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Google in Africa

A look ahead at the AU Summit and Africa Business Forum

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, featuring a modern, high-rise tower flanked by a circular conference center and a row of flags representing member countries against a clear blue sky.

African leaders from government, civil society and the business community will gather this week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the 37th African Union (AU) Summit and the Africa Business Forum (ABF) 2024 co-hosted by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Google.

This year’s theme for the Africa Business Forum; “Boosting Africa’s Transformation Through Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation”, could not be more timely, as new advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) will revolutionize how the world addresses its biggest challenges, drives economic growth, and unleashes new opportunities in African economies and around the world.

Our CEO Sundar Pichai recently said, “Increasingly, Africa is a place where innovation begins and spreads to the rest of the world.” As a longstanding partner in Africa’s digital transformation journey, Google is actively supporting the AU’s mission to create greater prosperity for the region by promoting economic growth and accelerating regional integration.

A few months ago, we announced the Digital Futures Project, an initiative to support researchers, academics and organizations creating independent research and analysis, and promoting debate on public policy solutions for the responsible development of AI. Our first grantee in Africa, the African Leadership University Foundation, will explore how AI can address poverty, hunger and disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, propose AI governance frameworks that can mitigate potential risks, and study AI's impact on social equality and economic opportunity.

African-Led Innovations Making an Impact

At Google, we believe that African-led innovation will be important to addressing many of the enduring challenges we face. Google Research established AI Research Labs in Accra, Ghana (2018) and Nairobi, Kenya (2022) where our teams work on advanced AI/ML research with a specific focus on food security, disaster management, and remote sensing. Our local researchers collaborate with partners across the continent and the globe to work on AI-based tools to create change for communities in Africa and the world.

Whether it’s leveraging our AI-enabled flood forecasting tools to better support communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis in 23 African countries; to our work with Jacaranda Health, a Kenyan nonprofit focused on improving health outcomes for mothers and babies in government hospitals, to explore how new AI tools can support ultrasound access; to Project Relate, which is being tested in Ghana to help people with non-standard speech, we’re making scientific breakthroughs and partnering with organizations to deliver technologies that enhance people’s everyday lives across the continent.

African-led innovation is transforming the creative sector in Africa. YouTube has played an essential role in the discovery and development of African culture and exporting it to audiences worldwide, enabling collaborations both locally and globally. From YouTube Originals such as Wizkid, along with inspiring stories like the one of Olympic medalist Julius Yego show that inspiring talent and stories from anywhere can find a global audience. Google Arts and Culture has a long history of supporting culture, be it digitizing over 40,000 Timbuktu manuscripts to preserve Africa’s greatest written legacy, or supporting community efforts to protect UNESCO world heritage sites, like the Osun Osogbo Grove.

AI’s Socioeconomic and Workforce Promise for Africa

We believe that AI has the ability to accelerate economic growth, and that governments and businesses in Africa can work together to make it happen. A few months ago, Google sponsored an AI White paper that provides an initial assessment of some of the potential economic benefits of AI in Africa. The paper suggests that AI applications could support at least $136 billion worth of economic gains in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa by 2030, based on current growth rates.

When we think about education, for example, we think about the AI implications for expanding and democratizing access to learning. Since 2017, we’ve trained more than 6 million people in Africa with digital skills; including in collaboration with the Africa Union (AU); and over 20,000 people have graduated from the Google Career Certificates program in Africa, with over 80% of graduates reporting a positive career impact, such as a new job, higher pay or promotion within six months of completion.

However we know AI can also be a disruptive force. Governments and industry will need to work together to help workers upskill, businesses to adapt, and schools to use AI for personalized learning.

Collaborating on Responsible Regulatory Approaches for Bold Impact

Governments across the continent are rightfully thinking about AI governance, and making progress on policy frameworks to mitigate potential risks. While much of the world is witnessing growing fragmentation and weakening trade disciplines, Africa is demonstrating collaborative leadership.

We’re excited about the prospect that the AU Summit will adopt Africa’s first digital trade agreement through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Digital Trade Protocol as well as an AI strategy. These groundbreaking policy frameworks have the potential to pave the way for Africa to fully harness the AI opportunity, through sound public policies that create a coordinated, risk-based and globally interoperable approach to regulation. Regulatory fragmentation makes it more difficult for businesses of all sizes to provide cross-border services and technologies, and principally hurts small businesses who have fewer resources to comply with a web of conflicting regulations.

Our vision is that this enabling policy environment will empower the people of Africa to not just use AI but also create it. The AU Commission, UNECA, African Development Bank, and other pan-African institutions play a catalytic role, and they are well-positioned to drive a consistent approach to governing cross-border technologies like AI. We’re looking forward to seeing how these institutions can convene governments to discuss how they can make AI more accessible with policies and investments to spur research and development, develop talent, and adopt cloud infrastructure and compute capacity. And they have a unique opportunity to partner with the tech industry, civil society and academia to promote consistent legal and regulatory frameworks that spur innovation and enable trusted cross-border data flows.

We are keen to engage with governments, businesses and civil society from the AU member states to make the most of AI’s potential to achieve the UN SDGs and Agenda 2063, create more opportunities for more people, and drive unprecedented growth.