African researchers have recently launched the YaNetu teaching tablet crowdfunding project. This effort aims to bring an AI based educational tablet to African children. The researchers hope to create:
– An Android-based teaching tablet for primary school age children in the developing world, with both offline and online applications
– A built-in curriculum, customized with local languages, designed to grow and develop over the years along with the child
– Artificial Intelligence systems, represented by human-like avatars, designed in collaboration with leading American AI researcher Dr. Ben Goertzel. Our AI avatars offer the student not only information and coaching, but also emotional and motivational feedback.
In an interview for Next Big Future with Sander Olson, iCOG researcher Hruy Tsegave describes why he believes that teaching tablets could be an effective and efficient method for providing large numbers of African children with a versatile and compelling teaching tool.
ADDIS ABABA —The black-and-white robot stopped and its eyes, two small red lights, suddenly lit up. Rotating about 90 degrees, it recognized the blue plastic ball a few centimeters away, came forward and kicked it.
“The robot is Chinese, but the processor is made in Ethiopia,” Getnet Aseffa explains. “A student developed it, and within a few months we will organize the first national football competition between robots, in the same vein as the International RoboCup tournament!”
Welcome to the iCog Labs experiment room in the heart of Addis Ababa’s university district. Getnet Aseffa, 28, is one of the brains behind the operation. After graduating in computer science in 2012, this avid reader of futurist author Ray Kurzweil co-created iCog with the help of American researcher Ben Goertzel. It is the first Ethiopian research and development laboratory specializing in artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence is the next big thing because human beings want most of their thinking done by machines. Ethiopia known for its strong army and beautiful women, but the country is also a home of innovators. The country has placed much emphasis on computer science. However, as the country celebrates their achievement in tech, an artificial intelligence R&D caught fire in Addis Ababa.
The country has many universities and polytechnics that place high emphasis on technology. Over 30 official universities and 130 polytechnics have tech related units. Ministry of Science and Technology established its own university and a $250 million dollar tech park in 2012. Techonomy reports that about 2% of its citizens can access the internet, 4% of Ethiopian children get as far as the equivalent of 9th grade, child labor is at 27% and early marriages is 41%.
In “Practical Artificial Intelligence Is Already Changing the World,” I promised to write a follow-on article that discussed why Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly), the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a former IBM employee and strategic advisor to Citigroup, are optimistic about the future of artificial intelligence (AI). In that article I noted that some pundits believe that AI poses a grave threat to humanity while other pundits believe that AI systems are going to be tools that humans can use to improve conditions around them. I also wrote that it would be foolish to predict which school of thought is correct this early in the game.
Despite setbacks, Ethiopia’s tech economy has been making strides, luring entrepreneurs from throughout Africa and gaining international recognition.
This is due to a mix of increased government support for ICT development and the establishment of start-up incubators and hubs that are creating an ideal landscape for the tech industry to grow.
By Steven Blum
iceaddis co-working space. Image Courtesy of eLearning Africa
Now home to 1,000 members, incubator iceaddis is the first of its kind in Ethiopia, describing itself as: “Collaborative work spaces where aspiring young entrepreneurs, ICT driven individuals, techies, youth and creative individuals can come together to receive business and life skill training, prototyping, technology transfer and enhance their productivity and, ultimately, form viable and sustainable business plans for the future.”
Easily drawing comparisons to other tech hubs in the region, like Nairobi’s iHub – which now has over 16,000 members – or Uganda’s Hive Colab, iceaddis grew organically, starting with small events and workshops.
According to iceaddis member Markos Lemma, in Ethiopia “there is high potential for techies to develop applications and technical solutions.”
Young Ethiopian with robot whose AI software was created in his country.
Ethiopia has come a long way from its nightmare past of famine and war. It still has splendid 12th century rock churches carved into the ground, the plateaued Simian Mountains, the ancient city of Gondar and of course, the human ancestral fossil Lucy, its oldest hominid ambassador. But now computer science is thriving in its capital, Addis Ababa. And Ethiopian artificial intelligence R&D is on fire.
The driver for this unexpected artificial intelligence (AI) industry sector is the autocratic government’s massive multi-billion dollar, ultra-high tech, industrial plans and its fervent development of higher education to support them. Today, there are over 30 official universities and 130 or so polytechnics, most of them emphasizing technology. Many of them are in the capital and, in 2012, the Ministry of Science and Technology established its own university and a $250 million dollar tech park nearby.
Deputy Minister of Science and Technology (between Lin Kayser and Ben Goertzel): Photo courtesy of Lin Kayser
On February 2, 2015 Getnet Asefa, the CEO of iCog Labs, standing under the azure sky over the international Airport of Addis Ababa welcomed his guests from Hong Kong, Germany, and England. His exact words were, “Welcome to the era of hi-tech meetings in East Africa”.
Before three years, it wasn’t even plausible to dream about meetings and seminars on Artificial intelligence, Robotics or social movements like transhumanism, in the Horn of Africa— the place widely known for famine, disease and endless civil, nations, tribal and what not wars.
“We are deceived by the appearance of right.” J.J Rousseau
Part One: Today’s Reality
The idea of improving humanity is not a new one. Such movements, notions, and groups have marked our past. Some of them achieved their target, and some have concluded with remarkable results; and yet, some have brought more suffering to the human condition.
Transhumanism is a movement that aims to enhance and improve humanity. As it happens with any notion and philosophy of this kind, it faces widespread criticism from many groups. Some criticism is constructive, passed on with the intention to improve on the shortcomings of the movement; then there is also criticism based on dogmatic and irrational grounds and expressed out of the fear that the movement is so radical and groundbreaking to the very idea of life itself.
It has been two years since the seed of the first Artificial Intelligence has been planted in Ethiopia. It all started with Getnet and Ben Goertzel, who accidentally meet during a Skype Session with a common acquaintance called Amara D. Angelica, co-founder and Editor of KurzweilAI.net. The two of them conspired, of course in the positive way, that they should organize a seminar on Artificial General Intelligence. Once, they set their mind on the consequential task, Getnet approached the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (AAiT). The rest is history.
For over a decade, sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing a relatively rapid economic growth. According to the latest World Bank report ‘Africa’s Pulse 2013, volume 7’, out of the top ten nations with the fastest growing economy, the top six are African countries followed by China. The Continent, despite the global economic crisis, registered an average of 6% in economic growth during the past eight years. The World Bank estimates that the growth trend will continue uninterrupted until 2015.