Thanks to Kwabena Sarkodie for having me on his podcast, Insights from the Sahara, to discuss all things artificial intelligence and Africa.
AI, Foreign Policy, and National Governance Impact: Focus on China (Modern Diplomacy)
Arthur Gwagwa outlines the potential bad effects of China’s inroads throughout the Global South and export of its AI technology particularly to African countries. I share his concern that these technologies could help bad leaders on the continent dig their heels in through ratcheting up a surveillance state.
I disagree with his view that the West should come in and save African nations and other members of the Global South from China’s incursions. I posted yesterday about how the U.S. doesn’t have an AI strategy. Despite US attempts to isolate Huawei, Britain is going ahead to contract with the company to build 5G networks. How are these countries going to counter China in other countries without a strategy and being on the same page?
African countries and other members of the global south have to figure out how to avoid yet another principal-agent table tennis match and figure out how to be stronger and stronger agents on a global scale in shaping AI and its uses.
Metahistory for (Ro)bots: Historical Knowledge in the Artificial Intelligence Era (Historia da Historiographia)
This is a very interesting paper that anticipates the development AI-powered historian bots that serve as our future textbooks on world history. The authors propose a method for developing that technology well, in efforts to avoid any bad effects.
Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt always glorifies the hunter.
This quote was ringing in my head while working through the paper. The authors outline how the data sets containing all the historical information need to be structured properly so they can be scanned into the database the bot would draw from well. What happens to cultures that still rely on oral history? What about parts of the world where everything hasn’t been digitized yet?
I could see a historian bot being an incredibly powerful tool to surface history that is typically glossed over, but the inputs have to be broad ranging and accurate. I could also see a historian bot baking in poorly informed historical takes that shape biases and lead to the kind of ignorance we see in the world today
Establishing the rules for building trustworthy AI (Nature)
It is time to ‘make haste slowly’ (festina lente) in the development of AI.
Luciano Floridi, a member of the High Level Expert Group put together by the European Commission, outlined a framework for how the EU should shape the development of AI by putting the brakes on its development and asking ethics questions early on.
The amount of compute in AI processes is doubling every three and a half months. I don’t see how the folks building these technologies work well with stakeholders like the High Level Expert Group when the group took a year to develop a 7-point framework for building trustworthy AI. The technology is advancing too quickly.
Eurasian Resources Group has a pretty massive cobalt mining project in the works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company stands to realize a nice return on investment at the rate cobalt prices are skyrocketing. They jumped 71% last year and are expected to increase by 60% this year. Rising demand for electric vehicles and limited cobalt supply is driving these prices.
What concerns me about this project is the supply chain. Cobalt mining has come under scrutiny due to the health hazards associated with extracting the mineral. Even more concerning is the reality that evidence has been found of children participating in cobalt mining in DRC. Take a look through ERG’s website, and you’ll see it is fairly light on sustainable development and occupational safety.
Chinese cobalt miners have caught the spotlight in terms of not managing their cobalt sourcing well. ERG should get the same level of attention to be sure it keeps things on the up and up.
Radical economic transformation. Debate over what this means for South Africa reached fever pitch after President Zuma sacked Pravin Gordhan, probably the most respected high-ranking government official at the time. The midnight firing led to two credit agencies giving South Africa junk bond status. Yesterday, the country went into recession. Radical economic transformation. SMH.
Video: Senator Chris Coons Speaks at Council on Foreign Relations
Senator Chris Coons spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, discussing US policy in Africa. Best line from the conversation, “On some level, I don’t want it to be a higher priority for the Trump administration.” Agreed.
We continue to hear more and more about the cracks widening within Cote d’Ivoire’s Military. The military is a combination of trained career soldiers and rebel fighters who helped President Alassane Outtara oust Laurent Gbagbo when he refused to relinquish the presidency back in 2010/2011. Since that time there have been at least three mutinies, the latest occuring just a couple weeks ago.
Elections are coming up in a few years and I really hope the government figures out a solution to this problem well in advance. Further, investors have maintained relative excitement about the country with its high growth rates driven by economic reforms. You can’t expect that to continue should this military issue continue.
Former Obama Official Weighs in On US National Security Interests in Africa
Karen Attiah, the Global Opinions Editor at the Washington Post, did a nice interview with Grant Harris, former senior director for African Affairs in the Obama administration.
The main theme is that the US has to invest resources into the continent in order to maintain its engagement with countries as it keeps a pulse on threats around the world. Harris wrote a report on the topic and I look forward to checking it out.
UBA Group Enjoyed Africa Day
Yesterday was Africa Day and Nigeria’s UBA Group put on a royal affair where everyone wore their best traditional attire to work. Check out who won best-dressed for the men. Per usual, Nigerians never carry last.
Kurt Davis surveys the financial services industry across Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cote d’Ivoire as ones where investors will find an upside though the current state of the industry isn’t the prettiest to look at. His projection of Cote d’Ivoire becoming the centerpiece of regional financial services action in West Africa is a really interesting that makes sense given the countries growth trajectory so far. Before that happens, I’m going to need the military to improve its operations, find money to pay soldiers, and decrease the specter of mutiny.
My mind immediately went to the Marikana Massacre a few years ago when I saw the news that Lonmin was moving it’s Johannesburg office to Marikana where dozens of Lonmin workers were killed by South African police during a wildcat strike. A couple years after that, the company along with the rest of South Africa’s platinum miners went through a very long strike that really put a dent in South Africa’s already struggling growth rate. Lonmin CEO Ben Magara got his start working in the mines and says that he wants to be closer to the company’s operation. Relations between the company and its employees aren’t getting any better with workers protesting last week. Hopefully this move helps improve relations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted several global leaders for China’s One Belt, One Road Forum. A year or so ago, China launched this effort as part of its aims to connect 60+ countries through a vast transport and logistics network to drive trade. Kenya and Ethiopia’s presidents were in attendance, and both have already seen hundreds of millions of dollars in investment as part of this effort. China’s trade with African countries is already sizeable at $39B for Q1 2017, and we can expect that number to grow significantly in the coming years if China is able to execute the projects it targets and gets paid back. If not, there could be a lot of debt floating around the world. African countries, particularly the ones that have issued large bonds in recent years, would do well to really ensure they have revenue streams to cover more debt should they pursue it.
Nigeria’s Bank of Industry has developed a Graduate Entrepreneurship Fund in partnership with the country’s National Youth Service Corps. The program provides NYSC members with loans they can use to further establish their businesses, and it seems like a nice program. Nigeria requires recent college graduates to participate in the NYSC, completing a year of national service in another part of the country. The program came about after the Biafra War in order to foster national pride and encourage understanding between the various parts of the country. This year, the BoI has distributed about $834,000 to 177 Corps members, an average of $4700 per member. Over the two years of the Fund, the BoI has distributed about $1.8M. I look forward to seeing how the program grows.
Last week, I posted about Cars45 raising $5M for it’s online used car platform. Here’s an interview CNBC Africa did with Etop Ikpe, CEO of the company, this morning.
China’s commerce ministry says that the country’s trade with African countries totaled nearly $39B in Q1 2017, driven by a steep increase in agricultural imports. For comparison, the US did about $37B in trade with African countries over the whole of 2015. There’s been much discussion about US-China competition across the African continent. In terms of sheer volume, China continues to win out, while US stakeholders hang their hats on the quality of US-Africa partnerships. The difference in scale of trade levels is just incredible though. I look forward to seeing how China’s trade data takes shape over the course of the year and what stories come out about this sharp increase in demand for agricultural imports.
- This piece on Jack Dorsey being named as CEO of Twitter while keeping the CEO reins at Square is pretty poor. How do you give recent examples of folks successfully running multiple companies without discussing what is enabling them to get this done? Yet, you reach back to 1990 to pull out a worst case situation, mention that Elon Musk and Carlos Ghosn say running two companies is hard and one should avoid it, and conclude that Jack isn’t listen to the right advice. The piece should have progressed something like: 1) This is a bad case from years ago. 2) Here are some more recent cases and reasons why they avoided the bad case from years ago. 3) This is really hard and not advisable for most. Since Jack is going forward with this, this is what he should consider.
- Growing up, my dad often talked about the unappreciated genius of artisans in Ghana. Ory Okolloh Mwangi and Bobby Pittman, among others have touted the huge potential of the creative industry across Africa. This piece discusses the Rwanda government’s efforts to invest in its creative industry with the help of the Swedes. In the mean time, check out Oxosi – a startup bringing high-end African fashion to the US. It should be launching soon.
- Here’s some interesting analysis of greenfield investments in Africa still being led by the western countries. On the other side of Africa-bound FDI, here is an interesting report from the Financial Times’ Africa Summit on how African countries will deal with depressed currencies, China’s slowing, and falling commodity prices (I saw $1.90 gas the other day, and my heart fluttered).