorithm that monitors peoples’ financial behavior (such as spending habits), and pairs them with emotional cues. It provides their clients with the much needed assistance with things along the finance line, such as payments, administration, rewards, education, analytics and tracking. Besides these, also launched a micro-insurance platform in April that is unique to the African market. The company currently has a staff of 11 and has raised an undisclosed amount from angel investors and VC’s alike, since receiving support from the Seed Engine Accelerator in 2013.

Sophie Bot is a company founded by Irving Amukasa in August 2016, with a group of friends while in college at JKUAT. The company’s key objective is to destigmatize sex education amongst people, especially in Africa where such topics are generally shunned, as well as provide a platform for peopleto ask sensitive questions that might otherwise have been embarrassing to ask someone else. “It is the intersection between the problem, us as a society unwilling to talk about sexual health, and technology, chat robots automating conversations hence anonymity and zero judgement. That I’ve learnt is the secret recipe to all lasting and meaningful innovation and I couldn’t help myself but dive in.” Amukasa explained, about Sophie Bot, in an interview with Techmoran earlier this year. The startup bagged KES 4,000,000 in funding back in 2017 to diversify and market the product. The company has since amassed 3000 users and counting.

Aajoh: This is a Nigerian startup founded in 2016. Aajoh is using AI to help individuals send a list of their symptoms via text, audio and photographs, to diagnose their medical condition in the comfort of their own homes. Since its inception the startup has raised $10,000 in funding and had two companies and 35 users at the time it ran its pilot. Aajoh CEO, Simi Adejumo says, “Our present go-to-market strategy involves getting companies to sign up to the platform as part of staff health benefits.” According to Adejumo, despite appearances, the app does not aim to replace official doctors’ diagnosis, but will instead allow doctors to make the best use of their time by focusing on patients that require physical care.

In light of such fascinating innovation, The AI Revolution Challenge comes to Africa in 2018. The challenge aims to promote AI in Africa and showcase new emerging businesses, as well as top talent working to build expertise in their countries. The finals will be held in May 2018, in South Africa and will be attended by 20 startups, hand-picked by a panel of experienced AI gurus and investors. The winning startup will walk away with $1,000,000 in seed funding, which will be provided by Sagarmatha Technologies, as well as double the same amount worth of marketing value-adds and prizes.
Sagarmatha Technologies CEO, Paul Lamontagne says, “Africa as a continent is creative and has unique perspectives, providing a fertile space for innovation and disruption. The business case for Africa is very strong and I see the continent at a tipping point if we embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There are trailblazing innovators and disruptors on the continent and we hope to shine the light on these pioneering entrepreneurs.”

The selection criteria for the 20 startups will be:
1. Businesses currently or yet to offer a product service or platform that utilize AI techniques
2. A product or service that demonstrates commercial applications worldwide
3. Have by the date of application, received a minimum investment of $25,000 in seed, equity or debt funding.
4. Are registered and resident on the African continent
Applications close on March 31st 2018.
This and other such initiatives are a positive nod for the future of AI in Africa. Though there may be a good number of companies in the sector, we are still a far cry from smart houses and pets that talk back. It might be years in the future, but we are well on our way there.