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launch of ARCAI, an artificial intelligence research center in Brazzaville

Inaugurated at the end of February by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, ARCAI, a brand new research center dedicated to artificial intelligence is installed in the premises of Kintélé University, in Brazzaville, the country’s capital. Funded by the ECA (Economic Commission for Africa) and its partners, this center aims to ” Enabling African populations to benefit from the industrial revolution » by accessing training that will bridge the digital divide, strengthen inclusive economic growth and ensure that Africa adopts modern digital tools.

The deployment and implementation of AI are part of the development agendas of a growing part of African countries. Several continental-level initiatives have emerged, including the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) and the African Union Commission’s Global Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa.

Developing digital infrastructure and services in the health, agriculture, education and trade sectors and bridging the digital divide will enable Africa to benefit from the potential of digital transformation.

ARCAI, pan-African center of Congo

ARCAI aims to stimulate training in AI but also to provide support for research as well as the growth of infrastructure, digital policy and finance.

On the teaching side, it will offer, among other things, Master’s programs in artificial intelligence and data science.

Mactar Seck, head of technology and innovation section at ECA, said in an interview with franceinfo Africa:

“We have developed LMD (Bachelor-Master-Doctorate) content that will be provided from next year, in collaboration with Sassou N’Guesso University. The center is notably equipped with an e-learning platform which can accommodate 10,000 students simultaneously. Face-to-face courses will also be available for private sector actors and governments. »

The research which will be devoted to agriculture, health, industry and the environment will be able to begin this month as soon as the high-performance computers arrive, necessary for “data structuring” that requires “powerful machines”.

Mactar Seck told franceinfo Africa:

“The online courses have already started. We are expecting researchers from Africa but also from all continents. There is a partnership that is being set up with several universities working in the field of Artificial Intelligence in Africa and Europe, the United States and England. »

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and large companies such as Google do not rule out becoming partners of the center as well.

Mactar Seck adds:

“We must first master this technology which not only makes it possible to fight against poverty, but also to create a lot of jobs for young people on the continent and added value. The contribution to GDP is extremely important. »

Bridging the digital divide

Although African countries are apprehensive of the financial benefits that AI can bring to their economy, like Rwanda which recently inaugurated a CAI4R center dedicated to artificial intelligence and developed its internet network, the majority of the African population , especially rural, does not have access to the internet either for lack of network or because she cannot afford a subscription. In Congo, prices have also increased considerably in 2021.

During the inauguration of ARCAI, ECA Executive Secretary Vera Songwe said:

“There is an urgent need for the government to provide high-speed, fast, affordable and reliable internet to facilitate much-needed digital transformation. »

Julie Owono, executive director of the NGO Internet Without Borders, added:

“I share Vera Songwe’s concern: before talking about Artificial Intelligence, we must talk about access to the Internet, its cost. This represents far too large a share of the average African citizen’s budget. According to the latest statistics from the Alliance for Affordable Internet, Africans spend 5% of their monthly budget to access 1GB of Internet while the average set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is 2%. »

Invest more in AI research

During this inauguration, Julie Owono thanked the Government of Congo for its collaboration which facilitated the creation of this center, which, for her, is ” a crucial step to advance innovation and job creation in Africa” but she added that:

“There are countries that have made research in Artificial Intelligence a priority for years and are investing billions of dollars. Let’s try to go beyond the hype – we read a lot about it when it comes to connectivity, the Internet, digital and digital in Africa – and put real resources into research, into the development of the latter, in the formation of engineers and in the formation of mathematics. »

With the creation of this center, Congo aims to become a major regional hub for the development of emerging technologies.

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