Demo Africa Maroc – launchpad of Alliance for Africa’s Intelligence

Featuring demonstrations from Africa’s top 30 seed-stage startups, insightful ecosystem talks and selection of the Silicon Valley Lion’s Innovation Tour cohort, Demo Africa 2018 exceeded expectations once again, providing returnees a renewed sense of optimism for the innovative prospects of the African continent. More importantly, it offered a new and emboldened vision of innovation and smart technological advancements of modern day Africa, a picture contrary to prior beliefs for first-time visitors.

For me, it provided a venue for experimentation, meeting point to exchange ideas with individuals key to driving change through Africa and fuel for the Alliance for Africa’s Intelligence fire that had been building inside me for a year.

Bringing AI to DEMO

I was at the conference on a mission to uncover the seemingly surreptitious fact that Africa was taking part in the AI revolution that is taking the world by storm, transforming entire industries and attracting billions of dollars of investments from the largest countries around the world. I had written an article prior, titled AI transformation in Africa: are you paying attention, and followed up on that piece by moderating a panel on Africa’s digital economy enabled by machine learning. The panel featured professionals from enterprise and startup, sharing how they use AI to improve the way they serve their clients, and how the near future can evolve with the trends taking place in African markets.

Ala Eddine Ayadi, Senior Data Scientist at Instadeep shared how they became one of Africa’s top AI startups with engineering offices in Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, London and Paris. “We designed a training program to prepare regular software engineers to apply AI to solutions and also participate in research. Our Engineers have won AI hackathons and paper awards across Deep Learning Indaba, Neurips and Facebook F8”. Currently, Instadeep uses NVIDIA DGX supercomputer boxes to power their AI solutions, servicing some of Europe’s top energy and logistics companies.

Miriam Russom, an IOT and smart cities leader at Microsoft and Anas El Arras, native Moroccan with entrepreneur consulting practices in Europe and Middle East offered accounts on real applications of AI on the continent. They spoke to the importance of building on the shoulders of giants by connecting with communities in local cities, working with existing online data banks and leveraging tools offered by leading cloud service providers like Azure to get started quickly and build world-class applications.

In the security domain, Housna Hamadet, Country Manager for North and West Africa at Symantec cautioned,  “You can’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Given the rapid urbanization taking place in Africa and increased usage of mobile and technology solutions, we are seeing increased hacker interest in the continent, and naturally an expansion in the type of clientele seeking AI-powered security solutions we offer at Symantec”.

To afford attendees an opportunity to go beyond awareness and interact firsthand with early adopters of AI, we organized an AI meet & greet that brought 30+ attendees from universities, corporates and startups to engage with two Demo startups to ask questions on how they came to leverage AI. Topics addressed in the Q & A included: the decision of these DEMO startups to use AI as a differentiator, strategies for data acquisition for model training and testing, and finally, their present success and future plans to hire talent capable on executing on AI-driven solutions for their business.

This session helped make the concept more real for the audience, and compel them to resoundingly sign up to create a community of AI practitioners in Morocco that would educate and equip new adopters with knowledge and resources.

The Inception of the Alliance for Africa’s Intelligence

During Demo Africa Maroc, I recognized the impact of providing enabling environments for problem solvers looking to integrate artificial intelligence and in fact other exponential technologies into their workflows. The pain point here is that most of them are unable to assemble the critical pieces themselves.

Thankfully AI awareness initiatives are growing around the continent with conferences like AI Expo and Deep Learning Indaba gathering hundreds of people for training and communities like Women in Machine Learning and Data Science, Kenya chapter and Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa (MIIA) boasting of 2000+ members constantly exchanging ideas on how to approach problems with AI. Several countries have also put together open data initiatives to expose data in critical government sectors to the public for solutions to be built on top. Other countries have developed their internet connectivity infrastructures to meet standards that allow for consumption and distribution of quality services over the internet, and finally venture capital investments in key countries are growing at unprecedented rates.

It is however important to bring all the building elements together to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of getting ai-powered solutions to market to address some of our most pervasive socio-economic problems.

Fig: Organic Pipeline for AI Entrepreneurs: Too Few Make it To The Top Today

This motivated me to assemble a team to initiate the Alliance for Africa’s Intelligence, a group to stimulate adoption of exponential technologies throughout Africa for the purpose of social good and the building of the continent’s future. We start with artificial intelligence, as it is recognized as the most defining technology of the fourth industrial revolution.

The A4AI Vision

We see a future where Africans are positioned to collaborate, compete and lead the innovation of a better world for us all. We adopt a mission to empower capacity-building organizations, guide public-private decision makers on continental and global best practices and celebrate pan-African success stories to correct false representation in global reports and inspire increased engagement from the people.

We will share more on how you can engage in coming weeks, and welcome you to visit our growing Africa AI platform to learn about the basics of AI, observe how practitioners are climbing above Africa-centric challenges and sign up to the A4AI newsletter to receive regular ecosystem updates. Let’s prepare Africa for the future of work and business.

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