Ethiopia Ought to Hail the New Frontier of AI

Oct 16 , 2020
By Bereket Kefyalew

Ethiopia is one of the countries that have made the least use of AI. A tool for leapfrogging into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, failure is not an option in this arena for Ethiopia, writes Bereket Kefyalew (, director of startup and innovation promotion at the Technology & Innovation Institute, which has a directorate focused on AI.

Ethiopia has recently established a research and development centre for artificial intelligence (AI). Despite being an advanced field in the Western world, AI is quite new for Ethiopia with few institutions and organisations working on it. The contribution of the centre to advancing research in the area and using it for economic and developmental opportunities is immense.

AI is the intelligence of machines that mimic “cognitive” functions including learning and problem solving, which normally is associated with human and animal minds. With its potential for almost every facet of life, it is evident that almost every developed country wants to be a leader in this area, including the United States and China. It will soon be impossible to remain a superpower without an advanced AI technology base, if it is not already.

Governments know this and are spending accordingly. Global spending on the technology will reach 97.7 billion dollars by 2023, with an annual growth rate of 28.4pc since 2019, according to a report by the International Data Corporation.

What makes AI incredibly useful is its ability to be used to interpret big data. With big data believed to be the next gold mine, developing a capacity for mining, interpreting and analysing it is critical to building a digitally advanced country.

AI is applicable in various sectors including infrastructure, financial services and health care. Recent AI developments have been able to optimise logistics, allow cars to self-drive, detect fraud, conduct research and even compose art. In medicine, diseases can be detected at a much earlier stage, and life expectancy can be greatly improved simply by identifying deviations from usual behaviour and body functions.

The AI-based applications are also useful in understanding medical data and reaching the right conclusion without direct human involvement. It can be used in diagnosis processes, treatment protocol, drug development, patient monitoring and care.

Banks are also using AI technology by deploying several applications such as intelligent virtual assistants to improve their customer services and prevent fraud and monitor potential threats to their customers in e-commerce. In agriculture, the technology, along with Internet of Things (IoT) applications, is being used to predict planting patterns, choice of fertilisers and weather conditions. It is making the job of the farmers easier by the day.

Although AI is very useful for our economic and social development, there are concerns that need to be addressed. It is likely to accelerate automation, leading to the loss of jobs, and it poses significant threats to privacy rights. Most worrying, in the wrong hands it can be used to develop weapons of destruction.

Although Ethiopia is one of the countries that have made the least use of AI, there are, however, a few companies that have started engaging in the technology. ICog Labs, a research and development firm that has a focus on AI technology, is one of the most recognisable names. The Addis Abeba Science & Technology University also has an Artificial Intelligence & Robotics Centre of Excellence.

The biggest initiative, however, is the establishment of a national AI centre, which was inaugurated last month. The announcement came several months after the Council of Ministers' endorsed the establishment of a research centre focused on this technology.

But the Centre is not enough. Universities and colleges need to have similar centres and research units. Since data is the starting point for AI, we need to invest in the creation and collection of data. However, at the same time, we have to ensure individuals' data is protected. To preserve and protect the integrity of this data, we need trusted and responsible institutions that uphold the data protection regulatory policies and frameworks of governance.

While being cognizant of the negative externalities it could have, Ethiopia should make sure that it is not left behind in this field. It is a tool for leapfrogging into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Failure is not an option.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 16,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1068]

director of startup and innovation promotion at the Technology & Innovation Institute, which has a directorate focused on AI.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 1

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick


Fortune news