Like the internet, artificial intelligence (AI) systems are rapidly becoming a new layer of infrastructure, with transformative potential. Fuelled by the increasing availability of computational power, improved connectivity, and big data, AI applications offer exciting possibilities for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals by spurring new start ups, improving food systems, enabling higher-quality education delivery, and contributing to tackling pressing health and climate challenges.
As with any widely adopted technology — especially one as powerful and potentially pervasive as AI — the benefits come with risks that must be managed and mitigated. It can reinforce structural inequalities and bias, perpetuate gender imbalances, threaten jobs, and facilitate oppressive government surveillance. The time to write the future of AI in Africa is now, as the policies and practices put in place today will shape the benefits and harms of AI in the decades to come.
To contribute to these efforts, IDRC and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency launched the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D Africa) program in 2020. This four-year, CA$20-million partnership will seek to address the above challenges by supporting the African-led development of responsible and inclusive AI. The program will promote excellence in applied research as well as in applying AI technologies to solve development challenges and improve livelihoods for those living in poverty.
AI4D-Africa support focuses on three pillars:
scaling proven responsible AI innovations that address Africa’s different development challenges, through the creation of four, pan-African AI4D Innovation Research Networks, and supporting innovative small-grant programs
supporting policy research think-and-do tanks to establish responsible AI, by funding two AI4D research-to-policy think-and-do tanks in East Africa, and a policy network in West Africa, to engage in AI policy research
academic capacity building to foster African talent and skills around AI, through the development of two multidisciplinary AI4D university labs as well as the African AI4D Scholarships Program.