The Future

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

A Transhumanist World

By Senayt Nur

The rapid technological progress of our time is obvious to anyone with an observing eye. The changes that happened in the past few years were not even dreamt a few decades back. If we get the chance to bring back a person who died fifty years ago, he wouldn’t know what to do with a lot of the changes and honestly our dead friend would have been bewildered beyond words. I have been blessed to see the changes firsthand since many of the vagaries occur in my generation, and I have seen instruments get more portable and more efficient through time.

Nowadays the changing technology  have given me  devices for education and entertainment that weren’t even ideas a century, and diseases that would have been a death sentence a few decades back could now be diagnosed rapidly and have a straightforward treatments. This influx of technology has led to economic growth – and everywhere in the world, everyday people workout how to do things a little bit better and a little bit easier.

Read More

Immortality and Science

By Senayt Nur

Immortality: an imminent reality or futuristic?

Immortality, rather sound like a Sci-Fi character’s ability, but modern science says this is no longer true. In this exponentially growing technology, the linear life of humans, being a forever one, may not be long coming after all.

Ray Kurzweil, the most popularized living futurist, “the ultimate thinking machine”, as called by Forbes magazine, says life extension will be possible within the next thirty years. Since 2010, large research companies, foundations, and institutes have solely dedicated their time, money, and resources on the aim of radically extending life.

Read More

Humans for Transparency in Artificial Intelligence

By Ben Goertzel, Bill Hibard, Nick Baladis, Hruy Tsegaye, and David Hanson

Recent dramatic progress in artificial intelligence (AI) leads us to believe that Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of human level AI by 2029 may be roughly accurate. Even if reality proves to be a bit different, still it seems very likely that today’s young people will spend most of their lives in a world largely shaped by AI.

The rapid advent of increasingly advanced AI has led many people to worry about the balance of positive and negative consequences AI will bring. While there is a limit to the degree anyone can predict or control revolutionary developments, nevertheless, there are some things we can do now to maximize the odds that the future development of AI is broadly positive, and the potential for amazing benefits outweighs the potential risks.

One thing we can do now is to advocate for the development of AI technology to be as open and transparent as possible — so that AI is something the whole human race is doing for itself, rather than something being foisted on the rest of the world by one or another small groups. The creation and rollout of new forms of general intelligence is a huge deal and it’s something that can benefit from the full intelligence and wisdom of the whole human race. Specifically we need transparency about what AI is used for and how it works.

For this reason we are gathering signatures on a petition in support of Transparent AI.  Please sign if you agree!

Read More