Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most trendy topics in the global tech scene today. AI combines data and algorithms to make decisions and solve problems. In terms of aspiration, AI is supposed to model the human brain and how we think, feel and approach issues.
The belief is that with a large chunk of data, AI systems will learn and evolve to become truly self-learning and autonomous. Imagine how the robots in Terminator movies worked or how Jarvis in the Iron Man movies.
But in the real world, AI systems aren’t yet advanced enough. Most AI systems are still pretty narrow and handle only a handful of tasks or only certain tasks. They’re not full-blown complexities like “acting and behaving as humans.”
Regardless, AI technology has grown slowly in Africa. Over the last decade, a number of tech companies have developed intelligent systems as their main pivot or to aid their services.
Here are a few ways Africa’s smartest tech companies are using AI.
A number of banks are using AI-powered chatbots to make it easy for customers to make transactions.
The chatbots, in most cases, are powered by Facebook’s Messenger API, however, banks can use it to provide to render their services on Facebook or WhatsApp.
For example, UBA developed the Leo chatbot, while Access Bank operates Ada, a chatbot that was first developed by Diamond Bank before both banks merged in 2019. Even the Nigerian Stock Exchange operates its own chatbot called X-Bot in 2019.
Financial inclusion is a big issue in Africa. Millions of Africans don’t do formal banking and this makes it hard to draw these folks into wider financial services market, for instance, lending.
To lend effectively and with fewer risks, banks rely on credit ratings. However, credit ratings are developed by relying on data about the borrower. From their salary history to spending habits, information like these are key. But many credit rating systems in Africa don’t have enough information on customers.
A few companies including banks have developed intelligent systems to support lending operations. Migo, for example, has developed an AI system that gathers data on people, analyses it and uses that information to make lending decisions. It also works with banks to deploy this technology to help banks reduce their risks.
Some African companies are also using AI to improve trust. Yeah, that’s a confusing thing to say, but Utu, a Kenya-based startup has built an AI system that offers exactly that.
Its software models the human behaviour and concept around trust: it understands how people show trust, then extends that decision to businesses and services like personal assistants and ecommerce.
Jason Eisen, founder of Utu says, if you can understand how people give trust, it is easy to improve and make them feel more comfortable with systems such as Siri or Amazon Echo. Utu recently raised $500,000 funding to continue developing the innovation.
Touchabl, a Nigerian startup, is using AI to improve the ecommerce experience of shoppers. With its innovation, people can search and shop for items in a picture just by clicking on them.
Using its proprietary technology, the startup can understand what items exist in an image and provides more information about the item when a user touches that item. Touchabl raised $20,000 from GenesysTechHub to keep developing the technology.
Another company using AI to boost ecommerce is Cellulant, the Kenya-based payments company. In late 2018, the company partnered with Facebook to develop an augmented reality-powered ecommerce feature. The features like Snapchat filters, allows shoppers to try out items to decide whether or not to buy them.
A number of companies are already using machine intelligence to solve problems in the agriculture value chain. One of such is Apollo Agriculture.
The Kenya-based company is combining machine learning, geographic information sensing and soil information to help farmers improve their productivity.
Find out more about how artificial intelligence & machine learning is changing how Africans live and do business. Join entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and policymakers in Africa’s AI community at TechCabal’s emerging tech townhall. At the event, stakeholders including telcos and financial institutions will examine how businesses, individuals and countries across the continent can maximize the benefits of emerging technologies, specifically AI and Blockchain. Learn more about the event and get your tickets here.