Kenya slow to ride on AI to turbocharge its innovations


As big tech firms dominate the African digital ecosystem, we are experiencing a rise of discriminative algorithms, market dominance abuse and exploitation of workers. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Is Kenya ready for a more sophisticated debate about artificial intelligence (AI), and its potential to spur economic growth?

AI is the key to turbocharging innovation but few sectors are utilising it.

According to the Government AI Readiness 2022 index report, Kenya is ranked 90th out of 182 countries globally, and behind Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, and Morocco. Its total score is 40.36 percent.

Peter French, general manager for Africa and the Middle East at Acronis, a technology company, says that the integration of AI in the Kenyan financial sector, for instance, will make firms more competitive in terms of product development and customer experience.

“Most importantly, the use of AI will enable lenders to significantly enhance their digital banking strategies in terms of keeping data breaches at bay and boosting fraud detection as well as other emerging threats. Financial institutions’ ability to detect and prevent fraud and cyberattacks is arguably one of the most crucial benefits of AI adoption, especially in the wake of heightened online banking,” Mr French tells the Business Daily.

On the other hand, Michael Kangethe, a technical consultant and a lecturer, says that Kenya is ready for AI, especially in the health and education sectors.

“The digitisation of records and automation of the processes provides adequate data to enable AI to externalise the analysis and prediction processes that would take many human analysts several months to provide actionable intelligence from the data collected,” he notes.

He also adds that AI is not an alternative to human analysts but like all tools, should make the analysts’ work easier and enable better analysis and prediction results.

“The best thing about AI is its broad applications in every sector. You need to simplify processes. AI can automate. Besides AI has advanced rapidly and Kenyans do not need to reinvent the wheel, Kenyans can adopt the best solutions in AI and using the locally created data, and model adjustments contextualise the AI systems to suit the Kenyan context (by calibrating for biases specific to Kenyans),” he says.

Introduction of technologies such as ChatGPT -an AI programme that provides quick, well-formulated answers to a variety of questions, for instance, can be tailored to suit the education sector.

According to Robi Koki, a lecturer at the United States International University - Africa (USIU-A), the entry of such technologies in Kenya will help improve the education sector.

“With online learning and integration of e-learning, we have been advised to integrate technology to support learning tools in the class. In USIU-Africa, for instance, we’re embracing the blended approach where we have sessions that are face-to-face and others that are online. The undergraduates prefer face-to-face engagement while the others prefer the approach where some days we are together and others we are online,” says Ms Koki.

When the agricultural sector embraces AI technologies such as machine vision for diagnosing soil defects and pests, Kenya’s food production rate will rise.

One of the most significant threats to the growth of the agricultural industry in Kenya is the degradation of soil quality and deforestation.

Through deep learning applications, farmers can identify nutrient deficiencies and soil defects and receive corrective techniques in the palm of their hands.

Farm applications such as Digifarm can integrate chatbots into their app to offer virtual assistance to farmers.

On the other hand, with the growing population, there is a need for adequate healthcare specialists.

AI can assist in addressing this scarcity by automating routine tasks, freeing up healthcare workers to focus on more complicated cases.

AI can also be used to tame cybercrime, by identifying and detecting attacks in real-time and automating the incident response process, experts say.

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