Ghana Pushing The Boundaries Of Human Knowledge: Why Google Built An AI Lab In Accra. But Why Ghana?
Updated: Jan 31
Google just recently announced that Africa is getting a Google Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Accra, Ghana and that is just the beginning.
But Why Ghana?
When Barrack Obama decided to visit Ghana as the first African country during his Presidency, it was the same question most people asked – “Why Ghana?”
The answer is simple; Ghana is the future of Africa.
Ghana has relatively stable electricity, security, and decent internet infrastructure. It also has some of the best tourist destinations in the developing world.
Google probably, however, has different reasons for choosing Ghana, Jeff Dean (the Google AI and Google Brain team lead) said that it has a lot to do with the robust network of academic institutions as well as infrastructure.
Google has been a significant investor in strengthening those institutions and the infrastructure around it. An Alphabet Subsidiary named CSquared spun out of Google has quietly been laying an extensive fiber optic backbone in Accra and Kampala. The internet speeds in Accra are now comparable with California speeds.
Ghana has become a melting pot for education in the sub-region over the years because of the relative stability of the country and the high standards of its institutions, such as the highly-regarded Ashesi University.
The foundations of Ghanaian education are about the strongest in the region. It is not uncommon to see people from non-English speaking countries traveling to Ghana to learn English and for their education.
There is also a steady education pipeline between Nigeria and Ghana, in spite of historical ups and downs between both countries.
Faced with a declining education system in their country, many Nigerian parents are opting to send their children to school in Ghana.
Building African talent is one of Ghana’s strongest points, and its central location also makes it a great business hub for those who want to expand to Francophone Africa and Africa’s largest market – Nigeria.
Why Artificial Intelligence in Africa?
Africa’s global reputation has suffered over the years for many reasons. Hunger, famine disease, poverty, and foreign aid are things that are typically associated with Africa in people’s minds in other continents.
The consistency of conflicts and lousy leadership has also not helped. Artificial Intelligence in Africa seems to be an oxymoron in this context, but Africa is the last frontier.
Africa probably has more secrets about humanity than anywhere else in the world, and it is those secrets that “computer programming that learns and adapts” (which is how Google describes AI) can help to uncover.
Interestingly, some of the best AI talent in the world is already of African origin. They are either working on applied AI projects right from Africa or many other developed markets.
One of those people is Omoju Miller, who has a Ph.D. in Cognition and Study and works at GitHub in San Francisco.
According to Miller: “The African context is very different from Mountain View or Zurich. The kinds of innovation Africa needs is similar to the innovative practices we have seen coming out of China, companies like Alibaba and Ant financial,” she said.
“These are companies that are responsible for inventing entire markets that serve the world. That is the kind of innovative thinking we need in Africa. Google AI can play a role in helping us get there,” Miller added.
Miller is right; China is not sleeping on AI either. The highest usage of Google’s Open source Machine Learning libraries globally come from China. A lot of innovations are also now being built there with the help of Machine Learning. Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning will not just open up markets but also help to create new ones.
Eric Schmidt in a recent talk mentioned that majority market share models are now much more possible with AI.
It is now Africa’s turn to do what China has done. The “African Context” when added to Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence has the potential of bringing up new solutions for humanity and create new markets. Google is helping us get there by giving us their full support.