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CEA conference : AI in economic development

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CEA conference : AI in economic development

AI takes center stage at the 56th Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning, and Economic Development of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Discussions intensify on the transformative potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in shaping the continent’s economic future.

Exploring the economic impact of AI

The conference agenda strongly focuses on leveraging AI to foster economic growth in Africa. Despite the enthusiasm generated by technology promises, concerns are raised about the need for more necessary infrastructure and regulatory frameworks to support AI deployment effectively.

South African delegate Ms. Baratang Miya highlights challenges such as inconsistent power supply, which can hinder the implementation of AI technologies. Nevertheless, consensus among participants is optimistic, acknowledging AI’s potential to drive development, enhance productivity, and streamline efficiency within African economies.

According to the current AI market landscape, Africa is home to approximately 2,400 AI-specialized companies, with the majority (66 %) located in four countries: South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya.

Addressing infrastructure and regulatory needs

Professor Mthuli Ncube, the Minister of Finance, Economic Development, and Investment Promotion, emphasizes the importance of accessible and accurate data for AI platforms and the need for solid investments in ICT infrastructure. With relatively high mobile phone penetration in Africa, the necessary foundations for disseminating AI-based solutions exist, albeit unevenly across the continent.

Furthermore, establishing a robust regulatory environment, including data protection and privacy laws, is deemed essential to mitigate risks and ensure that AI technologies serve the public good without infringing on individual liberties.

Promise of AI for Africa

Despite the obstacles, the benefits of integrating AI into Africa’s economic strategies are evident. From improving agriculture through predictive analytics to enhancing education and healthcare through personalized AI-based tools, the technology promises to narrow the development gap between Africa and more industrialized regions. AI could catalyze unprecedented growth and prosperity across the continent by focusing on positive outcomes and managing associated risks through prudent regulation.

Attention is therefore focused on the role of AI not only in promoting economic development and ensuring food security and sustainability for Africa’s future. Discussions at the UNECA pave the way for a broader debate on harnessing technology to elevate nations, demonstrating a collective determination to embrace the digital age for the benefit of all Africans.

South Africa is designated as the leading country in AI investment in Africa, with over 726 companies, followed by Nigeria with 456 companies. In East Africa, Kenya leads with 204, while Tanzania and Uganda have 44 companies.

AI in African statistics

Many African countries recognize the potential of AI to enhance data collection, analysis, and decision-making. International organizations and partnerships also lend assistance in this regard. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

AI adoption in Africa is limited, with a few exceptions, such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Togo, Libya, and Ghana, actively embracing AI. Many African countries need more essential elements for technology adoption, including infrastructure, data ecosystems, education, and governance systems.

In remote sensing, satellite technologies are used to harness data on agriculture, monitor urban expansion, and track deforestation patterns. Through the Internet of Things (IoT), we witness the use of devices to capture real-time data on resources like water, thus promoting conservation initiatives. There are currently over 30 AI developer communities in Africa. Many African universities also offer degrees or specializations in AI. Africa boasts more than 2,400 AI organizations operating across various sectors, including healthcare, wellness, fitness, agriculture, legal training, and insurance.

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