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This year, we have seen an acceleration of Silicon Valley tech giants opening AI research labs around the world as they seek to gain traction among researchers and fulfill their global ambitions.
In the past six months or so, Google brought labs to China and France, Facebook opened labs in Pittsburgh and Seattle, and Microsoft announced plans to open labs near universities in Berkeley, California and Melbourne, Australia.
This trend shows no signs of slowing down. Last month, Samsung announced labs in Cambridge, Moscow, and Toronto. This week, Nvidia announced plans to open a new lab in Toronto, while Google shared plans to open a lab in Accra, Ghana, Google’s first in Africa and perhaps the first of any tech giant in Africa.
Like other research centers around the world, the Accra AI lab will look for ways to produce state-of-the-art models and will partner with regional institutions like the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).
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The lab will focus on medical diagnosis and treatment, fairness in machine learning, and interpretability and understanding of machine learning models, a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.
Dr. Moustapha Cisse will act as lead of the Accra research lab. A research scientist who previously worked at Facebook AI Research and recently joined Google AI, Cisse is also an AIMS professor and founder of the organization Black in AI.
Cisse’s current research efforts focus on improving the fairness and reliability of learning algorithms.
While things are just getting started, I hope that — much as the French AI center will place an emphasis on art — the work carried out at the latest Google AI lab will take advantage of unique attributes that can be found in Ghana and other parts of Africa.
Some that come to mind: Africa is the second largest continent in the world by land mass, and a lot of people live in rural areas, so AI solutions like remote medical imaging or drone services could be worth pursuing.
Africa is also by far the youngest continent on the planet, so research that affects the lives of young people, such as applications in education or personal finance, may also be fitting.
Sixty percent of the population in Africa is under the age of 25. By comparison, in the next youngest region — Latin America and the Caribbean — 42 percent of the population is under 25. Europe has the smallest percentage of population under 25, at 27 percent.
More than half the world’s population growth will be in Africa by 2050, according to estimates from the United Nations.
Particularly as AI expands to parts of society beyond tech, much is being said about the need to democratize AI, to include a diverse range of viewpoints, and to consider how AI will shape the future and change humanity forever. If AI is the future, then perhaps no region has more of a right to have a voice in that future than Africa.
The opening of the lab in Ghana is a reminder that as AI labs proliferate around the world, they may produce state-of-the-art AI research that advances common industry goals, but they can also carry out research that harnesses the unique characteristics and challenges that can be found in different regions all over the globe.
For AI coverage, send news tips to Khari Johnson and Kyle Wiggers, and guest post submissions to Cosette Jarrett.
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