One Startup’s Plan to Help Africa Lure Back Its AI Talent
during a trip Pelonomi Moiloa, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, attended the largest machine learning community gathering she had ever seen in Africa, just a few kilometers from her birthplace, while completing an engineering masters program in Japan. A total of 600 people from 22 nations attended Deep Learning Indaba 2017, held at the University of Witwatersrand, and discussed topics such as healthcare and agricultural solutions specifically tailored to the needs of African populations.
This week-long meeting made Moiloa feel like she could make an impact in the lives of Africans and it helped persuade them to move back to South Africa and look for a way to use their engineering skills on their home continent. “The talks were about making a real impact and positive change in the lives of people in Africa at scale, and I was keen to be a part of that,” she says.
This month, Moiloa will join some Deep Learning Indaba organizers to found Lelapa, a commercial and industrial AI research company focused on meeting the needs of Africa’s 1 billion people. The co-founders hope the startup can become a magnet for high-caliber AI talent from Africa, much like the best AI brains in years from the well-resourced labs of OpenAI, the startup and Microsoft partner behind ChatGPT, or Google’s DeepMind be attracted.
Lelapa aims to persuade Africans like Moiloa to quit jobs abroad and return, and to do so by working on issues close to the hearts of African AI researchers and by allowing them to get closer to the Working in people and places that are important to them. “We talk to a lot of these people and they want to come back, but they want the opportunities, and that’s the gap we’re trying to fill,” says Benjamin Rosman, who runs an AI lab with another at the University of Witwatersrand Lelapa co-founder Pravesh Ranchod.
The company is backed by the Mozilla Foundation and Atlantica Ventures and has raised $2.5 million in funding. Individual investors include Google AI chief Jeff Dean, ret vocal supporter by Deep Learning Indaba and Karim Beguir, CEO of startup Instadeep, which was acquired by pharmaceutical company BioNTech for $682 million last month.
Lelapa plans to make money by building AI for African companies and nonprofits, which the founders say have needs that US-centric AI technology can’t always easily meet. Initial projects include building a financial services and literacy bot for a South African bank, machine translation to connect mothers with health workers, and text mining to support the work of the Open Restitution Africa group to return artifacts from foreign countries to support museums in their home countries.
Lelapa plans to train models using languages from southern Africa that aren’t high on Silicon Valley’s priority list to drive translation and other forms of automated word processing. This would have applications in communication, education and business.
Vukosi Marivate, Chair of Data Science at the University of Pretoria, another co-founder, says the company is an attempt to create technology that puts African needs and values first, rather than relying on a handful of foreign tech companies . “We don’t want to be left behind,” says Marivate. “In technological revolutions, those left behind pay a heavy price as a society.”
https://www.wired.com/story/one-startups-plan-to-help-africa-lure-back-its-ai-talent/ One Startup’s Plan to Help Africa Lure Back Its AI Talent