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Microsoft to support 30m Africans, including 300 000 South Africans, to develop AI skills

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Microsoft Africa president Lillian Barnard discusses the importance of artificial intelligence for Africa. Video: Shadwyn Dickinson; Editing: Nicholas Boyd.

31st October 2023

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Information technology multinational Microsoft, at its 'AI: A New Era' event on October 30, announced plans to certify 30-million people in Africa in artificial intelligence- (AI-) related skills by 2025, and has partnered with the Presidential Youth Employment Service (YES) to upskill 300 000 South African youths.

"AI is the defining technology of our time and is rapidly gaining momentum in the country. We are seeing many organisations exploring the use of this technology to drive innovation and growth," said Microsoft South Africa CEO Kalane Rampai.

"With an ecosystem and several research institutions and universities exploring AI applications in healthcare, finance and agriculture, South Africa is well positioned to harness the power of AI to drive economic growth and improve the lives of its citizens," he said.

The three pillars that underpin AI for Microsoft are democratising AI, responsible AI and upskilling, hence the partnership with YES.

"The scale of the AI Youth Training Platform intervention, namely aiming to train 300 000 young people [in South Africa], underlines how we are democratising AI and aiming to leave behind as few people as possible. The courses will be aimed at novices and experts to expose them to AI and for them to explore a potential career in AI, as well as to see the potential in AI to solve some of our pressing social problems," he explained.

Young people who exit the formal training programme at YES will have an awareness of how AI can improve how they work and how this could become a career or profession moving forward. Those who complete the AI Expert Module and meet key criteria will be eligible for certification.

There were high levels of youth unemployment in South Africa and this training could be a potential catalyst to help resolve some of this, and not only for those who receive training, but also creating future employment through them using their skills to power growth and innovation in their companies or in new companies, said Rampai.

"As Africa, we are excited and optimistic about AI. It brings hope that we can solve some of our most pressing challenges, and presents new prospects and possibilities in healthcare, education, agriculture, finance and sustainability, and more," said Microsoft Africa president Lillian Barnard.

"We are seeing significant investment in AI technology on the continent, and we believe that this technology can give an upward trajectory to the African economy. Analysts predict that we can increase Africa's economy by 50% by 2030, if we were to capture only 10% of the global AI market," she said.

"Similar to the rest of the world, Africa is at an inflection point, with AI changing things daily and we have seen a number of breakthroughs that will change and shape everything we do, for individuals and organisations alike."

Further, through Microsoft's skills development, capacity building and employability programmes, it has certified more than four-million young people in Africa over the past five years and aims to certify 30-million people in AI skills in Africa by the end of 2025.

The company is focused around four areas, namely providing essential infrastructure, building skills and capacity, supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, and enabling innovation. This lays the foundation for AI acceleration, she noted.

"The latest skills and capacity building programme wants to accelerate digital innovation and lay the foundation of the necessary digital skills," Barnard said.

Further, Microsoft's three development centres on the continent, in Cairo, Egypt; Nairobi, Kenya; and Lagos, Nigeria, were undertaking AI and machine learning innovations focused on several domains, such as healthcare, finances and other human-centric innovations, she said.

"The approach we take to AI is we want to ensure that AI complements human ingenuity and that is why Microsoft talks about a co-pilot.

"For individuals, an AI co-pilot helps them to build apps faster, create content faster and create and publish documents more easily."

Organisations, meanwhile, would use AI to improve productivity and unlock innovation, such as in healthcare to improve patient interactions and outcomes, or in manufacturing to create better supply chains.

However, Microsoft wanted to create responsible AI by design based on the principles of fairness, reliability, safety, privacy, inclusivity, transparency and accountability, said Barnard.

"We also share these principles with stakeholders to develop an actionable responsible AI framework because we want to ensure that people continue to trust in the technology and tools we develop and to ensure that the technology continues to have a positive impact on humanity," she highlighted.

"Collectively, we have a unique moment in history to use this technology as a foundation to truly empower each person and organisation on the planet to achieve more," she said.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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