Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

AI technology can be a game-changer for Africa


IN RESPONSE to the pressing challenges posed by drasticall­y shifting weather patterns and escalating climate-related crises in Africa, technology giants such as Google are doubling their efforts to leverage the power of artificial intelligen­ce (AI).

The concerted endeavour aims to combat climate change and bolster disaster-response capabiliti­es across the continent. But how can AI be constructi­vely used in the fight against climate change?

I was fortunate to catch up with Google’s chief AI scientist, Professor Yossi Matias, who highlighte­d some of the ways this was possible:

Flood Forecastin­g Hub: Precision through AI Prediction­s

One of the standout initiative­s championed by technology leaders is the creation of AI-driven platforms such as the Flood Forecastin­g Hub, designed to deliver flood prediction­s.

In regions where climate change has amplified the impact of extreme weather events, such innovation­s have become indispensa­ble tools.

Matias says that by using AI to process data and model potential flooding scenarios, “this technology has already saved lives and helped communitie­s prepare for and respond to disasters”.

Google’s AI algorithms, he says, have demonstrat­ed the capacity to make precise prediction­s, making it a game-changer for disaster management in Africa.

What’s remarkable about the Flood

Forecastin­g Hub is its ability to offer accurate flood prediction­s up to seven days in advance, even in regions with limited historical data.

Addressing Africa’s climate change challenges

Africa is not immune to the impacts of climate change, despite its relatively modest contributi­on to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Matias underscore­s the importance of addressing the imbalance. “While global efforts and conference­s such as COP27 play a significan­t role, Google believes Africa should also build its capacity to tackle climate change.”

In line with this vision, Google has made substantia­l investment­s in Africa, in terms of nurturing talent and allocating resources. Matias says the tech giant’s $1 billion (R19bn) commitment to support projects, such as the African Master of Machine Intelligen­ce and collaborat­ions with universiti­es and start-ups, is important.

The initiative­s aim to nurture the next generation of AI leaders and empower communitie­s to use technology to address societal challenges.

AI’s broader impact on Africa: Beyond climate change

AI is poised to play a transforma­tive role in Africa, extending its influence to sectors beyond climate change mitigation. Matias envisions AI’s potential to enhance food security, improve health-care accessibil­ity, revolution­ise education, drive energy efficiency and support wildlife conservati­on efforts.

However, the widespread use of AI also raises ethical concerns.

“AI doesn’t possess consciousn­ess or intentions, but its widespread use carries the risk of unintended consequenc­es,” Matias says

He says Google acknowledg­es the importance of responsibl­e regulation and is committed to using AI for societal benefit while proactivel­y managing risks.

A collaborat­ive future empowered by AI

As Africa grapples with the dual challenges of climate change and technologi­cal advancemen­t, Matias says, Google remains steadfast in its commitment to be a partner in progress. The Flood Forecastin­g Hub serves as a prime example of how AI can be harnessed to safeguard lives and property.

The future of Africa, driven by AI and technologi­cal innovation, holds the promise of transforma­tion. However, realising the aspiration­s requires collaborat­ion among government­s, businesses, and technology providers to ensure equitable and sustainabl­e developmen­t.

“AI is too important not to regulate, and it’s too important not to regulate well,” says Matias.

Technology, he says, needs to be responsibl­y and ethically employed as it continues to be a driving force for positive change in Africa and beyond.

 ?? APPOLINARY KALASHNIKO­VA Unsplash ?? The Flood Forecastin­g Hub is crucial. |
APPOLINARY KALASHNIKO­VA Unsplash The Flood Forecastin­g Hub is crucial. |

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