Updated: Feb 17
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will likely shape the near future more than any technology would this decade, by 2030. AI is the ability of a computer program or a machine to sense, think and act like the best humans would. AI is already being used to predict crime, diagnose and treat illness, read your lips, replicate voice, and defeat the world's best poker player.
Machines using AI are getting smarter and are picking up more tasks that could only be performed by humans before now. Experts predict that AI technology would lead to the 4th industrial revolution, and become the biggest commercial opportunity globally by 2030.
AI also has the power to transform the way governments deliver public services. Many governments, especially in the developed world, are already using AI in their operations to improve efficiency, save time and money, and deliver better public services to citizens.
But how well-placed are African governments to take advantage of the benefits of AI in their operations and delivery of public services?
To answer this question, the Oxford Insights and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) teamed up to create the Government Artificial Intelligence Readiness Index. The Index ranks 194 countries based on their governments’ capacity to use the innovative potentials of AI in government administration, infrastructure and data, as well as advancing business skills and education.
In the 2019 Government AI Readiness Index, no African country made it to the top 50 list of countries well-prepared to use AI in the delivery of public services -- not surprising. But, 12 African countries made it to the top 100 list including: Kenya, Tunisia, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, and Morocco in that order. These countries not only have a growing number of local AI companies, labs and research centers but also have well-documented government strategies for applying AI in governance and for developing the private sector.
Out of the 5 biggest African economies, only South Africa made it to the top 100 on the Index. Nigeria (the “giant of Africa”) ranked 107, Egypt ranked 111, Angola ranked 129, while Algeria ranked 141. If AI would lead to the 4th Industrial Revolution, perhaps we would see new giants of Africa emerge by 2030 if current thing remain the way they are .
But there are concerns that these technologies that are able to “think” like humans will increase already-high unemployment levels in Africa. This concern may be myopic (a short-term thinking) because just as past industrial revolutions, the AI wave is coming whether we embrace it or not. The sooner Africa can take advantage of such technologies and learn to address its downside risks, the better our ability to improve our economies and reduce the gap between rich and poor countries.
Article Credit: Precious C. Akanonu (Editorial)