iCog Labs Articles

Journey to Paris: Afrobytes and the Rise of African Industry

By Hruy Tsegaye

When one is travelling to Paris for business, in one of the high tourist months, there isn’t much to write about the wonderful city. In a foolish attempt to cover all the attractions, you will run like a crazy dog yet unfortunately Paris is not just big, Paris is just like ‘Quanta Firfir’ hiding countless good stuff behind her common veil. Eventually, the business traveller will give up settling on the common sites. I was the very same business traveller who gave up after The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Palace of Versailles and Le Marias.

Exhausted and frustrated, I decided to quit acting like a tourist and I accepted the gloomy fact that 4 days are not enough; I was in Paris for six days and I have tried to arrange my touristic days as follows: 2 days before my business conference and the following two days after the business conference. Yet, it was never enough.

Without exaggeration, or perhaps with little exaggeration, the 6 days I have in Paris were useless to quench my tourist-ish urge and I cannot say I was intimate with the dream city; maybe it was like a quick adultery! Despite my two-day relaxing trip to Germany, I was forced to concentrate all my focus in Paris towards my business.

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Ethiopia’s tech startups are confident change is coming at just the right time

By Yinka Adegoke

Word that Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed is looking to loosen his country’s tight grip on strategic assets like its fast-growing airline and its long-term telecom monopoly has sparked interest from international investors and regional corporations.

It’s easy to see why: Ethiopia, with a population of 100 million, has had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies for the past decade. It’s also had a successful top-down implementation of various infrastructure initiatives in transportation and construction.

Still, Ethiopia’s also been called a “sleeping giant” because of its closed markets. Decades after last socialist government, it still has a heavily regulated business environment. Things were changing even before Abiy’s appointment and as the country’s tense politics led to a state of emergency after ethnic-led protests and fatal clashes with security forces.

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In Artificial Intelligence, Young Ethiopians Eye a Fertile Future

By: Thomas Lewton and Alice McCool

I DON’T think Homo sapiens-type people will exist in 10 or 20 years’ time,” Getnet Assefa, 31, speculates as he gazes into the reconstructed eye sockets of Lucy, one of the oldest and most famous hominid skeletons known, at the National Museum of Ethiopia. “Slowly the biological species will disappear and then we will become a fully synthetic species,” Assefa says.

Perception, memory, emotion, intelligence, dreams — everything that we value now — will not be there,” he adds.

Assefa is a computer scientist, a futurist, and a utopian — but a pragmatic one at that. He is founder and chief executive of iCog, the first artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Ethiopia, and a stone’s throw from the home of Lucy. iCog Labs launched in 2013 with $50,000 and just four programmers. Today, halfway up an unassuming tower block, dozens of software developers type in silence. Their desks are cluttered with electronic components and dismembered robot body parts, from a soccer-playing bot called Abebe to a miniature robo-Einstein. An earlier prototype of Sophia, a widely recognized humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics (she appeared with late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon last year) is here too. Arguably the world’s most famous robot of her kind, Sophia’s software was partly developed here in Ethiopia’s capital.

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Beauty and the Beast: Hong Kong in Black and White

By: Hruy Tsegaye

It’s like your first love relationship. There are some aspects you want to forget and some to cherish. This is almost universal for those who are lucky and blessed with a much better second, third, fourth love or for those who are not capable of letting their first one go.

Hong Kong is just like that, Hong Kong is beauty, and Hong Kong is beast! Ethiopian landed in Hong Kong on the 14th of March 2018 around 11:45 AM, and I was among the weary passengers rushing out hoping to hit the bed as soon as possible. Yet, I was clueless about the beauty and the beast and simply assumed the city is nothing more but like all the other cities I knew; maybe super fancy and big but just another city.

Yet Hong Kong is different, you will love and hate the city and, at some point, you will not know which is which!

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Ethiopia: U.S. Embassy Announces Solve IT! – A Nationwide Innovation Competition

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa is sponsoring a nationwide innovation competition, “Solve IT!” for Ethiopian youth. “Solve IT!” promotes STEM, entrepreneurship and encourages a new generation of young Ethiopians to solve problems in their communities using technology, software and hardware. The competition is implemented by the U.S. Embassy in collaboration with partners iCog Labs and Humanity+.

Solve IT! will involve nine city hubs in seven regional states and two city administrations: Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Jimma, Bahir Dar, Mekelle, Gambela, Semera, Hawassa and Jigjiga are the selected cities.

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How Decentralized AI Can Change the Lives of Millions

By: Hruy Tsegaye

For thousands of years, social inequality has been arguably the most important question in need of an immediate answer. Ironically the question that needs an immediate answer has been with us, unanswered, since the dawn of history. It is one of the major causes of humanity’s integral problems like war, crime, disease, racism, irrationality, etc. Name the problem and you will find inequality either at the root of it, or the fertilizer.

The inequality question is difficult not because of its ideological complexity, rather it becomes the headache of our time, just as it was for our predecessors, because of its impracticability.

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Silent China, Loud China: iCog Makers’ Long March

By: Hruy Tsegaye

The first thing I thought after I left the airport in Guangzhou was that Evolution Theory must be ridiculous! The mainstream evolution theory affirms that the skin colour of humans has changed from black— darker skin— to white— lighter skin— over the past 75,000 years as they migrated from the mother continent—Africa— to the rest of the continents suggesting the lesser the intensity of the sunlight, the lighter the skin colour becomes.

When I left the airport and the comfort of its shade and the air conditioner, the sun over Guangzhou welcomed me with unforgiving burning rays and the scourge of the heat was worse than some of the deserts in Africa are. Evolution my foot! I cursed while covering my head with Selamta Magazine– Ethiopian’s complimentary in-flight magazine. Under such a sun, why aren’t the Chinese pitch black? Before I reach to a conclusion, I remembered some of my lessons from my high-school days about UV radiation. Okay maybe this sun, even though it is burning my skin more than the sun in Africa, has a lesser UVR.

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Humanoids: the new era in robotics

By: Selam Temesgen

Humanoids, as their name gives it away, are robots that look like humans. We all have seen them in movies where they do everything human beings can, and sometimes more, while appearing positively indistinguishable from people. Currently, science, although still way behind, has come a long distance in terms of achieving that aspiration.

iCub, the humanoid designed by Tony Prescott, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, is an exemplar of this. The robot has a sense of sight, hearing and feeling. It also has a sense of position power and movement enabling it to use its 53 degrees of freedom, which refers to the number of specific movements or displacements the robot can make, in a coordinated way.

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AI and Ethiopia

By: Yoseph Berhanu

One can easily argue humanity’s primary mission on earth is to learn, discover what is hidden, and make life a little bit easier than it was before. Moreover, sharing of what
one has learned has been at the heart of this learning endeavor.

The advent of electronic computer and the Internet has helped in both the discovery and sharing efforts significantly. It has also changed the way people acquire, analyze and disseminate information. Starting from the use of search-engines to fully automated class rooms experiences and even artificial intelligence tutors; the teaching learning world has changed considerably.

This impact of computing has been felt beyond the world of academics and research. From agriculture to military applications, from healthcare to finance, one can hardly find an industry not leveraging the powers of computing.

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The Future of Chatbots: Will they break the ‘illusion approach’?

By: Eskender Tamerat

At first, it was all about creating illusions. Asking questions endlessly was the golden trick back when a computer parody by the name of Eliza kick-started the era of computers conversing with human beings in the 1960s. With a restricted set of scripted rules, the bot had no clues to grasp the user input, let alone being a good friend of a human.

The next few decades saw the rise of a meaning-based human text interaction. It reduced the trouble of indulging in a heartfelt communication for mere machines responding to a set of choices waiting for human instructions. This facet evolved to what we could see in the modern video games, in which a user gets visual feedbacks by controlling an avatar using a mouse or joystick.

Returning to the topic on hand, more than half a century later, illusion still fits the bill to describe the current state of chatbots. The domain of knowledge base showed rapid progress – with all the data out there via internet, sentence parsers using natural language processing, and changes in hardware causing machines to be faster and massive in storage – but we are still lagging behind in achieving the grand goal of simulating intelligent conversation between a machine and a human.

Instantiated by the Turing Test, the Loebner competition takes place annually with four finalists battling for the big prize. Unlike the strict requirements of fooling the judges set by Alan Turing all those years ago, the judges will look for the “most human” from the participants, who make it into the final round after dealing with a set of human knowledge questions in the qualifiers.

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