This year’s AI Expo Africa, the largest business-focused AI, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Data Science trade event in Africa focused on Deep Tech Innovation in Africa. As the co-founder of one of Africa’s leading AI startups, Karim Beguir was a natural choice for the innovation keynote talk. He debated how the continent can compete and win in deep tech innovation during the conference which ran virtually from 3rd-4th September 2020

For Karim, deep-tech innovation in Africa is a subject close to his heart. Ultimately, artificial intelligence, such as the work done at InstaDeep, is at the centre of the innovation universe today, impacting everything from hardware & IoT, robotics, mobility, biotech, chemistry, energy, and so on. With any sector where disruption is a driving force, AI is the cornerstone for innovation. However, when looking at the distribution of AI’s economic outcomes globally, Africa is seemingly left behind. At AI Expo Africa, Karim looked at the status quo and explained why this does not have to be the case going forward. 

Plethora of possibilities

“AI is a triple exponential,” noted Karim. “It is moving extremely fast, constantly creating opportunities, and disrupting things very quickly. Data, hardware, and algorithmic improvements are happening at the same time, at an incredibly fast pace. Things are changing all the time, creating opportunities for innovation” With this in mind, there are no reasons why Africa should not be part of this movement, in fact, Africa has strengths other continents lack. 

“When it comes to AI, who owns the data is key. On the American continent, data is mostly owned by the tech giants who have been expanding even more due to the pandemic. In Asia, governments mostly have control of data and AI innovation. In Europe, privacy concerns are more important, which puts the individual and privacy-centric technologies at the center of innovation. In Africa on the other hand, the deep tech innovation process is mostly bottoms-up, with startups and communities creating the opportunities rather than top-down. This creates strong ties across different countries and communities resulting in a great source of leverage”, says Karim. 

One of InstaDeep’s key partners on the African continent is Deep Learning Indaba, a non-profit organisation that aims to strengthen machine learning and AI in Africa. Through a range of co-hosted events and initiatives, the two organisations are doing their part to place the spotlight on Africa, and over the last few years, we have seen AI startups booming across the continent.

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Community-driven deep-tech innovation

Using in-house examples Karim showcased how InstaDeep is already competing with Silicon Valley on innovation in deep tech. “In 2019, we developed a product, DeepPCB™, which leverages reinforcement learning applied to concrete problems in printed circuit board routing. InstaDeep was in fact the first company to fully automate this end-to-end process using RL, a truly competitive achievement we are proud of”

As a second example, Karim told the audience how Deep Learning Indaba, with support from InstaDeep and through a community-driven approach, is pioneering the field. “We recently launched the Indaba Grand Challenge to help cure Leishmaniasis, one of the top Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), affecting 1.5 billion people but not easily treated because pharmaceutical research is mostly focused on other diseases,” Karim explained. “However, it is likely that some of the already known and approved medicinal compounds, which are known to be safe, could work against Leishmaniasis. By working together, the African community can ultimately find a cure, and already our approach has been recognised by The World Health Organization”. 

Ultimately, these examples are real-life proof that African startups indeed have what it takes. If InstaDeep is doing it, we are confident others can too. The African ecosystem is vibrant and is already stepping into deep tech innovation through startup and community projects. By working together, there are endless opportunities and no reason why African innovation cannot compete with the best!

 

The full keynote talk is available to watch here (you need to sign up to view). Enjoy!