Africa as the hub for most of the world’s natural resources has played host to crude oil, gold, diamond, ivory, arts, and ancient crafts. While the AI industry in Africa is still in its nascent state, times are changing and the tide is turning. With more time, more funding, more research, and more passionate learners, Africa will attain an enviable state of technological advancement soon enough. Just as the world marveled at the sight of a black-skinned man, they would also marvel at the mighty technological empire he would build for himself.Temidayo, 2020
Long gone are the days when rich Europeans mistook Africa to be one large country where they could enjoy a vacation in a forest with lions and elephants. Beyond the animals, beyond the Safari and the dessert, mother Africa and her 54 babies are gaining more global traction for the rapid increase of AI startups which have been springing up in the last of couple years.
As some babies get to walk earlier than others, likewise, some countries, have also taken the lead in the advancement of AI and machine learning. It is only natural that others should catch up soon enough.
Let me hit you with some stats. In March 2019, a worldwide cumulative of AI funding was published with machine learning applications leading all other categories at $28.5b out of a total estimate of $82.4b. Some of the other categories were machine learning platforms ($14.4b), smart robots ($7.5b), natural language processing ($6.7b), virtual assistants ($2.8b), speech recognition ($2.4b), and gesture control ($1.1b).
According to a study carried out by PwC on the impact of AI on the global economy by 2030, the AI industry is envisaged to hit over $15.7tr making it the largest economic and commercial marketplace. How is Africa preparing to get its own share of the “global cake”?
THE AWAKENING OF THE AI INDUSTRY IN AFRICA
Africa is growing exponentially. According to the World Economic Forum, “no part of the planet is urbanizing faster than sub-Saharan Africa. The continent’s population of roughly 1.2 billion is expected to double by 2050.” Research shows that Africa’s median age is 19.5, unlike Germany (47.1), USA (38.1) and China (37.7). Being largely populated with youths-in-their-prime, Africa has what it takes to push its way through to the forefront of the AI industry, globally.
In 2019, a total of $1.2b investment funding was raised by African startups. Although up to 50% of the total funding was raised by the top 5 startups, it is still a good feat. Better days are yet to come. Some of the blazing countries in the African AI industry include Kenya and Ethiopia (East Africa), Nigeria and Ghana (West Africa), South Africa (South Africa), and Egypt (North Africa).
Compared to Europe, Asia, and the USA, the African AI industry is still in a state of infancy. However, African countries are showing no sign of slowing down. With over 75 AI startups recorded in 2019, there is so much to be optimistic about in 2020. These startups have their focus on data and analytics, vision, robotics, and language or text recognition. Others offer professional services and AI devs, bots, chatbots, and virtual assistant technology. We have also been witnesses to the innovative incorporation of AI into the medical field; especially for health and pharmaceutical diagnostics. Also, a number of AI centers and hubs have sprung up in different parts of the continent.
TOP AI STARTUPS IN AFRICA
Here are some of the top AI startups in Africa:
One of the successful Nigerian startups is Kudi. Kudi is an e-payment and e-transaction chatbot that enables easy exchange of money between friends and families. Pelumi Aboluwarin, the co-founder of Kudi, stated that they launched Kudi publicly in January 2017. Prior to that, it had been officially registered in late 2016.
Kudi implements several AI and machine learning techniques into deciphering user requests and behavior, fraud prevention and promoting a secure financial environment. It also has a B-2-B side to it as it looks to extend its unique solutions to solving current day problems encountered by banks and other companies.
A major feature of the Kudi platform is that it doesn’t necessarily require a data connection for it to operate. Instead, it uses phone networks. The founders of Kudi realized that only about 39% of Nigeria has access to the internet, hence, if they would reach more people, they had to go to the old-school style. Since 2016, Kudi has raised $5.9million investment funding having started with a seed round from YCombinator.
Kudi also has an agent system that allows people to provide financial and payment services locally. According to Kudi “Start making money by providing banking services to people around you.”
The South African startup stands out for disrupting the norm of the automotive and manufacturing sector via its machine learning interventions. It is also spreading its reach to the industrial and consumer-based goods marketplace. According to the DataProphet website,
“DataProphet is a leader in AI that enables manufacturers to step towards autonomous manufacturing. Our AI-as-a-service proactively prescribes changes to plant control plans to continuously optimize production without the expert human analysis that is typically required.
As recognized by the World Economic Forum, DataProphet PRESCRIBE has helped customers around the world experience a significant and practical impact on the factory floor, reducing the cost of non-quality by an average of 40 percent.”
We understand manufacturing and that real impact is achieved with pre-emptive actions because real-time is often too late”.
Being the advanced analytics partner for Yellowwoods Capital Holdings, DataProphet has been able to expand its international client base. This can be linked to the huge but undisclosed investment that they got from Yellowwood’s Capital Holdings.
The “defenders of the tree crop” is a Cape Town based agro-tech startup that uses drones developed with AI systems for tracking farm health, growth and predicts possible danger.
With over $4.8million funding raised, the company is devoting its tech into assisting farms and farming consultants across Africa, Australia, and the UK. Aerobotics AI systems are used “to track tree health and size, using multispectral, high-resolution drone imagery.” This would enable it to detect the specific areas that require attention. They also access satellite data to understand tree health and growth during different seasons.
Aerobotics also implements AI-based platforms for predictive analytics. Hence, farmers can “make data-driven decisions” to boost their productivity.
The Tunis startup is a big data company with almost $1million investment funding.
DataVora has developed a market data platform for e-commerce where buyers and sellers can trade with AI-enabled hindsight and foresight. Their services can be quipped as “Price Intelligence & Competitive Monitoring for E-Commerce”.
What this startup does is to collate relevant market data and information such as prices, market patterns, product assortment, and specifications, then it uses AI algorithms to structure the data in order to provide relevant market analytics such as consumer behavior, market trends and product performance. It is a great tool for retailers and business owners who are looking to achieve higher results from their marketing strategy.
It is currently used by retailers in 50 countries.
Due to its unique features, the Nigerian based startup would be on this list. Here’s the thing – when you see a picture and you like what you see (not the person though…just the clothes, or accessories), you can run the picture on the Touchabl App; that way, the picture becomes touchable. No pun intended. When you touch the picture, the AI-enabled search engine would instantly run an image recognition search to identify the item you “touched”. It can also help you in purchasing the item after identification.
Although the app is majorly for fashion and lifestyle e-commerce market, it can, however, be also applied to other areas where an image or visual search is needed.
There are other AI startups in Africa. These are but the few ones that have gained more traction and funding in their nascent years. Other recognized startups include Clevva, Stockshop, Aajoh, Apollo Agriculture, UTU, BotMe, KiaKia, WideBot, GotBot, Affectiva, Tuteria, Awamo, FinChat Bot, Zappi, amongst others.
TOP AI CENTERS AND HUBS IN AFRICA
With the advent of multiple startups comes a need to have defined bodies charged with the responsibilities of creating awareness of AI, update the populace on current trends on AI and machine learning advancements, and creating a steady AI learning environment. Some of the AI centers that have made remarkable steps towards achieving these responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
DATA SCIENCE NIGERIA (Nigeria)
DSN was founded by Nigeria’s Olubayo Adekanmbi, a data scientist and award-winning business executive in 2016. The goal was to build a society where AI can be used to solve local problems, especially the SDGs. He is a sole believer in the fact that AI is what Africa needs to come into her prime in terms of development and technological advancement. Bayo believes that artificial intelligence can redefine our lifestyle and our perspective of life in general.
Bayo is on a mission to raise 1 million Nigerian AI experts in 10 years. He has put practical learning platforms and programs in place in order to achieve this, such as:
- Annual Bootcamp
- 100 Days of Machine Learning (which is a prerequisite for attending the Bootcamp)
- Inter-Campus Machine Learning Competition for tertiary institutions.
GOOGLE AI CENTER (Ghana)
Google is one of the frontiers of AI development in the world. The Google AI center in Ghana is the first in Africa. The center is an AI-first research-based organization devoted to the development of AI and machine learning in Africa.
DEEP LEARNING INDABA (South Africa)
South African deep learning and machine learning expert, Vukosi Marivate, is the brain behind the Deep Learning Indaba. The organization rose out a need to fortify the growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence in Africa.
Africa, for a long time, has always being a receiver and not a manufacturer. Deep Learning Indaba seeks to change the storyline by raising experts who would help in the advancements of the African AI industry; moving Africa away from the spectators’ stand into the center of the pitch.
Deep learning Indaba revolves all its activities around two major objectives: An exponential increase in the contribution of Africa to AI development and advancement and achieving a wider scope in terms of diversity of the field. They strive to achieve these objectives via three major programs:
- The Annual Deep Learning Indaba Conference
- The IndabaX
- Kambule and Maathai Awards
The AMMI is a one-year intensive program on machine learning for young Africans. The program is fully funded. Its goal is to become a catalyst for machine learning and AI development amidst Africans. AMMI also has a mentorship platform that allows young African professionals to be trained by experienced professionals in the AI industry.
The AMMI was founded by Moustapha Cisse in 2018, having received sponsorship from Google and Facebook.
AI HACK (Tunisia)
Founded in 2019 by Karim Beguir, AI Hack is both promoting the knowledge of AI, as well as creating an avenue for young professionals to create AI magic by themselves.
Other recognized AI advocates in Africa include Alliance 4 AI and Zindi Africa.
Africa as the hub for most of the world’s natural resources has played host to crude oil, gold, diamond, ivory, arts, and ancient crafts. While the AI industry in Africa is still in its nascent state, times are changing and the tide is turning. With more time, more funding, more research, and more passionate learners, Africa will attain an enviable state of technological advancement soon enough. Just as the world marveled at the sight of a black-skinned man, they would also marvel at the mighty technological empire he would build for himself.