Nigeria's Long Ai Road Ahead
According to Statista, the penetration of the Internet in Nigeria in 2019 increased to around 56% from 47% in 2018. This data is indicative of the gradual yet steady movement from the third industrial revolution to the fourth. However, the region is just not ready to embrace a drastic change when it comes to technology.
Microsoft thought of a world, wherein every individual will have a personal computer. However, it fell short of its vision in Nigeria, and a few third world countries; the reason being unmet basic necessities in these countries.
The healthcare system is conventional, the education is of average grade, and infrastructure development is far from up to 1st world standards. All these gaps did slow the evolution of smartphones as well in the region. Now, whether the same gaps will impede the boom of Artificial Intelligence is an interesting question to answer.
The current situation of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria resembles a number of their peers from across the world. On one hand you have a growing tech community eager to embrace every new offering, while you have a country not ready to take the next technological step forward. The tech community in Nigeria very much wants to jump on the technological advancement that Ai is anticipated to bring with it. Many technological steps forward in business in today's world can not be done without Ai. Two companies have already gotten the Nigerian tech community excited about the possibilities of Ai: Kudi.ai and Lara.ng.
Kudi is gradually resonating well with the Nigerians by helping them transfer money by simply conversing with the app. In addition, the Ai-powered chatbot helps in transferring money, tracking account, paying recurring bills, and buying airtime.
The App's easy to use graphical user interface makes it very attractive to consumers. Now that Kudi.ai is growing all over Nigeria, the advent of artificial intelligence is strengthening by the day.
Another Ai-powered chatbot—Lara—is used for public transportation directions. The Ai system with which the app is built offers elaborated, text-oriented, step-by-step directions, along with the estimated fare.
The success of these apps with the Nigerians shows that they are ready to embrace artificial intelligence. Yet, Nigeria is still badly lacking in infrastructure investment, which is the major obstacle standing in the way of the country's full leap into Ai technology. Without even commenting on when 5G will be available, one must first look at the terrible conditions of the roads all over Nigeria, some of which haven't been repaved since the Colonial British left in the early 19th century.
A country without mobility is seriously impaired. Nigeria is also considered to have one of the most dangerous air transport safety records in the world. The World Bank estimated that Nigeria would have to spend 12% of its GDP over the course of the decade to bring its infrastructure up to a state of just acceptability. 12% of GDP is such an astronomically high figure, that being optimistic about Nigeria's infrastructure in the near-term seems like a stretch.
Former Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, has said "that one of the biggest impediments to Nigeria's development is the parlous state of its infrastructure sector." Some estimates put Nigeria's housing needs over the next decade at over 20 million units, a daunting task.
Lagos, Nigeria's capital city is the symbol for the nation's problems. Flooded with people, a population over 21 million that dwarfs Manhattan, too many people looking for not enough good paying jobs in a city that is in such disrepair, it is hard for 1st world citizen to imagine. Oladeinde Olawoyin, a local journalist, told the Financial Times “All the structures of modern society are broken,” and that moving around the city is an act of “self-torture”. Uber just launched a pilot boat program in October in Lagos, a market dying for their services.
Despite such national challenges, the future of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria is still quite bright in many ways. Artificial intelligence is not a single technology; it is a bunch of multiple technologies. When it is put to the best use, it holds the potential to bring in a revolution to every other industry in Nigeria. So despite being one of the most fragmented countries on the planet in just about every respect, there is hope for certain wealthier pockets of the country.
In June of 2018, the University of Lagos, Nigeria, saw the launch of the first Artificial Intelligence hub in the country. The underlying aim behind the establishment of this hub is to produce more students skilled in technology. These students will hopefully start the Ai firms of tomorrow that will employ their fellow students and help push Nigeria forward.
In July of 2019, the African ICT Foundation presented a paper during the annual seminar at the University of Lagos that highlighted the importance of Ai in healthcare. The presentation brought in staggering statistics regarding the investments in the technology to upgrade the quality of healthcare. By the end of 2020, the report suggests that about 86% of the healthcare professionals will spend around USD $54m on the convergence of artificial intelligence and medical science. A large number for such a poor healthcare system.
Besides healthcare, the potential of Ai technology can also revolutionize the agriculture sector. Ai holds the competency to offer intelligent insights to the farmers regarding their crops, which is likely to enhance yield and pace up the scale of innovation, thereby improving the decision-making among the farmers.
Another frontier of Ai technology is extending in the legislative domain. In order to ensure that the information regarding the parliamentary bills is easily accessible to a broader mass, Data Duality along with other Ai experts initiated a NASS-Ai project. The project was started in February 2019 and it won the Artificial Intelligence for Development award in August 2019. Nigeria's corruption has long been a problem for the country. The hope is that using technology to shed some light on the government will bring efficiency and honesty.
By slowly taking over the drudgery of the key industries and making them smarter and more efficiently managed, the profitability of these individual industries will, in turn, improve the economy of Nigeria. Statista estimates that Nigeria's internet usage among its population will double over the next 4 years, but will Nigeria be in a position to support that growth? Nigeria's slow acceptance of Ai might become a sprint very soon.