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Google set the pace with Africa’s first AI research laboratory in Ghana

Africa has many challenges where the use of AI could be beneficial, sometimes even more than in other places

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A woman makes copies at the Google Artificial Intelligence (AI) office in Accra - This centre is the first AI centre established in Africa by Google. (Photo by CRISTINA ALDEHUELA / AFP)

An artificial intelligence research laboratory opened by Google in Ghana, the first of its kind in Africa, will take on challenges across the continent, researchers say.

The US technology giant said the lab in the capital Accra would address economic, political and environmental issues.

“Africa has many challenges where the use of AI could be beneficial, sometimes even more than in other places,” Google’s head of AI Accra, Moustapha Cisse, told AFP at the centre’s official opening this week.

Similar research centres have already opened in cities around the world including Tokyo, Zurich, New York and Paris.

The new lab, Cisse said, would use AI to develop solutions in healthcare, education and agriculture – such as helping to diagnose certain types of crop disease.

Cisse, an expert from Senegal, said he hoped specialist engineers and AI researchers would collaborate with local organisations and policymakers.

Google is working with universities and start-ups in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa to enhance AI development regionally, he said.

“We just need to ensure that the right education and opportunities are in place,” he said.

“That is why Google is sponsoring a lot of these young people for their degrees… to help develop a new generation of AI developers.”

‘Clear opportunity’

Other tech companies, including Facebook, have launched initiatives in Africa and demographics are a key factor behind the drive.

Africa’s population is estimated to be 1.2 billion, 60 percent of them under the age of 24.

By 2050, the UN estimates the population will double to 2.4 billion.

As online social networks expand, that presents a huge market for US tech giants to tap into.

“There’s a clear opportunity for companies like Facebook and Google to really go in and put a pole in the sand,” said Daniel Ives, a technology researcher at GBH Insights in New York. 

“If you look at Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, where is a lot of that growth coming from? It’s international,” he told AFP in a recent interview.

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Huawei’s Android restriction: How it affects the African market

New versions of its smartphones outside China will lose access to popular Google applications and services

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Huawei's Android restriction: How it affects the African market

As the U.S/China trade war heats up, Huawei smartphone users were caught in one of its outcomes, following a recent announcement to suspend the company’s access to Google Android updates.

The announcement would see Google products like Google Play, Gmail and Google Maps become unavailable on new Huawei products, while older phones would lose access to new versions of Android.

Huawei in a statement had responded by saying

“We have made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry. Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those that have been sold or still in stock globally. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally”.

The U.S government appears to have paid attention, as Huawei got some breathing space with a 90 -day scale back on the restrictions when the Bureau of Industry and Security of the U.S Department of Commerce announced that it would issue a ‘Temporary General Licence” ( TGL) amending the current order that bans American companies from supplying technologies to Huawei.

In an ensuing update, Google says it was complying with an executive order issued by the U.S government and was reviewing the “implications”, later adding that Google Play, through which Google allows users to download apps and the security features of its antivirus software, Google Play Protect will continue on existing Huawei devices.

New versions of its smartphones outside China will lose access to popular applications and services including Google Play, Google Maps, and the Gmail app.

Concerns for Africa?

So how does this all affect Huawei’s Africa market? Huawei has grown its reach in Africa, Europe and parts of Asia where it pitches cheaper products compared to Apple.

It is currently testing the new generation Internet connectivity known as 5G, which could run future tech products such as self-driven cars and traffic control solutions.

No African country has raised an issue with Huawei being a threat to national security. A spokesman for South Africa’s department of Trade and Industry, Sidwell Medupe, says that the South African government does not intend to alter its behaviour towards Huawei.

Huawei has been growing at a fast rate globally over the last year. In the first quarter of 2019 it shipped 59.9 million smartphones, according to analysis firm, IDC– selling an average of more than 660,000 phones every day.

This represents year-on-year growth of more than 50%, and gave the company a real chance of overtaking Samsung as the world’s biggest cellphone company.

Huawei South Africa could not release local sales figures, but if its South Africa market share tracks its global position, it would have sold 2.5 million smartphones locally in 2018.

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Facebook clamps down on fake accounts

Among the countries victim to these spam accounts include Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola

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Facebook Clamps Down on Fake Accounts

Facebook has geared up to shut down all fake accounts and root out all the bots and election influencers. The goal of this exercise is to stop misinformation and root out fake news. In a statement today, the social media giant disclosed that it has removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts, and Facebook Pages and Groups, involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,”

The said accounts Facebook opined, were used to share content, including election-related news and criticism of targeted politicians, and “artificially increase engagement” while presenting themselves as locals and local news organizations. The X-marked accounts spent around the region of $800,000 and had garnered 2.8 million followers since April, 2012.  

Among the countries victim to these spam accounts include Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola. And upon investigation, it was discovered that accounts originated from Israel, with activity focused on audiences across African nations.

Israeli actors seem to have a penchant for being involved in a fake news-related scandal in African politics. Reports in 2018 showed data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica was hired for $2.8 million to orchestrate a fake news campaign in Nigeria against President Muhammadu Buhari, the leading opposition candidate at the time.

Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media. One too many times, it has formed the catalyst for decisions affecting millions. Today, Facebook plays its part to bring it to an end.

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Microsoft to invest $100million in Kenya, Nigeria tech development hubs

They will customize local applications and seek solutions to local problems for the African continent.

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microsoft invest in Africa

Microsoft Corporation says it will invest  $100 million in technology development centres across Nigeria and Kenya over a 5-year period.

The firm will be hiring more than 100 engineers from these countries. They will customize local applications and seek solutions to local problems for the African continent.

Other global tech giants, like Alphabet Incorporated owners of Google and YouTube and Facebook, owners of Instagram and WhatsApp, have been increasing their investments on the continent.

Microsoft on its part, says it has six other development hubs located across the world. The new Africa development hub will also support the company’s known businesses like Office, Azure and Windows.

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