It’s widely accepted that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will add trillions to global GDP in the next 20 years, making it the one of the world’s most powerful technology trends on par with the disruption and opportunities being created by cloud computing and blockchain.

However, the Oxford Insights AI Readiness Index 2020, paints a somewhat bleak picture of Africa’s readiness for AI in the global rankings. So is Africa getting a slice of the lucrative artificial intelligence pie and what are the current AI adoption trends in the region?

Although Africa’s AI industry is still relatively small compared to the US, Europe and Asia, this has not stopped some of the continent’s most innovative start-ups from developing solutions that demonstrate how promising the technology can be for the African economy.

However, AI innovation in Africa is often ignored or overlooked because the number of patents applied for and the amount of research funding available is not well aligned with local contexts, data is missing, and the map still looks essentially bleak.

That said, the prospects for AI in Africa are positive, as the potential for innovation and growth in artificial intelligence (AI) adoption is increasing.

This is exemplified in the African enterprise sector, via the 2020 business buyer survey conducted by The AI Media Group that identified several key adoption trends as business practitioners embrace AI and automation technologies in the Africa region.

Besides the generally accepted move to cloud based platforms, the top 5 technology categories in-demand in the next two years in Africa include:

* Robotic process automation (RPA), process automation, augmentation.

* Conversational AI, interfaces, chat bots, CX, UX.

* IoT, Big Data Analytics and Insights.

* Machine learning (ML) / DL point solutions that address a specific business problems.

* Ethics, privacy and cloud deployment frameworks for AI powered technologies, MLOps.

In addition, 30% of respondents expect to spend $1-million to $10-million or more on these technologies, 30% are seeking external help with ethics strategies and 62% stated they require more information / training and education on how 4IR technologies can positively impact their business, which is a sure sign untapped demand is present in the sector.

While the start-up and enterprise sectors race ahead, African governments must accelerate the development of coherent and strong AI strategies to ensure that their citizens can reap the benefits of AI while protecting themselves from its potentially harmful effects.

In 2019, 42 countries signed up to the OECD principles on AI, agreeing to ensure that AI systems are designed in a way that is safe, fair and trustworthy. In 2020, 14 governments along with the EU joined together to create the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), an initiative to support the responsible development and use of AI. These, and other intergovernmental agreements, highlight the increasing recognition that it is not just enough to develop and implement AI. Governments must ensure that AI is used in a responsible manner.

To date, Kenya still leads the field in this regard and in a recent article, Dr Bitange Ndemo who pioneered the development and launch of Kenya’s own AI strategy, recently penned that “Africa needs artificial intelligence plans” and stressed, “Policymakers must create an ecosystem which can enhance the development of an AI strategy.

To embrace the potential of AI, for a start every nation in Africa must digitalise (convert every information into digital formats) to create data. The data is then used to teach machines (machine learning) to act like human beings (AI). At the moment, every country in Africa is at different stages of effectively using AI”.

The region’s venture capital industry in Africa continues to show a growing appetite to invest in more mature and revenue generating AI and data science startups, and while FinTech still attracts the lion’s share, there have been a plethora of AI / 4IR tech investments in Africa. Well known headline investments from Kalon Ventures, which invested in FinChat Bot, and Messer Capital of South Africa, which invested in Data Prophet were key deals in South Africa but more broadly Nigeria and Kenya have now surpassed South Africa as the leading tech investment hubs as shown in the attached graphic above with Egypt now placed 4th and growing.