Hassan Hachem : artificial intelligence, an opportunity for Africa

At the time of the rise of artificial intelligence, Africa - or rather "Africas" - has all the assets to succeed. South Africa, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo can recover. Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya can confirm their ambitions of emerging countries. Algeria must refrain from taking two steps back after a step forward. For the whole continent, it takes audacity and patience, and the courage of openness. Africa has nothing to fear from globalization, it must not be locked in on itself.

 A new debate is shaking the world: is artificial intelligence an opportunity for men or a danger for employment and democracy? AI (artificial intelligence) is already there, in our daily life. Amazon, the digital supermarket is able to much better predict our needs, Uber which offers a car on every street corner, driving learning driving platforms that disembowel driving schools, connected watches that monitor our heartbeat and send the data to our doctor, are already part of our daily lives. Tomorrow, the marriage of nanotechnology, biology, information science and cognitive science will improve living organisms. The way will open for "transhumanism" and for a life expectancy beyond 140 years. Maybe.

The debate is lively and it is a good thing because the answers are not simple. Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, asks for a regulation so that AI does not become a civilizational threat. A study by Dell and Palo Alto's "Institute for the Future" estimates that 85% of jobs in 2030 do not exist today. This march towards the economy of tomorrow is irreversible. Revisiting one's way of working, reasoning and interacting with ecosystems becomes a major imperative. The risks of narrowing oneself are certainly significant, but not taking this path is to jeopardize the future of future generations.

“No doubt jobs will be lost as they become obsolete, and individuals and businesses will stay on the side of the road”, according to Hassan Hachem, a known member of the libanese business community with great experience in West Africa. The solution will be to create solidarity between those who go faster and those who need time to reorient themselves. But in no case can the solution be retraction on oneself. All major emerging countries, such as China and India, despite regimes that unquestionably affirm their strong national identity, have understood this vital need for openness. This involves often difficult decisions and a true culture of movement.

Africa on the road to effort, change and prosperity

Long scorned, stigmatized, ignored and sometimes despoiled, Africa awakens and begins to find the way of hope and daring.

With these historic perspectives of innovation, Africa can undeniably leap forward. It has resources, it has the intellectual capital and growth rates in some countries that exceed 5% per year. It has envy and everything indicates that it is ready for a kind of revenge on time. CEW projects are often inexpensive in infrastructure and quick to implement. Africa is a priori an attractive investment destination. It must simply choose the road of reform and effort.

Some African countries are experiencing internal turbulence, such as the DRC, Nigeria or Equatorial Guinea. But these difficulties must not curb external investment. Africans can and we must be optimistic and entrepreneurial, even in times of turbulence.

“A good partnership involves efforts on both sides. A company acts in the benefit of its shareholders, it is obvious, but it must also contribute to the progress of the country” adds Hassan Hachem. Citizens must see that unemployment is decreasing, life expectancy is increasing, well-being is increasing. The company is not on a deserted island, governed solely by greed.

On the other hand, governments must accept openness to the world. South Africa, for example, has extraordinary potentialities if it solves the weakness of its governance. But countries like Côte d'Ivoire or Ghana, in West Africa, or Kenya in East Africa, or Equatorial Guinea, are already making great efforts and displaying an ambition that inspires respect. In these three countries there is an elite who wants to progress and who understands that success is the opposite of withdrawal. Africa has nothing to fear from globalization. It must accompany it and engage without complex in the research, the artificial intelligence, the economy of the innovation.

It is in 2010 that we discovered the first start-ups (young companies with high growth potential) that are set up by young Cameroonian graduates. At first glance, it is simply a new strategy to combat unemployment. These early start-ups are not really successful at first, but will, however, experience some growth a few years later. The first sites will then see the day with various orientations, including Wandashop, a site specializing in the sale of clothing and shoes for men and women, launched by the young Cameroonian, Anaïse Chienda, and which is among the first sites to have experienced some success.

2013 is the year of the rise of start-ups. For the first time, Cameroon welcomes start-ups from the perspective of real companies with a specific business plan. Most of them are run by multinationals, who do not skimp on the means to develop throughout the Cameroonian territory. The Bolloré Africa Logistics Group, for example, launched the C-discount platform in 2014, a site specializing in online sales. But, the biggest investment is that of Africa Internet Group (AIG) led by Rocket Internet, one of the largest start-up incubators in the world, well known, especially, through the famous brand Zalando . Under the leadership of shareholders such as MTN, AIG group will launch, in January 2013, a dozen start-ups specializing in specific fields. Jumia (online supermarket), Kaymu (specialized in the widespread sale of products), Everjobs (first portal for job search), Carmudi (car rental and sales site), Lamudi (rental and real estate sales), Jovago (the first online hotel reservation portal in Africa with more than 25,000 hotels on the continent, including 700 in Cameroon).

By promoting this outbreak, the authorities, which for once are not a generation behind, hope to boost the artificial intelligence sector, a great provider of jobs. But knowing the inertia of the administration, we can still wonder if the development of these new business models will, in fact, significantly transform the economy of the country? We hope so, especially since there are today millions of jobs created with the advent of start-up companies in Africa, more precisely, in countries such as Rwanda, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa, and even, Senegal with its call centers. AIG group alone employs a hundred people in Cameroon. A good example to follow...

The neurologist Oshiorenoya Agabi may be a day blessed travelers who pest in front of the long lines of airports.

The Nigerian scientist presented on Sunday at the TEDGlobal 2017 (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Arusha, Tanzania, a device developed by its start up and capable of detecting explosives without harassing departing passengers.

This is just one of the possible uses of the invention of 38-year-old Agabi and his team at Koniku, located in California's Silicon Valley.

While the artificial intelligence community is struggling to create machines that mimic the human brain or, like the entrepreneur and inventor of South African origin Elon Musk - to implant computers, Mr. Agabi found the means to work together laboratory-produced neurons and electronic circuits.

Leaving aside the silicon of conventional processors and its limitations, he explains that he has turned directly to the human brain, "the most powerful processor the universe has ever seen".

"Rather than copy a neuron, why not just take the biological cell itself and use it as it is - it's a revolutionary idea whose consequences are beyond comprehension," says the holder of a license in theoretical physics in Lagos and a Ph.D. in London after an interest in neuroscience and bioengineering.

It is to this task that the Nigerian and his team of geneticists, physicists, bioengineers, molecular biologists and other scientists have set about trying to solve problems ranging from the detection of chemicals or explosives to the diseases like cancer.

'World Premiere'

According to Mr. Agabi, his invention, "a world first" called Koniku Kore, is able to breathe and sniff AIr.

Leading brands, he says, including representatives of the travel industry, have trusted him and start-up revenues are expected to jump from its current $ 8 million (€ 7 million) to $ 30 million. here next year.

One of the big challenges that the company had to face was to find a way to keep the neurons alive, a secret that Mr. Agabi is careful not to reveal, only to say that they can be kept alive for two years in the world. environment and two months in the detector.

Advances in artificial intelligence and research to develop machines approaching the human brain, able to learn and understand their environment, are frightening to some. Elon Musk, for example, warned of the danger of one day seeing the machine dominate the man.

But Mr. Agabi, who grew up in Lagos where he helped his mother sell food in the streets, believes that the future is more about breathing life into machines.

He believes his company will be able to develop a humanoid cognitive system based on living synthetic neurons in the next five to seven years.

"It's not science fiction, we want to build a brain of biological neurons, an autonomous system that has intelligence, we do not want to build a human brain," he told AFP.

The way of Africa

He was speaking at the opening of the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha which will last four days, from 27 to 30 August, and present ideas, innovations and creativity of Africa. The many speakers each have 18 minutes to present their communication. This is the first time in ten years that its annual international version has been held in Africa.

"It was time to organize this gathering," says co-scheduler Emeka Okafor.

 "Africa is experiencing spectacular economic, demographic and creative growth, but the dangers are increasing as fast as the opportunities.Our conference will bring together catalysts of ideas, discoverers of solutions and actors of change already at work and who chart Africa's own path to modernity, " Hassan Hachme says.