Google opens its first African AI lab in Ghana

First Google AI lab in Africa opens up new possibilities

Google has finally opened its long-awaited AI research center in Accra, Ghana.  This is the tech giant’s first AI lab in Africa and the team says they hope the lab will help generate solutions that will be useful to the specific problems that Africa faces in areas such as agriculture, health and education.

In recent years Google has stated its intention to be an AI-first company, and among other things, this means bringing tech to the masses.  Like many other developers, Google believes in tapping into the potential of AI for everybody instead of keeping access to technological expertise within the large companies.

Moustaphe Cisse, leader of the Accra team, says “Most of what we do in our research centers at Google and not just in Accra, we publish it and open-source code, so that everybody can use it to build all sorts of things.”

Open-source code from new Google AI lab will help solve uniquely African problems

Among the key AI developments to come out of Google’s involvement in Africa is PlantMD, an app that’s capable of diagnosing hundreds of crop diseases and which has quickly become instrumental to farmers. What’s most interesting about PlantMD is that it was developed using TensorFlow, Google’s open-source machine learning library.

TensorFlow is available for anyone to use, from companies to nonprofit organizations, researchers and developers.  In the case of PlantMD, it was two highschool students that used TensorFlow to develop the app.  We tend to think of AI as belonging to Silicon Valley and similar inaccessible places.  But it’s inspiring to see that open-source code such as TensorFlow can empower ordinary, local people to use the latest technology to solve real-world problems that crop up in their day-to-day lives.

Google also hopes to improve Google Translate for the African continent.  With more than 2000 languages and dialects, Africa is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse areas.  Overcoming the language barriers inherent to this linguistic complexity would “unlock a lot of opportunities and also provide more access to information,” says Cisse.

Other AI initiatives in Africa include using satellite imagery to map populations and allocate resources accordingly and optimizing the web for devices with unreliable networks.

Google taking earnest steps to spread AI in Africa

Google has spearheaded no shortage of tech incentives in Africa, from working together with local companies to ameliorate internet access to providing developer training to low-income students.  In the blog post announcing the new AI lab in Ghana, the company said, “We’re excited to combine our research interests in AI and machine learning and our experience in Africa to push the boundaries of AI while solving challenges in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, and education.”

In light of the recent trend towards making AI inclusive and representative of the population at large, Google stated, “AI has great potential to positively impact the world, and more so if the world is well represented in the development of new AI technologies. So it makes sense to us that the world should be well represented in the development of AI.”

Google has also opened AI labs in Tokyo, New York, Zurich and Paris.