How a master’s program in machine intelligence is trying to close an African tech gap

A view over the city at night in the capital Kigali, Rwanda
A view over the city at night in the capital Kigali, Rwanda
Image: AP Photo/Ben Curtis
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The first dedicated master’s degree program for machine intelligence in Africa is launching in September with backing from tech leaders Google and Facebook.

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), which created the program, says  the African Master’s of Machine Intelligence (AMMI) is crucial so African countries don’t get left behind as advancements in machine intelligence rapidly develop.

“The lack of MI researchers from Africa means that many opportunities to use MI to create a better and more stable world are being missed,” said Moustapha Cissé, founder of the program. He noted Africa is on the lower end of a “technology gap” in the field. 

This is why the program is called the “African Master’s” in machine intelligence, as a branding strategy but also because the challenges they are choosing to focus on in the program will be challenges and insights relevant to Africa. Cissé thinks that by “creating an effective, globally connected community of MI practitioners in Africa” AMMI has the potential to “reduce the technology gap, strengthen Africa’s economies and enable better governance.”

Silicon Valley giants and other tech leaders are tapping into the opportunity in Africa to close this gap. Later this year, Google will open its first AI research center in Accra, Ghana’s capital. The search giant is bringing together top machine learning researchers and engineers to the new center including Cissé, who is both the lead of Google’s lab and the founder of AMMI.

Some of the software for Sophia the famous humanoid robot was developed in Ethiopia where some scientists believe that AI can be more effective than the government in driving development. In Nigeria, a startup has developed a machine learning system to detect child birth asphyxia, and hopes to save thousands of babies’ lives. It is this sort of innovation that Cissé hopes to inspire by training young scientists who specialize in machine intelligence.

The AMMI will begin in in September of this year at the AIMS-Rwanda campus with lectures by experts from African and international institutions  including Amazon, Imperial College and California Institute of Technology, to name a few.

Students will graduate with an MSc. in Mathematical Sciences in Machine Intelligence. Those who qualify for the program will not have to worry about funding, as the program will be fully sponsored, thanks to Google and Facebook.