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Op-Eds Mar 28, 2024 Science

AI in Africa: Basics Over Buzz

Part 1 of Research Director Rose Mutiso's series on artificial intelligence in Africa.
Making Markets Work
Shaping Energy Transitions

Originally published in Science, March 28, 2024.

When Buti Manamela visited Lengau, one of Africa’s fastest supercomputers, he had more prosaic technology in mind: electricity. South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology was at the Center for High Performance Computing in Cape Town for what should have been a showcase tour of a facility providing the country with the computing power needed to run and analyze the kinds of complex models and huge datasets that underpin artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). But Manamela was there to better understand the impact of South Africa’s rolling power blackouts on the center’s operations. Lengau, which means “cheetah” in Setswana, is one of the most important outposts in Africa’s AI infrastructure landscape; yet, it is struggling to operate at full capacity because of unreliable power.

This is not the kind of story you typically hear when it comes to AI and Africa. Lofty leapfrogging narratives, the idea that poor countries can use new technologies to bypass traditional stages of development, dominate, casting forward to a future in which Africa could capture 10% of a multitrillion dollar future AI market (for context, Africa accounts for only 3% of global trade), with armies of local AI entrepreneurs leading the charge to revolutionize everything from agriculture to education and health.

Read the full article here.