Fatima Tambajang is the Africa head of developer relations, startups, and venture capital at Nvidia, one of the world’s largest suppliers of artificial intelligence hardware and software. Tambajang spoke to Rest of World about the impact of AI on work and business in Africa, and criticized the notion that the continent is behind in the AI race.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How would you respond to the idea that Africa is behind in the AI race?
Despite the challenges faced by Africa with restricted access to hardware, data, and talent, the continent has made significant progress in AI. Africa has over 2,400 AI organizations operating across various industries, including health, wellness, fitness, farming, law, training, and insurance. This includes a rapidly growing ecosystem of startups, several of whom are members of the Nvidia Inception program to support AI startups. Africa’s tech boom is often linked to fintech, but the largest tech acquisition in Africa is an AI-focused enterprise solutions company called InstaDeep, which was acquired for $682 million.
Several African countries have national AI strategies. There are over 30 AI communities in Africa — from Sudan and Mali to more established markets such as South Africa and Tunisia. Many African universities offer degrees or specializations in AI.
What are some of the most exciting opportunities for someone looking to invest in AI in Africa?
AI has become a game changer for businesses, transforming their operations by improving efficiency and productivity. The top-funded AI startups range from enterprise, health care, and fintech to edtech. This shows the investment opportunities for AI are vast.
The health care sector presents numerous fascinating use cases. [Nigerian company] Intron Health has developed Africa’s first speech-to-text AI chat tool capable of understanding over 200 African accents. This tool has helped doctors increase their clinical documentation speed by six times, with over 1 million clips contributed by over 7,000 Africans across 13 countries. Egyptian company Proteinea is another example of the innovative use of AI. By leveraging deep-learning models and smart experimental throughput, they can develop biotherapeutic medicines at an unprecedented rate.
How do you see AI impacting how we work, communicate, and do business in Africa in the next 5–7 years?
AI is the future. It will revolutionize computing, transform industries, and make our lives better in many ways.
AI tools are unlocking a world of African languages for learners. Duolingo added Zulu to its platform. In South Africa, [leading network provider] Vodacom is making Duolingo free for its 45 million customers, eliminating data charges.
History has shown that, over time, new technology is the engine of economic growth. AI will augment many jobs, create even more opportunities, improve productivity, and enhance our quality of life.