AI IN NIGERIA SERIES
While there are many training programs in Nigeria related to developing AI talent, it is usually difficult to point out AI applications that are locally developed and are already available in the marketplace. This article will hopefully be the first of a series of articles; I will be uncovering several locally developed AI applications in Nigeria. Some you might know, some you won’t. All in all, my goal in this series is to dispel beliefs that AI is an imported technology in Nigeria. Nigeria may not be pulling its weight compared to Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya in the African AI space, but there are notable strides that we should be aware of. Here are some of them.
Zenvus – AI-based solutions for farms
Most rural African farmers are not equipped with the right technical knowledge about the external factors affecting their crop yield. As such, they make farming decisions based on guesswork, cultural practices, and superstitious beliefs. The results make agriculture seem more like a gamble than a viable economic activity. Zenvus takes the gamble out of farming and makes it more viable for farmers that work with them. Data is collected using electronic sensors and special cameras about soil nutrients, temperature, moisture, drought levels, crop diseases, and other pain points in farming.
When I said that the cameras where special, it wasn’t just for the heck of it, they are. They were built by the company itself from scratch, due to the lack of available cameras in the market that could process crop vegetation index to meet their needed standards. So, they did it themselves, fitted with the necessary microprocessor for collecting this data. All this data is transmitted to remote cloud servers, equipped with algorithms that process and deliver predictions.
Notable amongst these predictions is when rain is going to fall. This is helpful for farmers because most of them cannot afford to irrigate their farms, and over the past few years, the commencement and duration of the rainy season in Nigeria have been erratic.
Lara – Step-by-Step Public Transportation Directions to any Destination
Most of us are familiar with Google Maps, and if you’ve had to depend on it for directions, you can attest to the fact that it can deliver inaccurate route suggestions. Earlier this year, when I moved to Abuja for Law School, I had to use Google Maps to locate my bank’s nearest branch since I was unfamiliar with the area, Bwari, to be precise. I was told (by Google Maps) that the nearest branch was in Wuse II, which is a long way from Bwari, for those familiar with the route. I later learned from a friend that I could have found a closer bank branch in nearby Dutse.
A local version of Google Maps that is more familiar with the nuances of location and our disorderly transportation system in Nigeria will be more successful. This is where Lara comes in. Lara is an AI chatbot that gives public transportation directions. For now, its use seems to be restricted to Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, it is a locally developed AI.
I tried using it myself, as you can see in the images below, using Ogun State locations where I currently reside and random places. It only returned directions for Lagos and Abuja. You can try it yourself on www.lara.ng and see if your location is in its system.
This chatbot has an interface like that of WhatsApp, leveraging on this familiarity to help users to chat with it easily. It doesn’t just give directions; it also gives suggestions on the means of transportation to use and also gives estimates of how much each ride will cost from one point of Lagos or Abuja to another.
Ubenwa – AI for crying babies
Ubenwa is a locally developed AI, an app that can detect birth asphyxia in 10 seconds. Asphyxia is the third leading killer of babies worldwide, claiming 900,000 lives every year. It is usually mistaken as the baby just crying until it is too late. This app can analyze the baby’s incessant cries to detect if they are just innocent, everyday cries, or a symptom of Asphyxia. So far, it has reported a 95% accuracy in test uses involving over 1,400 pre-recorded baby cries. It runs on a machine learning system that has been trained datasets of voices of babies crying who have asphyxia and healthy babies.
Using this, it takes the cries of a baby as input, analyzing its frequency and amplitude against its database to provide a diagnosis. It is noteworthy that Ubenwa is an Ibo word which means, ‘cry of a child.’ Traditionally, testing for asphyxia is invasive as it requires blood samples, which are tested. Anyone familiar with Nigeria’s public health system knows that most primary healthcare centers cannot provide the necessary treatments for a newborn baby.
An alternative like Ubenwa that is non-invasive is thus a welcome alternative. You only have to download the app. It doesn’t require technical skill to operate, then place it within the crying baby’s earshot for recording and analysis. The results are available in less than a minute.
Leo – a chatbot from UBA that aids in financial transactions
Leo is an AI chatbot that most tech-savvy customers of UBA might be familiar with. Accessible via Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, you can carry out your everyday financial transactions like a random chat. For Nigerians (who use UBA) who wish to access this service, the number to add is +2349030002455. It’s also available in Uganda, Liberia, Ghana, Tanzania, Benin Republic, Cameroon, and Congo Brazzaville to UBA customers. It is currently available in 17 African countries
As of February 2019, Leo had over 1 million subscribers and had over 70 million conversations. We can be sure that the number must have doubled because it was launched in January 2018. It is available in French, English, and Portuguese, depending on the country of deployment. UBA has announced plans to make it available in Yoruba and other Nigerian languages. It is built on Natural Language Processing (NLP) – an AI method used to train algorithms to recognize and respond to queries in a given language. This is an example of Narrow AI. In other words, it only works in the specific domain it is applied in. If you guessed that this is the same method used in developing Lara, the transportation chatbot I spoke about earlier, then you guessed right.
Leo can respond to queries that involve banking with UBA, but cannot answer queries about GTBank or Stanbic IBTC. It also cannot give you advice about relationships, as I sadly found out.
You can use Leo to open a UBA account, apply for loans, check your account balance, confirm cheques, pay bills, freeze your account, and get notifications. Let me stop here, UBA did not pay me for the advert.
Eva Max-AI – a legaltech research tool
Using NLP, just like Leo and Lara, this tool aid lawyers in obtaining judicial authorities from both Nigeria and the UK to aid them in preparing their cases. With increased usage, it can provide customized results for the user as it takes note of specific user behavior and searches patterns.
With Eva Max, a locally developed AI, you can ask questions on judicial authorities and relevant laws. It’s available on the company website. Once you open it, you’ll see a popup at the bottom with Eva Max-AI on it, which you can click to start using it. I took it for a spin and here’s what I got.
One point that you might have noticed is that the AI applications in Nigeria revolve around the peculiar pain points in Nigerian society – agriculture, healthcare, transportation, finance, legal services. 3 of them leverage on Natural Language Processing, thus suggesting that this is an area of research and development that the Nigerian AI community is well-attuned to.
This list is by no means conclusive of all the local AI development in Nigeria. Some of you will be aware of other applications that are not on this list. You might even be working on one yourself. If you are, I’d like to write about your work for the world to see – @Akin_Agunbiade