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AI for You, AI for Nigeria

Some have called AI the “new oil” or “new electricity”. While the tag may be debatable there is no question as to whether AI will impact future business and personal interactions.

Drs. Wura and Sam Ade Jacobs

You’ve heard the buzzwords: AI, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), Digital Twins, Personalized Medicine. Yes, these buzzwords and what they stand for is in our future but what exactly does that mean for you and most importantly how do you prepare for what is coming? Think back to the 90s, at the inception of the internet boom. There were a lot of hypes and yes there was a dot com boom (and an eventual crash). At that time in Nigeria, cybercafes in university towns and campuses sporadically sprung up. Hotels offered Wifi and color TV as premium services.  In our lifetime, we have seen Netflix replace Blockbuster, Amazon has displaced a number of retail stores (remember Toys R Us?), Apple surpassed Exxon Mobil in value. The reality is that understanding current trends and making predictions is crucial to success in the upcoming AI-driven digital economy- the Future.

How did we get here?

Before predicting the future, we should ask ourselves how did we get here? It is generally believed in the tech community that current and future success of AI rests on a tripod; growing datasets, increased computation power, and more sophisticated machine learning models. This decade has seen exponential growth in the volume and rate at which data are generated, captured and analyzed. Data volume are currently dominated by social media posts, views and interactions, e-commerce transactions, and web searches. In a 60 second window (the time it takes Usain Bolt to run 745 meters, or for you to blink 12 times), 188 million emails are sent, 4.5 million YouTube videos are viewed, and $996,956 is spent on online transactions, just in a twinkling of an eye! We have also seen remarkable growth in computing power that defies the popular Moore’s law, so much more that what was considered a supercomputer in the 70s is no more than a chip that will fit in your “wallet” today. Data availability combined with enormous computing power has enabled quick prototyping and discovery of new machine learning models that could learn and make predictions from historical databases and data stream at an unprecedented scale.

AI for you

On an individual basis, let’s remember that we can not stop this train in its tracks. As it’s been said, we did not leave the stone age because we ran out of stones, rather because we found better technology. AI is not a thing to fear, but rather another technology to embrace. The real question to ask then will be what would this mean for my business and professional career? While we cannot generically answer this question, we briefly highlight two application areas: healthcare and real estate or home improvement. These two areas are by no means representative of all that is possible nor will we be able to discuss all that is possible even in these two broad areas.

Healthcare of the future, driven by AI, will be personal.  The world is at the cusp of a revolution in health care. There have been extensive research into personal genomes and precision oncology.  On one hand, the perpetual debate around the high cost of healthcare (in the US) will be addressed in part with AI-driven technology. The US public and private sectors and other institutions around the world are heavily investing in unprecedented data-driven approach to transform the way drugs are designed and manufactured. On the other hand, developing countries are beginning to leverage on “virtual doctors” made possible by AI, mobile devices, robotics and automation to address shortage of healthcare workers. 

Real estate and home improvement businesses will also benefit from the upcoming AI (r)evolution. Home assistant and home security will become more prevalent. Your current or future home can be retrofitted at an amazingly cheap price such that mundane task of gathering your family for dinner, or remotely monitor your home while on vacation could be done through AI-driven home assistants. You could even deploy a “drone” from the comfort of your home in Palo Alto to monitor your dream home construction in Nigeria. As a real estate professional, builder, or home designer, knowing and leveraging these cutting-edge technologies will be a product differentiation and unique selling proposition that would provide a competitive advantage  for your business.

AI for Nigeria

The last question here is what about us as a Nigerian community at home or in Diaspora? For U.S.-based professionals of Nigerian descent, we are all privileged to be at the center of it all but it is worth noting that we could go further collectively. We can do more! Let’s start with a rhetorical question. Why is Ethiopia and a few other African countries, unfortunately excluding Nigeria, are becoming the center of attraction for AI research and development? In case you don’t know, Ethiopia was recently named as the host of the famed International Conference on Learning Representation (ICLR) and Google recently established an AI research center in Accra, Ghana.

A simple answer to this question lie in historical context. Ethiopia’s investment in education, a prerequisite for technological r(evolution), dates back to the time of Emperor Haile Selassie. The Emperor was an astute leader and a shrewd diplomat. He built bridges, a university and an airline to connect Ethiopia to the world. Seeds of quality education sown decades ago reflects in today’s Silicon Valley-based young and vibrant Ethiopians (or of Ethiopia descent) who will lead the world into the next phase of tech revolution be it self driving and electric cars, digital twins, blockchain, personalized medicine, renewable energy and more. Nigeria on the other hand has paid little attention to quality education for decades. We’ve missed out as a country on previous industrial revolution; yesterday was the time to do the right thing. AI-driven revolution presents us another opportunity. In that light, we as professionals of Nigeria descent should make an effort to influence Nigerian government policies as it relates to technology if given the opportunity. If it is in your power to do anything in Nigeria, we will advocate a change in the education landscape; formal and informal technology-driven curriculum. We all in our various capacities and area of influence should advocate for a more inclusive technology-driven education that cuts across gender and tribal barriers. Collaboration among ourselves is also crucial, as our (NCN) theme aptly states, “together as a community we thrive, grow and succeed.” 

Some have called AI the “new oil” or “new electricity”. While the tag may be debatable there is no question as to whether AI will impact future business and personal interactions. It has, it will, and it has only just begun!

About Authors

Wura and Sam earned their PhDs in health behavior and computer science respectively from Texas A&M University. Wura is a professor of public health at California State University where she conducts research on social networks and health behavior. Sam is a computer scientist with expertise in big data analytics and large-scale machine learning technologies.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of their employers

One reply on “AI for You, AI for Nigeria”

Great post by the authors. I recently read a book titled ” VC An American History” by Tom Nicholas. Tom showed that what made Silicon Valley was people development, technology and enabling market. Nigeria need to be strategic in deploying this tripod of development.

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